Saturday, May 28, 2011

Men say they are civilized, for the most part (by Suzie)

When news breaks that a powerful man has abused a woman, I doubt most women think, "Men treat women so well that the only possible explanation is that the man was corrupted by power." Instead, what I generally hear is: "Men are pigs."

Last week in the NYT, Benedict Carey asked the wrong questions in "A Sexist Pig Myth." Discussing Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carey asks and answers: "Does power turn regular guys into sexual predators? The answer in most cases is no, say social scientists and therapists who have long experience working with men." All the experts he quotes are men.
... only a minority of men feel entitled to have their way to dominate others, to humiliate them if provoked. These guys usually know who they are, and the people around them sure do. They were grabbing waitresses or pulling the wings off flies well before becoming chairman of the board. ...
For most of human history, men have treated women much as they pleased, and powerful men routinely collected wives and lovers, feeling free to maim or kill those who offended. The social norms, criminal laws and progressive culture of the West evolved in part to check such abuses, and most men not only observe those rules but also, as the attitude surveys show, internalize them.
Western civilization didn't evolve to give rights to women, and in various times and places, it took rights away. Carey's statement is about as simplistic as saying "all men are pigs."

At first, he seems to distinguish between "regular guys" and those with power, as if regular guys have no power over anyone. To many people, pursuing women -- seduction, harassment, etc. -- and the desire to dominate others are the marks of a regular guy. What sets DSK and Schwarzenegger apart from regular guys is not their behavior, but their fame.

Their alleged offenses are crimes against women, of course, but more specifically, they are crimes against women in the labor field. Some women decline jobs, or do their jobs differently, to avoid harassment, including being grabbed and raped. Let's not forget that this is economic discrimination.

In regard to Schwarzenegger, I'm thinking of the accusations that he assaulted women on movie sets, not the housekeeper with whom he had a longterm relationship. DSK has a similar history of abusing women. Katha Pollitt recounts some of it in a hilarious column, which also mentions the outrage of French feminists.

Some of DSK's supporters also rallied around child rapist Roman Polanski. Meanwhile, New York prosecutors were quick to note that, if DSK had successfully fled -- he was arrested on a plane to Paris -- France would be under no obligation to return him, just as they refused to return Polanski.

Others see U.S. treatment of DSK as revenge against France for protecting Polanski, but they may not know how the U.S. criminal justice system works.

Former feminist Naomi Wolf has sympathy for DSK. As in her defense of accused rapist Julian Assange, she points out that the criminal justice system operated differently than if these two had been regular guys. No kidding. That's because they are famous, with rich and powerful backers. She compares the DSK case to the recent one in which two NY officers were acquitted of rape against a drunk woman they were supposed to help. Expect the system to act differently when two of their own are accused. But don't use that as an excuse for authorities to treat DSK better.

"... policy outcomes can be advanced nowadays, in a surveillance society, by exploiting or manipulating sex-crime charges, whether real or inflated. In other words, ours is increasingly an age of geopolitics by blackmail," Wolf writes.

I have a solution: If men want to advance their policies, they should not commit crimes against women.