Karen Straughan: Gender Politics on the Offensive: Part 1
Interview by GREG SCORZO –
Karen Straughan is famous for being a controversial gender politics Vlogger and Men’s Rights Advocate. Because of the nature of the stances she takes, many people are keen to dismiss her without even considering her arguments long enough to refute them. Because so much of her work induces both feminist and mainstream outrage, it’s often unnoticed that Karen is also an incredibly interesting gender theorist and historian.
This fact is partly what seperates Karen from many other gender activists, be they be feminist or anti-feminist. If Gender Studies departments were open to diverse and provocative views across the ideological spectrum, Karen would perhaps be a celebrity academic on par with Slavoj Zizek. Like Zizek, Karen is one of the more fascinating intellectuals of the 2010s. She is fascinating, in part, because you can gain incredible insights from both agreeing and disagreeing with her. But unlike officially institutionalised intellectuals, Karen does not come from academia. She does not work from an ivory tower. She’s a working waitress who does Vlogs from her kitchen. In this way, Karen’s Vlogs are to conventional academia what punk was to stadium rock. Love her or loath her, she says what many academics are afraid to say.
This interview was initially scheduled to be between 1 and 2 hours. We wound up talking for 7. Here are some of the highlights of what we said.
Man-Splaining and Spreading, Victim Blaming, Sexual Violence Statistics, and Feminist Unicorns.
Karen Straughan: Feminists don’t like me very much.
Greg Scorzo: Some of them certainly don’t. I’ve noticed that whenever you’re mentioned in media that five years ago seemed pretty reasonable, you tend to be vilified. You’re written about not as someone the writer merely disagrees with. You’re written about as though you’re someone who is dangerous, some kind of lunatic, or someone who represents the worst kind of hate group.
Karen Straughan: (laughing) Yeah, I know. It’s actually quite funny. My parents would always tell me “consider the source” when facing ridiculous insults like that. In truth, the fact that I piss off contemporary feminists this much is actually something I’m quite proud of. If I get their backs up this much, that means I’m being effective.
Greg Scorzo: It seems like in the last year, identity politics has gone viral. It’s not even so much the left anymore. It’s becoming the centre. The talking points of these movements are things many people feel frightened to dispute. It’s becoming more etiquette than politics.
Karen Straughan: Yeah, this phenomenon is like what the Overton Window describes.
Every time you have an ideological change that’s adopted by a society, everything shifts in that direction. The new radicals become more radical than the old radicals. The old radicals are now mainstream. Basically, this is just how ideology tends to change in society. The window of ideas that people find pallatable slides in a radical direction. You can see this with any kind of group that advocates for a single issue. That group tends to become, especially if it’s polarising, more radical over time. This is especially true if the character of the ideology has an “us vs them” quality.
Greg Scorzo: In theory, I like to support groups that are disadvantaged rather than privileged. However, it seems that as of late, the movements supporting disadvantaged groups have become so mired in bigotry, social hysteria, censoriousness and bullying that in many ways they are actually worse than the mainstream society they are critiquing. You can’t type in “Feminism” on google news without causing a big avalanche of craziness coming at you at breakneck speed.
Karen Straughan: Oh yeah. I was just reading an article today that was posted yesterday in The Atlantic. It was about something called “Man Slamming.” There were a bunch of commentors saying, “I clicked on this thinking it would be about male bashing.” Predictably, it wasn’t about that at all. It was about a woman who says that when she walks on a sidewalk, men always bump into her. Therefore, this is an oppressive male behaviour to look out for and ostracise. I read this thinking how much this is the opposite of actual social norms. For the most part, a man is the one who you can expect to step off the curb and onto a street in order to allow other people to pass him by.
Greg Scorzo: It’s difficult not to raise an eyebrow when you see certain anecdotal experiences suddenly getting politicised. Someone will do something really rude to another person on the street. That person will then do a blog about it. The blog will claim that the rude person is somehow being representative of some demographic group that they belong to. Of course, the demographic group can’t be women, blacks, gays, or trans people. It has to be an official “oppressor” group. The blog will be trying to make the point that this is how society lets members of an oppressor group casually treat members of an oppressed group on the street. The overall message will be that society should be so ashamed of itself for tolerating this!
Karen Straughan: Yep. That kind of thing is pretty common, these days.
Greg Scorzo: No one ever makes the obvious rejoinder that this kind of blog is actually practicing bigotry.
Karen Straughan: Lots of people do. They just get called “privileged whiny man-babies” or something like that. That’s also a form of bigotry. Jessica Valenti wrote an article in the Guardian before Christmas complaining about how it’s entirely her job to do the Christmas prepations. She complains about how it’s her responsibility to do the shopping, wrap all the presents, and do the baking. She thinks this is her experiencing sexist oppression.
Meanwhile, she openly admits in her article that her husband actually offered to help. She told him she didn’t want his help. Yet she writes as though she bravely took on Christmas gender role expectations all by herself. Meanwhile, she portrays her husband as an incompetent and insensitive buffoon.
Greg Scorzo: That’s very interesting actually. It seems like what she’s doing is combining two things that don’t seem like they go together. On the one hand, she’s playing the feminist victim card. Yet she’s combining that with a 1950s gender stereotype: Women are the competent ones when it comes to shopping, wrapping, and baking.
Karen Straughan: That reminds me: one of the things that came up in the Atlantic article in the comments section was the accusation of “Man-splaining.” Man-splaining is when a man explains something to a woman in a way that’s uniquely condescending and patronising. A guy was accused of man-splaining because he was talking to a woman who had just written a book on subject X. He told her, “Oh, I’ve just read this really cool book on subject X. You should check it out.” The book he was describing happened to be her book. He was seeing himself, according to her, as an authority on the subject who was over and above her.
Of course, anyone could make a mistake like that without seeing themselves as being more of an authority on her subject than she is. If there’s a subject that I feel like I’m an authority on, I’m perfectly happy to hold forth at a table and express my opinions from a position of some authority. I may not necessarily be taking into account that someone else who is pretty quiet but who has some interest in the subject may be just as much of an authority on the subject as me. That has nothing to do with gender.
Yet when you look at what Jessica Valenti is describing in her article when she writes about her husband, she’s literally doing the female equivalent of what man-splaining is supposed to be. What she’s essentially saying to her husband is, “I’m the expert on shopping. I’m the expert on cooking and baking. I’m the expert on wrapping. And you don’t need to worry your manly little head about it because you’d just FUCK IT UP anyway! As a man, you can’t be expected to have any level of competency in these female practices.
This is like an unhealthy version of what happens when I go to Home Depot and I’m looking for dry wall stuff. I go there with my boyfriend and the person serving us will automatically speak to him first because he’s the man. My boyfriend’s not just a normal guy who looks like an accountant. He’s a gigantic, burly, hairy lumberjack of a man. He’s somebody who fits the profile of the person who would be handy around the house. Yet he’s not handy at all. He tells the server “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. This is HER PROJECT.” Then the server talks to me and all I have to do is demonstrate a reasonable amount of knowledge.
After that, the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t matter. They talk to me as though I know what I’m talking about. Now, it would never even occur to me to be offended by this process that starts with them talking to him and then going to me. It would never occur to him to get insecure about it either. For both of us, it doesn’t matter that I know how to install a toilet and he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that people start out assuming the opposite when they interact with us.
Greg Scorzo: It sounds like you don’t mind the fact that in casual etiquette, there are assumptions made about what men and women are like. What matters is that you have the capacity to say, “No, I’m not gender typical in this way.” Then the person you’re interacting with adjusts to accommodate the new info you’ve given them.
Karen Straughan: Absolutely. If we did not have a tendency to make assumptions about gender, we wouldn’t still be here. We would have died out. We’re here because we’re hard-wired to make assumptions about people on the basis of their gender, their appearance, or their roles in society.
Greg Scorzo: How would you distinguish between justifiable (but false) assumptions people can make about each other and assumptions that are just nasty sterotypes?
Karen Straughan: Often, stereotypes just save time. They’re only bad if they are literally harmful to people. For instance, the stereotype that sexual violence is typically committed by men is a stereotype that harms men. It’s unjustified because we have always defined sexual violence explicitly and exclusively as something that only happens to women. We’ve only just started to study sexual aggression in women and how that sexual aggression effects men.
Greg Scorzo: Is your position that sexual violence isn’t gendered? Or is your position that we don’t have enough data to say whether sexual violence has predominantly male or female perpetrators?
Karen Straughan: If we look at the data that has come out over the last two to three years, it’s pretty obvious that sexual violence and aggression is definitely not gendered. On the other hand, our perceptions of sexual violence are very much gendered (male on female). We are much more likely to perceive a woman as the victim even when it comes to something like victim-blaming. You can only victim-blame if you acknowledge that there is a victim. Society doesn’t tend to victim-blame men because people tend to want to high-five a man when his perpetrator is female.
Greg Scorzo: Are you against victim-blaming, in principle?
Karen Straughan: Well, what feminists describe as victim-blaming I am against. They see any kind of preventative advice as victim blaming. They get outraged if someone suggests to a woman that she take a self-defense course as a way of avoiding being the victim of sexual violence. Taking a self-defense course gives you body confidence. It changes the way you carry yourself. It makes you less likely to be targeted for anything, whether it’s sexual assault, robbery, mugging, or whatever. A lot of Feminists see that as victim-blaming because they see it as placing the responsibility on the woman to avoid being attacked rather than on her male attacker. I disagree.
If I’m a cave-woman and I have small children and I see a trail that predators hunt on, I’m not going to let my three year old run ahead of me. If I made the mistake of doing that and a saber tooth tiger killed my child, I’d be pretty traumatised. Once the trauma was over, my brain would immediately try and teach me a lesson. It would say, “You were on a trail that predators hunt on!! What you were thinking??!! You allowed your three year old to run ahead of you!! What were you thinking??!!” This is a normal trauma response.
Even if you are at a red light and the light turns green and you go automatically and a drunk driver T-bones you, the same thing will happen. You’ll say, “Is there anything I could have done to avoid having this happen?” The more severe the trauma, the more your brain is going to try and force you to figure out a way to avoid it happening in the future. That’s why the first person to victim-blame is always the victim. It’s a survival strategy of the brain: Learn a lesson and avoid doing the same thing again.
All of that is just the natural neurological process that constitutes a response to a traumatic event. Feminists want to say that this process should be taboo. How is making this process taboo and calling it self-blame actually a good thing?
How is it good to tell victims that nothing they could have done in advance could have lowered the probability of them being victimised? Doesn’t that just make victims less safe? Doesn’t that psychologically keep victims from being able to move beyond their traumas?
When we look at someone who has had an extreme response to random truma, we’re talking about the person who was hit by lightening on a clear day while they were sitting in their living room. In cases like this, there was really nothing the victim could have done and they are now terrified of the randomness of the world. A sexual violence victim is obviously not in this position and doesn’t need to be. So, trying to prevent them from analysing their past actions does a huge diservice to them. It leaves them less safe in the future. It also leaves them mired in a state of learned helplessness. You become totally afraid of the world if you suffer a trauma you believe there was nothing you could have done to avoid.
Greg Scorzo: Meanwhile, there’s a sane way of thinking about victim-blaming that rarely gets advocated because it’s become so taboo. Basically, all safety advice is implicit victim blaming. Therefore, victim blaming can’t be unconditionally bad. What we have to do instead is make distinctions between good victim blaming and bad victim blaming. Saying a rape victim asked for it because they wore tight pants is obviously a case of bad victim blaming. Reccomending someone lock their doors at night because they live in a shady area is good victim blaming.
Karen Straughan: Agreed. I’ve gotten in the habit of locking the door but I used to leave it unlocked when I went to bed. We’re living in the house that my boyfriend grew up in and he knows that’s not gonna fly. Even people who walk down the street break the windows of cars if they think there might be anything valuable in them. I still leave my car door unlocked because I have nothing of value in there. If people want to go in my car and steal the emergency blanket in my trunk, they can take it. I’d rather lose a blanket than repair a window.
Greg Scorzo: Being an internet celebrity, I would assume you have pretty valuable stuff in your car. Especially with all the speaking engagements you do.
Karen Straughan: No, I still work as a waitress. That’s not so much financial necessity as me wanting to have an excuse to get out of the house and interact with people. I enjoy my job for the most part. There is something for an introvert where deep human interactions can be really exhauasting. Yet there is something very energising and satisfying about an interaction with someone where they come in, they want something from you, you provide it for them, you banter back and forth a little bit. Then they leave happier than when they arrived. Then it’s over.
Greg Scorzo: At work, do they know about your political activism or are they not interested?
Karen Straughan: Everybody at work knows about it. It’s not a secret. After my name came out in the press, I talked to my boss about what I’m doing. I told her that there might come a day when she starts getting phone calls informing her that she has a mysogynistic rape apologist working for her.
Greg Scorzo: (laughs) Oh God!
Karen Straughan: Yeah, it is funny. I’m actually not that worried about people hating me or harming me. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the men’s movment, if they got a female martyr, would extract every drop of benefit from that. No one wants to harm me because they know they’d just be doing the men’s movement a big favour.
Greg Scorzo: That’s disturbing. Then again, the common reaction to you and the movement you are a part of is pretty disturbing. People talk about you as though you might as well be in the KKK.
Karen Straughan: Yeah, I think Feminism has much more in common with the KKK than I do.
Greg Scorzo: I know feminists who love you.
Karen Straughan: That’s awesome and wonderful. I wish they would stop calling themselves feminists.
If you look at the propaganda that contemporary feminists put out regarding rape or domestic violence, there’s very little difference between it and KKK propaganda. The difference between them is feminists have broadened their focus to include all men victimising all women, rather than black men victimising white women. The truth they try and suppress is the fact that women are just as likely to victimise men as the other way around. Most direct violence is committed by men but most of it is against other men. Not women. Men and women are equally likely to victimise each other with violence.
When it comes to male and female perpetrators, both are much more likely to perpetrate violence against a male than a female. That’s right from the word go. We’re talking about 7 months of age. From the time a boy is a baby, he’s more likely to be hit than his sister by both parents or any adult caregiver. When you look at all of that, its pretty obvious that men and women have an equal propensity for cross-gender perpetrations of harm. That’s everything up to and including sexual violence. If you actually define sexual violence against men the same way you define it against women, you find roughly equal numbers of male and female victims. You also find that the majority of the perpetrators against male victims are women and girls.
Greg Scorzo: Is this the view of the majority of statisticians who study this? Or is this an extrapolation that you’ve made from looking at certain data?
Karen Straughan: This view is what you can see from the most recent research on this topic. Like I said, this isn’t something that statisticians really looked at before. I think 2005 was when Denise Hines published her huge cross-cultural study on heterosexual violence within relationships. She found that the violence done by men and women was about roughly equal. Men were more likely to say that they had been physically forced into sex by their partners than the other way around. Women were slightly more likely to say that they had been verbally coerced into sex.
There was also additional data on a national geographic website that found that 43% of college aged men had reported unwanted sexual experiences. Half of them reported that they had been physically forced or coerced into sex when they didn’t want to have intercourse. These men said 95% of the perpetrators were female. It may well be that men are more likely to be victimised in this way. They just don’t necessarily see themselves as victims and the culture doesn’t either.
Greg Scorzo: It’s hard to come up with an accurate summation of the data if the data is so highly influenced by dubious assumptions regarding how to think about sexual violence. Those assumptions can make it look like, no matter what, men are always doing it more than women.
Karen Straughan: This is one of the things about the CDC’s national intimate partner and sexual violence survey that I find just hilarious. Or rather, it would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad and predictable. They split up experiences of forced sexual intercourse into two categories. One was rape where the victim was penetrated. One was “made to penetrate” where the victim was forced to penetrate another person. These categories are ridiculous.
If I were to force oral sex on a man, I wouldn’t be forceably penetrating him. I’m forceably enveloping his penis in my mouth. It’s unbelievable that this study ignores that. In the summary report and in the press release, the CDC highlighted the lifetime numbers for rape. They did this because that presents the largest proportion, by population, of female victims and male perpetrators. They didn’t even mention the numbers for “made to penetrate.”
Over a lifetime, 80% of men who were “made to penetrate” reported only female perpetrators. We have a situation where the CDC goes out of its way to split the categories to make the study say that forcing a woman to have sex is rape. Forcing a man to have sex is something but its not rape. Then they go out of their way to publicise the numbers for rape that have the highest number of female victims, the largest number of porportionate male perpetrators, no female perpetrators being statistically significant, and nearly no male victims of any statistical significance.
There’s 1 in 71 male victims (who coincidentally happen to be victimised by men). So it’s not even necessarily the case that they are trying to hide male victims. I think that feminists have always been ok with saying that men can be victims of other men. But there does seem to be an effort to conceal female perpetrators.
Greg Scorzo: Their existence disrupts the feminist narrative.
Karen Straughan: It certainly does. It pokes a hole into their unifying theory of patriarchy.
Greg Scorzo: Patriarchy is kind of a unifying theory of everything, isn’t it?
Karen Straughan: It’s a grand unifying theory. The sub-theories that they use to prove the big theory are patriarchal theories of sexual violence, domestic violence, and systemic gendered violence against women. They do this even though women are the smallest demographic of violence victims. Feminists still say their victimisation is systemic because they are women. That’s crazy. Also, the feminist idea that marriage is the enslavement of women by men, that it’s dangerous for women, that’s crazy too. The safest place for a woman to be in relation to all forms of violence is in a stable marriage. That’s also the safest place for a child.
Greg Scorzo: I thought women were more likely to be raped within marriages rather than by people on the street.
Karen Straughan: That’s true but being raped by someone on the street is extremely unlikely in a society where you don’t have constant conflict. We’re in the West. This isn’t the Congo. This isn’t Afghanistan under the Taliban. We’re living in a society where 80 percent of rapes are committed by an intimate partner or an acquaintance. A lot of those happen in a dating scenario. Not necessarily an intimate partner scenaro. It’s not an established relationship. You also have to look at it the other way around like Denise Hines did. She showed that however much marital rape is going on where men are raping their wives, there’s about an equal amount that’s going on where women are raping their husbands (using the same definitions).
Greg Scorzo: Let’s assume someone responded to you by saying, “Well, there might be recent studies that give us these conclusions you speak of. Four or five maybe. However, if you look at the accumulation of all the studies done on this topic over time, we see the opposite picture.” Would would you say to this kind of rebuttal?
Karen Straughan: I would say that we should be skeptical of the methodology used in most of those older studies. Those studies often don’t have a sample size that is large, not biased, and not self-selecting. They normally don’t ask men and women the same questions. Because these studies have traditionally been influenced by feminist advocacy research, you can bet that much of the data doesn’t even square with the results, conclusions, or discussions they do.
I actually looked at a study that was done by a feminist researcher where the data tables said that six percent of women and seven percent of men claimed that they only hit in self-defense. In her discussion section, she said something along the lines of, “Although men typically hit to exert coercive control over a partner, women generally hit only in self-defence.” So she completely ignored her own data and then just made an assertion that was completely contrary to the data she’d gathered in her results and discussion section. That’s how bad feminist research often is. The feminist awareness campaigns about sexual violence are even worse.
There was a poster campaign called, “Don’t Be that Guy.” The posters were aimed at men and were saying things like, “Just because she’s been drinking that doesn’t mean she wants to have sex. Don’t be that guy.” On the posters were pictures of women being victimised by scary male figures who were often faceless. Or there would be a picture of a drunk woman passed out in her own puke while you can see the shadow of a man undoing his belt. There were slogans that said, “Just because she isn’t saying no, that doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.” In every poster, there was a male victimiser with a female victim. These posters were portraying sexual assault as completely gendered (male on female). A lot of men were understandeably frustrated by these posters. So we (Men’s Rights Edmonton) put up our own posters, which were mostly focussed on false rape accusations.
They had slogans on them like, “Just because you regret a one night stand, it doesn’t mean what happened wasn’t consensual. Don’t be that girl!” Shortly after we put the posters up, it created a huge media shit storm. What’s interesting is that our posters were more accurate than the originals in terms of the statistics we used. Statistically, women are more likely than men to falsely accuse anyone of anything. One interesting fact is false allegations of rape are often not prosecuted even in circumstances where there is video evidence confirming that the rape accusation is false.
Greg Scorzo: Even some non-feminists had a problem with your posters. They worried your posters were giving female rape victims the impression that they would be seen as potential false accusers if they prosecuted a male perpetrator. They feared that these posters would give female rape victims an additional incentive not to come forward and prosecute any potential perpetrator. What are your thoughts on this concern?
Karen Straughan: I think every rape victim should be seen as a potential false accuser. Every single reporting victim of any crime should be seen as a potential false accuser. There’s a reason why “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is in the top ten list of things to avoid doing in the Bible. During Biblical times, there were numerous crimes that were capital crimes which could get you executed. If it wasn’t execution, you could get your hand chopped off or your ear cut off or your nose cut off. That’s why false accusations of crimes were so heavily disapproved of during Biblical times.
We still take false accusations seriously but only when we’re not dealing with crimes like rape. If I make a report to my insurance company and say somebody broke into my house and stole my fifty two inch HD TV that’s worth 8, 000 dollars, I have to prove that I own that TV. I have to prove that I own that TV before I get any money from my insurance company. I can’t just say something was stolen from me. If I get in a car accident, get whiplash, am offwork and need insurance to pay for my living expenses, the insurance company will literally pay someone to follow me around and watch me. They do this to make sure I’m not lying.
Greg Scorzo: Suppose someone said, “I take your point about false accusations regarding a theft. But rape is different. Rape is such a horrible, soul crushing, and traumatic experience for the victim, that it shouldn’t be treated like other crimes. Rape victims shouldn’t worry about being seen as false accusers. They have enough incentives not to prosecute their perpertrators. Adding one more thing on top of that pile is just cruel. It’s cruel, even if, legally, we have to in some sense treat rape victims as potential false accusers.”
Karen Straughan: Well, every man is a man who could potentially be falsely accused of rape. Does that mean we should treat all rape accusations against men as though they are false? Would we think this was an acceptable stance to take in order to avoid adding to the harm that befalls falsely accused men? We wouldn’t because we don’t value the harm that’s done to a falsely accused man anywhere near as much as we value the harm that’s done to a raped woman.
The truth is, both rape and the false rape accusation are harm causing crimes. They both ruin people’s lives. Right now, we take one of those crimes so seriously that it results in multiple years in jail if convicted. The other crime we take so lightly that we call it “a misdemeanor”, “public mischief”, or occasionally, “perverting the course of justice.”
People don’t really consider the impact of what happens to someone falsely accused of a crime that they could be thrown in jail for. That person could be arrested, handcuffed, removed from their home, put in a prison cell, and questioned. If you hired somebody to “rough up” a guy, ducktape his hands, hall him out of his house, and lock him in a tool shed somewhere for two days, you’d be guilty of multiple criminal offences.
When a woman makes a false rape accusation against a man, it’s the police who do the equivalent of all those things to the man she’s accusing. They do it to him on her behalf. She gets to avoid all the charges that would have happened if she had hired a thug to do those things. She just gets charged with filing a false police report which is a misdemeanor. At worst, it might require her to do community service.
Greg Scorzo: Do you think, on the whole, being falsely accused of rape is as bad as being raped?
Karen Straughan: As a victim of sexual violence, I would say being falsely accused is worse. I have kids. If I was forced to have sex when I didn’t want to, I could still come home to my kids. As difficult as it might be, I could still be around the people that I love. I know I would have their sympathy. I’d have the sympathy of people in the community who know what I’ve been through. When I feel like I can apply for a job again, no employer is going to say, “You were raped. I’m not going to hire you.”
There isn’t the entire apparatus of the criminal justice system with police and lawyers and judges and prosecutors and guardians trying to separete me from my partner. There’s no one trying to take my kids away from me because I’m unfit. There’s no one who is going to lock me in a room for the next five years. There’s none of that.
All of my problems, if I’m raped, are in me. Meanwhile, I have all this external help available to me. I have support from my family. I have my life intact. I may be psychologically traumatised by the rape but I still have my kids, I still have my husband, I still have a job, I still have the ability to get a job, I still have my freedom. When you falsely accuse someone of rape, what they experience is not just one person victimising them. The person falsely accused faces an entire system supported by the government going after them. That’s after their friends and family have possibly abandoned them too.
That entire system is looking to put the falsely accused man in a jail cell for the next five years where he won’t have access to his partner or his kids. When he does get out, his kids may be completely inaccessible to him. The government may say he’s not fit to even be with them unsupervised. Sometimes they declare he isn’t fit to be with them at all.
When a woman is raped by a man, it’s absolutely horrendous but it’s still just one person victimising her. The system does what it can to help her. When a man is falsely accused of rape, all of the system either abandons him or attacks him. When a man rapes a woman, he holds her down and fucks her. When a woman falsely accuses a man of rape, she gets the government and the courts and the police to hold him down and fuck him. Possibly forever.
Greg Scorzo: One of the critiques that you gave of the original, “Don’t be that Guy” posters is that they send the message that a rape can be a singular mistake an ordinary guy can make and learn from. You quote a study that says the majority of campus rapes are done by repeat offenders. You say the men who commit these rapes are just a small minority of men with psychological problems. Not men who are in any way representative of your average guy who might make a mistake and accidentally rape a woman.
Suppose someone said, “It’s true that your average guy in the 90’s and 00’s would not have been an accidental rapist. However, given how broad definitions of rape and sexual assault are becoming today, ordinary nice guys can be perpetrators of accidental rapes and sexual assaults. This is what the original posters were trying to raise awareness of.” How would you respond to that?
Karen Straughan: If rape is something an ordinary nice guy can accidentally do, it’s the woman’s fault. With a nice man who might rape accidentally and not on purpose, all the woman has to do is say, “You’re raping me” and he will stop. An interesting point that Allison Tieman brought up is that when a man “accidentally rapes a woman”, it’s almost like the woman is also raping the man. The man, after all, did not consent to perform the sexual act of rape. If the woman is dishonest with him and doesn’t let him know that this is the sexual act he’s participating in, he’s not given informed consent. She’s sexually victimising him.
There was a study where 2% of men were recorded as saying they had raped once. It’s altogether possible that they were men who felt guilty because they felt like they had violated a woman even when she consented. Or it’s possible that they were men who crossed a line but the woman didn’t let them know until after the act was over. What seems to be the case is society is trying to make it so that men have to wait until women give an affirmative yes before having sex with them. In reality, we should be telling women they have a responsibility to say “No!” when they don’t want to have sex. Most guys aren’t interested in having sex with a woman whose not into it.
Greg Scorzo: So it sounds like you’re objecting to the entire way male on female and female on male sexual violence is conceptualised in society.
Karen Straughan: Yes.
Greg Scorzo: It seems like you think the entire way of explaining the phenomenon is actually backwards.
Karen Straughan: Feminists explain it with phrases like, “Rape is the means by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Or, “Rape is part of a concerted campaign.” Or they say, “As long as some men rape, not all men need to rape. As long as some men do it, all women are kept subordinated.”
Greg Scorzo: Yes, that’s classic bigotry.
Karen Straughan: It is. I think an important point though is feminists have gone out of their way to tie rape to maleness. I don’t think its healthy to do that with any gender. I would encourage male rape victims not to, in some way, connect rape with the gender of their perpetrator. I don’t think it would be healthy for us to start treating those male rape victims the way we currently treat female victims of rape. I don’t think that’s healthy for anyone. But since the early days of the second wave, Feminism has gone out of its way to attribute a whole host of criminal and anti-social behaviour to masculinity.
Greg Scorzo: Would you acknowledge that there have been any good ideas in Feminism which are independent of things like shoddy feminist statistics?
Karen Straughan: What do you mean?
Greg Scorzo: Well, much of what you say in your Vlogs sounds like some of the Feminism of the 90s. The reason I say that is because so much of what you say sounds so similar to the feminists who taught me as an undergraduate. It seems like there’s a 20th century feminist tradition that the Feminism of the last five years is kind of shitting on. But that tradition seems very close to you.
Karen Straughan: Are you familiar with the writings of E. Belfort Bax?
Greg Scorzo: No, I’m not.
Karen Straughan: He was a Socialist Marxist from around the turn of the 20th century. In 1908 and 1911, he wrote a series of essays criticising what he called “Sentimental Feminism.” He described it as being completely different from what we would now call “Individualist Feminism” or “Equity Feminism.” Sentimental Feminism was the predominant expression of Feminism because it was emotionally charged. It embraced enough of the traditional ways of viewing men and women to be palletable to the masses. I think the suffregettes were largely part of the sentimental feminist movement. So were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Susan B Anthony was a huge prohibitionist.
So there’s always been a schism within Feminism. There’s always been people who call themselves women’s advocates who were extremely egalitarian and extremely tough. They wanted to essentially have women play on an equal playing field to men without any special priviliges or treatment. These people have always been the minority in Feminism. You can see that in the legislative reforms for things like coverture, the marital property act, family law and things which go as far back as the mid to late 19th century.
All of these changes gave women more rights but kept men to their assigned responsibilities and obligations within society. When the Tender Years Doctrine came in (the brain child of Carolyn Norton), Norton convinced the British government that it was unfair to assume maternal custody in cases of divorce. At the time, men got custody because men in marriage and after marriage had the entire job of feeding and sheltering the kids. So, because the man was paying for the kids, the kids were his. They were his responsibility. Carolyn Norton came along and said this did not serve women’s happiness. It was described in the Declaration of Sentiments as a tyranny over women. Feminists said it completely ignored the happiness of women, yet there was no mention of the responsibilities of women or the obligations of women. It was only the happiness of women that was their concern.
Norton convinced the UK government to change it’s laws to what is called default maternal custody. At the same time, men still got stuck with the entire bill. This really complicated things because at the time, it was no easier for a man to obtain a divorce than a woman. To get a divorce, you had to prove “cause” and you couldn’t use your own misbehaviour as “cause.” As a man, you couldn’t cheat on your wife and use that as an excuse to get a divorce. The wife had to be the one who said, “My husband cheated and now I want a divorce.”
So we had a situation where it was very difficult for a man to obtain a divorce. If a woman could not prove that her husband was at fault, she left with nothing. If she could prove that he was at fault, she got alimony for the rest of her life or until she remarried. This is because he was the one who breached the legal contract. The contract was, “I, the husband will support you financially for the rest of your life.” If the husband breached this contract, the woman could leave her obligations and still hold the husband to his.
When women started getting custody of the children and men remained financially responsible for them, the man still had to pay alimony and child support. This was true even when the woman was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Because the man was responsible for supporting the children and his ex-wife, he was responsible for supporting that entire household; a household he was no longer a part of.
What feminists today describe as “Patriarchal Privilege” was men getting the kids and getting the entire responsiblity for financially taking care of them. What the earliest feminists did was transfer all the rights to women but keep all the responsibilites for men. Today, feminists still call that “equality.”
Greg Scorzo: But there are feminists who oppose most of what you’ve just described.
Karen Straughan: I know. Karen DeCrow is one feminist who actually argued and won a case in a lower court for legal and paternal surrender. Even though a man was the biological father of a baby, she argued, it was entirely the woman’s decision to bring the baby into the world. DeCrow argued that the woman should not be able to force another human being to pay for her unilateral choices. DeCrow was the president of the National Organization for Women in the 1970s.
Greg Scorzo: I saw an article writen about her when she passed away. The headline of the piece was, “How a Feminist became a Men’s Rights Advocate.”
Karen Straughan: Cathy Young wrote that. Young also describes herself as a feminist.
Greg Scorzo: So does Christina Hoff Sommers.
Karen Straughan: Yes, she advocates for men too. But within Feminism, those women are the unicorns. When you look at the vast majority of the feminist movement, particularly the politically active parts, you don’t see anything resembling them. Florida, for instance, is one of the last states in the US that has a default assumption of lifetime alimony. In Florida, divorces were happening where women were working and the man wasn’t. Women were starting to be assigned to pay lifetime alimony to their ex-husbands. Feminists decided that this just wasn’t fair. They couldn’t bear the thought of women being treated the way that men had been treated for centuries.
So feminists introduced a bill that eliminated lifetime alimony and put severe restrictions on how and when it would ever be considered. This bill had something like eighty percent support from the electorate. It had overwhelming bi-partison support in both houses. It passed and when it got up to the point where the governor was gonna sign it into law, the National Organisation for Women’s Florida chapter convinced him to veto it. The reasoning was that a greater amount of women would be harmed by removing lifetime alimony. That perfectly illustrates how feminists aren’t interested in fairness or equality. They’re only interested in what’s best for women in any given situation.
Greg Scorzo: I guess the crucial point in your analysis is that you think the unreasonable feminists you describe represent Feminism. Not feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers or Karen DeCrow.
Karen Straughan: Well, the National Organisation for Women is the largest feminist organisation in the US. Maybe in the world.
Greg Scorzo: What would you say if Christina Hoff Sommers or Karen DeCrow or Cathy Young were here right now and they said, “Look, we agree with you about feminist research and the National Organisation for Women’s negative influence on the law. But what you’re saying isn’t really a criticism of Feminism itself. We’re feminists and we oppose most of what you oppose. We’re on your side!”
Karen Straughan: I would say, “Ladies, check out the wikipedia page for Feminism. I can almost guarantee you that you’re listed in the anti-Feminism section of that page.” I know for a fact that Christina Hoff Sommers was, last time I checked. She was listed right next to right-wing reactionaries and Rush Limbaugh. So I would say “Ladies, these feminists who think the way the vast majority of feminists think are telling you that you’re not one of them! So if you want to keep calling yourselves feminists in order to piss them off and be a thorn in their side, I’m all for that.”
I’m perfectly fine with people who have a very strong voice in media who call themselves feminists but who are extremely critical of mainstream Feminism. They have a voice and if they want to call themselves a feminist while they’re criticising the large majority of feminists, maybe the strength of their voices will have a positive impact.
There’s also what I would call “coffee shop feminists.” This is the kind of woman who calls herself a feminist. She believes in equality without believing in patriarchy theory or rape culture or systemic gendered violence or the Duluth model of domestic violence and just wants fair and equal treatment under the law. She’s exactly the feminist who doesn’t have a voice, politically, or in the media. All she functions as is a body under the feminist banner.
So when the legislator is looking across his desk at a more typical feminist standing in front of him who shouts, “I speak for feminists!” and he then sees the banner of Feminism outside his window with all these people underneath it, the coffee shop feminist is just one more body under that banner. The only power she has in society is to add weight and validation to the words of the more typical feminist trying to convince that legislator to do something stupid.
Greg Scorzo: Suppose a coffee shop feminist said, “Actually, we are the silent majority of feminists. It’s only the radicals who get media attention and who write the Feminism wikipedia pages. But most female feminists are just average women who want gender equality, women just like you. Your average feminist on the street is not like Jessica Valenti. She’s not like Amanda Marcotte. She’s not like Laurie Penny. Your average feminist is far more reasonable than that.“ How would you respond to this coffee shop feminist?
Karen Straughan: I would tell this coffee shop feminist that I disagree with her. There are feminists who occasionally come to Men’s Rights subreddit or other places like that. Most of them do have a general sense that they’re a person with good intentions. They believe they see men as human beings. But when you actually engage them in conversation and you actually look at what they’re often saying, it’s just a toned down version of what Mary Daly says or whatever the nutbar feminist du jour believes. It’s often just Andrea Dworkin-lite. These feminists, even though they see themselves as having good intensions, still hold certain ridiculous axioms to be true. I would say this is even true of Christina Hoff Sommers. Even she thinks that women were historically, unjustly, and arbitrarily oppressed. I find that assertion, to use a feminist word, “problematic.”
I would concede that if you look at history, you could maybe argue that men and women were equally disadvantaged. But pinning oppression solely on women is absolutely ridiculous. In the olden days, men were clearly not solely responsible for deciding how society worked. Women were not simply going along with male dominated social systems because of internalised mysogyny. Society largely operated the way women wanted it to, given the environment that they were living in throughout most of history.
When that environment changed because of industrialisation, women demanded changes and women got those changes. So there is a tendency, even among equality minded feminists to see the world before the 20th century through the lense of modernity. Because women want certain oppurtunities now, modern feminists erronously assume that women would have wanted those oppurtunities five hundred years ago.
I don’t think women would have wanted political power during times when that power was handed from a dead man’s hands into the hands of his successor or usurper. Kings often had lower life expectancies than surfs. Officers were more likely to be killed than infantry men because everything was that much more dangerous. You had a situation where power came with much more exorbidant costs in previous centuries. Women have evolved to avoid those kinds of costs, just through necessity. If women didn’t, women wouldn’t have had babies and passed on their risk taking traits to future generations. Or they would have passed them on to much fewer children than the average woman was capable of having.
Greg Scorzo: Is it incredibly important to you that someone you consider a political ally deny that patriarchy ever existed? If someone holds all your views about contemporary Feminism, are they not really an ally if they think that in the past, the patriarchy really did exist?
Karen Straughan: I think patriarchal societies have existed in the past. But what I have concluded is that feminists who explained those societies have the causality in those societies backwards. They seem to think that patriarchy imposes gender roles. In reality, gender roles within certain environments are what impose patriarchies. Not the other way around.