Maybe you noticed that my website suddenly looks different. There’s a reason for that. I’ve been trying to think how to phrase what this reason is in a direct, clear way. All I can come up with is this:
Someone crudely “hacked” my site yesterday. It was a day in which I was experiencing high levels of vitriol because of an op-ed I wrote with Gloria Steinem (the founder of my project at the Women’s Media Center, Women Under Siege) that was published in The Guardian UK. The piece was about how a false image of manhood is contributing to the high levels of rape around the world, especially in war zones or street gangs. The idea is that, while the majority of men are not rapists by any stretch of the imagination, some men become addicted to control, which is part of what we’re calling the “cult of masculinity.” This addiction can make men act violently and risk their lives against their own self-interest as human beings. I.e. it’s a bad thing; it’s a cult.
But that’s not how many men seem to have read it. Many men, it seems, took our concept as a personal attack—as if talking about an extreme end of masculinity meant we were deriding them as an entire gender. We weren’t. I’ll repeat: Not all men are rapists or control-addicted.
The Guardian’s editor asked me to engage with readers in the comments section. I tried that. No matter what I seemed to write, I was attacked. My language was called sloppy when I said that there was good news in that “all men have the ability to be role models in the fight against rape.” (“We are role models!” They yelled. Yes, yes, some of you are, of course I know that.)
Many of the comments were out-and-out sexist, as I’m sure you can imagine. Here’s a particularly good one. The pull quote the writer cites at the top is from another commenter who appears to support our premise. (Note that 31 people recommended this comment to their fellow readers):
By evening, I was dismayed enough by the overall response to the op-ed to wonder whether it is possible to have a non-heated or personalized discussion about the causes of rape at all. I wondered why it is that the media can spill millions of pages of ink each year on femininity and deriding women but I can’t even consider how men are contributing to violence against women in a public space. I can’t, it seems, ask what it is that causes men to sexually assault 1 in 5 women in the U.S. and more than 400,000 women a year in the Democratic of Congo. My bad.
Anyway, so back to why my site looks different today. I needed to do some rejiggering for security after someone last night felt the need to hack this onto it:
I’ll leave the rest of this commentary to you—the women and men who know how to articulate cogent thoughts, rather than shove demeaning images and words in my face. It comforts me to know you’re out there.
*Addendum, 7:51 p.m. Since this all happened, I’ve been in conversation with Gloria about it. She just sent me some thoughts to share here:
“In fact, we went out of our way to defend men against statistics that can be misleading. If you just say how many women have been sexually assaulted, it seems that the same number of men are rapists, when, in fact, there are fewer men who rape multiple times.
“But it’s also true that in any situation of unequal power, it’s threatening for the more powerful to feel criticized. Think about it: It’s okay for women to ‘sing the blues,’ but not okay to equalize reasons for blues-singing. It’s okay to talk about the feminization of poverty, but not okay to talk about about the masculinization of wealth. It’s okay to talk about poor black people, but not so okay to talk about white racism and rich white people—and so on.
“Also we’re so accustomed to hierarchy that it’s hard to imagine equality. I think some men imagine reversal—women are going to do to them what they’ve have done to women—but that’s just guilt talking. Probably our first job is to imagine equality. After all, hope is a form of planning!”