How writing with Gloria Steinem about rape got me hated and hacked*

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!”

54 Responses to “How writing with Gloria Steinem about rape got me hated and hacked*”

  1. Tamsin

    It’s something that’s baffled me all my life. Men seem to think collectively – it’s often not possible to criticise the male gender as a whole, or even in part – no matter how conclusively history, reality or evidence supports the criticism – without it being taken as a personal affront. When not-so-desirable aspects of the female gender are highlighted, I’m able to be objective and agree or, if the criticism justifiably pertains to me personally, will go away and think on it. Many men’s inner sense of masculinity is dangerously fragile and the survival of their egos depends heavily upon those myths surrounding what masculinity is hyped to be – as covered, correctly, in a negative light in your piece. Is it that men are hard-wired with a ‘pack mentality’ mindset? Anyway, I’ve always found it very frustrating as it can often become impossible to discuss the undeniably real and painfully apparent injustices (and atrocities) which exist in what could only be described as an entirely patriarchal world. And those injustices and atrocities are possibly the greatest that exist – affecting half the world’s population and carried out largely unchecked and unpunished since time immemorial.

    • Michelle

      Very thoughtfully written, Tamsin! Wish there was a ‘recommend’ or a ‘like’ button to click! 🙂

    • Rob Ward

      I do have to come back on the “Men seem to think collectively” comment. No, that many of the most visible men think as a group may be true to an extent, but why is it that these men are the most visible? Because they are the loudest.

      We have to be clear here what a tiny minority of men these trolls are, as prolific in their hatred on such threads as this, as perpetrators of sexual violence tend to be. They are not simply the few who express what all men are collectively thinking.

      Don’t get me wrong, I understand the frustration that may lead to a comment like that, but as one of the men who is sometimes not heard because he does not ever speak as a group, as one of the boys, it is frustrating to think that the intelligent and thoughtful men who do not engage in discourse in this mob-like manner may be the ones who are overlooked even by those feminists who are looking to improve our society and limit the rigidity of socially constructed gender roles.

      I explain why I think some men express themselves in this hateful manner elsewhere on this thread, but please bear in mind that they certainly do not speak for all men, or indeed anything but a very small minority. (Though a specrum then runs through to those men who welcome discussions such as this through those men who don’t offer hostility but certainly suspicion etc etc.)

      I would also like to query the idea that men may be “hard-wired with a ‘pack mentality’ mindset”. It used to frustrate me that classical feminism sometimes fell into the trap of viewing women’s behaviour as being socially constructed, while men’s behaviour was consciously driven to promote patriarchy. Lauren’s view is a lot more refined, seeing both men and women as being trapped in socially constucted gender roles, which may indeed be exaggerations of some innate differences, but goes way beyond them.

      Why then, even if it were the case that men think collectively, should it be considered that this is an innate differences, rather than the result (with negative consequences both for the men themselves and society as a whole) of social conventions?

      I would like to offer a modified version of this pack mentality idea:

      A significant minority of men, who are vocal and aggressive in putting forward their ill thought through ideas, and therefore generally highly visible, have a tendency to think as a collective, and to be reassured by this.

      This may be an extension of innate differences between male and female communication, but largely it is a result of social conventions and widely held conceptions of acceptable behaviour.

      • Leah

        I appreciate your ability to contest generalization and make space for your experience without trying to invalidate the original commenter’s very real critique. You even take it further and add nuance based on your own perspective and experiences–something totally lacking in comments on the original article and very welcome here!! I agree with this refined version of the point–those who feel most threatened (because they are most reliant on the power formulations being questioned) feel they must shout the loudest and must create a sense of as large a group of “like me’s” as possible in order to reinforce their own position of power against critique. For those who think for themselves and see themselves on their own terms, and thus have less to fear from hearing others out, every question is not quite such an emergency and does not require nearly so much shouting.

      • Ari

        I would go a step farther and point out that “thinking collectively” is a feature of group dynamics and generally encouraged (in beneficial ways as well as maliciously) by the neutral functioning of any society as a means of holding itself together. As such, there isn’t anything particularly “male” about groupthink.

  2. Elizabeth Hall Magill

    Ms. Wolfe,

    It comforts me to know that you’re out there–that you and other brave women and men are trying to have this cogent conversation. I have recently entered the fray with a feminist blog, Yo Mama. I am sometimes overwhelmed with sadness by what I’m learning about rape culture, and the work you are doing is absolutely essential if we are to get anywhere near gender equality, or a sense of wholeness for both women and men.

    My husband, who teaches gender and masculinity at Longwood University, often discusses the definition of masculinity and the anxiety that surrounds it—the cultural definition of manhood is about control and power, and that definition hurts men as well as women. It seems that if we even bring up the topic, however, we are met with defensiveness—either from those who are interested in keeping control or from those who feel attacked by the mere idea of a discussion, as if a cultural concept is somehow a personal accusation.

    I hope it encourages you to know that there are many, many people out here who support your mission and your desire to have an intelligent, non-threatening conversation—and that we are grateful to you for doing so.

    Elizabeth Magill

  3. Elizabeth Pickett

    I still wonder if open comment sections do more harm than good. Once the hijackers get started it’s really hard to stay on track. I’m very sorry this happened. I have to keep believing that there are men out there who are capable of this kind of conversation. Not many. But some. My bet is, they didn’t read this article or, if they did, they didn’t comment. Why not? is what I wonder. Why not.

  4. Bob Lamm

    I did a lecture at various colleges in the 1970s and 1980s on “Masculinity, Male Bonding, and Rape.” I viewed and still view these three “separate” realities as intimately connected. Masculinity is the ideology, male bonding is the support system, rape is the practice. It is absolutely true that all men have the ability to be role models in the fight against rape. I know some who are, in wonderful ways. But the vast majority of men will never even challenge a “joke” about rape, much less seriously address the reality of rape and other forms of violence against women.

    • treisiroon

      These are important, serious and sensitive topics. If you make claims, you should support them with facts. This is the only way to have constructive dialogue. Unless you have research to support “the vast majority of men will never even challenge a “joke” about rape”, you should avoid saying it. If you do have research, you should present it.

      When we ourselves stick to facts and avoid emotive, but unsubstantiated claims, we can also require the same of our discussants.

      • Abigail Collazo

        I got the impression that he really meant “in my experience” – ie not saying this factually, but more anecdotally, which I think is very true, and his broader point was an important one to bring up. You’re absolutely right though about being sure that we have the facts and data to back up statements, and that we’re clear about what we mean!

      • Kay

        That doesn’t seem too bold a statement, though. Honestly, if any significant percentage of men started challenging rape jokes, they’d die out pretty quickly. Simply their continued existence proves they are rarely, if ever, remarked upon.

  5. Deen Freelon

    “Addicted to control.” Such an apt phrasing for a phenomenon that seems to lie at the bottom of nearly every human-caused social ill, be it rape, violence, theft, economic exploitation, despotism, etc. As a man, I find it baffling how anyone could deny its existence–it’s on the news, in our communities, in our workplaces, our families. It seems that the lure of domination corrupts not only those that actually possess it, but also those who identify with them and perhaps aspire to move into their ranks. It’s disgusting, and I hope if it ever happens to me, there’s someone there to bring me back to my senses.

    Thanks for bringing up this issue–it really can’t be raised enough.

  6. Jackie Byrn

    Your writing is very important at this time. Healthy men will continue to outnumber those confused by the meaning of “the cult of masculinity”. The term has created a platform for dialogue…….very simple really and certainly not an issue for more anger and misunderstanding. Working with healthy men will bring every feminist organization added credibility.

  7. Michelle

    Ms. Wolfe, thank you so much to writing this! I see you as a voice for those of us who do not or can not discuss this on the web or with others, for the mere fact that there is going to be backlash from the insecure and uneducated. Kudo’s to you!

  8. Alison

    You go, Lauren!! Get that opinion out there! Things have been getting worse over the last few years. Even in professional circles, I have started to expected negative and even aggressive reactions to the expression of support for the feminist cause. It has become fashionable even for women to express sexist intolerance towards other women (especially mothers). Any one who works to counter this is saving society. And, in fact, I think the more torrid outpourings of hate you stir up, the better. Let’s see the thugs of hatred and prejudice get their rage on out in the open, in front of the world. That might help to convince waverers that misogyny is STILL a problem, and that eventually it will be THEIR problem…

  9. Michelle

    Reading through the comments on the first page, it seems that men felt attacked for being masculine, without seeing that you weren’t all attacking all aspects of it but more the blind adherence to the destructive aspect of the gender norm. Gender norms are always ideological so there is always going to be a push back when the ideology behind them is called into question because it isn’t a logical process but a one based around social beliefs (I studied social psychology and gender, so I’m looking at this through that lens). I do think your replies to the comments were very logical and open-minded.

    I’ve worked abroad as a freelance writer–Mongolia and Cambodia–and felt I learned a lot researching stories on violence against women and how local women’s groups responded to the situation and the “ideology of patriarchy” (essentially questioning masculinity without attacking it–a fine line in places like Mongolia). They get that same push-back as well, but they keep going.

  10. Alex Zucker

    Illegitimi non carborundum. Keep up the good work, Lauren. This project is absolutely necessary. Again, thank you for undertaking it.

  11. Kati Pul

    Great article and I’m happy to support women like you to speak for the feminist cause in such a professional way. Keep going PLEASE!!!

  12. Jerry Sumpton

    Awareness is not enough–for decades. Nothing new. No matter how well written–it could just be a bullet list statements. Same global, country, or local affect.

    I don’t have the answer, but it is, in my mind, obvious that awareness is not enough for change.

  13. Abigail Collazo

    Actually, while I really do appreciate the statements made about how not all men are rapists (obviously true), I don’t agree with those men that think they are totally blameless. Attacking women who bring it up at all, joining the conversation simply to defend themselves, attacking feminism because they feel their “manhood” threatened . . . all of these things contribute to global violence against women. I am annoyed that we, as women, still feel obligated to take up space repeating over and over and over again “we don’t mean ALL men!” just to protect their fragile egos. Interestingly, if you don’t actually use the word “rape”, a frighteningly large number of men will admit to having raped a woman.

    Lauren, you’re doing amazing work and your Op-Ed piece was terrific – words that needed to be said. Don’t waste your time or breath arguing with men’s rights advocates who are feeling collective patriarchal guilt and are tired of being cast as the bad guys. Know what? If they stopped protecting this behavior and condoning it by harassing feminists, laughing at rape jokes, and denying women reproductive autonomy, I’d be less likely to assume they were the bad guys in the first place. Keep up the awesome work – the world needs you. I need you.

    • Tee

      Exactly what I was thinking, Abigail. Well said.

      I mean, it doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to realise that if someone is violently protesting that they aren’t violent, then maybe they are proving themselves wrong by their own actions? It astonishes me just how much people are in denial of their own faults while easily pointing out their presumed “faults” of others (whether real or imagined). We as a society should be trained to be a little more introspective, without going the other way and thinking that all wrongs are our fault, a thinking which is equally faulty.

      What I’d like to see is greater standards in media, whether by law or by professional code. No more sitcoms joking that some uptight woman “just needs a **** up her”, or any insinuation of such. Are comic writers so inane and/or inept that they can only appeal to a base-level sexism to make people laugh? I think half of TV and nearly all of pop music would go under in a month (not to mention several computer games). Sometimes censorship is a good thing, especially when removing antagonists that promote and continue the “cult of masculinity” (addiction to control) and sexual violence from public relevance, and not just their gold-plated pedestals of rotting faeces.

    • riv

      This linked Australian news article was in response to 20 or more feminist sites that were hit, destroyed and silenced by a**n because we spoke out about women’s rights and activism. And we named the agent of women’s oppression: men. Unfortunately the events described have been mostly forgotten except by the women who had their lives and work trashed for working on behalf of women. We are still here. We will not pull our words. We will name. We will not be stopped, or silenced. We will not work with men, but encourage them to work for women, on their own. We are legion and we are underground, because we have learned that working with men, and working openly, does not work, for women.

  14. lwolfe

    I’m not really sure where to begin with thanking you all for being forthright, brave, and beyond supportive with your words. So I’ll just simply say thank you. It means a tremendous amount to me to know that much of the unseen masses of humanity out there behind these screens have thinking brains and tender hearts.

  15. Kate McGuinness

    Your piece was terrific. Thank you for writing so lucidly on this important issue. Women need to stand together. I’m proud to see you and Gloria Steinem in the lead.

  16. Karestan Koenen

    Thank you for your courage. The hateful response you received reminds me of what a friends once told me – the impact we are making is measured most accurately by the anger of our enemies.

  17. Barbara Bedont

    There is a parallel between anti-feminist women and these men who criticize you for challenging the cult of masculinity. For both, they don’t see how they are fighting to protect a system which is against their own self-interest. In fact, men should be taking the lead to overthrow this cult which deprives them of the best things in life. There should be more men like Mr. Lamm above putting forward the arguments against it. And men should be thanking you, not hurling vitriol. But this has always been a thankless endeavour from both sexes. I wish you courage and steadfastness.

  18. Rob Ward

    Hi all,

    I was interested to read the piece yesterday (I think I didn’t get the full article without clicking through, but it raised a lot of interesting points).

    It reminded me of reading Stiffed by Susan Faludi some years ago. I thought that was a book that addressed the perpetrators of rape and the demographics of mysogyny in a way that was very insightful.

    It is my suspicion that a certain kind of social exclusion may be one the of the very few significant areas, if not indeed the only one, where some men are more likely to suffer than women. That is, women are better at forming social bonds and at making conversation that covers emotional ground. Possibly, this is innate to a degree, almost certainly, any differences are exaggerated by social conventions.

    The result of this, for some men, is that they subsist – without anyone thinking it odd, or something that might want to be corrected – on a terrifying dearth of deep social bonds and empathatic ability.

    Those worst affected will – often despite their avowed desire to have meaningful relationships with women – fall further and further into a “testosterone ghetto” in which the lack of frankly socialising female influence leads to a vicious circle where they are less able to come into meaningful contact with the emotionally stable women who could help to restore their contact with their own emotions and the social world as a whole.

    This vicious circle leads to vile behaviour. The kind of vile behaviour that soon begins to preclude empathy even among the most empathetic.

    Women, once having been viewed as the panacea to all of their problems, the point at which things started to go wrong, because the one social world they could not access, and the one most likely to promise the emotional and social contact they need, begin to be virulently hated for having declined to see their value and offer what help they so evidently were able to give. (Feminism is seen as a threat for this reason, these men’s vulnerability hidden behind a mask of aggession and alpha male posturing.)

    I’m not sure I’m being entirely coherent after a long day at work. What I suppose I am trying to say is that in tracking back, way before unspeakable crimes, habitual mysogyny, or the odious and invidious internet trolling you here describe, there was somebody who was as recogniseably human as anybody else, and who, yes, had access to what may not be an infinitely subtle spectrum of “masculinities” (I use the plural advisedly), but at least several, many or most of which may be galling and infuriating at times to the majority of women, but most of which are avowedly not aggressive or determinedly ignorant.

    I am not stating this so that we can all feel sorry for wife beaters (though feeling sorry for those whose lives and hearts and minds will close so much that they will be the wife beaters of the future is not something I necessarily counsel against), but rather so that we can understand where men’s options come in, and where, indeed, they shrink. It has long been a bugbear of mine that actually many of those men who most further patriarchy are those whose lives and life choices, their roles and personalities, have been constricted by it (understood in the sense of being relative to other men).

    A question, however. Would it be possible for there to be a discussion as to the possibility of a different term than “the cult of maculinity”? The only reason I suggest this is that it might seem to suggest that there is one version of masculinity, ie. machismo, which includes aggression and hate but not sensitivity, empathy or compromise etc etc. Am I not right in thinking that in the feminist literature there could be no discussion of femininity which is not broken down and interrogated?

    I know my own terms “testosterone ghetto” etc don’t evade this trap any better, but I’m talking about a future in which men’s choices of forms of masculinity might be more transparent, and reflected in the language we speak. This could be a very real area for improvement.

    Anyway, thanks

  19. Josh Shahryar

    You said: “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 personally think a large part of why the guy who attacked your website did so is because he felt the same inkling – to regain some control because a woman had challenged his ideas. If a man had done so, it’s likely that he would’ve been made fun of and then forgotten – we deal with our traitors with sickening humor not much else.

    As for the rest, Lauren, I think I’m very excited about WUS and your work there because I think you’re tackling the issue from a completely different angle than it has been for decades. Outside your work and work by some other intelligent and caring writers, the narrative is something like this:

    “OMG! Thousands of women get raped in X country on an annual basis because of war and famine – yeah, FAMINE, too, haven’t you seen pictures of those skinny children? Feel sorry for them. Shed a tear. Go help them during a three-month trip. Rage about it on Facebook. Beg the people who do it to stop. Maybe try to sign a petition on to get some of the leaders to be put on trial on ICC. Better yet, START a petition on to get those people to the ICC. Do any of those things and you’ve done your part. Good night and good luck.”

    I think your work is part of a group of writers who are trying to change the narrative to:

    “Look. Sexual violence against women is pervasive. It doesn’t just happen during conflicts. It doesn’t just happen in Africa. It’s happening everywhere. Shedding tears, signing petitions and sending a few evil men to the ICC won’t stop it. It helps a bit, but it won’t stop. We have to find out WHY it happens. This is an incredibly important issue. We need to have a debate about this as a species and figure out ways to not just help those who have been victims of sexual violence, not just help those who have been raped in peaceful societies, but figure out exactly why it happens, how we can isolate the patterns responsible for it and how we can eliminate those patterns so we can cut-down on its alarming rates.”

    And that’s kinduva a novel idea!

    It’s going to take time, a lot of work – which I’m sure you and others with you on this are committed to investing – and a whole lot of back and forth with people who don’t want to have this debate because some of those patterns are ingrained in the ways we raise our children, live our lives and hold our ideals. Changing those patterns is likely going to mean changing a part of who we are. There is going to be a great deal of resistance to the idea.

    What gives me hope, though, is that none of the comments I read were based on science or reason, which tells me you are right – not that I couldn’t tell by just reading your article or following your other work. But you are totally on the right track. I’m waiting for the day when I get to see more people actually picking up this narrative and discarding the other one because it makes me feel ashamed to think we’re in the 21st century, still acting like we should be doing what Jesus did instead of what we could do with our enormous gains in science, reason and rational compassion not just mythical.

    *phew* hope I made some sense!

    • Tee

      I agree, and I’m glad to see some rational men supporting this work. Thank you to the men that have commented on here! I’d like to see a male-oriented pro-women group on the internet, how about you start one? 😉 Both men and women bring invaluable things to society, and one of the greatest things that men can do in today’s world is use their strength to protect the princess, not abuse her. That’s why evolution/God/whatever made men physically stronger, right? To protect and provide? Both genders have their roles in protection and provision, but men’s niche is their physical strength, of which they have a biological advantage. Some gender stereotypes have undeniable genetic sources, which have been incorrectly compounded upon and cemented – but the origins are still useful identifyers and reminders (similar concept to modern health studies highlighting why our societies are becoming so unhealthy – remembering how our ancestors lived and simulating that through diet and excersise).

      Speaking of origins… I think we should be doing what Jesus did AND using our gains in science, reason etc to further that… Jesus was the first recorded feminist that bucked his culture’s misogeny and religion-based rule in Western cultural collective memory… did you know that? He really existed, whether you think he was man or God is up to you. I know you wouldn’t know that from his so-called “followers”, but they are just using religion to justify their reactionism. Perhaps if you reminded them of the realities of their own religion, instead of poo-poohing it, you would get farther. Hopefully then they would wake up instead of holding on more tightly to a system of beliefs that doesn’t even register with their religion, but a less ancient cultural and political understanding of the world that shrouds it.

      i.e. Remind everyone with a Western (Christian) background that “Jesus acted for gender equality and recognised the dignity and worth of every human being – and so should we!” Just remember that Jesus was eventually killed for his bucking the cultural system of the day. The idea that he was then raised back to life and ascended to heaven and lives to this day only helps this position – if I believed that Jesus was still alive, and realised that he was pro-women, then logically I would be pro-women too.

  20. Aubergine

    I’m sorry you were subjected to this behavior. I find it interesting that the more extreme examples were themselves violations.
    Having said that, I was unable to find evidence in your piece to back up your assertions. I am open to what you are saying, but as in many pieces on rape the theory seems way ahead of any actual data.

    • Kay

      Did you click through to any of the links? There were lots of research papers and fact sheets and such with lots of statistics and numbers. Or just google David Lisak. His research provides evidence for a lot of that article.

  21. Uma Spankhurst

    Wow, did she really say, “Hope is a form of planning”? Horsecrap. She wouldn’t say that about family planning. Let’s reach solutions for women under siege in the same we have for women who face the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy.

    That said, I’m sorry to hear what you happened to you, and yet I’m surprised that you’re surprised. MRA (men’s rights activists) are a well-known online activist cult that seeks to promote that culture of masculinity you discussed in your article. They have done to hundreds, if not thousand of women bloggers what they’ve done to you just for daring to discuss issues of import to women. And not even controversial issues like rape.

    Here’s the thing to keep in mind. Men who don’t rape are profoundly troubled by discussions of rape. They intrinsically feel blame, which is related to their entitlement as the normative gender role. That entitlement allows them to do things all the way up to the line of rape, including emotional manipulation and behavioral coercion to score a lay. Nearly every man who lost his virginity in high school (which includes the vast majority of men, at least in the States) has more likely than not done something to secure sex that they had internal ethical conflicts over. Add to that the misogynistic culture that promotes the idea that virgin females are the highest prize, and that a woman who has had sex once will give it up again and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. We need to press the issue, as you have done here. Kudos to you, and please, do read up on MRAs. I’d wager $100 your aggressor is a well-known member of that cult.

  22. Rob Ward

    A second thought in terms of the vitriol you have received. In my experience the same is often encountered by those who try to help somebody who is suffering from the very real effects of alcohol or drug dependency. There seems to be a mechanism whereby just as the sufferers are coming close to realising the exact scale of their problem, they slam the door shut, refusing to see it, because they do not feel they are strong enough to take it on. Instead, they become aggressive and resort to mockery.

    The same would appear to be true here, which shows the depth to which the social conventions which help to encode masculine coping strategies are being absorbed by vulnerable men.

    At first perhaps occasionally, and then more and more often, and with fewer and fewer alternatives, men adopt putative masculine coping strategies such as offence as the best defense, bottling things up, drinking, sports, hanging around in larger rather than smaller groups (where communication is less likely to incline to the substantive or emotional), and as time goes on, they have fewer abilities and less confidence with alternatives such as talking about problems, opening up, deescalation of conflict through discussion, backing down from a confrontation, listening first, acting later, and so on.

    When these have shrunk enough, just the same as when an individual’s social skills sober (or, just as important, their confidence in their social skills when sober), have shrunk away after years of habitual recourse to alcohol or drugs, it will invariably trigger great anxiety and fear as well as deeply troubling insights into their self, to see just how inequipped they are to deal with life in any way that is likely to deliver the happiness that has been so elusive to them.

    The consequence is to shut down from any realisation that the path they have chosen/been forced down is in fact damaging and will never be otherwise. Instead of taking the hard road to build up skills of emotional communication and/or sobriety, these individuals fall back more heavily on those coping mechanisms that deep down they known to be flawed, but which see them get by on what few (and often illusory) pleasures they have.

    Objectively, too, I suspect, if and when these individuals try to develop the more socially appropriate and individually beneficial social skills, they meet with suspicion, distrust, anger, and find themselves pariahs in the social contexts they once so much wanted to be a part of, and are trying for once again..

    To illustrate that. First picture a recovering alcoholic at a dinner party. Flesh that picture out with whatever experience of both you may have. Then let’s say we have a recovering mysogynist, a recovering adept of the cult of machismo [if I may adjust the language used above so as to give scope to their being positive alternative definitions of “masculinity”]. This man, who may have been bereft of the company of women most of his life, socialised in male only social contexts such as private schools, the army, football, etc., has come to realise his own deficits, and try to correct them. He does not yet have experience of life outside of the testosterone ghetto he inhabited, knowledge of films that aren’t action films, television that isn’t football, and knows little about women he hasn’t fucked in club toilets or football changing rooms. He will struggle to function and will experience a great deal of opposition in the social groups he tries to insinuate himself in to. For this reason too, past a certain point, it is almost a rational decision to continue to adopt the macho coping mechanisms which have so restricted his life and development, because, though it may be very little, he is a least guaranteed the “respect” he is granted inside his testosterone ghetto, and, for what it’s worth, his social standing inside it.

    And so, even this man, whose life has been restricted, and who knows it, may defend those social conventions which keep him in chains.

    The way he may do this is by trying to ensure that other ways of behaving as a male (particularly homosexuality), and ways of behaving as a woman (which may be threatening because they seem to involve an unattainable emotional breadth and social goods not available to the macho man), be as limited as they may be.

    Which is essentially to say that this vitriol shows that you are on the right tack, in much the same way that an outburst from an addict on mentioning that they may have a problem may be thought to confirm the observation.

    ps. I’m a straight bloke from the Black Country, if that makes any difference to how this is read.

    • Tee

      I love everything that you’ve contributed so far 🙂 Keep it up!

      Also, do you have your own forum (not neccessarily online) to speak on social issues? I think you’d make a fantastic contributer to modern social thought. Even if you were just parroting things you’ve read. Sometimes men need to hear it from other men. Just as the most successful parenting comes from a strong, close influence from both genders.

  23. Tobin Frost

    Not to make light of the backlash that you’ve suffered but this seems to me, just to be an example you of not wanting to be corrected. Yes, it’s clear to me that the goal of the piece was not to vilify men as a whole, but I can easily see why someone would think it was. The title of the piece apologetically calls masculinity a cult, and the entire article uses the qualifier “some men” a grant total of once, while otherwise referring to men in their entirety. Even the starting sentence of the final paragraph states “Men have a special responsibility to provide models of manhood that are fully human”, implying that manhood is inherently NOT or less than fully human, which as I’m sure you would agree is plainly false.

    In the same way some men make statements about women or others make racily bias comments, some times being part of the conversation publicly means admitting when our speech is offensive and finding new ways to express ourselves while being able to be corrected when we cross lines. As any feminist will tell men who wish to be allies, you will make mistakes, but do not take corrections on this personal, simply apologize and attempt to rephrase till you figure out a way to say it without treading on things you truly are trying not to.

    I offer no excuse to those who attacked you personally, as this is simply not conducive to productive conversation, and I applaud the way in which you have chosen to channel the energy of your slanderers and vandals into a calm and educational environment here; But yelling back at the people correcting you for “not getting it” by saying “men who aren’t part of the problem should know we aren’t talking about them” is akin to those who tell women “they should just avoid being raped”.

    Because if you say “men” and not “some men”, then ALL us “men” are going to think your talking about us… because literally, you are 😉

    • Tobin Frost

      ugh, the word apologetically above should be un – apologetically. sorry 😉

    • Rob Ward

      Tobin, you don’t speak for me. Indeed, I would go as far as to say I find your comment offensive in that it suggests that all men will react to the article in the same way, thinking as one. I have commented elsewhere that this is not so.

      Given as I am a supporter of free speech in the Millian liberal tradition ie with the caveats that free expression should not cause harm to others, I am particularly troubled by the penultimate paragraph of your comment. Here, you first offer some faint praise and then go on to suggest that an article which does clarify that it is not talking about men as a whole* (if I understand your logic correctly, your sole animus against it), and which endeavours to understand a phenomenon which can only be understood as an evil, so as to improve the situation for all concerned, might stand comparison with a speech act which serves to further injure the injured parties of that behaviour, rape, by blaming them for it; a speech act, that is, which removes blame from the male purpetrators of the crime and serves to make it more likely in the future.

      Also, what exactly is the “this” that stands for you as an example of Lauren not wanting to be corrected? Having her website hacked by opponents of free speech? Having to find an alternative space that is amenable to discussion rather than aggression, condescension and misogyny?

      But, sorry Tobin, I haven’t got all day. Listen, I don’t agree with you, and you won’t agree with me and that’s fine because it only serves to demonstrate that men don’t think as one (!).

      I would like to think that we would agree on one thing: the importance of free speech. But then, frankly, that does not go hand in hand with one group or another believing it is their right and indeed duty to “correct” others. And if in any debate one side resorts to hacking websites (surely comparable to burning books), while the other finds ways of encouraging dialogue, then my sympathy is going to be with the latter every time.

      *how many qualifiers do you believe to be needed for this to be satisfactorily stated? Ought there to be a given number per hundred words?

  24. Jack Barnes

    Tobin, as a man I feel it is you that needs the correcting. Since this article was written in response to an article explicitly delineating which men were being discussed (gang members), it doesn’t take a tremendous leap to assume that while Lauren and Gloria are connecting these men to the men that commit rapes in war, they are talking about a select group of men. I don’t presume any of these uses of the word men to imply all men or even most men. It would logically follow that I don’t assume any use of the word women to include ALL women. These words are used contextually.

    As for the cult of masculinity, this phrasing is used with many other words such (i.e the cult of personality, the cult of individuality, the cult of youth). Contrary to implying masculinity as a whole it implies a cult-like adherence or worship of a concept of masculinity. Perhaps it is an unfamiliarity with these terms or their usage that belies your misunderstanding (and your bad spelling). 😉

  25. smhll

    One of the big disconnects I see when men and women talk about rape as an issue is (generalizing grossly) that women act as if 3-5% of men have committed rape, and men act as if 0.03 – 0.005% of men have done so. The discrepancy in POV is vast, and noticeable even if actual stats aren’t mentioned. As a corrolary, men who are new to the topic think women are exaggerating and women think men are grossly uninformed.

  26. Kei

    While I have resigned myself to silence unless necessary or in a safe place. It’s sad that we can’t talk about basic human rights in open spaces without being worried of attack.

    I would just like to say that I agree with Gloria’s reversal theory. It seems as though the minority holding all the power oppressing everyone else doesn’t seem to realize they are the minority not because there just aren’t that many rich white guys but because humanity isn’t just full of selfish pricks but people that would like to coexist peacefully in this beautiful world. And no matter how much I want every rapist, child abuser, woman beater, and sexual harasser to repeatedly get their gonads pressed like a breast exam, I would never advocate for the pain of another human just to make myself feel better. And even through a childhood and adolescence littered with sexual assault and fear, I would NEVER EVER dream of the heinous ways in which women, transgender people, and anyone outside of the small circle of “acceptable” have been marginalized and dehumanized. Especially since when we hurt others in our community, whether it be your neighbor or another continent, we are truly only hurting ourselves. If nothing, our global economic problems should remind us of that.

  27. Tobin Frost

    Jack, I am aware the subject of the piece was sexual violence as it appears in war or war like atmospheres, but to plainly conclude that men in general are not referred to in the conclusions put forth by the piece is something that does not resonate with me. The entire ending paragraph does not seem to make any contextual references at all about which “men” are being referred to, it reads like all men to me.

    And your response illustrates my point in the sense that social groups are not hive minds. In the same way social activists discourage the idea of using the “1 women who says XYZ and that makes it ok” tactic to evade feminist theory in discussion, people (including men) are going to take things differently. The way to respond to such a landscape is to ever refine the message such that more people can absorb it, not yell at people and tell them not to be offended.

    But this is only my opinion, and I offer it to the author only in the hopes that she be better understood by the NON trolls out there who may have taken offense.

    also… I refuse to spell on the internet 😉

  28. Bill Patrick

    Thank you for all your amazing work. I am active against men’s violence against women (I write a weekly blog at that is cross posted at I loved the initial article you and Ms. Steinem wrote, and I am so sorry that so many of my brothers not only failed to see your pro-male stance, they actually attacked you for bringing up the issue at all. This is how the patriarchy punishes women (and men) who work for gender justice. Keep up your amazing work!

  29. pam smith

    Well, Gloria Steinem said “The truth will set you free- but first it will piss you off.” Maybe this is about a few men being set free. We can hope. And I think the other quote was “dreaming is a part of planning.”

  30. Sara B.

    I stand with you and with countless women and men worldwide who are fighting to stop the spread of sexism and misogyny. You are inspiring, and you have my support.

  31. Terence Robson

    I don’t understand why a man would want to have sex with an unwilling partner.

  32. smalls

    Thank you for your bravery, your coherence in message, and your strength in this fight. You are truly a hero. <3

  33. Leah Oviedo

    Control seems to be the main root cause of violence in any form. It is beyond me why some people need to control and are so quick to be offended.

    I hope you are asked to write on this topic again and some civilized comments are discussed instead of sarcasm and anger. It’s important to realize why assaults happen instead of just reporting crimes. Otherwise we won’t find solutions.

    Thanks for speaking out for all the women and men out there that want an equal society and practice the actions that get us there.

  34. NatashaR

    You do great and important work. Rape culture is so pervasive. Incredibly high statistics of rape and sexual assault (or violence more generally) aren’t a coincidence or the mere choices of a few bad seeds, it is systemic and socially embedded into all of us from day one. Its going to take a lot to undo the harmful gender stereotypes and damage that underlies this violence. Don’t be shaken too long by the privileged protecting their privilege, you have to keep pushing. There are more out there on your side than you know of.

  35. Amanda Lindhout

    Lauren, I so admire the courage you have. Women Under Siege is bringing attention and awareness to rape and rape culture and really, few things are as important as taking a long hard look at the cultural conditioning which underlies violence against women- which 1 in 3 of us will experience in our lives (UN Secretary General). Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are a role model to so many and your voice must continue to be heard far and wide.

  36. Melissa

    A similar thing happened to me recently – I spoke out about a website that promotes and condones hatred and violence against women, the following day my facebook page was hacked and my profile picture replaced with a pornographic image (a young female performing oral sex on a male) with the caption “I hate men but I love c**k”. Whilst it was distressing at the time, it soon motivated me to keep fighting against sexist and violent behaviour directed towards women.

  37. John V

    Ug. The need for control is not gendered; it is a fundamental /human/ impulse. Much in the way that you hope to control (to some degree) society with your writing and activism. I think part of the backlash was people sensing your contradiction by claiming that to be a negative, masculine trait.


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