THE BLOG
02/29/2016 02:45 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2017

Are Women Innocent?

I was involved recently, as I often am, in a discussion about misogyny, specifically about sexual violence, which had also, unsurprisingly, turned into a discussion about men, and I was asked the following question: "If women were accused of [perpetuating sexism], wouldn't you be offended?"

It's the kind of question I dread. No, it doesn't catch me off guard; I've heard it a million times. I dread that question because it shows just how deep the rabbit hole of misogyny goes, and worse, how shallow the common understanding of gender issues really is.

One of the fatal flaws of egalitarianism, humanism, whatever you want to call your particular brand of anti-feminism, is in fact this toxic, false idea that we as feminists somehow root our activism in some deluded sense of female innocence.

As a proud third wave feminist, let me take a moment to dispel that illusion for you right now: Women are not innocent, and anyone who would say that we are is not a feminist; more importantly, we don't have to be innocent.

The myth of "female innocence" is just another manifestation of misogyny. It assumes that women are fragile and inherently less capable than men, and worse; it insinuates that we, and only we, as women, must be "innocent," meeting a sexist double standard of absolute obedience to what men consider to be acceptable behavior in order to avoid the earning the "consequences" of gender based violence.

Society will rarely hold a man responsible for sexual violence even when he is the actual perpetrator, much less hold all men responsible for actively contributing to rape culture. Meanwhile, all I have to do as a women is assert that we don't exist for the pleasure and enjoyment of men, and suddenly my use of that word (men) will be all the proof society needs to label me a "misandrist" and turn a blind eye to all the death threats I'll inevitably receive for my failure to "know my place."

Sexual violence is rightfully a touchy subject, especially for the one in four of us as women, myself included, who have to relive our personal traumas every time we discuss it, and It's just as triggering for the one in 33 men who will also live through it. As a very real issue, it needs to be discussed: Yes, men are also raped, and not only by other men. This really shouldn't be a surprise, but as a feminist, I not only acknowledge, but also care very deeply about male victims of sexual violence, and about holding their assailants responsible regardless of gender.

Sorry if I've sent you into shock again, but that's actually one of the biggest differences between feminists and the "men's rights activists" who only see male survivors as a tool to justify misogyny. We see human beings, whom we actually care enough about to examine the reason why society seems to forget them so often, and It's not misandry. If it was, we wouldn't be forgetting them at all. We'd be accusing them of attention seeking, and gold digging. We'd be calling them all liars and coddling the "poor, innocent women" who raped them. We'd ask what they were wearing. We'd say any man jogging down the road in just his gym shorts was asking for it. That's never how we treat male survivors.

When a man is raped, we use misogynist slurs like "b*tch" and "p*ssy" to degrade him, because misogyny says that only women can be raped. If he was raped by a woman, it's even worse. We refuse even to call it rape, because toxic masculinity, a byproduct of misogyny, says that men are bigger and stronger than "weak, fragile, innocent women," and therefore cannot be raped by them. We say he must have wanted it because misogyny tells us women are sexual objects for the enjoyment of men. That's why sexual violence is very much a feminist issue, even when it happens to men: Misogyny is equally responsible for the experiences all survivors of sexual violence, regardless of gender. Misogyny is in fact equally responsible for all gender based issues. Period. There is no such thing as misandry.

And yes, even we as women can and do perpetuate misogyny from time to time. However, even this still isn't in any way the same as male perpetuation. While misogyny is inherently harmful to women, all men benefit from our institutionalized oppression, and therefore have every reason to do everything they can to justify it. That could sound very man-hating except that every real feminist understands that this insidious trait is not an inherent quality of maleness. It's a matter of privilege. In theory, if we lived in a society where women were privileged and men were oppressed, then yes, misandry would be real, and I would be to blame for it, and it would be my responsibility, not the responsibility of men, to end it, but that's not the world we live in. Society has never placed consequences on men for being men. (And we wouldn't want it to.) Quite the opposite, western civilization has consistently rewarded maleness while punishing the feminine, and that's never changed. Even if it does, you'll never have to worry about misandry, because living through oppression kills any concept of "revenge." None of us would wish what we go through on our worst enemies, much less on men (who aren't the enemy) just for being a different gender from us.

Shout "not all men" as much as you want, it won't change the fact that all women experience misogyny on a constant basis. Worse than being a simple fallacy, "Not all men" is enabling. It quickly becomes "no men," as every man absolves himself with three short words. Nonetheless, in the absence of male ownership and responsibility, misogyny continues, and we as women continue to receive the blame.

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