What about the boys?

Posted: December 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’ve mentioned in previous entries how these entries work. Sometimes they are pretty much fully formed by the time I sit down at the computer. Sometimes they take a couple of days for me to really rationalise my thoughts and decide what exactly I’m trying to say and what stance I want to take. For a teacher I’m thoroughly disorganised, particularly when it comes to what I’m thinking. I’ve been halfway through blogs before when I’ve decided to scrap them because I’ve moved away from my original point and have started going off on to broad of a tangent.

Most of the time, after some editing and consideration of what exactly I’m feeling I can get back on track . Other times, like right now, I still don’t really know what I want to say, even though this idea for this blog has been swimming round in my head since yesterday morning. What I wanted to write has been compounded by a conversation I had with my sister last night. So excuse me if I lose focus, this isn’t an entry on any one particular meme or article or anything really to do with what a feminist has done or said, this one is mainly to do with the perception society has on boys and girls, and how I think it’s a vicious circle that desperately needs breaking. Until that happens, I don’t see how things will improve.

A few weeks ago we had a local theatre company come in to school to do a performance on teenage pregnancy for the year 9s. I was going to write a blog on it, but by the time I’d got round to sitting at the PC another blog had pushed its way to the front of my brain and I completely forgot about the performance.

Then, recently, the same company came in and did another performance, again to year 9s (so these are 13/14 year old kids) about sexual exploitation and abuse. It was brilliantly acted, well written and well performed but, unfortunately, it fell into the same trap the pregnancy one did; while aiming to smash the stereotype of abusers as being pervy old white men, it actually managed to reinforce some of the more pernicious stereotypes.

At the start of the performance they tried to dispel a few myths about teenage exploitation and abuse, even outright stating that both boys and girls were abused and it was women that committed the crime as well as men. However, that is where they stopped, one small, throwaway reference to the fact that women abuse kids as well. Then they decided to plow on with the ‘but most abusers are men’ rhetoric. That’s the kind of stuff our kids are being taught by these companies, that, yes, women do commit crimes, but they are so far away from being on the same scale as men that it’s not worth delving in to.

They then proceeded to perform their play, in which a 19 year old boy meets a 14 year old girl on Facebook and grooms her. It was well acted, like I said, and it did drive home a very important point – that sexual exploitation and abuse is not simply the domain of pervy old men. But, in smashing that stereotype, they completely reinforced a different, just as important one – that teenage girls are the only victims.

I want to draw your attention to this, because it’s frightening:


Now, you might wonder why I’ve included that as it clearly states 75% (three quarters) of offenders are male, which would surely prove that the company were right to focus on girls, but I want you to consider the quote highlighted in yellow:

“86% of the victims of female sexual predators aren’t believed, so the crimes go unreported and don’t get prosecuted.” (article’s emphasis, not mine).

If 86% of the 25% of victims who are male don’t get believed, then is it any surprise that the figures are that skewed? When companies like the one that came to my school focus on only one gender it just reinforces the idea that it’s the young girls we need to be protecting. It also reinforces the idea that, while the sexual exploitation market is no longer the domain of pervy old men, it is still men that are the main abusers. If you truly want to smash the stereotype of child exploitation, you need to address the meaningless statistics like the ones shown in the article. Can you imagine the uproar if it was posited that 86% of girls who reported abuse weren’t believed? I can’t, I can’t imagine a world where the suffering of girls would be allowed to go so unpunished. The fact that this company exists and performs these plays goes to show how much support girls have. I don’t want this to sound like “what about teh menz”, but, well, what the boys? A simple throwaway comment at the start of a performance is not enough to highlight the dangers to all genders, all ages, all races and ethnicities. The potential to smash the stereotypes was abundant, it just didn’t capitalise on it. If you want to smash a stereotype, include women. How much of an effect do you think that would have? Even including a woman as a willing partner to the main male character would have helped. Again, in an effort to expose the horrors of child exploitation we are only shown one side of the argument, a side that is already well establish, while leaving the other side to continually suffer in silence.

After the performance we had a discussion about it in the staff room (all year 9 teachers had seen the performance). What followed was 10 minutes of the most biased, one sided spewing of feminist rhetoric I’ve ever experienced. I’m sure the people at work think I’m a woman hater, at no point was there any consideration of the flip side of the argument, that boys suffering is being allowed to continue under a shroud of invisibility. It’s young, prepubescent teenage girls that are most at danger, it’s teenage girls who feel the most pressure to become sexually active, it’s young adults who feel pressured by boyfriends to take nude photos and send them, it’s young women who are shamed no matter what they do, shamed for still being a virgin, shamed for having sex, shamed for not taking photos, shamed for taking photos, shamed for not giving blowjobs, shamed for giving blowjobs.

It’s terrible, it’s abhorrent, it’s exploitative, it’s rotten and corrupting and demonising and demoralising and shameful and any other number of adjectives. I’m not diminishing the true horror of what happens to young girls, I’m not. If anything, the performance only reiterated, in my mind, how important it is that these issues still come to light, it’s massively important that we do encourage and teach young and teenage girls to take better care of themselves on the internet, to make sure they don’t get taken in by some unscrupulous bastard who is posing as a shoulder to cry on, but at what point do we include boys in the argument?.

Last night, after work, I went round to my parent’s house, like I do every Friday. My sister, who is not a feminist but is definitely for women’s rights, asked me if I’d seen any of the news articles on Facebook about society’s perception of women. I said I hadn’t (which isn’t true, she doesn’t know about my John Salmon account, so I have to be careful about what I say I have and haven’t seen depending on which account I saw it on). We had a good conversation about the perception of women and how, a lot of the time, women’s looks are scrutinised more often than a man’s. She did say she thought women were more harshly judged, and more often, than men, which I respect, she has her opinion and I’m not going to discount it.

At first, I struggled to find a riposte, like so many other times someone has made a comment like that I initially find it difficult to refute. Women do have a lot of focus in the media, their looks are scrutinised and sometimes harsh judgements are made. I stewed over that comment all night, and wondered why I couldn’t figure out a suitable counter-argument.

Then it hit me. How easy is it to spot something when you go looking for it? My dad once taught me something really interesting, psychologically. We were in the garage and he told me to count every red item that was on the bookcase in there (my dad’s a mountain biker so had loads of bike related gizmos on a bookcase in the garage.). He gave me one minute and then asked me to turn my back and tell him how many blue items were on the bookcase.

I couldn’t. Of course I couldn’t. I’d only been looking for red items, why on earth would I be aware of how many blue items there were? Aah, I get it, you wonderful, clever bastard!! That’s how I see sexism in the media. We’re constantly told, constantly bombarded, with messages that sexism in the media is rife towards women. That women are unfairly portrayed, they are demonised, shamed, reduced to nothing but sex objects, marginalised, oppressed, subjugated, downtrodden, etc, etc. We’re told this so often, and so vehemently, that we are completely oblivious to any other forms of sexism. Why would we be aware of any other kind of sexism? Were constantly told to look out for sexism towards women, constantly told it’s a problem that is commonplace, so often told that it’s a widespread problem that we can’t see anything else. Sexism towards women is the number of red items on that bookcase, the ones we’re told to look for, that we expressly see because we’ve been guided that way. Sexism towards men is the number of blue items. On the periphery, seen but not acknowledged, seen but discounted, dismissed, cast aside. What does it matter if there are more blue items than red? It doesn’t, because we aren’t told to look for blue items, we’re told to look for red items. Look at all the red items, look at how the bookcase overflows with them, look at how they suffer, look at how no-one cares.

All psychological metaphors aside, it’s a point that I was never able to articulate until now. It was something that I knew I felt, that I just couldn’t put into words. The play I saw at work, the discussion with my colleague, the discussion with my sister, it highlights the one major issue when to comes to discussing sexism – what we are told to see, and what is actually happening.

I get that girls are sexually exploited, I get that girls face sexism on a regular basis, I understand how horrific it may be, it’s a fight that, seemingly, never ends. It’s one that I fight, it’s one that my job allows me to fight, it’s one that I am proud and pleased to fight. But that doesn’t mean I can stand by while half of the population goes unnoticed. I will not stand by and ignore the suffering of countless victims because I am told their suffering is not important enough. I will not stand by and let one sided, biased organisations preach about ending violence towards one gender, while completely ignoring the same abhorrent suffering and, by proxy, allowing it to carry on unabated.

Feminists use the phrase “what about teh menz!” or “male tears” as an insult, a way to shame and demean men and boys into keeping silent. I’m here to say that “what about the men” or, in this case, “what about the boys” is a genuine, necessary question we need to ask. Too long we have focused on one side of the gender war, too long we have ignored the suffering of young boys, too long we have stood by and allowed these acts to go unpunished, too long have we tacked the issues of men and boys on to the end of a conversation about women, too long we have acknowledged the suffering of men and boys only to dismiss them out of hand because women have it worse. It needs to end.

We only see one side of the gender war because we are only told about one side of the gender war. Statistics like the one in the link I posted are absolutely worthless. The fact that such a high number of boys aren’t believed when they report abuse is sickening; it’s something we would never, never, allow to continue if it was the other way round. When we hear of the number of rape victims that aren’t believed, or have their testimonies question, we collectively lose our collective shit, yet when young boys are raped by their female teachers, we justify it, we tolerate it because “well, he must have enjoyed it, lucky bastard.”

I don’t use the word war lightly, I don’t think we are fighting an ongoing war, I truly don’t. I do think we are fighting a torrent of anti-male sentiment in the media. Every time we see an article about something bad that happens, it’s male perpetrated. Every time we see an article about something bad that happens, it’s a female victim. Any time we see a reverse situation, which is too rare unfortunately, we are told that these incidents are so rare that it’s not worth focusing on. Well, they’re so rare because we are told not to look for them, we are told that women suffer more than men, that women are the ones who need our help, that men can look after themselves, should just “man up” and get on with it.

What’s the cause? I don’t know, I think it boils down to our innate desire not to see women as evil. The male sex is a lost cause, there are a few good ones but, generally speaking, we are abusers and rapists and paedophiles and all other manner of nasty things. We’ve been told this so often, for so long, that we readily believe it. Men are scum. Women aren’t. We are told so rarely of female perpetrated crimes that, when one of them does appear on our radar, it’s shocking, but ultimately forgettable as we’re talking about one bad egg out of the whole bunch. I think until we can accept, allow ourselves to see freely, that women can commit just as heinous crimes as men this imbalance will rage on. Who’s going to break the cycle? I don’t know for sure, unless I try.

I’m asking, loud and clear, to anyone who will listen – “what about the boys?!”

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