Jessica Valenti

There Is No War on Men—But Maybe There Should Be

It’s women’s lives that are getting ruined

Photo: Arturo Latierro/Getty

Conservatives are awfully worried about the war on men. To hear them tell it, there’s an angry mob of feminists eager to ruin men’s lives for the sole reason of — in fact, they never quite say. But the boys of America should watch out. Parents should arm their prodigal sons with body cameras and consent forms. Their livelihoods depend on it.

Here’s the sad truth: if feminists were actually waging a war on the men who do very bad things, the facts suggest we’d be losing miserably. Men accused of sexual wrongdoing reside in both the White House and the highest court in the land. Of the dozens of high-profile abusive men outed by #MeToo over the last year, only a handful have faced real consequences — which is to say, they’ve lost their jobs — and only one has gone to jail.

National statistics trend in step: rapists rarely go to jail, and men who harass women rarely face censure. So it begs the question: Why all the bluster over how accusations are ruining innocent lives?

Male rage has been on full display these last few weeks.

Conservative men know that their safety, their personal lives, and their livelihoods aren’t in danger — not really. But their power is. Their power fades, albeit slowly, with every protest, every new voter registration, and every time a woman comes forward to say she’s been hurt by one of them. And since many of these men believe that their power is an inalienable right, the threat of losing it can feel like annihilation.

That’s why so many powerful, white, conservative men are now adopting the language of victimization, fueling the backlash against feminist progress. Lindsey Graham said, “I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told that I should just shut up.” President Donald Trump’s said the sexual assault survivors protesting Judge Brett Kavanaugh were paid activists attacking a good man. These men, so accustomed to getting their way without protest, truly believe men are being wronged. And they want the rest of America to feel the same way. A few years ago, an anti-rape activist described it to me like this: If you’ve been living in an apartment with a tilted floor your whole life, it can feel uneven once the floor is finally leveled.

But this victim posturing isn’t just about a fear of losing the upper hand; it’s strategic. “This is the way that power protects itself when challenged on its abuses,” tweeted the feminist writer Rebecca Traister, author of the new book Good and Mad. New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino made a similar observation: “Like the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, these men are borrowing the rhetoric of the structurally oppressed and delivering it with a rage that is denied to all but the most powerful.”

That rage has been on full display these last few weeks. It was there in the stadium full of Trump supporters chanting “lock her up” at yet another woman who had gotten on the president’s bad side. It was there during a local political debate in Minnesota, where Republican incumbent Duane Quam violently grabbed a microphone out of his female challenger’s hand. There is a raw fear and anger on display from men who simply cannot stomach the notion that women should have a voice in politics, in a hearing or on a debate stage. How dare we.

This week, as the men who enact laws and create national policy cast themselves as put-upon victims, a mother of six in Kansas was shot to death by the abusive husband friends say she was trying to leave. (The majority of women killed in the U.S. will be murdered by a partner or spouse.)

It’s a stark reminder of the danger American women face — from the everyday indignities to the reality of life-threatening violence. It’s a hell of a lot more literal and real than the threat of lost power or influence.

This victim posturing isn’t just about a fear of losing the upper hand; it’s strategic.

I believe Republican politicians and conservative men when they say that they’re afraid — afraid of women, afraid of immigrants, afraid of the LGBTQ community, and anyone else who might lessen their longstanding hold on political power.

But women aren’t willing to let these grasping fears trump our right to live free from violence and with some semblance of equality. So you know what? Maybe they should be afraid. Truly afraid, for once.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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