Along with others, I have felt relief, sorrow, and frustration watching hundreds of “me, too” posts and narratives flood my feed. Relief that our society is paying attention to the epidemic of misogynist violence in a new way, that we are having crucial conversations about how bad it is and what to do about it. Sorrow at the amount of suffering and oppression it highlights (I will not say reveals… anyone who bothered to look would know the scope and severity of this nightmare). Frustration that it seems no matter how many media campaigns emerge – #VDay, #YesAllWomen, etc – I cannot tell whether we are making any progress at all. It does not seem to me that my daughters are any safer today than they were ten years ago. If anything, it seems that our culture has begun accepting open, flagrant misogyny in new and unprecedented ways and degrees.
However, it does seem that more and more people are pointing out that in order to stop most rape and harassment, we must teach boys and men not to rape and harass people, especially not girls and women who are the main victims of abuse. Various types of pledges, apologies, question prompts, confessions, and other statements from male allies have emerged on social media. In addition, there’s the usual round of women criticizing each of these responses from male allies. As usual, the Left loves to eat its own.
I view allies on a spectrum, and I try to recognize where different men are on this spectrum, and how to help them move forward to the next level. If we truly want to heal rape culture, if we truly want to build a world that is safer for each generation, we must put down our egos, our need to win every argument, our smugly satisfied self-righteousness, and adopt effective strategies that will actually do what we claim to want to do.
The way I see it, the spectrum of misogyny ranges from toxic masculinity to safe ally, depending on how much they have overcome the cultural programming of patriarchy. Multiple studies show that over 50% of men say they would rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it. So I divide the spectrum of misogyny into a lower half, of men who are very high risk for committing rape/assault, and an upper half, of men who are lower risk for committing rape/assault. The divisions among these categories obviously overlap and blur, but this general continuum describes a range of attitudes and behaviors that increase in safety.
1 – At the very bottom of the spectrum are the buyers and sellers of women: men who produce and film pornography, run sex slave trafficking rings, pimps, and other men who practice the worst kinds of mass cruelty.
2 – Serial rapists and abusers throughout society, including male porn actors, who repeatedly participate in violent and degrading sex and rape of trafficking victims, hire prostitutes, go to strip clubs, buy lap dances.
3 – Openly, proudly misogynist men – such as Donald Trump, the Men’s Rights Activists (MRA), and other men who brag about assaulting women. These men are also serial rapists – or if they are not, it is only because they have not figured out how to achieve those goals. They usually hire prostitutes, go to strip clubs, watch porn.
4 – Sympathizers – these men may not openly boast about assault, but they relate to people such as Trump and admire their machismo. These men have likely committed rape, assault, and harassment, and they feel justified in their behavior, even if they can see it causes harm. They might hire prostitutes and usually visit strip clubs and watch porn.
5 – Indifferent – these men do not really admire Trump or MRA ideas, but they do not really see the big deal. They have most likely committed rape, assault, and harassment without being interested in whether they are causing terrible harm. They shrug and ignore these debates. They might hire prostitutes and likely visit strip clubs and watch porn.
4 – Self-Satisfied Denier – these men reject open misogynists such as Trump and the MRA, and they place themselves in a category of “good guys” or “nice guys” who would never be like those creeps. They threaten to beat up any men who try to harm their womenfolk. Meanwhile, they rape, assault, and harass women without defining it as such. They have sex with women who are drunk or asleep, they pressure their partners into doing sexual acts that are painful, degrading, or otherwise unwelcome, they stare at women in public places, catcall, make degrading evaluations of women they know, their partners, and strangers, and generally do not see women as human – and they get defensive if challenged. They watch porn, have occasionally gone to strip clubs, but do not hire prostitutes. They might be willing to allow their wife to keep her last name without complaining too much.
3 – Self-Satisfied False Ally – these men condemn open misogyny, do not catcall or try to have sex with women who cannot consent (drunk or asleep), they try to avoid sexist jokes, but sometimes they say sexist things in an awkward attempt to be clever, or laugh at subtly sexist humor. They sometimes repeat feminist talking points, and they self-identify as allies or feminists. They are sometimes open to feedback from women about ways they are still unsafe or misogynist, but other times, they reject such feedback because they prefer a pat on the back for their efforts. Sometimes, they say nothing because they worry about saying the wrong thing. They may or may not watch porn, but they secretly deny how violent it is. They want their sexual partners to achieve orgasm, but they do not take responsibility for making sure it happens each time. They occasionally pressure their partner into having sex when she isn’t really into it. They occasionally call out other men for open misogyny. They sometimes say and do things that objectify or disrespect women, such as mansplaining, manipulating their partner to make her appearance please him (such as clothing, hair, body hair, size, etc). They retain subconscious patterns of unexamined privilege regarding gender roles (such as household duties, appropriate behavior). They occasionally advocate for obvious feminist issues, such as rape or wage gaps. They may occasionally use inclusive language, but they do not make it a priority to avoid sexist language. He is proud that he supports his wife keeping her own last name.
2 – Humble Moderate Ally – these men often call out sexist behaviors they see in other men. They often try to listen to feedback women give them and learn to be better allies. They do not watch any porn and somewhat understand how violent it is, but they do not understand the scope of the objectification and dehumanization of women in media. They ask women questions in order to be better allies. They prioritize making sure all sexual encounters are consensual. They prioritize giving their sexual partners orgasms, but they do not think it is a big deal if it doesn’t happen. They work hard to overcome subconscious sexism about household duties, gender roles, sexuality, and privilege. They may not prioritize feminism often, but they will respond carefully to specific issues that arise. They do not quite understand how symbols/language (including religious language) justifies and perpetuates misogynist violence, so they will sometimes use male words as generic (“mankind,” “his,” “brother”) or repeat quotes from famous sources without changing the language. They may like it when inclusive language is used, but they will go along with sexist language when that is what they are handed (in a church service, etc). He is proud that he and his wife hyphenated their names together, and gave their hyphenated name to their children as well.
1 – Safe Ally – They actively educate themselves from a wide range of sources, rather than demanding answers from women around them. They prioritize feminist perspectives about every topic, including politics, ethics, economics, religion, education, parenting, law, etc. They receive feminist feedback gratefully, without defensiveness. They are extra careful that any sexual encounter is clearly, enthusiastically consensual. They make sure their sexual partners achieve orgasm each time, consider it more important than their own orgasm, and are grateful to their partners for the privilege of making love. They try to compensate for any unconscious sexism and privilege by taking on extra responsibility with housework, parenting, eldercare, and emotional loads. They avoid all sexist language/symbols and continually advocate for inclusive language. They educate other men and call out any misogyny they see. He is grateful that his wife wants to share her last name with him, with the whole family sharing their hyphenated name, and he encourages other men to do the same. They contact any women they believe they may have wronged in the past and seek to make amends. They continually work to improve their awareness of sexism and their ability to make the world safer for women and girls.
In Part 2, I will discuss how men and women can help men move higher along this scale, with strategies for social and personal change.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross CulturalConflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.