If we talked about sexual assault, the way we do terror

After the London parliament terror ramming and stabbing I was struck by how the media tip-toed around what had happened, so worried to place the blame squarely on Islamist intolerance, and the trend of terror and hatred that leads people to murder. It wanted a random act of violence, another “senseless” killing, as if it was a piano that fell on people, rather than a person who planned and carried out murder, it isn’t “random,” targets are chosen, purposeful murder. So it got me wondering, what if we excused and tried to hide the reality of sexual assault and sexual harassment the way we do terrorism. Trying to make it impersonal and “senseless”. 


‘We also wish to express sympathy and solidarity with the many ordinary men going to work and school today feeling that they are under special scrutiny and fearful of what this might mean for them,” writes one author. “The familiar sounds of anti-male hate are sounding again – on social media.”

What if we talked about misogynist sexual assault the way we do Islamist terrorism? Think of an incident where a man rapes a woman at an office and is then arrested. Let’s say it garnered nation-wide attention, as part of a spate of assaults on women. Would the headline read “first photo of perpetrator reveals how he went from football-loving teenager to harasser of women.” We might learn that “he may have snapped because of anti-male comments.” These were actual headlines, replacing terror with sexual assault, describing the terror attack in London.

On SkyNews they might have a debate. “What he hoped to achieve through harassing women was forcing us to change our way of life and we shouldn’t let the rapists win by changing our way of life,” says one commentator. “So you don’t think police should be armed with more tools to stop rapists,” the other presenter would ask. “No, that would go against our values.”

Later on another news program the commentators would discuss whether the actions of the rapist might be feeding a “feminist agenda,” and whether radical women’s groups would “exploit the incident to spread anti-male propaganda.” It would be very important, the analysts say, to make sure that rapes and sexual harassment are not “exploited” to feed “anti-male stereotypes.”

A newspaper column would ask: “Did anti-female radicalization occur, or is this a lone wolf attack? Is this a home grown act of misogyny?” The author would argue that these kinds of lone-wolf sexual assaults are impossible to prevent. They are just part of everyday life in a city and we should be vigilant against them, but accept that sexual assaults cannot all be prevented, no matter what precautions are taken. We would be assured that since this is “home grown” and because the man “learned to hate women in prison,” that it is unclear how this incident could have been prevented.

The Prime Minister would give a speech in front of a solidarity rally for the victim explaining that we mustn’t let this one act tar our image of men. “This act of sexual assault is a perversion of what it means to be male, manliness is a great tradition.” The former Health Minister would appear on a news program to discuss sexual assaults. “This was not a sophisticated attack, we can’t build walls around women in a democratic society. It was just one guy, not a massive conspiracy.” Nod, nod. Yes, yes.

“Sexual harassment isn’t due to misogyny, it is due to video games,” a study would explain. Many men who become radicalized and choose to assault women actually are not influenced by manliness or anti-women views, they are inspired by video games and social media to carry out their acts. For this reason one should not blame men in general, but social media.

An analyst on CNN would explain that the actions of the rapist and his ideology were designed to “divide men and women. When they succeed at dividing us, they win.” On Facebook people would note that the rapist is “just a crazy douche,” and that “he is probably crazy with psychological problems.” They would worry that intolerance of men will now spread in society. “The misogynists win when we generalize and stereotype.”

These kind of reactions sound ridiculous. When men sexually assault or sexually harass women our society knows that the male perpetrators are to blame. We know that they are not guided by some complex ideology to “divide men and women,” but are motivated primarily by entitlement. We blame their behavior squarely on a culture of impunity that might allow them to think it is ok to harass women and we demand strict enforcement. We don’t throw up our hands and say that “a lone harasser can never be stopped.” We don’t pretend the “real” victims after a sexual assault are other men who might be tarred as chauvinists or that somehow those demanding justice are “anti-male.” We don’t give speeches about how we all have to respect men after a rape. We don’t wonder how it is that someone who was “polite” and a “normal guy” who “loved football,” might also be a rapist. We don’t see past criminality by a man as some sort of odd mitigating factor in his harassment of women, in fact we would tend to see his anti-social behavior as part of the same trend. He got in a bar fight and was imprisoned and later he harassed a woman, it isn’t as if this would occur in two different worlds.

So why can’t we see strait when it comes to Islamist terror? Why don’t we blame the perpetrator and his hate-filled worldview. When men harass women we know that it isn’t “all men,” but when we have Islamist terror we do this two-step whereby we pretend society will blame “all Muslims.” What society should do is blame a culture of hate that leads to Islamism, just like it should blame a culture of impunity and male privilege that leads to misogyny. Where do you think chauvinism comes from? A culture where some men actively demean, degrade and look down on women. Where does Islamism come from? A culture of supremacism that actively degrades and demeans the “other.” Why should we pretend sexual assault is different than terrorism. One is terrorism directed at women’s bodies, the other is terrorism directed at a different target.

It’s not enough to dismiss every rapist as “disturbed” and a “lone wolf” who is a “deranged idiot.” You have to teach men not to rape and have zero tolerance for harassment and zero excuses. Isn’t it time to stop excusing terror and address the hatred and intolerance behind it. Islamist terror is a right wing religious extremist bullying misogynist worldview. Any other description excuses it.

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