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Women and “whataboutery”: a digression

A few weeks ago, I read this post (via Stop asking me ‘what about men?’  — victimfocus) about the obnoxious trend of men accusing women of sexism for focusing their attention on issues relating to women. It must be very frustrating to express a belief or champion a cause only to have people accuse you of being insensitive to other, equally worthy causes. To stand up and say “violence against women is bad!” is not even close to saying “violence against men doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter!” Such an interpretation is inexplicable to me.

Though “whataboutery” infects all areas of social discourse, this particular article touched a nerve in me for some reason. A little over a month ago, I began GTFO to help male victims of abuse. This is an underrepresented group, and I believe that I can make a valuable contribution to them. At no point did I consider the victimization of women to be any less important nor any less worthy of support. In fact, most of the writers I began following immediately after creating this blog are women. Instead of asking them “what about men,” I am standing beside them and offering that perspective myself. We are all on the same side: helping victims of abuse find recovery and healing.

Would you ask a pediatrician why he didn’t pursue geriatric medicine, or an optometrist why she didn’t pursue oncology? No, these people chose their fields for a variety of reasons, and they are each valuable in their own ways. If a woman raises her voice to fight for other women, then we should all cheer her on because she is actually doing something to solve important problems. Perhaps the man who asks “what about…” could better spend his time and energy by saying, “Yes, domestic abuse is a problem. Let me join you in that fight by offering my voice to help men.”

My final thought about women is a relatively recent epiphany. I don’t suppose this a secret or a surprise to anyone, but all manner of political, social, and religious structures have relegated women to subservient positions. The reason for this seems, at least in many cases, to arise from the role of women as child-bearers. Their value as people has often depended on their ability to give birth, and thus many cultures have treated them almost like slaves.

What I recently realized, however, is that this is entirely backwards. Why isn’t every mother raised up in honor for the essentially magical ability to give birth? How did men in the ancient world not marvel and wonder at their wives for creating new life? Their entire civilizations literally relied on the women who bore their children.

Yes, I know that plenty of cultures have places of high honor for the female aspect of nature (goddesses of fertility, for example). However, women have been exchanged as property, denied basic rights of citizenship, silenced as hysterical creatures, and treated with disdain around much of the world and throughout most of history. Though I know enough about the world to understand the supposed justifications for this, I am frankly baffled by it.

I am not saying that women are naturally superior to men or that men should automatically bow to them. What I’m saying is that men and women are both vital parts of society. Consider a farmer who raises livestock. Where does his stock come from? From the union of a bull and a cow, not from either one individually. Both are necessary, both are valuable. This is the crux of equality; they are not the same, but they are both equally important.

At this point, I should probably clarify something. I am not actually comparing women to cows (well, I kind of did, but that’s not the point). The analogy is merely to illustrate how people have different strengths and abilities and purposes, and those differences are what makes the whole process work. Likewise, I am obviously not saying that a woman’s value is only related to her fertility. A woman who cannot have children or simply chooses not to is no less important than any other; her value is defined by who she is, not by her womb.

The author of the victimfocus blog is doing some important work, and though I cannot endorse everything she’s written because I haven’t read it all, the very fact that she is fighting for victims of abuse means that she is my ally. We may be targeting two different audiences, but we are working towards the same goal. What about that could possibly be bad?

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