Last week I read an article by Michael Laxer (former candidate and election organizer for the NDP, and a two time Socialist candidate for Toronto City Council) that is surprising on numerous levels. In the blog post, Laxer argues that “all men…collectively, and most commonly as individuals, are responsible for creating the conditions that not only facilitate Ghomeshi’s alleged abuse, but that ensure he will exist.” Not only is this a generalization, but as a Socialist, Laxer fails to give any broader analysis of the corporate and power conditions that create a culture of abuse against women. In a capitalist society, not “all men” possess equal power to create these conditions or any conditions at all. While the existing social conditions (of misogyny, objectification of women, etc) may have been created by rich and powerful male elites, most men are not in this privileged male group! The majority of men (and women) do not create the dominant culture, they simply react to, consume, or absorb it. While he touches on pornography and prostitution as culprits, he does so in such a way as to mainly blame the male consumers of debased and violent pornography rather than to also critically interrogate the producers and owners of the industry. It is these men, this small group of wealthy elites that produce and disseminate such images and attitudes of women as objects to be man- handled (often violently or degradingly).
I agree that much modern day mainstream pornography is degrading and offensive to women. But why is he blaming the consumers of pornography rather than the producers? While the pornography industry is owned and run by male elites, the key word is elites, meaning a handful of wealthy, profit-driven men. Three billion men do not produce pornography. Laxer is blaming the consumer while leaving the producers wholly unscathed. And pornography is not the only industry that exploits, debases, objectifies and sells female sexuality to men for profit. Almost every male-focused industry on the planet—from beer, to cars, sports, and even after-shave—use sex and sexualized images of women to market to men. If the adage that sex “sells” is true then clearly we are talking about, or should be talking about, consumerism, capitalism and corporate mediated culture. As a socialist, Laxer makes no attempt at capitalist or corporate critique, what so ever, which is surprising and disappointing. Instead he puts all the blame on the consumers of sexualized (or debased) female images and treatment. Of course the consumers of particular forms of pornography are complicit to a degree, but pornography producers are even guiltier than the consumers are. Pornography does not simply mirror consumer tastes and trends, it also creates them. And many male consumers of pornography do not like the trends and tastes that are currently being marketed to them, opting instead for “amateur pornography” because it is less brutal, less sensational and more realistic; meaning similar to the intercourse they engage in.
We need to go to the source of the problem. And it is not all men, it is a particular class of men; the men with the power to produce/create and perpetuate a culture of violence or sexual exploitation of women in the first place. To wholly accuse all men of this crime is both extreme and offensive to me as a woman and a humanist and I can imagine to the majority of men who may have read his article. While a male culture of female exploitation and objectification does exist, not all men are equally guilty of creating, or even have the power to create, this culture. At the same time, some female elites also contribute to the reproduction and perpetuation of this culture. We must talk about power and class, something so-called progressives refuse to do in the west. In a capitalist or corporate hegemonic society, the majority of men and women lack any real power. All of the men Laxer cites in his article (Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, R Kelly, Woody Allen etc, ) are wealthy or famous men of power. So class must come into his discussion. These men are from an elite group or class (i.e., the rich, famous and/or politically powerful) in society.
While it is sadly very true that economically and politically powerless men—i.e., working class, middle class or poor men—also beat, sexually assault and kill women in the west (and around the world), and exert their physical power or supremacy, it is also true that many men (maybe the majority of men) do not! So to write an article accusing “all men” of being rapists or indirectly complicit in sexual abuse simply for being men is ridiculous and insulting not only to men but also to women. These are our fathers, brothers, husbands, partners and sons! While sexual abuse and violence against women exists and is pervasive in many places, not every man is a rapist or violent and not every woman has suffered at the hands of men. I have often felt safe and protected in the presence of men or by their actions. There are noble protective men in this world who use their “masculinity” and physical strength to make others feel safe, not threatened! Surely, we cannot and must not lump these men in with rapists and abusers of women.