He Versus She: Should Men Be the Protectors of Women?
By: Matthew Murphy
I used to go out frequently, to parties or the bar, and my female friends would ask me to keep an eye on them and the people they interacted with to make sure that they were safe. This was a job I was happy to do at that point in my life. Truthfully, it made me feel good about myself, like I was some kind of characterized legend of a man or a comic book hero. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there is a reason that those characters remain in myth and in print. The fictitious characters that I idealized for their ability to defeat evil with hyper-masculinity did not exhibit behaviors or have tactics that are transferable to reality. Yet still, there I was keeping watch against evil doers in the vicinity of my loved ones, high off my own ego and pride. They say pride comes before the fall, and so I fell. The entire well being of a person or persons cannot be put into the hands of a single mortal man.
In my personal situation, a friend of mine was assaulted at a party I had attended and I was nowhere to be found. I did not stop the assault from happening because I couldn’t. I was not in the exact location the assault took place and I didn’t know that it happened until it was far too late to do anything about it. I had done my best to be a “protector” and I had still failed. I blamed myself.
This is a belief that is programed into men at a young age, that we are tough, almost superhuman, and that we can control the world around us, as if our genitalia make us gods. Were that the case the assailants would have been too busy running their own world to have committed the assault in the first place. Although, it was that same patriarchal programing that led these men to commit an act of violence against my friend. Two sides of the same damaging coin.
The belief that men have power over women, in any way shape or form, is a damaging and problematic one, whether it is well meaning or has ill intent. When I used to say I would protect my female friends it perpetuated the same cycle of objectification and dehumanization that violence against women does. Regrettably, It took precious years of my youth to learn this for myself. So with the best intentions I must say, I hate to break it to you fellow men, we are not above women, we cannot save women from bad men, we cannot expect that we are in control of women or of perpetrators of violence. There is only one thing that we truly have control over, our own actions.
In my family we have a motto, fortis et hospitalis. This motto is a latin phrase that means “brave and hospitable”. Notice, nowhere in this phrase does it say anything like “towards women” or “with violence”. So with the words of my family in mind, I bring my point. Should men be protectors of women? My answer: No. I think we all should try to be as good as we possibly can be and we should help any person that needs help when we have the means to do so.
There is also the assumption that women cannot be protectors. I know this assumption to be completely false, being raised by lesbian feminists who did their absolute best to keep me safe. Not to mention the countless negative and compromising situations I’ve gotten myself into over the years, to be rescued in those moments by the strong women I know, e.g. all the women I know. So guys, stop taking full responsibility for being protectors, start taking full responsibility for your own actions, and just start trying to do some good.
By: Natalie DeCesare
As a triplet with powerlifting, protein-eating, sculpted-muscled brothers, I have had the tendency to view men under a masculine microscope of protection if protection is ever needed. Needless to say, having two swole houses on either side of me afforded me a sense of security when the night got late and boys felt bold. Did I feel empowered knowing my brothers’ intimidating appearances could serve as bodyguards against unwanted company? Yes. But do I feel empowered when men view themselves as the protectors of women and women the protected? No.
Protection entails much more than physical dominance, yet physicality often acts as the cornerstone excuse to categorize genders. Men are bigger than women so they have a responsibility to protect them. Or really? How constricting social justice becomes when an entire gender bears the burden of protecting the other on account that, in general, the gender is bigger. To me, social justice’s cornerstone is mutuality. Mutuality is not an idealized divvying of rights to uphold, but a temperament of interdependence where the words “reliant” and “reciprocity” define healthy gender relations. When men are viewed as “protectors”, society validates the patriarchal notion that men are dominate, and in return for their safety, women are submissive. No matter what chivalry spin one places on this paradigm, mutual respect is not present.
One can argue that each gender has its strengths and weaknesses and it is best to capitalize on the strengths. However, more often times than not, an individual does not fit the archetypes of masculinity or femininity, but identifies better with personal attributes such as mediation, empathy, and activism. I said protection entails much more than physical dominance, and it does. Protection spreads across a spectrum of intangible and tangible. Sure, brute force can act as protection, but so can forgiveness or patience or humor or love. When someone wishes to cause physical harm, likely he or she begins with mental harm. Be it a bruised ego or damaged dignity; be it emotional abuse or persistent loneliness, mental harm also sits on the spectrum of protection and does not discriminate on gender. I do not advocate for a society that thinks men hold the responsibility for protecting women, because that would mean they would be responsible for the physical, mental, and emotional health of women. Just how does someone assume the role of effective caretaker? By deciding what care looks like. If men are supposed to be women’s caretakers, then they need guidelines to ensure protection is actually occurring, and I have a feeling women wouldn’t be making those guidelines, the men who are “responsible” for them would be.
Protection, from what? is a relevant question we should be asking. Do women need to be protected from men by enlisting more men to protect them? Do women need to be protected from midnight walks home and early morning runs? Maybe women need to be protected from revealing attire and promiscuous habits. Or, maybe all these things are safe and normal to do and having a man next to you doesn’t make it any safer. Men are not born with a safety feature that pings when danger is near any more than women are not born with a traceable scent of victimization. So what are we protecting women from? The same thing we should be protecting everyone from: violation. Women are not the only ones who are violated, men are not the only violators, boys are targeted similarly to how girls are targeted, and everyone is in need of protection.
Al-li-ance: noun “an association formed for mutual benefit;” “a merging of efforts to cooperate for specific purposes;” “a connection through which a common interest is shared.” I advocate for an alliance between men and women. Men are not the protectors of women; they are the allies of women. The United Stations made light of such an ideology in its recent campaign with the sensational Emma Watson “HeForShe.” “HeForShe” centers around men being allies to women, especially in areas where women rights are non-existent. Instead of men thinking they have to protect women, they are thinking “how can I empower women?” Women do not genuinely empower men by being submissive. They empower men by vocalizing the right of equality. Stop telling men to crusade the lands looking for maidens to save and starting telling men to view women as equals. We are all white knights in shining armor when our guiding principle is mutuality.