During the media coverage of the very public defamation suit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard over her allegations of domestic violence, men’s advocates watched many people wake up to the fact that the subject is not a set of neat and tidy narratives, tied up in a little dogma, polarized and unchanging for the public to view as a single problem, whose solution entails a single approach. We saw Depp supporters discuss the case in terms we’ve been explaining for years, many for decades… and Heard supporters respond with allegations of misogyny that did nothing at all to silence them. It looked like maybe, just maybe, public perception of the issue was advancing to recognize the wider spectrum of problems surrounding it.
Maybe it has, but the phenomenon is definitely not universal. When the writers of the piece I am critiquing today created it, I’m sure they thought it was profound, and brilliant. They had no idea it was just evidence of a sickness from which our society still has a long road to recovery.
Feminists have a lot to say about “male violence.” They’ve written thousands of articles and hundreds books about it, created whole genres of carefully gatekept research and academic study around it, done speaking tours on the topic, held massive protests, lobbied congress, and even developed educational initiatives to grift over it. They discuss it from on high in their lofty academic buzzard’s nests as the evil root of all gender issues, from directly related topics like intimate partner and sexual violence, to barely related ideas like gender imbalances in prestigious jobs, which they angrily accuse men of gatekeeping by creating hostile and intimidating work environments that somehow only affect women. Look at those poor, helpless, maligned and abused totally equal and not at all inferior women who are kept from reaching their full potential by you big beefy brutes whose ability to dominate surely comes from no form of superiority at all!
This is clearly a big deal to women in general, though nonfeminist women’s attitudes and beliefs regarding male violence are more subtly expressed than those of the cult. They don’t stand on street corners shouting about it, but if you ask around, most women will tell you that violence is a male behavior, and they’ll use the same terminology as feminists. Most will refer to it as toxic, scary, and evil. They will even go so far as to condemn rough-and-tumble play among boys as such, without differentiating between that, and aggressive conflict involving malice. Many, if not most, don’t understand men’s experience of violence as an ever-present factor to which one must remain alert, and which one must be consistently prepared to avoid or, if unavoidable, to confront. Ask them and they will tell you they fear it. They hate it. They’re offended by it. They don’t understand why you don’t just stop it. They’ll discuss it as if it is an alien concept to women, as if women never engage in it themselves, and most certainly never initiate it. Violence, women will tell you, is why everything wrong in the world is your fault as men. If women ran everything, it wouldn’t be like that.
They will denounce so-called “male violence” to the ends of the earth… with one of their two faces.
What about women’s other face?
She waits in the truck.
Wait in the Truck is a new country & western song with a video that was dropped on Youtube about 5 months ago by musical artist Hardy, featuring Lainey Wilson, with lyrics written by a team; Hardy, Hunter Phelps, Jordan Schmidt, and Renee Blair. The song tells the story of man who, while driving his truck in a storm, encounters a woman on the road whose injuries indicate that she has been beaten.
Does he drive the injured woman to a hospital?
Does he take her to a police station to report the assault he assumes she has experienced?
Does he take her to a battered women’s shelter so she can start the process of extracting herself from what viewers are apparently supposed to conclude from this scant information is an abusive relationship?
He asks where to find the person who hurt her, then drives to her alleged assailant’s home. Telling the complete rando he just picked up to wait in the truck, he gets out with a gun, then goes and knocks on the door of the man she has accused. When there’s no answer, he significantly escalates the violence by kicking the door in, attacking his target, and ultimately, murdering him. In the video, there’s barely a moment of wrestling; the protagonist throws the unknown man, stereotypically dressed in the kind of white tank-top colloquially known as a wife-beater, to the floor, and unceremoniously executes him with a shot to the back of the head.
This vigilante attack on an accused man in response to the tears of a complete stranger is celebrated in the song as “justice,” and “worth it,” despite the fact that it lands the vigilante himself in prison.
Apparently, youtube does not consider this depiction, which clearly glorifies vigilante violence, to be promotion of violence. But what do people think of it? The women commenting were enchanted. Some actually thanked the artist for the portrayal, which resonated with them. Completely forgetting that since the mid-20th century, women’s organizations have operated a network of publicly-funded agencies and institutions designed to provide women with nonviolent assistance under such circumstances, they praised the narrative as someone “finally getting it.” Despite frequent campaigns by women’s groups publicly condemning male violence, the conversation ranged from normalizing this instance of it to outright lauding it as honorable.
Did anyone give it a more thoughtful analysis?
Yes, but it was only marginally better.
In a video titled, “FIRST TIME LISTEN: ‘Wait In The Truck’ Controversy EXPLAINED,” Michael Knowles first admitted that he does not listen to much modern country, which he characterized as a “sappy, saccharine, sentimental kind of music.” He contrasted this song to the usual country fare by labeling it “the highest form of folk music and country music telling.” He went on to compare it to the Homeric tradition, or ancient troubadour ballads, and described it as raising a moral question, because the protagonist doesn’t run from the cops. The moral question he thinks it raises?
Is vigilantism acceptable?
Wait, what? The writers described a scenario in which the violence was over, but then had their protagonist take the stupidest and most unnecessarily violent action he could have chosen under the circumstances. This promotes not just vigilantism, but frivolous vigilantism, and a male obligation to engage in frivolous vigilantism on women’s behalf. The vigilante in the story is not correcting a systemic failure, nor engaging in urgent defense in the heat of a moment. The story uses the emotional appeal of a woman’s tears to suggest that her suffering in and of itself somehow excuses the expectation that a man will commit a completely pointless violent act that would otherwise be inexcusable, where other actions would bring better results.
What kind of message does this send? Violence is always bad, except when a sobbing damsel yanks your heartstrings around like a wretched marionettist?
You know what else that promotes? Exploitation!
Women rarely think about what violence entails for a man. They certainly don’t recognize that it is a form of labor. Yes, just calling it labor over-simplifies it to a degree, but not much. It’s a use of your body, your physical strength, physical endurance, exertion of emotional energy and the experience of psychological stress, and strain on your tolerance for pain and injury. The consequences make it high risk, obviously, with considerations including injury to the laborer, injury to the target, emotional, psychological, and reputational damage to both, potential retaliation or escalation, and penalty imposed by the state for inappropriate use.
It rarely, if ever, occurs to women that engaging in violence puts men at risk of facing violence, forces upon you the memory of violence, and exposes you to high cost, from injury to fines and job loss, to total loss of your freedom, and in extreme cases, your life. The protagonist in this story took another man’s life, and lost his freedom for quite possibly the rest of his. What did his sacrifice gain him, or even the woman on whose behalf he made it, that could not have been gained through less extreme action? And why is he obligated to do anything at all?
I’m not going to promote the feminist canard of total equality. It wouldn’t be prudent even if I believed it, since many women’s advocates conveniently forget it when discussing the topic of partner violence, for reasons both valid and dishonest. Women are not physically equal to men. You are, on average, bigger, stronger, faster, tougher, and smarter, especially when it comes to exerting physical force. Denying this is stupid and useless. It would be to everyone’s benefit if women and women’s advocates would stop doing that.
That’s not to say we can’t do harm, or handle ourselves. We have our own capacity for violence, and for defensive response to violence. I’ve talked about mine more than a few times on the HBR Talk and HBR News livestreams. I’ve even pointed out how fighting was so normalized among girls where I grew up that I actually once avoided further conflict in a fight with girls from another community because my friend told them where I came from, and they all ran away. What I learned from growing up in that environment is that yes, I fear violence, and I hate it. I hate my memories of being targeted with it, and even more, my memories of dishing it out, or of being the reason one of my male loved ones felt compelled to risk it or dish it out. I have nightmares about ways that can go and has gone horribly wrong, and because women can handle ourselves, I’ve taken lessons from it.
1) Don’t borrow trouble.
2) Don’t expect a man to pay off your borrowed trouble debt.
3) If one does, be grateful, not entitled, and use the experience to strengthen lesson 1.
I’ve learned to recognize that right or wrong, in general, men protect the women around them. Right or wrong, that means a woman’s risk generally constitutes a risk to the men around her. It’s not a phenomenon I can just make not happen by denying that men owe me that, though that denial is technically correct. That perceived debt is not entirely natural, either. Yes, there’s some instinct. Men are naturally protective of their loved ones, for instance, but more powerful than that, is the history of cultural and family traditions and norms, morality, and deeply compelling social pressures that fuels this particular gynocentric form of chivalry. Men are socially programmed to view an obligation to accommodate and protect women as part of their gender identity.
Knowing that, I view it as my social obligation to not borrow trouble, because I’m not just borrowing on my dime. I’ve made that mistake and seen men I’d never even met before put themselves at risk of paying off that debt with their bodies, even their lives, to cover for my thoughtlessness.
I’ve come to understand that my self-defense awareness, even though it is heightened for a woman, is egregiously out of shape, because of how much risk I’m generally exempt from as a feature of my sex, and an unconscious appropriation from yours. For his own protection, a man should know that many, if not most of the ways in which he protects the women around him are invisible to those women, and that’s why we seem so careless. A woman ought to know that when she borrows trouble, she is pulling levers and strings that are attached to men’s hearts, their souls, and their safety, and she should not knowingly and willfully abuse that phenomenon.
Men must be aware – many women do know that, and they do willfully abuse it. Some just don’t care, but many get an ego boost from it. This is why some women stir shit and then sit back and watch while the men they influence go to war with each other, so they can gloat as the effects of their feminine potency unfold. They do it to feel attractive, important, cherished… powerful. This is many women’s fantasy, regular fare in the kinds of stories written to tantalize and titillate in the genres of light romance and women’s erotica. To many, it is intoxicating and fantastic that a man will deem their regard more important than his own welfare. It doesn’t occur to them to reciprocate with anything even close to that level of consideration and dedication, even if he is a friend, family member, or partner, but it especially doesn’t if he is a stranger. Far too many just eat that shit right up, like false gods commandeering human sacrifices to feed their narcissism, and their gynocentric cult. Women have even forgotten how to have their husbands’ backs.
Waiting in the truck should be devastatingly painful. Women should be invested enough in the welfare of our fellow human beings to want to avoid manipulating anyone into conflict on our behalf, especially knowing the harm that can come from it. The idea that a man might be hurt, suffer loss, or die because one of us took an action or created a circumstance that made him feel obligated to take unplanned risks should cause enough dismay to urge us to greater mindfulness. It should compel us to steer clear of that situation. We should feel charged to watch out for ourselves, because we know we can… before we set you up to feel like you have to, because we know we can.
Maybe we don’t have the same capacity as a bigger, stronger man to fight off a criminal assailant. Well, men take measures to avoid becoming targets. They maintain an awareness of their environment and do their best to mitigate their risks. Because men love women, they have built entire systems to do that for us; not just law enforcement and shelter systems, but our cultural norms, even the very design of our living environment. Forget whether vigilantism is immoral. Isn’t it immoral for a woman to reject those systems and then wantonly exploit a man’s capacity for violence in their stead?
Just as stupid is the way women’s advocates have simultaneously ignored, condemned, and exploited this phenomenon. They have demanded that men “leave women alone,” proclaimed men’s noble sacrifice to be stifling, restrictive, and intrusive to women, and declared women fully independent, a luxury they forget is facilitated by a full spectrum of masculinity-fueled conditions that operate well beneath women’s notice. “Toxic masculinity!” they cry, shaming your faithful guardianship as oppressive sexism… yet when any story or video of an unaided damsel in distress goes viral on social media, do they celebrate her independence? Maybe castigate her incompetence, if she fails to overcome her adverse experience?
They fill the comments with variations on the lament, “WHY HASN’T THIS WOMAN BEEN RESCUED? WHERE ARE ALL THE MEN?”
Ladies, you told them all to fuck off. Why are you even asking that question?
If men want women to be adults who you can trust enough to be able to love, you would be well advised to exercise tough love. Chivalry is not a natural debt that you simply owe us because of differences between the sexes. It is a generous benefaction that, through a system of men’s repetition, positive social reinforcement, women’s escalating fetish for it, and cultural evolution around it, has become a social imperative. That’s not an ethical or moral debt, but an artificial constraint upon your choices based on an understanding that can no longer even convincingly pretend to be valid.
Most women have forgotten their end of the deal you’re upholding when you protect us; that your vigilance and care at your peril makes women the stewards of a significant chunk of peace and goodwill between men. We are failing to uphold our social obligation when we abandon conscientious personal discretion to make men’s jeopardy, rivalry, and culpability the material of our primary safety net.
This malfeasance gets men killed. It is not at all unreasonable for men to object to women’s dereliction of our duty to avoid doing that. In fact, such heartless exploitation of men’s altruism – an altruism our society treats as compulsory – should earn stigma and blame, not the social elevation it seems to elicit today.
All things considered, yes… violence is definitely labor, and engaging in it is extremely hazardous work. It’s as much of a demand on you as any dangerous profession that uses hazard pay to incentivize workers to accept it as their job, such as police work, repairing power lines, or driving especially large vehicles with difficult maneuverability and complicated controls. When told you owe anyone the use of your capacity for violence, you have every right to say no, shout no, sing it from the rooftops, and follow it up with a resounding “and fuck you for suggesting as much.”
Any demand that you engage in violence on another’s behalf or at another’s behest is a pretty damned big ask. Why should women feel entitled to exploit men’s violence as a free and widely available resource, especially when they don’t even feel obligated carefully steward it in order to avoid abusing the men they’re expecting to provide it? Women are actively encouraged to maintain that sense of entitlement, and this is not something we can just blame on feminists. Parents teach their children this narrative, and it is enforced through media like this song, coming from many different political and apolitical outlooks. It’s portrayed as romantic for a man to sacrifice his peace and his safety to avenge a woman’s honor after another man has offended her sensibilities, comedic or just when the offending man is injured or killed, and unfortunate but unavoidable collateral damage when the sacrificial vigilante also experiences consequences for his actions.
The moral question this video raises is not whether vigilante violence is acceptable behavior. Knowles got that wrong, just as he got it wrong when he stated that this man exchanged prisons with the woman he supposedly rescued. What prison held her? She was outside, away from her alleged assailant, who, according to the video, wasn’t even pursuing her. She got into the protagonist’s truck when asked. He could have driven her anywhere besides back where she came from. A mindful steward of peace and goodwill among men, when accepting his kind assistance, would have asked wiser things of him, rather than allow him to exchange his freedom for… what? Her emotional labor? Suffering she had experience, but no longer need endure? That’s not a rescue or an exchange. That’s revenge. Why the hell are we romanticizing that?
So what is the real moral question?
How about this: Are men human enough for their communities to care more about them than to treat them as a free source of proxy violence that women can fire at other men, like living cannons?
Talk about objectification! Are women adult enough to care? Can they give an honest answer to this question? How many will admit they exploit men’s compassion for women as the fuse on a weapon against their chosen targets? How many would instead come up with 1000 excuses for why expecting this from men is somehow not abuse… not slavery?
With one face, femininity calls you toxic because your capacity for violence involves greater preparedness, competence, capability, prowess, and fortitude than women’s similar capacity. Shame on you if you think you need to be big and strong, fast, tough, or otherwise prepared to handle yourself well when confronted with any danger. How dare you exist as part of a gender demographic that includes people whose use of violence in a careless or malicious way gets noticed? As a member of club “everyman,” you are completely at fault and it’s your responsibility to make it all stop! Most of all, shame on you for thinking you have to be better at it than women. After all, you’ve been told that expecting women to need your protection means you are infected with isms and phobias. Who are you trying to impress?
The other face, femininity can’t even keep straight. While irrationally claiming to be totally independent of you and castigating you for caring, she demands your exercise of violence at the drop of an insult, as a sign of your fealty to Her Majesty, Queen Femininity of Humankind… and shame on you if you’re not prepared to be better at it than women, so you can protect them from other men, even when there are other means of managing their risk.
“Worry not, fair maiden! I have witnessed the overflow of thy tear ducts, thy lamentation of thy dire experience with some guy! I shall go and destroy that guy, along with my own entire future, to avenge thy shedding of a bit of saline across thy conjunctiva, so that never again shall the fluids of thine eyes spill over, and thy mascara be smeared in this other dude’s name!”
Like I’ve said, far too many women eat that shit right up.
The same women’s advocates who tell you that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, also run social campaigns with titles like “Don’t Be That Guy,” suggesting that it’s every “good” man’s responsibility to become an impromptu bodyguard any time a woman might be in danger, or even if she might be insulted or inconvenienced. You’re told women don’t need you, but it’s your job as a man to step in and correct the choices of men who do things women’s advocates consider inappropriate, like speaking to women in public places, because god forbid women should handle their own personal boundary enforcement. Princess Butthurt is just fine on her own, no thank you very much, but why should she have to tell the guy she’s been batting her eyelashes at that she’s not interested in any real interaction, when she can rely on one of you filthy plebs to do her dirty work for her? Why should she use the extensive, powerful system that women’s advocates have spent over 50 years lobbying into place so she can escape an abusive relationship, when she can just sacrifice one man’s life and another man’s future, and walk away from the wreckage of their existence like it never even mattered?
The same screeching harpies who tell you that women are not a monolith and women who support women’s lobbying organizations are not responsible for the outcomes you face from anti-father and anti-due process laws they’ve informed, demand that you take responsibility for other men’s behavior, and all women’s welfare, and you exert yourself using violence that will cost you your safety, security, and freedom, to pay for their safety, security, and freedom. They expect you to be ready to bleed for them on command, regardless of your interest in the matter or your relationship to the woman, or whether she even asked. According to these sniveling harridans, you’re an evil patriarch directly involved in the oppression of women if you don’t. And don’t worry. Your sacrifice will go completely unappreciated. If she doesn’t outright condemn you for usurping her female independence, the woman you give up everything for might say thank you. Even then, she’ll demonstrate no more gratitude toward you than she has for any of the steps she skips down on her way out of the courtroom where you’re condemned for solving her problem.
Her alleged problem.
Knowles formulated his answer to the vigilante question on the idea that it’s civil authority which has the right to engage in violent correction of criminal behavior, not individual men. This is another shortfall in his logic. Vigilantism isn’t wrong because civil authority is higher than individual authority. It’s wrong because the civil system exists as a collective attempt at ensuring fairness in conflict resolution between individuals in a civilized society. Vigilantism bypasses the rest of a team created to avoid emotion-driven mistakes and limit conflict-driven injury and death.
We use law enforcement and court systems to de-personalize and standardize the community response to crime and other conflict so that knee-jerk-reactions like the one portrayed in the video won’t lead to wrongful action taken against accused or accuser. We use a civil system so that societal exploitation of the human capacity for violence can be reduced to a smaller subset of community members who volunteer to make that part of their jobs, and who are compensated for taking on that responsibility, so the rest of the community may be exempt from it. There are cops, prosecutors, and judges specifically so that you don’t have to do their jobs unless you choose to become one of them. Vigilantism is the wrong answer because it is a thoughtless reaction to circumstances that require analysis and prudence in order to determine what actions would be ethical and effective… and because it is not your job and you shouldn’t have to engage in it. Does our society have the capacity to care enough about men to recognize that?
What if the song ended with a courtroom revelation that, as with about ⅔ or more of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, the beating went both ways? What if, as research has found to be the most common scenario, she hit him first? What if she cornered him, berating him, haranguing him, slapping and punching him until she wore out his control over his fight or flight reaction and then ran out into the rain when his self-defense was too unrestrained for her to handle.
What if her injuries were caused by his defense of their child from her violence?
What if our sacrificial vigilante had kicked down that door, only to discover “that guy” was the sobbing damsel’s wife?
These are things that happen in real domestic violence cases, but it can get even worse than that.What if the song ended with the court revealing that the man Hardy shot was just plain falsely accused? The video showed little confrontation. We hear the shooter’s narrative. We hear the accuser’s narrative. We hear nothing from the accused. How would the character portrayed in the video know that the accused man did what was only described to him by a random woman he found walking in the road during a storm? What if she pulled a mini Gone Girl scenario, and this was the result?
What would be your moral question then?
How about the question of women’s sin of two faces: One scoffing in blanket condemnation, as she deems violence a frivolous, sexist, male-only vice and a male-only taboo, the other sneering with duper’s delight as she demands it as a male-only debt; that men must violently sacrifice themselves and each other on the alter of women’s tears?
Can we ever become civilized enough to confront that question?