Abuse has been in the news lately. We’ve had female video game developers and feminist media critics fleeing their homes and cancelling public events after disgusting threats on their lives. We’ve had concerned mothers advocating more gun regulation threatened and assaulted. We’ve had professional football players assaulting their loved ones. We’ve had nude photos of female celebrities stolen and disseminated across the internet.
Maybe the abuse suddenly increased, or maybe it’s been around this whole time. Maybe we’re starting to realize our complicity as a society. Why has it taken so long?
Perhaps strong, systemic misogyny persists in our society. That might explain why so many people blamed the celebrities whose personal property was stolen and made public. These beliefs are flawed and horrid, but they can’t explain the whole story.
Another explanation might derive from most people’s (and the media’s) belief that others act in good faith. If someone makes a stink about something, they must have a point. The recent Gamergate “movement” started because one guy wanted to ruin his ex-girlfriends life and got his online buddies to help. To cover themselves they said they were protesting journalistic ethics. Many excellent reports have shown how little they care about journalistic ethics (see here and here), but the average person cannot believe someone would go to that much trouble after getting dumped. There must be something to the ethics charge, right?
No one would threaten to murder a feminist media critic unless she’s saying crazy things, right?
Gun activists wouldn’t walk around provocatively with assault rifles if their rights weren’t about to be dangerously curtailed, right?
The woman punched in the face by her fiance must have done something to deserve it, right?
Wrong. The vast majority of people don’t ascribe to the abuser’s view, but they think it must be justified in some way, especially if the view is expressed forcefully. Our well-intentioned bias to think the best of people is letting them get away with abuse and helping them justify it.
Abuse is abuse. It is illegal. People shouldn’t have to put up with it. Hopefully the recent media attention regarding abuse will help mobilize people to end our societal complicity.