Sexist Men and the People Who Love Them

This article is about the men who walk amongst us whom we admire, whom we call our friends, lovers, husbands, fathers, brothers. If you prefer, this article may also be about the ‘other’ men out there, the rapists, child abusers, sexual harassers, and other shadowy characters in the news and conversations whom we hope to never meet and know in real life. But above all, this article is about liberal hypocrisy.

Did it come to any shock or surprise that many respectable white men in Britain have been exposed as paedophiles, rapists, and low-lifes in fine suits? How did they get away with despicable behaviour for so long while their accusers languish for decades waiting for justice? Sometimes in their belated battle for justice, their accusers continue to languish post-trial because justice has an expiry date.

In Britain, men who worked for the police sleep with female activists in order to infiltrate activist groups. Some of these men have even fathered children with these women. As police ‘spies’, all of these men have assumed false identities as fellow activists that they have managed to maintain through lie after lie for years. When these men were exposed, the women reported to have felt as if they were raped by these men. Who wouldn’t feel like that?

Case after case of sexual crimes in the past year have revealed men, all men, who have lied and destroyed people’s lives. These men have chosen to prey on girls and women, and thought nothing of the repercussions. For a long time, these predatory men have walked among innocent people, many of them children and protected by their status, the law, and the auspices of the state. It is only when these men are finally caught, placed in the dock, and subjected under the mercilessly glaring light of the media that they are framed as criminals.

Before they were classed as criminals, they were just like any other man you might know. Nice, pleasant, loving, well-respected, normal. How much does it take for us mere mortals outside the machinations of the law and media to recognise that the men among us are guilty of heinous crimes like rape and harassment? A lot, plus some denial on the side.

In Malaysia, we have so little faith in the justice system and its apparatuses that we resort to our own kind of justice and sense of order. This is why private security and fear of crime are so high in Malaysia. Some people go to extremes and take the law into their own hands by committing vigilante justice. Others take futile precautionary steps and not go outside alone late at night and build iron grills around their own personal prisons.

When there is so much fear of the ‘other’ men we don’t know, we usually become blinkered from those who commit everyday forms of sexism and misogyny under our own eyes especially when they don’t look like your garden variety rapist. In films and the popular imagination, rapists are visibly psychotic and don’t hold down respectable jobs.

Is this the reason why many women refuse to report if they had been raped and/or harassed? Because they will be disbelieved? And perhaps because it is far easier for us to condemn those we read about in the news, but not those we know and consider our friends? Except for the privileged few, we’ll never meet the men who have committed crimes of a sexual nature and so we’re sheltered by own self-righteousness and cowardice when we hurl abuse at these men from behind the screen.

Gender-based harassment and assault within high-profile liberal middle-class circles are relatively common and some go unreported. When they are reported they are forced under the carpet in the name of … what exactly? Somehow the proximity of familiarity renders the crimes of the respected and respectable insignificant and easily dismissed. How long do we wait until they are properly exposed as criminals?

The possible reasons why criminals within one’s respected ranks are protected may be economic (no one wants to lose their jobs), social (being a whistleblower has shown to be stigmatising and damaging to one’s livelihood), and political (you don’t want to lose the prestige, power, and popularity by exposing the guilty because apparently no one is a saint).

But it is also possible that the protection of the respected and respectable within the liberal middle circles is class-based. Since time immemorial, the crimes of the powerful and privileged have often been overlooked or mitigated while the poor and disenfranchised are punished disproportionately harsher.

This article is not a call for a witch-hunt of would-be male rapists and harassers amongst us but rather a reminder for us to reassess what justice means. There is credible evidence that those who purport to fight oppression are perpetuating oppression themselves and by implication undermining the good work of others. We are quick to point out the hypocrisies of others, namely politicians and religious authorities but struggle to come to terms with those closest to us and our own.

In one of the more transparent countries in the world with a functioning legal system, Britain, justice as has an expiry date. Even if the crime had happened a long time ago, it does not make it less of a crime but its sentence will be mitigated by the time length between the act of crime and indictment. Hence do not wait to tell others of the injustice that you know and that has happened to you. It is therefore fitting to conclude with an adage attributed to the courageous Shirin Ebadi who said that we may not be able to end oppression for good, but the least we can do is tell as many people about it.

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Alicia spends far too much time in front of the computer writing her next 1000-word masterpiece. When she's not writing she is seen slaving away over a steaming pot of tasty gruel.

Posted on 12 August 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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7 Responses to Sexist Men and the People Who Love Them

  1. AngryMalayWoman

    To all reading this article, I'd like to draw your attention to a companion piece by Clarissa Lee on her blog,… Her blog post discusses the continuum of sexual violence against women and how in some cases, people are just powerless to tackle crimes they've experienced themselves.

  2. Mat Salleh

    A correction: in the UK, there is no reduction of sentences based on the length of time since the offence, so it is simply wrong to say that 'justice has an expiry date'. There is a lower conviction rate, which causes the perception of reduced sentences, but these arise from the difficulty of firmly establishing guilt for a crime committed many years ago rather than the nature of the crime itself. For example, in the case of charges of sexual abuse dating back many decades, there can obviously be no genetic evidence and it's hard to provide reliable witness statements. If we accept that people are innocent until proven guilty then we have to admit that this proof is harder to obtain; the frustrations expressed by the media should not impinge on this vital principle of justice.

    • AngryMalayWoman

      No, a lower conviction rate is not directly correlated to the perception of reduced sentences. To further explain what I alluded to as 'justice has an expiry date' with regards to sexual abuse, genetic evidence has little to do with the conviction of the men who committed abuses decades ago. Instead, what mitigated the sentences was the length of time that had passed after the crimes were committed. The lenient sentence of Stuart Hall and other aging paedophiles found guilty of abusing children was based on the humanitarian manner of dealing with convicted perpetrators. Because there were no other recent evidence (as in testimony of the survivors of abuse), Hall and his ilk were seen as no longer committing the crime long-term. And because many of the abusers are now old, there may have been a legal assumption that they are apparently incapable of committing further crimes and that meting out long sentences til they die is overkill and inhumane. Also a more humane life imprisonment is one that is not actually for life but allows for review of the sentence and possible release following review. The British sentencing system is sometimes disproportionately 'compassionate' towards high profile abusers of children unlike the absurd theatrical nature of the American sentencing system.

      • Mat Salleh

        I'm not sure what sentences you're referring to by the phrase 'Hall and his ilk'. The reason Stuart Hall received a mitigated sentence (though it was later increased) was that he pleaded guilty. I'm not aware of any other sentences having been passed through Operation Yewtree as yet since they are still under investigation and most have yet to even go to trial. What actual statistics can you provide to back up your claim?

        • AngryMalayWoman

          I was referring to the Chetham school cases (Micheal Brewer got 6 years while his wife 12 months. The victim committed suicide during the trial) and countless other child abuses committed by the Catholic clergy. These are all child abuses cases that may not fall under Operation Yewtree but demonstrate historical child sex abuses that weren't properly handled and resolved in justice for the victims and the victim's families.

          • Mat Salleh

            I'm afraid you're still dodging the issue. That Brewer's victim committed suicide during the trial is of no relevance to the sentence – he was tried on the basis of the original offence. As for Catholic priests, despite the media storm, relatively few cases have as yet come to trial. They weren't 'resolved in justice' because often there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction, not because the sentences were too short.

            I return to the original point. If you can come up with a single case where a judge has stated that he is delivering a lenient sentence on the basis of the age of the defendant or the time since the offence, please bring it forward, not merely to back up your article but because it would be a national scandal for a judge to so blatantly contradict our laws.

          • Ang Moh

            Length of time between offence and prosecution is absolutely not a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing and the mere idea that a criminal would receive a lighter punishment correlating with the length of time s/he "got away with it" is offensive. The UK does not have "career judges" and members of the judiciary are extremely experienced barristers or solicitors who would baulk at the very idea.

            You are welcome to the opinion that many sexual abuse cases do not have "satisfactory" outcomes, but you are not entitled to your own facts as to how sentencing works. As to Mat Salleh's challenge, note that is not a credible source.