#AllMen….? Is Abuse a Gendered Battleground?

#AllMen….? Is Abuse a Gendered Battleground?

It is common to see general slogans of ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’ in many social justice circles. This is an incredibly arrogant and self-righteous standard. This manifests in the #metoo culture with the hashtag #allmen.  That is, that all men are responsible or otherwise complicit in the abuse of women. If a man is not a perpetrator himself, he has been a bystander or an enabler at some point, and therefore #allmen are at fault.

Those who support this ‘us vs. them’ mentality between the sexes will sometimes use an incident of a woman being abused as proof that somehow, all men aren’t doing enough because they supposedly  ‘allowed’ this to happen.

The fact is that #allpeople are complicit in some injustice. If you are an American taxpayer, you have a hand in killing innocent children when the US government bombs children.  If you do not buy free trade chocolate , you are complicit in human rights abuses. If you bought gas from Shell, you were likely complicit in some serious human rights violations. If you buy clothing from any mainstream clothing store, there is a high likelihood you are complicit in the demand for fatal sweatshops. The list is endless.

We tend to not see how a narrative is often formed due to framing, not facts. I’m worried about a narrative in which women are portrayed as helpless victims and men are portrayed as being inherently predisposed to being sexual predators.  The conversation of spiritual abuse must not warp into one of a de facto battle of men versus women, with men as abusers and women as victims.

I can tell you from heavy involvement in cases of spiritual abuse that women, if not direct perpetrators of spiritual abuse, are often complicit in cover-ups of abuse by their male counterparts.  Such women have, just as much as the men, ignored clear evidence of abusive and secretive marriages by male religious figures and added to the defamation of those women who were targeted.  We have to understand this to prevent a narrative that only deals with spiritual abuse as men harming women, which creates a problematic narrative of spiritual abuse as a gendered-problem rather than an abuse of power or abuse of religion.  We can’t effectively equate abuse with ‘gender based violence’ when abuse is so much more expansive and complicated and the perpetrators include women.  The gender-based narrative also excludes other forms of spiritual abuse such as financial abuse, bullying, and general control of congregants to feed a religious leader’s ego.

Simply, abuse is not a gender-based battleground.  Some of these ideas that are seeping into the minds of Muslims come from the same ideologies that even push for mothers to accept the premise that our sons are all ‘natural rapists’ and we must avert that natural tendency. How are we supposed to create a healthy upbringing for our boys when we subject them to lessons that vilify them?  It’s very unfortunate when we see Muslims uncritically accept these ideas.  We all hate generalizations when they are about us. We need to see that men and women are not really ‘others.’  The Prophet (saws) stated that women are the co-sharers of men. If we can keep this perspective in mind we will not be swept away by the divisive currents of our time.

In that spirit I prefer not to use the term ‘ally’ to describe the countless men who help women that have been abused. Such usage of “ally” implies that women are the ‘natural leaders’ with men as merely side-kicks rather than acting us as a true cohesive unit commanding to good and forbidding evil. Allah describes believing men and women as mutual allies, for righteousness. This is the only ally I seek to be, and pray for the mercy of Allah.

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, establish prayer, give zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those are the ones upon whom Allah will show mercy. Indeed, Allah is mighty and wise.
– Qur’an 9:71



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