Empathy apartheid refers to the caste system we have in our culture that determines whose suffering deserves empathy and whose does not. This system works along gender and racial lines. There’s not much question that when Natalee Holloway was kidnapped in Aruba and Fox News flogged the story the entire summer of 2006, that her story would have gotten exponentially less attention if she had been black. But the main parameter of this system of empathy apartheid is along gender lines.
Empathy apartheid is what I call the system of cultural norms that erases male suffering and silences any mention of it, to the point that those suffering no longer admit to themselves they are suffering.
First let’s look at the forms empathy apartheid takes:
1. Trivialization of injuries to men – this comes in several forms. One is simple minimization – “Oh, it’s not that bad when it happens to a man, not like when it happens to a woman.” A form of this minimization is “erasure by false equivalence.” So if the issue is the fact that men make up the overwhelming majority of deaths in wartime, compare that death rate to women being widowed in war (What an oppression, to survive where others die!) or if that fails, play the rape card (even though it turns out the rates for rape may not in fact be so different.)
2. Simply ignore these injuries – when a man is raped, define rape so that his rape is not counted as a rape. Or when that’s impossible, tell him he must have wanted sex because men always want sex, or that he “got lucky”. When a wife attacks her husband at home and draws blood or breaks bones, don’t record the incident as domestic violence, or better yet, arrest him as the perpetrator!
3. Blame the victim and make him look like the aggressor – “You bastard; you’re the perp, not the victim!” So as above, when a man suffers domestic abuse, you arrest him instead of the perpetrator. When a man suffers abuse, find some way any way to excuse the wife and accuse him of “making her” do it.
4. And when all these other tactics fail, when the evidence piles up and is just too undeniable, there is always anomalization – “Yeah, false rape accusations do happen, but it some (false) vanishingly small percentage of accusations (so why bother about it?).”
Now let’s look at the mechanisms that enable and enforce empathy apartheid:
1. The Real Man Narrative – every little boy is familiar with the outlines of the Real Man Narrative by the time he starts school. Often it’s peers in the neighborhood, often slightly older little girls who think their job to norm little boys, who start this.
2. Anti-Male Shaming Language – here is a good list of anti-male shaming tactics. They all will work to defeat just about any attempt a man might make to get some harm to him acknowledged, though of course Code Blue, Code Lavender or Green and even Code Red or Black are the main weapons of choice.
3. The Male Privilege Narrative – this is an essentialist fallacy that lumps all men into Class Men, attributes unilateral privilege to this class and then blithely refuses to admit that any member of this privileged class can be on the suffering end of any situation. It’s facile and shallow, but it has the virtue of being simplistic and false.
The value of the Male Privilege Narrative is the exploitable victim cred it grants women who want to deploy it. If men are privileged, then women are dispossessed, exploited and oppressed, and they have a right to demand restitution, and to keep demanding it until they feel justice has been fulfilled. It’s weaponized victim status.
4. Objectification, specifically instrumentality, denial of autonomy, ownership and violability – when all else fails, just revert to the standard gender norms where men are disposable – disposable as cannon fodder, industrial labor where men do all the dangerous, dirty and difficult work of society, disposable fathers who remain in their children’s lives only at the pleasure of the mother, or only as life support for the checking accounts the mother uses to “support” the children.
Men are only good for what they do for others – not human beings but human doings. Whether man wants to do a particular job or not is of no importance, he had better do it or risk being considered less than a man (see the Real Man Narrative). His wife owns his labor and the fruits of that labor, and in ENTITLED to a 50/50 share of all household assets regardless of her own actual contribution, or to maintenance of one form or another. And if something happens, if he gets injured or killed carrying out these duties – oh well, that’s just what it costs to be a man.
Here’s an example of this empathy apartheid when it dresses in moral righteousness. In this example Fidelbogen was commenting in a thread with a young women who was saying sexist and classist things. He called her on that and said her comments were vile and vicious. She responded with the classic “It doesn’t matter if it’s happening to straight white men” empathy apartheid we are all so familiar with. She has this neat little taxonomy of the Righteous on the one hand, bad treatment of whom can properly be called vile, and then the Evil Ones on the other side, bad treatment of whom is not to be criticized.
She is basically either a sociopath or is “performing” sociopathy very skillfully, and that goes for her whole line of reasoning and anyone else who uses it.
Empathy apartheid is a strategic weapon that can be employed in confrontations with members of the excluded class. This works two ways. The first reason this works is that you are free to inflict whatever wounds you can in the knowledge that his protests will go unheard. We see this at work in domestic violence incidents, for one glaring example. The second goes even deeper – if one category of people is excluded form empathy, it is likely that the opposite category will benefit from extra empathy. This means you can attack someone and portray yourself as the injured party, as the damsel in distress.