MALE DISPOSABILITY – Empathy Apartheid


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.

Jim Doyle
Latest posts by Jim Doyle (see all)
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather

About the author

Jim Doyle

<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3096">14 comments</span>

  • Good piece. I completely agree on the ways in which you describe the empathy apartheid: trivialisation, ignoring, anomalisation, and victim-blaming all strike me as good examples of how it happens. I also agree with the description of the mechanisms. I thought the line about ‘performing’ sociology was sheer genius!

    I think there’s one crucial one you leave off: rational self-interest. Think about being victimised as a heterosexual, cis man. How is it in your rational self-interest to draw attention to that victimisation? It advertises your ‘weakness’ and lowers your mate-value. You might get some pity points, but the pity will almost always be outdone by the deleterious effect on your mate-value. It only starts to become in your self-interest if you’re out the game entirely.

    This relates to a broader concern I have with what I worry is an unfortunate mirroring of feminist cultural theory in its blank-slatism:

    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.

    The problem I have here is that I don’t think it’s a legitimate move to stipulate that what you call the ’empathy apartheid’ is a product of cultural norms. If you do this, you will get the result that there is an empathy apartheid that is a product of cultural norms, but it won’t succeed in saying anything. It’s exactly like saying gender is a product of cultural norms. Well, yeah, but that’s only because you’ve defined it in that way! It doesn’t actually established that gender varies substantially away from sex difference.

    My own hunch (represented in this diagram I made) is that a large part of the empathy apartheid is ‘innate’, by which I mean that it will be a stable feature of culture across any environment you could feasibly create. That isn’t to say we should just ignore it, or think it acceptable, but rather to get a clearer picture of the cause so as to get a better picture as to what to do about it.

    All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t assume that the empathy apartheid is a product of cultural forces. For all we know, those cultural forces are simply the direct product of innate mechanisms. An extreme determinism is incredibly unlikely, but it could be fairly strong.

    In any case, it’s a good piece, and I don’t wish my nitpicking to be taken as over-riding that.

  • Brilliant as always Ginkgo.

    The only one that’s been missed is the dreaded Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (PHMT) and “feminism is already doing that!” deflections. These enable the user to *appear* to empathise with men’s issues but actually ignore the problems that have been raised. They remove the need for the user to empathise with the men affected, “safe” in the knowledge that it’s being handled by some other feminist somewhere else…

  • In the end of men Hannah Rosin mentions a trial where a woman charged with violence against her husband had a psychologist argue on her behalf that her husband made her do it by being weak and codependent, and that THAT was abuse by him and that THAT was the important abuse in the case.

  • Adiabat, that’s a whole nother lobe of this, that deflection and dismissal, and thanks for reminding me.

    And Cicero, that’s a great example of something else that figures in this, what I call erasure by false equivalence. Of course there is hypoagency at the root of oyur specific example, but the part I am talking about is that massive retalition to the point of inflicting death is considered proportionate to some minor supposed abuse on the husband’s part.

  • Trick is: we have it coded in the law, either in parliamentary legislature or executive directives in government/administration/”justice”. How do you change it?

  • Another great article Ginko. Two comments.
    “Trivialization of injuries to men”
    Another way of doing this that wasn’t mentioned is the rationalization the perpetrators of this violence are men. So it is men doing it to themselves. This isn’t entirely accurate since the injured party did not injure himself. It is consistent with lumping all men into “class men” and treating them as if they are one person.

    “Blame the victim and make him look like the aggressor ”
    Another way we do this is to redefine the term “aggressor” to mean someone other than the person who committed the violence. This is what primary aggressor laws are all about. never mind who actually committed the violence, arrest the man because he is larger; arrest the man because he is stronger; arrest the man because he answered the door when the police arrived (and is the one exerting power and control); arrest the man because he is more likely to infllict a more severe injury IF he becomes violent.

  • “How do you change it?”

    Cicero, these laws are based on deep-seated cultural assumptions, like the anti-sodomy laws and laws restricting marraige to heterosexual couples. So they can change. In fact the assumptions underlying these laws and policies are the same ones that were the basis of all the laws and policies that Second Wave feminists brought down, so the preliminary work is already done.

    TDOM, thanks for those – those two are the remaining pieces I needed for that post on deflection.

  • “My own hunch (represented in this diagram I made) is that a large part of the empathy apartheid is ‘innate’, ”

    GWW makes this argument too or uses the same principle in osme of her arguments, that a certian amount of male disposability is baked into the system.

    Well there’s a simple test if you think something is innate – is it universal across all environments? For 50 years now linguists have been trying to identify language universals and haggling over counter-examples, and it turns out just about every damned one, even the ones that sem so intuitively obvious, are controversial and just not universal. And the analogy works; we are talking about social phenomena with both neural and cultural elelments, and in both cases the degree each of those affects the phenomenon is controversial too.

    So let’s compare how empthy works across cultures. Let’s start with China. There you don’t see any damseling really at all. One big reason is that a pretty utilitarian standard applies to who gets valued to what level, and in what is still a family-based society, daughters do not enrich or continue the family the way sons do. I suspect another reason is that older women have not been stripped of prestige the way they have in Anglsophere societies, and they don’t play all that weepy drama from young women.

  • Femdelusion & Ginkgo,

    I agree that a certain amount of disposability is not cultural. A certain amount is a natural consequence of being part of the human species. I think it shows up in other species as well. But in nature, it is not only male disposability. There is also a certain amount of female disposability. I think that as men we are designed to be the providers and protectors of our species.

    But it is the female that is responsible for reproduction of the species. I think this is a result of biology. Women make the final decisions in terms of who will get to mate and who will not. but more importantly, women are the ones who become pregnant and bare children. There is a considerable amount of risk involved in this process and the risk is similar to that of men who self-sacrifice in order to provide for and protect the species. So there is a certain amount of disposability on both sides.

    Most of our cultural traditions have reflected these roles and center around that disposability. Marriage is an insurance policy for women designed to minimize the risk associated with raising children while also insuring that the man will have access to sex and be able to reproduce. It is also why traditionally, men have worked outside the home environment while women have worked inside. men self-sacrifice for the family and the tribe, women self-sacrifice for the children.

    Modern day technology has remove most of the risk from women, but not from men. This has enabled feminism to thrive as women have come to believe that they can enter the world of men without having to accept the risks. Self-sacrifice by women on behalf of the tribe is not a natural occurrence. Some women may accept this, but many still believe that men should continue to self-sacrifice on their behalf. any man who rejects this role is undeserving of empathy. Feminism will never benefit men because it is a socially constructed rejection of female disposability that maintains male disposability as necessary and natural.

  • Disposability is part of being adult or even just a contributingmember of a community of a social species.

    “But it is the female that is responsible for reproduction of the species. I think this is a result of biology.”

    This is where these arguments run aground. Humans are an obviously two parent species. a woman simply cannot on her own get two or three kids to adulthood, with all the requisite skills on her own in atstae of nature. cannot be done. reproductive success is not just how many babies you have , but how many survive to reproduce.

    “Marriage is an insurance policy for women designed to minimize the risk associated with raising children”

    With you so far…

    “while also insuring that the man will have access to sex and be able to reproduce.”

    Nope. First off, men can get sex with or without being married if they have the resources to trade for it, so that cannot be what marraige is about. And second, why is some special social arrangement necessary for ensuring sexual access for men but not for women? Come to think of it given the risk of pregnancy arising out of every sex act for women, marriage does more to enable them to have sex than it odes men, because without it and a man to help raising them, she’d better kkep them clamped.

  • As a South African, I really object to the silly use of the word ‘apartheid’ here (there and everywhere). Whenever you use it outside of direct context, i.e., in reference to the worst period of South Africa’s history, you make light of the Sharpeville Massacre, the torture/murder of Steve Bantu Biko, and the 27-year imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.


  • Feminists love to pretend that they are actually interested in this subject as it “opposes the patriarchy.” In reality, feminists are some of the lead proponents of anti-empathy for males. They are simply the old Sir Walter Scott notions of male disposability tailor fitted to 21st century sentiments…

By Jim Doyle

Listen to Honey Badger Radio!

Support Alison, Brian and Hannah creating HBR Content!

Recent Posts

Recent Comments





Follow Us

Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby feather