(Content Warning:Suicide, Rape, Violence) I want to open by inviting all the feminist naysayers. I solemnly swear to make no digs in your direction. I am not here to punch you in the face with another angry rant. I want you to really listen to me just for about ten or fifteen minutes.
I want the hard line feminists, the ones who are doing the punching, to sit down a minute here too. Please guys. Let's just get a mug of tea and a biscuit and find someplace quiet and talk. Next I want everyone to believe for a moment that everyone else here is a person with a soft heart and a capacity to love and do good. Let's give peace a chance.
The talk I'm trying to have is about why men are shouting out "What About Men!" and "Not all men!" whenever women start a conversation about female oppression.
I think a lot of us are out there just waiting for someone to hit the nail on the head. I hope maybe something I write here today will do that for some of you, because I'm really worried that we aren't making any headway settling these issues. We keep getting stuck in skirmishes around how words are used, or who's the most disadvantaged, or whether all men are misogynistic but in the end when it comes to moving forward we're simply stalled.
This is where I want to tell my story.
My partner, who is a trans woman, has been a window into a world for me for more than half a decade now. She is a deeply observant, kind and nonjudgmental person who sees so much more than I ever could. Her wisdom helps shape who I am. Through the lens of her experience as being raised natally male and then living as a woman she has always struck me as being perfectly placed to speak to the reasons why the sexes seem so perpetually unable to gain ground in ending the battle between them - she's seen both sides of the fence and been burned by them both.
Through her I have come to find myself seated in a place outside of the mainstream narratives on feminism, misogyny, misandry, gender and so many other things.
When she and I started having a discussion about misogyny and why men often have the urge to butt in with "but what about men!" in discussions on female struggle, she said something that gave me pause.
"Men are crying out for permission to speak as much as women are."
I want you to sit with this idea, and really hold it in mind.
To many feminists this seems somewhat unbelievable on the surface. Surely, if men rule the world, they are free to speak as much as they like? But in the experience of my partner and from her observations, this is not the case. I'll get to that a bit later on.
It's true that women go through an enormous amount of abuse and struggle. There's no reason to argue that everything that is said about how bad that is, isn't exactly that bad. In fact, I'd urge my readers to pause here for a moment and embrace deeply how utterly and totally at a mark most women of the world actually are, and how little most of them can do about it. We’ve all seen the statistics for rape and assault of women by now. The latest scandals around sexual assault by men in power is really just bringing home to us how pervasive this really is, and it's terrifying.
This is why feminists are so passionate. We are horrified by the suffering and we want it all to end. Feminists build shelters and start feeding schemes and volunteer in orphanages. We look after our own. And that's really important.
Obviously we need a movement devoted to protecting these vulnerable people and to uplifting the women of the world. That’s not really controversial.
But someplace along the lines we didn't really highlight fully the fact that this abuse extends to men, and that Feminism is for the protection and advancement of men too.
You heard me right. Feminism protects men. I believe sexism causes men to pressure other men not to speak, and men stop themselves from speaking to protect women due to their perception of what their roles are in relationships. Those perceptions originate out of the patriarchy, and it is the patriarchy that feminism is trying to destroy NOT MEN.
Feminism is not a women's movement.
Not at all.
Feminism is about equality for both sexes. It is a belief system centred on ending all gender inequality. I know, having "fem" in the name is unfortunate because it seems to imply it's girls only, but it's just a word and we don't have to get stuck on that. We don't need to go around saying "I'm not a feminists, I'm egalitarian". Egalitarianism is a synonym for feminism. Sometimes people mislabel misandry as feminism. Sometimes people mislabel feminism as misandry. I think we all need to take a step back in each argument on this and remind ourselves that any idiot with a keyboard can call themselves a feminist. That doesn't mean that they ARE one.
Next time before we all start squaring off how about some flaming topic, why don't we check what they are saying against the definition and just establish whether they are in fact part of the group they claim to be, or just a troll trying to chum up the waters by going in under false colours. You know there's been a lot of that lately. All that #fakenews...
Most guys pretty much agree with this idea that both genders should get the same pay, work the same jobs and get the same votes. Right guys? There's really not a lot of you out there advocating that girls should stay in the kitchen whether they like it or not. And I think right now most of you are quietly freaking out about just how prevalent rape is. You feel really frigging angry and you want to start some kind of movement to make it end. You know. Something like feminism. So what are we all arguing about?
It's usually when women start to cry out that men have the greener side of the fence that I think we begin to hit serious resistance.
I argue that belief is based on decisions made while not in possession of all the facts. Feminists are justified in tallying rapes and assaults and murders that women are subjected to and venting their valid and proportionate rage. There is nothing to be said against that. But the most important thing my transgender partner taught me is that the grass is not greener on either side of the gender fence.
Some cultures are worse than others.
My partner's side of the family are the South African equivalent of the Deep South fundamentalists. They have a passion for God, Guns and Gas-guzzler vehicles. This group gets a lot of heat in feminist circles for their patriarchal valuesystem, and they are generally not friendly with LGBT folk either - or at least that’s the stereotype. (Unfortunately in her case it’s not just a stereotype).
Something she knew straight away growing up is that boys don't cry, and if you're depressed or suicidal you "have no business telling anyone, especially the womenfolk". "Womenfolk" talk about these things. Men are supposed to "suck it up" and "stand your ground" and just "double down through the pain". I grew up in a similar culture, and I'm noticing something that worries me. We seem to have missed the bit where men are killing men at alarming rates too. Suicide is an act of shame and desperation. It is born out of a deep seated feeling of loss of the hope of any future that is worth living for. I think that the violence and death and rape we see women subjected to is literally the flipside of a coin - the other side of which is male suicide.
In the west men are committing suicide THREE TO FOUR TIMES as often as women.(Gender differences in suicide, Wikipedia) The grass really provably isn't greener on the other side. It just looks that way because men don’t cry, and suicide victims can't participate in #metoo campaigns if they are dead.Feminists tend to gloss over a lot of how we feel about things relating to the gender oppression of men when we're writing in public or speaking in public. Doing so is often Troll bait for the kind of bottomfeeders that make the internet an unpleasant place to moderate.
But by being frank about our concern for our men, we may bridge a gap in our mutual understanding. Feminism isn't about silencing them, it's about making it safe to speak for everyone.
We tend to talk about our concerns to other women, particularly in conversations about how better to raise our sons or care for our brothers and fathers. We typically don't talk to men because a lot of the time this conversation makes them really uncomfortable, or angry.
We worry about you guys a lot because the patriarchy is destroying you.
We worry about our boys when they get bullied at school for being effeminate. We worry when our husbands get laid off at work and then spend the next six months watching sports videos on youtube but never once talk about it with us. We worry about that article about the husband who was involved in an officer related shooting and three months later shot his wife, kids and himself in a family suicide. We worry that our sons won't learn how to treat women with respect because of the way the outside world influences them and then they'll have unhappy marriages like those of our brothers and fathers.
Mostly, we worry about your lifelong mental health.
This too is feminism.
A lot of the time one of the big reasons you can't talk about how you feel is because how you feel would leave you vulnerable to further abuse.
Because it's not in your head.
The kind of people who would rape or assault or murder someone frequently do so because they feel contempt for weakness, which due to the patriarchy they associate with being female or effeminate. And we're ALL terrified of them. They shape the world we live in. They make us fear every public space and guard our homes. They guard the patriarchal beliefs of our world with literal fists and guns and putdowns and hush campaigns and out of court settlements...and they use their power to make us all dance to their pipes.
They silence us through fear.
Here's how I see a lot of guys who don't understand the patriarchy and how it impacts on them end up living and thinking:
You don't tell anyone how terrified you are. You don't want the women in your life to know. They're so frequently looking to you for support and protection. When they start pressuring you to be more open minded and be more feminist, it scares the living crap out of you because your next thought is to those people - those people who would hurt the both of you if you dared be like a girl.
You'd rather break your fist on a wall than cry in front of the woman you love. It's ok for your girl to cry, because someplace in your head there's a little rulebook that says it's ok for girls to cry or show their fear. Because they are females. Nobody hits a crying girl unless they are really bad people, right? But boys...well that's another story. Everyone knows you'll get your ass kicked if you cry on the schoolground - unless you're a girl.
Girls get raised to expect this stoicism from you because their fathers were the same way. You fear they might disrespect you if you don't get this right. You feel that they expect that you'll just hold them like an archangel wrapping their wings around them whenever they weep - even if seeing them weep makes your chest constrict and burn and you need to bite the inside of your mouth not to start crying too.
You feel terrified of other men sometimes. A lot of them are really violent and aggressive. You worry about how you look to these nasty guys. They may bully you in school. They may harass you in the lunchroom. They may trashtalk you in the office. You're just as bloody scared of those guys that call women whores as women are - because some of them will beat you to a bloody pulp if they ever found you crying in the men's room. Sometimes you envy women the freedom to just cry like that without being in regular danger of assault. But you're a guy, not a girl. If you lose your job, or you're getting a demotion, or your mom is dying, or you just need to cry for whatever goddamn reason, there are a lot of places that are not safe for you to do so. The ones that are generally require you to be totally alone while you do. Because you’re not a girl.
You worry about seeming in control and strong. If you're strong, you can protect your home and your family. That matters to you. You're the watcher at the wall. When those scary bad guys come you need to be ready to do that dominance display - those bad guys respect that kind of thing. If you don't look strong to them they might just decide to take whatever they like. You need to look like you can take them on. You can't be a girl. But you believe as a man that that's your job to do, stoic and all alone. Because of sexism.
I think it's killing you.
For some people, being unable to express their emotions builds up dangerously. It becomes like a volcano full of hot lava that's just waiting to blow. It has nowhere to go, so it just gains pressure.
And you can start to feel angry. You begin to feel resentful. That little niggle of envy you feel when women cry starts to work around inside of you like a grain of sand in an oyster, hardening into a pearl of buckshot ready to explode.
You feel stretched thin. There's nowhere for you to go. So when a girl comes to you for something you are grumpy and irritable and rude. You might say something nasty or sarcastic. You might find yourself saying some pretty bad things over beers with the boys or in the gym showers. It feels good to get it off your chest because fuck knows you can't cry about it, can you?
If you grew up in an abusive home where you didn't learn how to handle anger well maybe your way of showing that is with your fists. If you're really messed up in the head enough by the violence that's to be had in this world you might just find yourself taking in a lot further than that. God help anyone who's nearby when you're drunk… and suddenly you ARE that guy everyone is terrified of.
You probably find yourself thinking "I sound just like my father/grandfather/uncle/that guy who sexually assaulted me on deployment/the bully from high school…"
You horrify yourself. You can't breathe and you can't cope....and at that point men tend to go one of two ways: They turn it inward or they turn it outward.
For those who turn it outward you see them trying to pretend there's no problem. It's just so much easier to live when you can pretend that's not how it is. It's not your fault...she was asking for it. She shouldn't have been there. She shouldn't have worn that dress. She shouldn't backtalk you. She should know her place. A man is the head of the home. All men are like this...
I'm not a monster. I'm not a monster. I'm not a monster.
These are the men we talk about most. The ones that everyone discusses.
I think there's quite a lot been said about the former.
But I think there’s a lot needs saying about the latter. About the kind that turns inward. The ones that quietly and peacefully drink themselves to death without ever raising a fist. The ones that lose themselves in World Of Warcraft and craft beer. The ones that silently slink away in the night and take a long walk off a short plank. The ones that stop living. The ones that go cold on us, and distant and unemotive.
I think those are by far in the majority. These men are ending their lives in shame and silence or living under a crushing burden of quiet despair. By acknowledging this fact instead of ignoring how pervasive and real the oppression of the patriarchy is FOR MEN, we can change the conversation. In the patriarchy there are no winners. There are only losers. It's not Them against Us. There's just us. "The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power." - Simone de Beauvoir