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Jul 26 2010

5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

Barbie-doll If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it’s no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That’s kind of the definition of the word.

StrongmanBut we don’t talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism — from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse — it makes perfect sense that we’d care more about how sexism and patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women, than we do about how they affect men.

Lately, though, I’ve been paying more attention to how men get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure… but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists — and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists — ought to care about it, too.

I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me: I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don’t want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.

And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism… and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too — and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun — we’re going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumper sticker a friend once had on her truck: “Feminists Fuck Better.”)

So I’ve been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I’ve been looking at our society’s expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you’d have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since “professional tightrope walker” is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I’ve been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that’s not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I’ve been asking the men in my life — friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet — what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man… and how those expectations affect them.

And I came up with this very short, very provisional, not even close to exhaustive list.

*

Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men. To find out just a few of the ways that rigid and sexist gender roles hurt men — and how some men are dealing with it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Thom

    You know… the only time being “mistaken for gay” would be an issue was if the person making the mistake was someone I would be interested in dating. Otherwise I don’t care.

  2. 2
    A Facebook User

    People think I’m gay all the time, mainly because I care about stuff.

  3. 3
    Libby

    Greta, you rock. I’ve had a sense for a while now that there’s something very messed up about cultural expectations for men, but unable to put my finger on exactly what. Then you go and write this. Hooray!

  4. 4
    AnneS

    why do I keep reading the comments at AlterNet? It’s like watching a train wreck.
    The lowlight has to be the several people claiming ‘but men have to be aggressive and protective because of EVOLUTION!!!’

  5. 5
    me.yahoo.com/a/tlvpyoJlpJn0I1p8RLNMj86RXKjL5K4A

    I had to read this bit a few times “would he work full-time and maybe even overtime to help put me through grad school?” because it seems to me that this is just another unfair expectation of men. A woman wouldn’t be expected to work overtime to get her husband through grad-school.

  6. 6
    Manuel "Moe" G.

    I love this, and I love you for writing this. ;-)
    It reminds me how delighted I am that I no longer am inside the USA dating scene.
    I my own house, with my wife and my daughter, I can be silly and emotional and fey, even though my outward appearance suggests a lumberjack or Israeli Special Forces (or a lumberjack who ate an agent of Israeli Special Forces, because of my gut).
    My whole dating life (besides with my wife, who was not born in the USA), felt like a straight-jacket, full of hating myself for being a fraud, and hating myself because I needed to be a fraud.
    I cannot blame, 100%, everything on the USA dating scene and sexism — I see my own responsibility in all this.
    Even more than idiotic sexism, the benefit comes from staying away from idiots in general. Sexism or no, people with more on the ball have a greater tolerance for true expressions of personality. So I work on myself to be more attractive to people with more on the ball.

  7. 7
    DavidByron

    The main thing of use in the piece is that (1) you admit you don’t know anything about how much sexism against men there is out there (except of course you brag that it must certainly be less than that against women), and (2) that you admit men are victims of sexism which for a feminist is a huge huge step, and (3) you were prepared to ask at least some men their opinion which again for a feminist is pretty amazing, although I wonder a little why you didn’t ask some men’s right’s advocates about the issue of men’s rights?
    But you have a long way to go down the path before you can call yourself someone who believes in gender equality. Next step: ditch the offensive and sexist label “feminist” and quit pretending you know the full extent of sexism in men’s lives when you don’t. If you still want to play the victim game and say women are worse off, then prove it, don’t assume it. To the extent you can be honest with yourself you’ll find yourself surprised a great deal more.

  8. 8
    Greta Christina

    I had to read this bit a few times “would he work full-time and maybe even overtime to help put me through grad school?” because it seems to me that this is just another unfair expectation of men. A woman wouldn’t be expected to work overtime to get her husband through grad-school.

    First: He wasn’t expected to do that. That’s why we were having conversations about whether or not he would do that.
    Second: In fact, the plan we were considering was that he would put me through grad school… at which point I would take over the breadwinner position, and he would be a stay- at- home dad. The whole point of this plan was that he could eventually quit working and stop being the primary income earner for the family.
    And third: Wives have been putting their husbands through school for decades. There have been countless marriages where women have worked as secretaries and whatnot while their husbands went through law school, med school, etc.

  9. 9
    Greta Christina

    DavidByron: Thank you for sharing.

  10. 10
    Cafeeine

    Greta, this article was featured on the Young Turks.

  11. 11
    llewelly

    DavidByron | July 27, 2010 at 11:06 AM:

    Next step: ditch the offensive and sexist label “feminist” …

    Next will you call Jews racist for using the label “Jew”?

  12. 12
    David Harmon

    Wow. You just identified at least one, maybe up to three, of the “voices in my head” that have accumulated over the years…. Thanks!

  13. 13
    Lex

    Ugh, I really hate when dudes go “You dont know what sexism did to me!” and right in the next sentence slander gender equality. But what can you do.
    I apologize for the slight tangent, back to the topic now.
    You know its really a thin line, I mean I “suffered” through all 5 of those social pressures, but so far ive really enjoyed my “male role”, dammit, Greta you just made me feel like the stay at home moms who are really happy with their position :(
    I feel like a male Sarah Palin! :(

  14. 14
    Demonhype

    Stupid Alternet comment thing, refuses to load, grrr! Well, screw it, I’ll just comment here and ignore them!
    The “mistaken for being gay” thing, especially in regard to grooming, has always been a thorn in my side. I have a weakness for guys who are a bit effeminate and well-groomed–I often said that I wouldn’t have such a problem being expected to spend so much time being “beautiful” if straight men were expected to hold the same standards. This, combined with my rather masculine interests and behaviors, got me labeled as “lesbo”, and I think my family may still think I’m interested in “pretty boys” because I’m trying to bury my own gayness.
    I’ve been loving the fact that so many more men are less worried about looking good, and that it’s becoming more normal.
    I think part of the motivation might have been plain old laziness. See how many lazy straight men (like Parker and Stone) whine about “teh ebil metrosexuals” and how women really want a fat, slovenly, insensitive asshole for a mate–even as they themselves demand top-of-the-line second-full-time-job-being-pretty looks from all women. Seriously, being allowed to sit on your ass, eat Cheetos and play Xbox because exercise and grooming were for “fags”–while for women, not being thin, shapely, and fashionable was for “lesbians”–had to be a pretty damn sweet deal for some Twos-looking-for-a-Ten. And just look at all the “pig married to a gorgeous model” kind of sitcoms that cater to that dynamic, reinforcing that good-looking men with nice bodies are all just a bunch of fairies, and that being fat, ugly, and lazy are just indications of how totally masculine you are.
    Certainly, not all straight men are such losers, but you have to admit that it was a sweet deal for the ones who were.

  15. 15
    Pat

    heh, luckily as part of the geek sub-culture, I have none of those expectations!

  16. 16
    Wbrinkman2006

    I’ve been guilty of the fear of being mistaken for being gay. I haven’t had that many girlfriends, and when I was younger, I used to worry that being perceived as gay would just be another dating obstacle to overcome.
    As I’ve gotten older, worked with gay people, and dated more women, I’m starting to realize that its a silly fear.

  17. 17
    Clarisse Thorn

    I don’t mean this to come off as arrogant tooting of my own horn, but I actually wrote a post series saying very similar things about masculinity last year. Some of the threads are still active; the final post received over a thousand comments over the last eight months. I think it’s been a good ongoing conversation and I welcome more perspectives:
    http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/questions-i-want-to-ask-entitled-cis-het-men-part-1/
    http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/questions-i-want-to-ask-entitled-cis-het-men-part-2-mens-rights/
    http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/questions-i-want-to-ask-entitled-cis-het-men-part-3-space-for-men/
    http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/manliness-and-feminism-the-followup/

  18. 18
    2plus2equals4.blogspot.com

    I was a bit surprised by the surprise at the expectation of violence appearing at the top of the list. But then the extent of the violence during adolescence is concealed from women/girls. I have not had to deal with insanely vicious violent sadists since I escaped from High School although I did observe some vestiges of macho cultist behavior while in college. I realize that everyone in high school is so caught up in their own crap they can not see much of anything else happening to anyone else. Even so, I would have thought that other people would have noticed the rather systematic manner in which I and other non-sadistically-violent males were dominated, humiliated and intimidated. I recall that Dan Savage wrote in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings in response to the pundits and reporters writing about how such horrible violence took place in the one place where “children feel safe” asked incredulously “Where the hell did these people go to high school?! Who feels safe in a high school?”
    To be fair to Greta Christina, in my time in HS even the most animalistic of bullies understood that females do not want to see anyone beaten. It used to bother me (not anymore) that a given feminist while decrying the evils of men would say something such as “men just don’t know what it’s like to fear physical attack all the time,” or some such as that. A la Dan Savage I always thought to myself “were you blind in high school?!” That describes nearly every day of my live back then. But then I suppose if even the worst bully takes care not to assault his favorite victim in front of a potential sex partner then it’s possible for a female to go through life without having much of an awareness of this phenomenon.
    This was true 30+ years ago and evidently (and sadly) it’s still true now: for males in the U.S. during ages 11-18 if you’re not a sadistically violent lunatic, very popular or built like Schwarzenegger then you’re a walking punching bag.

  19. 19
    John S.

    Probably not as important as the ones you mentioned, but in addition, men are supposed to be handy around the house — able to build and/or repair anything.

  20. 20
    OrchidGrowinMan

    I have to agree with the “Fear of Seeming Gay” posters. I ran afoul of that a long time ago, and still do, because, as my moniker implies, I indeed do grow “flowers.” And the stereotype is TRUE: there is a very disproportionate fraction of male plant growers, especially of orchids, who ARE gay.
    I think it works like this: some fraction of little boys are interested in natural history, particularly plants, and they maybe have a few plants in their room, or a bit of space in the garden. But that draws the accusations and suspicions of being a “Pansy-Ass Faggot.” Explicit and implicit pressure results, and most boys are driven-away, EXCEPT for the ones for whom it doesn’t matter (because the accusations are, in a way, true, or at least growing plants is the least of their problems attracting criticism), OR the affinity is strong enough to resist the pressure from friends, family, strangers and society. It turns-out that I am actually very very good at horticulture, through a combination of interest and ability, and I am also neither gay nor homophobic; in fact, to be homophobic would be awful considering how many of my co-hobbiests and friends are openly gay.
    How many budding male botanists, horticulturalists, agriculturists and others (biologists, doctors, artists,…) are driven away from satisfying and useful interests and careers by just this one cultural bias?
    I think it is also part of the “no emotions” and “ready to fight” expectations too: the fact that I’d rather walk away than risk getting my face broken by a drunken goon has netted me a good crop of “faggot” accusations! And why is it OK to tear-up when Old Yeller dies, but not when Juliet does?

  21. 21
    OrchidGrowinMan

    Yep: the “Fixing Things” trope. I don’t know anything about cars, plumbing or wiring, but I am constantly called-on to deal with them. I bought this tee-shirt:
    http://www.northernsun.com/n/s/4405.html
    which is appropriate for home and for work (I work as a Test Engineer: it’s my job to BREAK things [but not cars, pipes or wires]).
    I AM a good cook, and my GF a terrible one. I’m thinking of getting her this one:
    http://www.northernsun.com/n/s/4145.html

  22. 22
    Maria

    The fixing things trope, yes…
    Once I needed some stuff in the paint shop, and my male friend, D tagged along because he was bored and had nothing to do. They didn’t have what I needed in the first store, so we ended up going to three different stores where they sold paint and other home-improvement stuff. In all three shops the same thing happened. The guys working in the stores all walked up to my friend and asked what he needed. I was completely ignored. He had to go “Uhh… I’m with her…” and point me out. Then they turned to me. D, didn’t even know what the thing I needed was!
    I told this story at a party held by my best friend, and then her sister’s husband said he knew exactly how I felt. When they were to have their first kid he and his very pregnant wife went to a baby equipment store to buy some things, and he said he might as well could have been invisible, the way they ignored him.

  23. 23
    Fibo

    Fight fight fight – but God forbid we fight a woman!
    A man is expected to want to knock anyone’s lights out. But if that one is a woman, all is suddenly very different.
    No matter who attacked first, even if it was in self defence, or in defence of anyone else, or even if it was an accident – the moment he laid a finger on a woman he’s a coward SoB who should be despised by everyone, and perhaps spend some time in jail.
    That’s hardly fair towards men.

  24. 24
    Cliff Potts

    This is independent verification of the same things which I broached in the section on Gender Dynamics is “Wealth, Women, and War.” Nice to know I am not the only one who see these inconsistencies.

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