How Sexism Hurts Men, Part 2: Why Do I Care?


This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Undateable-book-cover So why do I care?

I devoted yesterday’s post to a silly pop-culture book, Undateable, which gives straight men snarky- but- sincere advice on how to make themselves attractive — no, strike that, tolerable — to women. I devoted the column to all the ways this book reinforces a rigid, narrow, absurdly unattainable vision of acceptable manhood, instilling men with anxiety and self-consciousness about their masculinity while at the same time exhorting them to be confident.

Today I want to answer the question: Why do I care?

Why do I care about sexism and gender normativity in ephemeral bits of pop culture fluff?

And why do I care about how sexism hurts men at all? With all the grotesque ways that sexism and gender normativity hurts women, why would I spend my time worrying about how it hurts men?

Us-magazine-cover-775317 Let’s take care of the “pop culture fluff’ part first. I care about how pop culture fluff reinforces sexism because… well, that’s one of the primary ways that sexism gets reinforced. Pop culture is the sea we’re all swimming in. Seeing how women and men are depicted on TV, in movies, in pop songs, in advertising, in video games, yada yada yada… this is a huge part of how we get our messages about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a man, and what’s expected of us as one or the other. Sexism is diffused throughout our culture. It’s not like there’s a Central Office of Gender Propaganda we can picket. If we have problems with how gender norms enforced, we have to respond to it one piece at a time.

But why do I care at all?

Sexism, and the enforcement of gender roles, hurts women way more than it does men: from economic inequity to literal, physical abuse. Why would I devote a whole two-part mini-series to how sexism hurts men?

Rick and chip My first reason is my most personal, and my most visceral: I have men in my life. I have male friends. Colleagues. Family members. Members of my assorted communities. People I know on the Internet.

I care about these people. I feel compassion for them. I don’t want them to suffer. I see how this gender- normative stuff hurts the men in my life: how it makes them crazy, how it undermines their confidence, how it makes them anxious and self-conscious, how it makes their relationships harder. I don’t like it. I want it to stop. Now, please.

What’s more, I have male children in my life — and it kills me to think of them growing up with this bullshit. It kills me to think of Charlie and Tanner and Teague and Wyatt growing up with the barrage of rigid, nitpicky, absurdly narrow, bizarrely irrelevant, schizophrenically mixed messages about Being A Man. It’s a stupid, pointless burden, and I don’t want the male children in my life getting it piled onto their shoulders — or having to do unnecessary work unloading it. Learning to be a good person is hard enough without all that crap.

Justice There’s an ideological reason, too. I see a tremendous amount of gender inequality and injustice in the world; I oppose it passionately, and work hard to overturn it. But I don’t want it “fixed” by making things worse for men. I don’t want to make the world more equal by making things suck as badly for men as they do for women. Yes, we live in a world where women are besieged with a ridiculously narrow, frequently contradictory vision of idealized womanhood. I don’t want to “fix” that by turning the lens on men, and forcing them into a vision of idealized manhood that’s just as unattainable. That’s not the equality and justice I’m fighting for. Fuck that noise.

Machiavelli And finally, I have my hard-nosed, self-centered, Machiavellian reasons for caring how sexism hurts men, and for fighting against it:

It helps women.

Partly it helps women because it makes men easier to be involved with. Not just romantically and sexually, but as friends and colleagues, family members and community partners. Men are a lot easier to get along with when they’re not constantly trying to prove how manly they are. Men are a lot easier to get along with when they don’t feel a constant need to be competitive and macho, when they’re not storing up a load of resentful silence about what they need and want, when they don’t feel threatened by powerful and intelligent women, when they don’t always feel like they have to take the lead in sex and love, when they can express their emotions, when they can ask for help. Men are a lot easier to get along with when they stop worrying so much about being men, and spend more time paying attention to just being good people.

Besides… well, as a friend once put on a bumper sticker on her truck, “Feminists Fuck Better.” And that’s true of both feminist women and feminist men. Men who aren’t locked into rigid gender roles are a whole lot more fun in the sack. They’re more inventive, more willing to experiment, less performance-oriented, less goal-oriented, less self-conscious, less threatened by women who are sexually knowledgeable and experienced, more playful, more expressive, more relaxed, more emotionally present, more genuinely confident (as opposed to fake, macho confident), more open to a wider range of sexual possibilities. And I hope I don’t have to explain how all of that is good for women.

And caring how sexism hurts men is good for women… because it advances the cause of feminism.

I passionately believe that feminism will do a whole lot better if we can get more men on board. There is a limit to how far feminism can go if we can’t convince men that there’s something in it for them. People are self-interested; our empathy and altruism and concerns for justice will only take us so far, and for most of us, there’s only so much we’re willing to sacrifice to make the world a better place.

We support men in feminism But if we can convince more men that sexism hurts them, too — that patriarchy and rigid gender expectations are making their lives harder, that it’s screwing with their heads, that it’s screwing with their relationships, that it’s placing a burden on their shoulders that’s unfair and unnecessary, that both men and women who aren’t locked into rigid gender roles tend to be happier and more satisfied, that feminists fuck better — feminism is going to get a whole lot further.

And that’s good for all of us.

Comments

  1. says

    Can I just shout a big secular humanist Amen? You are so fucking right that I cannot even think of a word for how right you are. Maximally correct, and perfectly expressed. Amen!!

  2. DavidByron says

    “Sexism, and the enforcement of gender roles, hurts women way more than it does men: from economic inequity to literal, physical abuse.”
    This statement is one of ignorance. Men, not women are the majority of victims of violence. Men, not women, are the victims of gender roles in choice of professions. There is no wage gap for the same work but their is an education gap with women graduating 50-60% more than men in the US. Women account for 80% of consumer spending. Women, but not men, have the choice of how to balance their work outside and inside the home.

  3. DavidByron says

    This is a backwards comment too:
    “if we can convince more men that sexism hurts them, too — that patriarchy and rigid gender expectations are making their lives harder, that it’s screwing with their heads, that it’s screwing with their relationships, that it’s placing a burden on their shoulders that’s unfair and unnecessary”
    The only men I have met that do NOT believe this are feminist men. Or sometimes they say they are unfit to call themselves “feminist” because they are mere scum-like men so they call themselves “pro-feminist males”.
    Either way feminist men are the least likely to be gender self-aware because of all the self-hate poured into them. Their gender politics are masochistic. Everything is only about women.
    But the really weird thing is you think men who do become are gender self-aware would ever look kindly upon feminism. They see feminism as the enemy — and quite right too. It’s usually because of excessive hatred by the feminist movement (or the legal system) that they become aware.
    Basically there’s this utter lack of recognition in this article about what feminism really is, and especially what it means to men who have become gender aware.

  4. LS says

    Greta, sometimes you make me want to throw my keyboard away, and just copy-paste your posts anytime I need to express myself.
    Then I remember how much I enjoy the look of my own typeface, and decide not to.
    Thank you for putting a woman’s voice behind these thoughts. Hopefully that act will give a few people pause to consider their reactions to these ideas.
    I’m speaking, of course, of the petulant boys who respond to every example of male privilege by pointing out a way in which men suffer from sexism.
    Or the women who respond violently to any claims that males suffer from sexism at all.
    Again, thank you so much for this.

  5. Valhar2000 says

    Davidbyron wrote:
    There is no wage gap for the same work but their is an education gap with women graduating 50-60% more than men in the US.
    So what you are saying is that women have to be better educated than men in order to make the same amount of money. And this is not putting in some sort of disadvantage?
    On second thoughts, I agree with you. After all, if you were not educationally disadvantaged in comparison to the women around you, you might have by this point acquired to intellectual tools necessary to realize that the fleshy thing lodged between you teeth is in fact you own foot. Damn those women that conspire to keep us ignorant, affluent and powerful!

  6. Valhar2000 says

    Davidbyron wrote:
    There is no wage gap for the same work but their is an education gap with women graduating 50-60% more than men in the US.
    So what you are saying is that women have to be better educated than men in order to make the same amount of money. And this is not putting in some sort of disadvantage?
    On second thoughts, I agree with you. After all, if you were not educationally disadvantaged in comparison to the women around you, you might have by this point acquired to intellectual tools necessary to realize that the fleshy thing lodged between you teeth is in fact you own foot. Damn those women that conspire to keep us ignorant, affluent and powerful!

  7. Chas Becht says

    Quoting DavidByron:
    “Men, not women are the majority of victims of violence.”
    Citation needed.
    “Men, not women, are the victims of gender roles in choice of professions.”
    It seems clear that historically rigid and arbitrary gender roles victimize damn near everyone.
    “Either way feminist men are the least likely to be gender self-aware because of all the self-hate poured into them.”
    False.
    “Their gender politics are masochistic.”
    False.
    “Everything is only about women.”
    False. (Grain of truth in that the feminist movement understandably tends to pay more attention to women’s issues than men’s. But the post is about that, so I don’t see why you seem to be making this claim as an accusation.)
    “They see feminism as the enemy — and quite right[ly] too.”
    False
    “It’s usually because of excessive hatred by the feminist movement (or the legal system) that they become aware.”
    False.
    “Basically there’s this utter lack of recognition in this article about what feminism really is…”
    By whose divine authority is your usage of the word blessed over anyone else’s? Can we just pragmatically say that “feminism” is the nebulous set of views that tend to be shared by people who self-identify as “feminist”?
    “…and especially what it means to men who have become gender aware.”
    False.
    DavidByron, this issue seems to be of some personal importance to you. I don’t know anything about your circumstances, and I don’t want to trivialize your experiences. You are, on the other hand, making some bold, and largely unsupported claims, and presuming to speak for all men who are “gender self-aware”. I’m a man. I’m a feminist. I try to be aware of gender issues. I do not share your views, and do not appreciate your attempts to co-opt my voice for rhetorical effect. Feel free to voice your opinions, but please consider that they are unlikely to be universal to any sizable demographic as diverse as “gender self-aware men”.

  8. Chas Becht says

    Greta,
    Great post. I consider myself a feminist, and I consider feminism to be a movement largely about justice and equity. As such, I find examination of the ways that traditional gender roles harm men to be a part of feminism. Unfortunatly it tends to be somewhat neglected, and female feminists are frequently distrustful of a (straight, white) male bringing up these kinds of issues. The suspicion is certainly understandable, especially in the context of a society that has been using various forms of silencing tactics against women for years. Still, it is frustrating trying to convince people with whom I share so much that I really am an ally, and I really care about the gender issues that affect them (and me, and everyone else), but I think that their conception of those issues may be slightly too narrow in this one respect. It’s refreshing to see a feminist woman eloquently describing how dealing with cultural perceptions of masculinity could be beneficial to everyone. Thanks for that.

  9. says

    I love this. Not least because I came to feminism entirely because of the way sexism affects men. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where the effects of sexism on me have been only subtle, whereas the effects on the men around me have been overt and obvious.
    As I’ve read, listened, considered, I’ve realised that sexism impacts on my life much more than I thought, and on other women’s lives way more than I could have imagined. I’ve never forgotten what it does to the men in my life though, and I’m much more worried about arming my sons against it than I am about arming my daughter.

  10. DavidByron says

    No surprise that my remarks are replied to on the whole with man-hating sexism and attempt to silence men’s voice (as “petulant boys”). No surprise that it is admitted that the feminist movement is sexist (ie for women) and simultaneous claimed that it isn’t. It’s a feminist board so I expect personal attacks that seek to shut down discussion. I do note that Greta herself with her usual enigmatic / ambiguous comment did not attack my remarks.
    I dare say the two questions I was asked were rhetorical and intended to slap down any point of view but the dead sexist ideology of feminism but I guess I’ll answer them on the off chance they were not.
    So what you are saying is that women have to be better educated than men in order to make the same amount of money.
    No I am saying (1) women are better educated. There is a huge amount of sexism against men in education in the US, and that’s a fact – obviously not one any feminist cares about. And (2) men and women are paid the same for the same circumstances. Education is not the same circumstances which is why women of the younger generation get paid more than men if education is not taken into account and other factors are – as was highlighted recently in a number of newspaper articles about young women earning more than 20% more than their male peers in eg Atlanta. But this is an education gap not a wage gap in the sense of “equal work” because the women were graduates far more often than the men.
    Citation needed.
    Let me get this straight: you have absolutely no clue as to which gender suffers from violence more — and I guess Greta didn’t either? How ignorant. How very ignorant and you call yourselves feminists as if you have studied gender issues. What a basic factoid to have no knowledge of! I note you never questioned Greta’s statement to the contrary, nor asked her for a citation, nor challenged her as I did, or after I did. The statement is not exactly hard to prove. Use Google. I will not give you a link. In my experience hostile ideologues such as your appear to be are never convinced of facts unless they have to work to find them for themselves. You actually pretend to yourself that, “I try to be aware of gender issues.” I suggest you try a good deal harder. You might start by reading what both sides of the debate say. Even an ideologue ought to do that, if only to better debate an opponent. Your mix of ignorance and dogmatism is poor even for an ideologue with no intention of ever changing their mind. If you fancy yourself as having some integrity on all this I suggest you make good on your own self evaluation and do some work to check the facts.
    I also predict that neither your nor Greta will change your minds if you do discover the facts are against you. I hope I am wrong and believe that spoon-feeding you will make the chances I am wrong decrease. I apologise in advance if it turns out you have more integrity than I am predicting.
    (sorry for the length)

  11. says

    DavidByron: Thank you for sharing.
    Everyone else: Can we please, PLEASE, stop feeding this troll? If every post I write with the word “feminism” in it gets hijacked, I’m going to be very, very annoyed. Thank you.

  12. says

    That’s well-reasoned on a number of fronts, Greta. It’s admirable that you’re taking the time and effort to point these things out. Even the “enlightened self-interest” reasons are admirable–even enlightened self-interest contains a hint of altruism, or at least empathy, and certainly some sympathy.
    As long as feminists don’t act anti-male, don’t blame us for absolutely everything, and recognize that there are a few double standards that actually work out in their favor, I’m all for advancing their agenda. Women as a group have a lot of legitimate complaints, and as long as they recognize that they aren’t the only such group, I’ll be on their side. Your posts here about male stereotypes are an example of that sort of recognition at its finest.

  13. says

    P.S. I forgot to mention, you also get bonus points from me for posting an image of the game box cover to Machiavelli: the Prince.

  14. says

    What a wonderful post. I do think it’s true, though, that most victims of violence are men rather than women, although there are differences in the types of violence men and women are subjected to. In support of this claim, here’s a citation from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in the US in 2008 men were more likely than women to be the victims of all types of violent crime, except for rape and sexual assault. Violent crime is taken to include murder, robbery, assault, rape, and sexual assault. In the US in 2007, for example, 78 per cent of murder victims were men (which suggests that a man in the US was about 3.5 times as likely as a woman to be murdered).

  15. says

    James; Yes, men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women. But women are far more likely to be victims of violent crime at the hands of men than men are at the hands of women. And certainly with domestic violence in opposite-sex relationships, women are far more likely to be the victims than men (although it does happen the other way around).
    I do think the question of why men suffer violence at the hands of other men, and to what degree gender role expectations are a part of that dynamic, is a valid one. I think it’s absurd to blame feminism for this, since (as far as I’m aware) it’s a phenomenon that’s been going on for centuries and indeed millennia, long before the appearance of feminism. But gender expectations could easily be part of the picture.

  16. Doug From Dougland says

    I want to say before I post this that I do not agree with the troll. Repeat, I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE TROLL. I also find all forms of non-consensual violence in a relationship to be repugnant.
    However, it’s simply not true that women are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence than men. It is true, however, that men are much, much more likely to be prosecuted for it. Most likely because women are much, much more likely to be seriously harmed by it.
    Like it said in a 2000 Analysis of studies:
    Meta-analyses of sex differences in physical aggression indicate that women were more likely than men to “use one or more acts of physical aggression and to use such acts more frequently.” In terms of injuries, women were somewhat more likely to be injured, and analyses reveal that 62% of those injured were women.
    More studies can be found here:
    http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm
    Almost all of which point to women more often than men being the perpetrators of domestic violence (in cases where only one partner is violent, more than twice as often as men!)
    I’m not saying this to condone victim-mongering like the troll; I’m just saying that domestic violence is NOT the sole providence of one gender nor is it a simple problem that can be easily swept away by the elimination of stereotypes.
    Personally, I think domestic violence is such an abhorrent and widespread virus (especially in America and especially in my midwestern slice of it) I think we should be telling our students from kindergarten up exactly what abuse is, what it looks like, and what you should do if it’s happening to you or someone you know; regardless of what the parents think.

  17. DavidByron says

    Greta: I am disappointed with your rude comment here. Perhaps I should not, but I had given you the benefit of the doubt that your comments about men were sincere and that you’d be interested in a criticism of it from the direction you seemed to be trying to explore.
    But you are a feminist after all.
    Let me tell you how someone who is not an asshole would have handled this matter. Instead of calling a guest a “troll” and talking as if I wasn’t here and characterising my efforts to do you some good as “hijacking” you could simply and politely asked me to stop doing whatever it is you found annoying.
    Is that really so hard for you to do?
    Apparently it is and was. Perhaps because what you really find annoying is having people criticise you and at the same time you want to pretend you are open to criticism. It is not always easy to listen to people who disagree with you but if you don’t you’ll be lacking in your education.
    At any rate now you’ve made your feelings clear I obviously won’t be posting here again.

  18. says

    But he’s not a troll. He simply disagrees with some of the things you believe.

    I beg to differ. Here is the behavior that made me call trolling on this commenter:
    a) Posting the same ideas over and over again in multiple posts, to the point of hogging all comment threads on this topic.
    b) Attributing objectionable ideas to me that I didn’t express and don’t advocate. In this case, assuming that, because I identify as a feminist, I must hold an assortment of objectionable ideas, and ignoring the fact that feminism is a diverse affiliation with significant variation and disagreement within its adherents (and ignoring the very obvious fact that I never actually expressed the ideas being attributed to me).
    c) Ignoring it when others point out (b), and continuing to argue against the same mis-attributed ideas again and again.
    d) Maintaining a consistently hostile and insulting tone.
    As anyone who reads this blog knows, I welcome and indeed encourage dissent, disagreement, and debate in this blog. But I only do so when the disagreement is made in good faith. That has not been the case with this commenter.

  19. Adi says

    Seems like my comment got lost so I try again:
    I appreciate your posts and your efforts to discuss sexism from a less sexist point of view.
    You emphasize that women suffer more than men from sexual discrimination. Although I don’t approve of such comparisons, I’ll take you up on it:
    In the previous post you summed up the worst examples of sexism against men but left out the most biggest one: In given situations, men are expected to sacrifice their lives because of their gender – the infamous “women and children first” policy.
    Now, please explain to me how anything can possibly measure up to THAT. Take all examples of sexism against women (even all the fake ones like the pay gap) and stack them on to one big tower. It’s still nothing compared to the demand of self sacrifice.
    Now you might say “oh, but that is only in extreme situations”. That is irrelevant. The point is the message that this policy sends to all men and especially boys. That message being:
    If you’re a man, your life is worthless compared with a woman’s life.
    I would really like to read what you have to say about that.

  20. Thegoodman says

    Great post. I am new to feminism and, being a man, am realizing how sexism hurts men (albeit not equally, but hurt none-the-less).
    I have been reading a few feminist blogs and quickly came to the conclusion that many feminists (at least the ones with blogs and posting in blog comments) straight up hate men. I asked questions, and was told I am just a stupid privileged man and it isn’t there job to educate me. I toss in my $0.02 and I again get told I am a sexist pig.
    I am a feminist and I think that you Greta, are the best blogger on the subject. You are a genius on the keyboard and we are all more intelligent and better people after reading your words.

  21. says

    What’s the matter Greta? Surely you have an opinion for me.

    You want to know what’s the matter, Adi? This is what’s the matter.
    I reply to comments in my blog when I have the time, energy, and inclination. I have had precious little of any of these in the last few weeks. Even under the best of circumstances, I have six hours worth of work to do for every hour of spare time that I have — and the last few weeks have been very, very far from the best of circumstances. I’m glad that you’re interested in my opinion, but I am under no obligation to put your request for it at the top of my “To Do” list. I do not owe you my time.

  22. Adi says

    I totally understand if someone’s busy – just say so.
    Of course you don’t owe ME time. But if you are a truth seeker, then you owe it to that to not make harmful claims without being ready to back them up or change them.
    Also kind of ironic that you find the time to tell me you don’t have time. Why not use that effort to answer and keep the discussion on topic?

  23. says

    A well thought out and written post. Sexism is an issue that people face even if they don’t know about it just by interacting with someone of the opposite sex. Being, I personally don’t care about my appearance and that has worked out just fine with everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE).

  24. says

    Greta you are great blogger on the subject. You are a genius on the writen word and we are all more intelligent and better people after reading your words. Thank you

  25. Alkis says

    Hey Greta, I’m a 25 year old, white guy from Greece who was redirected here by a post at “No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?” and I don’t even remember how I ended up there. I’ve just been reading a lot on sexism in general these days it seems.
    Anyway, the point of the intro was to showcase my neutrality (so far). I’m just reading, absorbing and slowly forming opinions on matters I’ve rarely considered thus far.
    So, that said I’d like to point out that it’s a major bummer for me (and I’m guessing others like me) when people fight on the comment section and throw out expressions like “derailing”, “hijacking”, “troll”. To me everything is precious info. Every opinion sees the same subject matter from a different, precious POV that I might have not considered. When someone simply refuses to reply to another, it’s left to me (who knows significantly less on the subject) to fill in the gaps.
    Now, if you care about the newcomers, please don’t engage in the “talk to the hand” behavior. If you feel like you’ve said something a million times, make a post and link to it as a form of reply. When a poster makes you mad, remember that in addressing them you’re also talking to everyone who might stumble upon this page for as long as the server keeps it stored.
    Lastly, do note that I’m saying all this because the original post was very interesting and I would have much liked to see your POV on the various points mentioned but not discussed in the comments.

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