What is a “positive male role model”?

On the subject of how feminism can do better to help men, one suggestion I’ve heard many times, is that we need to provide better role models for men.

Honest question: what does that even mean? I don’t understand what “role model” is, why I would want one, or how it would solve anything.  To me, “Who are your role models?” is a writing prompt they give you in elementary school, which was endlessly frustrating and never made the least bit of sense.

My frustration is compounded when people go on to suggest specific celebrities to be role models.  For example, “Terry Crews is a great guy, and a great model for 21st century masculinity.”  So, I know Terry Crews as someone who has done work against sexual violence, but that doesn’t make him a role model to me.  I’m confused about how that would even work.  Are you suggesting that I follow news about Terry Crews and imitate what little I can glean of his viewpoints and habits?  The solution to the crisis of masculinity is… more celebrity news?  Color me skeptical.

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Random notes on male victims of sexual violence

[cn: sexual violence, including rape]

So last month, I talked a bit about sexual violence. And when most people think about this topic, they imagine male perpetrators and female victims. But since my personal experience is in gay male contexts, I tend to think of male victims first. And male victims, well isn’t that a thing? You have all the usual myths about sexual violence, and problems with how we treat victims after the fact; but on top of that, you have even more issues that are specific to male victims.

In this post, I’ll discuss three disparate topics related to male victims. First, I’ll talk about some male-specific misconceptions. Second, I’ll talk about prevalence statistics, and complain about how people have collected these statistics. Third, I’ll talk about feminism.

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Why are there so few asexual men?

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  I made a few minor updates, but all the speculation still applies today.

In my analysis of the 2014 AVEN Survey of online asexual communities, I showed that only 12% of aces (aces = people on the asexual spectrum) are men.    According to my numbers, the fraction of asexuals who are men is similar.  [Update: The 2015 Asexual Census finds the same result.]  Someone asked me why that is, and I thought I’d make my answer public.

Extant data

In a community survey of AVEN in 2008, 28% of asexuals were men.  Another community survey in 2011 reported 13% of aces were men.  A Spanish-language community survey in 2013 reports that 36% of asexuals were assigned male at birth.

These are all community surveys conducted online, and they only tell us about people in the various online communities.  They do not tell us about asexuals or asexual-spectrum people in general.

However, there was also an academic study conducted in 2004, based on a national probability sample in the UK in 1994.  In that study 35% of asexuals were men.  In theory, this should tell us about asexuals in general, although there are many reasons to worry about systematic biases.

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Men as sexual objects

There’s this long thread on Tumblr about how men are starved for sexual attention in casual settings. I realize the thread is hard to follow so I’ll summarize.

The argument goes that straight men have very little opportunity to be sexual objects rather than sexual subjects. Most male fashion isn’t geared towards it. There’s some speculation that men send out dick pics because they want any sort of sexual attention even if it’s negative. There’s mention of a journalist who sent out vagina pics on Bumble, and was surprised by the positive reactions from almost all the men. Men have trouble empathizing with women complaining about catcalling, because most men have literally never received a compliment from a stranger, and frankly it sounds like a welcome experience.

By the way, I personally do not want to receive sexual attention in casual settings. I also dislike compliments. So please don’t take this as a request.

Although the discussion is about straight men, I think it’s also key to understanding (western) gay male culture. Gay male culture reacts against these tendencies in straight culture. Many gay male spaces aren’t just places where men can be attracted to men, they are also places where men can draw attention to their own attractiveness.

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Japanese “herbivore men” hold a mirror to our culture

This is a repost of an article from 2013. There were a lot of comments on this one, probably because it upset MRAs.  To MRAs I say, cry more.

Herbivore men briefly explained

The Japanese subculture of “herbivore men” seems to hit the news every so often.  Here is a recent example in the Guardian: Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?  What exactly is going on over there?

I’m no expert in Japanese culture, but my coblogger on The Asexual Agenda, Queenie, is an expert.*  I will defer to what she’s written about herbivore men.  My summary: In Japan, men are expected to be “carnivores”, aggressively pursuing relationships with women.  But many men in metropolitan areas have become “herbivores”, being less assertive in relationships, more sensitive, and even willing to be friends with women (in Japan this is a big deal).  And there’s probably other stuff as well, like their attitude towards money, jobs, and fashion.  Women of course are expected to be herbivores to begin with, although there is also talk of carnivore women.

*She’s actually an expert in Japanese religion, but close enough.

In Japan, herbivore men are sometimes the subject of moral panic because they’re not forming relationships, are defying Japanese gender roles, and may be contributing to the declining birth rate.  Cry me a river I say.  People aren’t obligated to make babies just to uphold the national birth rate, and if Japanese people really wanted population growth so badly they could try being less racist and accept more immigrants.

In the English speaking world, the reaction to herbivore men is… different.  Sometimes, the reactions really say more about our own culture than about Japanese culture.

Here I will briefly show the reactions coming from three different groups: mainstream news, asexuals, and men’s rights activists. [Read more…]

Toxic masculinity: Basic considerations

I believe in applying feminist ideas to help men. It’s not that feminist ideas need to help men in order to be good ideas; it’s that feminist ideas are good ideas, therefore they are good ideas for men. Feminism is not obliged to help men, since that’s not really its primary goal; nonetheless, applying feminism to help men is a worthwhile project.

One particularly relevant feminist idea is “toxic masculinity”. According to the Geek Feminism Wiki,

Toxic masculinity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.

Toxic masculinity causes harm in two ways:

First, men are pressured to conform to male gender roles. For instance, there is nothing really wrong with being unemotional, and some of us just have more muted emotions than others. However, telling men that they are supposed to be unemotional leads them to be ashamed of the emotions they have.

Second, some of those male gender roles are in themselves bad. For instance, violence is generally maladaptive in modern society. A man who is socialized to be more violent could hurt the people around him, and could hurt himself as well.
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