Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Re: 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

I recently read an article on one of my favorite news sources, AlterNet which really rubbed me the wrong way. 5 Stupid, Unfair, and Sexist Things Expected of Men is an attempt to reveal how sexism impacts men, but by doing so, brushes over its connection to the larger patriarchical system and the implications of these roles for their female counterparts. It is, instead, a list of anecdotal experiences. "Sexism hurts women," it reads. "Like, duh." No, actually, not "duh." My initial response was an agitated one. It is witty and certainly truthful, but talking exclusively about men reinforces the preexisting divide between men and women, when feminism seeks to unite against a common enemy. The article comes across as a list of complaints rather than a call to action that I had hoped for. Consequently, it is worthwhile to discuss how these same expectations of men ALSO hurt women as a consequence, and some of the holes in this article.

"I don't want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men," author Greta Christina writes. I'm curious what on Earth she means by this. It seems as though it is implied that, by shredding up the expectations for women, we are merely making it all worse for the guys, or neglecting them; we're tipping the scale in favor of women and leaving men in the dust. Soon enough, we'll be the big executives and they'll be underneath the glass ceiling, am I right? The reality is, gender roles arise from the system at large and, by tussling with the patriarchy, we are bringing the hammer down on all gender roles. This is not my way of trying to say that women have it worse -- it's to demonstrate that in this patriarchical society, we all have stakes that are interdependent.

I thought it was worth breaking down the "stupid things" that are expected of men, only rightly including the implications for women to reflect how detrimental this system is for all of us. We can and should be talking about gender roles together -- they are one in the same. Sexism against women, as well as men, is not at the point where we can yet say, "Duh!" ...nor should we EVER, until we've eliminated it.

5 Stupid, Unfair, and Sexist Things Expected of Men [and Women]

1. Fight, fight, fight!

Christina highlights male aggression as a product of sexist oppression -- she uses the example of MEN in physical engagements, fighting with other men. This is incredibly devastating and men certainly feel the heat, but the author fails to connect this to the consequences this has for women. For one, domestic abuse and rape victims are overwhelmingly women, and this is undoubtedly connected to this "fight, fight, fight" message that is transmitted to men from an early age. The two go together. Moreover, women are socialized to be passive and "nice," the antithesis of "fight, fight, fight," which rejects the notion that a woman can be assertive or strong.

Thus saying that men are expected to fight other men is only half of the story. Indeed, it is an unfair and stupid story, but the whole story reveals that this "fight, fight, fight" principle does not only affect men, but women -- and the personal, men feeling pressured to be aggressive, makes a greater political statement about the patriarchy, one that is missed if we only discuss physical aggression in isolation.

2. Be a good husband/partner/lover -- but don't care too much about what women think.

The author posits that it is unfair that men have to be the providers -- we can all agree on this. It is true that in this day and age, men are still expected to be the primary source of income, but at what cost for women? Women could certainly be providers if there wasn't the immense wage gap and career tunneling. Additionally, what does it mean to be the "provider?" In a family unit, women are left with the brunt of the housework and child-rearing which, as we know, is still not included as part of our GDP. Again, the two go hand in hand. Expecting men alone to be providers does not give us the full picture -- it is the unfair expectation that men must be providers, and additionally, women must be caregivers, and that these roles cannot be reversed. This is a systemic problem for both genders.

Additionally, thanks to feminism, the author posits, men have to be good in bed as well. "The problem lies with the notion that women's sexual pleasure is entirely men's responsibility," Christina writes. "Accomplished entirely with the man's hard dick, and not with his hands or tongue or toys or mind." I would challenge this notion entirely. It is true that there is more performance anxiety on the part of men, but how much anxiety does this provoke for women? More women fake orgasms than actually experience them -- why is this? And the myth of the vaginal orgasm is just that -- a myth. The vast majority of women NEED hands, but Christina posits that our society expects the climax to be reached courtesy of a "hard dick." Sex is stressful on the part of both men and women -- and we should be aiming not to alleviate the pressure on men, but the pressure upon all of us.

"Men are not supposed to be the objects of desire. They're supposed to be the subjects. And subjects aren't supposed to care what their objects think of them." The author also suggests that men are in a double-bind: they should be pleasuring and providing for their women, but should not care what their women think. She uses the example of "guy talk" -- that men should be taking suggestions from other men, not from women, else they be considered "whipped" or "pussies." This is just another way of policing gender roles -- men should be assertive and independent, and women should be submissive and dependent. However, it's just that -- a consequence for both genders, not men alone, again revealing that treating the symptoms for one gender does not cure the problem for both.

3. Be hot to trot. Always. With anybody.

Christina's next point regards men's sexual lives -- that men are expected to fuck every single woman and be ready to go at all times. "[Their] desire can't be their own," she writes. "It can't be idiosyncratic. Or even all that personal. It can't belong to them. . . it can't be based on emotion." The depiction of men as sex fiends does not allow for them to have preferences or sex based on a deep, emotional connection -- else their manliness is at stake. However, I would say that such an expectation is equally detrimental to women. Women are, consequently, expected to play "hard to get" and their boundaries pushed. No means yes -- it becomes acceptable to ignore consent, because it's simply "in a man's nature."

It also creates the "prude/slut" dichotomy -- a woman who is resistant to a man's advances is a prude, while a woman who is "hot to trot" is viewed as a slut. These labels confine women and really hurt women, who should feel comfortable and confident in their sexuality. On the flip-side, there is the gay/player dichotomy, wherein a man who does not aggressively pursue women is considered gay, whereas a man who racks up a great number of women is a player (but it's important to note that this label is often quite positive). And these labels confine men, let's not forget, who should also feel comfortable and confident in their sexuality.

In other words, the expectations of both are reinforced by the other.

4. Stiff Upper Lip

"No whining, no complaining, and no crying." We've all heard of the tough guy attitude, in which men are discouraged about expressing their emotions in an open manner -- this is often channeled into anger and aggression, which can account for so many difficulties that men face throughout their lives. On the other side of the spectrum, women are perceived as irrational, overflowing with emotion -- in essence, hormonal, weeping messes who cannot make competent decisions. We saw it during the 2008 Presidential Election -- the cool and collected Barack Obama was viewed as reasonable, whereas Hillary Clinton -- the female candidate -- had to be careful not to come across as too emotional, but cracks were STILL made.

"Hope she's not on her period when we go to war," some would say. Funny, considering it's the week before (PREMENSTRUAL, folks, is what the P stands for in PMS), and that she'd hit menopause anyway. Whereas when are expected to have a stiff upper lip, women are expected to have a trembling one. And a woman who is seen as masculine for acting more reserved is seen as "distant" or "standoffish." A woman classmate of mine was once told she needed to act more feminine for a job, and was passed by because of it. The one expectation, again, leads to the next -- neither is exclusive of the other.

5. Fear of Being Perceived as Gay

Homophobia is a way of policing ALL gender roles, male or female. This is something both genders experience, not merely men. Men who are not "traditionally masculine" are considered homosexual as a way of keeping them in line -- similarly, women who, too, flirt with masculinity are considered lesbians. This runs deeper than a man or female issue -- this is a deep rooted fear of the destruction of patriarchy. Think about it. If men are loving men, and women are loving women, gender roles dissolve and the traditional nuclear family is threatened. Christina fails to touch upon this notion, instead simply positing that men feel the "pressure" not to be homosexual. Christina also fails to mention the pressure homosexual males feel to be more masculine, and perhaps the greatest flaw, assuming that the "generic man" is straight.

The idea of the "generic man" being straight touches upon the lack of discussion about intersectionality in this article. Christina mentions her anecdotal surveys come from men in her life. "My slice of society . . . the slice shared by most men I know is comfortably middle-class: educated, chatty, civilized to a fault, and mostly very peaceful," she writes. Her survey is based on a very specific group, neglecting so many different backgrounds whose experiences of "maleness" are extremely different. The expectation of, let's say, "fight fight fight" is less prevalent in the lives of white, upper-class males. For lower-class ethnic males, however, this is considered the norm. Latina women are perceived as being much more sexual than a white woman. Christina's "slice of society" is not representative of society as a whole, and unfortunately, this SCREAMS for attention in my eyes.


Christina's conclusion is bizarre to me. The men in her life apparently do not fit into the masculine role, as they felt comfortable rejecting those roles -- which to me, is a luxury that not all men truly have. "Who cares what society wants?" is her solution. However, she fails to identify these roles as systemic problems, and therefore, her solution is hardly one at all. I'm all for challenging gender roles, but this will not bring about the massive overhaul of this patriarchy that needs to happen. This conclusion is weak to me. Acting more emotional, for instance, does not address the wage gap, or the high incidence of school shootings. This is not to say that Christina does not realize this, but there is no doubt in my mind that the conclusion was not well thought-out, and was a bit of a cop-out.

The point of this critique is not to say that women have the hardknock life -- but if we talk exclusively about men or exclusively about women when we discuss gender roles, we're missing half of the picture. Each role reinforces the other, and point to a greater, systemic oppression. Instead of reinforcing the divide, we need to unite it. The aim of feminism is not to neglect the guys -- it's to make sexism, against both men and women, a thing of the past. Christina's article, although witty and truthful, was a real disappointment to me.

And there is NOTHING "well, duh" about sexist oppression. We still have miles and miles to go.

* * *

This article was shared, within the first day, over 600 times via facebook and twitter. What I find most depressing is that an article titled "'I Was Scared to Sleep': LGBT Youth Face Violence and Isolation Behind Bars" was shared zero times (see here). Although I think it's empowering that individuals want to share how sexism affects men, too, our priorities are shocking. We need to fight for social justice, unite in all of our efforts to make real change in the world. I genuinely hope that this article by Christina does encourage men to get involved, but in the future, we need to bridge the gender dichotomy, not tease them apart.

I also hope and recommend that our readers at The Click will share this article about LGBT youth and the violence they have faced, because it is so ESSENTIAL that the truth is out.

No comments:

Post a Comment