men, masculinities and gender politics

Authors

“Did it hurt when they cut your testicles off?” (On the bizarre nature of attacks on profeminist men.)

 

In my internet life, I try not to give too much attention to the “trolls.” You know, the people who have nothing to add themselves, but who just want to attack others. To disrupt. To cause drama. To get attention by being outrageous.


Even on my profeminist blog I sometimes get comments that add nothing to the debate, but are merely just inane (and often vicious) attacks. These commenters gratuitously insult my thinking, my sanity, my perspective, my life choices, my parenting, and, more recently, even my genitals.

Normally I just delete the comments that are mere vicious, personal attacks, or are misogynist, or are racist, or add nothing to the discussion. But I think that a recent comment attacking my very biology serves as a useful illustration of the common (and bizarre) criticism that profeminist men get when we work for women’s equality. When we speak out. When we fight back against the patriarchy. When we call “bullshit!” on misogyny. When we, as men, show more interest in promoting gender justice than in mindlessly adhering to some thoughtless, conscienceless version of masculinity.

The comment I received the other day parrots the typical arguments (and tone) of self-professed “men’s rights advocates”:


“I CAN'T BELIEVE there is a man who writes a feminist blog. Did it hurt when they cut your testicles off Bill? Suggest you do something masculine and let women continue manipulating us without your help. Oh wait... more men die at work....more men grievously injured....more men are experience violence from other men.... ahhhhhhh wtf. I know....you're just doing it because you think you'll get laid...right???”


Before we address each of the claims this writer makes, let me take a moment to point out that his first allegation is that my testicles have been removed, while his final slam is that I am only doing all of this in order to “get laid.” So, according to him, I am a eunuch who is looking for sex. That doesn’t make much sense. But then again, neither do the rest of his arguments...


Bizarre Claim #1: Men who support feminism are not masculine. The first claim that this writer makes is that as a profeminist man I am not masculine – or even a man! He asserts that my testicles have been removed. (For the record, they haven’t been.) And here’s the deal: I have some amazing allies in our growing movement of profeminist men. Some of them are delicate. Some of them are rugged. But what unites us is not where we stand on the continuum of traditional masculinity, but our allegiance to doing justice for women.


Personally, I identify as very masculine. I walk through the world feeling like a man. And other people experience me as masculine, as well. But I do not think that being a masculine male means that you have to oppress women! And I do not think that opposing sexism and misogyny has any relation to my gender identity whatsoever.


But it is a continual claim by the “men’s rights” guys that any man who supports women’s rights is somehow not a man. In fact, the newest term these male supremacists frothingly use to describe us profeminist men is mangina. (In case their deep cleverness has escaped you, let me explain: the term mangina combines the words man and vagina.) And to my way of thinking, there is no clearer evidence of the deep misogyny that underlies everything the “men’s rights” activists do than their embrace of this term. To them, we feminist-allied men are disgusting. And you know what else disgusts them?


Vaginas.


Just what makes a man? I am not someone who goes around calling into question other people’s sense of their gender identity. Because that’s just rude. But more than that, it’s also just inane. Our gender identity is our gender identity, and it doesn’t budge very much. Most of the time our gender identity happens to match our physical biology. But sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, gender identity seems to be pretty stable over time. It is what it is, and it doesn’t tend to change.


But since the topic of just who is (and is not) a man has come up, I cannot help but be reminded of the famous statement by Ralph Waldo Emerson:


“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”


So, Mr. Men’s Rights Guy who has just called me a eunuch, I must ask you: which of us would Emerson find to be more of man? You, with your conformist, regressive, misogynist, male supremacist stance – a position that fits a lot better in 1952 than in 2012 – or me, with my nonconformist, counter-patriarchal, pro-feminist mission of social change?


Look, I don’t really care which one of us wins on the “manliness scale.” But I would suggest that you also might want to consider caring a lot less about it, too. Because if you are going to insist on using that yardstick to calculate the measure of a man, just know that your place on the scale isn’t necessarily looking all that high.


(And the news just gets worse. A study by Tice and Baumeister entitled “Masculinity Inhibits Helping in Emergencies: Personality Does Predict the Bystander Effect” indicated that men who are strongly concerned about whether they appear masculine enough to others are actually less likely to help out someone else in an emergency. If a man spends all of his time worrying about whether or not he is “man enough,” he is a lot less willing to drop his narcissistic navel gazing in order to assist someone who is in real trouble.)


So it seems that rigidly conforming to masculinist ideology is a losing deal all around.


Bizarre claim # 2: That profeminist activism is not masculine. This men’s rights commenter writes: Suggest you do something masculine and let women continue manipulating us without your help. This claim, closely related to the first (that profeminist men are never masculine), asserts that my profeminist activism is itself not masculine. This allegation, which I have heard countless times over the years, has always puzzled me. Because whenever I get accused of being un-masculine, it is usually in response to behaviors on my part that are in fact extremely consistent with what we think of as a traditional masculine role. Behaviors that include:


Fighting for what you believe in.


Speaking your mind.


Calling other people on their bullshit.


Not worrying about other people’s approval.


Taking hurtful shots from people like this guy, but not letting it knock you off your game.


Being brave.


I speak my mind. I fight for justice. I brave insults and personal attacks. And even in the face of hostility, I stick to my social convictions.


Can someone tell me just what is unmasculine about any of that?


Certainly women can – and often do – perform all of these activities extremely well. (If anything, women probably do them more often than we men do!) But these behaviors are all also solidly within the realm of what we consider to be traditionally masculine. Even if the content of my words is not traditional, my actions certainly are.


I use my masculine strength to try to dismantle patriarchy.


Bizarre claim # 3: That women are manipulating “us.” The man writes: “Suggest you do something masculine and let women continue manipulating us without your help.”


First, just who the heck is “us”? Unfortunately, my friend, between you and me there really is no “us.” You and I have almost nothing in common, other than having a penis (and testicles, too – which, despite your allegation, I still have). The other thing we have in common is our masculine privilege – the unearned sexist power we get through living in a male supremacist patriarchy. Something that I am working to erase. Something that you are fighting to maintain.


Other than that, I have a lot more in common with my feminist women friends than I do with you.


Second, if you truly believe that all women are manipulating us (which I most definitely do not believe!), then you might want to consider that when people do not have direct access to power, their only remaining choice is to manipulate others in order to get their needs met. So, if you truly want to reduce the level of female manipulation that you think you are seeing, then what you need to do is support women’s empowerment, and not oppose it! Because anyone who has honest access to power has no need to use subterfuge.


But as it stands now, you work to imprison women, and then you wonder why it is that they are trying to escape the cage you have put them in!



Bizarre claim # 4: That men’s suffering somehow invalidates feminism. You write:

Oh wait... more men die at work....more men grievously injured....more men are experience violence from other men....


Okay, I have to give you this one. You are right. The data do indicate that more men than women die at work. That more men are grievously injured. But, my friend, can you please explain to me just how it is that the inexcusable risks that men are often forced to take (or even choose to take themselves) while doing dangerous jobs have any relationship whatsoever to feminist goals and objectives? They don’t! The risks that men incur on the job are totally unrelated to the struggle for women’s equality!


(In fact, the overrepresentation of men in these dangerous jobs is itself a result of sexism that has kept these trades largely closed to women.)


Worker safety is an issue of workers’ rights. It is about having a safe workplace. This is not a gender issue. And it is not just a “men’s issue.” It is an everyone issue. I am forever perplexed that the “men’s rights” guys point to this issue as some kind of counter to feminism. It has nothing to do with feminism. And everything to do with the fact that we treat workers in the trades as if they are disposable.


And while I think the writer is a little off when he claims that more men experience violence than women do, when we get to the more extreme forms of violence, this is in fact true -- at least in the industrialized world. Men are many, many times more likely to be killed by a man than women are.


But again I fail to see how this relates to feminism at all. Feminist anti-violence activists are demanding that men stop killing women and children. The fact that men more often kill other men than they do women and children does not somehow refute this crucial feminist demand!


Most feminists oppose men’s violence generally, but the piece they have chosen to work on is the violence that is directed at women and children -- violence that is hugely unidirectional, with the man as the primary aggressor and the woman (and possibly kids) being the targets. And even in those cases where a woman is violent towards a man, the research clearly shows that men’s violence toward women is far more dangerous, and far more lethal, than is women’s violence toward men.


The fact that men’s violence is a problem that extends well beyond just targeting women and children – and includes the targeting other men as well – is a men’s problem. Not a women’s problem. And it’s not a problem with feminism.


If “men’s rights” guys are so concerned about males being victims of violence at the hands of other men – and if they are so concerned about men being killed in industrial accidents on the worksite – then why the hell aren’t they doing anything about it? Why aren’t they fighting for workplace safety? Why aren’t they confronting violent men?


I think the answer is rather simple. The “men’s rights” guys actually don’t really give a crap about meeting the needs of men. No, they are merely interested in undermining any gains made by women.


Bizarre claim # 5: That profeminist men are only in it to get laid. You write: ahhhhhhh wtf. I know....you're just doing it because you think you'll get laid...right???


As to the allegation that men voice support for feminism just because they hope to get laid – well this one is at times unfortunately true for some guys. I wrote a blog post about it a while back called “Trust Me – I’m Profeminist!” in which I harshly criticized the men who do this –the guys who pledge their support for women only as an attempt to get them into bed. These guys disgust me. (You can find the post here: http://billsprofeministblog.blogspot.ca/2010/08/trust-me-im-profeminist_7781.html )


But for me, it just ain’t true. And it makes me sad that you, sir, would assume that any man who fights for women’s rights would only do so in hopes of being rewarded with access to their vaginas.


(And, as I pointed out above, “getting laid” without testicles might prove a challenge. While apparently an erection and a sperm-less ejaculation can still be possible post-castration, a male’s sex drive would be greatly diminished.)


But of course your allegation that I have been castrated was just a joke, right?


Right?


It did hurt, a little. No, it did not hurt me when they cut my testicles off. Because they didn’t do that. But what did hurt me some was your attack on me. Even though it was thoughtless and inane to declare that I do not have testicles because I advocate for women’s full equality, your comments still caused me some pain. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. They caused me pain because…


Because they were an attack on me.


Because they were offensive.


Because they were really crass.


Because they made cruel and direct reference to a specific part of my body. A part that should be private.


Because the patriarchy is still so damn strong that it still manages to colonize our minds. It gets inside of us and distorts our perceptions, even as we fight to dismantle it. Despite all of my wisdom around these issues, and despite my ability to pick apart spurious, inane attacks upon me and my person, male supremacist attacks can still manage to hurt my feelings.

 

But just know this: Although your words made me feel bad, they will never stop me from working to build a world where your male supremacist attacks no longer carry any sting at all.

 

And then you’re going to need a new way to spend your time. And a new target for your venom.

Or, better yet, get your head together and join us! Join us in working for a better world for women. Because you will find that when the world gets better for women, it will get better for men, too!