I’m about to assert something that makes me nervous, because I worry that people are going to stick me in the “asshole MRA” box. Don’t get me wrong: I certainly don’t think that women have it better, overall, than men do. But I do wonder whether it might be good for feminists to acknowledge that — although we don’t experience nearly as much privilege as men — there are a lot of advantages women experience that men don’t.
Because women aren’t seen as threatening, we have an easier time doing confrontational things like approaching strangers on the street. Because women aren’t seen as fighters, we stand a lower chance of being mugged than men do. Because women are seen as emotional, we’re given a huge amount of social space to consider and discuss our feelings. I can work with and be affectionate with children far more easily than a man could. I can be explicit and overt about my sexuality without being viewed as a creep.
And there are at least a few recurring complaints about how trying to be masculine can suck. First and foremost: that men don’t feel they’ve been taught to process their emotions, or don’t feel allowed to display them. Another: that they’re perceived as less manly if they don’t achieve success through a career, especially if they aren’t the main breadwinner for their family. A third: that men are expected to be sexually insatiable, or always to be sexually available.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the advantages women experience are almost always the flip side of unfortunate stereotypes. For instance, one might say that women get more social space for emotion because we’re stereotyped as irrational and hysterical. But that doesn’t change the fact that most of us easily grasp that space, while most men don’t. And if we can reject the Oppression Olympics for just one minute and stop thinking about who’s got it worse, it becomes clear that the advantages and drawbacks associated with being both male and female are intertwined. The two systems reinforce, and cannot function without, each other. The gender binary may not hurt everyone equally, but it hurts everyone. As those beautiful “Every Girl / Every Boy” posters say, the most obvious example is: “For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.”
I do suspect that it may not be psychologically realistic to ask people from our underdog-loving culture to embrace an image of themselves as privileged; my thoughts turn again to the trans man who hated the thought of being a white male. But if we feminists can’t work productively from a stance that acknowledges our social advantages, how can we expect straight/dominant/big-dicked men to do it?
Could feminist acknowledgment of the women’s gender-based advantages help pave the way for more men to acknowledge male privilege? Could feminist acknowledgment of the advantages on both sides of the gender binary help us better grasp what sucks about being a guy?
Am I citing Thomas Millar too much here? Well, at least once, he frustrated me. Amongst the comments on one blog post, I thought he was stating his views about stereotypical guys rather harshly. I suggested that it might be better to seek common ground, or at least to explain things gently; he said he wasn’t interested — “I think we all work with some people where they are and can’t soft-sell our views enough to deal with others.” He added, “If I’m going to alienate someone for saying what I think too bluntly, I’ll pick entitled cis het dudes.”
I won’t pretend I didn’t laugh when I read that — but I worried about it, too. I’ve had an enormous number of experiences trying to discuss feminism/sex/gender with men in which the men tensed, bristled, and closed me out. I don’t think it was always because those guys couldn’t stand the thought of losing their privilege, either. I think a lot of dudes have been led to feel that they have no place in gender discussions — that those discussions will always be about what men are doing wrong, and that no one’s prepared to work with them where they are.
All groups have outsiders. Movements inevitably form themselves around oppositional forces. As someone who’s spent her share of time feeling feminist rage, I’d say that being filled with feminist rage is totally understandable. And seriously, don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving unfeminist guys a free pass. I’m not happy about the fact that so many men are apparently alienated from feminism because us radicals are too confrontational — or too uncomfortably correct — for their fragile masculine egos to handle. (I’m being sarcastic! Mostly.) I’m really not happy about the fact that I’ve got to think about marketing anti-oppression — in a just universe, wouldn’t anti-oppression market itself?
But at the same time, I’m a realist. I know this isn’t a just universe, and I want to use tactics that’ll achieve my goals. Which are: I’d really like to find more men at my side in the sex and gender wars. I’d really like to talk to more guys who don’t see ideas stamped with feminism as an attack — rather, as an opportunity for alliance. Plus, if we’re going to think in terms of cold hard tactics, it’s worth noting that normative men hold most of the power in America. (That’s part of what we’re complaining about, right?) So swelling our ranks with The Oppressive Class means we can ruthlessly use their power for good.
Can we do better at making feminist discourses around gender and sexuality open to normative men, without driving ourselves crazy? How can we make our movement open to, and accepting of, normative men? Put another way, how do we convince normative men to support us?
Maybe we don’t need a lot of normative men in the camp of sex and gender radicals; maybe we’ll be happier without silly Gender Studies 101 questions clotting our discussions. Still, even if we don’t try to “recruit” them, I’d love to see more widespread analysis of masculinity and masculine sexuality amongst normative dudes … if only because getting a sense for their societal boxes might simply make them happier. If only because I think they’ve got their own liberation to strive for.
So at the very least, I’d like to contribute to an America where serious examination of masculinity and male sexuality can flourish.
That’s my final question. How do I do it?