Let me start off by saying that I believe men need to take a stronger role when it comes to gender issues. Gender issues by definition involve two (or more) different parties. As with any disagreements, there should be a dialogue, even if one party is the victim and the other the guilty. In any fair trial, even mass murderers are given a chance to share their point of view. Isn’t fairness what we all want? In order to achieve real progress, both parties must be engaged.
Now why am I writing this blog post? Today I am inspired because just as women want to have their voices heard (and I encourage them to do so), some men like me, want to as well. When it comes to gender issues, men, we’re the other half of the issue. What I want to do is not to lay out an opposing view point to feminism, but rather to give it a complementary view.
Some people have thought that I am gay or a feminist. Others, a sexist or misogynist. How is this possible? With all humbleness, I would like to believe this is because I recognize that women have been victims of society and yet I believe that this is only half of the truth on this issue. I have been doing a lot of introspection lately, and I have discovered in myself anger towards women’s movements even though there are countless reasons for any decent person to support many of their campaigns.
I am troubled by this, even to the point of feeling guilt about it. And yet that anger is telling me something; it is there for a reason.
I believe I have discovered this reason. Bare with me. As most people in society, I feel like I am a victim. Perhaps you might blame it on life or some other factor rather than society at large. For me, every damn second of the day it seems like I am expected to do something. I must study a career that will make enough money for myself and for a family; I must take a terrible job to do the same. I have to learn how to do this, to behave like that, to dress like this and to talk like that. Society seems to squeeze the life out of me. And then, next thing I know, I read about how some people are complaining about how those who belong to my gender (including me) are profiting from all of this and are guilty for oppressing others. Try to walk in my shoes and see if you can understand why I feel angry. I feel like I and so many others are hurt in different ways, and on top of it all I am implicitly accused of all sorts of oppression against others, for my benefit.
I need not list all the ways women are harmed by gender roles from domestic violence and rape, all the way down to less brutal ones, such as, sexist lyrics or workplace denigration. And too often, it is men who are behind these things. But what angers me is that the thought that men can be victims too is laughable or considered far less important.
Please, do not take this as me underplaying women’s victimhood. Let me tell you of a few ways men get hurt by gender roles too.
First of all, I can guarantee you that the number of men who are raped or abused is greatly under-reported. This goes without mentioning all the other types of violence and crimes men and boys endure at the hands of other men and women. For example, the National Centre for Domestic Violence in the UK states that 1 in 6 men will experience domestic violence in their life. Now notice in the media and in every day life how often men are expected to fight and are seen as “wusses” if they get beat up. Or how about violence on women automatically placing the perpetrator in the cowardly category whereas a woman slapping a man brings laughter or even cheerful reactions. Violence is violence.
And we should stand up against violence, not just for the sake of the victims, but for the impact it has on everybody else. Both genders and all people need to respect each other. Isn’t this what we want our our sons and daughters to learn? Well, it starts locally, in our families and with our TV and music choices.
It scares me to think how many hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of young men around the world do not report that they are abused, because on top of all the regular difficulties of going through such an experience, they face the loss of their manliness in the eyes of others. I hope that small amounts of progress are being made with the media coverage of sexual abuse of boys and the increasing of awareness of rapes in prison as well as in general. This is a cause feminists should embrace too, not only because these men are also victims, but because, hell, unfortunately, many of the abused become abusers themselves.
Do not underestimate societal’s perception of one’s manliness. Right from the start, boys who behave in less masculine ways have their paths “corrected” into being real men. Who knows how far the damages goes when we are trained not to cry, but to “take it like it like a man”. It is extremely hard to develop healthy emotional awareness, expression and communication. We are only allowed to feel angry or happy. Not only does this harm our internal emotional condition, but severely limits how we can benefit and contribute by having real relationships with other people. Look at these statistics: “In the United States, the male to female suicide death ratio varies between 3:1 to 10:1” and “while 72-89% of females who committed suicide had contact with a mental health professional at some point in their life, only 41-58% of males who committed suicide had made use of this resource”. Just think how social and emotional behavior that women display between themselves is a definite NO between men.
Can we really be surprised when we look at how many men (and women) search for an emotional outlet in drugs and alcohol, ruining themselves and hurting so many others? Or how about searching for relief in sexuality? We are constantly bombarded by images and lyrics which are meant to arouse us. There are two disgusting aspects to it. First, it objectifies women. Secondly, it objectifies men in more subtle ways, by playing on their sexual drives to exploit them as consumers. Eventually this leads to pornography, difficulty bonding to women without a strong sexual component, strip clubs, domestic violence, abuse, failed marriages and the glorification of men who manage to sleep with many women.
Or how about the encouragement for men to be aggressive which starts even before high school boys become hostile sports players, cocky classmates or even bullies and eventually gets magnified to the point where entire regions are engaged in bloody wars leaving millions of casualties. The requirement that men be “strong” drives millions of them into armies, often against their will. This is not to say that women are not victims during wars too, but the first ones to go are almost always men. Being a soldier isn’t the only dangerous job that is almost exclusively male. In fact, I would say that most, not all, of the risky employments out there are filled by men: mining, construction, law enforcement, firefighting, etc.
Let’s also talk about body image. Women are objectified, but so are men. Go to any large enough gym and you may find dozens of men spending hours and hundreds of dollars in order to get ripped. Although the media might be harder on women, it is very hard for a man to admit that he is insecure about his body. Soon enough marketing creates insecurities in all of us, extracting a lot of dough from our pockets. And just like expectations of women go beyond having a slim figure, so they does for men too. Men are supposed to be attractive beyond their bodies. Men should be athletic, able to put up a good fight (rather than solve a problem), respected or even intimidating, successful, earning lots of money, etc. Ridiculously high standards, are in great part driven towards trying to satisfy that urge to get some of those hyper-sexualized women or even worse, towards showing them off as trophies. Once again, is it any wonder that so many men end up living the self-fulfilling prophecy that they will be “losers”, “creeps” or even perverts?
Now let’s turn to economic and laboral pressures on men. This is another way in which gender roles affect both parties negatively: we need to stop making black and white distinctions over who’s guilty and who’s the victim. Yes, women are underrepresented and underpaid at work, but men also have the stronger burden of making a living for themselves and for their families. In fact, I would say that these two issues are cause and effect of each other. A simple look at divorce cases shows that our very legal system upholds and reinforces the role of men as providers and women as caretakers. It is very rare for a man to take custody of children or for the woman to be expected to make most of the economic contribution.Or just stop to think about the fact that we say that it’s “a man’s world out there”. You could see this as men having an advantage in the workplace, but how many men are there in the workplace, because society has assigned them the role of being the breadwinner? Just as women find certain sectors of society difficult to penetrate, the same situation is true of men. And while we have correctly made a point of recognizing women who achieve this, how often do we celebrate and admire men who make progress into traditionally female fields such as child-rearing or education or how often do we ever give paternity leave? And while you think that it is a world of competition and dominance which favors men, just think that for the most part it is only the top of the pyramid which benefits from all this. The other 95% of men are lower on the food chain. And in tough economic times like the ones we have seen, these men are going to struggle to find good jobs in order to take care of themselves and their families. Unlikely to find healthy ways to cope with these emotional issues, unfortunately, many men, as we have said before will recur to crime or substances, not to mention other less evident damages they will do to themselves, the people in their lives and to society at large.
Next up, let me take my beef with dating roles. As a young man, I have been told by many of my peers they cannot afford to date. And often, they aren’t just talking about money.
Men are frequently expected to make the major payments when a couple goes out to dinner or to the movies. The woman is often only required to offer to help with the check, which the man is supposed to appreciate, but deny. Even small things such as the expectation that he should open the door, carry her things or pamper her (be it words, flowers or a wedding ring) places a burden on him to take care of her, not to mention the fact that deep down, while these seem to be chivalrous gestures, they are rooted in a conception of the woman as a childish or weaker person.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with niceness, as long as it takes place in both directions and is done out of genuine care, not obligation. Perhaps we should allow women to be more independent and mature and we should let men express their desire to be treasured and pampered, too. I leave it up to you to decide whether this a projection of my fantasies or a less evident aspect of the social reality we live in. All I can say is that, in my current relationship I am very happy and grateful to be with an independent woman, who can match or even surpass my own independence and yet manages to be as affectionate, caring and thoughtful towards me as I am towards her. Small gestures? Yes, please.
And finally, one of the biggest way gender roles affect men: gender roles hurt women too. Men, we have to put up with the way gender roles affect each and every one of us, and on top of that the other half of the population has to deal with similar issues? How much healthier and happier would our society be if both populations were freer?
Empowering one gender can easily be seen as a battle against the excesses of the other gender, or perhaps as something that has little to do with that other sex. I would to propose a more powerful vision of cooperation between the genders against a common enemy which is hurting us both. In fact, this is not just a cooperation, but also an understanding that we are both tied together to the point where the well-being of one is intertwined with the well-being of the other. What hurts one, hurts the other. The keyword attitude here is to replace a combative thought with one of mutual respect, even if it is not given to us. In clinging to our identity as victims we adopt an “us” vs. “them” vocabulary, missing out on the opportunity to use an inclusive language; in becoming bitter activists driven by anger, we lose the chance to break the cycle of injustice by being leaders who show compassion and forgiveness in ways that we didn’t get. Those of us who feel that we have endured or are enduring some kind of injustice need to recognize and help others see how even those who might benefit or believe they benefit from gender roles are really victims themselves, even if to a lesser degree. These people who are guilty of perpetrating the cycle of unfairness deserve our the best of our emotional, moral and spiritual offerings for they are getting hurt without even knowing it.
The mere fact that we exist in a society where we are all interdependent means that if one of us suffers, indirectly, we all suffer. The lesson I take away from 20th century movements is that a cooperative mindset like those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela brings about a much better world than those based on conflict, such as 20th century Communism with it’s opposition between rich and poor, Nazism’s battle of superior vs inferior races or extreme Islamic groups who murder all those who do not worship God they way they believe they should.
I am not arguing for tolerating injustice. We need to recognize the damage that is done and draw a line, but we cannot take let being a victim take such a big part of our identity. We need to recognize the freedom and responsibility we have every day to make things better, especially, by changing ourselves.