Sexism Hurts Men Too
This is the third and final part of a series on misogyny and sexism. Part one discussed how our society devalues and conspires against the feminine, with disastrous results. Part two discussed the often subtle problem of internalized misogyny and the widespread damage it causes. Today I want to tackle how sexism, a systematic inequality of genders and misogyny really do hurt men/male people. SO THIS ONE GOES OUT TO ALL THE DUDES, because this might surprise some of you, but sexism hurts you too.
If you felt at all left out while you were reading parts 1&2 and want to be included, first off thank you for taking an interest in the plight of the females of your species by reading this far, and second congratulations! Male people have their share of sexist suffering too! Enough suffering in fact, for me to write an entire post about it. And for the record, I’m being completely serious here. You will find little to no sarcasm or condescension in this piece (please call me out on it if you do). Everything I write today comes from a place of genuine compassion. My hope is by the end of reading today’s post, you’ll have a little more compassion for the experience of female people, male people and especially for yourself as a person coping with the patriarchy.
“While patriarchy endures, [men] will never be free to express who they are, or treat women as they should be treated.” –Margaret Corvid
The patriarchy hurts men too, because it prescribes a limited and oppressive view of masculinity, what a man is supposed to be, how he is supposed to act and what he is supposed to want. I have known men who fit all the common stereotypes we hear about: men who feel ashamed to cry no matter the circumstance, men who don’t know how to articulate and process their emotions very well, men who simultaneously crave and fear intimacy, men who are afraid to show weakness or vulnerability and men who feel limited or trapped by the expectations of their prescribed gender role.
So what does it mean to be a man in a society that devalues and on occasion outright despises the feminine? It means men have to strive to be hyper-masculine and not perceived as feminine at all. They are forced to police themselves and others, staying vigilant to tirelessly guard and maintain their masculinity, a feat they will never pull off flawlessly. In fact, one of the worst things you can do to a man in our society is emasculate him, in other words, take his masculinity away from him. This is why calling a man a “girl”, “bitch” or a “pussy” is even considered insulting. It is also why men fear being laughed at by women, while women are afraid of being killed by men.
Apparently, despite the stereotype of masculine strength, masculinity is actually quite fragile and vulnerable – it is a noble and powerful thing you must fight to earn and fight to keep. Just as every woman I know has been dismissed as “too emotional” at some point in her life, every man I’ve asked has shared that he’s been told to “man up” if he was perceived as being too emotional, i.e. feminine, i.e. weak, i.e. bad. All of this sounds exhausting, oppressive and a potential source of tremendous amounts of anxiety.
But how can men even process or discuss this anxiety, when they are restricted to a very narrow range of acceptable emotional expression in our society? The sad truth is for the most part they don’t. It is terrible and damaging that men aren’t allowed emotional space and expression. Men have feels too! They are human dammit! They deserve to have their feelings validated and acknowledged, just like every person does, and for it to be safe to express and process them.
Another sad thing the patriarchy and hypermasculinity does is tell men they aren’t allowed physical intimacy and closeness. But again, men are human beings, so most of them do in fact need affection, and that need does not make them in any way weak. Men are told they can’t touch or be affectionate with each other or else they might be labeled as homosexual, which points to other related problems in our culture: homophobia and the sexualization of all touch. Furthermore, men are told they need to be dominant/aggressive in their sexual conquests of women, so physical intimacy and affection is hard to come by even from female partners. I have personally seen men feel anxious or even panic when allowed to be vulnerable – I have been the big spoon and witnessed a mix of relief and confusion. I believe that all male people would benefit from a normalization of platonic, consensual touch without having to fear that it will be sexualized or call into question their masculinity and/or sexual orientation.
The list goes on and on with things the patriarchy discourages men from doing, less they be emasculated: Men aren’t allowed to cry; Men are expected to carry huge emotional burdens and do so stoically; Men are shamed for asking for help or seeking support if they are victimized or abused. These beliefs about what true masculinity is go so far that they perpetuate the idea that real men can’t be the victim of harassment, stalking, domestic abuse, rape, etc. But these terrible things do in fact happen to male people, they’re just more likely to “man up” and not talk about it, or seek help, and when they do they are not often taken seriously.
If femininity was valued as much as masculinity in our society, if people were allowed to be people and not restricted gender roles, then the lives of everyone would be happier and healthier. There are lots of specific perks to having equality for people regardless of sex or gender.
When you are taught to dehumanize women through objectification or idolization (putting them on a pedestal) it is nearly impossible to have healthy intimacy with them. It is the classic “Madonna-whore complex“, where women are either elevated into pure, innocent beings deemed worthy of love or the role of caregiver (wives, mothers, saints, etc) or they are debased objects to be used for sexual gratification. The thing is women can be all of those things, and are certainly so much more.
And dudes, I’ve heard some of you like sex (it’s totally cool if you don’t though – shout out to all the asexuals out there!). However, the idea that men always want sex, that it’s all they think about and that they should always be the dominant/aggressive one in a sexual encounter is so restrictive. It also sets us up to believe that men are not in control of their sexuality, or accountable for the actions they take. It fuels the entitlement men feel towards sex and the fear women fear towards male sexuality. The truth is men have a wide range of sexual expression and desires. I have a tip for you though, if you do like having sex with women, more women would be interested if they felt a) safe b) respected and c) that their pleasure mattered in the encounter. Studies have shown that women aren’t actually any less interested in casual sex than their male counterparts, despite the longstanding cultural stereotypes. Women are just as likely to engage in casual sex provided they feel they are not going to be slut shamed about the encounter and that their partner is going to try to make it a pleasurable experience for them.
Take it from me, if you let a sexually adventurous woman feel safe and respected, give her equal power to stay or leave as you do, then if she wants she will bend over backwards to please the both of you. I have personally know men who are respectful, considerate, mindful of the needs of the women in their lives, without sacrificing an ounce of their masculinity. It is very inspiring and attractive. These men tend to get what they want, because they are willing to listen, to communicate and to give as much as they take.
Most all of us have a need for sex, companionship and intimacy, but none of us are entitled to them. This is a priveldge we all are capable of earning, not a right we are born with. Because we are each autonomous beings with agency, no one owes you anything, and intimacy is not something you can coerce or force. You can invite it and encourage it… and that is about all. Thus sexism, misogyny, objectification and idolization will all interfere with, if not totally prevent, our ability to have healthy intimacy with each other.
“It is feminism that offers men the chance at a sexually fulfilling life. When rape culture is extinguished, when patriarchy subsides, all genders can realise their full sexual expression in safety. Even now, what feminism asks of men – that they be conscious of their privilege and respect the agency of women – can lead them to truly satisfying intimate relationships […] feminist values can teach them the skills to communicate with respect.”-Margaret Corvid
Imagine what it could be like if we did not live in a patriarchy that values hyper-masculinity and devalues femininity. Imagine if you felt safe to identify, experience and express your emotions whatever they might be. Imagine you did not have to repress or censor any part of your self expression. Imagine you were allowed to receive safe, consensual physical affection from not only your significant other, but your female and male friends too. Imagine you did not always have to project strength or deal with issues in an aggressive manner. Imagine you were not assumed to be a mindless slave to your libido, or assumed that you do not have control over your sexual desire, or assumed to be a potential rapist. Imagine women by default felt safe to communicate with you, be themselves around you, and express any interest they might have in you without fear. Imagine you did not have to worry about being masculine enough, or too feminine. Imagine if you were acceptable, lovable and totally awesome just as you are!
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