This is a slightly longer version of the blog first published on HuffingtonPostUK on 15/01/2014. This piece was prompted by Emer O’Toole’s excellent article, Men –if you’re not a feminist, it’s fine, just move on. I loved it, I found it very convincing. Hopefully this list complements it. O’Toole’s point is that men who interact with feminism but care more about male issues can be ‘allies’ but shouldn’t claim to be ‘feminists’. This then isn’t a feminist article per se, but certainly an anti-patriarchy one. I am a white, middle-class, privately educated, employed, physically able, cisgendered, heterosexual graduate. I am one of the most privileged people in the world, and from the most privileged set in history. If even I have a problem with patriarchy, there must be something wrong with it. The issue here is the inchoate chasm between theory and practice. Of course all men should treat women as equals, hire them as equals, pay them as equals, respect their control of their own bodies as equals, not-objectify them as equals, elect them as equals. They should listen to female feminists who tell them that. But it’s pretty damn clear, indeed proven by the need for there to be a feminist movement in the first place, that not everyone agrees or practises these values. When a feminist speaker/writer says, ”Shut up and listen!”, I do, and some other men too. The problem is, we aren’t the ones feminism most needs to speak to. We are the ones who, with constant failures, misunderstandings, lapses and idiocies, are trying to stop being chauvinistic swine. It’s the men who don’t identify, listen or even have awareness of women’s issues that are most in need of the feminist message. Telling them to ‘Shut up and listen’ doesn’t work and won’t work. If it did, everything would’ve been solved in the 70s and we’d be living in social utopia by now. This is why male feminists (or ‘good men’ or gender-aware men or willing women) should consider discourse/activity/literature to address problems of the whole gendered system, rather than focus exclusively on women’s plight. Feminism does not need to accommodate this – it’s for the slightly-less-ignorant men to do. Women have it much worse. Mansplaining happens an awful lot (and many may reasonably say this is a giant mansplain). But to get the kind of broad support further change needs, it’s acceptable as a tactic to involve men in gender discussion, to show that a feminist and gender-equal future is something men should actively work towards for their own petty self-interest, as well as for ‘the womenz’. Hopefully this list and other pieces can be the ‘gateway drug’ hooking more men into greater awareness. Perhaps they’ll start talking about kyriarchy. Perhaps they’ll shut up and listen. Often my male friends (most with broadly similar backgrounds) ask why I’m engaged in feminism. ‘There are other problems’. ‘It doesn’t affect you’. ‘Aren’t you taking this a bit far?’ A set of problems that demonstrably affects the women you care about and love, that negatively affects 50% of the world’s population and is meshed with issues of violence, faith, crime, race and economics, that set seems terrible enough to justify anyone’s interest in fighting it. Apparently this isn’t enough for some. With this in mind, here is a brief list of ways that patriarchy hurts men. They are not all feminist problems, though many are the reverse sides to bent coins. Some of the points are glib, underwhelming and poorly explained. Write better ones and knock me down.
1- Presumption you’ll work and support others
It’s less acceptable to be a dependent; failure to support a family, or even simply earning less than a female partner, means you are not a ‘real man’. You can’t be the homemaker. You can’t be a full-time father. You can’t be a kept man. (I want to be a kept man and sit at home writing unpublishable books and playing with toddlers. But real homemaking isn’t that blissful.) Remember, maternity leave is codified, in law. The government has decided what your role as a parent can extend to, and it’s under employers’ control.
2- Narrow definitions of attractive ‘real men’
Image standards are nowhere near as bad as they are for women, but there are definitely ideals for men’s bodies that most men cannot achieve, however much they ‘hit the gym’. This can lead to confidence, self-esteem and relationship issues. Why should the geeks ‘lose out’? Why should the guy always be taller, even when patriarchy is simultaneously forcing women to wear ridiculously painful high heels? Yes, it’s inherently problematic that one of my ‘problems with patriarchy’ is that it stops some men winning women as if they were medals handed out after a sprint, whilst concurrently suggesting women don’t have the ability to judge aesthetics properly. I’m being hugely sweeping. This ties into…
3- Unrealistic desires
Without proper sex and relationship education, the barrage of marketing-by-breasts, photoshopping, pornography, and sex in mainstream media means many men grow up hankering after meat-puppet-walking-vagina-impossibly-beautiful-nymphomaniac-chef-slaves. They will never achieve relationships with such disturbing fantasies, and have disappointing real-life relationships as a result, possibly (and hopefully) bookended by thunderstruck realisations that women have brains and they themselves have been duped into being bastards.
4- Child custody disadvantage
Women are assumed to be the better natural parent because they squeezed a child out of part of themselves and milk out of another. If a man wants joint custody, full custody or an adoption, he has a serious fight. Chances are, the patriarchy has actually raised him to be a distant inferior parent anyhow.
5- Violence and confrontation
Depending on your precise culture, there’s some sort of ill-defined code about respect , honour and whatnot. People try to fight you because you were in their way on the dancefloor, because a pint was spilled, because you disrespected them. More, you’re expected to get involved in dangerous situations where the sensible thing to do is run and call 999. You do not want to be called a coward. “Boys will be boys” is often remarked by parents of violent children’s behaviour. It could be ‘harmless horseplay’, but inevitably such generalisations also permit bullying to go unresolved, even when it has been reported or seen. I know, I was a bully once.
The need to prove your ‘real man’-ness often involves a huge degree of homophobia. From personal experience, at school using ‘gay’ as a general negative term was de rigeur and totally thoughtless. ‘Gay’ was also the go-to term for verbal abuse, regardless of whether anyone actually believed the boy in question was queer. This is a disturbing form of bullying in general, but far more importantly, it meant that those boys who genuinely were queer or questioning kept completely silent and were probably terrified of pariahism. Many men are terrified of coming out – we’ve seen this in football recently with Thomas Hitzlsperger, and elsewhere with Tom Daley. Patriarchy is inherently related to trans/homophobic violence, threats, and micro-aggressions as well as denial of legal rights.
7- Access to justice and support
Men experience far less domestic violence, sexual violence and harassment than women. Those that do experience it are often dissuaded from reporting it or seeking help by the strong man idea and fear of ridicule. If they go to court, they face a jury and a system that emasculates them, derides their experiences and questions their integrity – stereotypes essentially see men as walking dildos who are always willing to have sex with anyone. The presence of an erection is also seen as indicative of consent, even long after this was disproved medically. Male rape is a real and horrible thing.
8- Promotion prospects
The glass ceiling is a thing, and it affects women. That does not mean all men win out from it: men who are introspective, quiet, effeminate or idiosyncratic tend to find promotion more difficult, because there is a narrow definition of ‘good leader’ and it includes a fistful of testosterone.
9- Hugs and crying and all that wimpery
You are only allowed chest-bumps or man hugs. No proper emotional stuff, certainly not tears, certainly not deep conversation. Man up and shut up. Exceptions may be made for pivotal sporting events and the national anthem. Male suicide rates are three to five times higher than female.
10- Food and drink
It seems absurd that possession of a penis means you’ll be ridiculed for ordering a Ruby Kiss, Greek yoghurt with honey, or a meatless salad. Sometimes you want a salad. You are bloated from all the BEER and CURRY from the night before, and seriously don’t want a carb-and-protein bomb. (It’s a massive privilege that I can have a carb protein bomb when I want one.)
11- Inability to live independently
‘Inability’ might be too strong a word, but you certainly encounter young men whose mothers’ care has been so comprehensive that when they move out, they’re unable to cook properly, mend broken clothes, budget, or clean their abode. Filthy pigs. Many think this is that natural order of things, and happily live in squalor until an angelic meat puppet arrives.
12- Stereotype assumptions
It’s hard for gays, queers, bisexuals, transsexuals, asexuals and other LGBTQs to live-out (i.e. beyond coming out), because the assumption with any man not wearing outlandishly camp clothes, a cassock or makeup is that they’re straight. They find it harder to get jobs, they face ridicule in the street and private Othering. Not real men.
I wanna wear it. I think I look good with eye liner and mascara. I used to paint my nails. I don’t now, because I imagine I’d be fired. I’d certainly get weird looks in the street and raise eyebrows at parties – unless I went full-on drag, which is not what I mean at all, because I mean it should be fine to put things on your face/hands and not be given a shiny new negative stereotype.
14- Weakening movements
Numerous campaigns have been weakened by chauvinist or even exclusionary policies and attitudes, which stops or slows those movements (and the men in them) achieving their goals. Atheism is in the midst of a huge gendered battle after elevator-gate; the civil rights movement suffered by excluding or degrading women in the SNNC (of university sit-in fame), the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. Female supporters/allies are turned away, silenced or discouraged by patriarchal structures.
15- Women out of power
Cutting out half of your potential entrepreneurs, scientists, political leaders and inventors is an a priori mistake. It limits how well all our institutions, from government to business, work. It limits the diversity and wealth that a society can enjoy. Yes, I’m aware women are allowed to work now. That doesn’t mean the problem is solved.
16- That you never considered at least one thing on this list
The patriarchy is ridiculously constraining; it tells you what to think. It’s in men’s own interests to fight the patriarchy, and that includes listening to the women at the movement’s forefront. Simples. I hope this doesn’t come across as an attempt to silence or derail general feminist discussion, or to ‘move the spotlight’ away from the far more serious issues. ‘Patriarchy hurts men too’ (PHMT) is a by-word for time-wasting on some forums. Men’s unhappy lot in patriarchy does not need to be acknowledged, mentioned or covered in most discussions. It has its own forum, say, at the Good Men Project. Women experience the issues above, only worse. I generally write on patriarchy’s problems for women. It’s a bigger topic. Follow Jonathan Lindsell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JJLindsell