Rape Culture and Misogyny Pt 2: Men, Let’s Talk For a Second

In part one of this mini series on social issues, I discussed a little bit about winning allies, and how not to alienate the people in whom you are trying to inspire action by being a condescending jerk.  I promised a part two, so here it is.  Before we start, I want to say that women may not relate to some of the things I’m saying, and I’m sorry for that.  We think a little differently from you, so, you’ll have to excuse me if I speak the language of the people I’m trying to talk to.

Men, let’s talk for a second.  I want to talk to you about the weird social landscape that is developing under your feet, most likely quite unrelated to anything you have personally done or said.  You’re increasingly finding yourself in an environment that is different, if not uncomfortable.  Not infrequently, you’ve probably felt guilty about being a man.  Relax.  That’s not what this is about.  This is about a reaction to a very small, but VERY LOUD portion of our male compatriots and the effects its having on our society.  It’s also about  maybe taking a step back and looking at how society functions and understanding that there are also larger, more subtle things that need to be addressed.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it.  In fact, as I’m about to discuss, you have an obligation to do something about it.  You’re half of the damn human race.  My goal here is to help show men how to do it.

We’re all giant balls of ego that needs to be fed.  We might say we’re not fragile, or we’re thick-skinned, or whatever, but a lot of the time we’re lying.  Men are walking manifestations of their own ego, and any blow to that ego can be devastating.  That’s, I think, why some men react so harshly to feminist dialog, particularly feminist dialog that generalizes men as dogs.   I don’t believe in the mainstream point of view that an ego is a bad thing, only that there are bad ways to feed it.    Bad ways to feed the ego include control and power.  Showing your dominance over someone else by virtue of your physical strength or intellect is a thrill, but it’s a cheap thrill.  It requires rapid revisiting in order to keep the ego fed.  Good ways to feed the ego?  Getting appreciation and validation for doing something awesome.

Bottom line?  We men want to be AWESOME.  And you know what?  You are awesome.  Now, choose carefully the way in which you want to be awesome.  Why not choose:  I AM THE GUARDIAN OF WOMEN CHECK OUT THIS CAPE THAT I HAVE THAT SAYS THAT.   If the result is a tempered personality who feels good about himself because he knows he is a force for good in the world, great.  If it’s not as tempered, and that man turns into an arrogant man because look at all of the stuff I’ve done to combat misogyny and aren’t I amazing?  Well…what’s so bad about that, really?  You’ve become insufferable, maybe, but I’d rather someone be arrogant about how much they are helping society instead of how many women they’ve boned.

So, men?  Feed that ego,  but feed it with the organic, grass-fed beef of being seen as an awesome guardian, not the cheap GMO corn of exerting your dominance.

Understand the difference between emasculation and channeling your masculinity.  It’s important to recognize that the world isn’t asking you to stop being a man.  It’s not asking you to stop going to the gym because big muscles are bad.  It’s not asking you to give up your stones and have a baby.  It’s asking you to take the natural strengths and tendencies that you are equipped with by virtue of being a man and apply them in a way that is helpful, rather than harmful, to women.  Be physically strong! But use your brain to tell you how to apply it, not your instincts.

Slight strength-specific tangent:  I may be over reaching, here, but I think the shaming of the damsel-in-distress scenario didn’t do good things for the male ego or the male contribution to the fight.  Every man, I think, wants to rescue someone.  They want to swoop in and be the knight in shining armor – so cliche, I know, but it’s true.

No matter how strong, every man has had the uncomfortable opportunity of being confronted by a man who was clearly stronger.  You remember that feeling? ( I’ve only felt it maybe once or twice in my life, because I am a total  beast and I took a karate class once.)  Women feel it all the time.  That’s the feeling (I assume) that women have when they get catcalled on the street, or when someone won’t leave them alone at a bar, or when they’re simply feeling a little insecure.  That’s got to be scary.

This doesn’t mean that women are weak, which I think is why many women shy away from this sort of analogy as it can occasionally imply that women are dependent on men, can’t take care of themselves, etc.   However, consider the following scenario:  You’re walking down the street late at night, and a 130 lbs woman starts following you telling you that you have a nice ass.  How do you think that scenario is going to end?  Now swap the roles.  That’s why you, as a man, have an obligation to be one of the good guys.  I don’t want to call it superior strength, but  you have the distinct punching-in-the-face advantage.  You wouldn’t call a quarterback a bad football player because he can’t tackle, would you?  But if you’re a 350 lbs lineman, you have an obligation to stop that QB from getting hit.

Setting an example is great, but don’t just be one of the good guys.  Be vocal.   If you look at the first article, I talk very briefly about the difference between eliminating misogyny and helping to create an environment where that attitude cannot thrive.  I think the former is nearly impossible, but the latter is definitely achievable.   That means that, as a man, you can’t do this in a vacuum.  It doesn’t help if you sit in your room and take a Solemn Oath to defend all women from the tyranny of the evil ones if nobody else knows it.   So be loud about it for two reasons.  First, it gives those who are hard-line misogynists pause, because they’re seeing an environment that is increasingly hostile to their foolishness.  But second, and maybe more importantly, it lets the ladies know that there are good guys among them.   Recently for World Fantasy Convention, I volunteered to help out with the harassment crew.  But then I also announced it.  Women need to know that there are men on their team.  And, hey, sometimes it’s OK to feed that ego by telling someone that you’re doing something good (as long as you’re not just faking it).

There are lots of ways to become involved.  While I generally shy away from anything that claims to “raise awareness”  (I totally didn’t know that men sometimes abuse women!) it does make a statement to the community if you’re helping spread stories of BOTH good and bad interactions between men and women.  And on the rare chance when you have a confrontation situation, you can do a great job of feeding your ego by being on the right side of that situation.

Being a bystander can be as harmful as doing actual violence.  Your GUARDIAN OF WOMEN cape looks way cooler when you’re flying around with it instead of sitting on your couch and using it as a blanket.  Direct confrontation isn’t for everyone, but I’m sure you can think of a way to break up an uncomfortable situation without direct confrontation, too.

Ask questions earnestly – don’t pretend you know what’s best for women.  This is about dialog and listening, not about imposing what you think should be the status quo.  If women tell you that they don’t liked being yelled at on the street, they don’t like being yelled at on the street.  Don’t be a raging idiot and make a video that undermines what women are trying to say by doing something that is not at all comparable (look back to the street scenario above).  I can’t tell you how pissed off I was when I saw that video.  What purpose is there in trying to invalidate women’s feelings?  Ugh.  Anyway.

As a man, you have a man’s point of view.  There’s a sharp learning curve when it comes to understanding what’s going on in a woman’s head.  So ask questions, but do it respectfully.  Don’t do it in a way that makes it sound like a.) you already know what they’re going to say and b.) what they’re going to say is stupid.  Understand that you don’t know everything and ask questions.  I do this in racial matters occasionally; I’m a white male, and I have a white male point of view.  I sometimes genuinely need someone to explain to me why a set of behaviors is offensive (not to justify why I shouldn’t do it, but to help me widen my point of view).  Typically when the conversation is over, I understand humanity at large better than I did at the beginning.  Just be advised that a lot of people are programmed to explode during these sorts of conversations, and do your best to highlight the fact that you’re being genuine, not trying to manipulate someone into giving a stupid answer so you can say HA!  SEXISM IS A LIE.

And, above all, when there’s something cut and dry, recognize it.  When women say they don’t like being catcalled, don’t argue with them that it’s a societal norm and that they should get over it.  When women say that they want the freedom to wear a (totally cute) costume to a convention without heavy breathing following them around, don’t argue that they shouldn’t wear a (totally cute) costume.

Now that’s not to say that you can’t have arguments about societal norms that affect both men AND women.  You’re not giving up your valuable contribution to how life works; the goal isn’t to go from a patriarchal to a  matriarchal society, it’s to level the playing field.  I’m just saying that before you do that, try to widen your point of view a bit.

In conclusion, look, guys.  You’re fifty percent of this crazy thing we call life.  You have some distinct advantages that have been given to you.  You’ve got a hungry ego – feed it by being awesome at being an advocate for women.  You’ve got physical strength that frees you from the fear of physical retribution – use that semi-invulnerability to speak out.  You’ve got a point of view – widen it so that you can better understand how to apply your  manliness to a good cause.  You’ve got a cape.  Let it fly.

Yes, of course, women can take care of themselves.  Everyone can take care of themselves.

But nobody should have to.

2 Comments

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  1. Interesting piece written from a male perspective, but I have to say as a woman (I can’t speak for all women, but I know this is true for me and many of the women I know well enough to have discussed this) that the desire to be strong and rescue others is not exclusive to the male of the species. I personally think it’s more about the desire to be an adult human being instead of a child.

    The thing is, the traditional female role in our culture (and many others) is often conflated with childhood. Think of all the references to women being childlike in both literature and culture in general (women and children first off a sinking ship, for instance). There are certain advantages that come from being pampered and protected (like being allowed to get into a life boat first), but there’s a huge cost too. We live in times where women are becoming increasingly aware that the costs may well outweigh the benefits. But it’s absolutely not about thinking men are pigs or that they’re uniformly untrustworthy.

    Actually, the “men are pigs” perspective is something I associate with a much more old-fashioned feminine perspective. One where women sigh, shrug and say, “What can you do? It’s a man’s world, and that’s just how they are.” If modern feminists expect more from men these days, it’s actually because many men have done damned good job of adapting to the changes in gender dynamics, so we’re a bit sick of the relatively small number of men who just won’t.

    Anyway, thoughtful and thought-provoking blog entry.

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