So, I hate the whole ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ thing.
A few weeks back, I was able to attend a masculinities panel at a neighboring college with some other Carleton students. I’m going to be straightforward: I had serious issues with what the panel expressed and how they engaged in dialogue (or rather, failed to engage in dialogue) with attendees. I’ve had a few weeks to chew over the experience, and I’ll try to give a brief run-down before expressing my main beef.
The panel was organized by an on-campus men’s group that, from what I can tell, is composed of some pretty great people who are working to ally themselves to women while voicing the different experiences men have around gender. So, that’s all cool. (Also, people can feel free to correct me if this is not the mission of the group.)
What was not so cool: the actual panel. It was composed of four campus staffers, three of whom were professors and one of whom was a reverend. All of the panelists seemed to be under the impression that with the changing times, men’s traditionally protective, masculine role has been eroding, leaving men uncertain and vulnerable. Obviously, this is pretty silly—not all men are conventionally masculine, and not all men want to be conventionally masculine. The panelists’ presentations smacked of heterosexism, operating within a strict gender binary, and all of that awfulness. But that wasn’t what bothered me most.
What really got me was the implicit blaming of the wimminz for daring to operate outside of traditionally feminine roles, hurting poor, helpless menfolk. It’s the same old ‘feminism has hurt society’ gag, but with a twist—women’s empowerment oppresses men. This set up a weird, competitive dynamic between men and women—it suggests that the experiences and gendered qualities of men and women are so exclusive and opposite that men and women cannot simultaneously experience gendered forms of oppression. In fact, one panelist claimed that because women are attending college at higher rates overall than men, rather than women facing oppression and discrimination, “It’s the other way around now”.
Girl said what?
I hate, hate, hate this sort of logic. Men facing struggles of their own does not mean that women have achieved gender parity, and using a single statistic about college attendance to dismiss the concerns of women who experience very real oppression is not okay. Women who experience hatred projected on their bodies and their femininity (or lack thereof) in the form of sexual violence and harassment, devaluation of female labor, and disrespect for female reproductive autonomy, for starters, EXPERIENCE OPPRESSION.
Of course, this is not to say that men’s experiences are any less valid—the man who feels limited in his gender expression, or who is derided for feminine expression, experiences very real oppression. And, as a woman, I don’t know that I will ever understand the full extent of this oppression—so I don’t compare its worth, its severity, to women’s oppression. That would be falling into the same old “war of the sexes” bull that the panel encouraged.
Women and men are not locked in some sort of cosmic struggle for dominance. There is no Oppression Olympics where only one gender can be ‘truly’ oppressed. Most importantly, empowerment is not a zero-sum game. Men and women can and should be allies in the struggle to fight gendered oppression. When both men and women can decide how to express ourselves and how to present our bodies without judgment, derision, or discrimination, we’ve all won.