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So, I hate the whole ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ thing.

March 30, 2010
by

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.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    March 30, 2010 5:44 PM

    These are great reflections. I really struggle with how to deal with the “boy crisis” as popularly described because it’s always articulated in a way that ‘s so fraught with gender essentialism. That idea that we can either have schools that benefit boys or schools that benefit girls –because the two categories are obvious and consistent, and the resultant needs are clear, of course–is really missing the point.

    This “war of the sexes” view is not only inaccurate, it seems to me that it really circumscribes discussion and action because of how difficult it becomes to articulate a position of support without ascribing to (or being ascribed) a gender-essentialist position. Which sucks, because we can–and should–do a lot more all together.

  2. Ashley permalink
    March 30, 2010 8:24 PM

    This is a great post. Where I live, I’m constantly confronted with the belief that the empowerment of women and the feminist movement as a whole directly result in this ‘effemination’ of male roles. I get so frustrated with this war of the sexes thing; I keep trying to convince people that it’s not about who’s MORE dominant, empowered, oppressed, etc. It’s about working together to confront all these forms of gender oppression.

  3. Site permalink
    April 4, 2010 7:54 PM

    “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.”

    Well said. I understand it in the same way I view the supposed war between gays and African-Americans. It’s not as if either of us wins anything by proving we have been more a victim. And thank you for pointing out that equality does not depend upon bringing others down to your level of suffering. Equality depends on bringing others up.

    I stumbled on this blog through a Twitter post. I’ll be back for the worthwhile writing.

    San Diego John

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