5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men
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If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it's no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That's kind of the definition of the word.
But we don't talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism -- from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse -- it makes perfect sense that we'd care more about how sexism and patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women, than we do about how they affect men.
But men undoubtedly get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure... but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists -- and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists -- ought to care about it, too.
I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me: I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don't want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.
And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism... and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too -- and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun -- we're going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumpersticker a friend once had on her truck: "Feminists Fuck Better.")
So I've been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I've been looking at our society's expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I've been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you'd have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since "professional tightrope walker" is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I've been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that's not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I've been asking the men in my life -- friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet -- what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man and how those expectations affect them.
Here is a list of five:
1. Fight, fight, fight! When I did my informal, unscientific poll of the men in my life and asked what was expected of them as men, this one came up a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like, an amount that took me seriously by surprise. My slice of society -- and the slice shared by most men I know -- is comfortably middle-class: educated, chatty, civilized to a fault, and mostly very peaceful. We resolve our conflicts with words, with glares, with strategies, with the law as a last resort. Even raised voices and insulting language are considered somewhat outre. Not counting sporting events, I could count on one hand the number of physical fights I've witnessed in the last decade. Or even threats of physical fights.