A lot of what is bandied about in discussion of gender is anecdote, which I find horribly frustrating since anecdotes are necessarily subjective and are practically useless for determining the actual truth of anything. However, I’ll annoy myself for once by giving my subjective experience and opinion on my life, growing up from 1975 to today and what it’s been like for me.
A little background then.
I am British, of normal gender expression, white, male and heterosexual. To many people that would make me the enemy.
I am, however, also a house husband, involved in a creative profession for my work, am out-earned by my wife and, until I got ill, took care of most of the looking after the house, making meals and all the rest. I want kids – apparently a rare things in a man.
Pretty much from the get-go, being a boy of nerdy and cerebral interests, I was bullied on the basis of being too feminine, not being manly enough, not liking football and other sports and – at a younger age – having a Betty Boop kiss curl. Liking some popular things like Star Wars etc wasn’t enough to compensate for all that really and it all only gets worse once puberty sets in. That’s when you have to more aggressively defend your sexuality, not necessarily because you hate or dislike gay people, but more to assert and advertise your own heterosexuality. The pressure on guys does come from other guys, but also, hugely, from the girls you’re seeking in your first, clumsy, faltering steps to get the attention of.
It’s weird, today, to think that nerdish pasttimes are considered a boys club, given the amount of shit you absorb over the years telling you how unmanly it is to like to read, draw, geek out over science fiction etc – again, much of it from women as well – but that also explains the defensiveness of the geek community. It has been a masculine safe-haven for the unmasculine male for a very long time. Safe from having to perform for men or women or endure judgement, bullying or shaming. This is less true today than it was, but it is a part of the culture and I wish more people who elbow their way in and try to change the community instead of add to it would give the same consideration to that, that they do to their own spaces.
Into adulthood and you’re a bit more secure and confident in your sexuality but you still have to be performative in it. Especially if you’re not a manly man and double-especially if the only people to really hit on you in clubs and bars are gay men. It is wearing and constantly reassessing what level of flirting is appropriate and acceptable is a minefield. The world, in many ways, seems out to get you. Some of these seem petty, but amount to the ‘microaggressions’ some feminists talk about, others are more serious.
- Women unjustifiably acting terrified of you when you happen to be walking the same way or waiting behind them to use the ATM.
- Having to stand on a train or bus rather than sit next to a woman who is, again, unjustifiably terrified of you.
- Risking being ‘outed’ on social media for sitting in a comfortable way on public transport.
- Being unable to share off-colour jokes with friends.
- Having ones hobbies and other spaces invaded, unilaterally, and forced to change.
- Never being allowed to strike back physically or verbally when such comes from a woman.
- Being subjected to enormous scrutiny when applying for certain jobs, far more than women in the same fields.
- Little to no educational assistance despite plenty being available for women – even though they’re already advantaged there.
- Lower priority access to medical care.
- Being told off for bringing flowers as a token of affection as that’s sexist somehow.
- The same for opening doors.
- Being held accountable for the presumed actions of indirect ancestors hundreds of years ago in a perverse version of original sin.
- Insults and accusations merely for being skeptical of feminist or gender oriented claims or pointing out flaws in methodology.
- Media representations of men growing progressively more insulting and terrible in favour of women, and this going unchallenged or remarked.
- Concern over men’s rights and issues being summarily dismissed with hypocritical fervour.
- The ludicrous idea of ‘patriarchy’ as an all-pervasive, male conspiracy.
- Offence culture and censorship.
I can’t say that I’ve ever been inherently advantaged, as a man. The ongoing pressures to conform to certain gender norms and the judgements for not doing so are on me as much from women as from men, even though I’m married. I am interested in gender relations issues, yet I can’t comment or question without insults, dismissal and comments about my appearance. Any disagreement is not tolerated. I’ve lost job opportunities due to being male and feel that I have to apologise for simply walking down the street. Judgement and wariness is now so ingrained I barely feel I can look at a woman – because apparently objectification rays shoot out of my eyes as though I were a sexist version of Cyclops.
As a man it feels as though one must constantly apologise for taking up space, for being attracted to women, for daring to look, for enjoying pornography or making crude jokes. Women seem to demand access to male spaces while denying access to female spaces – using the same justifications in both instances. There seems to be endless legislation to advance, protect and extend women’s rights but not for men. A moral panic over a non-existent rape culture infects society and especially academia, leading to the erosion of men’s right to a fair hearing and the enforced participation in awareness courses of dubious providence. There is a very real threat that a man’s right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence in sexual conduct legal cases will be eroded or even overturned – this already being the case in many academic tribunals. As someone into ‘kink’ there’s a very real threat my sexuality will be criminalised at a time when alternative sexualities are otherwise being embraced, and this despite consent being baked in at every level to the BDSM scene,
What is the role of a man when ‘men’s work’ is less available, when women are told they can do everything a man can and men are told they are worse than useless or everything that’s wrong with society? What is the role of a man when taking on traditionally feminine roles – such as child care – earn him the scorn of men and the indifference, suspicion and disapproval of women? Why are we still expected to sacrifice everything for women and children when we no longer receive the commensurate rewards for doing so? Why are so many things a choice for women but a duty for men and why is this seen as the ever nebulous ‘privilege’?
To be a man today is to be blamed for everything, past and present. To be a man today is to endure endless insults without the capability to push back. Interest in these issues is brushed off – provided you don’t agree with the slightest thing – and the only acceptable position seems to be obsequious self-loathing for the crime of having a penis.
Men’s Right’s Activists, like feminists, have some good points but, like feminists, seem consumed by bitterness and ideology.
So what is there to do? Where is the place in this world for a) a heterosexual, conventionally gender identifying person who doesn’t conform to the roles and b) someone interested in gender issues who isn’t a feminist, or an MRA but is a skeptical enquirer?
I don’t know.
I think that ‘I don’t know’ is the position a huge number of other modern men are in and the lack of a male identity while simultaneously being constantly hated simply for being male has certainly contributed to my depression and anxiety.
I don’t know what the answer is either. So many of us are, quite simply, adrift.