A couple of summers ago I went on a trip to Montreal with some of my girlfriends. I ended up meeting a guy when we were out one night, we’ll call him JW, and sort of randomly we’ve been speaking again as of late. JW recently asked me, point blank, “Do you hate men?”
I could instantly tell he didn’t mean this in an offensive or trolling way, he asked inquisitively. But I can’t say I was wholly surprised by the question. JW, like anyone else that probably follows me on any/all social media can tell there’s a theme in a lot of my writing, especially in my TC articles. I responded that I do not at all hate men, that I do believe in gender equality, and I guess you could say I feel pretty strongly about the issue. So he asked me how I felt women were portrayed or treated differently than men, etc. We had a frank, non-hostile, pleasant discussion (something I’m beginning to learn is not necessarily expected from ‘feminists’). I explained that one of my favorite examples is Disney movies, because girls are raised thinking the goal is to have a handsome prince rescue us and fall in love with us, and only in 2013 did the first one come out where the ending doesn’t involve this plotline (Frozen, which I myself have not seen). That no children’s movies from my childhood included a young girl going to school and succeeding to fulfill her dream of becoming President; why these aren’t the goals we’re instilling in the daughters of our society. Instead we get Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid; be beautiful and find a man, essentially. Even Belle who at first refused to drop her love of literature for a man was overcome by the pursuit of love and there ends the tale, “happily ever after.”
He deduced, “So your fight isn’t against men it’s against the media?” I’m not much of a “fighter,” personally, so this struck me as interesting. He seemed half-surprised to learn that I don’t want to take men down, that I think that at one point in history societies developed these theories about the differences between men and women and how they should be treated and they have just persisted and evolved since; we are raised perceiving these things, being told these things. Subliminally, unconsciously, it’s everywhere, but we’re so conditioned to it that a lot of the time the full extent of it is extremely hard to process. It’s like having to put “gender goggles” on to try to actively see how pervasive gender constructs and stereotypes are in everything that you do – it’s hard. And it would definitely be easier to not try to see it all the time, how much it directly and indirectly affects you and those around you. But once you start to see it, then it becomes harder to not.
Then JW asked, “Do you feel as though it’s your responsibility to focus more on women’s issues since you are a woman?” This, honestly, is an extremely legitimate question. I responded jokingly that I’m “pro-human,” and that I would undertake any cause if I thought it was unjust. Which is true, I tend to take on a range of “causes” in my personal and professional life. “I guess I just have more personal experience coming from a woman’s perspective, but gender inequality affects men just as equally” (pun intended). “I guess the only reason I brought it up is because there really isn’t anyone out there talking about men’s issues. At least it’s not mainstream,” he replied. And there he was somewhat correct. But somewhat incorrect. I’ve read and thought a lot about how gender inequality has an extremely harsh effect on men, and as I once read somewhere, men, at least in the media, are “emotionally constipated” (I love this phrase). Boys are taught from an early age that they shouldn’t express their feelings, they shouldn’t cry, “don’t be a pansy,” “don’t be a pussy.” This can lead to serious ‘emotional constipation’ for men on the whole because they have to be “the strong one” at all times, otherwise they’re effeminate, they’re “acting like homos.” This is toxic and problematic for all males, all females, all of society, and may I add fuels stereotypes and poor treatment of actually gay males. There’s a brilliant documentary on Netflix called “Miss Representation” which describes the media perpetuation of gender constructs, and it is as hard hitting for males as it is for females, I think. Glorifying these Hollywood action movies strewn with scantily clad “hot women” and high adrenaline, tough, big muscled guys with fast cars is somewhat condescending, in my opinion. I believe males would appreciate sophistication, wit, actual portrayals of realistic relationships, etc. just as much as females would– even though females also rarely receive this in beloved “romcoms”.
He admitted that “assuming all feminists only cared about women’s issues might be off base” but that at least in his experience, feminists aren’t interested in men’s issues. This made me pretty sad. If that is what males do feel, even some, then that is very sad to me. I explained that feminism by definition means only “believing that men and women should be treated equally” and “I guess hypothetically, I supposed men would voice their opinion on men’s issues.” But therein lies the paradox, I instantly realized, and quickly admitted “but they would be made fun of if they did, so I guess you’re right.” Really, if a man did write an article about it, let’s say on TC, I have a strong feeling it would be submitted Anonymously. And that’s when he said it. “Men are struggling today. Nobody wants to talk about it, but they are.” And that’s when I asked him how he felt about it. And he told me.
“Men make up the vast majority of people in prison, and they also receive a longer sentence than women who commit the same crime. Women are graduating at a much higher rate than men, in all levels of schooling. Men are 4x more likely to commit suicide. Almost all laws between genders favor women (custody, alimony, child support, domestic disturbances/violence). And there’s no men’s centers out there for support like there are for women. And men, as we already said, are encouraged to not speak out about their issues to friends or family.”
Some of these observations are (at least in my experience) extremely obvious, though I admit I may more easily recognize many of them because I’m a law student and they are a part of my day-to-day reality. The prison system is definitely probably the most glaring example of there being a serious disparity between genders with direct and significant consequences for individuals. But some of these consequences are a lot more insidious, as I recalled a time in my personal life, which shaped who I am now greatly – losing my boyfriend to suicide when we were 16. He had been an outgoing, fun-loving, hilarious and brilliant human being. He went to a prestigious all-boys school on the Upper West Side, was an all-star basketball player with an ivy league future, and he left me a string of voicemails before he took his life essentially saying the pressure was too much for him, pleading with me to answer the phone so we could talk (I was asleep). He had never given anyone a sign that there was even a problem before that, to my knowledge; we had no clue he lived with that kind of pain. I’m not saying it’s a direct effect of the concept of men being ‘emotionally constipated,’ but it does make me wonder why boys are told so early on not to show emotion or admit that hey, maybe they can’t do it all. What could be so wrong with males being encouraged to be expressive about their feelings, rather than have them keep it pent up inside? Even here, with JW, it’s not a conversation I’ve often had with a male, but why?
Then I told JW to continue, because “someone has to write about it, right?” He was floored. That I could care about men’s issues genuinely surprised him. He thanked me, over and over, for wanting to write about it and for volunteering to do so. As great as that was, it made me sad again. Stereotypes of feminists, losing sight of “gender inequality” because of focusing on women’s issues – he really didn’t think I cared at all about the plight of men, and he didn’t think any “feminist” did. Which is why I’m so grateful he asked me point blank “Do you hate men?” It took guts. There’s a lot to learn from that lesson. At the very least, people need to stop making assumptions, and should instead engage in dialogue. I don’t go around every day walking up to people and hounding them about women’s issues, and if I write a couple of articles about gender inequality that doesn’t mean I am pro-woman and anti-man. I explained that as a Buddhist, I firmly believe that we are all inter-connected, that we are who we are basically because of happenstance, and it’s all pretty temporary so there’s no use in getting too attached to “me” and holding it above others. I could have just as easily been born a male as I was a female, and despite all of these differences we’ve been taught between us, we’re just humans and we’re more similar than we are different. What hurts one human, hurts all humans. Just like pigeonholing females into a construct has its own direct consequences on males and vice versa, it’s all interrelated. That’s why we need to care about all people, equally, and all struggles, because in a metaphysical sense we’re all on the same team.
I can’t speak for every “feminist,” just as they can’t speak for me, but at the very least I think it is important for people to speak, and others to listen, and to really digest it; and most importantly for the conversation to continue. Because a person’s thoughts are enhanced by the views of others (*genuine dialogue, of course, not trolling). Our thoughts are a product of our experiences and conversations, so value that and keep it going. My hope is that in general men will not be discouraged from speaking up whether about their emotions or about male issues on the whole, nor females about male issues, and vice versa and crisscross and back and forth and in between; continue the conversation.