A couple years ago, when I actually started posting on this blog, there was a lengthy blog-based conversation about sexually-submissive men being devalued, discrimination against them, consequences of violating gender roles and norms, and a lot of really important related topics. That conversation inspired my interviews with sub-guys. Other posts have touched, in only a very limited away, on men’s and women’s body issues, violence by women on men, and female-to-male sexual harassment. I think those are all really important topics to be discussed and examined because we very often have an unhealthy schema about the whole thing without really know it and a little analysis is good for all of us.
I am the mother of two boys, and a wife, and a daughter, and a friend— there are a lot of men in this world that I love a great deal. In as much as I believe that being a decent human means you believe everyone should be treated justly and respectfully, with their human and civil rights fully recognized… I am as much a supporter of men’s issues in general being discussed and addressed (not just as it relates to being kinky) as I am of women’s issues being addressed and discussed. I am writing about this because I just read an article that deals with some things that I think are important and provides some valuable information and yet I also find myself conflicted about some aspects of the article.
First, here is the article, by Glen Cole. Some of his other articles resonate with me quite a bit more but this one… not so much.
If you’ve ever wondered, what causes a guy to join the men’s movement? the man who wrote this can tell you, it takes something like walking into court for a custody hearing having been a full-time dad and having the court assume your ex-wife is a more suitable custodian simply because of her gender. Now, I will admit, when I hear about men who haven’t gotten job because they were men or who face a lonely professional life because they are in a primarily female job field, I feel saddened a bit, or outraged on their behalf- depending on the details, but honesty… there is also an element of hoping that those men, and other men who hear about that experience will have an epiphany and do what they can to work toward the equality of all people. BTW, that would be an appropriate takeaway for women too (oooh, right, I should make sure I am not a sexist either, because teh menz can clean house, serve beer, or peel potatoes just as effectively as women[Poole's examples of job he was refused because of gender] and they can teach preschool too, and women will benefitalso as gender essentialism is overturned, let’s work together to that end!). However, when I hear about a full-time dad losing custody of his kid that’s different. You can always recruit and advocate for more people of your gender to join your field of work and you can always apply for another job, but when someone is denied the right to read their baby stories before bed and greet their little one with morning hugs and kisses, when the parent who’s prioritized their child above their career is refused custody… that moved beyond learning opportunities based on gender essentialism and right into the realm of grief and loss. This is a man who lost custody of the daughter for whom he was the primary caregiver. He believes, and his ex-wife agrees, that if he was a woman that case would have turned out differently. Something like that will turn you into a vocal advocate of rights for your gender.
To the article then!
He opened with this, “This week I’ve come to the conclusion that we hate men’s bodies.”
As a vocal and enthusiastic lover of men’s bodies, of all shapes and sizes, I was forced to disagree right from the start, though, to be fair, as I discovered when I got past my initial reaction, he was referring to a slightly different context. The thing is, I get really tired of hearing about how I don’t (or shouldn’t) love men’s bodies. Coaching girls and women not to appreciate male beauty in all its awesome and varied forms starts young in this culture and just doesn’t ever stop. I don’t admire the male body because it’s been expected of me, I admire it because DESPITE socialization that rejects and penalizes such expressions from women I genuinely love the male form. One cost of shaming sexually-interested girls and women is that men do not feel desired or desirable. No good comes of it, only harm, harm to girls and women, and harm to boys and men. Nevertheless, there are growing numbers of girls and women who are willing to step up and say, “Yes, that man has a nice bum.” Or, “Take your clothes off, lover, and let me look at you.” Interestingly, there are also growing numbers of boys and men developing eating disorders and body image issues.
In discussing these two issues elsewhere Mr. Poole came to this conclusion,
”I was left with the thought that if we want adults to be role models who show children that they don’t have to be sexy or successful to be loved and valued, then we adults need to start by valuing ourselves and each other irrespective of gender. I don’t believe that we do show our children that men and women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds are loved and valued in equal measure. And until we do, we may struggle to be the role models who can convince them that striving to be a sex object (or a success object) is not the healthiest road to personal happiness.”
In that conclusion he has my wholehearted assent. In the article I am focusing on now, Poole points out that body image and eating disorders are being addressed among females more actively than they are with males. It is true that eating disorders are more often found among women and they are therefore at a higher risk, but does it really make sense to focus official attention entirely on only one segment of the population who are struggling? There is a gender differentiation in incidence of occurrence but why can we not have campaigns aimed at reducing eating disorders among all young people? I want my sons to have healthy messages about these things too and I want them to have access to resources if they are struggling. So again, I am actually on board with this.
Then we move into the section where Poole discussed men as the sufferers of the results of violence.
“Modern nations survive today by putting men’s bodies at risk.”
Reading this I have to say that I find the idea of couching international conflict as a gender-based issue a bit of a reach. Are we really meant to consider warfare as an expression of male-on-male, gender-based self-loathing? Because, let’s be clear, the decisions to go to war have long been the purview of men, and yes, absolutely it has also been men who did the carrying out of the warring and done the vast majority of the suffering and dying that resulted. All of which I would like to see stopped, immediately. However, I do not believe all that occurred because we hate men’s bodies or hate men. It is not an ungendered issue, but I do not see how you can possibly interpret the related gender issues as causational. It has to do with power and politics.
To further support his assertion that the body of men is hated Poole cites global death statistics and quite rightly points out that the number of men whose lives end violently (especially if you add in war deaths) is ridiculously astronomical. He focus on the deaths while I find the information about perpetrators of violence just as important and painful. We are bringing precious, beautiful baby boys in this world who grow up and go out into the world to commit acts of violence, mostly against other men, and far too often at the behest of our governments. It is important to consider that as much as that harms the bodies of their victims I firmly believe it also damages the psyche and spirit of the perpetrator. Survivors of violence, men who return from war with PTSD, are known to be at an incredible risk of suicide and committing further acts of violence. These men are damaged in deeply personal and painful ways by exposure to violence sometimes as victims of it and sometimes as perpetrators of it. To make a killer of a man is to damage him and that damage often find expression through more violence. Poole says,
“Men and boys all over the world account for eight out of ten violent deaths and yet there is no global movement to end violence against men and boys. Do we hate men’s bodies so much that these individual men whose bodies are destroyed on a daily basis are not worthy of our concern?”
That first sentence cites an accurate statistic and it is interesting to turn it on its head because far too often we focus on men only as the perpetrators of violence particularly if the victims are children or women but the fact is, on the whole men are far more violent toward each other than they are toward women and children. However, I would say this these deaths are being addressed, by gang-violence reduction campaigns, the anti-war movements, along with a myriad of other efforts. I don’t know why Mr. Poole doesn’t consider the wide variety of organizations and activists devoted to reducing and preventing violence to qualify as “concern.” Perhaps because they are not associated with the Men’s Movement? Not sure, but dismissing the efforts of those who are on your side is rarely a helpful gesture. Another problem is that since many in the men’s movement object to anyone characterizing men as the perpetrators of most violence it makes it really difficult to have any sort of conversation about men as the victims of violence because, hello, SOMEONE is committing these acts! We can start a “People should stop hurting men” campaign but if it is to be effective it is still going to entail addressing a hell of a lot of violence perpetrated by men and changing the unhealthy culture of western masculinity.
But here is where he lost me completely,
“Men can’t play a role in helping women with the problems they experience as women until we give men the space to learn how to deal with the problems we face as men.”
Really?? Because as far as I can tell from everything else Mr. Poole has written he would really like me, and other women, to get on board with supporting men as they deal with their problems and play a role in helping them… right now. Now, despite unequal pay and a myriad of other gender-based inequalities I suffer in my world. And as far as I can tell my sons need me, NOW, to advocate for their protection against bullies (both male and female), to discuss how gender essentialism constricts them, and to confront educational policies and procedures that disadvantage them. Those things cannot wait until I’ve dealt with the problems I experience as a woman.
Don’t tell me you believe in equality for everyone regardless of gender and then tell me you can only help after you’ve had straightened out your own gender issues. You don’t apparently accept that answer from feminists, so what the hell? Do you think the body issues of young men and women are going to just hang about in stasis until you get yourselves sorted??
The issues of equality are still monumental, and I do agree entirely that some of them do have men suffering primarily, but there are also another whole host of them that affect women primarily and if you look around the halls of power, now as ever, you see row after row after row of mostly male faces. Equality still needs men like Harry Burns, who will stand up and do what is right, forcing laws and policies to align with our stated founding principles regarding the equal rights of all people.
If we buy this bullshit that men cannot play a role in helping women with the problems they experience as women until they’ve learnt to deal with their own problems…. we can kiss progress toward equality goodbye. I very much agree with John Scalzi that Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty setting available in life (imagined for his conversation as a massively multi-player role playing game) and while that doesn’t mean life for men is free of pain or inequality it does mean that I don’t have any patience for the suggestion that men should get a pass on working for equality in ways that benefit women until they get their shit sorted out.
Some feminists seem to embrace the ideology that we should only focus on issues which affect women which is an approach to which Mr. Poole has objected. It seems strange to me therefore, that he would essentially suggest that exact same approach in terms of men.
Women don’t get a free pass on treating men with equality and respect and working toward cultural and political equality for everyone because they face inequalities, NEITHER do men get a free pass on treating women with equality and respect and working toward cultural and political equality for everyone because they face inequalities.
As someone who likes playing with inequalities (consentually) and exploring sexual politics it is important to me that equality be valued and worked toward on a personal and political level so that it becomes the default and allows us all to face life on equal footing. As someone who loves men, my own and others in general, I hate to see men being treated unjustly because it is in fact just as wrong as it is for women to face unjust treatment. I want men to feel free to express who they are— sexually, professionally, politically, emotionally. I also want that for women, and we are going to all get a lot further with those goals if we are willing to work together.