Subjectification

I want to talk about misandry. I have just typed this into my *word processor* and it has given me the evil squiggly red underline of death. Apparently misandry is not even in the dictionary…well we’ll soon see about that: ADD.

But this is symptomatic of the problem. Discrimination against women has been the major issue for so long that we forget about unfair treatment of men. Now, I realise I’ve already broken untold scores of feminist taboos, so a few words of self-protective caveat before I get started.

I am aware that, despite what I will argue in this article, women have it immeasurably worse than men. The whole of society is organised so as to not just subordinate women, but condition them to internalise a state of subjugation. There’s certainly no debate about which sex has it worse when it comes to empirical metric – violent crime, employment prospects, political power etc etc – and such outward expressions of discrimination are just the beginning. Society rests on a deeply sexist psychological structure that has solidified into something immovable and horrific over millennia.

All I wish to point out is that there is a corresponding stigma for men, even if the scale is not comparable. Just as society dictates that, no matter what we think consciously, we sill will expect women to live up to bizarre primal models of obedience and, essentially, sex, so there is pressure on men to conform to their pre-ordained acceptable behaviour types. Internally, this is manifested in peer pressure from the earliest ages, forcing children to behave in aggressive or unpleasant ways in order to gain respect (and, after such values are quickly internalised, to gain self-respect). Externally, it is manifested in small things like work-place dress codes. Why should men have to wear bland, uncomfortable things like ties and top-buttons as a symbol of smartness? Why, at a “black tie” event, as the name suggests, do all males have to adorn identical penguin uniform while the women are permitted to make themselves look as aesthetically appealing as they can? Obviously, that women are expected to be sexy is a terrible social force that needs to be purged – but it’s not like there aren’t similar forces acting on men.

When it gets serious is in the few areas where gender stereotypes might benefit women. The pressure group “Fathers 4 Justice” has largely been ignored as being good at publicity stunts but not much else, but they have a very good point: why should fathers be at such a disadvantage when it comes to child custody cases? There is absolutely no psychological evidence that children are better adjusted if raised by a female, yet it is somehow “felt” by judges that normally the mother will make a better custodian. Women are unfairly pressurised into “having to look after the kids”, yet the same prejudices that cause this also mean that well-intentioned fathers are often pressurised into staying away from their kids when they’d rather help raise them.

I recently had reason to browse the opinion pages of the Cambridge Tab, an incredibly sexist publication that has vociferously attacked the feminist society, and which I think is fairly representative of UK tabloids, and maybe even of mainstream culture. The findings were horrifying, as I expected, but the sexist ratio was surprising. There was the obligatory article decrying female empowerment, and another stereotyping women as image-obsessed, but there were also three “opinions” that were blatantly sexist against men: one arguing that it’s a sign of weakness for guys to cry, one rejoicing in “ladishness” generally, and one despairing at the thought of – gasp! – metrosexuality. I might add that two of these were written by women.

Why should I, as a designated “man”, have to feel a strange sense of discomfort – guilt? self-loathing? – every time I refuse a pint of unappealing, poisonous and expensive amber fluid or prefer not to spend an evening getting life-threateningly intoxicated with a bunch of rude, unattractive and arrogant alcoholics? Why do I feel socially compromised when I am unable to hold a conversation about a mind-numbingly boring sport played by angry millionaires? The masculine stereotype is as much of a burden as it is a licence to dominate women. The only reason people appear to “enjoy” this burden is that they have become so used to it that it represents their sense of identity, and helps them create positive bonds with others who share the same yoke. And also because it allows them to subjugate women.

I’m not suggesting that the feminist movement should devote equal time to male injustices as to female ones. Clearly the problems are largely one-sided. But it would be a fatal mistake for feminism, like my spell-check, to simply ignore misandry or somehow see it as men getting what they deserve. The crucial point is that the suffering of women cannot possibly end until the problems outlined above are also eliminated. At the moment, society exerts sexist demands (from the playground onwards) on men that compel them to adopt a masculine attitude which is equally sexist. If women are made objects by men, it’s only because society insists that men be subjects. As has been repeatedly stated by most progressive feminists, the whole aim of the movement is not to make men and women equal, though that may be a good starting point, but to make it so that everyone sees that a basic distinction is not even valid. Only when sex no longer determines where you lie on the gender spectrum (or whatever model you want to see it as) will feminism have succeeded, and freeing “men” from having to box themselves into one extreme is an important part of that.

10 Comments

  1. Maybe the real solution is just to tackle B***sh*t wherever we find it. Society is broken in too many ways that a person who wakes up to one problem, lets say, feminism, cannot help but wake up to other similar problems, such as transphobia, gay rights, and yes, the stereotyping of men as violent aggressors, who drink beer and play football, cannot be trusted with kids… etc. Hopefully feminism will allow us to challenge preconceived gender ideas, whether they are male or female. Let’s face it – equality requires all of this gender-crapness to be broken down.

  2. I think it’s really important to look at the ways in which social structures built around stringent gender difference negatively affect people of all genders. This article really highlights how relevant LGBTQ and trans issues are to feminism; the pressures on some men to conform to identities that reject ‘effeminacy’ are as archaic and limiting as the pressures on women to be hairless, thin etc.

  3. I agree that it is important to remember that gender discrimination and pressure creates problems for all members of society.

    With regards to “Father’s for Justice”, it might be interesting to remember that it was not until relatively recently that women were considered the ‘natural’ choice in custody battles. The fact that women were/are considered naturally ‘maternal’ was often negated by the fact that a divorce branded a woman unfit for child rearing (and indeed, polite society).

    That aside, it is of course a valid issue.

  4. Also, sorry to reply twice, but thinking about “Fathers for Justice” I’d like to add that it’s perhaps not my preferred choice of movement to talk about when we’re speaking about breaking down gender pressures.

    ‘Fathers for Justice’ has a number of good, anti-binary factions that fight against sexism in the custody courts.

    However, there is a very vocal element of ‘Fathers for Justice’ which is extremely entrenched in the binary, and constitutes a backlash movement against the women’s rights movement of the 1960s. For a start, one of the main arguments of the more conservative branch of ‘Fathers for Justice’ argues that each child requires the input of the male and a female in order to grow into a social being. It fights for the importance of the nuclear family unit over any other type of family – which raises some obvious concerns.

    But the element that worries me the most is the insistent voice of ‘Fathers for Justice’ that says that women fake claims of domestic abuse in order to prevent fathers from gaining custody rights – and that the legal system encourages such claims. In instances where women are giving evidence of rape or other forms of abuse in court, elements of ‘Fathers for Justice’ insist that this is simply another symptom of a now ‘matriarchal’ society where the man is repeatedly demonized.

    I believe the courts to be sexist, but ‘Fathers for Justice’ is not my ideal model for a progressive movement.

    • I don’t think the post was glorifying them, just pointing out they have a good point about the courts.

      • You’re quite right – John only mentioned this in passing. I just think that’s it’s important to remember that the “gender stereotypes might benefit women” in court are relatively recent. It is also important that we recognise that ‘Fathers for Justice’ has a very conservative outlook on gender, which could undermine the argument if, in future debates, we use them as an example of a progressive anti-sexist movement.

  5. I agree that misandry is ignored. I disagree, however, that women have it worse than men. Firstly, because misogyny is damaging to men as much as to women, as is misandry to women as much as to men. But also, secondly because the attitude that women are physically and emotionally weaker than men has lead to, amongst other things, an unwillingness (borne of shame) for (heteronormative) men who are the victim of domestic violence (for instance) to either defend themselves or report the incident. This attitude that women’s perceived physical slightness is reason to assume they are the victim is shown in the “guys should never hit a girl” rule of the playground, generally upheld even when the male is being victimised (physically) by the female.
    Note also that the equal and opposite perception of what a woman should be (slim, slight, meek) is forced on men (broad, muscular, forceful); you need only look at the disproportionate way clothing for women is manufactured relative to men; there are often only slim sizes available for women, and in very few shops are there similarly slim sizes available for guys.
    The point about Fathers for Justice I couldn’t agree with more.
    Finally, as the accompanying image proves, not only women are objectified; “Get a Six-Pack, be a real man”.

    • …Men have it worse than women? Look, you can certainly deconstruct gender: the social construct – but you can’t deny sex: biological difference. Men are on the whole demonstrably stronger than women. They are also, because of testosterone and so on, more likely to be aggressive. Misogyny, possibly for historical/cultural reasons, also often tends towards sadism. Male violent abuse of women is an incomparably greater and more prevalent evil than vice versa.

      The only problem with the ‘guys should never hit a girl’ rule is that ideally no one would ever hit anyone irrespective of sex, but you can certainly argue that the onus is more on men as they are generally stronger than, and traditionally have more power over, women. This may not be true around early pubescence, when girls physically overtake boys for a couple of years, but are you seriously suggesting that this rule repressively denies ten year old boys the right to hit girls who are pushing them around?

      More fundamentally, it’s absurd to argue that women don’t “have it worse than men”, because the social balance of power is overwhelmingly on the male side: hence any misogyny enacted by them will be far more pernicious than any misandry enacted against them. The very fact that, I bet you, most men will smirk condescendingly or have some similar reaction upon being appraised that such a thing as ‘misandry’ is purported to exist is evidence of this. The idea that they are victimised by women will simply amuse them. I don’t think many women find the idea that there sex has been and continues to be oppressed by men particularly funny.

  6. Both misandry and misogyny are a problem and as indicated, they are damaging to all people. The stereotypical gender roles appear to be the cause of much of the problem. It does seem a normal position to hold that boys should not hit girls, and that boys should not cry and so on.

    We then have the issue that in offences involving violence, the courts seem accepting of male violence more than female violence, hence longer sentences seem to be handed down to female perpetrators (unfortunately, I cannot currently locate the actual research).

    Would an initial consideration of masculine and feminine (as opposed to male and female) enable better consideration of these kinds of issues? I know these are alternatives that potentially offer similar (but different) problems, however, would it shift the focus slightly from the man/woman debate?

  7. It boils down to the idea that men in society must ‘achieve’ masculinity, whereas women’s feminity is ascribed to them – it is presumed. The situation is harmful for both, and I find it difficult (and maybe even irrelevant) to question which situation is worse – the need for men to conform to a narrow, primitive schema of behaviour in order to get on in society, or the relative lack of agency for women. Rather than women having to prove their femininity it can only be disproved, through behaviours that castigate them and go against the feminine norm.

    Both male achievement and female ascription serve the same function of keeping both men and women in their places in the gender binary and preserving the patriarchal status quo. Very repressive.

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