I haven’t written for ages, many reasons for that, but I thought I’d jot down what I was thinking about on the way to work this morning. It’s longer than I expected, as usual.
Before getting to that, I’ll reflect on going to work – something many women even a generation ago did not get to do, so I’m grateful for that and always have been. This is no slight on anyone who does not have a contracted-to-do-things-for-others, leaving-the-house type job. Or two.
There are many ways to earn a living, and many forms of work that are unpaid and undervalued. I don’t refer to that, but to the option and opportunity I have been afforded that many were – and are still, globally – denied.
Let us not forget the women who are forced to work, lucky if they earn any wage, risking their safety and their children’s. Women in poverty. Women faced with false choices of abuse or homelessness. Women living under legal systems that deny them basic rights.
This issue of work being a kind of novel gift is not something men need to think about. On the contrary, boys and men have traditionally been forced to do work, sometimes that endangered them. That’s not OK either, and it rests on assumptions about masculinity that are harmful (as gender roles generally tend to be) but they are not burdened with the weight of a history of forbidden knowledge – women’s education is also severely restricted, still – and activities on their shoulders. It’s not “Men’s Sport”, it’s just sport, for example (one that is, thankfully, moving in the right direction; I hear much more discussion of women’s teams and events now than when I was young).
There is no movement for equality in work (or many other things) for men, because it has always been dominated by men. The pressures to make things better for women, more accessible, more fair – do not take away from men. They should not be proud of half of the population having always been shut out, but welcome this change. That so many fear it and lash out is worrying and a symptom of underlying misogyny. People need to reflect on it.
What I hope people reflect on today, besides what greatness women have brought, do bring and will continue to bring given the opportunity – and what has been lost by not affording girls and women their full freedom – is how damaging it is for us all that today, as every day, we repeatedly see “men, too!”.
Now we’re hopefully past the “feminism isn’t about hating men” stage, why is that a problem?
Because if all you are ever doing when you discuss challenges for men is bring them up as an addendum in discussions of/by women is harming women more. You’re not helping men, here. You’re certainly not helping women (when every discussion that starts about women ends up back on men – as I realise this is – you can see the problem there).
Because if you really cared about men’s struggles, those that are specific to men, you would start that conversation at other times. You’d start it when people hadn’t begun a discussion centred on women. You’d follow it up with helpful actions and more discussions and consideration, if it were something important to you. You’d talk to other men about it, regardless of women’s presence. You’d gather information, become familiar with history, with societies. You’d not just tag it on to a conversation about women in order to change the subject.
This knee-jerk #whatabouttehmenz – what we see is people throwing it in because they’re uncomfortable with a focus on women. Any focus, ever. Because men are the default. Because that’s the status quo and god forbid we upset it.
Yet somehow we can look at endless all-male panels, awards, boards, historic and current governments, the erased women from history in science and most other fields, and not bat an eyelid, not ask where the women are (when we do, of course, we’re hysterical feminazis!) – because men being in power and visible is normal to people.
No, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to address, for example, the male suicide rate. Abuse of boys and men in and out of the home. The impact of unemployment. How men of colour are depicted in media and treated in white-dominated societies. How trans men are represented. Drug use and health in the gay community. Men’s relationships with their children and parenting roles. Bullying. Body image. “Bro culture”…
There’s loads of shit around that people could delve into and unpick toxic masculinity – which is, note, at its core still from misogyny/anti-femininity. I see far more of this being addressed in feminism than anywhere else right now.
But what is wrong is when those issues are simply used to shut down discussion about women. I see it all the time in domestic violence; manipulated statistics where men try to suggest equal or even comparable suffering in this – no abuse is acceptable, but to pretend women do not bear the brunt, do not suffer longer and harsher violence, do not die at the hands of men so frequently, is to be both ignorant and mendacious. To do so does not help any male victims, either. How would it?
There’s the denial that the wage gap even exists, when angry men throw around charts someone knocked up in excel to disprove with rationality this widely-acknowledged problem, to set people straight and… walk away. Angry boys and men are fighting for their “right” to abuse women – and other men – instead of something productive. Overshadowing through sheer volume any effort being made to help.
I rather like the Good Men Project, for example, but it’s hard to remember its work over the sound of MRAs like Paul Elam, his “A Voice for Men” which is nothing of the sort, “Return of Kings” and RooshV’s rape advocacy, the PUAs with their negging and pop evopsych manuals calling themselves alphas and putting down their peers as betas, with their friendzones, and the million and one twitter trolls who devote their lives to upholding the very things that make their lives miserable in the first place, reinforcing a justifiable fear of men and boys that so many of us end up living with.
So, on this day, the day of “When is international men’s day??, let’s look out for this. It’s called derailing a lot of the time, and paints an accurate picture. The train can’t reach its destination if it’s constantly being diverted.
There is not only one train, but many. Start your own services, men. Don’t just get mad about all this work going into addressing inequality. Help it. Carve out your own spaces, don’t keep trying to destroy what we’ve worked hard for. It’s so tiring having to drag every conversation we start about our experiences, our fears, our hopes, back to us when you turn around and say “what about me?” every time. Learn to follow the conversation, however uncomfortable.
We have been taught that our opinions are secondary, whereas men’s are valued, important, insightful, always. So have you. So I understand that it’s hard to sit back and listen, to not make everything about you, to not offer up your opinion every time, because why wouldn’t we want it? Why shouldn’t you?
Because we need more than a day. We need acknowledgement in all spheres. We need support. We need to be listened to, and we need to take action for women. Trying to turn things around on us every time we ask for your understanding is not helping. It’s not a zero-sum game either. But men do need to give things up in order for equality to emerge.
If you start by accepting that inequality exists, it then needs rectifying – for that to happen, we have to both elevate women and remove some of the unfair privileges afforded to everyone else. The conversation is similar, but not identical, for racism.
It’s ok to let go. It won’t kill you.
Look, we’re living with a deficit of rights, freedoms, opportunities and safety right now. It is killing us. It’s not a reversal that’s sought, to set up the opposite imbalance, but equality. Can we please do that?