How Society Can Hurt Men
If you ask a lot of feminists, womanists, and other social justice activists about why they don’t talk about men, you’ll get at best a ”it’s not my job to educate you; figure it out yourself,” and at worst some ridicule followed by a ban from whatever space you’re in. And so lots of people fall away from feminisms and either don’t look into this particular aspect of power dynamics more thoroughly or they try to join a movement that appears more accepting of them.
Cue men’s rights activism, masculism, and others, since men do have a lot of problems.
- Men get looked down upon for showing emotion in public — crying, for example, whether as a response to a moving piece of art or a tragic event, makes men look weak and ‘womanly.’
- Men can’t hug each other in public, no matter how platonic their relationship may be, because that’s sentimental and gay; after all, it’s barely acceptable for men to be intimate with their girlfriends in public, let alone other men.
- Men can’t take care of children; men are looked down upon if they ever choose to sacrifice their careers so they can raise children; men can’t get paternity leave to help their partners take care of newborns; men can’t give birth to children — all of that is too doting and motherly for rough-and-tumble men to do.
- Men are expected to sign up for the military to support their loved ones. The draft hasn’t actually been a thing in the US for years, but the government still, as a symbolic thing, has the selective service for anyone it thinks is male. But then, this is all excusable by the fact that only men are capable of defending everyone, right?
Masculinity, in its current incarnation, is an amalgamation of societal imperatives pieced together over the last few centuries, and so it’s almost impossible to address one part of the problem directly. The concept needs to be killed with fire and rebooted.
Still, these problems do not exist in a vacuum. It’s part of the reason that some feminisms — intersectional feminisms, mostly — have
done away with amended and expanded the concept of patriarchy and embraced the idea of kyriarchy:
And so the word kyriarchy is an attempt to restructure the conversation. The greek word κύριος means ruler/master; kyriarchy means, quite literally, rulership by the master, or possibly beginning from the master. Master is left vague on purpose; there are so many of them that to have a comprehensive list, it’d take more than a few volumes.
And what I sometimes think that some MRAs miss about all these things that get men down is that they’re the side-effects that result from being on the master side of a master-underling relationship. After all, all of those stereotypes up above — as well as, I’ll wager, any you can think of that haven’t been included on the list — are “necessary” in order to maintain the subjugation of women.
Men are ‘required’ to be strong, ruthless, detached, warrior-like by society because women are ‘required’ not to be any of those qualities, and society is overly enamored with the false dichotomies. Mastery necessitates power, both in intrapersonal relationships and overall with regards to Maleness and Masculinity. Thus we get male-on-female domestic violence, rape culture, and such.
Lots of people, of all genders, are able to conform to these ideas of what masculinity and femininity “should” be, but there is, of course, no way to get uniform compliance.
Some men’s rights activists claim that ‘female privilege’ exists because it’s easier for (cis) women to be masculine than for (cis) men to be feminine, but that misses a key distinction. It is easier but barely tolerated for some female-spectrum people to be masculine because masculinity is valued more highly in society and there’s no danger to the overall, current institution of sexism in having a few women “act above their rank.” For anyone perceived to be male, though, acting femininely can’t be tolerated because fragmentation in the ruling class is the best way for a master-underling servant system to crumble. (This overall societal trend is also part of the reason that the average experiences of trans* women and trans* men differ so greatly.)
…and here, after first talking about the idea of kyriarchy and the male master/female underling relationship, I should speak a little about intent.
Men are, on the whole, given privileges by our sexist system, but they do come with the condition that they oppress women. Many womanists, feminists, and social justice activists, including yours truly, will argue this to the death: men contribute and benefit from the oppression of women, but the very vast majority of them do not actively enjoy doing so.
They have a system thrust upon them, and the fact that they didn’t ask for this system means nothing, since they benefit from it whether they want to or not. Because of this unavoidable reality, they must now deal with its existence. Many men become anti-sexism activists and earn themselves the title of “ally,” but so many others don’t. The allure of power and privilege — whether male, white, straight, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, well-off, or some other privilege — is too great and they either end up taking the blue pill, shutting their eyes to the system, or worse!, they work to preserve the system. (trigger warning for sexism, rape apologia, child abuse, and more)
The Trappings of Being a Master
I did go over some of the disadvantages of being part of the privileged class in the kyriarchal system. There aren’t many, no, but they exist, and they are all a result of the oppressive system that is in place.
- Male-spectrum people aren’t allowed a full range of expression. For a (person perceived to be) male to act femininely is an act of treason against a sexist system. A united front has to be presented to the underling class, to anyone thought of as a woman, to anyone on the female-spectrum. Otherwise, there’s always the possibility that insurrections — for example, womanism — will occur.
- White people don’t have a racial identity. The only heritage they have is the appropriation of culture from the people of color they’ve subjugated. Yes, cultural heritages — the Irish, Scots, Spaniards, US-ians, and such — exist, but they don’t seem to be enough. White Supremacy as an institution is especially fucked up because Whiteness as a positive concept doesn’t really exist; it’s essentially the cultural personification of Gluttony and Greed.
Straight, cis, and binary people consider themselves to be “normal” because queer identities have been erased, in part by the march of white supremacy. Native conceptions of trans* identities have been wiped out, contributing to the idea that trans* people are modern aberrations; so though trans* people have existed forever, trans* exclusionary radical feminists call us perverse side-effects of psychiatry and plastic surgery.
Perverse readings of Abrahamic religious texts have also made non-straight identities something to be kept secret; Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde were punished for deviating from the societal imperative that all men be straight. Josephine Baker’s bisexuality, though very much known to her biographers and fans, is still kept hush-hush in pop culture. Straight, cis, binary people have thus grown complacent and entitled.
- Christians in the Americas and Western Europe are on the constant look-out for people of different faiths. Christianity has ingratiated itself so strongly into power structures that it must also be vigilant of any perceived detachment. It’s a natural ally to white supremacy — muslims, after all, are those evil heathen darkies, in this intersection of hate — and queerphobia — non-straights should be killed, providing a great cover for infidelities, animal rights abuses, wars, and more.
Of course, Islam does hold the same privileged position in the Middle East and parts of Eastern Asia.
These trappings exist, but they’re not talked about often — at least not from the viewpoint that these truths, these effects of the kyriarchal system, hurt the dominant class. After all, the concepts of Male, White, Straight, Cis, Binary, and Religious — detached from any one person belonging to those classes, but an entity willings its own self-preservation — can’t asess any of their structural deficiencies, as that undermines their power. Us marginalized people don’t really look from the lens of oppressed people very often; we’re more worried with how their uses of power, conscious or not, affects us.
After all, no matter how deeply hurt the majority is by the institutions it has put into place, marginalized peoples are hurt more.
The Oppression Olympics
And statements like these prompt indignant comments from people such as:
I’m a poor, white, autistic, cis male of size. Am I more or less oppressed than a brown, rich, thin, depressed, trans* male?
I’m an immigrant, bisexual, selectively mute, genderqueer agender person. How do I compare to a native-born, demisexual, binary, polyamorous, straight black vegan?
The answer to both of those is that an exact comparison can’t really be made. It’s like asking whether sin x or cos x is bigger as a whole; whether violet or goldenrod is a better color; whether purple or green is a better color for titty skittles. There are intersections of oppressions in which the power dynamics are obvious: a white, able-bodied, neurotypical, cis, well-off man is going to have less structural obstacles than a brown, epileptic, depressed, poor, trans* woman.
The more variables you add in, though, the muddier the waters get in the middle. The kyriarchy isn’t a universal benchmark that allows you to compare whose oppressed dick is longer in an “objective” way. It can give some very rough estimates, but it is not a sorting algorithm and should never really be treated as such. It’s a constant reminder that a black Latina, a brown Latina and a white Latina will have different experiences; that a brown trans* woman, because of the differences between the masculinities of white people and people of color, will have different experiences than a white trans* woman.
Without explicit, dedicated intervention, feminisms, womanisms, and other anti-oppression movements tend towards helping out the more privileged members of their constituencies. As an example, groups that market themselves as queer activist groups are often just white, cis, gay activist groups.
And that might even be okay, if it weren’t for the fact that this lack of examination is the default action for so many people.
Women and Sexism. People of Color and Racism.
This is a highly contested point between social justice activists and people starting to delve into the field. I know that quite a few people might disagree with me on this next point, but I think it still needs to be said.
Women can be sexist. People of color can be racist. Trans* people can advocate for cis-supremacy. Aneurotypical or physically disabled people can be ableist.
Remember, though, what it means to view things through a kyriarchal lens. Layers and layers of oppression are bundled up on top of each other. The master-underling dynamic is a toxic one for both classes involved, which has already been discussed. The current system does harm men in many ways, but any harm unique to men comes either from being the underling in another kyriarchal vector of oppression — white supremacy prompting a hyper-masculinity in some men of color — or blowback from their existing status as master.
When I say that women can be sexist, that people of color can be racist, and so on, I never disregard the kyriarchal system in place. Phillys Schlafly, Beverly LaHaye, Sarah Palin, Catherine “the Bug” Brennan, they all benefit from the kyriarchal system by selling out people of other marginalized classes. Whether they work against access to abortion, marriage equality, economic stimulus, or the recognition of trans* people as a marginalized group, they sell out people below them in order to get more power from the people above them. They buy into a misogynistic, queerphobic, classist, or cissexist system so as to consolidate their own power.
Though that isn’t the only way in which people can contribute to their own oppression. All hierarchies of power maintain themselves in part by convincing the people at the bottom that they deserve to be on the bottom. This is almost always done in a subtle way, of course. No-one wants to talk about how people of color can internalize white supremacy and use it as a weapon against themselves. “I’m racist against my own race” is a statement that not many people (by design) are able to deconstruct. To paraphrase bell hooks slightly, no-one wants to have a serious, overarching talk about abusive mothers and how they can contribute both to gender policing and an overall culture of violence and coercion without their knowing it.
So What Now?
Social justice movements have gotten a bad rap for being inaccessible, for being boisterous, for being rhetorically violent. That’s because people who call themselves allies and actual allies are very different and the occasional failings of the former group greatly stress activists. Friendly fire hurts more than the typical kyriarchal wear and tear; use of privilege as a weapon against marginalized people by people you used to trust quickly makes you jaded.
Part of the reason that activist nerves get so worn down and that the communities seem “hostile” to outsiders is that womanist, feminist, and other activist spaces are the only places in which marginalized people aren’t underlings. The aim isn’t to reverse the positions in the kyriarchy in those groups. But in order to achieve parity between privileged and marginalized groups, some explicit equalizing has to be done. This sort of preferential treatment might seem unfair, but it’s important to understand that the goal of social justice is to help those oppressed on any particular axis, rather than to make anyone else’s experiences more “comfortable.” This seeming unfairness is a reaction to the kyriarchy, not a manifestation of it.
It’s something to remember when trying to participate in social justice spaces.
The movements are fragmented, but there’s still a wealth of information out there. You won’t always agree with the people out there, but there will always be at least slight nuggets of truth in what they say, unless the people involved are hateful and kyriarchal themselves. Education is important, though, and there are a few 101 spaces — like this very post — where it’s not only safe but encouraged to ask non-hateful questions that come in good faith. I want to provide that sort of accessible space in the comments here. Please fire away.
[EDIT: 8 Aug. Fixed some messed up formatting. Sorry 'bout that.]