ME(N) TOO: part 4
Why We Need a Longer Conversation
*Trigger Warning: This article deals with the difficult subjects of sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Though it is never explicit or graphic in its language, if you are a victim of such abuse, I suggest you read this with a friend you trust, as some parts of it may be triggering.
In Part 1 of this four-part series, we explored some of the facts behind how boys and men are silently suffering from the same problems that are widely thought to be “women’s only” problems — focusing particularly on domestic abuse and sex trafficking. Though they suffer in many of the same ways as women, our culture marginalizes male victims in a multitude of ways and ensures that they do not get the help they need. In Part 2, we explored the ways in which our culture’s definitions of masculinity contribute to this marginalization. We acknowledged the ways that both conservatives and liberals have been complicit in creating and maintaining this problem (and suggested how their coming together might lead to a solution). In Part 3, we explored how our society’s treatment of men as the disposable sex both creates more male victims and marginalizes those males who are already victims. In this — the fourth and final part — we will explore our society’s desperate need for a longer, more loving conversation on sex and gender issues. We will do this by exploring how and why feminism and the men’s movement need to work together for the sake of male victims. Ultimately, the conclusion will simply be this: we need to listen to one another and when we speak we need to speak in love. In our conversation surrounding the equality of the sexes, we need to throw away all one-sidedness and all prejudice. We need to include and listen to both women and men, men and women — equally.
With all that said, I think the best way to begin is simply to begin.
An Invitation to the Long Conversation
I struggled and struggled and struggled to write this part of the series. Originally, it was going to be a strong indictment against third-wave feminism as fundamentally sexist and anti-male. But then I realized the hypocrisy of this, seeing as the primary purpose of this series is to promote a more loving and inclusive conversation—and it is by no means loving or inclusive to dismiss an entire social institution about which you know very little. Furthermore, I now recognize that my whole-hearted dismissal of feminism was both illegitimate and indefensible—a consequence of my more conservative upbringing. The more I became aware of my own hypocrisy, the more I came to sympathize with many feminist claims, despite still disagreeing with some of them. Though there is a lot to hate about modern-day feminism, there is also a lot to love—and I often feel that I am closer to calling myself a feminist than I am to not calling myself one. So I decided to change my tactic. Rather than being imprecise and taking on feminism as a whole, I decided to be precise. I decided to take on the particular view of sweeping male privilege that I see as one of the primary causes of the marginalization of male victims. In deciding to do this, I also, however, came to realize that this particular view that comes out of third-wave feminism is not the only thing to blame. Feminism is not the only problem. The men’s movement also contributes to the marginalization of male victims through a severe overuse of satire as one of their primary online methods of communication. This satire makes them look extremely sexist upon first glance, and in doing so silences their legitimate claims. So I decided to take on the concept of sweeping male privilege and the overuse of satire in the men’s movement. For a long time, I thought that this was the right direction to go. And maybe it was, but for a number of reasons, I could not manage to make it work. I think my arguments were (and are) sound, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to present them in a way that I felt comfortable or confident presenting them. So after a lot of wrestling back and forth, after countless re-writes and new documents, I decided to go on a walk and pray.
I now think that I know what I am supposed to do.
By this point in the series, I have already given you a number of reasons to at least be suspicious whenever someone claims that all men are privileged or that men are privileged in every single way or even that only men are privileged. I may have (and I certainly hope I have) even given you enough reason to suspect that female privilege is a thing—that both men and women are privileged and disprivileged, just in different ways. In any case, I sincerely hope that I have at the very least bothered you—that I have raised questions that will haunt you. So rather than adding too much more to what already seems to be enough, I will simply let you be convicted in whatever ways you now are, and I will invite you into the conversation that I want to see our culture have. The difficult conversation. The loving conversation. The long conversation.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think I got everything right. I am sure there are plenty of things that I got wrong. But I know that I am in a better place now than I was when I started, and I know that with patience, humility and love, we will all be in a better place than where any of us started. The only question is, will we have the patience, humility and love we need to carry this conversation to its end?
If we want to carry through with the whole conversation then those of us who are hostile to the men’s movement will need to delve into it with openness and honesty, those of us who are hostile to feminism will need to delve into it with openness and honesty, and those of us who simply don’t care will either need to start caring or stop talking. For me personally, I need to study both feminism and the men’s movement a lot more. My practical next steps are to meet with some of the feminist professors on campus, finish reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (the two book that essentially started modern-day feminism), read Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex as well as The Boy Crisis (two of the most important books in the short history of the men’s movement), and learn what I can from the “Masculinity and Modernism in American Literature” class I will be taking this fall. We’ll see where I go from there.
Right now I just see so much hostility in the public conversation surrounding women’s and men’s issues. We all seem to only want the truth for ourselves—(if we even want the truth)—without taking the time and humility needed to find the truth and agree on it. We throw labels at each other like children. We march because we’ve lost the ability to hold a conversation. And we seem so impossibly convinced that screaming at each other will somehow lead to agreement and truth.
Well, I think it is high time we bring this chaos to an end—and not by stomping our feet.
If I have learned one thing from writing this series it is this: If we want to free both sexes from societal oppression and grant them the liberty to live up to their God-ordained status and potential, then we must have a longer conversation that includes both women and men as legitimate victims and legitimate perpetrators of injustice. Until we have this long conversation and carry all the way through with it, both men and women will remain victims. Of this, I am 100% convinced.
The Silenced Side
For most of human history, women have been on the silenced side of humanity. It took the courage, conviction and unstoppable intelligence of women like Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf to get this changed. Today, the voices of women (especially white American women) are being heard like never before. There is still work to be done, but unfortunately, our problem has in many ways been reversed. To a great extent, it is now men who stand on the silenced side of humanity in America.
In the U.S. there are 289 gender and sexuality studies bachelor degree programs. Out of these 289 programs, 234 have either the word “women” or “feminism” in their name (or else disguise themselves as generic “gender studies” programs while calling their program “women’s studies” in their descriptions). But here is the real kicker — not a single one of these programs has the words “men,” “male,” “masculinity” or the like in their names. Though there are at least 234 women’s studies programs in the U.S. — there is not a single men’s studies program.
In 2019, Stony Brook University planned to begin the first and only men’s studies program in the U.S. — a “Masculinity Studies” Master’s founded by Dr. Michael Kimmel (a feminist). The announcement of this degree program, however, received a high amount of criticism from the media. Perhaps it is needless to say, but this program does not yet exist and there have been no new updates as to whether it will in the future.
It is not that men’s issues don’t exist. They do. (I think the last three articles have sufficiently proven that.) We’ve just put so much effort into studying women’s issues at the expense of studying men’s issues that we have come to assume they don’t exist. We look at the injustices faced by women, note that men do not face the same injustices, and conclude that men do not face sex-specific injustices at all. When we do this, we fail to realize that men do not face the same injustices as women simply because they are not women. They have been gendered by our culture differently, and therefore the injustices they face are different from those faced by women. They are often opposite or complementary—but just as legitimate. Where women could not join the military, men are forced into it. Where women were exiled to the home, men are exiled from the home. Where women are receiving help, men are not.
Many in our culture believe that women have a monopoly on suffering, and that men either don’t suffer or else that their suffering is negligible in comparison. But this is only because we have not taken the time to study the ways that men are suffering. And then, to make matters worse, we have even devised ways to dismiss any legitimate claims a male might make to suffering by weaponizing otherwise worthwhile and valuable concepts like “male privilege,” “male fragility” and “toxic masculinity” to silence them rather than invite them in. We push men out of the gender conversation because we assume that only women suffer and that the voices of the suffering are the only voices worth listening to.
Because of this, countless boys and men are suffering in silence—fearing that their pain will be viewed as illegitimate, weak or even anti-women.
Let’s change that.
More than 830,000 men are suffering from domestic abuse every year—and let’s be honest, by this point we know that that number is way underestimating the problem. In addition to this, only God knows how many males are suffering from sex trafficking at this very moment (because, by and large, we have not bothered to look into it). The longer we remain staunch in our own beliefs—whether those be that only women suffer, that only men suffer or that gender studies is totally useless—the longer these people will remain trapped.
I am indebted to feminism. Many of my thoughts are inspired by those of the great feminists throughout history. The world is an infinitely better place because feminism exists, so outlawing feminism is not the solution. But neither is outlawing the men’s movement simply because of a few bad apples. Rather, the solution is listening to each other, working together, refusing to silence anyone on the basis of their sex (or race or sexual orientation or what-have-you) alone, and conversing in love until we’ve figured this out together. Will it be hard? Exceedingly. And we should not expect it to be painless. But it will be well worth the trial.
Whatever the fifth wave of feminism is—it needs to be united with the men’s movement and the men’s movement needs to be united with it. If they cannot come together, then we will only continue to make matters worse.
So Where Do We Go from Here?
How do we cultivate a more loving conversation on sex and gender issues? How can we work to include all voices in this conversation, not just the voices of those who look like us or agree with us? Again, I don’t have all the right answers, but here is what I would like to suggest.
- Those of us who do not like feminism need to study feminism—not by watching YouTube videos, or by trusting the news to give an accurate representation of feminist beliefs, or by reading articles by anti-feminists, but by reading the great feminists throughout history. You can start with Mary Wollstonecraft and Betty Friedan.
- Those of us who do not like the men’s movement need to study the men’s movement—not by focusing on the few bad apples who use satire as their primary method of communication, or by trusting the news to give an accurate representation of MRA beliefs, or by reading articles by anti-MRAs, but by engaging with the great men’s advocates of our day. You can start by watching The Red Pill (2016) and reading Warren Farrell’s The Boy Crisis.
- We need to refuse all hostile and non-conversational methods of communication—especially satire.
- We need to listen to and esteem the viewpoints of those who are different from us. We need to expand our circle of friends so that it includes those who disagree with us—even on fundamentals.
- We need to dig deeper into how race, class, disability, sexual orientation, et cetera intersect with the issues in these articles. For example, some of the things I didn’t touch on include how LGBTQ men typically get abused a lot more than straight cis men, how those with disabilities are less able to defend themselves and are even more marginalized, and how the number-one targeted group for sex trafficking are orphans who never get adopted.
- The Church needs to join this conversation, take it seriously and be a beacon of love within it—rather than making fun of it every time we get the chance.
- We need—above all else—to look to Jesus, who has all the answers, and who is our only hope. We need to invite him into the conversation and treat his word as final—even if we don’t like it.
With that… Let the conversation begin.