Sexist Beatdown: Manly Masculine Male Edition
A couple of guys just hangin' out.
Two important developments in the World of Men this week:
1. A group of scholars, led by a man with the almost suspiciously masculine name of Lionel Tiger, established a new discipline of gender studies: Male Studies. Male Studies differs from the already existing discipline of Men's Studies in that it is devoted to studying the "male as male," as opposed to the "male as Easter Bunny" or whatever Men's Studies is passing off as scholarly research nowadays. Also, Male Studies really fucking resents Women's Studies. Cage match, anyone?
2. Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown, the preeminent scholar in the field of Lady Business Studies, invited some men to talk about their experiences for once. Sady's Visions of Manliness series (see A, B, and C) has addressed stuff like the simultaneous marginalization and privilege of trans men, ironically homophobic sports blogging, and how deeply Valentine's Day truly blows. Strangely, none of the posts are about how feminists have stolen their male identity, trampled upon their masculine phenomenon, and overall been super mean. In other words, this is total Men's Studies shit.
In this edition of Sexist Beatdown, Sady and I YELL ABOUT THESE THINGS AND ALSO bell hooks SO JOIN US!
SADY: hello, Fellow Lady Person!
AMANDA: Why hello! I am prepared to speak about the experiences of . . . Men People.
SADY: About which I know, I will tell you, not a whole lot! Like, I have known Men People throughout my lifetime. Sometimes in the sense that they are related to me! Or friends! Or I have known them BIBLICALLY! But also, like, pursuant to the Liz Lemonism critique of Times Past, I feel like I am privileged in 99% of the ways that people can be privileged on this our planet Earth. And it frustrates me — and has been a schism in The Feminist History — that, as a lady who is so very fucking privileged, I'm allowed to concentrate so much on my own Oppression By The Man and not notice that some of The Men are going through their own bullshit.
AMANDA: Right. In the Oppression Olympics, I would not qualify for the finals. I would be disqualified in the first heat. I also am really no good with sports metaphors!
SADY: Well, The Man has staked his claim in those. BASICALLY WE NEED TO TAKE THE QUARTERBACK OF DISCOURSE TO THE GOAL NET OF DISCUSSION TO SCORE A HOME RUN HAT TRICK OF ANTI-OPPRESSION THEORY! Is my understanding.
AMANDA: I plan on blaming all of my deficiencies in forming metaphors, drawing conclusions, and overall making sense on my Oppression today. For the record.
SADY: I intuitively understand you, due to my woman's intuition. But, like, this is a long-standing Beef within the feminist community, in fact. Like, bell hooks covered it along with approximately everybody else.
AMANDA: Yeah, I mean, a distinction must be made between men and The Man.
SADY: Right. We oversimplify. And a ton of feminists have needed to clarify that "when we say 'men,' we mean the Platonic ideal of 'men!' The way 'men' are encouraged to behave and act and such!" And as a person who types the words 'dudes' and 'men' a lot, I am sympathetic. Because we DO need a word to denote all that junk. But, to revisit bell hooks for JUST A SECOND, here is how that works out in practice: Some white feminist ladies walk up to some ladies of color, and are like "join the cause, sister!" And the ladies of color are like, "sure, I've experienced sexism, let's go. On the way, can we talk about how you white ladies are enacting some bullshit that hurts me and also the men in my community?" And then the white ladies are like, "YOU ARE SO MALE-IDENTIFIED. WHY CAN'T YOU JOIN OUR GLORIOUS SISTERHOOD AND IDENTIFY AS A WOMAN FIRST."
AMANDA: Allow me to flip that dynamic around for a second, as I think the distinction between "Men's Studies" and the totally brand new discipline of "Male Studies" helps to illustrate that point. So, "Male Studies" just had its first conference on Wednesday, to declare "Male Studies" a thing, even though "Men's Studies" already exists and is welcoming of all who study men and masculinity. And the reason "Male Studies" has decided to branch off from "Men's Studies" is that Men's studies thinks too much about Women's Studies.
SADY: Oh, dear.
AMANDA: When there is just no reason to segregate these two studies, of course.
SADY: Well, unless you want to teach an entire seminar on barbecue grilling!
AMANDA: And I think feminism suffers from the impulse to segregate the experiences of people and treat our cultural systems (patriarchy, masculinity, femininity, race, class) as separate fields, and I think my work often suffers from that distinction, actually.
SADY: Well, I mean, to be honest, mine does, too. Mostly due to my vast narcissism, and the fact that I write mostly about my own experiences!
SADY: You could run over my foot with a shopping cart at the Costco, and I'd write this very ideological post that was like, "SHOPPING CART PRIVILEGE: Does It Lead You To Run Over My Foot, and Are You A Monster? Yes."
AMANDA: But it's a very tricky thing to attempt to write about the experiences of others, and that's why your masculinity series is so great! TIGER BEATDOWN PLUG!
SADY: Which is why I try to bring other people into the discussion.
AMANDA: But what about, in addition to bringing in these voices, also writing about issues that don't directly affect us and which we can't talk about from personal experience? I think it's important to do that too, but I think it's a lot trickier.
SADY: Right. And also, you have to be open to getting yelled at! Is my experience!
SADY: Because there's a big difference between "speaking about these things that do not affect me directly" and "speaking FOR these people who are having these experiences because I am A GENIUS and get your experience way better than you do." But, like, it is easy to cross the line?
AMANDA: Yeah. It is. And that's where the productive yelling comes in.
SADY: So you have to be a good listener, ESPECIALLY when people are yelling.
AMANDA: But, so, then I also sometimes get yelled at if I write about how something affects men? I get the "O but what about the menz!!!!!" comments. I don't know why it's written like an Internet cat is saying it, but it is. Even though I write about women a whole lot!
SADY: They are all basically internet cats, those dudes, though. Like, if you write a post about Vajazzling, to use a totally fictional example, and people are like, "did you know some dudes get CIRCUMSIZED??? Monstrous! Your vagina post has inspired me to talk about the ill fates of penises, instead, and at length!' Like, at a certain point, the "WHAT ABOUT ME" posts from dudes are just blatantly obnoxious, and blatantly intended to keep women from writing about their OWN experiences of manliness, ill or well.
AMANDA: Yeah. I have a good friend who is hurt that I don't write on the expectations on men to move furniture for girls.
SADY: OH MY GOD. OPPRESSION! I too am disappointed that you have not covered this topic Amanda! Also: Being asked to open pickle jars. WORSE THAN DEATH???
AMANDA: Well I'm waiting to roll out my big investigative series. On the possible lingering lower back problems.
SADY: "Once I Had To Carry Your Books Up Some Stairs: A Post About Traumatic Experiences, By A Dude."
AMANDA: But, I write about a lot of really minor shit that women are expected to do and about how these very little things are reminders of society's expectations of men and women. And a lot of times men get really pissed when I do that, too! For it is annoying to be forced to think about.
SADY: Right. I mean, here's the thing: I'm a lady who gets called out on my privilege. A lot. As I see it, my job description is: Write about lady stuff, try to remember not all ladies have exactly the same life as I do, listen when ladies with different lives are like "uh, you missed something." So the plague of dudes on the Internet who are like, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN LADIES EXPERIENCE THINGS DIFFERENTLY THAN I DO, SOMETIMES NOT WELL?!???!" Like: I try to listen to people EVERY SINGLE DAY, dude, and I haven't actually had an aneurysm and died yet, so maybe it's not actually that fucking hard. You know? The Internet is not a thousand little knives stabbing you in the face. The Internet is some people talking. In conclusion, calm down.
AMANDA: Yeah. And that's when things get tough, for me, when we start talking about the experiences of men like that. Because it's so obvious how our culture is constructed to make guys like that never have to—and to actually avoid—listening to a woman's experience, just as it's constructed to help white people avoid listening to anyone else, and straight people, and cis people, &c.
SADY: Yeah. But then you have things like "Male Studies," where "The male as male will be permitted to appear in all his complexity as new values are being forged and traditional values that have proven the test of time are affirmed."
SADY: And I get the feeling those traditional values that have proven the test of time kind of involve OPPRESSING THE VAST MAJORITY OF MALES???
AMANDA: Yes. And that traditional man has always been permitted to appear. It's all the other men who haven't. But Male Studies cuts them out of the picture when it devotes itself to "males as males," as if we're only talking about one very clearly defined and biologically determined type of person.
SADY: Right. Because "the male as male" means cisgendered. It means straight. It means white. It means, like, a lot of shit! Actually! As it is commonly employed! Everybody else, if they can even get recognized as dudes, is treated in the discourse as, "well, okay, you're a dude. But a SUBSET of dude. We have trouble imagining you as a character on 'Mad Men,' so, like, clearly you're not a part of the glorious history of The Male As Male to the same extent." But here's the thing. The ominous thing that I always phrase in a manner that brings to mind, like, the James Cameron movie 'Aliens.'
SADY: All of those dudes excluded from the discourse of Traditional Old-Fashioned-Swilling Wife-Cheating-On Empowered Non-Chest-Waxing Masculinity? And all of the ladies? Add it up. THERE ARE MORE OF US than there are of anyone else. Which is why we need to start fucking talking to each other more.
AMANDA: This reminds me more of that Beyonce song than Aliens, but I see what you're getting at.
SADY: Like, if we start looking at "masculinity" as this very exclusive concept that has all of these other concepts and privileges packed into it, then we get to my I Went To Liberal Arts College And Have Simplistic Ideas Place where, like... we can create a discourse without you, substantially, Ultimately Privileged People. If we can get over our own bullshit and have each others' backs, we can do a lot. And maybe this conversation needs to take place on THOSE terms. Provided you're okay with getting yelled at when you fuck it up. Also, I have had three beers, because it's hot. THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE SOBER!
AMANDA: NO IT WILL NOT. And I will fight to the death for men to gain the right to drink as much as women do without being labeled irresponsible sluts who deserve whatever is coming to them.
SADY: Yes! Also, that person who ran over my foot in the Costco: A MONSTER. I think we need to centralize this issue. Because that hurt.
Photo via George Eastman House