I used to think politics was stupid. Everyone has an opinion and we all just go around annoying each other with it. The arguments we have in our families, between friends, between countries, in real life and online -they just go around and around with little positive change, seemingly, being achieved. Of course I had my own beliefs, but I preferred to avoid confrontation, to keep these thoughts to myself. I validated this path of least resistance by focusing on philosophy and personal growth, my mantra has always been “change yourself before you change the world”.
But recently I had a change of heart. I came to the realisation that it’s only because of the privilege I enjoy as non-oppressed person, that I can choose to not think about issues like race, gender and sexuality. And from this realisation I made a decision. That I would start contributing to these discussions.
Why ‘Men’s Responsibilities’?
While I identify myself as a feminist, as a white, cis, straight man I really haven’t experienced the oppression that feminism is addressing. So apart from listening and learning, my contribution to the feminist cause, I believe, should be in talking to other men and contributing to a discussion on what it means to be a man and how men could relate to themselves and the world in a way that’s healthier than current popular notions of masculinity allow. There’s already discussion about ideas around mens rights. What I think we need to talk more about are men’s responsibilities.
As a man, what can I do to better understand my own thoughts and feelings? What are my ingrained attitudes about sex and gender? How do I live my life in a way that I’m thinking about the experience of other people? What can I do to help create less violence, ignorance and oppression in the world?
Why write about this?
Like I said above, for a long time I shied away from writing or talking about any of these issues. My fear was that I wasn’t going to achieve anything by speaking out. I also feared that by talking about social justice issues I was going to annoy friends or come into conflict with family members.
I was worried other men would think I was pretending to care about these issues to get some sort of admiration from women. I basically had a lot of thoughts about how engaging in this discussion would embarrass me or in some way make me uncomfortable. Part of the change of heart I had recently was realising that apart from the safety afforded me by my privilege, I’m also in a good place psychologically. Probably the best I’ve ever been in. I’m not saying I’m some sort of perfect, enlightened person. Just that I feel a solid sense of my self and my values, and I feel more able to navigate conflicts with friends and family members (and strangers).
I also believe this is something I should be talking about, because in my own life, I’ve found self-examination and discussions around how to deal with thoughts and feelings very helpful. I have a background of quite severe mental health problems when I was younger, and through my recovery process have been lucky enough to have a lot of therapy. I’ve also been exposed to a lot of Buddhist teachings (mainly around mindfulness, kindness and understanding the mind) and Buddhist practise (meditation). This experience has been very helpful for me, and I believe that western societies don’t put enough of an emphasis on education around emotional intelligence. I think this is especially the case for men. So by writing and talking regularly about my experience as a man and ideas I have around non-toxic masculinity I hope I can, in some small way, help contribute to a greater discussion about men in society, and specifically – men’s responsibilities.
Since deciding to engage more with other men, I’ve been doing a lot of replying to people in Facebook comments. There’s been some interesting (some awful) discussions and I feel like a lot of important issues were touched on. Here’s some of the conversations I’ve engaged in over the past couple of weeks. If any men out there want to talk about any of this please don’t hesitate to comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if any people who aren’t men have any suggestions or ideas around these issues, or anything else to say, please also don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Why is it okay for a woman to say “all men are fucked” but not okay for a man to insult women?
Man on Facebook: “Uh, one guy cat calls you, and “men are fucked”?!? Like, all of us? Well maybe I am fucked, but not by girls with your attitude, for which I am grateful.”
I don’t cat call women either. But that doesn’t mean I’m a perfect guy who’s never talked-over, creeped on or made a girl uncomfortable, even by accident. It’s not about you and me as individuals man. It’s about a collective experience that a lot of people have had where the common denominator is the behaviour of men.
And sometimes it’s about us as individuals as well. We’re all flawed, and as men we’ve grown up in cultures that encourage certain unequal power dynamics and social structures that often makes it easy for a lot of men to really not be aware of the way their own normalised behaviours effects women (and other people as well).
My point is, it’s easy to say “I’m a good guy” but honestly I don’t think it’s that black and white. I don’ t think you’re “a bad guy” either. You’re a real, complex, flawed, also possibly great person. Just like every woman that get’s cat called on the street is.
Listening to women’s anger about the way men have acted towards them doesn’t require you to walk around hating yourself constantly. But it might make you more aware of your own behaviour. And if you really are a perfect guy then maybe you can help out spreading awareness to other men. At the very least, just not reacting defensively and telling women that they shouldn’t feel what they feel would be an act of bigness of heart that could help, in a tiny way, make the world a better place.
If you can open up your heart you can develop a strength that is big enough to sit with that discomfort of being called out, or just being part of the group of people that someone is angry at, and if you can deal with that without reacting defensively, you can then learn from other people, and get some insight into other people’s experiences.
And that will allow you to develop compassion. And that can be the start of engaging much more fully with other people and with yourself and with the world.
Man on Facebook: There are plenty of guys out there whose behaviour is less than stellar, and certainly nobody is perfect, but taking bad behaviour by an individual, and then using one individual’s behaviour to demonize the rest of the gender is too much. It opens the door to unreasoned prejudice. Hating the behaviour is fair, but extending the hatred to all men, is narrow minded, even stupid. It is as bad as lumping any other group into the behaviour of a few its individuals, it colours the way we treat each other, and creates resentment, on both sides, that makes the problem worse.
I hear what you’re saying. And I know that it seems to make sense that a women saying “all men are fucked” is the same as a man saying “all women are bitches”, but that perspective fails to take into account existing power dynamics.
It’s the same reason why a person of colour insulting a white person based on their skin colour is not ‘reverse-racism’. Sure you might be offended if a black person says “all white people are pigs”, but you still won’t have to live their experience of being discriminated against, experiencing police brutality at a much higher rate, shorter life expectancy etc. While you can say – that anti-white insult is just the same as that anti-black insult, you’re not taking into account the whole, huge context around the racial experience. So while the white person may have just heard an insult that hurts their feelings, the racial slur aimed at the black person taps into a long history of oppression and violence – the KKK, slavery etc. No matter how insulted we are as white people, our safety isn’t diminished.
The same goes for men and women. Of course as a general rule it makes sense not to blame a group of people for the actions of one individual. But for the woman in the video, I can guarantee you she is reacting to the latest in a long series of regular events where men make her feel uncomfortable, harass her or in some way use their privilege and power to push themselves into her space.
Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year. (Source: The Australia Institute – http://www.tai.org.au/content/everyday-sexism). Being cat-called is a very regular experience for a lot of women. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Violence against women is a huge problem in Australia. On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. (Source: Australian Institute of Criminology – http://www.aic.gov.au/…/current…/mr/21-40/mr23.html) so when a woman says “all men are fucked” it’s not a case of her experiencing one relatively minor case of shitty behaviour and then irrationally claiming that every single man in the world including you is terrible. It’s a response to a very large number of men, over a long period of time displaying shitty behaviour.
You know how it’s okay for people to write mean, satirical cartoons about presidents and prime ministers etc. We don’t think that’s out of line – because the presidents and prime ministers have much, much more power than the people writing the cartoons. So it’s understood that for the common man to say “fuck politicians” is relatively harmless because those politicians are doing just fine. They’re not scraping by on food stamps. The politicians have enough power, money and privilege that the insults of the poor person aren’t going to hurt them. If a powerful politician was to turn around and say “fuck poor people” it would be a lot less cool. Because the politician already IS fucking poor people.
Women can say “men are fucked” as much as they want and it’s not going to suddenly create an epidemic if sexual violence from women against men. It doesn’t touch on the raw nerve of a long history of men not having autonomy over their own body or men not being able to vote. In other words, we as men are still going to be doing just fine. That’s why it’s totally different to say “all women are fucked” because that plays into an attitude that already exists which directly contributes to the harassment, abuse, rape and murder of women, every. Single. Day.
What’s so bad about rape jokes? Feminists don’t have a sense of humour
Man on Facebook: “I’m sick of political correctness. Let’s just go back to being free to do and say what we want. Let’s have freedom.”
Your ‘freedom’ to minimise and laugh at rape jokes dismisses and re-inforces the actual real suffering of countless other human beings and contributes to people experiencing a great-deal of not-freedom.
Your freedom to laugh at a rape joke helps to normalise and enable rape-culture. This directly curtails the freedom of millions of women to feel and be safe in their daily lives.
I’m a massive comedy nerd. I listen to and watch stand up constantly. I even love dark and shocking comedy. But you know what? there’s plenty of darkness in ourselves, plenty of horror and humour in the universal human predicament. We don’t need to laugh at the expense of rape victims. It’s not a ‘sacred cow’. It’s just basic human decency.
If women can’t handle the mosh pit, they should get out
Man on Facebook: “I think if people are uncomfortable or cant handle shoving, get out of there seriously! The mosh is a friendly place if u look out for each other! It’s only dangerous if you don’t do your bit!”
A different man on Facebook: “This is talking about the knobs who wanna ruin everyone else’s fun”
“First man again: “Yeh like the girls that have a go at you for squashing them Involuntarily…or when your trying to get to the proper ‘mosh’ and circle pits and people try stop ya and shove ya from getting past….i’d call that ruining peoples fun!”
I’m a big guy and I often accidentally step on or bump into people in the crowd. It’s natural to be briefly annoyed if someone bigger than you pushes you out of the way or really gets in your space. So sometimes I get an annoyed look or a comment. It’s not the end of the world. often just saying sorry and giving someone a smile can help diffuse those little moments of tension.
Obviously a mosh is a very crowded space where you’re squeezed together with a whole bunch of other people, so by definition your personal space is going to be limited. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. You look like a decent sized guy from your profile picture. I’m a pretty tall guy too (fatter than you also by the look of things). I think as big guys, who take up more space and maybe are more able to hold our ground in a mosh, it’s our responsibility to be aware of the people around us and make an effort to make sure smaller people don’t get crushed. Sure, you’re still all smushed up together and covered in each other’s sweat, but that doesn’t mean you have to elbow other people in the head, or embrace an ‘every man and woman for themselves’ attitude.
Also there’s a big difference between people being annoyed at you because you’re trying to push past them in the crowd and people drunkenly molesting women, screaming abuse at people and physically assaulting others. It’s the latter issue – abuse as opposed to inconvenience – that this article is addressing.
Why does everyone have to label themselves with a weird gender or different kind of sexuality these days?
Man on Facebook: “Why all the labels? We’re all just people. Why do you want to be special and stand out by giving yourself a label.
My partner has had these feelings and almost identified as “demisexual” or “greysexual”
with a bit of research she found it was created by the internet and has no basis in science
i am aware feeling like this is a thing, and I can fully sympathise with feeling that way, but no i will never understand why you feel the need to categorise sexual attraction when its not even possible. There are too many variables involved
Scientists have been a lot more reliable than people so far
Science sees no need to categorise sexual attraction into 1000 sub genres when it all comes down to; everyone’s different and has different sexual desires
the only reason the label is there is to either make people more identifiable and easier to explain to others, or so they can feel special, I don’t see any academic need for it.
and feelings don’t count”
I think feelings count. Science is wonderful, integral, core to all of our lives. But we all live with our feelings and other people’s feelings every day of our lives. It’d make life easier if feelings didn’t count. If we could just disregard them. But the reality is we’re all flawed, we’re unpredictable, we’re human. You can ignore feelings if you want to but you’re going to have a hard time relating to other people (or yourself for that matter) if you do.
I also want to say that I understand the sentiment you expressed in your first comment. I’ve had thoughts like that too. I used to think about different friends of mine who identify with different genders and sexualities and really analyse what they were saying and matching that up with my understanding of how the world works and how they were acting as people. I was coming from quite a judgemental place. Not in the sense of always being negative, but in the true meaning of the word, my thinking was focused on making judgements – is this person’s position valid, what are they motivated by, is what they think true etc.
While I think judgement – especially learning to cultivate good judgement when making choices in your own life – can be a really useful skill to develop, it can also be very unhelpful and hurtful when aimed at other people. Forming judgements can help us feel safer. It feels good to hold a clear idea of the world in our heads. It’s easier and comforting to decide who’s wrong and who’s right. It makes us feel like we’re standing on solid ground, like the universe make sense. But you know what, in the big scheme of things, there is no solid ground, we live in a vast, mysterious, unimaginably complex reality that even science will tell you, we know relatively little about. What’s much more important than knowing something, is the ability to bear the uncertainty of the unknown and remain playful and open while experiencing the sometimes difficult ambiguity of being human.
What I’m trying to say is, why does it matter to you or me if someone else identifies as demisexual or greysexual or any other kind of sexual. What matters is how you love people. I stopped analysing my friends and judging other people’s identification for that reason and also because I’m a straight, cis-gendered, white man. And as far as privilege goes, I’m right at the top of the tree. There’s a lot of suffering in the world and decent chunk of that is perpetuated by people like me with a lot of privilege failing to listen to or respect the voices, experiences and needs of people with less.
And also, on a more personal level , it’s made me a lot happier. It’s so much more interesting to be curious and interested in what’s going on around you, rather than being focused on deciding whether or not what you see is valid, when you move from judgement to curiosity a whole world of possibility opens up to you. And when you move to love, you connect with people, you learn more and you just feel better.
We don’t know each other, and I don’t think you’re stupid or bad for having questions and opinions. And I’m not trying to force things down your throat. I’m just sharing my perspective as someone who had similar thoughts to you in this context and now thinks about it differently.
Also, as another man, who also has a girlfriend. I know this is none of my business. And I know that sex in relationships can be very complex and is very personal, and different for everyone. But something I’ve learned is love isn’t just a feeling. It’s work. And if you want a good, long, happy relationship you need to be prepared to stretch yourself for the other person and listen to what they’re experiencing, even if it’s difficult. If your girlfriend is questioning her sexuality and is thinking about issues like this, proving here wrong with science isn’t going to make her feel supported. Being kind is so much more important than being right. Much love brother, good luck with everything!