Mocking masculinity isn’t mean, it’s purposeful (and fun!)

Image/Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train.
Image/Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train.

Cathy Young, darling of men’s rights activists and libertarian basement-dwellers across America, has boldly stood up, yet again, for the ever-pilloried male. “Feminism,” she claims, as though she knows or cares to know, “is about fighting for equality.” And how can we achieve equality while being so mean to men, Young wants to know?

She describes herself as an “individualist” and most of her Twitter fans appear to be angry gamers who remain obsessed with Anita Sarkeesian, so the fact that Young is unwilling to differentiate between what she calls personal attacks and criticism of socialized behaviour is unsurprising. Of course, the result of this is that her attempts to claim that feminists are cruelly picking on individual men based on “the way they talk, the way they approach relationships, even the way they sit on public transit” miss the whole point.

Feminist arguments, with regard to “the way men talk,” are about the way in which men dominate conversations, interrupt, and explain things to women that women already know because men are the experts on absolutely everything (also known as “mansplaining”). This is a socialized behaviour rooted in entitlement and male supremacy. Men are used to being listened to and taken seriously, and have not, like women, been socialized to take up as little space as possible or been sent the message, throughout their lives, that women and girls should be “seen but not heard.”

Not dissimilar, but even more serious, are feminist critiques of “the way [men] approach relationships.” I am doubtful Young will ever truly understand this, because she doesn’t actually believe that rape culture exists, despite the fact that women and girls are raped every single day and live in almost constant fear of sexual assault, but to pretend as though male socialization doesn’t have an all-encompassing impact on men’s relationships with women is nothing more than willful ignorance. I mean, one only has to look at something as basic as dating rituals and our society’s understanding of “romance” to see the way in which men are expected to and often voluntarily take on the dominant role in heterosexual relationships. Men are the ones who do the chasing, women are the chased. Bros try to “get some,” while women are expected to take on full responsibility for preventing themselves from being raped or otherwise coerced into sex. If they fail at this, they are “sluts” or they are actually (OOPS) sexually assaulted, but not believed because they didn’t fight back hard enough, were too flirtatious, sent mixed signals, wore too-tight leggings, danced with their future rapist, etc.

Beyond that, “the way [men] approach relationships” includes domestic violence, something that is undeniably a gendered phenomenon. There are scores of other examples we can look towards, including a persisting uneven split in terms of who does domestic chores in relationships, who is expected to provide sexual pleasure to whom, and who births and raises children, but I’d say looking at who is raping and abusing whom, in heterosexual relationships, is a good place to start.

“Men who gripe about their ex-girlfriends and advise other men to avoid relationships with women are generally relegated to the seedy underbelly of the Internet” because if you’ve ever been an abusive relationship, you know all too well the garbage these men spew about their ex-partners after they to manage to escape. Somehow, mysteriously, all women become “crazy,” “needy,” “jealous,” and, in fact, abusive themselves, after they leave abusive men. If this were mere coincidence, it wouldn’t happen every goddamned time. I dare you to go talk to a man who abused his female partner — listen to how he describes her. The way men speak about their ex-wives and ex-girlfriends is a red flag… Unless Young truly believes that all victims of abuse are psychotic women, which I actually wouldn’t put past her.

Finally, Young laments the cruel treatment men are subjected to due to “the way they sit on public transit.” Now, I can’t be certain Young has ever been on public transit before — I can’t even be certain she leaves the house — but I have been taking the bus almost daily for the vast majority of my life. “The way [men] sit on public transit” is representative of the way they move about in the rest of the world: they take up space. They spread out, unapologetically, because, 1) as I mentioned earlier, they have not been socialized to believe it is polite to take up as little space as they possibly can; 2) they aren’t worried about offending those around them with all the extra space they are taking up because, hey, they deserve that space; and 3) they all have enormous penises and need everyone around them to be aware of the fact that their penises are so incredibly large that they need two seats in order for their gigantic penises (And balls! Lest we forget…) to feel comfortable on public transit.

While, for all of these examples, there are surely exceptions, it would be irrational to pretend as though gendered socialization doesn’t teach men a sense of entitlement to the world around them — to space and to women. The entire basis for masculinity is dominance, whereas the basis for femininity is passivity.

What Young’s claim that this “gender antagonism does nothing to advance the unfinished business of equality” tells us is only that our MRA shero does not actually believe socialization is a thing. What she calls “male-bashing” is, in fact, “feminist analysis rooted in an honest understanding of how societies, systems of power, and gender actually work, under patriarchy.” If she doesn’t believe patriarchy or socialization actually exists, she should just say so rather than pretending she cares about the feminist project. I mean, the fact that she believes feminists care what MRAs think about our movement is laughable in and of itself, but what’s even more amusing is that she pretends that she understands, but is simply critical, of our movement.

“To some extent,” Young writes, “the challenge to men and male power has always been inherent in feminism.” Lol. Lol forever. To some extent, Cath, feminism has always and only been a challenge to male power, in all its forms. You may see this as a “troubling” reality, but that doesn’t mean your attempt at a re-write is going to fly with anyone beyond your dreaming-of-a-neckbeard fanboys.

Yes, the personal is political, but the ongoing criticisms of male behaviour do not equate to personalized “misandry” any more than criticisms of corporate power equate to an irrational hatred of white men who just happen to be very, very rich at the expense of pretty much everyone else.

Beyond that, mocking men and men’s socialized behaviour is something that actually makes having to live with the everyday violence and supremacy of men tolerable. We joke so that we don’t lose our shit every time we have to balance half a butt cheek on a seat because otherwise we’ll be sitting in some dude’s lap on the bus.

It seems Young’s greatest fear is not, in fact, that “equality” won’t be achieved because women are just so mean to the group of people who have subjected them to violence and oppression for centuries now, but that, in fact, the righteousness of manhood might dissolve. Trying to pressure feminists into softening their response to masculinity will always prove to be fruitless because, as feminists, we have nothing to prove to men — this movement is not for them.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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