Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too

…here is Part 2.

You saw in my last post that, “Women Hurt Women, Too.”

Patriarchy hurts men, too. It hurts men because it self-perpetuates. Even women become willing participants in patriarchy. Even women ignore other women’s struggles; even women use #notallmen on their tweets. And a self-perpetuating patriarchy does not give men much room to be their true selves; it punishes men for opposing it.

This is going to be a rather dense post, so here are the bullet points you can discuss on your Facebook walls in lieu of actually reading the whole thing:

  • Patriarchy is a system that, by its own (sloppy yet powerful*) “design,” holds itself together and pops up everywhere
  • Men are hurt by patriarchy, too
  • Patriarchy punishes men who want to be “different”
  • The fact that Patriarchy exists means that women have (valid) reasons to be distrustful of men, for their own safety. For a well written, male perspective on this, I recommend the “Women are Defensive (With Good Reason)” section of Pepper’s larger essay (which, though it is about nonmonogamy, is useful in general)
  • This distrust hurts men (especially those who are sexually interested in women), too. Men have a crisis of identity, because they are told they could be “accidental rapists” and, like, no one wants to be that
  • The Patriarchy protects subtle, hurtful behaviors such that they are supposedly invisible even to the men that do the hurtful behaviors. This hurts men, because men can begin to believe that they can’t trust themselves.
  • Part of the solution is to banish these hurtful behaviors from the shadows. One of the ways to do that is to, as men, call out other men you see doing hurtful, Patriarchy-supporting behaviors.
  • If it is not obvious to you what these behaviors are, spend more time listening to women and to feminists who have spent a lot of time experiencing / thinking about these behaviors

*Sloppy Yet Powerful is my new band name.

Liberal media is talked about like it’s a monolith, a fucking machine or a conspiracy meant to control our brains. Regardless if that is true (and I have my suspicions — a little cog named Jenji Kohan got me fantasizing about conjugal visits with particular jumpsuit-wearing actresses), there’s another monolith that controls our interactions as if by invisible gears — actually, it mostly uses social scripts — and that is Patriarchy. For the benefit of my readers that might not throw around the word “scripts” like I do, they’re not just the things Laura Prepon memorizes for her job. Social scripts are those little memorized stories that tell us what to do when we have to interact with other human beings.

Social scripts tell us that when we love someone, we kiss them, and that when we really love someone, we marry them. They tell us that when someone is being a nerd, and it makes you uncomfortable, you laugh at them. They get rewritten so that nerds can be geeks, and some geeks are cool, and if you aren’t a big enough geek, maybe you’re not cool.  Social scripts are passed down to us from our parents and grandparents and/or other guardians. They play out in our favorite TV shows, and movies, and the movies we hate but we watch anyway because they’re on TV and the remote is too far away.

“Alternative” scripts are shot down, demeaned, framed as a waste of time, and, worst and most frequently of all, not imagined in the first place. Ordinary men are Patriarchy’s unconscious deliverers, because without help, ordinary people cannot imagine their own scripts. Ordinary men aren’t told any other way to be, and are seduced by the charm of stories whose outcomes they know. Any impulse to be otherwise, to be “different,” is squashed, leaving men the apparent choice of a hyper-masculine bravado (and its spoils) or an empty valley (some people call this the “friendzone”). This personality crisis hurts, too.

This is how men do not realize that #yesallwomen experience discomfort at the hands of men. The monolith of patriarchy makes a smokescreen for men like Pan to exist in the “benefit of the doubt” arena where their behaviors are seen as “normal” and not “fucking creepy.” Because it’s “normal” for guys to “sweep women off their feet,” or “seize women in a passionate kiss” — I saw it in all the movies, ever. And it’s “normal” for women to want these things, because princesses.

(Update: when a friend told Pan that “Blotted” was too fucked up and should be left alone, Pan said we are adults and she could make her own decisions. Either he has no idea about “too intoxicated to consent” or he’s using a facade of ignorance to do whatever he wants.)

Patriarchy hurts men too in that it allows these subtle aggressions to live unchallenged. That is: any man can expect that sometimes (or often) his transgressions will be invisible. Predators abuse this system; average men bumble into predatory territory because these walls are kept hidden from them. I have male friends who tell me they worry so much that they could be like the man in the “I Need a Man” story — that someday women could earnestly tell these stories about them.

Part of me is baffled, because my friends are good men, and how could they see themselves that way? Part of me knows that even my most consent-obsessed friends have moments of blindness, where they make other people uncomfortable because they take their sexual agency for granted. The world tells them it is thus, and how can they escape it?

I have a friend that was falsely accused of rape. First, the criminal justice system intervened and found him not guilty. Then, quite some time later, administrators in his college found out about the case and decided to conduct their own investigation and protective measures. This is how his entire campus found out. The administrators’ actions make sense in a lot of ways – they know how ineffective the so-called justice system can be and need to protect their students.

What is most painful for my friend is not the repeat “trial,” though it is stressful and hard and depressing, but the reactions of people he thought knew him better than to mistrust him. That his “friends” are quite capable of seeing him as “the enemy” now, when they happily fell asleep next to him on couches or walked arm-in-arm with him before. Now they are swatting his hands away not just from themselves but from others. I am sure he has even had moments where he asked himself what has he done, no truly, what has he done to deserve this?

Guys, the impulse to fear that you could accidentally be a predator is the right one. The system protects predators, makes excuses for their transgressions. The system will make excuses for your transgressions. It will tell you that you were too drunk, too overcome with testosterone, just trying to be friendly, just trying to have fun, just teasing a little, that girls like bad boys, or strong boys, or confident ones, that nice guys finish last. This same system means there is no easy distinction between rapists and men like you. As long as predators are allowed to lurk in the shadows, the women who have lived in fear of the shadows will see you in them. It is their right to be afraid, lest the shadows devour them.

Proclaiming “Not All Men” is not the answer. Women know not all men are like this, in fact a lot of heterosexual women look forward to the fact that not all men are like this and they might fall in love with one (or more) of them. Yet, for her own safety a woman has to assume the potential for any man to hurt her. She knows that other men and even other women will count her the most responsible for her own safety, rather than protect her from or blame the predators. She should carry mace. She should stand up for herself. She should know better, shouldn’t expect better. The world shows her it is thus, and how can she escape it?

This is how patriarchy hurts men. It assumes everyone is a participant. It tears the ground right out from under them when they resist it. It creates shadows around all of us. The solution is to shine a big blaring spotlight into those shadows. To stop protecting the transgressions of others. I know (some of) you see yourselves in those shadows, are afraid of being called to stand trial for your bumblings. But when the excuses stop, the dark mirror will break, and you will see which pieces of yourself you need to throw away with the shards. I really hope you will.

If you are not sure how to shine this spotlight, stop and listen. There are people out there who can help direct this light. There are people who see the shadows when they close their eyes in fright. It is not their job to tell you, because they have a hard time knowing if you are made of shadows, too. It is merely your job to listen.

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Women Hurt Women, Too

Wow.

My last post blew this place up.

I had an overwhelming amount of support, attention, and even a little bit of criticism. I got many private messages saying “thank you,” from women who related to the story. I got a lot of comments in that vein. I also got a few comments from a woman who questioned my tactics, my beliefs, and my grasp on reality. She said she’d rather say something to someone in the moment than write a blog post about it. Sorry, I’m going to write a blog post about it.

This will be Part 1 of a two-part series.  TW: rape, racism.

Instead of breaking down the values and dangers of confrontation, I wanted to go into a realization I had the first time I found myself arguing against women on a matter of gender. That is, women hurt women too. Women protect patriarchy, too. I am seeing it now in the news, with the SCOTUS ruling. I am seeing women standing on the other side of the fence, joyous because to them it is their own victory, they have taken on the fears of reproductive health as their own, they’re saving babies or some shit. Not concerned at all about their own uteruses. Because they’re not sluts. Or something. Anyway.

I was so naive, once, to think other women would understand me by virtue of also being women.

Let me tell you the story.

It was February, Black History Month, 2010, at UCSD. The Black Student Union (BSU) was waiting on an answer for their demands. A party with a racist theme, and some of the things said in defense of this party, and a noose hung in the library, revealed the toxicity of the campus climate against black students. “The University is allowing the African-American students to be racially demoralized by a group of students on this campus,” the demands letter read. This becomes relevant, later.

I’d only been a student for about 1 year. I had joined one of my University’s largest Facebook groups, which mostly posted events. Occasionally, people posted internet articles and discussed them. I mostly did not participate, because I was busy being an art student and doing art student things (read: get fucked up and play Minecraft). One guy posted an article about how chivalry was seemingly dead.

People responded to the post, generally agreeing that chivalry was dying, and it was such a shame. The article stressed that it was women being ungrateful for chivalrous acts that was part of the problem, and why were they doing that? I saw an opportunity to help explain why a woman might feel uncomfortable with chivalry, and I gave personal examples and explained in a rather diplomatic way (or so I thought). I said that it is possible that women could be uncomfortable because they are afraid. That, for example, when I walk to my car alone at night, I put my keys between my knuckles like wolverine because society tells me I should be afraid I could be attacked. So if a guy runs to open my car door for me, I might be unsure of his motives. I may have also said men should pay attention to their surroundings and make sure they aren’t accidentally making women uncomfortable.

People’s responses to my comments stunned me. Two women, especially, picked me apart. I tried to defend my statements, but they told me I was stupid to be afraid. It’s difficult to remember anything but the most horrifying of the things that they said, and that was this: “If you’re so afraid, why don’t you go run to the BSU and use their ‘safe space,’ then? Or are you too afraid of the big black men?”

I deleted everything I wrote. I was humiliated and shaken. I did not expect this from women. I thought all of them knew the fear I sometimes carry with me. I thought all of them had at some time or another distrusted a man who seemed to have “chivalrous” intentions. I thought they would stand up for me, in light of all that has happened to our fellow women.

Just one year prior, a student walked alone to her car at 8:30pm. She was held down in the parking lot, between the cars, and raped.