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Sunday, June 22, 2014

About Teh Menz

So some crazy dude snapped and went on a violent rampage.  He shot and stabbed several people.  Four men were killed.  Two women were killed.  There were twice as many male deaths as female deaths.  And this incident sparked a ton of discussion about how horribly women have it in our society.  A discussion that exploded during the Memorial Day weekend.

But spreading the tales of women wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that when men tried to get their own issues involved in the discussion – not co-opt it but just get included – they were met with extreme backlash.  Feminists complained about men always stealing the spotlight, not letting women have their say, or equating the fear of being raped with the fear of being a creep.  They said that this was a time to talk exclusively about how sexism hurts women, and that men shouldn’t co-opt the conversation by telling the world how sexism hurts them too.

Now bear in mind that this was done on Memorial Day weekend in the US.  Now Memorial Day is traditionally about honoring our veterans and fallen soldiers.  Honoring those who have lost life and limb fighting to protect us.  Those who have been shot, stabbed, maimed, and undergone untold trauma for our safety.  The overwhelming majority of these people are men.  Memorial Day has traditionally been about honoring an overwhelmingly-male portion of our society for fulfilling their gender role in the most costly of ways.

This is the depths of hypocrisy that the modern feminist movement has sunk to.  On a day traditionally reserved for honoring our predominately male soldiers and veterans for sacrificing their health and safety and even their very lives, millions of feminists shared stories of how much sexism harms women around the world, and then attacked people who tried to get male victims included.  Male victims like those millions of dead male soldiers we were supposed to be honoring that day.  This coming from the movement that claims to be promoting equality!

Men suffer from sexism.  Even feminists are willing to admit that The Patriarchy Hurts Men TooTM.  But they don’t want to hear about it.  They don’t want to talk about it.  And they don’t want to spend any resources addressing it directly.  In fact, many of them won’t even call it sexism.  They insist on using a different label, so they can continue not addressing it.  It’s not a recognition of the problem.  It’s a dismissal of the problem.  It’s an “Okay, fine, you’re a victim too.  Now shut up so we can keep ignoring you.”

And before we go any further, I am not claiming that the sexism men suffer comes entirely or even predominately from feminism.  That’s a common MRA line and it’s as bogus as claiming that all of sexism stems from The Patriarchy.  Because men have suffered from sexism throughout human history.  Men have always been overrepresented amongst the slaughtered.  They were and still are the ones who die for their country, who die on the job, who die for the safety of women and children.  And feminism had nothing to do with that.  But it’s also doing a very shitty job of addressing it.

But even that wouldn’t be problematic if the feminist movement would just admit it.  But when feminism claims to be the gender-equality movement while simultaneously jumping through hoops to ignore the issues men face, when feminism insists that all talk of gendered issues must be done through a feminist lens, a lens whose very vocabulary is designed to sweep sexism against men under the rug, it puts itself in the way of genuine equality.  And that makes it something I have to fight.

So I made a comment on Facebook, complaining about the use of an event where men and women were both victims to launch a discussion that excluded male victims.  And while that got me a predictable amount of flame from my feminist acquaintances, there was one woman who was willing to say that yes, men are horribly underrepresented in this arena.  Kelly told me that she was willing to listen to the male-victim side of things, and to take it seriously.  Such an occurrence has literally been a twice-in-a-lifetime chance for me.  So I decided I had to jump on it.

So Kelly, I’m going to present the male side of things.  And I’m going to start by describing some of the sexism I’ve faced in my life.  It’s not the harshest out there – plenty of men have faced far worse sexism than me.  Hell, plenty of men have been outright killed by their gender roll.  But you asked for my experience, so I’m going to start there.  But in time I want to go further with this, to talk about the kinds of sexism I’ve seen but haven’t really experienced myself.  I want to talk about that sexism because often times it is the worst kind of sexism, and I really think it needs to be addressed.  And a big part of the problem is that the men who suffered most from sexism can’t tell you their story, because they’re dead.  But that’s a topic for another time.  For now, I’ll just stick to my own experiences.

-The big whammy for me, the thing that really pushed me away from modern “equality” movements, happened after my sophomore year of college.  I wanted to try my hand at a math internship, so I looked into REUs.  And the majority of the programs I found would not even look at my application.  I had the wrong color skin and the wrong reproductive organs.  In fact, the one program I did get into only accepted me because I managed to count as a “minority” by virtue of having a heart defect.  I hated that attitude.  I hated being a part of that system.  I hated the oppression olympics that was downright required before I was even allowed to compete.  That heart defect does nothing to make me a better mathematician.  It has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to perform mathematics research and it has no business being a requirement for the job (these were paid internships).  But my experiences with the program were even worse.  I was overwhelmingly one of the most qualified people in the program – by a substantial margin.  The discrepancy in GRE practice test scores was staggering, as was the discrepancy in presentation skills.  I was at the top of the curve, yet that program would not have so much as blinked my way had I not found a way to claim minority status.  Ability didn’t matter.  Job performance didn’t matter.  What mattered was skin color and reproductive organs.  You know, exactly the things we’re supposed to stop using to judge people.  It was blatant discrimination championed by people who claim to be fighting for equality.

-When I was in high school, I tried working one summer at Burger King.  Let’s just say that failed.  I can’t stand for hours on end and the job really tired me out way more than the pay was worth.  So I tried to find other work.  And of course the first thing people suggested was mowing lawns, helping family friends with renovations on their home, and all manner of other physical labor.  It’s one of those intersectionality things.  Having a heart defect is way different for a man, because the male role is far more physical.  So being a male meant everyone started suggesting jobs I really couldn’t do.  And while my sister had made some money babysitting over the years, nobody thought that was the kind of job I should be doing.

-I’m expected to earn my own money.  I’ve always been expected to earn my own money.  When I was in high school, my mom told me she wouldn’t be able to help me pay for college.  And I can understand a lack of resources.  Except she told me that she was putting herself through school, that she was helping my older sister through school, and that she was going to have to help my younger sister through school, and that was why I needed to pay my own way. 

-Getting nice clothes in high school was a pain in the ass.  My sisters owned multiple dresses and fancy shoes, and my parents had little trouble providing them.  But if I needed dress shoes to join my school’s academic team, or if I needed a new suit because my old one didn’t fit, it was like pulling teeth.

-My freshman year of college, the men were grouped together and given a talk that basically amounted to “If she’s drunk then it’s rape and you’ll go to jail.”  I asked the presenter what would happen if I was drunk too.  He said “It’s still you’re fault and you’ll still go to jail.”  This attitude is a big part of why I’m very uncomfortable with the bar scene.

-The fancy debate club at college once held a couple of panel discussions about sexism.  The discussion about men focused around men needing to do better and stop being so mean to women.  And the discussion about women focused around women needing us men to stop being so mean to them.

-In that discussion, I brought up the scenario of a drunk man having sex.  Is it rape?  What if they’re both drunk?  Did they just rape each other?  Several people replied by claiming that only someone who penetrates another person has committed rape, so even if he’s drunk she still didn’t rape him.  This only intensified my desire to never get drunk.

-This one’s kind of personal, but I tend to suffer adverse reactions from condoms.  The first girl I was sexually active with went on birth control, and there was a point in time where she missed a dose.  She told me, but I realized that if she hadn’t and she’d ended up pregnant, I would have had zero options after that point.  She could have gotten an abortion, or even put the kid up for adoption after birth.  But whether or not I got shackled with parental responsibilities would have been entirely up to her.

-Years later, a cousin of mine told me that some of her friends had outright lied about being on birth control in an attempt to trap their boyfriends with a pregnancy.  As a guy who doesn’t handle condoms well, that kind of thing is fucking terrifying.

-My cable provider always assumes I want the biggest sports package available.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s still annoying.

-The Women in Physics group at school hosted a dinner during my first year here.  The women were invited.  ONLY the women were invited.  We men were expected to do our own damn socializing.  The same group is starting up women-only teas soon, while we men are expected to provide our own damn snacks.

-Whenever I advocate for more women in male spaces, I’m championed.  But whenever I advocate for letting men into women’s spaces, I’m accused of sexism.

-I pay extra for car insurance.

-I’m not a very social person, and I find it especially hard (and boring) to socialize in an unstructured fashion with people I don’t already know.  Yet it’s still my job to take the initiative in starting a relationship.

-Because of the above, I’m a lot more likely to try and get to know a woman before feeling comfortable with asking her out.  So the newfound tirades against “friendzoned” men are pretty scary.  I don’t want to date a person I’m not already friends with, but now there’s this nasty insinuation that becoming friends first is some sort of deceptive ploy to get into her pants. 

-In college there were at least two women whom I later learned had crushes on me.  Both of these women were far more socially competent than I am.  Yet neither of them asked me out.  It was still my job to pick up on their subtle cues and then do the asking – even though they’re both better at reading body language than I am.

-One of the aforementioned women was the kind of person who flirts with everything that moves.  And that’s fine.  But it does make it super tricky to try and figure out whether she’s flirting with me in an I-flirt-with-everything-that-moves kind of way, or an I-really-like-you-please-ask-me-out kind of way.  So the whole situation was just WAY more suited for her to take the initiative.  But of course, that was still my job.

-When I graduated high school, a bunch of minor scholarships and awards were handed out at graduation.  There were several female-only scholarships without male-only counterparts, while every male-only scholarship had a mirrored female-only counterpart.  So I was literally deemed ineligible for a fair number of scholarships just because I was the wrong sex.

-There was a time in high school when I was sitting in study hall with a few friends, one of whom was female.  We somehow ended up discussing gender norms, and one of the boys insisted that if the girl hit him she wouldn’t get in trouble.  He eventually managed to convince the girl to test this, so she punched him in the shoulder.  When he told the teacher she’d punched him, the teacher told him to stop being a wuss.

-My dad once told me that he’d enjoyed doing nerdy things with me too, and that he wasn’t the least bit disappointed that sports had phased out of my life during high school.  And while I’d never suspected anything else, it did weird me out that he felt the need to say it.

-And in addition to all of the above, I spent more than a decade being too afraid to tell anyone that I was an atheist.  Yet several people insist that being a straight white male makes me incapable of understanding what it’s like to face discrimination and oppression.

So that's the most prominent of my experiences with sexism leveled against me - the stuff that pops into my mind the clearest.  It's not the worst the world has to offer, but it's what I've experienced.  Thanks for listening.


  1. You might get some flak about the whole decision with pregnancy thing. I mean, that's quite a touchy area. For example, if you and your partner get pregnant, and she wants to keep it and you don't, what happens then? Does her opinion trump yours because it is her body?

  2. I really appreciate your taking the time to write this, Zaq. You bring up a lot of really good points--some of which I have observed myself and some of which are new to me--so thank you. I’m writing this rather long response because I want to affirm your experience and share with you some of my own observations. As you know, it’s really difficult to have an open discussion on this topic, and I want to honor the fact that you were willing to speak by continuing the conversation.

    The expectation that men should take on physical labor tasks is a fantastic example of how sexism cuts both ways. Not only are you expected to participate in activities that would be bad for your health, women are almost never given the suggestion that they might help out by performing those selfsame tasks. A really ridiculous example from my mother: She was in a room with two men. One of the men needed help lifting something. The other man had his leg in a cast. Instead of asking my mother for help, the first man asked the visibly non-able-bodied man for assistance.

    The fight to be the most oppressed is one of my biggest pet peeves. After college, I went out to the west coast for a while, and I found myself in a community where the "I'm more oppressed than you" excuse was thrown around constantly. It fostered an environment where people who hadn't felt particularly oppressed were grasping at straws to find a way in which they, too, were oppressed. If you weren't obviously in a minority, what right did you have to speak? Could you even understand what it was like to suffer? Needless to say, this was not a healthy environment. People were encouraged to recognize their "brokenness" so that they would be able to start "healing" themselves. The last thing we should be telling victims and the oppressed is that they're broken. Worse still is when we encourage people who feel fine about their lives to seek out ways in which they’re actually broken too.

    I suggest we play a different game: In what way are you privileged? Because just as everyone suffers from some kind of oppression or discrimination, everyone is also privileged in some way. I'm privileged because I'm white, but I'm also privileged because I'm female. I can say and do things that would get a man run out of town on a rail. I'm privileged because I never went hungry; my parents loved me; I got to play outside without fear for my safety. Just like every other human being on the planet, I was born into both privilege and disadvantage.

  3. I seem to have run past my allowed number of characters... Here is the second half of what I wrote:

    Now, when I was in college, the Open Queer Alliance held a gay dance. There were accusations of discrimination--"How can you call yourself an Open Alliance if you're excluding straight people from your event?" The response from the group was, "We are not asking for special rights. Every other dance on campus is essentially a 'straight dance,' and we're tired of feeling uncomfortable when people stare at us when we dance with our same-sex partners." I think the same can be said of a Women in Physics group. Unfortunately, women are still outnumbered by men in the field of physics (though this may not be true at specific institutions). So most physics groups are by majority men's physics groups. The ideal--in fact the goal--is for all physics groups to be gender balanced and for people of all sexual orientations to feel comfortable at every school dance. But unfortunately this is not yet the case. I would compare the "gay dance" and the Women in Physics gatherings to straightening out a bent wire. You have to bend it past straight just a bit so that it will bounce back to the straight position. We don't need "Women in English" conferences because we've already gotten to the point of equality. But we still have a way to go for women in the sciences, so women-only groups are a way to reach equality by shooting past it with the hope that we bounce back to center. And when that happens, I hope we will no longer have women-only physics groups.

    The way we deal with rape negatively affects men. For one thing, we take good young men and scare the shit out of them. We tell them that they are monsters who can barely control their own bodies. We tell them that even if a woman consents to sex with them, if she wakes up the next day and regrets it, she can ruin their lives forever with a single word. This has got to be terrifying. You are in control of your own body, and for both men and women, the most basic rule of thumb should serve in most situations: Don’t have sex with someone for the first time when either of you is drunk. You’ll both enjoy it more when sober, and there’s a way smaller chance either of you will regret it in the morning. There. Done.

    Another really important issue concerning rape that affects men much more than women is that when a woman close to you (e.g. a sister, daughter, or wife) has been a victim of sexual assault, men often suffer a great deal with a feeling of guilt that they were not able to protect the woman. Even if they know it would have been impossible for them to help in any way, they feel they have failed as a brother, father, husband, or what-have-you. And the worst thing is, they feel guilty for feeling this because they weren’t the one who was raped, and they can’t talk about these feelings with anyone because most people would just come back at them with, “Well, it’s much worse for her, so don’t complain.”

    I’m really sorry to hear about the sexism in your family. When we don’t think about the role of gender in our society, we end up falling back on the old way of doing things and some weird double standards. The car insurance thing is bogus—I’m pretty sure there was just a study showing that male and female teens are just as likely to get in car accidents, but the insurance industry seems to make policies based on perception rather than statistical fact.

    Finally, atheists really are still the underdogs. You might be able to use that in a “who’s more oppressed” fight, but I doubt it will get you any scholarships…yet. Someone should get on that. Did you see this study? It’s disturbing, but the numbers are inching along, getting slightly better for atheists.

  4. Mad Props for Kelly. I think that there is a lot of truth that's been said here (both Kelly and Zaq) and I appreciate the way in which it was said.