The Equal Opportunism of Sexism

You know how I’m always saying that men have a vested interest in promoting gender equality because misogyny almost always manages to be as unflattering, at best, toward men as it is toward women? Here’s a perfect example, care of Salon’s Broadsheet:

“Manliness” author Harvey Mansfield apparently claimed (here we go again) that women only say they want “sensitive” -- or if they do, they’ve been brainwashed by feminists -- when what they really want is “manly.” (Because no man in the history of men, which is to say history, has ever been both.)


(Oh, I know what letters are coming. “But women do love bad boys!” “I’m a nice guy and women don’t date me because I’m not a jerk!” etc. Enough. Yes, some women have a thing for cads. And some men have a thing for beeyotches. You know what? Some people make sketchy choices. It’s not a gender thing.)

And fellas, if I were you, just to reiterate, I’d be huffy about GMA’s unexamined (and iffily illustrated) implication that you guys are either studly or sweet -- never both.
There are, maybe, some men who would protest being seen as both “studly” and “sweet,” but, generally, men who resist showing any tendency toward kindness or empathy are resoundingly unlikable, and are thusly disliked by both men and women (except for a stubborn, and quite possibly addled, 18%).

It’s impossible to reduce the desires of one entire gender down to a one-dimensional concept without turning the other gender into a cardboard cutout that then fits the desire. And this is to say nothing of my irritation that such polemics wholly ignore the women who want other women; when one goes on about “what women want,” and then proceeds to talk only about men, the implication, unintentional or not, is to suggest that lesbians are somehow not women, or some aberrant subset that doesn’t bear regard, instead of the lovely evidence of complexity among women that they are. (Ditto the exclusion of gay men in the reverse.) Humans are complex creatures, which is, perhaps, an inconvenient fact for the scribe of a book called “Manliness.”

As much as it annoys me to see myself and the women I love and admire reduced to female caricatures with such asinine works, it annoys me equally to see the men I love and admire reduced to male caricatures—and not just because it’s offensive; it’s uninteresting. I’m bored with the inundation of gender reductionism that seeks to turn us all into dull, uncomplicated, interchangeable masses, stealing from us the intricacies and layers that make us beautiful. I’m bored with the obvious falsity of it all. Sensitivity isn’t an antonym for manliness—to be sensitive, to be decent and tolerant and patient and considerate, takes strength. In the words of a man I have loved for many years, “It’s so easy to laugh / It’s so easy to hate / It takes guts to be gentle and kind.”

Mr. Mansfield (quite a name) can accuse me of feminist brainwashing all he likes. I think we could all do with washing our brains of the notion that “manliness” does, and should, exclude sensitivity. Complexity is not only real, but it’s interesting, and interesting is sexy—no matter which gender’s doing the looking or what gender they’re looking at.

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