Men Are Babies

Amanda has a good piece on the conflation of consciousness raising and "just bitching about men," and how it works alongside the myth that the stereotype of infantile men comes from feminists, which she correctly pegs as originating from "the ignorant equation 'feminists hate male dominance=feminists hate men=therefore negative stereotypes of men are invented by feminists'."

It put me in mind of an exchange Mr. Shakes and I had recently. By way of background, when Mr. Shakes is or I am being an asshole (e.g. grumpypants attributable to lack of sleep), we tell the other, "Stop being an asshole." When one of us is being an asshole with issues (e.g. unusually inflexible about something unrelated but attributable to extended family stressors, feeling a lack of control at work, etc.), we sit down and hash it out. Mostly this means the target of the assholery telling its purveyor exactly why s/he's being an asshole until said asshole erupts in embarrassed and slightly evil laughter, exclaiming something along the lines of, "Fucking hell, you pegged me but good!" We know each other extremely well, and ergo can't hide (or get away with) much of what we think and feel, making working through most irritations pretty easy. Sometimes it's a little harder, a little closer to the bone, than that. Usually when the other sees something we don't want to see in ourselves.

This exchange was during one of those latter times. I had suggested that Mr. Shakes was doing something that was pissing me off because he held a latent sexist notion that it was his prerogative as The Man to do this specific thing, which is not an accusation I wield carelessly or often; I have little reason to, since Mr. Shakes is rationally egalitarian—and viscerally egalitarian for the most part, too. Anyway, we talked it out, and Mr. Shakes was generously honest, saying that, yeah, that was the reason he was doing it and, wow, he hadn't realized it, but, fook, that feeling was totally there, ick. Cool—no hard feelings; it's not like I've never been called out for deeply internalized bullshit. We move forward with a new understanding.

It took a long time to get there, though, and at one point, Mr. Shakes had said, "You knoo, if you weren't a feminist, this proobably wooldn't even boother you."

I replied, "No, if I weren't a feminist, it would still bother me, but instead of acknowledging that you're an indoctrinated member of a patriarchy just like I am, I'd just think you were being a lousy shithead."

He chewed on that for a moment, and then said, "Fook."

I think it was the first time that Mr. Shakes really understood down to his very bones that feminism is not something women use to find problems, but to address them. Feminism doesn't make me see problems that aren't there, but it certainly helps me find solutions I otherwise might not.

Charges of "hypersensitivity" regularly lobbed at feminist bloggers often contain overt or covert reference to the notion that it is only because of feminism that women react negatively to sexist t-shirts, inequality in the workplace, "mankind," and all manner of offense and discrimination—as if no woman would ever take issue with many of these things were it not for the nefarious agenda of feminism to turn women into affront-spying machines, reacting with indignation as often as possible. (Never mind the obvious logical query of whence, then, did feminism come.) The truth is, it's not that being groped on the subway by male passengers wouldn't bother me if feminism didn't exist; feminism simply provides the tools to analyze and prescribe solutions based on a context larger than my immediate experience. "That guy grabbed my boob" is a very different thought than "A patriarchy consigns women's bodies to community property, and that guy just acted on that principle to the extreme, the dirty fuck." The distinction is important because it immediately redirects responsibility for prevention away from the victim by identifying a cultural imperative that must be challenged—and in so acknowledging that imperative, it also recognizes that we all, men and women, are socialized.

(I don't mean to suggest that socialization is an excuse for sexist behavior, particularly not for sexual harassment or assault. It is not. It is, however, an explanation, and is thusly a necessary part of developing an effective solution for it.)

Implicit, then, in feminism is not only the belief, but the expectation, that men are not infantile—nor stupid, useless, inept, emotionally retarded, or any other negative stereotype feminists have been accused of promoting—but instead our equals just as much as we are theirs, capable not only of understanding feminism (and feminists), but of actively and rigorously engaging challenges to their socialization, too. Feminists, of course, have the terrible reputation, but it isn't we who consider all men babies, dopes, dogs, and potential rapists. The holders of those views, I think you'll find, are the women and men who root for the patriarchy—which itself, after all, takes a rather unpleasantly dim view of most people.

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