Feminism 101: Helpful Hints for Dudes, Part 9

Following is a primer for men who are genuinely interested in learning about how to be a more feminist-friendly dude. Most of the information in this piece is, as always, generally applicable in terms of being decent to the people around you, but this has been written to be most accessible for men in keeping with the objective of the series, which is responding to commonly emailed questions from privileged men (here, generally meaning straight cis men) seeking advice on how to interact with the women in their lives.

[Content Note: Misogyny.]

The thing about living in a patriarchal culture that privileges "traditional" masculinity and polices men who don't conform to its prescriptions is that it severely limits men's acceptable spectrum of expression. To visibly like or enjoy anything that is coded feminine is to make oneself vulnerable to potential retribution from the enforcers of the patriarchy, which might be one's own father, or brothers, or friends, or boss.

One of the ways that many straight/bi men partnered with women find to safely explore feminine-coded things that bring them pleasure is through the safety of a different-sex partnership, within the boundaries of which one can attribute, say, watching Real Housewives or attending a fancy cooking class or shopping for home interiors to the desires of one's female partner.

It can be easier for female-partnered cis men to say, "I'm just going along with this because I love her," than to admit something coded feminine is actually their own preference.

Especially since being the guy who indulges his female partner's preferences tends to get you lots of cookies from women.

And, you know, all of that is okay, when it's done out of a real need for self-preservation and following an honest conversation with your partner about this issue where her consent and understanding is sought. Most of us, at one time or another, have to be a little circumspect about ourselves to maintain our safety, to avoid physical or emotional harm, professional retribution, and/or ostracization.

But it gets messy, and harmful, when the reattribution of one's own preferences segues into a reliance on misogynist narratives. It's very easy to slide from "I watch So You Think You Can Dance with my wife because she loves it" to "I watch So You Think You Can Dance with my wife because YOU KNOW HOW WOMEN ARE." Wink wink nudge nudge. Bitches, amirite?

I'm doing this with her is one thing. I'm doing this because she's making me is quite another.

The latter invokes ancient misogynist narratives about women being nags, harpies, selfish ballbusters. They are narratives so ubiquitous and persistent that it's incredibly easy to greet some dude harassment about liking a "girl thing" by blaming one's female partner.

At that point, you're no longer just using your partner for cover. You're throwing her under the Patriarchy Express.

Ideally, if you like something that's coded feminine, you will just like it, without apology, because fuck the patriarchy. But facing a real threat of harm (and, by the way, potential embarrassment is not a real threat of harm), using your partner as cover, with her consent, is an understandable survival mechanism.

What's not understandable is blaming her. (Even and especially when she's not there.) What's not acceptable is relying on misogynist tropes, thus entrenching misogyny in some futile attempt to avoid misogynist bullying.

It's self-defeating. But, even more than that, it's a shitty way to pay back the person who makes space for you to safely be your whole you.

Don't be that guy.

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