It’s tough being a man. Orders of magnitude more so when you’re a white, heterosexual man like me. Sure, I get paid more and judged less than the rest of society, continue to benefit from a historic legacy of almost unchallenged privilege, and due in large part to this privilege have virtually the minimum possible number of physical, psychological and cultural restrictions placed upon my journey through life. But just when I think that maybe I’ve got it ok after all, I fire up my laptop, go online and read things written by – get this – people who AREN’T white, heterosexual men. Not just that, but sometimes they’re talking about – and I’m not even making this up – issues which affect them. It’s as though these women (and let’s face it, it’s usually whinging women-types who do this, amiright guys?) have a lifetime’s worth of collective experiences which matter to them and that they want to discuss in a safe and shared environment, and don’t even care whether or not such a thing has relevance to me. I can’t believe how entitled these chicks are, and if I’m honest I’m pretty scared at how easily they think they can yet again silence and oppress me. Naturally, I immediately call out their self-indulgent whining, point out over and over again that I’ve got problems too – thus rendering the entire discussion meaningless – and rightfully commandeer the conversation back toward things which matter to me. Because we blokes have a voice which needs to be heard occasionally too, you know.
It’s at this juncture I’ll mention that the above is in jest. And the reason that I need to point this out – being that there is enough internet commentary out there to indicate that a lot of my fellow men do actually think like this – is pretty much why I’m writing this piece in the first place.
In the world of the internet forum, “whataboutery” – which, for the uninitiated, is essentially the cheapening of an opinion or argument by pointing out that someone else has done it or experienced it as well – is nearly ubiquitous. And among all the different kinds of whataboutery which abound, surely the most special place in hell is reserved for the one perpetuated by men who simply can’t bear the travesty of not being the focus of the discussion: What About Teh Menz?? (“teh” intentionally misspelled, of course, to parody the rush-typed outrage so often conveyed.)
In a nutshell, what these blokes do goes something like this:
Step 1: Access website (often news-based or a blog of some sort) where pieces are written and comments on the articles are made.
Step 2: Follow link on the website to a section entitled “Women” or “Feminism” or something similar.
Step 3: Click on a link to a specific article within the section entitled “Women” or “Feminism” or something similar.
Step 4: Read (or often, don’t read) the article. Be utterly gobsmacked that it was in fact about “Women” or “Feminism” or something similar.
Step 5: Proceed immediately below the line to the comments section and practically explode with: “BUT WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ???
I often feel like I must be missing something so obvious it doesn’t bear an explanation, because otherwise it just seems too easy to ask what kind of article my dear brothers who have actively searched out and followed links to literature dedicated to women’s issues were expecting to find. Of course, the answer for the most part is that they found exactly what they were searching for. The sad truth is that in the majority of cases these men have gone out of their way to find specific, female-oriented virtual spaces not so they can broaden their perspective or contribute meaningfully to any discussion, but to point out everything wrong with what’s being said by noting that the issue being discussed – be it violence, domestic abuse, rape, negative portrayals in the media or harassment in the workplace – are all things that men can experience too so why are they being excluded? The inevitable result is an accusation of reverse sexism from “teh menz” and a diminishing of the conversation as the women are either driven to silence/apathy/frustration/all of the above or provoked into defending themselves rather than advancing the discussion.
The thing is, everyone (well, nearly everyone) knows that Bad Stuff Happens To Men Too. One of the fundamental tenets of feminism – certainly the kind that I’ve always been able to get on board with – is FHM. No, not the dearly beloved lads mag, but the concept that Feminism Helps Men. Or, to put it another way, the patriarchal system screws all of us in different ways. The pressure exerted on males to be a “real man” – whatever the hell that actually means – and to project an idealised form of masculinity that they may not be at all comfortable with so often manifests itself in a wholly depressing race to encapsulate the worst excesses of the posturing, hyper-testosterone-fueled “alpha” male (or as I like to call it, a fun game of who-can-be-the-biggest-complete-fucktool). This pressure and the often destructive, toxic masculinity it subsequently elicits is described and accounted for in countless feminist works, and rather than being fuel for yet another unbelievably fucking tedious anti-feminist won’t-somebody-think-of-teh-menz rant it is in fact just one more strong argument in favour of exactly the kind of change that feminism promotes.
What us menz can’t – and shouldn’t – expect is that women’s spaces (virtual or otherwise) should become men’s spaces. And you know what? THAT’S OK. This isn’t a zero-sum game whereby any time women discuss issues relevant to them it means that men have less opportunity to say anything for themselves. Lads, if you want to express your unhappiness with anything in your life, create a forum and do so. Annoyed at yet again being portrayed as an incompetent buffoon around the house in TV advertising? Angry that your paternity leave is a couple of weeks rather than six months? Outraged that domestic violence against men receives less attention and support than when it is perpetrated against women? Raise it, discuss it, seek to change it, and if you can find the presence of mind to do it in a collaborative way with allies of both genders (rather than being a dismissive, insensitive WATM arsehole) you will find that you will receive plenty of support from feminists for a lot of these causes – because they agree with you.
For all of that though, there remains one key point. Men still aren’t oppressed. Men still aren’t the real victims. Men’s problems – and they can be big problems – are still experienced from within a societal and cultural context of indisputable privilege. We are portrayed as incompetent buffoons around the house because it maintains the legitimacy that housework is a female thing (we’re rarely shown being useless at sport or business or flying space shuttles are we?). Maternity leave is much longer than paternity leave because society has decided – and still seems to believe – that women care for children while men go out to earn money. And while male victims of domestic violence unquestionably deserve all the care and support they need, the level of attention is lower than it is for female victims because – and I cannot stress this enough – two of us aren’t killed every week in this country by our current or ex-partners.
Granted, there are comment pieces written in internet-land from time to time which so completely lack either perspective or self-awareness that they might justify a whataboutery response from BTL warriors. And yes, some of these pieces might even be written by women pushing a gender issue which probably isn’t there. An article, for example, expressing feminist outrage around the fact that female soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan could legitimately expect a fairly hefty and merciless WATM-style retaliation. Contrary to what some might believe, however, this kind of thing is very the minority and not the norm.
Men – and particularly white, heterosexual men – still overwhelmingly dominate positions of power and influence, and the fact that some women have deservedly broken through to challenge that doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly become the underclass and need to flood the blogosphere to metaphorically take up arms against our female oppressors. Angela Merkel is more powerful and influential than roughly 3.5 billion men but using her as a tool to tell women that the playing field is now level and that they have nothing to complain about is akin to telling an African American in Louisiana that racism couldn’t possibly be a problem for him anymore because, you know, Obama and stuff.
The upshot of all this? Women still face issues that men don’t, and are still going to want to talk about them, share their experiences of them and affect changes that plenty of men aren’t going to like very much at all. So I guess all that my brother menz and I can do is keep fighting the good fight, continue to rail against those almost insurmountable odds of culturally embedded female supremacy, and await that glorious day – maybe even in my own lifetime – when straight, white blokes like me might finally get to call the shots.
I can but dream.