To be honest, I’d like to stand up for the men. There are several phrases thrown around these days about men, particularly in feminist discourse. Phrases like male dominance, patriarchal norms and gender stereotypes. History has shown us that these attitudes have indeed existed; the feminist platform doesn’t just pull this stuff out of thin air. However, sometimes I think it pushes the argument a little too far. I think that in the process of calling attention to the oppressive attitudes of some men, they have imposed these attitudes on all men.
Of course there are still jerks out there who think they are better than women, but there are jerks everywhere in every category of life. At least now the women’s rights movement has called attention to it, so we won’t let it just slip by unquestioned like in the past. But sometimes I think that as much as people try to break gender barriers, expand the gender spectrum or whatever else, men are still put in a category that, frankly, seems contaminated by presuppositions about their sex. Almost like… stereotypes? That because a man acts masculine, wants to pay for dinner or whatever the case may be, perhaps they are misogynistic and vile, looking to put women in their place, the way it’s supposed to be.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for defying gender stereotypes, even just speaking from a heterosexual perspective—I like it when men cook, I drove my date to my senior Prom, and, yes, sometimes I do pick up the check—but is all gendered behavior inherently oppressive? If a man holds a door open for a woman, does that make him patriarchal, or polite?
I know door-opening is a petty example, and some might argue that there are bigger issues at stake here, but it appears to me that anything a man does might be mistaken for misogyny if he’s not careful. That because he’s a man, his behavior might be viewed in a certain light. Meanwhile, that behavior has been spoon-fed to him by the same society that wants to condemn him for it.
For example, while girls grow up hearing things like “girl power” and “girls are strong” and “girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider” while girls buy shirts that say “messy hair, don’t care” and “fries before guys” feminism gone commercial, boys are still being sold shirts that promote athletic proficiency and masculine prowess: “No Pain, No Gain” and “Lady’s Man.” While girls are being taught to celebrate their human-ness, boys are still being taught to aspire to a masculine image, and then later, they’re condemned for it. They encounter women who have been conditioned to reject this image, and then they’re left with these attitudes that may not even reflect them as a person, but that society has told them they must aspire to if they want to be a man.
Subsequently, women deal with their own set of stereotypes about femininity, but they at least have the feminist network to fall back on. All this work has been done to help women break free of a certain feminine image, but in the process, society has taught women to blame all men for that image. Men who had nothing to do with the women in the magazines or on TV, who are just as influenced and pressured by the media as women are. Men who are instilled with a masculine image and then blamed for it. Meanwhile, women who are instilled with a feminine image get to blame men.
Honestly, as long as a man is not going around insulting women, telling them they’ll never amount to anything, or treating them like less than human, then I’d say he’s doing all right. Common sense dictates that masculine qualities—or a lack thereof—do not equal a certain attitude toward women. There are so many decent, considerate men out there who are just trying their best, and who respect women and don’t see them as inferior. In turn, I don’t think women should assume every man thinks he’s superior, or that because he exhibits conventionally masculine behavior, that he’s going around looking for ways to promote patriarchy. He probably isn’t. He’s probably just being a man. And as long as that means he’s acting like a decent human being, I don’t see what’s so bad about it.