In any discussion about feminism, this question is bound to come up sooner or later.
“Figures for gender proportions in domestic abuse are wrong, because men don’t report rape and abuse.”
“There are hardly any support groups out there for male sufferers. They are disbelieved or ridiculed.”
“Girls have it easy. You can wear dresses or jeans, play with dolls or trucks, but if a boy doesn’t like sports or loves dressing up people call him gay.”
“People think lesbians are hot, but gay men are laughed at.”
And so on. What strikes me though, is that these people always seem to think that these are counter-arguments to feminism. The way they see it, it’s women’s rights on one side, men’s rights on the other. But this simply isn’t the case at all. What they don’t realise is that we are all fighting the same enemy, namely, a society that values men over women, masculinity over femininity.
We see it everywhere. I do a form of boxing called Muay Thai, and over the years, I have had many ‘compliments’ that run along the lines of, “You fight like a man.” Sometimes, I let it go. Men are indeed generally stronger, it is true, so I’ll reluctantly let that pass. More often than not, though, they specify that they aren’t referring to strength, but my attitude when fighting. Why thank you, thank you very much, mister.
For a man, on the other hand, the worst insult he can possibly receive is to be called a woman. In Secondary school, when a male schoolmate was complimented by the teacher on his sewing skills in class, the general reaction was sniggering, and he was extremely embarrassed. Imagine that–embarrassment at having a talent, just because it was seen as a female skill! Men behaving like women is a running joke in popular culture – in “Friends”, the competitive Monica frequently refers to the underachieving Chandler as a girl, and men dressing up as women is always a source of hilarity, and a form of humiliation in certain sexual activities. It is no surprise that it is men who are usually far more homophobic than women. It is my belief that homophobia is mainly the anger that men feel towards other men for sullying male power by acting as a woman might. They mock them, believing them to be undeserving of the male body, the male identity, and that they are shaming themselves and men in general.
Ironically, this sexism towards women has negative consequences for men. Because men have to conform to a narrow definition of manhood (strength, power, dominance over women), to admit that they have been hurt by a woman, that they need help, is to invite ridicule from society. On batteredmen.com, a male victim of abuse tells the story of his failed attempt to get help from the police. The police took one look at him, and told him “to go home and sort her out [him]self.”
So let’s call a ceasefire and recognize that we can solve this problem together. When women are no longer seen as inherently inferior, when both women and men can be good, or bad, gentle, or strong, weak, or fierce, victims or perpetrators, keep house or run the country, only then can we all be free.
PS. To anticipate the question, “So why don’t feminists concern themselves more with addressing the issues that impact men?” my answer is this.
Do a google search of the word ‘man’, and you get 6500 million results. Search for the word woman and you get 1850 million. Add the search results for the word ‘girl’ to that number and you still only get 5860 million, while ‘man’ + ‘boy’ go up to 8660 million. So please forgive us if we want to take centre stage in our own writings. Heaven knows it doesn’t happen often.