I Feel Bad For You Son: Love, Friendship, and Sexism

“I’m just sick of it all; that’s what’s going on. I am sick to death of the bullshit and the egos and – of the men. I am sick of the men. Just one time – just once – I would like to accomplish something in this city without having to spend all of my energy navigating the short-sighted, selfish, self-involved, and oh-so-fragile male egos that suck up all the oxygen in this town.” – Elaine Barrish Hamond, Political Animals

Perhaps it was after I had heard one of my guy friends say something that made me swallow all my anger in an attempt to remember why we were friends. Or maybe it was the chanting chorus of men who said she had it coming. Maybe it was the umpteenth time some guy came up to me and confidently asked demanded something I was not interested in giving, and then, in his realization that I was not going to be giving, called me a fucking bitch cunt dyke whore slut frigid lesbian. I can’t pinpoint the moment, but I know at one point, a feeling hit me as it had never hit me before. I feel bad for men. Like… real bad.

I know. This is the point in which most of you are about ready to side eye me back to the deep south, but before we pull out the pitchforks reserved for the MRAs, I’m not about to go on a “whoa, the plight of the straight, white male”  Limbaugh-O’Reilly kick. No, far from it. However, I still stand by my admission that I do feel bad for these men. The men who define their worth and personhood by dominance (financial, relationship-wise, being right) or by expectation.  They had lived in a world where things had always bent to their will, where no one had ever questioned their worth or their intellect – their sanity. They were golden. Meanwhile, most of us living in this sometimes beautiful, sometimes deeply fucked up world, have dealt with the pains of being classified into a 2-D notion of our physical selves, we have also had a level of awareness of what exactly we were up against. We expected it. Yet, most men don’t even have a clue of what patriarchal expectations they are up against. All those  privileges aside (and these, depending on the context , can and most definitely change), most men have no real need for a actualization for change. And why would you if something works in your favor? Privilege is one of those little gifts you get for no real reason, other than winning some arbitrary societal/genetic lottery and, for the most part, works as a serious advantage. But, it’s also a trap. It makes you benign, lazy, less likely to understand the complexity  that is existing outside of the norm.  At its best, it can make you, while privileged, a relatively aware person who is just not such a dick. At worst, it reduces you to a grab bag of your worst qualities, rendering you not as a person, but as a 2-D asshole where your experience of reducing women down to little boxes like fuckable/not fuckable, friendzone, slut, ho, dyke, or wife not only makes it difficult for the rest of  us, but dehumanizes you. How am I supposed to think of you as anything but antagonistic and ignorant?

“Contrary to mass media’s insistence that we were learning how to be man hating,” writes renowned visionary bell hooks, “…in fact, we were taught to understand the ways that male identity and self-actualization were usurped by patriarchy. Men who oppressed women did not do so because they acted simply from the space of free will; they were in their own way agents of a system they had not put into place. Yet our compassion for patriarchy’s abuse  of men was not as intense as our passion for female agency and our will to gain social equality with men.”

Yea, this is getting old.

Is it the contentedness to be stuck in the quagmire of “being a man” or is it just a default systematic mode? What does “being a man” actually mean? Is masculinity even relevant or does it need to be redefined over and over, much like any overlooked and evolving sort of identity that begs for people who have experienced it to make it mean something to them. Now, before we take this little passage any further, I do want to make the point that not all men experience the same privileges. All we have to do is look at Trayvon Martin or Brandon Teena to realize that the game isn’t stacked in a fair field for everyone. Men, as in the most super-binary, cis-gender, able bodied, hetero-most often white sort of experience is mainly what I’m referring to here, but again, your product may vary.

Okay, for the men reading this, maybe you feel different. Of course you do. “I ain’t like that!” “I have a girlfriend/wife/daughter!” to which I say, cool, me too.  To boot, as one of my favorite artists, Heems, put so accurately and elegantly, “Yo dude, I know like…seven women.” To this day, “Womyn” remains one of my favorite songs because of its honest admissions. When the lines goes “these chicks is womyn,” I can’t help but think, hell yes, this dude right here wants to meet me in the center – and that’s what we need, more dudes to meet us in the center. Because seriously, for every woman who has dared to educate (and lord knows we need some education) there has been a set of clenched teeth, a woman who as her friends laugh at the prospect of Hillary being president (dude! she will get her period and blow up a country) or cringe when a brother or a boyfriend refers to a woman as a “slutcuntbitchwhore.” A woman who has been through enough and she cannot anymore right now. And we should not expect her to.

While I would love to just exist, sometimes, that complicity of existing at the brink of your own privilege, scares me.  The power to hurt by just being (and when I say being, I mean being unconscious of the fact that not everyone gets to live like you) and living under the impression that your world view is law, well, that’s a very terrifying thing. It’s one thing to do the best you can. It’s another to do nothing at all. Riding on a generalization, it can paint men as this super evil type of crab demon, one that gives way to the BS claims of “man-hating feminist” that have plagued most feminists throughout the years. While this little tick seems enough to make a sane woman totally lose her shit, most have countered the argument with  popular 3rd wave phrases like, “I’m a feminist, but I love all men – just not their misogyny” or ” I love all men, I just want them to be better”. Or even now, with Lady Gaga’s reverse style judo phrase, “I’m not a feminist… I love men.”  It’s a one-dimensional view, one that leaves out so much, but yet, brings up an interesting point, at least for myself. I don’t hate men. But I do not love all men. Which one am I expected to do?

As Erica Jong says in Fear of Fifty, ” The truth is, I don’t blame individual men for this system. They carry it on, most unknowingly. And women carry it unknowingly, too. But more and more, I wonder if it can be changed… I believe the world is full of men who are truly perplexed and hurt by women’s anger as women are perplexed by sexism, who only want to be loved and nurtured, who cannot understand how these desires have suddenly become so hard to fulfill.”  In the end, Jong makes a good point. Things are ingrained and it can sometimes feel, at least for me, that so much of my life is shouting into the void, at best, coworkers, bosses, producers, cat-callers, men whose comments or actions make my blood boil. At worst, it is something you struggle with those you love the most: partners, friends, fathers, brothers – these instances are the ones that cause me to go quiet with a feeling I cannot explain. Part disappointment, part betrayal, part of an urgent, confused sort of thinking of “but you are supposed to be different.” The truth is, these people who are close in our lives are not different – or maybe they are. But deeply ingrained beliefs are not, and at the end of the day, when I have heard something from someone I love that shakes me to my core, my thought process goes something like this. Why. No. I hate you. I love you. I expected more. I was warned all along. You are just like the rest of them.

And I hate that. I hate that way of thinking. I hate reducing you down to just another dick bag, another ego that needs a coddle, another thing to be afraid of, because that’s what is expected of me and what I have learned. But as much as I am tired of my way of thinking, I am so much more tired of yours. Can you at least meet me near the middle? Can we meet together and then start doing some lifting together? Can you lift some more? This shit gets heavier the older I grow and the more I have to carry, the more I am angry at you for not. I can shout and shout and shout, but if you do not listen, what good does my hoarse throat do? Why can’t you give more?

In the end, we choose our actions. We choose our decisions every day and I’ll go out one further here, we are a collection of our choices; not inherently good or bad people, just people who act on good or bad choices. But we don’t live in a vacuum and unless those choices are presented back to everyone, unless those choices reflect the actual lived reality that privilege can hide, then there is no moving forward. And it dehumanizes you. It corrodes who you are as a free person. You are reduced to the same dimensions that you reduce others to, a tiny world in which you are an ignorant jerk-wad lapping up the fact that you can hurt people, whether you are conscious of it or not. It makes you choose bad choices. It makes you reflect those bad choices as a whole.

And hell, I feel bad for you son.

14 replies on “I Feel Bad For You Son: Love, Friendship, and Sexism”

The truth is, these people who are close in our lives are not different — or maybe they are. But deeply ingrained beliefs are not, and at the end of the day, when I have heard something from someone I love that shakes me to my core, my thought process goes something like this. Why. No. I hate you. I love you. I expected more. I was warned all along. You are just like the rest of them.

This rings so incredibly true.
I hear what you are saying and I try to educate at work (I teach), at home, when I’m out with friends, and sometimes I just get overwhelmed and don’t want to see people because I just want to crawl inside my privilege and hide.  Thank you for this perspective.

Co-signed.  And it can be SO CONFUSING.  For instance, the other morning, I saw a funny post about conservative reactions to porn on Tumblr.  I shared it with my usually 100%-feminist husband, and we laughed.  Then I said as an aside, “yeah, the only problem I ever have with porn is that I think it gives young guys unrealistic expectations – I feel bad for all the young woman they end up trying all their porn-learned ‘moves’ out on who have to re-teach them, or suffer for years until they figure out what they want isn’t what’s being delivered”.  I figured this was a pretty mainstream, “I read feminist blogs” opinion.

My husband  surprised me, b/c instead of chuckling (my expected response), he started in on a rant about  “women like porn too”, and “what’s so wrong with what they do in porn?  There are women who enjoy that”  and “porn isn’t anything new, there are no new problems caused by porn now that weren’t also caused by french postcards 100 years ago”…and all of a sudden I was on alien territory.    I shot back that I thought it was pretty clear that most mainstream porn is made for a male audience, and most things done in porn, generally, don’t fly with women in real life (again, thinking this was obvious)…and before I knew it, we were fighting.  I felt so betrayed…like, how is this person usually so feminist, and yet I say one slightly negative thing about porn, and he’s immediately on the defensive.  I’m sure to his perspective, he felt attacked about something he’d previously thought we were comfortable with (generally, I really have no problems with porn – I just have some opinions on it academically).

And I did feel bad, b/c I was making someone who’s usually an ally feel attacked. I don’t want him to think feminists are necessarily “anti-porn”, after all; but, I also want to feel free to express my opinion without being treated as the hairy-pitted, man-gnashing enemy.  Coming to the middle sensitively in these situations is really tough when it’s someone you love.



You know how it’s the nature of dogs to protect their loved ones through barking and attacking, and how we train them to do that, and then we get angry with them for doing it? I think it’s a similar situation with men–their hormones and the world tell them to be jerks, and then they’re expected to magically understand how and why to be different.

Oh and here’s the other side of the coin re: you’re a lesbian if you don’t accept the advances of freaky strangers. If during the interaction you say you’re rejecting them because you’re a lesbian, they’re then convinced you’re straight–or will be, after them. :)

“The world of of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.”–John Waters, Female Trouble. Being straight must be real hard.

Yea, agreed – men get messages about masculinity and then when contradicted by the women they know are flabbergasted. So yea, its in the same vein of conflicting messages that women receive about what it means to be a “good woman”, or even to boot, “what a woman/man” means. So okay, instead of gearing women so hard to fight for what they want, why are there so little efforts to get men to be more understanding of how their actions can be hurtful?

In my experiences, I’ve never been one to accept freaky advances. They just kind of happen to me, whether I want them or not.  And I can list off a similar list of reasons, but again, it becomes a game of “what can I do to get you to sleep with me”. And since I must be gay (which how is an insult, I’ve yet to figure out) then I’m either to be reviled or convinced I need a dick. If I’m not interested, I’m stuck up or think I’m too good and need to be put in my place. Or I’m just a whore. Whatever, its a grab bag of things that are supposed to make me feel bad that I rejected someone who makes me feel creeped on or shit, that I just dont feel like talking to.

So yea, John Waters had it right about hetero-normative shit, and I’m not one to make it a pissing contest  about the horrors of being straight, since its hands down accepted and no one is lining to eat chicken sandwiches to protest against my sexual orientation, but yea, being “straight”, especially in the context of being man can be super stupid. Okay, so then what does it look like if we expect something different? What does that look like? Is it possible on a large scale? Is it context specific?

I dont know. But hell, I still say that dealing with that baggage is a head fuck.

I think the kind of men who try to pick up chicks in sleazy or semi-sleazy ways are a particular breed–they don’t represent men well, just as a super sleazy woman shouldn’t be taken for the average woman. Not that most men aren’t thinking about sex all the time, just most of them know better than to try to get it by calling out to women on the street.

I think lots of men under 30 are being trained in a more feminist-oriented, metrosexual kind of way. Which is also confusing to them–suddenly they’re criticized for being wussy. I really do think men have it rough. Not in the same way as women, of course, but I think it’s way more confusing.

I really do feel for straight people though, especially women. Trying to make relationships with those who are so different from you in so many ways–it’s a much bigger challenge than being involved with someone who, chances are, sees life more like you do. I think life is harder in the big world, being gay, but intimate relationships are more of a challenge for heterosexuals due to the differences between the genders. Though deep down, I don’t think we’re all that different, we’ve just been trained to think we are.

Yes, we should expect more from men. No question. We should always expect more from everyone.

In a lot of ways I think being a role is easier than being an individual. Being the “protector” or “breadwinner” is easier than being a fully formed human with your own set of abilities and flaws and thoughts and preferences. And so in some ways it does make sense that it’s easier to go along with the role society says you should strive for, and find a partner (woman in most cases) who helps you affirm that you’re playing your role correctly–in this case, a woman who needs your protection and bread-winning. I do think breaking out of those roles is challenging, especially–especially–if you’ve never even considered alternatives, which privilege allows us to do. Privilege does allow us to passively accept what we’re told, and so it’s easy to imagine that tons and tons of dudes, especially white cis financially-ok Christian American/European dudes, haven’t even thought about the possibility of doing something besides the role they’ve been raised to see as natural.

But it seems better to me–though this could be up for debate I guess–that a fully formed individual, who doesn’t need anyone’s money or protection necessarily, who feels fine on her own, who has her own opinions and her own life, who even though she could be on her own chooses anyway to be with you, because she thinks that a life with you sounds better than a life without you, is a way better option than just any old person who makes you feel “manly.” (I keeping using “you” to refer to men, even though I understand our audience here on Persephone is not primarily men. I got too far in to change it. Ha.)

But I dunno. I don’t have the privilege of being a white straight cis etc. dude in this country/world, so I can’t tell them what’s better necessarily.

This might have wandered away from the point of your post by now…

I dont know what the answer is either, other than my inclination is to educate men more. Which some folks are doing – there is Jimmie Briggs (Man Up!) and while I’m not crazy about him, I’m glad Michael Kimmel exists. So yea, how do you get people to see a different world when they have had it hammered into their heads what they are supposed to do? What they are expected to do?

Its one of the benefits ( I dont know if thats the right word, so please correct me if I’m wrong) of having to deal with marginalization – you have to create a few new realities if you want to survive and not be doing what everyone expects or totally off yourself. It can be freeing. Everyone should be able to experience that and not because you have to to survive.

Its kind of bullshit right? Especially because it gets taken into a context of a certain type of stereotype of a lesbian, one thats been created by god knows who. I dont know, probably by the league of concerned gentleman (TM) Mitt Romney.

But its like, that term it totally cool if you are going to perform lesbian, aka, be the straight girl on girl fantasy.

Must reply to this… Yes, there are many lesbian stereotypes, but that has nothing to do with certain men calling women lesbians if they don’t accept their advances. Their ego can’t accept any other reason for the rejection–all women want me, the only ones who don’t are lesbians, but I can turn lesbians too. You could look like Marilyn Monroe and if you said no to a certain kind of guy, he’d call you a lesbian anyway, regardless of the lack of plaid. It’s about ego, not stereotypes.

My favorite part of that insult is the look of confusion guys get when I’m not offended. Its like, dude, if I’m a lesbian, why are you still darkening my doorstep? And if I’m straight, what does that say about you and your effortless sex appeal that I’m not interested? GAH.

I feel bad for ’em, but only when I know them – for instance, I work really hard at trying to keep my brother from turning into a Nice Guy. I have trouble feeling bad for the nameless faceless hordes of sexism-perpetuators. Do they look at us and see a nameless faceless horde as well? I wonder.

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