On Feminism: ‘What About the Men?’

Monday, 12 December 2011


When I began writing this post, I wondered whether I was opening a can of worms that I shouldn't. You see, every time I post about feminism and talk about women's issues on my blog or twitter, I get angry emails asking me "but what about the men?" As if talking about women's rights immediately excludes men. It doesn't, it means focusing on women, which is my right to do as this is ultimately my blog. And then, last week, I had to delete a bunch of aggressive comments from one of my feminism posts which basically implied that because I highlight the problems women face in society and culture, I'm therefore excluding men. Wrong again. I left one anonymous man's comment, because at least he had the decency to be polite and not threaten me or use hostile language.

I won't tolerate being intimidated. I've worked too hard for my ideas, my beliefs and opinions. They have come to me through hard work and personal experiences, they are not things I throw around for the sake of theory. I believe everything I write here. So while it may be easier to keep quiet about such things, I suspect the whole point of such emails and comments is to make me, like so many other women, shut up. This is a strategy used by many misogynists on the internet to shut down discussion on pertinent topics that relate to women, as if there is something wrong with highlighting the position of women.

Men have historically enjoyed a biased privilege. This is just an historical fact, not an attack against men. We can't really talk about these topics in a mature manner if we blindly ignore history and engage with the history of male privilege in a disingenuous manner. The fact that we are now starting to redress this balance by talking about women does not signal that feminists are trying to exclude men, or "hate" men. This is a rather childish and simplistic response to feminism, and also suggests a distinct lack of empathy or willingness to understand how other people experience the world and daily life. When I think of all the significant relationships and life-long friendships that I have with the men in my life who understand and support my perspective, it seems ridiculous to me to even have to justify my position. I ultimately don't think the emails I've gotten are about the sender's own gender, but more about their level of maturity and empathy. This is not an "us" versus "them" paradigm. I am not attacking men, I'm interrogating misogyny and sexists assumptions.

One of the best responses to this topic that I've found on the internet, is this article, which I urge you to read in full. But I find that I have to quote large chunks of it here because it says everything that I feel about this subject:

When you read a post where a woman describes her rape trauma, and someone comes in and says “Well, men get raped too, what about the men?”, they’re not saying “We’re all potential victims of sexual assault, look at how awful this is, let’s examine it as one entity called “human” that is opposed to this type of behavior in all of its forms.” What they ARE saying is “STFU, woman. This isn’t just a woman problem, so you’re not allowed to talk about it in any terms that acknowledge your womaness, or gender as a factor at all. We don’t care that rape statistics show that women are much, much, more likely to be raped than straight cis men. ... Straight cis men get raped too. Therefore this is a non-story and you really shouldn’t be talking about it. Especially not in any context that we don’t agree with or approve of.”

That’s why “But what about the menz?” is a meme in feminist circles. It’s because we see that idea ALL THE GODDAMN TIME. If we talk about about anything related to harassment, anything related to how we experience the world on a day to day basis, some asshole will come in and say “Men could conceivably experience that too, YOUR ARGUMENT IS IRRELEVANT.” It’s a derailing tactic. A way of telling us to Shut The Fuck Up, and center the conversation around the people that matter: straight white cis guys.

It’s a reminder that if we make the conversation about us and our own experiences, and we don’t go out of our way to acknowledge those straight, cis white guys … well, clearly it’s because WE are excluding THEM, and it has nothing to do with their inability to identify with us. Because they’re the default. So you can’t talk about human experience in female terms and have it not be automatically exclusionary to the guys that you are not talking about.


And as a feminist, let me say this: Guys, I understand that bad things happen to you. I understand that you experience rape, harassment, problems related to sexuality and your masculinity. I get that. When I talk about me? It’s not because I’m refusing to talk about you. You’re allowed in. Share your stories, but stop acting like there’s something wrong with me if I don’t talk about yours every single time I talk about mine.

I really couldn't agree more, and have nothing else to add. This article says it all, so go on, read it.

P.S. All comments are now moderated on this blog. This is not just because of misogynist comments, but also because of annoying spam/advertising. I also won't allow derogatory remarks to be part of this blog (usually under the guise of anonymous). In general, I've been noticing an increase in downright mean-spirited comments on other blogs lately. This is truly baffling, and completely unnecessary. Let's be kind to one another.

Image credit: image from here, picturing the wonderful Bill Bailey.


Barakketh said...

Bill Bailey <3

I really appreciate your posts on feminism (and other topics) as well written statements of lived politics, and am always saddened by the derailing/silencing tactics employed in comments sections.

Wishcandy said...

That's well said Hila. I'm glad you're putting you're putting your thoughts out there. It's brave and I agree whole heartedly.

hila said...

I'm really sad about those types of comments too.

I've just been reading some of your posts - very, very interesting. I'll have to give them more thought when I have more time for internet procrastination :)

ah, bill bailey, what a chap.

Sarah said...

very well said! i cannot agree more. not only on blogs, but even in casual conversations including men, they tend to get a little more sensitive when it comes to such topics, shrugging it off as something invalid.

in my personal opinion, i still do believe that while the world likes to say that sexism doesn't really exist anymore, i beg to differ, because it still does, in the little ways - micro-sexism. and some do it unintentionally and unknowingly, sadly.

well, thanks for sharing, hila. this was a good read. :)

a said...

Thanks for writing this and linking that fantastic article! I find another common response I get when I bring up male privilege or anything relating to women earning less than men is that 'girls do better in school and more women/girls attend university than men, so in 50 years time the world will be equal'. As if just because often girls do excel in school now somehow means I am in no position to point out current inequalities as it will all magically correct itself

Tana said...

I'm disappointed about mails/anonymous comments and so on.ultimately support your "let`s be kind to one another".
it was a great read!

Emily Vanessa said...

So sad that you can't discuss things like this without hateful comments - whatever happened to open discussions? I love your posts on feminism, so modern and thoughtful. This article is great and says it all. Yes, men shouldn't be excluded but there are still many inequalities that it can't always be about them. When I'm no longer asked by (male) students why I'm not married with children, I'll know things are getting better.

Petra said...

great post. I'm sorry to hear you are getting more and more negative feedback, but I can't say I'm surprised. I keep having the same experience, not on my blog since it is harmless enough, but in real life.

any halfway critical thought, be it about feminism, environmental, political or social concerns, often meets undisguised hostility, as if asking people to just think for themselves is too much.

everyone seems to feel instantly criticised and reacts with a counter attack, even if the talk is about East Indian educational systems during a lunch in central Europe... I often think it's fear and insecurity. things in general are changing quicker and quicker and that causes people to try to desperately hold on to the status quo. and I'm not saying this as an excuse, I'm just trying to find an explanation for said hostility because it might make it a tiny bit easier to deal with it... and we do have to deal with it in order for things to change...

Sarah Rooftops said...

Well said! I don't really have anything to add to this; I'm just voicing my agreement.

Amelia said...

Oh this is such an interesting read, especially since I normally get so annoyed when I see a 'what about the men?' on articles that talk about problems specific to certain social groups - often disenfranchised and/or marginalized by the mainstream.

I feel as though while women faced with the reality of having their role in society changed created feminism*, men just didn't/don't want to accept that the world is changing and women are playing a bigger role in changing it than they like.

*reading on feminism as a teenager, that was the impression I got( Romania has never truly experienced something remotely close as a feminist movement in it's history - at least not something as well defined as it was in the western countries- so I mostly read about the feminist movement in books; equal rights and women's right to vote was pushed upon us by the communist regime)

niclas said...

this is a great post. there's always this feminist debate going on in sweden, and every time the subject is brought up, some of these hateful right wing-men starts blabbing about women hating men instead of just facing the problems

B said...

"Because they’re the default." The most important line in the article, in my opinion. Some men have a lot of learning and thinking to do before they are ready to switch off that default and see the world from a non-male-dominant perspective. In the meantime, feminism ftw!

Danielle P. said...

I've been anticipating this post, and you have not disappointed, Hila!

It's always a pleasure to read your thoughts about feminism and related issues (among others!), most of all because you write from experience and have obviously given much thought to these topics.

Thank you!

Amy said...

Thanks for the link to that article, and for bringing up this issue. This was one of the most difficult concepts to deal with in the "sociology of gender" course I took at university. For most of the women and the handful of men in the classroom it took a lot of gentle reminders from our professor to learn how to talk about discrimination of one gender or the other (or both, etc.) in a respectful way. It doesn't come naturally to most people, and it's something we need to work on as a culture. Many of us also had to start learning how to modify our reactions - lots of snap judgements, quick reactions, fast verbal responses - and learn to think and listen.

SJ said...

after reading the comments after this article (http://www.thepunch.com.au/tags/hillary-clinton/) i felt depressed and saddened that people felt this way and that nearly every single comment claimed the article was anti men.

since when can you not talk about a specific gender issue without it being sexist?

i get so riled up when men chip in and say 'but what about the men?' because these anonymous commenters rarely want to have a proper discussion about the issue, they just want to vent their bitterness.

ugh, i'm getting cranky just thinking about again!! i could rant for hours!

keep writing Hila, and just keep deleting the haters.

Hotly Spiced said...

I'll be kind! I also get mean-spirited comments, always from Mr Annonymous. The way I see it, if you don't like the content on someone's blog you don't have to read it! READ SOMETHING ELSE. It's that simple.

Rina said...

Hi dear Hila, such a long time! I like all your posts, so don´t worry, there´s a lot of opinions, a lot of people doesn´t know how to express it or they are close minded I guess. I don´t consider myself as a feminist, I really care about issues of discrimination of course, I think men and women are different and that´s the beauty of life. I think the real problem is the discrimination, as a latin american I see a lot of it too. It´s a really interesting topic, If someone offends you, I don´t know what they bother to write stupid comments.
Go Hila!


andrea said...

posts like this is why you're one of my favourite bloggers Hila :)

Siubhan said...

This is a great post (and Bill Bailey did make me smile!) I very much admire and support your stance on this, and absolutely agree with what you are saying. I often find myself at a bit of a loss as to what to counter with, when I'm faced with attitudes like that when discussing feminism, and what you said about historic male privilege is absolutely bang on. I'm going to have to go and read the long version of that article to see if I can absorb some of its fantastic sense too.

You are so absolutely right not to tolerate any intimidation - this is your blog, and that just is not on - it's just such a pity that you have to actively take measures to avoid it. People are peculiar.

hila said...

barakketh: thanks again!

wishcandy: it's really no that brave, but probably has to be said. thank you!

sarah: yes, I'm so baffled by this idea that sexism doesn't exist anymore. Seems a little naive.

a: exactly, these things don't magically correct themselves if we don't actively do something about them.

tana: thank you!

emily vanessa: haha, how true :)

petra: yes, I agree, a lot of it is about fear and insecurity. People do generally get defensive when you challenge deep-rooted assumptions, or ask them to examine things critically.

sarah: well thanks for voicing it :)

amelia: yeah, everytime you see an article that focuses on a particular group, you get some defensive guy asking about the men. As if male privilege doesn't exist, or never existed historically. Or, as if promoting the rights of minorities somehow 'marginalises' men. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek.

niclas: yep, and I prefer to face the problem :)

b: yes, I agree! that is the most important line.

danielle: thanks danielle! I don't know, I sometimes feel ridiculous posting these things - not because I don't believe them, but because I know how much hostility there is out there.

amy: yes, I agree. It is very hard to be empathetic when you've never really had to - and that's one of the calls of feminism.

sj: I don't even want to go read those comments, I've had enough negativity for the time being! But yeah, there is a general tactic of derailing any conversation on these issues by directing it back to men. There's nothing wrong about talking about masculinity, or discussing the issues men face too. But to imply that when the focus is on women or minorities men are somehow disenfranchised is just silly.

hotly spiced: exactly! that's what I think. Don't you just love the 'bravery' of people who hide behind anonymous?

rina: go rina! :) I haven't heard from you in ages, thanks for 'visiting'. I think that men and women are different in the same way that some women are different from other women, and some men are different from other men - as individuals. So I guess in that sense, we agree.

andrea: thank you! but there are way more articulate posts on this topic on the net.

siubhan: oh yes, the adorable bill bailey, he does make me smile too :)

I always counter such arguments by pointing out that men have dominated for so long, that right now, we're working to redress the balance. This does not mean ruling out discussion on issues of masculinity, but what it does mean is that space needs to be allocated for discussing women as well, without derailing tactics. This seems fair to me, and like you said, it doesn't warrant intimidation tactics.