If you are a news and current affairs junkie like myself, you could quickly come to the conclusion that men and women are at war with each other across the Western world. A large portion of feminists believe that the West is a patriarchy that deliberately ensures that women are under represented in politics and higher status jobs and who on average earn less than men solely because of their gender. They also assert that we live in a “rape culture” that both encourages sexual violence against women and either blames women or believes they are complicit in being assaulted. In response to modern feminism are those men and women, some of whom are involved in men’s rights activism, who are concerned about the unequal treatment of fathers in the family courts and who point out that there is a gender gap in those areas of employment where men overwhelmingly do the most dangerous jobs in society. They also point out that whilst men are derided for viewing women as sex objects they feel that many women view men as nothing more than “success objects” when it comes to assessing whether a male is a viable romantic partner. Another issue they highlight, is that according to research, men are just as likely to be victims of domestic violence at the hands of women.
If you read the comments section on any on-line news platforms on any stories related to sexism or gender issues you will see that the majority of contributors have no interest in listening to each other and the exchanges quickly descend in to name calling or abuse, or endless repetitions of each sides’ grievances.
However, the comments sections of on-line news platforms and social media sites belie the reality of gender relations in the real world. The truth is that most men and women in Western countries get along fine and are not at each other’s throats arguing about the gender pay gap or the fact that more men die at work than women. Most people are too busy getting on with their lives, working hard, raising families and looking after elderly relatives to spend endless hours shouting “feminazi” or “misogynist” at strangers they disagree with on the internet who hide behind usernames like “Mr. Poopy Butthole” and “The Patriarchy 8 My Homework.” This is not to deny that both women and men have legitimate concerns about how society prescribes gender roles and how they are treated by individual members of the opposite sex.
As a gender egalitarian, I believe in equality of opportunity for both men and women, but I disagree with feminism’s insistence on gender quotas to create equality of outcome because I believe it is patronizing and infantilizes women. I’m also critical of how the gender pay gap is constructed because it omits variables such as the different choices men and women make and the fact that on average women earn less over a life time because a majority of women prefer to work part time or not at all once they have children. However, whilst it is illegal throughout the Western world to pay a woman less for the same job, I don’t deny that there are some sexist employers who circumvent such laws by advertising a salary as negotiable so that they can offer a woman less than they would a man.
The one area where I find myself agreeing strongly with feminist and non-feminist women is that there is a problem with sexual intimidation, harassment and violence against women by some men and the concomitant lax sentencing in the criminal justice system for sex offenders. I can acknowledge this problem whilst both disagreeing that the West is a “rape culture” along with the radical feminist insistence that all men are potential aggressors or are complicit in sexual violence for the offense of being born a straight man.
At the same time, I find it very dispiriting when I a read an article or a post on-line from a woman who is sharing that she was sexually harassed, groped or assaulted and then several men respond defensively that men too are often assaulted by women. First of all, it’s just rude and inconsiderate when someone is telling you about something awful that has happened to them and you have to immediately turn it in to your issue and use it as a means to promote your own biases. Radical feminists are guilty of the same lack of empathy when they dismiss an individual male’s negative or painful experiences when they start harping on about “male privilege.” Wouldn’t the most egalitarian and genuinely progressive way of relating to another human being’s suffering or unpleasant experience be just to listen and empathize or sympathize with them as an individual, regardless of their gender or any other arbitrary aspect of their identity?
However, whilst it is true that there are sexually aggressive women, on the whole predatory and abusive men are responsible for the vast majority of sexual violence. This is because men on average are physically stronger than women and so a sexually aggressive male is far more capable of overpowering a woman and raping her than a woman is of subduing a man and forcing herself on him. A man having his ass grabbed in a night club or on the street by a boozed up woman, whilst it is completely inappropriate and may cause upset, will usually not elicit the fear of the encounter escalating to a more serious and violent sexual assault like it would for a woman. It is a false equivalence for any man to equate the behavior of gropey women with that of sexually aggressive men and doing so to try and win an argument with a feminist by bolstering the victim status of men is pathetic.
One of the positives of the #MeToo campaign on Twitter is that it has highlighted the disturbing fact that way too many women have experienced sexual harassment or assault. However, it has on the other hand led some contributors to use it as a platform to pour scorn on all men. A recent article in the Huffington Post asserted that “every man you know has likely made a woman feel unsafe.” Now, whilst the author made some valid points regarding the issue of sexual harassment she made generalizing comments about men being apathetic towards sexual violence and being complicit in its persistence. The truth is that many men do acknowledge and talk about sexually aggressive males and challenge sexism and intrusive or harassing behavior if we encounter it, but these kinds of facts aren’t convenient when you are trying to promote a moral panic that every man is a potential sex offender or rape apologist.
Another negative aspect of the #MeToo campaign, is that whilst it contains harrowing accounts of assault and harassment it has also encouraged mildly annoying social interactions to be construed as intimidating behavior. We now live in a world where a man merely looking at a woman can be viewed as a form of harassment. If you think I’m being hyperbolic then you haven’t read about the feminist trope the “male gaze.” I’m not condoning the reprehensible behavior of those men who stare lecherously in an obtrusive manner to make women feel uncomfortable. However, we are entering the realm of hysterical puritanism if merely looking admiringly at people you find attractive can be construed as a border line sex offense. The notion that a man merely looking at a woman he finds attractive is the first point on a spectrum of sexual offenses that ends with rape and murder at the far end is ludicrous. These sex negative feminists are similar to religious fundamentalists who believe that there is something inherently disdainful about human sexuality. The major difference being that religious fundamentalists tend to project all their shame and revulsion on to femininity, whereas radical feminists pathologize masculinity. Thankfully, the vast majority of women don’t think that men looking at them is inherently “toxic” because if they did no one would be having children.
The truth is that the majority of both young men and women sexually objectify themselves to some degree in order to bolster their physical attractiveness to find a mate. Feminists are horrified by this and preach against women objectifying themselves to attract men and complain that the patriarchy sets beauty standards that women are inculcated into following, as if individual women are incapable of making decisions about whether they want to shave their armpits or wear make up. In fact, many women are far worse objectifiers of women’s bodies than men. Pick up a few women’s gossip and celebrity magazines in any newsagent and observe the manner in which famous women’s bodily imperfections or weight fluctuations are commented on, often in very judgmental and disapproving tones. It is women who both compile and drive the demand for these magazines not men.
If we are being honest though don’t almost all of us, male and female, to some degree objectify people we are physically attracted to? I doubt there is a straight woman alive who ever considers the inner beauty of hunky men in TV adverts with their chiseled looks and perfect six packs or wonders what their views are on climate change. Sexual objectification only becomes problematic when you have no respect for the boundaries and integrity of others, or you speak about people in a demeaning manner and view them as nothing but objects to be used for one’s own gratification with no regards for their psychological and emotional well being, as we have seen in the case of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein.
Too much of the debate in the mainstream and social media around gender issues is dictated by a strain of feminism that views masculinity as inherently problematic. On the other hand, too many men react hyper defensively to women discussing their grievances and concerns about abusive and badly behaved men. The rest of us look on and think to ourselves it’s neither men or women that are the problem it’s just shitty people.