Ms. Opinionated: Do Feminists Need to Talk More About Masculinity?
Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Sydette Harry fields a question about feminism and violence against men.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
I had a heated conversation with a friend yesterday about the disheartening, to say the very least, Ray Rice decision. This friend was vehement about the fact that if a woman beat a man unconscious, I'd never hear about it on a Feminist news site and Feminists everywhere would congratulate the woman for standing up for herself. I was angered, distressed, and extremely defensive when he said this. "Feminism cares about everyone!" I yelled. So today, I decided to do some research.
Here I am on my lunch break, searching all the search engines I can find, reading old notebooks from past Feminist classes I've taken, and probing Bitch Media, Ms. Magazine, Feministing.com, and the like to find information about men who have been victims of domestic violence, men and sexuality, etc. I'm not finding much and so I'm asking myself, why do Feminists rarely discuss men and issues of masculinity? I know why - somewhere inside of me I do, but I'm having trouble articulating it. I'm wondering if you can help me with this. Am I totally wrong and I've missed the point of the articles and reports I've read? Is men and masculinity considered its own entity? Have I missed the point of Feminism entirely? Or is there another reason? I'd love to hear your view.
It’s been a long week, so I’m a little stressed and tired. Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, and Eric Gardner have weighed heavy on my mind and this question hits a touch point for me.
I’ve got something to get off my chest before I address your specific question: The idea that there’s a “perfect” and respectable victim of violence has stomped up and down on my last nerve. The right to safety and life aren’t based on making people feel “good” or that you are enough like them that they see you as worthy of rights. It’s about the fact that, as a human, you are worthy of basic rights. It takes serious mental gymnastics to justify DENYING people equal rights.
Humans shouldn’t be shot for existing, humans shouldn't have to argue that it’s wrong to be body slammed or punched or dragged around by people who say they love them. You don’t need to write a dissertation about violence as proof that it's wrong.
Anyway, got that off my chest. Let’s start with the first thing.
I want you in the most loving way possible to kick your friend in the shins. Not hard, not to damage him, but hard enough that he feels it. When he asks why you kicked him, ask him about all the times kids kick teachers in the shins. When he says, “What does that have to do with you kicking me?” say, “Exactly.” Because that’s what he’s doing asking you to do: to avoid addressing a hurt done to you as a woman directly in favor of addressing something tangential for his comfort.
Then I need you to ask yourself why you want to DEFEND feminism instead of practicing it, as well as arguing it with hypotheticals.
You friend has to argue hypotheticals because that’s all he really has to go on. Nothing I haven’t seen myself, with my “NOBODY PUT YOUR HANDS ON ANYBODY ELSE IT’S ALL ABUSE” attitude. It’s true that our culture that mocks male vulnerability and ignores abuse of men many, many saddening times.
But your friend doesn’t have enough evidence to have a discussion about reality, instead inventing fictitious feminists cheering violence.
In my view of the word, feminism is about rectifying and challenging a system that oppresses women, in the belief it makes a better world. Feminists can BARELY come to agreement on what that should look like (that’s why my intro to feminism includes wearing a helmet) let alone working on everything else. Besides, there are many women who are studying masculine rage and assault, much of intersectional and anti-incarceration feminist work centers that. But say this to yourself with feeling: You are allowed to focus on the issues that matter to you. You are not responsible for making everyone agree.
What you’re having trouble articulating is this: “That’s a derailment, irrelevant to the topic at hand. We’re talking about Ray Rice, not the imaginary actions of imaginary feminists.”
My black womanist politic self looks at all the sites you listed and their failure to discuss those issues and I’m not surprised. But they truly have a right not to cover everything, as do I and as do you. As long as they don’t claim to represent things they don’t or an inclusivity they don’t that they don’t live up to, they have every right to not devote much space to masculinity and discussions about men.
The fight for our safety and rights is about having these rights REGARDLESS of the “acceptability” of our inclusiveness. It is height of entitlement to think someone needs to make a “good case” for not beating another human.
If you want more info about masculinity and violence, girl, have a blast. It’s good work and really does highlight how feminist praxis helps EVERYONE. But if this is about coming up with an argument that pleases your friend, I say “whatever” to that. The question isn't why feminists don’t talk enough about male violence—its why he thinks he needs feminist credentials to believe violence against other people is wrong.
Related Reading: "Male Call — A Conversation About Masculinity and Violence with Byron Hurt and Jackson Katz" is in the Tough issue of Bitch.
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