Feminism often works emotion; in this essay I will respond in kind. I will imagine myself falling through the air, legs spread wide. I land on a two-by-four plank of wood. My testicles are crushed; my agony, indescribable. I now imagine an audience erupting with laughter. At times, that’s how it feels to be male. That’s how it feels looking up at the movie screen where a good swift kick in the balls is guaranteed to get a laugh. Aware women feel the sting of cultural “arrows” aimed at their femininity. Similarly aware men are few, but for those rare men not laughing along with everyone else, the sound of a packed theater laughing at this uniquely male pain can sting almost as much as the swift kick itself. Here’s some more pure emotion:
Let’s pretend. Let’s free our minds to wild flights of fantasy. Let’s imagine that we love men. Love men?! Did I hear you right, you ask? Isn’t that like loving violent, selfish, ugly, crude, egoistic, baby-seal-clubbing, species-exterminating rapists of the earth? Love them? If loving men seems outrageous, don’t worry—we’re just pretending.
Take a moment to consider the WWI soldier boy who, upon witnessing mustard gas eating away the faces and genitals of his friends, runs away in horror only to be placed in front of a firing squad and shot dead for “cowardice.”[i] Are the assumptions of a male paradise of patriarchal power and privilege truly unassailable? Spare a thought for Sam Legg. He refuses to live out the myth of the monstrous male killing other men on a WWII battlefield. To avoid the horrors of imprisonment, he jumps the grueling hurdles needed to achieve conscientious objector status. To assuage his uniquely male guilt and deflect taunts of “draft dodger” and “coward,” he joins 200 other conscientious objectors for a starvation experiment that, six months in, torments him to such madness he takes an ax and chops off the middle three fingers of his left hand.[ii] To avoid being branded a “quitter,” he successfully begs to continue starving till the end. How might it deepen and enrich our understandings of gender if scenarios like that were studied in Women’s Studies classrooms?
Consider the worker whose right arm is chewed off attending to heavy machinery (the only family-supporting wage he could find). Can we find no room in our hearts for hard/hazardous laborers? Consider the father laid waste by false accusation: his home, his family, his children taken from him, his reputation destroyed. What would it be like to care about that? Consider the prisoner, his bleeding rectum stretched open with a broom handle prior to gang rape. Can our compassion extend even to soldiers, workers, fathers, and prisoners? What if the pain and powerlessness of soldiers, workers, fathers, prisoners, miners, POWs, experimental test subjects, bums, laborers, et al., were re-understood as the pain and powerlessness of men?
Consider the 14-year-old boy raped by an adult woman—the court reacts by ordering the boy to pay his rapist child support.[iii] Consider the man forced to exchange seats with a woman because the man (i.e., presumed pedophile) happens to have been seated next to an unattended child—according to airline policy the plane will not take off until he complies.[iv] Focused as we are on the plight of girls and women, are we neglecting something? Rather than assume female powerless victimization, what if we were so un-chivalrous as to make an actual side-by-side comparison? What if the far greater cultural outpouring of stories and stats regarding female victimization is only indicative of our far greater empathy toward female suffering?
What if male pain mattered? What’s at risk if we were to distract ourselves from the realities of female pain and powerlessness just long enough to take our first serious look at the male experience of pain and powerlessness? That is not a rhetorical question. Directing equal caring, concern, and compassion toward men changes everything. Is society prepared to deal with those changes?
Let’s pretend. Let’s free our minds to flights of fantasy. Let’s imagine that we respect women. No, I mean really respect women, not as passive powerless pawns and perpetual victims, but as powerful participants, ultimately equal partners in the vast gender dance that molds our human world. What if power is not something Woman will have in the future, but something Woman possesses now? (Remember, it’s OK, we’re just pretending.)
If women are such powerless “chattel,” why don’t we send the chattel sex in for military slaughter, hazardous labor, and imprisonment by the millions? Unless, of course, that’s exactly what we do. So, we’re to believe that Woman being “powerless” plied no force of influence, no force of influence of any kind, in setting up and maintaining a gender system that helps to insulate her from the dark side of the world and human nature as well as most of the deepest dangers and horrors of this world?
In the U.S., women now comprise the majority of the workforce, including a slight majority of all management and professional positions.[v] Women claim 57.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 61 percent of master’s degrees, and control the majority of the nation’s private wealth.[vi] If women are truly powerless, how exactly did all these reversals come about? Beauty/sexual/intimacy power, moral authority power, motherhood power, majority-vote power, a power greater than that of men to inflict shame and elicit empathy; what would it be like to recognize female power as different from male power—generally more covert and subjective in nature—but no less real for that?
What if we acknowledged and respected women’s power? What if we extricated women from a faction of humanity known collectively as “innocent women-and-children”? Can we allow ourselves to pretend that women are not innocent equals-of-children, but rather full-grown, autonomous adults possessing, among other things, adult greed, aggression, and weaponry? What if feminism’s effect in the world was not entirely righteous? Not entirely benevolent? What if feminism was subject to large-scale, official debate and critique?
What’s at risk if we were to distract ourselves from the realities of male power and influence just long enough to take our first serious look at female power and influence? That is not a rhetorical question. Directing equal accountability, responsibility, and respect toward women changes everything. Is society prepared to deal with those changes?
If you believe as I do that truth and fairness are profoundly important for their own sake, and living a lie—no matter how seductive that lie may be—comes at too high a price; come along with me on this journey of discovery.
I invite you to leave the flat earth of MalePower/FemaleVictimization on the shelf for a moment. Rise higher; rise enough to take in a more rounded view. In the lingo of The Matrix, I invite you to take the “red pill.” Wake up from what you’re supposed to believe . . . wake up to gender reality.
[i] www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world_war_one_executions.htm, 10/20/06.
[ii] Tucker, Todd, The Great Starvation Experiment: Ancel Keys and the Men Who Starved for Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007) p.5.
He splayed the fingers of his left hand across the flat top of the log and looked at them. Like everything else on his body, they looked alien to him now. His knuckles bulged on spidery, thin fingers. His pale skin was blue in the moonlight. . . . Number 20 pulled the ax down with a grunt and what remained of his strength. The blade came down straight and true. Before he passed out, Subject No. 20 watched with satisfaction as three of his fingers rolled off the log and into the neatly mown grass.
It was promised that July 29th 1945 would be the day the experiment would end and recovery begin, but Sam and seven others in the slowest recovery group received a mere 400 extra calories per day, a crushing disappointment. While his visiting sister ate her dinner, Sam had to go outside and chop wood until the meal was over. It was under these conditions that Sam temporarily lost his mind.
[iii] Baskerville, Stephen, Ph.D., “Boy Victim of Statutory Rape Forced to Pay Child Support to Adult Woman Rapist,” March 11, 2003, http://www.fact.on.ca/news/news
0303/mnd030311.htm, “Children often pay child support to grown-ups. In California and Kansas, minor boys statutorily raped by adult women must pay child support to the criminals who raped him. In one case, the boy was drugged before sex.”
See also: Jones, Ruth, “Inequality from Gender-Neutral Laws: Why Must Male Victims of Statutory Rape Pay Child Support for Children Resulting from Their Victimization?” https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=
In County of San Luis Obispo v. Nathaniel J., a thirty-four-year-old woman had sex with a fifteen-year-old boy and became pregnant. The woman was convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. . . . In holding Nathaniel J., a statutory rape victim, financially liable for child support, the California Court of Appeal joined other courts across the country that have held that a male victim of statutory rape can be forced to pay child support for a child resulting from his victimization. Without exception, appellate courts have held that while the criminal law deems minors incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse, family law can hold victims financially liable for children conceived during a criminal act. [Source: 36 Georgia Law Review, 411 (Winter 2002)]
[iv] Clark, Andrew, “Airlines in hot seat over child policies,” The Sydney Morning Herald, smh.com.au, November 30, 2005
Mr. Worsley, a shipping manager and father of two-year-old twins, had been allocated a seat next to a boy aged about eight. He was forced to change places with a woman who was reluctant to move because she was traveling with her husband. “Nobody wants to be pointed out as a possible pedophile,” Mr. Worsley told the Herald. “It was humiliating. In the beginning, I was embarrassed. Later on, I was angry.” . . . Other airlines contacted by the Herald said they had similar guidelines.
[v] Dychtwald, Maddy with Larson, Christine, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better (New York: Voice/Hyperi-on, 2010) p.5. See also, Rosin, Hanna, July/August 2010, Atlantic Magazine, “The End of Men,” http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/
“Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point?”
[vi] Ibid., pp.10 & 6.