it’s not about you: feminism and men

One of the workshops I attended at the Gay Christian Network Conference was led by Emmy Kegler (who is a solidly good human being and I adore her). During the “workshop” bit of her presentation, she asked us to split into groups and identify characters from the Bible who were marginalized in some way, and then pick one to share with everyone. I loved the conversation I had with my group, and we decided on Veronica, the Woman with the Issue of Blood– as y’all could probably have guessed, if I had anything to do with the decision.

The first person to share his group’s character started by saying “at first, the only people we listed were women until one of us asked but what about the men? There are plenty of marginalized men, why don’t we talk about them?” and he went on to share a list of different oppressed and marginalized men.

I was up next, and as you can probably imagine was feeling just a teensy bit bellicose: “Well, the only people my group talked about were women, but I’m a feminist so I don’t have a problem with that,” and then attempted to talk about Veronica.

Oh, but that wasn’t going to happen so easily. The man who’d spoken before me shouted “hey, I’m a feminist!”

Right, buddy. Sure you are. Because shouting at a woman and interrupting her presentation is totally what a feminist man does. Unfortunately (and imagine me saying this infused with as much exhaustion as is possible), this is exactly what “feminist” men usually do. After my post on complementarianism as a form of sexual coercion went up, I spent over half an hour arguing with a “feminist ally” about a conjunction I’d used in the post. A conjunction, my hand to God. Eventually, after I asked him to stop talking to me, his response was, and I quote: “Block all dissenting views. Create the perfect echo chamber. Do what you feel you need to do. I’ve got no qualms.” Hilariously, he’s since blocked me. Shocker.

But what about the men?

I used to take that question seriously. I’ve spent hours upon hours responding to e-mails and comments– on my blog and elsewhere. Using every fact and every shred of research at my disposal, I’ve constructed responses that were full-blown essays personalized to the individual man with his individual questions. Over time I realized how incredibly fruitless those efforts almost always were, so I ended up turning to pieces other people had already put together, like these:

There are even entire books dedicated to this! I’ve got The Macho Paradox, Angry White Men, and Man Enough sitting on my bookshelf. However, as even more time has passed, when I get the “but what about teh menz?!” question I realize a) it’s a derailing tactic and b) I cannot be called upon to give any more fucks.

Behold! The field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shall see that it is barren.

I do not care about men (especially cis, straight men) in my feminism.

Oh, I care about men generally and especially in specific instances, like friends and partners and family. I care when you’re hurting, when you’ve been shamed, when you’ve been victimized. I care about your lives. It matters to me if I’ve done something to harm you, if other people have stomped on you, if random events occur that makes things stressful or disappointing or horrific. I care about you as people, and I will do my best to be kind.

However, the question of whether or not, or how, the patriarchy affects men no longer matters to me. Sure, it “affects” men … just like it’s illegal for both rich people and poor people to beg. Technically, rich people and poor people are equal in the eyes of the law and society when it comes to whether or not we approve of panhandling. However, we all know exactly how laughable it is for rich people to be legally prevented from panhandling. They wouldn’t do it anyway (this, obviously, does not include all the other ways rich people and corporations can legally obtain funds that really amount to nothing more than highbrow begging).

The same thing applies to cis, straight men (and trans men and gay/bi men, in limited ways).

With vanishingly few exceptions, all the ways that men are “hurt” by patriarchy are not directed at men. Men are not the targets, even when they’re being affected. Women are the only target of patriarchy, and sometimes there’s the occasional splash over onto men. In all those “__ Ways Patriarchy Hurts Men” pieces, the “ways” are driven by misogyny and femmephobia.

For example, recently a young man was sent home from school because the principal said his hair was too long. That was certainly not a good thing to have happen to him, and the principal was obviously wrong for doing that. However, this was not “sexism against men,” as one Facebook commenter put it. He was being sent home because he was perceived by his principal as womanly. The principal was so offended by the idea of any man appearing “feminine” that he banned this young man from his sight. That’s how big of an insult femininity is to men. Our womanly existence with all its trappings and constructs is, by its nature, offensive to men.

Should this man have been sent away from school? Of course not. However, he can chop his hair off and come back. I will never be able to chop off my womanhood. I will never escape my female body. There is no way I can do my hair that isn’t “wrong” to somebody, somewhere. If its short and easy to maintain, I’m clearly damaged and insane (and no, I’m not linking to the “articles” that say so). If it’s long and styled the way I like, I’m clearly just trying to be a sex kitten, so I’m a slut and men can say/do anything they want to, including following me all over the metro or saying I “look like a woman who has a lot of sex” behind my back.

There are no clothes I can wear that can be perceived as neutral. If I wear jeans an oversized hoodie, like I am today, then I’m dowdy and lazy (forget that it’s cold and rainy outside and I just want to be comfortable). If I wear a short skirt with a sweater, tights, boots, and accessories then I’m obviously gunning for attention. If I wear a blousy, floral shirt with a big chunky cardigan on top of my flair jeans, then gawd I’m a pothead hippie. Skinny jeans and chucks? What are you, some sort of fucking hipster? (And yes, that last has been said to my face.) A boxy suit, with plain black shoes and hose? Well, would you look at that bitchy businesswoman. A stylish pantsuit? You’re not being serious enough.

But my partner can wear dress pants with an Oxford, and as long as it’s clean and relatively unrumpled, no one ever thinks anything about him besides the fact that’s he’s a complicated human being who probably has an office job. He overslept and didn’t trim his beard this morning? Would anyone even freaking notice? However, if I walk outside without any makeup or doing something with my hair, then people will frown at me at the check-out counter and wonder why I’m “letting myself go.”

And all those other things that “hurt men” in the patriarchy, like having your claims of woman-on-man sexual assault or domestic violence dismissed? It’s horrible that happens, but it happens because it’s just not possible for a mere, pathetic, weak and insipid woman to have hurt a man. Any woman, any man. If a man has been victimized, then he’s been womanized, and that’s the problem with that scenario. Not that his bodily autonomy has been violated, his agency violently discarded– it’s that he’s allowed himself to be treated like a man treats a woman.

Feminism can’t get anywhere if we center men. Helping men is a side effect of feminism, not its goal.

Photo by Rosa y Dani
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  • notleia

    Fuck it, let’s all move into a commune for bitchy hags with ALL the kitties and invent a penis-repelling forcefield.

    • Simon the Sorcerer

      That sounds great, please do that.

    • That would be really awesome for all of the lesbian and bisexual cis women–but terrible for any trans women.

      • Dana W

        Speak for yourself.

        • Some trans women can’t have surgery, because of finances or medical issues, and some do not feel the need for it.

    • Ysolde

      I always love how much I am dis-included simply because of biology. Thanks for reminding me yet again…..

  • Meridith Styer

    So much yes to this. I teach at a University in the DC area and I have such a hard time getting male students to even recognize that “women’s issues” are a problem; I sometimes forget that acting out my feminism often means I need to center the discussion on women. You offer a really great corrective here, for that particular issues. It reminds me that acting out feminism should be about equality for women, first and foremost, and then abound using that equality – that I have fought for for myself and that I have taught to my students – to create equality for others. I needed this, this week. Thanks.

  • Lee Hauser

    Thank you for (a) the link to men and the patriarchy (I’ve been wanting things like those but haven’t had time to search) and (b) the excellent “empty fields of fucks” tapestry panel.

    As a cis white male who is trying to be a feminist, I often find myself want to say “But what about me?” Then I remember to shut up and listen. Been trying to learn to do THAT my whole life…

  • gexpl

    Pretty much, yup. I have some serious issues with the way in which feminism generally handles trans men and I think there are some important and valid criticisms to be made there. I’d be thrilled if we were ever given a platform to have a discussion of that. But, in the end, even if feminism never wishes to represent trans men and the particular intersection of oppression that we face, I won’t stop being a feminist. Because I’m a feminist in order to support, uplift, and empower women by dismantling misogyny, not because I’m trying to get anything specific out of it.

    And, on the flip side, I also get pretty bothered with the way a lot of trans men or transmasculine people handle feminism. One of my pet peeves is the derail that I so often see on any conversation about abortion rights or reproductive rights when a transmasculine person has to interject “not everyone who gets an abortion is a woman! Stop ignoring me!” Which… is true, but also I think irrelevant. If a feminist wants to use gender-inclusive language in the topic of abortion rights, I think that’s great. But if a feminist doesn’t want to use that language because she wants to highlight how barriers to abortion and birth control are in place specifically because of misogyny and for the purpose of controlling and oppressing women… that’s fine too. I have no problem with accepting that it’s not about me even though I am affected by it. The reason I am affected is because misogynists view me as female and therefore wish to oppress me along with other women. So am I bothered when people say “this is a women’s issue?” Nope. And I sure as hell don’t want to see trans men talking over the voices of women to try to make the conversation about us.

    • I do include trans men in reproductive justice/rights conversations (usually. I do slip up every once in a while), but that’s a part of my larger belief that gender essentialism is part of patriarchy– having a vagina/uterus/ovaries/XX chromosomes/clitoris/vulva are not what make me a “woman,” although they are a part of my experiences as a cis woman. Gender is complicated and can’t possibly fit into an either/or box. Nonbinary people might also need an abortion, or screenings for cervical cancer, but that doesn’t make them “women,” either.

      • gexpl

        That’s fair. I appreciate the inclusion, but I also don’t complain if women find empowerment in labeling it a women’s issue. Just my feelings on the matter.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    There was male news anchor who wore the same suit on screen every day as an experiment to see if anyone would notice or comment. He did this to make a point – his female collegues received substantial criticism on their constantly varied outfits, not to mention their hair and makeup, and this even with the services of professional stylists. For the entire year, no one said anything to him about his one suit.

  • Helena Osborne

    I think it’s the same crowd of people who complain that the assertion that black lives matter is racist. “But, don’t all lives matter? I’m so enlightened that I will proclaim that all lives matter because equality” ignoring that institutionalized, systematic, constantly reinforced inequality is what is driving the BLM movement in the first place.

  • “Ok, sure, slavery is bad, but what about the white slave owners? How come we never talk about how slavery affects -them-? You know, like, spiritually or whatever.”

    • I’m in a facebook group for supposedly “progressive” Christians, and I’ve seen this argument in there. “Oppression hurts the oppressors just as much as the oppressed” was the specific statement.

      I wanted to gouge my eyes out with a spork.

    • I moved from the Midwest to South Carolina a few years ago, and to my horror discovered that the “but what about the SLAVE OWNERS’ FEELINGS?” attitude is a serious and sincere one here held by a shocking number of people.

      By no means everyone.

      But still a shocking number of people.

  • Jackalope

    To address the person at the talk you mentioned, he could have just said, “Here’s our list of oppressed and marginalized people from the Bible,” and left it at that. “We specifically decided not to talk about women, because what about the men,” didn’t even need to come up. You got to pick a group, you picked a group, the end. I think that would have been less anti-feminist that way than making a point about, “But what about the men?”

  • TulgeyWood


    Well said. “It’s not about me” has become something of a personal mantra over the last year. Very good at allowing me to get out of the way and listen.

  • I would also like to add, for when you’re trying to talk to guys about the very real way women have to view the world around us when we simply walk down the street, the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” piece: https://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

    It’s probably been the piece of writing I’ve had the most success with when it comes to explaining a lot of this stuff to guys who have just never had to deal with it before. It always seems to end with the guy staring wide-eyed at me, because he had just -never realized- how much risk calculation goes into a woman simply walking down a street at dusk.

  • This is awesome. Thank you.

  • nick012000

    Repent of your promotion of feminist wickedness, woman.

    “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

    Ephesians 5:22-33
    The Bible is clear on this topic: just as all Christians are required to submit to the desires of God, full stop, end of story, so too are women are to submit to their husbands, full stop, end of story. It does not matter what her husband does; it does not matter what she feels like. It doesn’t matter if she’s sad, or angry, or tired; submission is what is demanded of her, and divorce between Christians is forbidden, not even for infidelity; while Jesus allowed divorce for infidelity, Paul later went on to state that it is only permissible for Christians to divorce when they’re married to a non-believer.

    So, when you look at its principles, Feminism is fundamentally anti-Christian. Behold its fruits: women rebelling against their husbands, needless strife, the sundering of families, traumatized children, and all the woes that flow from the many poisoned fruits of that rebellion.

    “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in
    Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
    Matthew 7:15-23.

    By promoting such doctrine, you are no Christian. I say this to you out of love: please, repent. For your own sake. For the sake of those you lead astray into the wickedness of feminist rebellion. For the sake of the children who are traumatized by the needless strife between their parents. God forgives all sin, if you are willing to admit that you’ve sinned, and are willing to put a good-faith effort into sinning no longer. Or, if you are not willing to repent, then please, stop calling yourself a Christian – you are living in direct, knowing defiance to God’s expressed will, and he will have little mercy for you when the time for judgement comes.

    Do you wish to be one of the trees that is chopped down and cast into the fire?

    • This is all very adorable, especially since every one of those passages about women submitting to husbands is surrounded by commands for slaves to obey their masters. The only way you’re not a hypocrite is if you think that slavery is just as commanded by God as wives obeying husbands– that freed slaves are just as “anti-Christian” as a feminist woman.

      Historical context is important, friend. Have a wonderful day.

    • “Repent of your promotion of feminist wickedness, woman” makes a great opening line at parties! I’ll have to use it next time. Plus, I can blame *other* people, when they react poorly.

      Thanks for sharing it!

      P.S. I say this out of love!