Why ordinary men find Feminism infuriating
I remember back in 2003 when I started college. I was the only man in my philosophy class that put my hand up when the teacher asked if we were feminists. I was at the time, puzzled as to why the other guys in the class didn’t raise their hand…I mean, why wouldn’t you be pro-women’s rights? Who doesn’t’ empathise with being treated like dirt over something they have no control over and is a deep part of their identity? But looking back on it now I wonder I actually see something of what those other guys in the class might have been thinking when they didn’t raise their hands.
I’ve been following the feminism debate for a long time now and one thing that always strikes me is how infuriating it is to deal with feminists when you are a man. Now, being annoyed or antagonised by someone who you are fundamentally in opposition to is not all that strange, but what I find is striking about the issue of feminism is that it on principle myself (and many other frustrated men) aren’t fundamentally opposed to the tenets of feminism itself; This is frustration in spite of fundamental agreement.
What is also striking is that the same feelings of frustration from feeling judged and shamed are not something that I feel in response to any other movement. Case in point, my Facebook feed is clogged with weird and wonderful articles on issues facing the gay community, habitual on-going racism experienced by minorities and heart-warming talks that make us reanalyse our views of mental illness, poverty and so on. But none of these videos or articles strike the same nerve with me as feminism. None of them make me feel I am the (even in my ignorance) part of a problem even when I and if I am; instead I leave feeling enlightened and like part of a solution or a potential solution.
As someone who is mentally healthy, straight and well off you’d think I’d be just as incensed by those talks as I am by the kind of comments I see on feminist related posts that many women leave.
So…what is going on here?
So the first question you might be asking is this: If you are fundamentally in agreement why is it that you are in conflict?
See, the thing is whereas I agree with feminism in principle, I don’t agree with many of the off-the-cuff remarks that go unreprimanded that are often made alongside feminist assertions and I don’t agree with them because they vilify behaviours that are otherwise natural for men (but not for women). But in disagreeing with the smaller “problem” I open myself up to attack for being against feminists in everything they say.
For instance, take a look over this video: http://www.scoopwhoop.com/story.aspx?menuid=4&contentid=146#sthash.6mctaBPG.dpbs
For women this seems like a conscious attempt at perverse behaviour and a way for the man to psych the woman out and make her aware of some future attempt to rape her. She might use an expression like like ‘undressing with the eyes’… a uniquely female expression which strikes many man as an amusing alien concept (why would a man waste his time undressing a woman in his imagination when he can fast-forward to the good bits?); The thing is most (straight) men who view this only see fairly ordinary behaviour and they cannot convincingly explain why it is in fact normal (though they can feel it in their gut).
Now the science actually backs up why this is ordinary and for me feel free to read on (though this isn’t the crux of this article).
-We know men decide on whether to look at someone with sexual interest almost immediately as that is the way their brains are wired. This is why they go into sexual look mode almost straight away so they can make a kind of 3D scan of the woman to determine her true body shape. It also explains why men do it considerably more frequently than women (they only need to be around a stranger for a second or so to be compelled to enter this mode and if you are around a lot of strangers…)
-We also know that men’s vision operates like a spot light (which is probably what a man’s gaze feels like) and has a considerably more constricted range of vision than a woman’s gaze. This means that he has to move his head to train his vision on a woman in order to get a clear look. In fact most men will be able to attest that if they hold they hand up in front of their face and move it down (keeping their gaze still) their range of vision simply isn’t good enough to make out anything but a blurry hand shape by the time the hand is at chin level (seriously, I can’t even make out how long my finger nails are…in fact I can’t even differentiate the colour of my nails from my hands!).
-The result is that a man’s gaze is extremely obvious to a woman as he has to crane his head to get a as good a look as she could having just kept her gaze appearing as if it was aimed elsewhere.
-Couple that with the fact that men are pretty dumb about this kind of stuff (men’s brains are not as well attuned as a woman’s’ to catch fine social cues like gaze) and you get the impression that the men who do this are actually massive perverts.
Ever noticed a guy who appears to be looking at you every time you look to check if he is looking? He probably isn’t, in all likelihood he is constantly looking away and ‘stealing’ glances so he can finish the scan of the woman’s body/features that he is compelled to make but can’t because he is afraid of being blasted out for being a massive perv. If there was no stigma to looking he’d just do a detailed once-over and get it out of his system after having made a complete scan (though if he has managed to make a scan and is still staring something else might be up).
Women naturally find all this looking exhausting and normally blame the men involved (who are simply attempting to juggle social expectations that tell them not to look with their natural urges which tell them to ‘finish the damn scan’) and denounce their behaviour as unnatural and perverse. After all, you can’t strike out someone for doing something you acknowledge as natural. Well, not without appearing unsympathetic and irrational.
I think the truth behind the matter is that men’s behaviour was perfectly acceptable in the past when we lived in smaller communities with fewer strangers (which meant considerably less ‘scanning’ as most men would have scanned every woman in the community once and be done with it) and women were able to sustain that amount of looking without being exhausted by it. The problem in my eyes isn’t the men (who are doing what is natural) but the structures of the societies we live in that force us to live in close proximity to dozens, even hundreds of strangers and that in turn means a man is in ‘scanning mode’ a heck of a lot just to keep up.
Now this is the point many men get extremely upset for having what they know in their gut is natural behaviour be vilified. We’ve put up with jealous/insecure partners for generations because they just couldn’t believe it but now what is happening is men aren’t just being told it is uncomfortable (which is the point where most other movements the kind I mentioned earlier would stop) but actually being made out to be evil for having these urges acting as a kind of mental itch on them (an itch which ‘scanning’ alleviates).
What happens next is something that will likely stun and confuse readers a 100 years from now the same way the superstitions that fuelled the Salem Witch Trials leave us flabbergasted today. As if receiving judgement for simply doing what comes naturally wasn’t enough the man then ends up accused of something totally unrelated; being a rapist (or accessory to rape). This is actually quite similar to how women of the time were accused of being evil (and even dangerous) for having abilities that at the time were ill understood (we understand today that women’s seemingly super-powered perception comes about as the result of unique brain wiring) and made people feel uncomfortable; men took their fear of the unexplained and linked it to what seemed like the most rational, sensible evil they could; witchcraft and the devil. At the time the explanations seemed phenomenally convincing…enough so to put women to death. Now I’m not drawing a comparison of cruelty between the situation those women faced and what men face but trying to shock the senses into seeing how we, in the 21st century, are still capable of making massive leaps of logic when confronted with something scary.
I’d like to think that most modern people who view the situation I described above rationally realise that this kind of staring is not one and the same as rape. Nor are the two in either a sequential or causal relationship that is inevitable (or highly likely).
In fact I’ve yet to see a feminist actually join up the dots from ‘staring’ to rape in the way described above despite the two being treated as if they are linked that way. At best you get the blanket term ‘rape culture’ which most men on the receiving end see as a logical smoke-screen. If the man tries to logically reason with the feminist he finds himself accused of being a rapist (or chauvinist) on the basis that he is questioning an a hypothesis where the links are at best tenuous and the only reason he would question it is because, according to his accusers, because of his terrible character.
In other words the man cannot argue any minor points against a feminist because the feminist will often perform a kind of bait and switch; the man thinks they are simply arguing about ‘staring’ and when he looks down he finds the feminist has swapped the topic papers with a bomb emblazoned with the word ‘rape’ on it. Or at least that is what it feels like.
This kind of logical fallacy is one of the most overused and under-recognised around. So much so that I’m going to take the liberty of actually giving it name: The Greater Problem Attribution Fallacy. To understand why this kind of reasoning creates frustration take a look at the skit below:
A: God, I can’t believe people eat other people alive. Cannibalism is so wrong.
A: I mean, think about it, those sick bastards eat people. God, just the idea of people eating meat grosses me out. You’d have to be sick to chew down on meat.
A: Whoa, I know you are a vegetarian and all but eating meat isn’t a sign that someone is messed up. That’s balls.
B: Well, you would say that, you’re fucking cannibal. I bet you eat babies alive you sick fuck!
B: Down with cannibal culture. Down with meat eating!
A: Whoa, now hold on there put the torch down and maybe we can talk about this
B: No, maybe someone like ‘you’ wants to ‘talk’ about it. We all know this is just about you justifying your sick behaviour!
This is the way in which many of the comments sections in feminist articles reach a kind of deadlock where the meat-eater, frustrated and feeling unfairly judged of something only tangentially related to the particular thing he was talking about leaves feeling confused and angry.
But it isn’t just the unfair accusations and logical switcharoos that vilify otherwise neutral statements that are what frustrate men. It’s also the scrutiny under which feminism has placed (and judged) every single behaviour, interaction and word (and even non-behaviours, non-interactions and non-words) and the frequency with which in bombards men with the judgemental conclusions reached.
Why is this a problem you ask? Surely if the micro-behaviours of men reveal a problematic chauvinistic attitude then we should point it out?
Here is where things get messy. Feminism operates under the assumption that deterministic factors in human interactions do not exist…at least not ones that seemingly endanger the feminist message. That is to say, feminism rejects concepts like the domination-submission being a part of natural order (and even human nature) and finds any examples of domination (behaviours which men are naturally drawn to and so if you analyse them closely you will see them everywhere) as abhorrent when done by men….even though women also contribute to the same ‘bigger problem’ (but don’t receive the same scrutiny). This is a shame because these kinds of power dynamics are a natural part of human nature right down to the way it comes across in unconscious body language.
Now don’t get me wrong, are some extensions of this natural dominate-submissive part of human nature extremes that we should draw a line against (rape/power abuse in the corporate world etc)? Absolutely. The problem is that feminists attempt to justify where they draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable by framing the debate in terms of natural (acceptable) and socialised (potentially unacceptable). This would be fine if not for the fact that many of the things they put in the socialised category don’t belong there but are placed so that feminists can use the difference between nature/socialised as a way to give legitimacy to where they draw the line.
The real shame of it is that feminists don’t have to frame the debate in this way at all; it’s not a fight they have to fight (and not one they can win since it is against nature) in order to draw the lines they want to draw. We can accept that men striving for dominance and women striving for submissiveness is both natural (exceptions being precisely that; exceptions) and at the same time draw a line that stipulates what is and is not acceptable based on other criteria that are not only compelling, but grounded in fact. We do after all accept that it is okay for humans to be territorial (we wouldn’t villify people over wanting a home that separates them from others) even though we take issue with what can be seen as the natural consequence when that part of human nature overexerts itself (war). If we can do it there, why not here?
You might be wondering why I am even taking issue with this. If I don’t mind having lines drawn why do I take issue with the way in which they are drawn up? Well, because the current way feminism draws those lines up actually vilifies the natural behaviours even in their benign forms.
Imagine if every move you made, every word you said and every look you looked…in addition to every move you have never made, words you haven’t said and looks you haven’t looked…imagine that all of that was under close scrutiny. Now imagine someone combing over it pouring over it and looking for minute traces of anything that could conceivably be construed as ‘submissive’. Yes, everything. Now imagine that not only are you under close scrutiny, but that every time someone perceives a ‘submissive’ behaviour that you are judged for being part of a wider problem. The fact that you might be doing it unconsciously is irrelevant; you are evil for simply being part of the machine. Now imagine that articles judging you in this way were everywhere on all the websites you visited and all over your FB feed. You try an explain that you walk on the inside of the pavement sometimes (something men originally made women do as an act of chivalry should someone drop waste from the houses above) for reasons x,y and z. In fact you don’t even know why you have to explain this at all nor why you have to explain why you look down when a guy you like catches you looking. You are doing all of this in a benign way, often for no particularly conscious reason at all…heck you might just be shy. So, you try your best to explain this all the while angry that you would not only have to ‘explain’ it but justify it (answer to the angry mob); the people commenting in the articles aren’t having any of it; you walk on that side of the pavement to keep women down, you avert your gaze because you want to not only be raped but see rape proliferate….at least, so say the other commenters. Pretty soon you are in tears and wondering how so many people can be so cruel and so willing to take every minor thing you do and twist it so that you are not only part of a problem, but apparently, the source of the problem.
This frustration of having everything they do looked at looked at under a microscope is what men deal with and quite frankly it doesn’t matter quite how they respond because simply by nature of being human they are in the dominate-submissive power structure and so naturally it shows up to varying degrees in what they do. They can reduce it to its most benign levels (which is the sensible thing to do) but ultimately it will never disappear. That doesn’t mean they are an accessory to rape, it doesn’t mean they are bad people, it doesn’t really mean any of the accusations they have levelled against them; it just means they are a human caught up in…well, being human.
Now I do emphasise again that I feel looking at the power relationships in behaviour to pointing out where it is not benign is a worthwhile exercise. But taking everything that feeds into such a power relationship as equally malignant simply doesn’t make sense. And going one step further and vilifying men for all forms of domination no matter how benign also doesn’t make sense.
This article is a rare piece I was compelled to write because I realised I was unceremoniously gate-crashing feminist posts where feminists just wanted to created solidarity over an issue. Men do this because for men starting the conversation is difficult (we don’t want to do it). Start it rarely gets you much more than deafening silence; men don’t want to debate these issues when they aren’t presented in terms of a conflict as it feels too touchy-feely rather than productive or combative. I also wrote it for my piece of mind so I could get these ideas out of my head.
Having read so many feminist articles at this point I think I am pretty familiar with the issues women face, but how many women are familiar with that exposure to the judgements in feminist articles has on men? I hope this article enlightens people a bit on why ordinary men mind feminism so maddening at times.