“I just need to be me now, because I’ve had enough.”
December 9, 2015 5:43 PM   Subscribe

What is actually going on with men, right now? What are they afraid of and unwilling to talk about? How do the inner lives of men affect women, other men, our culture? We see men struggling to define themselves at a time when gender definitions are expanding. We see men dealing, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not, with the weight of their power. And we learn that what it means to be a modern man is just like everything else: complex, messy, and always changing. Medium presents: The Men Issue

A new story is being published every day this week. So far:

Fariha Roisin - Soft Power: How pop star Zayn Malik is rebuilding the modern Muslim man in an age of Islamophobia.

When Western culture has institutionalized the erasure of men like you, it is a sincere revolution to be yourself. This is when self-love — as in being true to yourself — is an act of resistance. There is nothing hyperbolic about what he is doing; no exaggeration of his impact. He’s simply being. Being in a world that wants you to be a certain way, a way that he is not.

Inspiration can’t be false-hearted, and although he’s only just 22, he represents the halcyon of an era that’s to come where we respect Muslims to be, but also where we allow men to be charged with emotionality. Men are taught to have egos, but never to truly like themselves. Within his framework, you see Zayn trying, through acceptance, to shift our perceptions of Muslim men, and even all men.


Chris Kindred - My Black Skin Is Not An Invitation: How do you admit you’re a man who was sexually assaulted?

Hanif Abdurraqib - I’ll Never Be My Wife’s Equal: Sometimes partnership is learning to be second best.

I spent my formative years seeing romantic partnership reflected back to me in the form of dominant men living like children due to the safety net of a woman. Being in a relationship with someone who both has their shit together and has no time for me to NOT have my shit together is a crash course. I went from attempting to coast by on half-measures in our early dating, to waking up in a reality where I was really in a battle for our shared joy. And I was expected to take it on with her, at every turn.

Beejoli Shah - The “C” Word: What consent means to men — and why they’re still too scared to talk about it.

Over the last month, I spoke to men from all different backgrounds — from teens to retirees, lawyers and teachers to mens right’s activists — about where they stand on the practice of consent, outside of the politicized arguments. Even though most guys felt that the onus of consent falls more heavily on men than it does women, they thought everybody should be talking about it. But the problem: nobody seems to be doing so.

So, I asked a dozen guys about their grayest of hookups, the ones that raised the most question marks in their aftermath; how consent applies to them; and what they think of the system that’s often contradictory and labyrinthine.


Nona Willis Aronowitz - (Not) All Men: Why women want to believe Our Dudes are the exception

Alana Massey - Subject: Welcome to GMale! Finally, an email plug-in that stops men from being horrible to women.
posted by triggerfinger (111 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
 
damn, [this is good]
posted by es_de_bah at 6:12 PM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


they’d gift me tips on how to build a “man cave” and the importance of getaways
What I've learned, after ten years: a man cave isn't a getaway, it's a form of containment. As much for my own good as for hers.
posted by klanawa at 6:31 PM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


(There is a lot here to read; I am only stopping briefly to say that the banner graphic is pretty funny.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:47 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of the quotes from men in the consent article are really depressing. "I’m not saying all rape allegations are false, but..." UGH. So many of these men seem fucking mystified by the idea that maybe you should sleep with sober people who like you and want to fuck you, and that makes me want to move right to Crone Island.
posted by a hat out of hell at 6:49 PM on December 9, 2015 [56 favorites]


This makes me feel like a lifetime of having a man bag, crying a lot and being generally sensitive has been an act of progressive rebellion.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:03 PM on December 9, 2015 [36 favorites]


As a man, I am thrilled that my oft-ignored gender is finally getting some attention. I know we are a minority, with only 49% of the population, but our issues deserve coverage too. Thank you Medium!
posted by foobaz at 7:22 PM on December 9, 2015 [38 favorites]


Speaking of Crone Island, for some who missed it during the recent Male Friendship thread, a few of us setup a Slack instance for talking about masculinity issues: huglife.slack.com
posted by bl1nk at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


how do you even slack?
posted by boo_radley at 7:26 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The one thing that struck me about the consent article is that the underlying implicit understanding of consent that we teach men is primarily legal. Like, it's just jarring that the first thing that a lot of men leap to when discussing consent is "how can I make sure I don't go to jail for rape", and not "what can I do to make sure that my partner and I have a mutually satisfying and comfortable time?" I'm led to think that the way we sometimes frame consent is fundamentally flawed in it how it occurs co-morbid with toxic masculinity in the first place. Like, we lay an patriarchal expectation that young men shouldn't care emotionally about their partners in the first place in order to be "real men", and that heterosexual/normative sex is primarily about satisfying the urges of the male partner, and then we dig them further into that hole by realizing that now we've set this expectation, the only persuasive power that we can hold over men is a legal "this will get you into trouble" argument rather than anything that states "hey, maybe your partner won't feel good if you don't take these steps" - because hey, why would real men care about the latter?

So this is why it strikes me as so important to challenge toxic masculinity alongside teaching consent. If you don't do so, the messages taught by consent education are always going to be distorted because it's viewed through a lens that fundamentally misunderstands what consent is about in the first place. So this happens with "no means no" consent education, but it also happens with "yes means yes" consent education - because sometimes yes doesn't actually mean yes! Bright lines can totally be drawn in consent, but I feel like we really need to be teaching young men how they should be reacting when they broach a grey area better. Because right now, we seem to be shell-shocking a lot of them into reacting primarily selfishly first out of self-preservation - leading to rules lawyering, leading to denial, leading to exertion of social power over women - when really, the better response needs to be to taking their partner's discomfort into consideration first, and using these experiences to learn where boundaries are.
posted by Conspire at 7:27 PM on December 9, 2015 [138 favorites]


how do you even slack?

afaik, sciatrix, crystaldave, vigilant, and qcubed are admins. You can just MeMail them your email address to get an invite. it's a web based group chat client with downloadable apps for your computer, phone or tablet. for anyone who's grown up w/ IRC or worked w/ Hipchat, it's very similar.
posted by bl1nk at 7:29 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


What is actually going on with men, right now?

I am watching a Judy Garland Christmas special and drinking a nice Bordeaux.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:30 PM on December 9, 2015 [71 favorites]


Can I sign up to work for GMale? I feel like I've found my calling.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 7:36 PM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ok, and this is why I tuned in: Judy just did a high kick with a half dozen Santas and then broke into "Over the Rainbow." :teary:
posted by octobersurprise at 7:58 PM on December 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


they’d gift me tips on how to build a “man cave” and the importance of getaways
What I've learned, after ten years: a man cave isn't a getaway, it's a form of
containment. As much for my own good as for hers.

I moved in with my current partner earlier this summer. In the past, when I cohabited with a significant other, we had both chosen to live in places that were big enough to have separate personal spaces. We arranged common space collaboratively and shared cleaning duties, but she wanted her stuff in her room and I had my stuff in my room. It wasn't a mancave per se, but it was still sometimes useful to have a room that one of us could retreat to if we were sick or tired or just wanted privacy.

In the new place, the relationship dynamic is a bit different, and the space is such that we don't really have the luxury of "my space" and "your space". It's just our space. She was also in between jobs in our first couple of months of living together, so she took on all of the domestic work of unpacking and arranging furniture. It was weird and stressful to come home from a day at the job to find that our kitchen had been re-arranged, and all of my stuff was in a different place. But then, I kind of took in my breath, and looked around and realized that she did a really good job and it was a far better and more efficient job than I could've managed. Losing the absolute control and dominion over my living space (especially after three years of living on my own) stressed me out, but adjusting to where she put everything wasn't a problem. Where she put everything was better and it made sense.

It's still weird sometimes. We divide household labor where I always cook and take care of shopping errands, and she cleans and does the laundry. There are times when she cleans and I can't find something, and my hind brain's first impulse is to blame her (like, if you didn't move my stuff, I'd know where it was), and then I'd find the thing that I was missing and it was in a place that wasn't touched by anything that she cleaned. Losing the thing is still totally my fault.

The experience has totally made me appreciate man caves for the idea of just having a space that is yours, that you don't have to share, that will never be touched. I get that appeal and have experienced the anxiety directly, but I've also experienced this bit from the Hanif Abdurraqib article:
The thing about undertaking any partnership — not just romantic ones, not just hetero-romantic ones — is the entire process of unlearning the selfishness that we’ve all cultivated (potentially) over decades.
and, for me, it wasn't just realizing how at the same time that I was giving up control, so was she. We were learning a new way of sharing a life, and it seemed like the only way to make that fair and successful was to kick away a little more of the safety net of private spaces and just force ourselves to really exist here for each other. We still talk about how the furniture should be rearranged, or what's a smarter way to organize our pots and pans, but we share everything in our living space, and it's really, surprisingly nice.

Though, ask me again in ten years, and maybe my answer will change.
posted by bl1nk at 8:00 PM on December 9, 2015 [89 favorites]


The one thing that struck me about the consent article is that the underlying implicit understanding of consent that we teach men is primarily legal. Like, it's just jarring that the first thing that a lot of men leap to when discussing consent is "how can I make sure I don't go to jail for rape", and not "what can I do to make sure that my partner and I have a mutually satisfying and comfortable time?" I'm led to think that the way we sometimes frame consent is fundamentally flawed in it how it occurs co-morbid with toxic masculinity in the first place. Like, we lay an patriarchal expectation that young men shouldn't care emotionally about their partners in the first place in order to be "real men", and that heterosexual/normative sex is primarily about satisfying the urges of the male partner, and then we dig them further into that hole by realizing that now we've set this expectation, the only persuasive power that we can hold over men is a legal "this will get you into trouble" argument rather than anything that states "hey, maybe your partner won't feel good if you don't take these steps" - because hey, why would real men care about the latter?

So this is why it strikes me as so important to challenge toxic masculinity alongside teaching consent. If you don't do so, the messages taught by consent education are always going to be distorted because it's viewed through a lens that fundamentally misunderstands what consent is about in the first place. So this happens with "no means no" consent education, but it also happens with "yes means yes" consent education - because sometimes yes doesn't actually mean yes! Bright lines can totally be drawn in consent, but I feel like we really need to be teaching young men how they should be reacting when they broach a grey area better. Because right now, we seem to be shell-shocking a lot of them into reacting primarily selfishly first out of self-preservation - leading to rules lawyering, leading to denial, leading to exertion of social power over women - when really, the better response needs to be to taking their partner's discomfort into consideration first, and using these experiences to learn where boundaries are.


Yes, this, a thousand times. The fundamental issue is that men are taught that their value and self-worth are tied to their ability to attract and sleep with women. This imperative is the engine that drives rape culture, sexual harassment, boundary-pushing, etc. As long as it remains in place, we are basically nipping around the edges, as you described.
posted by goodnight to the rock n roll era at 8:06 PM on December 9, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'm a bit surprised by their use of photos of sausages to spell the word "Men" at the top of the article
posted by clockzero at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain the withdrawing of consent after the fact? Like in what case would that ever be OK?
posted by Hazelsmrf at 8:18 PM on December 9, 2015


The comic about sexual assault and black men's sexuality is pretty staggering. The same artist has a comic about masculinity and race, as well.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:19 PM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can someone explain the withdrawing of consent after the fact? Like in what case would that ever be OK?

If you've had sex with someone once, you can decide you don't ever want to do it with them again.
posted by teponaztli at 8:20 PM on December 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


In our culture, I don't think men are taught or expected even to really think about the women's perspective when it comes to sexual relationships. That's just one more thing that's seen "not manly" to other men. So you either succeed by any means necessary (which is celebrated even when those means are abhorrent) or you try to be kind and respectful and you're called a "pussy"/"queer"/other words which aren't insults except to those who use them. Why? Because that's what they were taught and they were on the receiving end of the same abuse anytime they tried to act differently. It's a cycle and our entire culture seems dedicated to perpetuating it.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:20 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can someone explain the withdrawing of consent after the fact? Like in what case would that ever be OK?

I think (I hope) that the boy in the account just misunderstood what was being taught. In that anecdote he clearly thought the sex-ed educators were saying someone could consent to an encounter, have a good time, and then go back and claim that they didn't actually consent. Whereas I hope what they were teaching is that you can have consent to have sex with someone, end up not feeling it, and then not consent to future encounters.
posted by schroedinger at 8:31 PM on December 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ah ok Teponaztli that makes much more sense than how I was reading it, which is that if you regretted an encounter you could edit it in your mind to have it be no longer consensual. I've had experiences that I've regretted and weren't great choices but they weren't unconsenting.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 8:34 PM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Men Issue: 60% written by women.

I get the GMale article likely resonates with most/all women but I don't see how it lives up to any of this:

These questions led us to a special series that reveals a crisis of masculinity. We see men struggling to define themselves at a time when gender definitions are expanding. We see men dealing, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not, with the weight of their power. And we learn that what it means to be a modern man is just like everything else: complex, messy, and always changing.

Don't claim to sell me insight on my gender and then post the same kind of article that Hairpin and Jezebel have had for years. I actually already know that men do shitty things!
posted by pahalial at 8:37 PM on December 9, 2015 [31 favorites]


he clearly thought the sex-ed educators were saying someone could consent to an encounter, have a good time, and then go back and claim that they didn't actually consent.

Hmm, I thought it meant you had to be careful and self-aware even if someone says they give consent at the time. Basically if there's even a shred of chance that someone may say "no" in the future, then they have actually not given consent.
posted by FJT at 8:46 PM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a bit surprised by their use of photos of sausages to spell the word "Men" at the top of the article

I am not. The implicit assumption that all men have penises and all women have vaginas is everywhere.
posted by sevenofspades at 8:52 PM on December 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


In our culture, I don't think men are taught or expected even to really think about the women's perspective when it comes to sexual relationships. That's just one more thing that's seen "not manly" to other men.

I'm not sure this is true. I was raised to believe that it is manly to give a woman pleasure. Why else would be so obsessed with the size of our anatomy? It's because we're convinced bigger is better for our partner.
posted by foobaz at 8:52 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure this is true. I was raised to believe that it is manly to give a woman pleasure. Why else would be so obsessed with the size of our anatomy? It's because we're convinced bigger is better for our partner.

That's one of those things that comes back to you, the man, though. Like, the concern isn't that women need or deserve sexual pleasure, the concern is that a guy should be able to give it to them by virtue of how much of a man he is. And it should just happen with no real effort, because clearly having a giant penis means you will be able to please any woman with no care or effort on your part. And women will love you for it, and you'll be such a man because you're just so good in bed.
posted by teponaztli at 8:58 PM on December 9, 2015 [26 favorites]


Like, it's just jarring that the first thing that a lot of men leap to when discussing consent is "how can I make sure I don't go to jail for rape", and not "what can I do to make sure that my partner and I have a mutually satisfying and comfortable time?"

We get raised to find talking about sex profoundly discomfiting--even moreso if we are talking about having good sex. If we give our kids sex education at all it's about the mechanics of it, birth control, STDs, and maybe losing your virginity. Nothing about "OK, you're with someone, you want to have sex, here's what you do to make things fun!"

And if you are a dude you sure aren't supposed to express concern about how you or your partner feels about sex. It's about how many times, what positions, how you finish, how many orgasms she got. We encourage them to fulfill their physical needs--but actively discourage examining their own emotional needs, and God forbid they pay attention to any of their partner's needs at all. At the most extreme of this toxic education, the only time men are allowed to feel connected to another human being is if they are having sex with them. Otherwise they're wimps. Babies. Not men.

US culture teaches men to feel entitled towards sex. But I wonder if for some men the feeling is not just entitlement but desperation. Desperation for any intimate human contact--because they've been taught that any other way of achieving that is unmanly. If a guy felt this way then I can see why a denial of sex might not just feel like a denial of a physical need, but a denial of their sole outlet for expressing themselves as emotional, social beings.
posted by schroedinger at 8:59 PM on December 9, 2015 [33 favorites]


I was raised to believe that it is manly to give a woman pleasure.

You just answered it right there. Sex is not a thing where two people can just enjoy. It's now a yardstick to measure someone's worth as a man. It's not sex between equals. It's sex as a progress bar to be filled up for a hi-score.
posted by FJT at 8:59 PM on December 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure this is true. I was raised to believe that it is manly to give a woman pleasure. Why else would be so obsessed with the size of our anatomy? It's because we're convinced bigger is better for our partner.

What teponaztil said. Like, it's not about the woman, it's a contest with other dudes to prove their manliness. When guys are bragging about how much they looooooooove to eat pussy" or how many orgasms their partner had it is a clear indication of their divestment from their partner's actual pleasure. Not all good sex includes an orgasm! Not all women like to be eaten out! And oh boy, don't even suggest the idea that a woman may fake an orgasm because she knows her partner won't stop bugging her if he thinks she hasn't come. The response is not one of concern for why their she feels the need to do that. It's generally anger that she would dare trick him, denying him the chance to honestly earn that notch on his belt.
posted by schroedinger at 9:08 PM on December 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


I found this series via the Alana Massey article (which I loved), but made this post on the strength of the Farina Roisin article, which is just a really, really excellent essay.

Muslim men aren’t ever seen as docile. They are feared and vilified, marginalized and taunted — and even if they are “shy” that’s always characterized as something more nefarious. When the world pictures Muslim men, they see beards and cloaked bodies, gangly, dirt-smeared refugees. And they think: terrorists. Or at least that’s what a Texas teacher thought this year when 14-year-old Ahmed Mohammed was arrested for making a clock in school. His teacher labeled it suspicious because of his name and ethnicity, but Mohammed later explained that he made the clock to “impress his teacher.” His innocence was misread as a threat. His shyness and softness were seen as incongruent within the construct of Muslim masculinity.

If you Google “Muslim boy” there’s no accompanying photo of Zayn being a shy kid at a British elementary school, getting good grades, challenging stereotypes. These Muslim boys turn into Muslim men; they are never shown to exist within the appurtenance of innocence. So when Muslim pop stars publicly identify as such, it proves that Islam — a religion that’s so often been reduced to an exaggeration — has cultural value. The very presence of Zayn, then, a British Muslim male superstar, who has captured our hearts through his demure shyness, ruptures the dichotomy of
us versus them, because one of them becomes an us.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:17 PM on December 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can't say enough how much the messaging for men is centered around your worth, as a man, being related to sex. You should be a stud, you should sleep with lots of women, and if you don't, it's because you're doing something wrong. Choosing not to have sex? I hear you, bro, but it also sounds like something you'd say if you couldn't get any. Shy around women? Sure, we all are, let me tell you, just get some confidence and you'll get any woman you want.

This is just the heterosexual experience that I'm familiar with, but I'm sure it's similar for all men. It's no wonder so many men just don't get it, because the vast majority of the messaging they get is centered around such a totally unhealthy self-image, and it extends to a totally unhealthy view of any and all potential partners. Their friends, family, the media, music - all of this weighs so heavily against anything that might say otherwise, that might teach them anything about what it means to view a relationship in a healthy way.

I really worry that there's no resources for men who feel overwhelmed by the expectations of masculinity, because that's just how pervasive all of this is. Even the people who care can't always resist the temptation to reassure themselves that "well, at least I've been with this many people." I'd really like to see more resources for men, by men, that deal with this from a place of understanding. I'd like to see more places that can engage with these issues as a redefinition of masculinity. This is a huge crisis, and it's routinely hurting scores of men and women daily.
posted by teponaztli at 9:18 PM on December 9, 2015 [47 favorites]


OK wait, I just heard about huglife.slack.com and I'd like to be in on that, except that I have no idea how Slack works, how one signs up, or actually what Slack even is in the first place.
posted by teponaztli at 9:24 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, this:

The Men Issue: 60% written by women.

also occurred to me. Obviously our patriarchal society hurts men too, and in ways that are distinctly different from how it hurts women, even though these things get intertwined. And I think it's important to have times and spaces devoted to focusing on and discussing these issues and how they affect men, specifically.

I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of articles the rest of the week brings us.

On preview, this:

I'd really like to see more resources for men, by men, that deal with this from a place of understanding. I'd like to see more places that can engage with these issues as a redefinition of masculinity. This is a huge crisis, and it's routinely hurting scores of men and women daily.

says it much better than I did.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:28 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh man. Masculinity is a profoundly weird thing to live inside. Thanks to those who have shared.

My conversations and friendships with trans men and women, and non-binary folks, have been liberating. Seeing other people's relationships with masculinity helps me triangulate my own.
posted by sixswitch at 9:33 PM on December 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I thought that one anecdote might have been a misunderstanding of the notion that one might withdraw consent *during* a sex act.
posted by atoxyl at 9:38 PM on December 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's also OK to stop consenting even when you are in the middle of having sex, which could also be inferred from the consent quote (although perhaps "during" would have been a more appropriate term). In any case, the way that we frame consent often means that "if you say yes, you said yes," and there's no room for a "no" part of the way through. That's withdrawing consent after giving it, and that has to be allowed for the situation to be truly consensual.
posted by sockermom at 9:42 PM on December 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


masculinity is hierarchy. so is every other system that the left opposes. the left is correct that the hierarchies are essentially arbitrary in the context of modernity, but they still exist, and most people subscribe to them because they give us meaning beyond pure consumerism. channels can be dug to construct subhierarchies within the essential hierarchies (how gender-performative, rich, sexually attractive, godly, smart, etc you are), but the hierarchies exist and always will, and the hierarchies are zero-sum. the spaces dug out for alternate expressions will always be reactive to the older conceptions and nonsensical in their absence. at the end of the day, a rank within hierarchy is always going to defeat subjective ideas of fitting into an ideal.
posted by p3on at 9:46 PM on December 9, 2015


As far as good resources I really like the mission and some of what the Good Men Project has done but they seem to think they need to be a content farm and have gotten very diluted as a result. I think there's a space for a more longreads- or nautilus-style contemplative project that focuses on quality over quantity.
posted by pahalial at 9:56 PM on December 9, 2015


but the hierarchies exist and always will

isn't the entire project of the left premised on this not being true - on the idea that it is possible to overcome these hierarchies? maybe you meant something else, but from how you phrased it, this sounds sort of horribly defeatist.
posted by goodnight to the rock n roll era at 10:07 PM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I was assaulted (many times) what was the right thing to do? Should I have called the cops? Should I have confronted them as forcefully as possible? Should I have resorted to violence? Because I didn't care.

I didn't like the contact, but I didn't care.

What should I do?
posted by poe at 10:14 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


isn't the entire project of the left premised on this not being true

yes, but i've lost faith.
posted by p3on at 10:19 PM on December 9, 2015


isn't the entire project of the left premised on this not being true - on the idea that it is possible to overcome these hierarchies?

This oversimplifies a lot. Even if you can't get rid of them, there are better and worse hierarchies. I think you could more accurately say that the premise is that hierarchies are malleable.
posted by fatbird at 10:46 PM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yes, this, a thousand times. The fundamental issue is that men are taught that their value and self-worth are tied to their ability to attract and sleep with women. This imperative is the engine that drives rape culture, sexual harassment, boundary-pushing, etc. As long as it remains in place, we are basically nipping around the edges, as you described.

This this this this this.

As a youngish man who's now spent 7-8 years trying to unpack an upbringing full of Baggage, I frequently find myself wondering exactly how it is that men, myself included, manage to grow up capable of doing horrible things, either actively or passively. One thing that strikes me, every time I listen to women talk about their experiences with virtually anything, is that I think men go into a lot of situations assuming that women have literally the same "objectives" that men do, and that whatever's going on in their head is fundamentally equivalent to whatever's going on in a woman's. I feel this is a trickier mental trap to navigate a guy out of than it feels, by all accounts, that it ought to be.

A part of that is how we just don't raise kids with any amount of social/media/cultural literacy by default. I'm not talking "ability to appreciate art" here—I'm talking the ability to recognize ourselves as constructs of a particular time and place, ones who receive messages and conditioning from peers and mass media, and are on some levels incapable of understanding the world beyond that sphere of influence. Which is not to say we can't be aware of that limitation itself; nor is it to say that we can't consciously push ourselves past that sphere. But, by default, we grow up limited in our perception of the world, and those limitations are idiosyncratic and essentially arbitrary. (There are massive cultural patterns at work, mind you; it's just that, usually, those cultural patterns don't have any implicit, fundamental meanings to them, beyond the impact they have on the societies that adhere to them.)

When I was growing up, biological essentialism was all the rage. Not sure if that's still the case today, but certainly I know a lot of terrible men who leap to it as the first line of defense. It's a Catch-22 of an argumentation, because if they believe that men and women are fundamentally the same inasmuch as biology impacting their wants or needs or worldview, they use that as an excuse to treat women as "equals" in the sense that no empathy towards them is required, because you can just assume that they think and feel identical thoughts and feelings as you do, and any other kind of response from them is irrational; if they think that men and women are fundamentally different on some level, then it justifies endless amounts of othering and demeaning. "Equality", a word which at this point feels to me like it ought to be unifying and easily understandable, is in fact capable of fragmenting a discussion or a state of mind in ways that aren't always immediately obvious—because the sorts of systemic inequalities that matter, and that do significantly modify people's outlooks within society, aren't ones that get explicitly taught in school.

(Looking back, I find it impressive that my English and history classes had us read as many stories by/about women and PoC as they did, without ever once discussing the reasons why women and PoC wrote the stories that they did. They were presented as dead past, completely irrelevant to modern issues. I'm sure the women and PoC in my school felt otherwise, but there was a lot of "why on earth do I have to read this" grumbling from conservative young men, without much teacher pushback; I'm wondering now how much of that was my teachers' not stepping up and how much of it was their hands being tied by the school at some level or other. I felt like I had fairly progressive teachers, looking back, but some stuff really slipped through the cracks.)

What you're left with is a culture of masculinity which simultaneously pressures its participants into acting particular ways, is unaware of the arbitrariness of those pressures, and manages to assume that everybody on the planet, men and women alike, both see the world in the same terms, both look for the same basic things (with genders-are-equal and genders-aren't-equal variations that are each a flavor of toxic), and can entirely be understood if you just assume that everybody in the world thinks about things exactly the way that you already think about them. Which is to say: everybody is looking for the same mixture of sex, more sex, and romance which is sex followed by the person you slept with being okay with you doing everything you want to do all the time always, and if the other person's not okay with that they're either boring or crazy or manipulative or [insert your own favorite phrases here], and you are totally justified in avoiding them at all costs.

Now that I've had considerable experience watching women that I know have to get away from men on all manner of level, ranging from irritating to creepy to profoundly troubling, it's strange to think of how men I've known have treated (and still treat) women that they're presumably romantically involved with.
  • I had a roommate who'd avoid taking his girlfriend's calls, hid in his bedroom even when she was in our apartment, and emphatically forbade me from letting her in without his permission; this same guy was devastated when she left him after he spent a summer a country away from her.
  • Recently, less than a year ago, a guy that I'd normally think of as "sweet" and "adorable" got dropped by his girlfriend for, among other things, asking her to be his alarm clock every morning, then calling her a bitch and going back to bed when she tried to get him up, and refusing to do the dishes, then calling her a bitch for asking him to clean his—just his own, mind.
In this second case (I know because I lived in this household for two months), there was another roommate involved, a guy, and this dude was convinced that the girl in question was virtually hellspawn for her attempts to wheedle any amount of consideration and respect out of her boyfriend. To this day, when he invites me out to bars, he can't help but throw a barb her direction, even though she no longer lives with the two of them and hasn't for almost half a year. He wasn't even involved in these emotional labor theatrics, mind; he just watched a woman ask her theoretical loved one to offer even a shred of compassion or empathy, and determined her to be Satan herself.

Those were relationships, too. When you grow up assuming that your worldview is so profoundly, selfishly shared by everybody else on the planet, to the point where being asked to spend time with a significant other or do the dishes or, I dunno, respect the girl you asked to wake you up when she does what you asked her to do, then it opens up the possibility that you will do things vastly, vastly worse. Which is what we get. I bet that the majority of these men never realize that the things they do are even "in questionable taste", even as legally they move well past felony behavior. I think that abusers and rapists believe themselves when they profess feelings of love, when they tearfully (but only when threatened) profess to have meant no harm. And damnedest thing is, in a society where men are considered the "majority", when men are in all the positions of power, when men control the media and the culture that pressures everybody, women included, to see the world in this manner, then a lot of people learn to look at these men who commit horrible, traumatizing acts with empathy, because it is easier to understand why a man would do horrible things, to call that ignorance or confusion or "miscommunication" or to blame the victims of horrific circumstances for, Jesus, for prompting it or for not being okay with it or for not recovering from it or for not having compassion......

And then men whose deeds are far worse than criminal are acquitted, both legally and culturally, and both they and we are shown that, in this world made by men, for men, anything a man feels or thinks or wants or does is good or right by the virtue of him feeling it or thinking it or wanting it or doing it. And because it's so many men, and because our culture is so heavily dominated by men, it becomes all but impossible to avoid. Even in the twenty-first century, in which it's theoretically possible to avoid all culture but the bits you would like to engage in, it's impossible to get away. (I say this, of course, as a man, who has a thousand escapes available to me that women simply can't choose.)

It's a culture of psychosis, full stop. It's a culture in which boys are raised to be sociopathic, not explicitly, but by their being implicitly trained to identify with the worldview of a mob, and to think of themselves in terms of their wants and desires. It perverts simple ideals. Emotional well-being becomes indulging in one's feelings without considering anybody else's, treating your reactions to the world as valid and letting them intensify and steepen and feeling that they're "right" because they're yours. Notions of victimhood and abuse are flipped on their head; look at the Men's Rights movement, in which men are the fearful victims and women hold all the power. The power, that is, the power to see the world differently from men, or to disagree with them, or to want different things; no power at all, in other words, unless you insist on such a complete and utter control of the universe that somebody's right to disagree with you is a violation of that world order. At which point, you're free to run with the mob, to say and do terrifyingly violent and ugly things, and if you know that you really wouldn't hurt a fly, then so should your targets, and they shouldn't fear the rest of your mob either, because surely they all see the world exactly the way that you do, and everything is fine... unless you actually want to get violent, in which case the world is still on your side, this is justified, this is a revolution. You literally can't go so far that this culture stops believing you're right.

This went on longer than expected. Sorry about that. It's just never-ending, once you start to think about it; it's a grotesque fractal pattern that extends all the way down to tiny, petty irritations, and all the way up to tragedies on a scale that are virtually incomprehensible. I've known men, now, to do the most hideous things possible without blinking an eye, without seemingly entertaining the possibility that they are doing something even remotely disagreeable. I meet new guys and the slightest things about them, the slightest indications that they might have been raised within this worldview, this mindset, leads me to assume that, given a chance, they'll do atrocious things to anybody who'd "let" them. That's a terrifying amount of men. And even the ones who don't give off that impression, I stay suspicious anyway, because learning how to emulate a decent human being is not the same as being a decent human being.

I'd be lying, too, if I said that these patterns, these behaviors, these outlooks, aren't within me too. I have a terrible temper; I nurse grudges; I think of myself, all evidence to the contrary, as a victim, simply by the fact of other people's not seeing the world precisely as I do, down to the last micronuance. I find myself acting in ways that hurt other people, then, when asking myself why I felt justified in my behavior, finding only a puzzled, childish: "...but I was right!" No deeper reasoning, no principled arguments. Just an innate belief of correctness, tempered by tools I acquired as a teen which have helped me convince myself of my own inherent victimhood, my own inhent goodness, my own perpetual acquittal from my own deeds.

There's a point at which this is something fundamental to all people, of course; I'm sure there's at least one guy who's reading this and going, "Screw you for calling this a man-only trait." But it's not about the individual, and it's not about the biological or psychological or philosophical qualities of a single man. What matters is culture—specifically, culture's ability to not only reinforce these attitudes, but to project them as literally reality, in a way that impedes any kind of internal reflection. If this is all there is, how can you expect anybody to reflect back upon it? Of course, this is not all there is, and thank God, and once you get just a smidgen of the way outside your own head you start to realize how wonderful and important it is that you do so, and then you keep going. But there's a cultural vilification of doing that, as well; to think of yourself as somehow not the center of the universe is to let "them" win. Who? It barely matters. The point is you shouldn't be thinking about them anyway.

It's terrifing to think of. It causes so much pain—and to men as well as women, but the pain is inflicted upon men in a manner which then lets them think they have a reason to inflict it upon others in turn. There's a lot of discussion about how women are taught to hate women; I do think that men are taught to hate men, even the men they profess to be closest to. Men hurt each other as a matter of routine, and when it happens, you're not supposed to blame the aggressor, you're supposed to blame yourself, and then to work to become the one inflicting pain in turn.

(The trait I like least about myself—my tendency to belittle, mock, and condescend towards people who disagree with me—was learned from a guy that I admired in high school, and tried to openly be affectionate towards, and who put me down until I learned to mirror it, and found that it worked. Why yes, being humorously scornful of others does make you feel superior to them! Ha ha ha I hate myself 🎉)

This came out as a whole glut, instead of as a handful of discrete ideas, and I'm sorry about that. It's really hard for me to atomize the way I feel about masculinity, to note themes or ideas without immediately seeing how they weave into a dozen other instances or moments at once. It's such a massive and horrifying thing, and one that I am literally and figuratively privileged to get to mostly abstract away my own experience of. That is to say, if I don't want to think about it, I can get away with not thinking about it, and my days are so much pleasanter when I don't. And then I see the way it affects people I know and love and I try hard not to burst into tears, because it's so casually awful, so commonly monstrous, and I genuinely don't know if things are going to get better in my lifetime or ever.

I want to say things are looking up, I want to say change can happen more quickly and rapidly than anybody predicts before it happens. But things could get worse just as quickly, and this has been such an awful month in an awful year, as far as my country's been concerned. So many terrible things at once. Is this the darkness before some sort of dawn, or is it just always this dark, and that's the end of that? It's despairing to think about for long.
posted by rorgy at 11:22 PM on December 9, 2015 [92 favorites]


Why overanalyse everything... there are just a lot of us who need to stop being whiny, self-centered overgrown children who blame women for everything.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:30 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why overanalyse everything...

Because telling someone to stop doing something doesn't help as much as figuring out what you want to start doing instead.
posted by KathrynT at 11:40 PM on December 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


Can someone explain the withdrawing of consent after the fact? Like in what case would that ever be OK?

Sometimes women only "consent" to sex because they are afraid of the man or otherwise just want him to stop harassing them so that they can get away after. That is a far cry from enthusiastic consent.

If you only have sex with women who enthusiastically want to have sex with you in the absence of any coercion or pressure then you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:07 AM on December 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


i just finished eleanor & park and besides a torrid pg13 teen romance, for boys/guys i was thinking it could kind of also read as a guide to masculinity and being an ally! to a degree it's rainbow rowell's depiction of an idealized boy, but like that's not a bad thing to aspire to be :P
posted by kliuless at 12:34 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you only have sex with women who enthusiastically want to have sex with you in the absence of any coercion or pressure then you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

I recently went back to college as an adult, and part of that process involved going to mandatory orientation seminars on issues that affect college students. One of the presentations talked at length about sexual assault, and made a real effort to drive home, among other things, that consent should be enthusiastic. But the crowd, men and women, sort of tittered at the word "enthusiastic."

It's moments like these that I have in mind when I talk about how much the dominant messaging seems to directly contradict positive, informative statements; people can be told that consent should be enthusiastic, but they might not really understand what that should look like in practice. It sounds different from how it's presented everywhere else.

I don't think the majority of the kids in the audience had any problem with the idea of consent, but everyone reacted as if "enthusiastic" consent is somehow overdoing it, like "enthusiastically" getting fast food, or something. And I mean, I feel kind of like the older guy trying to understand what the kids are into, but I can certainly see how the messages they've gotten prior to this could have contradicted some of what they were hearing. I don't know - it was troubling to see people react to that whole presentation the way they did.
posted by teponaztli at 12:36 AM on December 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have a little dude cousin, 18 years old now. I'm biased, obviously, and I don't know what he gets up to when I'm not around, but I'm hugely impressed with who he's turned out to be, so far. He's very attuned to the state of the playing field for women and others who aren't at the top of the social hierarchy, and with his own entitlement and that of his gender. Understands this instinctively - his compass has somehow naturally lined up with the direction most of us hope things go, and not in a "this is painful stuff I have to wrestle with" sort of way - it's all just obvious to him. Well balanced emotionally - both self-confident and sensitive, equally comfortable with his basketball crew and his girl buddies, bit of a leader when he wants to be but fine on his own, helps older people crossing the street... Ha, I'm biased, for sure. But he's a good kid all around, definitely an ally to his peers, and I think he'll be a good man.

Some of it's down to generational stuff, I'm sure - and that's what I find heartening. The times are changing, the conversation has opened up so much even in the past five years.

But, not to put it back on moms, but I do think my cousin lucked out massively in terms of being well matched with his only parent. He was a sensitive and moody baby (a screamer, even), born to his mom late in her life. She's got an easygoing nature anyway, but by the time he came along, she was wholly free of the kinds of worries younger moms often suffer. She indulged her fussy boy, comforted him at any sign of stress. She let him sing and dance around without shame. The only standard she held him to was that he should be at ease with himself. (I worried about that, when he was in high school - "he could be getting 100% in math, why isn't he? Think of what he could do!" etc. - and his mom's reply was, "you don't get it - the only thing that matters to me is that he feels ok. 75% is good enough". Which drove me crazy, because I knew he totally could have cleaned up - but I guess 75% is, by definition, good enough.) She reasoned and engaged with him from the time he could speak, never condescended to him (which is why she was always the cool aunt, to me).

He was also lucky, in that he grew up in a vital and very diverse actual neighbourhood, with plenty to do, which he could explore, on his own or with his little buds. Which he eventually did, happily, despite having been cautious when young, but I'm sure it helped that his mom held his hand, walking around, until he was ready to let it go.

His dad had a few issues; turned out to be a biodad. That's a huge source of pain and not a little anger, I think, and I'm sorry (for both of them) in that way. But in this case, I think it worked out for the best, he didn't do well the short time his dad was there. (I'm not suggesting men can't parent, but this one really couldn't.)

I think though that it's possible there are plenty of good eggs being hatched as we speak. People (women) aren't as likely to stay in emotionally toxic marriages as before. The cultural wind is changing. And I think, maybe, more parents these days are happy to see their little dudes dance.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:27 AM on December 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Can someone explain the withdrawing of consent after the fact? Like in what case would that ever be OK?

Well what about if you wouldn't have consented given a certain piece of info that you only discovered after the fact? (Especially if the other person deliberately misled you about it.) E.g that they were married, or were actually your boyfriend's twin in disguise, or they had drugged you but you thought you were still sober).
posted by lollusc at 1:32 AM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


The latter two of those are actual crimes in most countries IIRC lollusc.

'Lying about yourself means it's non-consensual sex' seems like a bad idea though: The 'they were married, but said they were single' is the icky end of that but we're probably all 'guilty' of exaggerating our good points on OKCupid.
posted by pharm at 2:05 AM on December 10, 2015


(For the avoidance of doubt the 'we' above is some universal 'we' that doesn't include me personally, as I've been married since shortly after OKCupid came into existence & have thankfully never had to experience the joy/terror of internet dating. )
posted by pharm at 2:08 AM on December 10, 2015


I don't think the majority of the kids in the audience had any problem with the idea of consent, but everyone reacted as if "enthusiastic" consent is somehow overdoing it, like "enthusiastically" getting fast food, or something

This was my experience in college, and in a sociology class no less. But it's interesting that you mention fast food since I like to compare sex and asking a friend to lunch. Everyone worries about the hypothetical gray zones of consent with sex but not with other activities like eating food. If you ask someone to go get lunch and they don't give you an obvious positive reply, then you can probably tell. You know when their "yeah, ok" means "yeah!!" or when it really means "meh, I guess..." And if it's the latter, the normal response is to choose another place or take a rain check. And you don't just shove your friend into the restaurant without warning, or stuff food in their face when they don't want it. That's just silly, and mean, and of course forced feeding is illegal just like rape. But when it comes to sexual consent, suddenly being straightforward about these things seem weird and everyone panics about whether their partner really wants it. If you can tell when your friend isn't really into burgers today, or when they begrudgingly say "yes" without meaning it, or when they are not enjoying your company, then you should be able to tell their feelings when you're literally naked and touching each other's bodies.
posted by picklenickle at 2:12 AM on December 10, 2015 [27 favorites]


picklenickle, indeed, such empathy is the least we should expect. The difference is in the strength of desire for sex, and in many cases the desire for domination. Men don't fantasize all day about taking someone to lunch; they don't crave it in the visceral, forceful way that they can crave sex. And they don't interpret a rain check for lunch as a rejection of their personality, their sexuality, their attractiveness, and their worth. Being stood up for lunch doesn't make them angry.

So even men who profess genuinely to a belief in the importance of consent might just not know themselves well enough to know how they will act in all situations. Their opinions and conscious values have little to do with their more basic psychology. Many crimes are probably perpetrated by people who would never consciously think of themselves as "criminals," and the "I'm a good guy deep down" response seems like a fundamental confusion about the nature of spontaneous crimes.

I agree with the poster who said that our framing of consent might be needing of revision. The idea of sex as a kind of voluntary contract is a functional theory but it does seem likely to encourage a "legalistic" view: consent as a binary agreement whose basic purpose for the man is legal protection, "but she said yes." Emotional consent is different and way more nuanced, as you point out.

I think the consent discussion would be well served by better examples, with psychological depth and realism, of the different "gray zones" of sex that isn't violent rape but still not positively consensual. Well-known fictional scenarios where nobody wants to be "that guy." A corpus of creepiness, and a wealth of representations of sex that is truly good.

Sex ed should even include porn criticism, I think. Go to any porn site and ask how well the average video demonstrates healthy consent. This experiment is massively depressing.
posted by mbrock at 2:43 AM on December 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


All I need to know about being a man I learnt from the Manotaur episode of gravity falls.
posted by signal at 3:00 AM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Rorgy — I am shallow with bad eyes and cannot read comments of that length, however worthwhile or otherwise they may be. It's probable I don't deserve enlightenment, but I wonder if your wisdom is communicable to the decrepit?
posted by Wolof at 3:10 AM on December 10, 2015


AFAIK retroactive withdrawal of consent usually applies to situations that in retrospect could not have involved meaningful consent, for reasons the person was not aware of or could not express at the time of technically saying, "Yes". Situations where one partner is too incapacitated to make serious decisions and the other partner knows it and presses on anyway. They're underage. They were way too drunk or high or in a blackout and their partner knew it; they were mentally incapacitated (ie in the middle of a psychotic episode)/and their partner knew it. The examples upthread of being drugged or another person or a false identity-- the twin thing, but I think things like undercover law enforcement officers getting sexually involved with people they are surveilling counts too. This also applies in situations where saying no was not an option, like an abusive relationship where the abused partner doesn't ever say no out of fear because they know they would be in danger if they ever did, and so the sex they had under these conditions, that they technically agreed to at the time, was actually abusive and nonconsensual.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:32 AM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


'Lying about yourself means it's non-consensual sex' seems like a bad idea though: The 'they were married, but said they were single' is the icky end of that but we're probably all 'guilty' of exaggerating our good points on OKCupid.
My personal experience in this was flirting with a friend in a polyamorous relationship, and we were attracted to each other, and I was going through a bad breakup. She invited me to dinner to talk about it while her partner was away on a trip, and I was pretty sure that I knew where that would lead. Then at some point in dinner, it came out that she and her partner had eloped recently and were now married. They were still going to have a formal ceremony, but she had wanted to let me in on their secret news.

I should have pulled eject then, and should have recognized my own need to stop and process and understand what that meant for my own boundaries. Yet, we had both already finished a bottle of wine and I felt like I had consented when I agreed to the idea of dinner knowing that a night with her would lead in this direction, and I knew they were both polyamorous before going into this so why was my baggage even getting in the way, and she seemed really excited with the prospect of tonight and she was a friend that I didn't want to let down.

And then I woke up on the other end of a grey morning, desperately wishing that I could've saved my game at dinner so that I could reload it, and have the other experience where I had withdrawn consent and had talked to her about just having dinner and going home to think about my boundaries. I would not call that rape. I would not charge her with any kind of crime or offense. But it wasn't what I wanted, and I wish, for the sake of the friendship that we had lost, that I had known that I could have said that earlier.
posted by bl1nk at 4:42 AM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


the places i've run into the idea of removing consent after the fact have mostly been in manosphere spaces and they go hand in hand with suggestions that guys covertly film a woman giving consent and send manipulative text messages to guard against "false" accusations of rape. in hundreds of conversations with rape victims i've never heard someone describe their rape as removing consent after the fact (although some of their stories involve rapists who frame it that way).

i think the conversation that has evolved in here about enthusiastic consent and regretted consent has been far more interesting and meaningful than the conversation about retroactive removal of consent usually goes, but i just thought it useful to point out where that conversation usually happens and the tenor of it.
posted by nadawi at 7:01 AM on December 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


Like, it's just jarring that the first thing that a lot of men leap to when discussing consent is "how can I make sure I don't go to jail for rape", and not "what can I do to make sure that my partner and I have a mutually satisfying and comfortable time?"

I find that entirely unsurprising, considering that most of the discourse around consent is in the context of rape culture and rape in general and not the fuzzier concept of mutual satisfaction. The Wikipedia page for consent, for example, mentions rape four times and satisfaction zero times. Ditto for this page on consensual sex from a medical website. Sex is scary for a lot of people, and men who are still figuring out how to navigate an increasingly complicated sexual landscape are naturally going to concern themselves with not committing a crime. Failing to satisfy your partner, on the other hand, won't land you in prison*.

As for college freshmen guffawing at the idea of "enthusiasm" with regards to consent: that is to be expected. The sheer volume of stuff that is new to them during orientation - the people, the living arrangements, autonomy - is overwhelming. They are nervous and more concerned with making friends and fitting in than internalizing all of the information being thrown at them. Kids! They very often don't listen. Also, I'm sure that a lot of these kids, many of whom probably have little to no sexual experience, when they hear a serious-faced adult talking about "enthusiastic consent," are imagining people having especially bouncy sex with big smiles while shouting "I AM SO ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THIS! YES! YES! I CONSENT! ENTHUSIASTICALLY!" at the top of their lungs. Kind of like the cartoonish sex scenes in Jessica Jones.

* But it may land you on the couch!
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:17 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


men focusing on what is technically legally rape has always been a big disconnect from how women speak about it. women know that a majority of our rapes will never be reported. the outsized fear men have about being accused of rape and how it will ruin their lives doesn't match the reality of what happens most of the times when someone is raped. it's not surprising to me that these misconceptions are carried over into general conversations about consent, but i am glad when men dig a little deeper into the question of "does everyone here want to be having sex" instead of just focusing on "is she going to say i raped her."
posted by nadawi at 7:35 AM on December 10, 2015 [27 favorites]


I find that entirely unsurprising, considering that most of the discourse around consent is in the context of rape culture and rape in general and not the fuzzier concept of mutual satisfaction.

That's not the problem. The problem is that rape in general is not actually the focus of discourse to and among men about consent. They are not terrified of raping somebody - not terrified of hurting them and harming them without meaning to - but terrified of being thought to have harmed them and being punished for harming them. It's a different world of concern; it's entirely self-focused and does nothing to warn men off of assault in those circumstances where they can be all but sure they won't get caught, or won't see consequences if they are caught.

Men are taught not to rape women because it'll ruin their lives if she turns them in. They're not taught not to rape women because it'll ruin women's lives. That's understood not to be a compelling argument.

(See the recent AskMe question where in response to a man reporting that a woman inexplicably told him she didn't feel good in the aftermath of what he thought was mutually enjoyable sex , he was roundly advised to stay away from her lest she go bananas and spread dangerous damaging rumors about him. He was not as widely advised to stay away from her because he might do her more harm.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:10 AM on December 10, 2015 [33 favorites]


Men are taught not to rape women because it'll ruin their lives if she turns them in. They're not taught not to rape women because it'll ruin women's lives. That's understood not to be a compelling argument.

I am not seeking to minimize the reality of rape culture here, but is that so different than so much else of how we handle boundary issues and ethical behavior in our culture? It would be nice if "don't steal" would be predicated on the harm it does to those you steal from, but culturally we're much more invested in the punishment for misdeeds and telling people what will happen to them if they don't comply. Our entire fucked up prison culture is obsessed with punishing people rather than rehabilitating them. A sizable portion of the electorate rejects things that we know, statistically, are more effective - all because it doesn't seem harsh enough to them. There's a lot of people who will simply not believe that the death penalty isn't a deterrent.

I'd like everyone to be responsive to "do this because it's the way everyone is happier" but I'm not convinced it's practical in our culture. "Seek enthusiastic consent and you'll be sure your partner won't report you for rape" is unquestionably more depressing than "seek enthusiastic consent because it's how you know your partner is happy to be there" but this may be a case where we need Pascal's Wager for the greatest success, at least in the short term. In the long run getting society to actually look at women as equally credible and as deserving of respect and autonomy as men is clearly what we need, but I'm not convinced there's a direct path there now when it comes to educating college aged men who grew up in this culture.
posted by phearlez at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Looking forward to reading these even if the comments make the articles seem super heteronormative. As a newly minted trans guy I am building my sense of masculinity from the ground up. It is something I think about all day, every day. Am I sitting/walking in a masculine way? Should I wear this shirt? When I'm being assertive at work, is that masculine? Wait, am I overcompensating and being aggressive? I made eye contact with a random guy in the hall - am I supposed to smile or not? Who gets out of the elevator first if I'm in there with a random guy? On and on, all day, every day.
posted by desjardins at 9:16 AM on December 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is good stuff, the articles and discussion.

FWIW, desjardins, I'm as blandly hetero middle aged guy as it gets and I think about the same things every day. Maybe not as explicitly about being 'masculine', but that may just be my normativity brushing past the distinction to whether or not I'm doing life 'right'.

I'll admit that I don't always believe in some of the implicit premises in these conversations; that the toxic parts come from culture and not nature. But, neither do I think that entirely matters, because I do believe that the path to a better world is talking more often, more openly and more compassionately. The more people join the conversation and really hear each other, the better.
posted by meinvt at 9:24 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not particularly thrilled with "The Men Issue" thus far, because the introduction sets up very good questions that the pieces seem only intermittently interesting in answering.

What is actually going on with men, right now? What are they afraid of and unwilling to talk about? How do the inner lives of men affect women, other men, our culture? We see men struggling to define themselves at a time when gender definitions are expanding. We see men dealing, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not, with the weight of their power. And we learn that what it means to be a modern man is just like everything else: complex, messy, and always changing.

Roisin's piece on Malik is good stuff, and Kindred's piece is one of those stories that isn't repeated enough. Shah's piece on consent brings multiple perspectives on a critical issue, and as this thread proves, sparks thought and consideration. Great.

Then comes...the other stuff. Abdurraqib's piece is a Judd Apatow movie ("man-child grows up through relationship with 'together' woman") played straight and claiming universality. Willis Aronowitz's piece can be summed up as "lots of men are misogynists and need to be called out more often." Massey's piece is the same as Willis Aronowitz's, but sarcastic.

What is actually going on with men, right now? What are they afraid of and unwilling to talk about?

Abdurraqib's piece is the usual hash of "man-child" cliches that nobody is "afraid of and unwilling to talk about." His is the topic of major motion pictures, for crying out loud, and is seen as a common part of American culture. Massey and Willis Aronowitz seem to believe they already know "what's actually going on with men right now" and are content to lecture or snark about it.

There's a lot to investigate, chew over, and write about, and Medium is not doing a particularly good job of it. The issue's introduction acknowledges complexity, but many of the articles do not. Frustrating.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 9:39 AM on December 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


It would be nice if "don't steal" would be predicated on the harm it does to those you steal from,

but when we're educating children and young adults, that is how we justify it! Or with stealing in particular, when you're explaining to someone who doesn't know why they can't take something, you say: Because it doesn't belong to you. A kid says, why can't I hit, and you say, How would you feel if somebody hit you? Well, it hurts him too. Boundaries and rudimentary empathy are how we approach this in many cases - you don't start off with "don't hit other people because if they tell you on you, you might get suspended from school;" that's just where you end up when you can't reason a kid into it for better reasons.

Usually people get formal education in sexual ethics at a much more advanced age, because we feel the urge to steal and hit as toddlers but it doesn't occur to most of us to commit sexual violence until the teen years or thereabouts. So you would want to couch it in language sophisticated enough that college men didn't feel patronized, but the manner of approach need not be very different. The first time you hear an ethical argument, you do need it broken down into fundamentals, and skipping that step doesn't seem advisable to me.

"Seek enthusiastic consent and you'll be sure your partner won't report you for rape" is unquestionably more depressing than "seek enthusiastic consent because it's how you know your partner is happy to be there" but this may be a case where we need Pascal's Wager for the greatest success

I think there is already enough pressure on women but especially on girls to pretend to like things, without giving boys and men an urgent incentive to bully them into more performative displays. Which I do think is a likely outcome from anyone who is approaching it from a self-interested viewpoint of wanting an alibi rather than a human wish to please and not harm.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:42 AM on December 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


It would be nice if "don't steal" would be predicated on the harm it does to those you steal from, but culturally we're much more invested in the punishment for misdeeds and telling people what will happen to them if they don't comply. Our entire fucked up prison culture is obsessed with punishing people rather than rehabilitating them.

My own experience of being a man is heavily influenced by these ideas. I am terrified to this day of missteps because of the punishment that will ensue (and I'm not just talking about legal kinds of punishment). I'm sure I'm not the only man who lives his life basically waiting for the hand of some invisible father to come out of the dark and "correct" him for every little mistake. It's maddening, because there are so many kinds of mistakes you can make (not adhering to this cultural or social standard, or not adhering to that one, or not fulfilling a role enough, or trying to take on a role that you shouldn't by some arcane definition, etc.), and that fear can be paralyzing, or it can drive you to overstep, to act in a really falsely overconfident way just to cover up the horrible thing you're feeling.

I don't know if this is a universal experience of manness, but the more I work out my personal bullshit the more I realize that I'm driven by this fear, and it definitely looks to me like a thing that others are experiencing.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


when you're explaining to someone who doesn't know why they can't take something, you say: Because it doesn't belong to you.

Interestingly, in the shoplifting thread a few days ago, the self-justification for teenagers (the exact group where consent starts being spoken about) to shoplift is that it's a nearly victimless crime. And they're kind of right in a way, because they're stealing from a major corporation that has already calculated and insured against a certain percentage of inventory loss each year. And in those situations, you have to explain it in the way that emphasizes that they will get punishsed and it's not worth the trouble.
posted by FJT at 9:56 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


the only way it makes sense to compare theft and rape is if the underlying assumption is that women are objects, not people. i don't think people mean to say this when they make the comparison, but it's hard to ignore as it gets repeated over and over.
posted by nadawi at 10:05 AM on December 10, 2015 [15 favorites]


Men are taught not to rape women because it'll ruin their lives if she turns them in. They're not taught not to rape women because it'll ruin women's lives.

I am a little surprised to see this point being discussed as though it were simply true. This is a very difficult thread to read, and so I do not know if I could possibly do my own view justice, but: We receive a multiplicity of teachings, and the above two sentences do not accurately capture the lessons men are taught about consent.

We do hear the lesson of women's life-ruin. It is the dominant narrative of rape outcomes. It flattens out the entire experience, so that there is not much of a vocabulary of nonconsent; the rapist is a monstrosity, a figure of evil, a gargoyle, and we can content ourselves that we are not that...which leaves an awful lot of behavior unexamined. And if one has been the nonconsenter, too, that flattening is not helpful, and it becomes hard to name one's experience as rape, if it does not fit the life-ruin narrative.

I am on-board with mbrock's call above for a 'corpus of creepiness.' It should be easier to talk about the spectrum of awful things that happen when consent is not honored. It should be easier to talk about the different levels of harm possible, so nobody gets a pass just because they were not monstrous.
posted by mittens at 10:12 AM on December 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


It doesn't have to be one or the other. Teach all ways. No one way will work for all people (Men in this case).
I'm all for teaching and developing empathy and think it's super important. I also recognize, especially by the time this sort of education happens there are those that aren't good in the cognitive empathy department due to a number of factors in their upbringing both culturally and personally. It make take time to learn and unlearn ways of looking at the world and other people in it.
Also gotta catch those that just don't give a shit about other people, the sociopathic, narcissistic types, where the threat of personal consequences are really the only thing that motivates a person not to do something. No amount of empathy type education will work with these types of people.
posted by Jalliah at 10:16 AM on December 10, 2015


the only way it makes sense to compare theft and rape is if the underlying assumption is that women are objects, not people. i don't think people mean to say this when they make the comparison, but it's hard to ignore as it gets repeated over and over.

I am receptive to why this would be an undesirable comparison to use, but - to say "the only way" is flat out not true. Most of us understand theft as a violent taking against our will and we understand it from the perspective of someone taking something from us against our will, not from the perspective of the thing being taken. You could also say that talking about things people do to our bodies against our will as a violation of our own personal ownership is a perfect match with a message I would like to think all of us here agree with: that women's bodies are their own to control, not others. I'd personally pile onto that what I think is a valuable way of thinking - that we are not just our bodies.

You want to talk about the ways this as a comparison can reinforce other problems, like treating violence against a woman as if it is just some sort of crime about a tangible object and not a human rights violation, I get that and am open to being asked to drop it as a comparison. But let's not be facile.
posted by phearlez at 10:32 AM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


the rapist is a monstrosity, a figure of evil, a gargoyle,

I am not suggesting that we should redirect young men's imaginations away from what it might be like to be falsely accused and towards what it might be like to be a genuine rapist in the sense that they ought to think a lot about how horrible it would be to be such a person and just sit dwell on it at great and prurient length. This strikes me as another way to focus on anything but the experience of the person being raped, which was and remains my point.

"I don't want to be a monster" is not that great a motivating factor, not because it's too strong a judgment but because it's too glamorous - many people, particularly adolescents of all sexes, do find being a "monster" or a scary figure of myth to be a compelling thing to be or to imagine being, as is perfectly natural. "I don't want to hurt and humiliate somebody and make them despise me" is what I'm after.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:40 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


the only way it makes sense to compare theft and rape is if the underlying assumption is that women are objects, not people.

it rubs the lotion on its skin...

fwiw, from a moral foundations perspective, i really liked yuval noah harari's formulation:* "For me, ethics is not about obeying the commands of this imaginary entity or that imaginary entity. But it all revolves around the question of suffering, which as far as I understand, is the most real thing in the world, or the thing that is most easy to test. It's reality, suffering is real. It can be the outcome of all kinds of imaginary stories and entities, but the suffering itself is real. The easiest test whether something is real or not, just ask yourself, 'can it suffer?' " (which i think hearkens back to the renaissance humanism of petrarch!)

also btw, i was just tickled -- tickled! -- by the idea of rainbow rowell practicing (bene gesserit ;) NLP in the service of feminism, or i guess the novel as NLP in general :P
posted by kliuless at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


go ahead and throw on a "to me" in my sentence if it makes it more palatable to you.
posted by nadawi at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2015


I really love Everyday Feminism. Usually when I want to explore something related to gender or sexuality I start there and branch out with the resources and links they provide. Here are a couple of things that are relevant to this conversation:

7+ Everyday Ways Men Can Transform Masculinity

Here’s What Is (And Isn’t) Working in Men’s Work on College Campuses


Here’s How the Patriarchy Damages Men’s Emotional Literacy – And Why That Matters

Given the fact that manhood greats a great degree of school status, especially for men of color and marginalized men, this idea of being the masculine man will grant them a lot of social power that they might otherwise not have access to.

Ultimately, it’s important that we understand why men continue to attempt to live up to these expectations, just like us women, even feminist women like myself, why I continue to try to live up to these norms of femininity even though I know that they are not real constructs. They’re something that I’ve been conditioned to take on. I think that a lot of men understand that masculinity is this construct and it is something that is potentially harmful, or at the very least, it’s not something based in total reality. Yet, it does really affect them and it really affects the way that move through society.


Teaching Kids Consent, ages 1-21


Men Shatter the Lies We Tell About What It Means to Be a “Man”
posted by triggerfinger at 10:52 AM on December 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


I’m disappointed that the issue of what men are afraid to talk about… did not get talked about.
posted by culfinglin at 12:01 PM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have read and re-read the series, and I can't figure out in my dotty little brain whether or not The Men Issue is about issues men face, issues women face vis a vis men, or if "men" is an issue in and of itself. I relate to and agree with a fair bit of the work these authors are presenting as individual pieces, but it just does not hang together for me when I read the intro statement versus the articles.

And as culfinglin says, the issue of what men are afraid to talk about doesn't seem to be in the frame.
posted by disclaimer at 12:32 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a couple different thoughts in mind related to parts of the "asking men about consent" piece but I'll start with this one - this guy in his crude ("accused of being gay") way:

I have experienced very forward, very sexually aggressive women for whom enthusiastic consent is irrelevant, and for whom withdrawal of consent means I am accused of being gay, hit, and otherwise abused (publicly/socially, too, with no consequences).

actually touches upon something real I've observed, which is that sometimes women are themselves so used to men being very sexually aggressive that they will think something is wrong if you aren't. I was reminiscing a while ago with my [term of your choice for de facto hetero life partner] about the first weeks we were hanging out together. Her memory was that the whole time she was basically thinking "come on you oblivious dumbass I'm clearly trying to fuck you." My memory is that of course that's what I thought was going on when she came over at 4:00 AM, but that then when we were talking and she specifically complained about men only ever being interested in sex - I took the face value message that it would be best to move slowly. And being me - which is to say not necessarily a better man than most, but a shy one, we took it very slowly, and now she (gently) makes fun of me for it. Now I bet there were other signals going on that I missed, but still her later suggestion that this seeming complaint about the pattern of men being sexually aggressive had been meant to be taken as a clue that I should reproduce that pattern was... fairly astonishing.

Understand I don't mean at all to shift blame onto women here. If there is something to take away from this anecdote I guess it's just that a.) "toxic masculinity" or whatever you want to call it is something that's "inside" most everybody, not just men and b.) one reason many bad behaviors are so prevalent among men is that the world really does reward "them" (us) for behaving badly.
posted by atoxyl at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2015 [16 favorites]


The last lines of the Chris Kindred piece on sexual assault made me laugh (a wry laugh) in recognition: "I don't have the strength to confront it. Not for a while at least." It took me 30 years to confront the fact that my first PiV sexual experience was a sexual assault committed by the woman who was my best friend in high school and the first person I came out to, and not a really bad sexual encounter that I had failed on so many levels, including not wanting to have it to begin with.

Anyway, MeFi helped me understand what had happened, and get past the huge piles of shit that American concepts of masculinity had thrown in the way. Which is awesome. I've learned a lot about myself, and how the patriarchy has affected my self-image, and how the patriarchy is present in so many ways in so many interactions. I've also learned that hardly anybody wants to talk about this from a man's point of view, especially once you get past the obligatory All Men are Shit portion of the conversation.
posted by conic at 3:00 PM on December 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


"toxic masculinity" or whatever you want to call it is something that's "inside" most everybody

Yes, this.
posted by conic at 3:09 PM on December 10, 2015


I just stumbled onto this piece and thought it was a good example of how toxic masculinity has affected the way many women think about sex, and how confusing sex can get when you're informed by the loud male viewpoint on what women should be doing and how they should be acting, and what women start believing that men expect or want. (And I don't understand at all why this woman's husband didn't stop once she was crying.)
posted by discopolo at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


The last lines of the Chris Kindred piece on sexual assault made me laugh (a wry laugh) in recognition

Of all these, his was the one that really spoke to me, and I kinda wish it were three times longer.

I've also learned that hardly anybody wants to talk about this from a man's point of view, especially once you get past the obligatory All Men are Shit portion of the conversation.

That is well-put.

I can't even frame my viewpoint as "man's point of view," I am so ...burned, damaged by them, confused by them, horrified by them. I mean, psychologically, I stumble over using the word to describe myself. I use words like "guy" that are further away. I feel no solidarity with them at all--they are a them to me--and that distance is also damaging, because then I don't get to hear about how other people were damaged by the whole structure, without feeling suspicious. It prevents sympathy, it prevents connection.

Oh, I've said that so badly.
posted by mittens at 6:33 PM on December 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Does anyone who's slipped in their efforts to be a good and self-consistent feminist (of any gender), who at any point gave into false consciousness (still a useful concept? or the mechanisms maintaining cognitive dissonance), in a grey area (consent, or another one), remember ignoring some maybe barely perceptible but present inner voice that said "this isn't right, this isn't what you should be doing"?

I think I did hear something like when I acted against my interests in the past, in ways I'd later condemn. (I still can't believe some of things I let happen, and participated in - they weren't necessarily predictable from my background, or any part of how I imagined things would go, or how I thought of myself, or acted beforehand. And even while they were happening - while I participated in them - I knew on some level they shouldn't, & I shouldn't. It's that other voices were - yeah, louder - than mine, just then.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:17 PM on December 10, 2015


mittens, I am so sorry. Reading what you wrote made me tear up. You didn't put it badly at all. Your voice is valuable and should be heard. Super big hugs to you (but only if you want them).
posted by triggerfinger at 7:38 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does anyone who's slipped in their efforts to be a good and self-consistent feminist (of any gender), who at any point gave into false consciousness (still a useful concept? or the mechanisms maintaining cognitive dissonance), in a grey area (consent, or another one), remember ignoring some maybe barely perceptible but present inner voice that said "this isn't right, this isn't what you should be doing"?

Yes for me. And I think it's not uncommon either, for men or women. That article that discopolo posted is a good example of a woman's POV, and I know that I had a similar mentality as the woman who wrote that - i had internalized so much fucked up messaging that I thought I was supposed to want or do certain things when I really had no idea what I wanted or why for a long time. So I always doubted myself and was always unsure.

I think that it's only recently that men have started speaking up (including several people mentioning it in this thread) about similar expectations placed on them wrt sex, e.g. men always wanting to have sex or have a certain kind of sex or whatever. I think where this kind of thing hits men harder than it did for me is that as a woman, it was always okay for me to express my feelings if I wanted to, no matter how confused or unsure i was. Men are socialized to not do this, so it may be harder for them to voice or even recognize their discomfort around these things. And even if they were able to do so, every aspect of our society strongly reinforces this really narrow definition of masculinity that encourages and teaches them to disregard these niggling feelings as soon as they crop up.

I'm a feminist and I have strong feelings about how women are viewed/treated in society; but when I hear men tell their stories about their experiences with toxic masculinity and how it has hurt them it honestly just breaks my heart.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:11 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Threads like this and the recent one about how important it is for men to cultivate friendships in their 30s and 40s are really gnawing at me. I'm a reasonably intelligent and articulate middle-age guy who is keenly interested in the conversation about healthy masculinity, both for my own benefit and to model for my daughter. I sit and watch all these heartfelt stories, links, comments and support flash by and click in the comment box to contribute, and...nothing. I can't make words come out of my fingers. I'm finally pushing through it now, but it comes verrry slowly.

Is this happening to any other guys lurking out there? I'd love for this subject to ignite even a fraction of the vitality and community of threads like the EL discussion. It's a worthy topic.
posted by sapere aude at 12:30 AM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is this happening to any other guys lurking out there?

Yes. Yes it is, most assuredly. Men have been conditioned since birth to not talk about what bothers them. Not only that, we've been conditioned that talking about something that bothers us is the worst thing that you can do, because other men and women will attack you for doing it. Breaking the social code is very dangerous, and most of us guys out there are not nearly as strong or as courageous or whatever as we're supposed to be. The small voice inside one's head reminds one that showing that side of yourself means you become prey, and the predators will attack.

Speaking up is a very worthwhile goal, though. I wish I knew of a way to make it safer for men to speak up about the things that bother us. Lots of the conversations that we have, though, aren't safe, in the 'safe space' sense, which is a thing I think we need - to be able to say "this is a thing that bothers me" without it getting derailed. I don't know how we create that. Any ideas, anyone?
posted by Solomon at 1:05 AM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not only that, we've been conditioned that talking about something that bothers us is the worst thing that you can do, because other men and women will attack you for doing it.

This is why the ball-busting aspect of make friendship in our culture bothers me so much. Some guys act as if it's necessary or normal for guys to make fun of each other. But it's really not, my friendships aren't that way. And it gets in the way of really communicating when vulnerability is constantly attacked.
posted by Tehhund at 4:54 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I can't make words come out of my fingers. I'm finally pushing through it now, but it comes verrry slowly.

Is this happening to any other guys lurking out there?


I mean, I'm not a lurker, but yes, talking about lived experience as a man is a fraught topic which makes it difficult to express, especially on an extremely liberal site like this. If your lived experience doesn't match up to the popular narrative of Toxic Masculinity but you aren't coming from a place of having been harmed by TM, you are read as - or worse, read yourself as -#NotAllMen. For example, my relationship with my wife is, in many ways, an inverted version of the traditional cishet tropes. I'm the one who is good with dates, likes to have feelings talks, needs to socialize, etc. If I bring that kind of stuff up in a thread not explicitly about Men Stuff, though, I come off as Yeah But Look How Different I Am. And you know, that might not actually be how people take those sorts of comments, but I've internalized the idea that Men Should Shut Up And Listen to the point that I self-censor even when what I have to say is germane to the discussion, because it is empirically true that men get more airtime than women, even if the majority of that airtime is taken up by one version or another of cartoonishly heteronormative bro-talk.

To make matters worse, forums that are focused on men are tainted by the stench of MRAs, PUAs and the like. As in, I don't know of a single one that wouldn't immediately brand me as a Likely GamerGator. And the linked article about the dude who is a giant man-child who shirks grocery shopping to play video games is not inspiring or empowering at all - it is just reinforcing this stereotype that men are inherently stunted and need their woman to Make Them Right, which is just a re-packaging of the same sexist bullshit we're trying to dismantle in the first place. Like, we're all individuals with agency and responsibility for our own well-being, not just marionettes pulled by the strings of society.

So, yeah, I can understand why guys don't post about stuff that doesn't fit neatly into the Men Are Problematic mold. The internet is really just not a useful place to do it. I have lots of great conversations with my male friends which do not revolve around bro culture and involve feelings and crying and what bothers us. Lots of hugs. But those happen offline, because online you're just likely to get dismissed or harangued.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:20 AM on December 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


The British explains consent in a very British way.

I love this metaphor. It becomes so clear when you think about consent in any other situation. If you don't want a cookie, no one's going to shove it down your throat because well, last week you wanted a cookie.

But then again, it's culturally acceptable for a bunch of dudes to tease/bully someone to go to a party they don't want to go to, to jump in the pool when they don't want to, to have more drinks when they don't want to, etc. I guess in that sense, the attitude is consistent.
posted by monologish at 8:32 AM on December 11, 2015


I feel like the tea video misses the point a little. It leaves out the badgering, the put-downs, the humiliations, all the little tools used to erode nonconsent bit by bit. Not everything is tea down the throat.
posted by mittens at 9:36 AM on December 11, 2015


The British explains consent in a very British way.

Oh no. The tea analogy. I think the last time this came up there was some talk about how the tea analogy doesn't work because sometimes people need to drink something when their drunk or sometimes people will make tea without being asked?
posted by FJT at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2015


Hm. Ok. In hindsight and after some reading I see how that may have been an infantile and simple analogy for something much more complicated. I think my love of all things tea clouded my judgment for the moment. Apologies.
posted by monologish at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2015


No, no need to apologize. I just remembered how weird the conversation went the last time around. I thought it was a good introduction to the concept.
posted by FJT at 10:00 AM on December 11, 2015


I'm not really interested in talking about masculinity in the "what it means to be" because I really just don't care. I'm not convinced that there's any value in trying to dial in some definition of masculinity that isn't toxic because who really needs it anyway?

By which I mean needs it in the sense of good for the world. Clearly there are people who need it in the sense that they feel some need for it as identity; one of the things I wrestle with in my understanding of trans issues is this idea of someone who needs to be masculine or feminine without all the full biological trappings. Good on em, I don't care and I'm going to respect your right to call yourself what you want. But I don't grok the desire in the way that non-normative / cafeteria style life makes sense to me. I don't understand why someone needs to Be A Man in cruddy or non cruddy ways.

So talking about some sort of challenges with masculinity? I just don't care. The things in masculinity that suck should go away, and the traits that I carry there out of inertia and training I hold no enthusiasm for just because they're masculine coded. The things that are masculine that are good, whatever they are, great - keep em because they're good, not because they slot into this definition. But since I don't care for the idea that there's roles that people have to pick and things that belong to one group or another I just don't have any interest in a categorization of masculinity.

So from that perspective I just don't see so many of these currently coded things as a masculinity discussion as much as a being a jerk perspective. I don't feel like I need to find some way for Joe Whatsisface to satisfy his personal self-image as a Real Man when he spouts something sexist in my presence. The last time an otherwise pretty well-evolved friend of mine said something about sexy outfit cosplayers wanting to be ogled I gave him a meh that's kinda sexist and nobody owes me amusement and I don't know their mind and I don't think it's asking too much to enjoy my looking without being a grody peeper sort of reaction.

It wasn't the most comfortable conversation ever, but why should I view it differently than if someone drops some racist shit in my presence? Some clown friend of a friend dropped some sort of coded Obama is a muslim garbage in a comment ("is he showing his allegiance to Islamic goals and attitudes?") and I called that out. Do I need to care that it's part of some personal self-image of hers as a flavor of christian (that she named elsewhere in the comment)? Would I need to care more if I was also in that identified group?

I don't think so, any more than I worry about calling out anti-black racism from white people I know or bullshit from folks of similar political bent. But then, I am resistant to partisan identification there too, so perhaps I'm just predisposed to reject this stuff. Maybe that'll be a problem in "reforming" masculinity, if the people who are most committed to holding onto being a part of such a definition are the ones who are least interested in changing it.

I'm not sure what to do about that, other than continuing to be identified on my driver's license as a male and yet not displaying a number of these supposed important masculine traits. If someone tells me I'm somehow less of a man I am most likely to shrug than want to discuss it. If someone tells me that some other person isn't a real man because reasons I'll probably say some variation of who gives a shit or whatever that means anyway.

tl;dr: why would I care about tribal identification if I'm not real interested in being in the tribe and therefore have an idea of what it means to be in the tribe and care about those traits?
posted by phearlez at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


why would I care about tribal identification if I'm not real interested in being in the tribe and therefore have an idea of what it means to be in the tribe and care about those traits?

Because there are people that do care and people who are trying to navigate within the system. And from this topic, this is something that's not really easy for guys to talk about and by saying you automatically don't care, kind of shuts down the conversation before it even has chance to grow.

And it's great you found a path and identity that you're cool with, but not everyone is going to choose the same identity or go on the same path. And being dismissive about other ways is not very helpful.

Using me as an example, I'm not a white person and I don't wish to be one, but I admit I do give a portion of my time to thinking about white people and the things white people think about. At the minimum, I have to live among white people, so it's an advantage to have some of that knowledge. And beyond that, it helps me relate to them in some way and not be like a foreign robot.
posted by FJT at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


And from this topic, this is something that's not really easy for guys to talk about and by saying you automatically don't care, kind of shuts down the conversation before it even has chance to grow.

The question was asked above and also answered by others about their ability or interest in discussing it. This is my answer, and if you read more than the tldr - much less anything else I have written in other threads - you'd see that I do indeed care about toxic masculinity's impact.

I think the fact that there's people who may have simply walked away from Omelas impacts the possibility of reforming masculinity. Because you don't change a group's nature from the outside. I'm not outside it, as I am perceived male and slotted into it by viewers, but I'm not participating in the tribal identity in any building sort of way. I offered that up as a data point because it may matter if there's a lot of that going on. And, you know, because it was asked.
posted by phearlez at 11:05 AM on December 11, 2015


I'm a feminist and I have strong feelings about how women are viewed/treated in society; but when I hear men tell their stories about their experiences with toxic masculinity and how it has hurt them it honestly just breaks my heart.

This, a thousand times. Hugs to all of you who're telling your stories.
posted by culfinglin at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's more than just tribal identity, though, gender is a fundamental and unavoidable category others ascribe to you. And it's one thing for grown adults with a developed and comfortable sense of self to take what they like and ditch the rest, but children, boys, especially those with physically or emotionally absent fathers (too many!), need a way to make sense of themselves, and so often cling to the cartoonish standards passed and reinforced between their young peers, or represented in the media. Anything that will give them an idea of how it is ok to be.

I have that cousin I described above (sorry about that indulgence, btw); I also have brothers who had such a hard time filling the gaps, growing up, and reached to any notion that might give them something to hold onto, or give them a feeling of substance, in that vacuum, in their vulnerability. Some of that stuff was toxic and still seeps through on occasion. It's the stuff that makes my cousin cringe or laugh; but he's able to call it out because he grew up in a world that made a slightly different framework and language available to him, that my brothers didn't. One brother was so seduced by the macho stuff - I don't even know what flotsam and jetsam went into it - Bruce Lee movies even, I swear to god - that he came to be so hard on everyone, but mostly on himself, and that kind of self-alienation is so painful to see and hurtful to others. He's grown a lot, but it's not been easy.

Changing the discourse means that that smallest of small internal voices that says "this is wrong, you should not be acting this way" or "you need to pay attention to this feeling" has backup, something to resonate with that will amplify it, instead of drown it out.

Sorry for derailing earlier, with that other comment. I think toxic masculinity is also a feminist issue (i.e. that toxic masculinity is based in misogyny and homophobia, and that a major task in its reproduction is rooting out anything coded as feminine or "close to" feminine, like having feelings and talking about them). I think it's hard for everyone to hear their own voices in that mess, unless they have - or develop - additional supports. New models and standards would go a long way towards supporting that; even talking about them does, I think.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:14 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Muslim men aren’t ever seen as docile. They are feared and vilified, marginalized and taunted — and even if they are “shy” that’s always characterized as something more nefarious. When the world pictures Muslim men, they see beards and cloaked bodies, gangly, dirt-smeared refugees. And they think: terrorists. Or at least that’s what a Texas teacher thought this year when 14-year-old Ahmed Mohammed was arrested for making a clock in school. His teacher labeled it suspicious because of his name and ethnicity, but Mohammed later explained that he made the clock to “impress his teacher.” His innocence was misread as a threat. His shyness and softness were seen as incongruent within the construct of Muslim masculinity."

So, I finally had time to get through all of the essays, and this one was a weird one for me. Which, like many things, is probably because of my progressive bubble. But, like, this woman's a Muslim — she doesn't know the docile, "softboy" Muslim archetype? Like, the doe-eyed poet in a kufi who just wants to talk about “How sad, a heart that/ does not know how to love, that/ does not know what it is to be drunk with love./ If you are not in love, how can you enjoy/ the blinding light of the sun,/ the soft light of the moon?” I mean, I'm guessing this is analogous to saying, "Black men aren't ever seen as docile," and yeah, the overall media image of black men is as aggressive and violent, but if you actually know black people, there are more Drakes than Ghostface Killahs, more Bobby Taylors than Deebos.

It just felt a little like an exercise in the "My pop culture crush is transcendent" genre writing — especially since she wrote off Zayn's deviation from softboy tropes by imagining that he felt bad about them afterward. I know women see articles by men that construct hypothetical femininities for them to inhabit all the time, and so maybe some of my disjunction is from that inverted, but on some level it reminded me of the constructed masculinity and "feminism" of James Deen, where media representations are taken as revealing true iconic character, and likely say more about the desires of the audience than the actual person upon whom they're based.

——

As for the ongoing conversation about consent and withdrawing it afterward, while I agree that there's a lot of clumsy, Telephone-game recounting, it's worth remembering that the idea of withdrawing consent retroactively based on reconsidered feelings was something that some notionally progressive kink folks advocated and we talked about a year ago.

I also don't think we have great ways of talking about sexual consent in general, and a significant part of that (at least to me) is that we, socially, don't necessarily have a great handle on what choice and consent mean outside of sex either. There are all sorts of social and legal interactions that have really important components of consent that aren't really well interrogated, and that have poor frameworks for discussing and changing — one of the easiest, least controversial examples would be Terms of Service and EULA. Legally, all sorts of people agree to be bound by agreements they neither read nor understand, and have no real intention of honoring. These are almost always found in situations of radical differences in power — your ability to find a bank or a phone company without at least some ethically dubious and anti-consumer provisions in their contracts is incredibly low. With that normalized, it means that bright line discussions fail to account for many of the real-life situations that people find themselves in, and gray area discussions are used to unethically expand the realm of "informed consent" beyond what can reasonably be negotiated. That sex is almost always intimate ups the stakes, as does the desire to have a single narrative each for victims and perpetrators — along with the fact that there's a long history of bad actors, almost entirely men, who either intentionally pervert the good faith most people presume or who are too selfish and unempathetic to notice or care when being self-serving comes (no pun intended) at the expense of their partners. A framework for consent has to be able to make sense and feel comfortable for the vast majority of people who are able and want to have mutually subjective sex, while still having enough clear boundaries to be able to articulate transgressions against them. It's not an easy thing overall, and I think that the general ease of good actors in finding that mutual consent actually works against being able to have some of the more difficult conversations around consent, by both injecting unnecessary doubt and by the normative presumption of good faith — for example, there have been times when a partner has wanted to have sex and I've been meh but willing to be cajoled into it. Because of the context of the relationships in which that's happened, it's something that's totally fine — I'd put it morally on the level of cooking dinner when I'm not particularly hungry, something that is maybe not my top choice for how I'd spend my time, but not something I don't consent to or would hold against a partner. But in even slightly different contexts, say, the comic about race and consent, it's not OK, it's a violation. And there's a real risk that by conflating my experience with the norm, that it diminishes the ability of other people to distinguish and articulate their experiences, and when broadened to other contexts — I've definitely had sex I enjoyed and consented to, despite being legally way to intoxicated to consent — that ambiguity can be used to excuse bad actors or shoehorn ambiguous events into a narrative of either victimhood or predation. Similarly, the ambiguity can give good actors trepidation while providing cover for bad actors — something that I think you see in the brief testimonials from the guys on how they think about consent.

I do think there's an advantage in the enthusiastic consent framing, in that by shifting the edge cases to things like less than enthusiastic consent from edge cases like 'did they verbally say no?', it both gives a better norm to shoot for (enthusiastic consent) with the ability to negotiate more sophisticated relationships from there, and it gives kids both the norm of discussing consent and better vocabulary to do so. One of the bits of advice that my mom gave me was to always know the abortion politics of women I slept with before I slept with them, and rolling that into a discussion of how we talk about sex and consent within the context of a relationship seems to naturally follow. For all the satires of the maligned checklists at liberal arts colleges, seeking to normalize talking about consent before fucking is really positive — it's one of the biggest missed opportunities in the last big BDSM pop culture moment, since (from what I understand) that's pretty much entirely absent from 50 Shades, and it shouldn't be.

Anyway, that's long enough on that.
————
"why would I care about tribal identification if I'm not real interested in being in the tribe and therefore have an idea of what it means to be in the tribe and care about those traits?"

So, one of the things that was a learning experience for me working in an office that was almost entirely LGBT people, was that it didn't really matter whether or not I cared about "tribal identification" — how I performed gender and sexuality was taken as representative of the tribe whether or not I wanted it to be.

The most stark example comes from doing persuasion work on marriage for same-sex couples. We were testing these emotional narrative frameworks, which means talking about my personal experience with relationships, and the experiences of LGBT people I know. I'm straight; my narratives about marriage were always rooted in that, and I was scrupulous to not identify myself as gay, even though a large number of people would presume it unless I corrected them. What we found from doing follow-up telephone surveys was that even people who I told explicitly that I was straight, people to whom I talked about my now-wife, then girlfriend, would remember me as gay a month or two later and how I acted would be used to stereotype gay people broadly. Like, 70 percent of people who got follow up calls remembered me as gay. I didn't change anything about my mannerisms, except that I didn't curse like a sailor in front of people I was trying to persuade. When I was out doing street canvass stuff, I'd frequently get compliments on how glad they were to have someone like me out in the community, to show that not all gays were in booty shorts and rainbows. Even after I corrected people, they'd still remember me as gay, and as a positive example. It was weird and kinda funny to have everyone just assume I was a bear.

Because of how I look, pretty much anything I did became coded as "masculine." In a weird way, it was really freeing there, because it meant that I wasn't going to take shit for blaring disco or religiously watching America's Next Top Model, like I have in other places that weren't nearly as gender equitable. I could like what I liked, and that was regarded as a legitimate performance of masculinity even when I didn't think of it in those terms. That freedom from being policed was really nice, and a huge shift from my previous office job, where misogyny was the default and where it took a lot more energy to tell coworkers to get fucked if they tried to give me shit over liking ANTM. But basically, I couldn't escape being read as performing masculinity no matter what I did, so I just reframed it as undermining some pernicious assumptions about masculine performance and trying to provide a broader model for what legitimate performance of masculinity was — I'm privileged enough to be a cis dude who's read as cis since junior year of high school (way back when, I used to get shit about having long hair), so I might as well use my privilege for good, since I can't set it down and walk away. I also thought this was kinda important because I had a couple of friends and coworkers come out as trans dudes while they were there, and at least one of 'em had what I'd call a real 22-year-old dudebro view of masculinity, similar to what's been described as problematic for good reason throughout the thread — "bangin' chicks," not wanting to get trapped by ladies who just want marriage, shit like that. He was 22, and at 22, a lot of guys are either dirtbags or socialized to perform as dirtbags, and he was modeling his performance off of that. Getting him to the point where he could recognize that a lot of the things that he liked before he came out weren't somehow tainted by femininity, but because he was a dude, were part of things that he liked as a dude — it's OK to be a dude who likes The Gilmore Girls or whatever.

So while you don't care about the tribe, recognize that your internal state isn't something that other people can discern, and that you'll be seen as representative of the identity that they perceive you as performing. If you had to identify as a guy, what would you want the cohering attributes to be? At least for now, it's impossible to escape the notion of coded gender performances, so making sure that how you perform is at least moderately intentional is still worth thinking about.
posted by klangklangston at 1:17 PM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Opting out is a legitimate strategy, and in many cultures or careers, there's much less cost for doing so compared to 10/50/100 years ago. Which on one level is good, you can adopt (as I have) rules like rejecting anything that falls under phearlez' category of just plain being a jerk. It has a lot of immediate, no-brainer benefits that feminists are pleading for: just stop with the harassment, discrimination and rape, for petes sake.

But opting out does exact a cost; loss of tribal identity, connection to shared history, lots of stuff that we are wired to seek and can feel really good. Minimizing that cost and associated pain can just mean you're falling into another trap of toxic masculinity. I've felt that, and it's fueled my interest in mining whatever value possible from the legacy we're given. Finding community in this is difficult, though, as it seems only a matter of time before a seemingly reasonable person spouts off some MRA or similar crap.
posted by sapere aude at 4:15 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]




My take away from the article triggerfinger links to above is "people complain about the behaviour of men, then complain again when men try to do something about it". I completely agree with Haig that we need a new model for masculinity, but we aren't going to get that model if we can't even talk about who we are and what we do any why we do it and how it's problematic. Men talking to other men about how to be better as men doesn't harm feminism at all.
posted by Solomon at 1:06 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Men talking to other men about how to be better as men doesn't harm feminism at all.

No only does it not hurt it, but I think it's intricately intertwined with feminism, as it's the same system (patriarchy) that hurts both men and women - it just does it in different ways.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:35 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think "complain again when men try to do something about it" is a little too simple, and I will be honest that part of why I think this is that I am hard-pressed to think of anything in masculinity worth spending time saving/redeeming. So if you're just talking about the ways that this thing that is really only any good to us men is harming us men, then I think it's reasonable to say "so then just stop doing it and shut up."

I get that this might seem unreasonable if you think there's anything worth saving in masculinity, but I think a lot of us don't believe there is. From my perspective masculinity is defined purely by what it's not - things that are feminine - and by staking out things as ours alone to the exclusion of women, like physical strength. Since those things are demonstrably not true it also requires policing the definition of feminine. And that's just picking the least overtly toxic aspects and leaving out the cesspool of "fucking as many women as possible" and "don't bang fat chicks" definition aspects.

All I see us left with if we honestly discard those is "masculine is what a person with a penis does," and there all we've done is draw this slash through half the population as if we're picking which side of the theater is call and which side is response. And we've done it by excluding trans folks. For... what? To have a group to belong to?

I'd lend some credence to this being valuable because of our instinctive pull towards tribalism if modern folks didn't already have plenty of tribal identifications to pick from. In the US there's no shortage of religious identities to pick up for folks who need a grouping. There are career and athletic pursuits, as well as fandoms from football to sci-fi. Those are groups that at least have a positive meaning, a definition that isn't purely exclusionary by picking general traits and limiting them to this set. They're arbitrary and we accept that they're arbitrary and that being in the group means simply deciding you are.

So when I hear let's talk about how to be better as men I simply cannot imagine a way forward that doesn't involve policing other folks' behavior, both via the you're doing it wrong and therefore not really one of us that I and so many others heard growing up and via the if they're doing this thing we do then they are not being feminine.
posted by phearlez at 1:42 PM on December 23, 2015


I just read this article, which offers some additional thoughts on how masculinity is defined that I found interesting. In short, I do think it may allow for some better aspects than purely toxic ones you've outlined. (Sorry for the long pull quote, but I thought there was a lot of good stuff in the article):

In my initial interactions, I spent a full week meeting with every fraternity on campus and captains of various sports teams, including the nationally ranked football team. I knew the guys were not comfortable with these mandatory gatherings, so I started each with a simple question: What is a man?

Sighs of relief and phrases such as "leader," "protector," "caretaker," "responsible," "head of the house" fell from their mouths. Each session, I told them that they had just described my single mother and most women I've encountered in my life. These young men would grow quiet.

I then asked them to name at least 10 women in American history. The usual list: Rosa Parks, Betsy Ross, Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller and Florence Nightingale, and they would inevitably stall. Pressed to tell me something about each of these women, only a handful could ever answer that question. When you don't know something about a group or people, any people, people different from you, it becomes very easy not to honor them as your equals, easy not to respect them, easy not to love them, easy not to see their lives as valuable as yours.

Just as the feminist movement in America has challenged male domination in every form, a men's movement is needed now more than ever before. The movement must be inclusive of males of all ages and backgrounds, rooted in peace, love and healthy definitions of manhood that include viewing women and girls as our equals. It should be a movement that is not in opposition to women, not trying to return to the days of "the rugged man," but one that makes room for every kind of man possible (including men on the LGBTQ spectrum), where we can be vulnerable, emotionally available, truly free.

posted by triggerfinger at 8:54 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


(i find it hard to comprehend a definition of manhood that 'makes room for every kind of man possible'...because isn't that basically saying the category itself is meaningless? why maintain the category? what use is a box without any sides or top?)
posted by mittens at 10:21 AM on December 24, 2015




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