Is there Hope for Peace in the Gender Wars, Part 2

Part 1 (not strictly required, but makes for good reading too)

One of the unfortunate consequences of today’s lack of understanding between men and women is the ever-greater shift of the debate towards extreme arguments against the (sometimes willfully) caricatured positions of the other side. 

In the warmness of friendly online forums shielded from any form of criticism, such behavior only serves to polarize. An effect only made worse by the fact that extreme ideas breed contempt for the other side and thus gradually build up an conceptual moat around the whole ideological positions. In simpler terms, it’s equally hard to convince a radical feminist to give the benefit of the doubt to men as it is to make a MGTOW want to marry.

Of course, all of this would have mattered much less if it stayed an isolated phenomenon of the fringes. Unfortunately, extreme ideologies tend to seek both new converts as well as power. At this, feminism has been much more successful, partly because there genuinely used to be discriminatory laws that needed to be fixed. Ambitious women throughout history have rightly seen many injustices and sought to reimagine a more fair and just society. Nonetheless, it’s a delicate line between wanting to fix an injustice and desiring it went the other way. Just like with all humans in general, for every few nice women acting in good faith, there will always one deviating from justice and acting in bad faith instead.

At least from where I sit, not all injustices between men and women have been fixed yet. Unfortunately (or not?), modern feminism has never truly appealed to me as particularly insightful. Both in identifying the real issues and in actually trying to fix them with the appropriate attitude and measures. To be honest, I don’t think modern feminism is ultimately concerned with absolute fairness. And yet, modern feminism can hardly said to be worse than the implicit and rarely intellectualized philosophy some men seem to act out when they treat women as less than autonomous humans. As a result, I am stuck somewhere in the middle, searching for truth and fairness and actively trying to avoid falling prey to either ideology or feelings of resentment.

Now, I could go into specific issues in detail, but I’d rather not. For now, I’d rather focus on the bigger picture instead. It’s easy to get lost into the specifics of marriage and abortion laws, gender identities and so on. The media certainly love doing that, as do many people on the internet. I guess there is a need for this, but one can definitely do it too much. At least from my point of view, men and women are getting more and more anxious or scared about the other sex and this silence and the subsequent existential crisis of sexuality is leading us to bash each other through politics and the force of law. Yet, even if you manage successfully to put the other side into submission through a political tour-de-force, there are in principle few or no laws that will improve the preexisting crisis of mistrust. Coercion is a blunt tool, and as such it’s more likely to worsen rather than improve a deep lack of trust and communication.

Worse yet, there is a good reason to be skeptical that a polarized public environment such as ours could and would produce fair, balanced and nuanced laws. Especially when the conflict between men and women doesn’t replicate itself in each institution separately, but rather tends to express itself institutionally: corporate media against internet media, university insiders vs outsiders, etc. (the former leaning almost exclusively to the feminist side, while the latter tending to offer men an opportunity to dissent)

If feminists argue that similar institutional polarization led to discrimination against women in the past, then one must wonder if the current media atmosphere is not acting in the opposite direction of discrimination against men. (see e.g. Cathy Newman’s interview with Jordan Peterson).

Try as I might, I could never see the modern world as feminists paint it. At best, “patriarchy” to me sounds like a placeholder for everything that women see wrong with men. Some of it is objectively wrong or at least arguably so — for example, unfair laws unfairly treating women as less than autonomous individuals. But for every good point argued reasonably, there are many others that seem resentful and done in bad faith. This is why I think most people are put off the idea of the “patriarchy”. It just feels like an emotion-laden catch-all term to describe everything women (or rather, a particular subset of women) see as wrong in men. Yet, not all of it justified. Men and women have always found it at least somewhat difficult to understand each other (and when this phenomenon hasn’t led to conflicts, it has made for much fun, sexual tension, excitement and enrichment for both sexes). The language of “patriarchy” makes it impossible to differentiate between an argument against a claimed injustice and an expression of a personal frustration with men. It is no secret to anyone that many radical feminists give off a plainly misandrist vibe. (“Kill All (White) Men” was trending on twitter some time ago). But even when done by well-intentioned women, talk of “patriarchy” can serve to voice women’s collective frustration that men are simply different. (e.g. Why can’t men show more feelings? Why can’t they listen more? etc.

As a consequence of using a unified word for such different phenomena, no one but those at the extremes can subscribe to such an undifferentiated package term as “the patriarchy”. With patriarchy-speak, it’s either all or nothing. There is no in between. A woman would be hard pressed to defend being in opposition to unjust laws (and hence “patriarchy”) without believing that the very same “patriarchy” doesn’t hurt men by telling them to be stay cold and unemotional. In the end, if the patriarchy is there (and you only need to recognize it once), then it does everything it stands accused of (and probably some more). There is hardly any nuance in radical modern feminism.

But of course, there is nuance to be found. Moreover, most people intuitively realize this fact. Even some moderate feminists that still speak of patriarchy feel the need to add footnote after footnote to make their position nuanced and reasonable. But even when (and if) they succeed, the whole project will only show one side of the story. To get a nuanced view, one has to also look at the male side too. Unless, of course, all males are privileged and never suffer injustices, god forbid coming from women.

Evidently, there is no straight equivalent for “patriarchy” on the male side. That’s probably a good thing. It’s much easier to see where a male position is coming from if it uses “bitch”, “whore”, “slut” instead of “woman” or “feminist”, for example. This conceptual clarity is usually portrayed as evidence for the unique hatred many men have against women, but I remain unconvinced. Not unconvinced that hate doesn’t exist, but rather that women don’t also harbor it and simply verbalize it differently (rapists? creeps? etc). As I said in the previous post, the sexual and the romantic are inherently painful so such resentment should come as no surprise. Indeed, it would be surprising if women somehow were in fact much better behaved and well-intentioned than men (or vice-versa).

The point is, it seems easier to understand when men have a personal, ideological or a legal problem with a woman or women in general. While feminism offers a unified front and terminology for female grievances, men have little in the way of comparable of ideological infrastructure. The whole thing is just not that unified. That’s why it can be frustrating for many on the well-intentioned male side to be lumped together with the men who simply harbor irrational resentment against women based on personal experiences. From what I have seen, it’s mostly radical feminists that try to paint honest men’s rights activists (concerned with father rights, for example) as synonymous with the men who genuinely dislike women for whatever personal reason. While the latter are likely to side with the former (they are not women, after all!), the reverse is not always true.

To put it differently, it’s clear (at least when pointed out explicitly) that arguing for the rights of fathers, say, is not equivalent to criticizing particular female sexual choices (presumably a large cause of male frustration with women) as “slutty”, say. But these two (and many more) are often conflated and termed as misogyny (or seen as equivalent expressions of the patriarchy) by radical feminists. It’s hard to believe all of this is done in good faith. There is simply zero honest engagement even in the cases when the male side is genuinely trying to have a conversation. 

But even when the male side is being dishonest and distasteful, one could still hope some well-intentioned feminist will try to change their minds. It’s not like a few emotionally-charged words are impossible to get over. It’s not like deeply emotional words cannot lead to a fact-based discussion. In fact, both feminists and their opponents routinely do it. Where one group sanctions the unfair use of “rapist” and “oppressor” to describe men, the other sanctions the unfair use of “slut”, “whore” and “bitch” to describe women. Yet, both groups somehow find it in them to look past the strong connotations of the words and conjure up statistical studies to make their case — the female side citing crime reports, the male one — studies about promiscuity, etc.

Of course, sexual violence, being an illegal category, is inherently more amenable to quantification than promiscuity or “bitchiness”. And for what it’s worth, the perpetrators of sexual crimes certainly seem to skew male. So, feminists (radical and non-radical alike) feel rightfully angry.  

But are we then to believe that all men are oppressing women? That, I think, would be a step too far. The men doing the crimes are not necessarily representative of all men in general. (in fact, claiming male sexual crimes are a window into the essence of masculinity is one of modern feminism’s basic tenets). Besides, when feminists speak of oppression they often venture off into territory that covers much more than sexual violence — and certainly more than what is captured in mere statistics. Oppression, as used by feminists, often seems to cover every facet of male sexuality. Personally, I think that’s, once again, mixing good and bad observations and failing to make important distinctions. 

To start off with an admission — yes, male sexuality can be awkward and off-putting. Especially when some men act entitled and obnoxious around women without having put in the work to be attractive in the first place. Combine that with the male tendency to be more physical than verbal and you get a recipe for disaster. And while some guys (mostly at the lowest strata of society, although not exclusively) don’t outgrow it, I still think that most men do. In fact, most men are only awkward around women because of incompetence and inexperience, not because of some deep-seated desire to oppress. Most men want to be loved, but don’t know how. So, facing the fact that if they never improve, they’ll always stay alone, men take risks that creep women out. Many women, in fact — while a confident man can chat up one woman and start dating her, an unexperienced man often ends up chatting a woman and then 10 more after her only to be rejected every single time. These moments of rejection are often extremely unpleasant. Moreover, these moments are one of the very reasons why men could never relate to feminists when they say that men always have the power in the sexual dynamic. 

To be honest, it is at these moments that many men perceive not only that they have little sexual power, but that many women are often quite happy to abuse theirs. After all, women are humans and we know what power does to humans — it corrupts. 

In fact, while unnecessarily brutal and unkind rejections are not illegal (and thus not present in statistics of crime, etc.), they provide a good starting point to understanding the men who end up adopting the vocabulary of the prototypical misogynist. Among this group, “bitch” is not an abstract concept. It’s a throwback term to the kind of woman that instead of saying “no, thanks” goes for the kill and attacks a man when he’s most vulnerable. You’re ugly, fat, stupid, etc. Some men never get to experience another side of female sexuality but the one that rejects harshly. For some men, the best they get are polite rejections while the worst — unnecessarily vicious attacks.

Of course, feminists understand how bad this can feel. “Slut-shaming”, “fat-shaming” and all the rest are all feminist terms that demonstrate how uncomfortable dating can be for women. The fact is, however, men experience the same pressures and then some. Namely, while many women can reasonably expect to acquire sexual/romantic experience without having to ever initiate a relationship, the same is simply impossible for the majority of men. In other words, both sexes experience the passive judgement of the dating world and all the demands it makes of us. But it’s mostly men (in the heterosexual world, anyway) that have to open up, reveal themselves as vulnerable and face the judgement not just passively but actively too. 

In any case, our society has decided that men need to ask women out, but increasingly there’s no room for any mistakes at all. But how could learning take place without making mistakes? How could an inexperienced man ever get to “yes” if even an awkward gaze or a weird choice of words can be a reason to shame him into disappearing? Feminism talks about the harms of objectification women experience because of their bodies. But it says nothing about the similar harms men experience early-on in life because every woman expects them to initiate a conversation and be confident smooth talkers from day one.

The way I see is this: for every woman who has felt objectified by a man’s weird gaze, there’s a man who’s been mocked by a woman for not being enough — in height, status, looks, confidence, or anything else women profess to like. Some feminists like to snarkily shrug this off as “male fragility”, not realizing that they only reveal themselves as uncaring and resentful in the process. Because if that’s an instance of “male fragility”, then the question arises: what is an instance of “female fragility”? It’s clear where this divisive game would go if men were forced to play it: straight to what women feel most insecure about — their appearance, confidence, etc. These snarky feminists not only confirm the suspicions of many about the intentions of some in the feminist movement. They also serve as a useful reminder that every one, man or woman, can deliberately set out to hurt others and think nothing of it.

But what if we didn’t go down this divisive route? What if we decided to talk? If public conversation was to be had about these (and other) psychologically painful experiences, then at least let it be fair and balanced to both sexes. Otherwise, we’ll keep repeating this modern farce we call “compassion” and which is at best only selective form of it. As long as the majority of discussions on these sensitive topics are women- and men-only, we will keep dividing, misunderstanding and hurting each other unnecessarily. A society is not made better by having half of it understand one truth and the other half – another. A society is made better when all people understand both truths at the same time.

All of the above notwithstanding, there are hardly any mainstream discussions about male problems at all. I have thought a lot about why that is. Seeing the online interest in the topic, it’s certainly not for lack of demand. So, going back to the media and other institutions that favor a exclusively feminist narrative, I’ve looked for answers from the patriarchy-theorists. After all, if the mainstream discussions are explicitly feminist in nature, it’s worth knowing why feminism doesn’t seem to particularly care about men (even if it claims it’s for equality of the sexes, despite what its name might suggest)

So, what I’ve come up with is this: It does seem that not only is “patriarchy” a universal term for everything wrong with men, but it is seemingly a term that encompasses everything at all. For radical feminism, there is simply nothing beyond male oppression against women. Therefore, any suggestion that men could be good, or that women, too, can be bad, are feminist anathema, i.e. wrong, misguided, evil, and worst of all – misogynistic. 

Of course, in reality, this radical feminist position is simply wrong. All humans are both good and bad and however many the negatives of men (or women!), they are in no way indicative of a lack of positives. To look at the pathologies of rape and sexual violence and to ignore the desire to do well by women when portraying masculinity is to be unfairly biased against men. And to look at some women’s cruelty in exercising their sexual power (by e.g. belittling men, mocking them, using them for free drinks or other material gifts etc.) and ignore the desire to form healthy relationships when portraying femininity is to be unfairly biased against women. 

Ultimately, once exaggerations and biases have been properly stripped away, what’s left should be a simple understanding that (1) both sides have the power to hurt each other and are, at times, more than willing to do so, but (2) more often than not, men and women simply want to be happy and live in peace with each other.

Of course, in a polarized world, all of the above could be easily weaponized just like everything else. “We want peace, but men are rapists and …” or “We want peace, but women are heartless bitches and …”. There’s nothing to say to people so hopelessly lost in their ideological constructs and personal traumas that they could never look past them and work for a better reality. I don’t claim to know how equality between the sexes (the equality that matters anyway) will be achieved. But I know that divisiveness is most definitely not the way ahead.

So, I guess the only hope we have is to be more understanding of each other and try to act in accordance with that understanding in our personal lives. Of course, there is also a place for moderate public discussions of the difficult questions of sex, love, equality and everything in between. Yet, because quite a few people in the public space today seem to judge right and wrong by how much it agrees with their sacred ideology, words right now might not be able to penetrate through to those that most need to hear them. Thus, I’m reminded of the saying: actions speak louder than words. They do indeed. 

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5 Comments, RSS

  1. […] Part 2 […]

  2. Laura Bernadette February 7, 2018 @ 5:11 AM

    Hi! I think this is an incredibly important discussion and I think you really do a good job talking about the real problem, communication. There is no open line of communication and this polarization is consitent across most or all modern social affairs. While I call myself a feminist, I also feel lost in a median where the fringes of radical hatred and extreme outlash do not, and will never, represent what I believe.

    I love your talking about emotion and the sacrafice of masculinity at the alter, where there is the unemotional unforgiving man that rapes and no room for a growing and loving man.

    I think the problem of emotional suppression is not simply a problem of men, but a human wide problem. Whether visibly emotional or invisibly supressing all emotion, the mainstream public has never provided children with the tools to handle psycological health.

    I enjoyed your post. Thanks. If you are interested check out my space I discuss humans role in a changing climate and actions we can take to minimize our personal impact.

  3. Elijah Richard February 7, 2018 @ 5:13 AM

    Great post! I’ve been reading a few, and they are all super interesting! I had to send you a follow on twitter! lol Keep up the great work! Thank for the good read.

  4. Elijah Richard February 7, 2018 @ 5:18 AM

    P.S. I tried looking for a like button, but I couldn’t find one! lol

  5. Arjun February 7, 2018 @ 6:42 AM

    This is a good read. You have some very valid points here. I don’t know why people can’t discuss anything politely anymore and why everything needs to become a crusade to accomplish anything.

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