They live amongst us. They are people we know. They are our friends. They are the But Men. Like the rest of us they live in a heteronormative, misogynistic patriarchy. They are witness to daily acts of sexism against woman. They listen to these women talk about their experiences of oppression. They read women’s blogs and facebook posts about the violence society perpetrates against woman. And once they’ve finished listening and reading the first thing they say is “But men…”
“But men are objectified too, but men get called out for having too much sex, but men experience domestic violence, but men are stereotyped, but men…”
Whilst all of these things are true it’s pretty obvious that the But Men are missing the point. Simply put, when we are talking about women’s experience of the patriarchy we are talking about women’s experience of the patriarchy – not men’s. In this situation the best thing many men can do is shut up and listen. I did a But Men the other day and swiftly learnt my lesson. A friend had posted about the objectification of women in mainstream media – the way women’s bodies are so frequently sexualised and scrutinised. I ‘liked’ the post and then innocently/ignorantly commented, ‘Yes, and this happens to men too.’ It didn’t take long for someone else to comment on my comment accusing me of missing the point and trivialising the issue. “Missing the point, trivialising the issue,” I said to myself indignantly, that’s certainly not what I intended. Fortunately, rather than commenting on the comment on my comment I stepped away from the laptop.
I say I commented innocently/ignorantly for a reason: with regards the innocence I was genuinely trying to reach out to a virtual community discussing objectification and share my own experience of objectification – I get bored with the status quo of male beauty and body type and my self-esteem is regularly diminished by it and I really wanted to share my views on this. With regards the ignorance I should have known better than to butt into a conversation about the oppression of women with a comment about the oppression of men. I would not have interrupted a friend’s discussion about their experience of racism as a black person with my comments on the experiences of racism that white people encounter, or a discussion on homophobia with instances of heterophobia, or instances of Islamaphobia with cases of discrimination against atheists etc. Yet for some reason I thought it was OK to completely divert a conversation about women to be about men. There’s a word for this and it’s sexism. It turns out my ignorance perpetuates oppression and that makes me guilty.
For too long conversations have been led by men, for men and about men. And now people are talking about other things men are suddenly finding their male privilege threatened. It was never a good privilege in the first place because it depended on oppression and violence but it sure is uncomfortable to discover a taken-for-granted power being dispersed, even though it’s for the best.
So, But Men, what can we do? We can acknowledge that there are ways in which we all suffer in society and that we all need to be able to talk about this suffering. If we want to discuss the ways in which we suffer as men we can find appropriate groups to do it with. However, it’s important we don’t hijack other groups to talk about ourselves – this is disrespectful and oppressive. We must learn to listen and not to speak over people (aka when to shut up). We must also acknowledge that there are spaces to which we are not invited (e.g. a woman’s circle). In essence, we need to use our imagination. We need to try to empathise with groups we are not part of in order to understand what it’s like to experience the world as they do – a world that has a knack for treating men unfairly well. Then we can set about changing this by redistributing power equally in order to ensure that this world isn’t all a-but men!