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Bone Headed

by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 25, 2012


Cracked.com’s “5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women” did not initially appeal to me, but after seeing it repeatedly recommended, if with warnings about it being “depressing,” I behaved like a predictable social media user and went to check out what all the buzz was about.  At well over 3 million views, and 170,000 Facebook “likes,” the thing sure has some legs.

Which makes it all the more scary that it is, by and large, useless stereotype rehashing.

Only one of author David Wong’s list items is actually an example of societal training: He starts off by pointing out that in nearly every single popular media story line, the hero gets the girl in the end—no matter how tenuous their actual connection, how much of an ass he has been, or how much she has insisted previously she wasn’t interested—and therefore that boys grow up absorbing the message that the world owes them a beautiful woman. Because after all, we are all the heroes of our own storylines. And when the world doesn’t deliver they act like the women involved are the ones who screwed up—forgot their lines as it were.

This is an interesting point, and one worth including in how our cultural gender narratives get shaped.

But from there out the article descends into rehearsing the low points of how men in our culture discuss women, and explaining this behavior with the same lines about how weak men are controlled by their desire and powerless in the face of a beautiful woman that have been used to excuse subjugating women for thousands of years. To be sure, Wong delivers it with a “God, our biology makes us such assholes” spin instead of a “God says our biology means we get to do this,” spin, but in the end it’s not much more satisfying.

Men see women, even powerful ones like a Supreme Court justice, as decorations who owe it to everyone to be beautiful, the article says, but also feel powerless in the face of inappropriate arousal, and therefore see us as temptresses “conspiring with our boners to ruin us” and as walking pairs of boobs to be navigated while still remaining functional. Really, once he wrote “the fundamental difference between male and female sexuality is that there are times when women aren’t thinking about sex,” it all descended into a bad stand up comedy routine, without the funny bits.

I’m not going to assert there’s no differences (on average) between male sexuality and female sexuality, though I think it’s probably smaller than the range of differences within each gender. Hormones are powerful things. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that this portrayal is terribly offensive to straight men (and ignores gay men’s existence). It is not impossible to be attracted to someone and simultaneously interact with them respectfully, and most guys do it all the time. Even very high libido men also have other things they genuinely care about and prioritize. Even when they work with women to do it. There’s a much more complicated set of structures out there creating the kind of misogyny Wong lists examples of. If you’re not going to get into them, don’t trot out biology as your excuse.

The article is also unhelpful and uncreative. If you want to critique the binds our culture’s attitudes about sex and gender put guys into there are plenty of more interesting things to say to that could also point to things we could do differently.

For one example, when it comes to flirtation, dating, and sex, men are expected to take all the initiative, and told to expect that women will play coy, but they should keep going. And yet they routinely get blamed for being oversexed creeps when they take initiative that turns out to be unwanted—even if they immediately and appropriately respect an expression of lack of interest.

Partly this stems from an epidemic of violations of “no” and disregarding of “no, thanks,” which makes many women understandably suspicious of even the most innocuous attention. But those guys with a criminal problem with consent have really screwed things up for their comrades, who are damned if they do and damned if they don’t—they have to risk being deemed a jerk or never make what might be a welcome overture.

What would happen if we focused on simultaneously making no respected at all times, taking the onus off men to be the ones to drive a (heterosexual) flirtation forward, and not deeming them (or any of us) to automatically be jerks for expressing attraction? Perhaps that would be more productive for everyone than rehashing the stupid idea that all straight men see women as talking pairs of boobs.