A few weeks ago, I made this point, which I want to get back to (isn't it great when you've been blogging long enough to quote yourself?):
Both genders face huge and distinct disadvantages. I'd be hard-pressed to say whether it's more unfortunate to be a man or a woman.I want to focus on the male-disadvantages side of this question, which I find more interesting because it's not talked about as much.
As a thought-experiment, you could imagine -- apologies to John Rawls and his veil of ignorance -- that you haven't been born yet and you get to choose which gender you want to live your life as. You get to be fully informed about what the world is like, but all you know about your future life is that you'll be a human being growing up in the United States. (Significantly, you don't know your race or sexual orientation.) Which gender would you choose to be? I think some people would choose to be a man, and others would choose to be a woman, and it's far from obvious what the wiser choice would be.
I'm well aware that the person who suggests, at least in certain kinds of elite circles, that maybe there are some not-so-great things about being a man is likely not be heard. Civil discussion will end. You aren't allowed to talk about, or think about, the idea that while gender roles, norms, traditions, stereotypes, etc. have certainly been bad for women ... they might also be bad for men too.
It's odd: I would have thought that if that's true, then it would actually strengthen the case for feminism. If everyone is burdened by antiquated gender rules, isn't that twice as bad as if half the population were burdened?
But even if you honestly believed there were no disadvantages to being a man, what would be your motivation to silence those who suggest otherwise? Why wouldn't you want a completely free debate in which anyone is allowed to marshall whatever evidence they want and get a fair hearing? In a free debate, anyone who doesn't have the facts on their side will be revealed as wrong. You shouldn't need to decide in advance which are the correct views and which are the incorrect views and shout down anything that falls under the latter category.
It's hard for me to imagine a much clearer example of this phenomenon than a recent set of discussion threads on Metafilter. It's rare that you have such a clear-cut instance of taboo enforcement preserved for all to see, so I want to take a look at this. (I have first-hand experience with the same thing in the real world, but can't really blog about it.)
The other day, someone posted a question to AskMetafilter, essentially asking: What are the advantages of being a man? (For those who aren't familiar with it, Metafilter is a "community" website written by thousands of users; one section is called AskMetafilter, where people post questions on any topic for other users to answer. Anyone can read it, but you pay a nominal one-time fee to add content.)
So I decided to post the reverse: What are the disadvantages of being a man? Both questions immediately began drawing a variety of thoughtful answers.
Well, guess what happened. The website's moderators deleted my question, but allowed the first question to stay.
I asked them about this discrepancy and got conflicting answers from the three Metafilter moderators. One of them said the distinction was that the other person's question was inspired by a book and mine wasn't. Funny -- I wasn't aware that Metafilter had a rule that your question has to be inspired by a book. (There was only one passing reference to the book, and it didn't seem to have any effect on the question.) Another moderator said the difference was that I started out my question with a few suggested answers of my own. Well, even if you accept that that's a reason to delete a question, the other question did the same thing, so that can't explain it. The last moderator said there actually wasn't any difference between the two questions except that mine was asked after the first one; they would have deleted the other one if it had been reversed. Maybe an interesting theory (albeit inconsistent with what the other moderators said) ... but the site often allows two back-to-back related questions -- they never seemed to have a policy of rejecting these until I asked my question.
Bottom line: they couldn't offer any principled reason for allowing one question (What are some advantages of being a man?) while deleting mine (What are some disadvantages of being a man?).
Draw your own conclusion.
Of course, I wasn't happy with this. But there's nothing I can do, right? Well, all I can do is preserve some especially thoughtful answers my question received.
Just to be totally clear: none of this is an attempt to make some kind of "argument against feminism." It's just that no one, no matter what theories they subscribe to, has a legitimate reason to want to ignore a huge chunk of reality. If you're going to contemplate gender at all, you might as well take in all of it -- the good and bad of being a man or woman.
I'm not trying to cancel out feminism. I'm trying to add to it.
Anyway, I started my question by noting:
Men are more likely to be victims of violent crime, go to prison, be forced to fight for their country if there's a draft, be socially expected to hold down a steady job, lose their parental rights in the event of divorce, and die younger.(Those all seem to be pretty clearly bad things about being a man, though some people contested this point.)
Here are some of the responses I got (each paragraph represents a different comment):
You will be seen as an aggressive person or a threat even when you aren't one.The thread was only around for about an hour, but all these answers were deleted from the site (preserved only if you saved the URL, but not generally accessible from the website). I'm sure there would have been more items added to the list if the thread had stayed up. (Feel free to post some in the comments.)
You tend to be more and more frequently distracted by sexual cues and later at developing social poise. Females are generally better socialized than males - males tend to have a harder time in social situations.
It isn't safe for a man to be alone with unrelated children -- he could be accused of being a child molester. This is not a perception that exists for women.
You have external, sensitive genitalia and we have pointy shoes! ;P
You are likely to be socialized never to admit weakness, confusion or doubt, and struggle with loneliness because of it.
As a young man in the US, you get to pay more for car insurance.
It's hard to talk to girls without people automatically assuming that I want to sleep with them.
Sex drive, often higher in men, can be a double edged sword (see, look, phallic symbolism already...) leading to distraction and frustration that otherwise may not be an issue.
Physical aggression, ranging from military service to playground tussels, is a much greater part of male life.
Many psychiatric organizations seem to think men, on the whole, cope with anger and sadness poorly compared to women. Women seem more likely to seek the support of others, men seem to end up loners more often.
I've heard it's often difficult for single men to adopt, compared to single women.
Acting outside gender roles can result in social fallout. A man becoming an interior decorator, poet, or actor would, in many social circles in the West, be considered a sissy, or have their sexuality questioned (by both sexes). Women transgressing similar norms may (as things improve) be thought empowered (female construction worker). This ties in to the emotional lives of men as well -- showing "weakness" in a healthy way is likely to cause a great deal of ridicule.
Being a gay man seems to carry more trouble than being a gay woman.
Many disorders seem to afflict men more often -- Autism and ADD come to mind. [As a New York Times article put it: "from the moment of conception on, men are less likely to survive than women. It's not just that men take on greater risks and pursue more hazardous vocations than women. There are poorly understood — and underappreciated — vulnerabilities inherent in men's genetic and hormonal makeup."]
Widespread expectations of a greater male role in sexual activity -- a responsibility for its success or failure.
Men (at least in most places in the US) often pay much much more than women to get into clubs and bars. It is very usual to go to bars where women often enter for free while guys have to pay, I have never seen the opposite. There are clubs where men need to, regardless of their willingness to pay, have at least one (usually good looking) woman with them to get in.
In traditional cultures, there can be a great deal of pressure on male children to succeed -- whether it be carrying on the family business, producing heirs, or avenging the family name.
There is a stigma attached to a male expressing emotions.
Someone else made a valiant attempt to keep the conversation going by starting a new thread:
I enjoy being a guy, but one thing I have philosophized about is the stunted intimacy. I don't mean sexual intimacy, which is just one subset intimacy, but rather the unguarded closeness and surrender and trust and sharing that any two people can experience, such as a mother and child. Men have much less of this, at least in western culture.Unlike my question, the moderators did leave this thread on the site ... but they immediately closed it to further discussion.
It is culturally acceptable and natural for them to display and indulge in a level of intimacy and affection with each other that is simply not in the realm of possibilities between men. Can you imagine two straight men, who are friends, sitting on a couch together with their arms around each other, looking into each other's eyes, maybe one comforting the other, hand softly on his neck, or crying or something? Unless you're 6 and the other guy is your dad, that isn't going to happen, the obvious exception excluded. I know that regional cultures can make this more or less of a possibility for women too, but I think you know what I'm saying. To think of two men doing that kicks up a visceral gender-role police enforcement squad in one's lizard brain. What? WHAT?! It's so deeply ingrained that it's alarming when the sediment is disturbed. Or think about walking arm in arm down the street. No way. Guys have made a lot of strides in shedding machismo, but not to that degree. ...
And the thing is, I think I can speak for men when I say we don't want those things. It's not like we secretly want them but cruel society won't let us have them -- it's that we simply weren't trained that way, or maybe it's a combination of biology and culture. Because of my socialization and the way gender roles are mapped out in our culture, I was essentially programmed that this was not an option any more than flying is, or that there could be some primary color other than the ones we know of. It isn't something you think about or regret, it simply doesn't exist. ...
So then isn't it a deficit for me as a man that I don't have the same level of opportunity for intimacy as a woman? Shouldn't that be recognized as a pretty awful missing piece in the human journey?
None of this is meant to minimize the oppression of women. It's not about pushing women away and saying, "Please don't bother us with your petty complaints." It's about drawing men in by saying, "Look, gender disparities hurt everyone -- it's not just a woman thing."
I understand that the response might be: it all comes down to rape and domestic violence. There's nothing men have to deal with that's on that level.
Well, it's not quite that simple. Not all rape victims are women. They can be men or women. It's well-known that this often happens to men in prison. Of course, this is usually just laughed at (as is female-against-male domestic violence) because -- to add one more item to the list -- society is more concerned about "protecting" women than men (which follows logically from the belief that women are weak).
By definition, we can't know about all the unreported rapes. But which gender do you think would be more hesitant to report it out of shame or a need to always appear tough?
That said, of course I take rape very seriously and recognize that it disproportionately harms women. I'm not even contending that anything from the above list is as serious as rape. Even if you're absolutely convinced that rape and domestic violence trump anything on the list of disadvantages of being a man, that's no reason to ignore those disadvantages. So it shouldn't be taboo to say, "Hey, there are some disadvantages to being a man, such as X, Y, and Z." This should always just be part of the equation, part of the conversation.
My message to liberal women: if you really want feminism to be a powerful force for changing people's minds, you need a message that will resonate with both sexes. The idea that men simply have it easy, and that women bear all the great burdens, won't -- more to the point, shouldn't -- convince men. Oh, there will be men who'll go along with this for the sake of political correctness. But any man who has thought seriously about gender and being a man in modern society will not buy into this.
Looking over the above list, I still feel like there's one big disadvantage for men that all of this is missing, maybe the biggest burden of all. But that will have to wait for another blog post, as this one is already ridiculously long.
The world is complicated. This may not be fashionable to point out, but it's reality.
UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Mom! And Glenn! And Reddit user ejp1082. And Dean. And Conservative Grapevine. And Villainous Company. And Church of Rationality.