Tim Squirrell – Men have problems too
This week, TIM SQUIRRELL wants to broach the subject of men’s issues…
On last week’s column I received a decent number of comments to the effect that I hate men because I made the argument that we need to be concerned about our actions as a group rather than leaving it purely to feminism to police harmful behaviour.
I don’t hate men. Before the shooting in California, last week’s column was initially going to be about what could be called ‘Men’s Issues’ and the difficulties surrounding them. Our intuitive reaction to hearing the words ‘Men’s Issues’, especially in the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger shooting, is to think about the misogynists and the slightly unhinged Men’s Rights Activists.
It really oughtn’t to be. There are legitimate issues which affect men, as a group, which are not being dealt with and which we should talk about.
There are only really two contexts in which you hear the words ‘men’s problems’. The first is in the sort of community above, which usually does try to deal with problems which men face but at the same time couches it in terms of ‘misandry’ and a societal bias against men (lol). Participating in that sort of community isn’t an option.
The second context is within feminism itself, and the problem here is the opposite: feminism is primarily concerned with issues which mostly affect women, and diverting attention and resources towards issues which affect men is seen as a distraction, or ‘derailing’. This is totally legitimate. The problems which face women are, as highlighted by the huge number of people tweeting #YesAllWomen, greater both in number and severity than those which affect men. It’s absolutely fine that the feminist movement should want to devote the majority of its resources to remedying these problems first.
However, just because a group’s problems are less severe, doesn’t mean that we can or should ignore them. World hunger is a huge issue, but we don’t just throw up our hands and say ‘sod it, we can’t deal with social deprivation in Britain until this is sorted’. We split up our cognitive and material resources and we deal with all of the problems in our own way.
One of the issues is that many of the problems which men face do result from patriarchy, and that means that they probably ought to fall under the purview of feminism. This causes two problems. The first is that the feminist movement is generally unwilling to deal with them until equality has essentially been achieved (again, this is okay, I am not saying it is not okay). The second is that any attempt to deal with these problems outside of feminism tends to be met with the argument that ‘patriarchy hurts men too, and if we fix patriarchy then these problems will go away’. This makes it incredibly difficult to talk about issues which affect men without either being seen as an MRA misogynist or as someone who’s attempting to pull a ‘what about the men?!’ argument.
This is particularly pernicious when there are issues which affect both men and women, but which are labelled ‘feminist issues’, for feminism alone to deal with, making it difficult for men who are also affected to be taken seriously, to get help or join in the fight to alleviate the problem on equal terms.
For example, this article which claims self harm is a feminist issue, because girls who cut themselves are stigmatised, told they’ll ruin their bodies and that it makes other people uncomfortable – from personal experience, these are definitely not problems which are exclusively female.
The majority of people who suffer from eating disorders are female, but when it’s painted as a thing which happens solely to women, it becomes even more difficult for men who suffer to get help.
The focus on unrealistic beauty standards for women in the media fails to recognise that the standard for men is just as unattainable for most, requiring hundreds of hours in the gym, incredibly strict diets and a vast amount of money spent on supplements. It’s hard not to be incredulous when female characters in comic books are singled out for criticism – have you seen Superman?
Men also suffer in abusive relationships, and they are also subject to sexual assault – two more issues which have a gendered narrative attached to them, increasing the shame felt by men who experience them, making it even harder than it already is to get help.
There are problems which are ubiquitous and serious which we simply aren’t talking about enough. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young men, and men account for over three quarters of all suicide cases. Men are socialised to write off emotions and pain as expressions of weakness, meaning that they’re less likely to go to a doctor, less likely to seek help for mental illness. Young men are disproportionately likely to be a victim of violent crime.
Worse, many of the issues which affect men exclusively are still almost universally the subject of comedy rather than being taken seriously. Short men are ‘undateable’, and they get ‘short man syndrome’ – and even the most feminist people I know often wouldn’t consider romantic involvement with a man shorter than them.
Sexual expectations are often even more extreme for men: we have to have a ten inch cock and to be able to go for hours before we finally cum. The anxiety of feeling utterly inadequate in this respect during my early sexual experiences still haunts me to this day, and what makes it worse is these are things that we can’t do anything about. Sure, some of these problems might be rooted in patriarchy, but it doesn’t matter where they’re from if we never talk about them.
It’s easy to understand why so many young men in particular feel disaffected, like nobody cares about them and their problems. They have no movement with which they can identify, no space to call their own wherein their issues can be aired. The old feminist adage that the whole world is a safe space for men just isn’t true, because safe spaces are about sharing your experiences, and we’re socialised from such a young age to shut up and get on and not talk about our feelings. So many things are left unsaid.
The only all-male spaces which really exist are drinking societies, sports clubs, computer science lectures (yes, I know, that joke is super problematic). None of these are spaces conducive to sharing experiences, solving problems, trying to find a way to work together and improve their lives.
For young men, there is no cause to identify with which specifically concerns them. Feminism is incredibly important – and I’m repeating this because I’m certain that there will be people who will accuse me of attempting to move the spotlight on to men, and I’m not.
There’s room enough to fight battles on all fronts, and it’s difficult to choose between a movement which prioritises different problems, and one which is just a straight-up hate group.