Ms. Opinionated: Do Feminists Need to Talk More About Masculinity?

Sydette Harry
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Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Sydette Harry fields a question about feminism and violence against men. 

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

I had a heated conversation with a friend yesterday about the disheartening, to say the very least, Ray Rice decision.  This friend was vehement about the fact that if a woman beat a man unconscious, I'd never hear about it on a Feminist news site and Feminists everywhere would congratulate the woman for standing up for herself.  I was angered, distressed, and extremely defensive when he said this.  "Feminism cares about everyone!"  I yelled.  So today, I decided to do some research.

Here I am on my lunch break, searching all the search engines I can find, reading old notebooks from past Feminist classes I've taken, and probing Bitch Media, Ms. Magazine,, and the like to find information about men who have been victims of domestic violence, men and sexuality, etc.  I'm not finding much and so I'm asking myself, why do Feminists rarely discuss men and issues of masculinity?  I know why - somewhere inside of me I do, but I'm having trouble articulating it.  I'm wondering if you can help me with this.  Am I totally wrong and I've missed the point of the articles and reports I've read?  Is men and masculinity considered its own entity?  Have I missed the point of Feminism entirely?  Or is there another reason?  I'd love to hear your view. 



Hi Hun,

It’s been a long week, so I’m a little stressed and tired. Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, and Eric Gardner have weighed heavy on my mind and this question hits a touch point for me.

I’ve got something to get off my chest before I address your specific question: The idea that there’s a “perfect” and respectable victim of violence has stomped up and down on my last nerve. The right to safety and life aren’t based on making people feel “good” or that you are enough like them that they see you as worthy of rights. It’s about the fact that, as a human, you are worthy of basic rights.  It takes serious mental gymnastics to justify DENYING people equal rights.

Humans shouldn’t be shot for existing, humans shouldn't have to argue that it’s wrong to be body slammed or punched or dragged around by people who say they love them. You don’t need to write a dissertation about violence as proof that it's wrong.

Anyway, got that off my chest. Let’s start with the first thing.

I want you in the most loving way possible to kick your friend in the shins. Not hard, not to damage him, but hard enough that he feels it. When he asks why you kicked him, ask him about all the times kids kick teachers in the shins. When he says, “What does that have to do with you kicking me?” say, “Exactly.” Because that’s what he’s doing asking you to do: to avoid addressing a hurt done to you as a woman directly in favor of addressing something tangential for his comfort.

Then I need you to ask yourself why you want to DEFEND feminism instead of practicing it, as well as arguing it with hypotheticals.

You friend has to argue hypotheticals because that’s all he really has to go on. Nothing I haven’t seen myself, with my “NOBODY PUT YOUR HANDS ON ANYBODY ELSE IT’S ALL ABUSE” attitude. It’s true that our culture that mocks male vulnerability and ignores abuse of men many, many saddening times.

But your friend doesn’t have enough evidence to have a discussion about reality, instead inventing fictitious feminists cheering violence.

In my view of the word, feminism is about rectifying and challenging a system that oppresses women, in the belief it makes a better world. Feminists can BARELY come to agreement on what that should look like (that’s why my intro to feminism includes wearing a helmet) let alone working on everything else. Besides, there are many women who are studying masculine rage and assault, much of intersectional and anti-incarceration feminist work centers that. But say this to yourself with feeling: You are allowed to focus on the issues that matter to you. You are not responsible for making everyone agree.

What you’re having trouble articulating is this: “That’s a derailment, irrelevant to the topic at hand.  We’re talking about Ray Rice, not the imaginary actions of imaginary feminists.”

My black womanist politic self looks at all the sites you listed and their failure to discuss those issues and I’m not surprised. But they truly have a right not to cover everything, as do I and as do you. As long as they don’t claim to represent things they don’t or an inclusivity they don’t that they don’t live up to, they have every right to not devote much space to masculinity and discussions about men.

The fight for our safety and rights is about having these rights REGARDLESS of the “acceptability” of our inclusiveness. It is height of entitlement to think someone needs to make a “good case” for not beating another human. 

If you want more info about masculinity and violence, girl, have a blast. It’s good work and really does highlight how feminist praxis helps EVERYONE. But if this is about coming up with an argument that pleases your friend, I say “whatever” to that. The question isn't why feminists don’t talk enough about male violence—its why he thinks he needs feminist credentials to believe violence against other people is wrong. 

Related Reading: "Male Call — A Conversation About Masculinity and Violence with Byron Hurt and Jackson Katz" is in the Tough issue of Bitch

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. Read previous installments of our feminist advice column

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17 Comments Have Been Posted

Thanks for a great answer.

Thanks for a great answer. This happens all over the place. A recent convo I was involved with about female genital mutilation turns into defending feminism amidst accusations from men that women condone male circumsicion. It is so frustrating. I can't wait to say "That’s a derailment, irrelevant to the topic at hand. We’re talking about xyz.”

Ah yes, the classic male

Ah yes, the classic male circumcision, a procedure the vast majority men don't remember that has little proven in the way of detrimental lasting effects v. the mutilation of women's genitals when they are old enough to be well traumatized and remember and that creates lasting pain and sometimes death while eradicating anything resembling sexual pleasure. I mean, what kind of rabid man hater do you have to be to not see that these are clearly equally important and relevant. Yeesh.

You're lying about both

You're lying about both practices. Male circumcision causes hundreds of deaths and amputations a year, and every day I talk to men (and trans women) suffering ill effects up to and including total loss of sensation or pain during arousal. In every culture that cuts girls, boys are cut under the same conditions. And in every culture that cuts girls (including the US), it started with boys.

All of the rationalizations and history are exactly the same, and with circumcision you have the added racist dimension of Westerners experimenting on Africans to promote it for profit.

While FGC causes problems that are unique to girls, it does not destroy the ability to reproduce (which many say would have to happen to boys in order for the term 'mutilation' to apply). It never removes the entire clitoris (which is 90% internal), and the majority of survivors report being satisfied with sex. This doesn't mean they are satisfied, but it does mean that men claiming to have no problem with circumcision are just as much in the dark as these women are.

Circumcision also causes issues unique to boys - the loss of all lubrication, damage to the ability to masturbate normally, 10,000 nerves lost, layers of dartos muscle and mucosa, loss of the frenulum which can cause orgasm all by itself, and a fixation on getting the penis inside something warm and moist.

A billion men are walking around knowing that they're missing soft moist tissue around their penises, and thinking the missing part is women.

I would love to read an

I would love to read an article by feminists about masculinity. We live in a world ware men and women are consistently tolled what to be and how to act. As feminists we are able to ask that question for ourselves, I am grateful for the women who are articulate enough to facilitate that conversation. I do think it would be helpful for men to have the same conversation. Id like to hear more from male feminists about gender and gender equality. I feel so much of the mens rights movement is a reaction to guilt. Something I've noticed in today society is privilege guilt. I have it. I am white and "middle class" I feel great guilt just for who I was born as. It is easy to turn guilt on its head and blame the population that dose not have this privilege for making you feel guilty. I asked a boyfriend about this recently. He said lots of men no longer want to exhibit masculinity because masculine culture is so strongly identified with violence. Its a kind of "not me" mentality. Its similar to the feeling I get when someone talks about racism. I would love to hear a conversation about masculinity that takes it back and makes it something more human and about more than violence.

this is not to encourage the artificial idea of beauty that sells millions of magazines or to trivialize the experience of abuse or violence. I think its worth acknowledging that masculinity needs to be separate from these things.

not an article

The makers of the documentary Miss Representation, on women in the media, are coming out with a documentary on boys and masculinity called The Mask You Live In.
And then Susan Faludi did a book on masculinity called Stiffed. Her book The Terror Dream also deals quite a bit with masculinity myths in the US.

I do a lot of feminist media

I do a lot of feminist media analysis and I absolutely include discussion of masculinity under that umbrella. Although feminism rightfully prioritizes women, the way rigid gender roles are harmful to everyone caught up in them is relevant to the conversation.

bell hooks

When I read Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks, I thought "Why don't we get more men to read this? This might actually get them to become feminists."

Then my girlfriend told me that—while explaining to men that the patriarchy hurts men too is good—men ought to become feminists because it's the right thing to do. Not because we're so self absorbed that we can't see the good in anything unless it directly affects us.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, she was right. So I think twice before I try to tell guys how feminism can help them. I definitely explain how the patriarchy causes problems for everyone. But I rarely just talk about how it hurts men unless I'm talking to a hardcore anti-patriarchy feminist I know and trust.

"I want you in the most

"I want you in the most loving way possible to kick your friend in the shins. Not hard, not to damage him, but hard enough that he feels it."
...'then later..
"But your friend doesn’t have enough evidence to have a discussion about reality, instead inventing fictitious feminists cheering violence."

Umm WTF?

As a matter of coincidence a drunk woman kicked me in the shin several times out of the blue last weekend
I couldn't even defend myself or I'd instantly be labeled as the bad guy. I told the bouncers, they didn't even chuck her out.
How do you think that make me feel? I am a human being, but I can be beaten and still treated with suspicion.
No one cared, I had blood pooling in my sock and it looked like I had another kneecap growing out of my shin and no one cared.

In this society women can get away with abusing men. It's absolutely revolting. the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.


Um Nick.....

I think you missed the entire point of the article/answer Nick. Did you even read the whole thing?

I agree, I think that was a

I agree, I think that was a really inappropriate analogy. I think feminism in general does not condone female violence against men, but society as a whole does. We have to really check our larger social programming when trying to make statements like this sound light or playful. The good old gender-reversal check is a good way to point out how inappropriate this is. Imagine if this was a website giving advice to men on how to deal with women and the advice to kick them in the shin was offered--even hyperbolicly..

Your points are valid, and

Your points are valid, and I'm sorry that happened to you, it's appalling that no one cared or stood up for you. But that last paragraph is not a correct logical conclusion.

It's not a question of a swinging pendulum, there is not swinging pendulum. The patriarchy has always accepted that violence is an appropriate tool to use against men. It's not the fault of feminism that that woman was able to abuse you and get away with it. It is the fault of the patriarchy that the violence used against you was not considered serious because you are a man - aka an "appropriate" target of public violence - and she is a woman - not considered to be a violent threat by the patriarchy, aka, harmless.

Feel ya

Dear Nick--

For the record, I am a feminist. Violence against another person is not something to joke about, particularly given what initial question was! I cringed when I read that response, and would like to stress that it is NOT reflective of the feminist community at large. If a guy wrote something "kiddingly" about kicking a woman he disagreed with in the shins, I think it's safe to say he would be figuratively castrated by many female readers....including yours truly. The reverse should be true.

Yeah, I heard that response someone wrote "Nick, you missed the point," but since the author derailed her own response with an unfunny scenario which --ironically-- confirmed what the letter writer's friend claimed about feminists' response to violence against men. SHE missed the point.

Despite all the "RAH-RAH" responses you will get, not to mention the accusations of those in disagreement with what you or I were saying being labeled trolls? This was highly inappropriate.


It's still worth noting the

It's still worth noting the Nick's conclusion is false, "the pendulum has swung to far in the other direction," and that he is blaming feminism for something that has always been the fault of the patriarchy: the idea that men are an acceptable target of violence. That's a patriarchal notion, and blaming feminists for it is not just sloppy logic and analysis, it is also a sexist backlash against feminism that does nothing to fight the idea that men are acceptable targets of public violence.

Also, no one has called anyone a troll, internet scumbag deflector shields down, the responses to Nick's comment have been largely supportive, even when critical, minus the first snarky comment, which does not come close to calling anyone a troll.

Book I liked relating feminism to men

Check out Shira Tarrant's Men and Feminism from the Seal Studies series; it's been a while since I last read it, but it's entirely relevant to this topic and I thought it was a good read. Also been meaning to read Michael Kimmell 's Guyland; anybody have an opinion on either?

Uh... male feminists?

For people interested in feminist analysis of masculinity, I'd also add that people always seem to forget that there are male feminists who are talking about and researching men and masculinity. This idea that feminists are only interested in women because they are all women is a rather insidious anti-feminist (and sexist) idea.

Recommendations for anyone still reading this

Here's some male feminists whose work I generally trust:
1. Harris O'Malley, aka Dr. Nerdlove. Runs an advice column originally aimed at male nerds, but increasingly more inclusive. Often addresses sexism in geek culture and masculinity issues. (The comment section can be a mess, though.)
2. The male bloggers of Alas, a Blog. It's a group blog, so there are both men and women writers over there. It was originally founded by political cartoonist Barry Deutsch, who also writes a series of graphic novels about an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who fights mythical creatures, which I'd recommend to anyone.
There have got to be more. I know there are more; who am I forgetting?

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