Would Men's Studies help Men Explain our Struggles?

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3 years ago

Feminism has done great things for women - from suffrage, to equal pay, to reproductive freedom, feminists have won genuinely important victories for women's rights. I have criticisms of the current feminist movement in the US, but I am jealous of it in one way - it teaches women how to describe their struggles. Feminism gives women a widely understood shared language. They know how to describe harassment and discrimination. They have phrases like "mansplaining" to describe men condescendingly telling them things, "slut-shaming" to denounce people who criticize their sexuality, "man-terrupting" to criticize men who interrupt them. I'm not saying those words are used accurately, fairly, or are truly behaviors unique to men; however, they do make it easy for women to advocate their views. 

Here is a great example of a list made by a feminist to give other women the language to push the interpretations of events: https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/feminist-vocabulary

In recent months I've come to the conclusion that men often lack similar language. For example, there was a time recently where a woman very condescendingly described to me how she believed men act in regards to expressing emotions. It was based completely on stereotypes, and said in such a generalized way that it was clearly wrong. I waited for her to finish (no man-terrupting!), and then explained that I have seen men act in ways that do not fit that stereotype at all. She was not open to that feedback. 

So what happened there? How do I describe why that bothered me? It took me a while and a lot of reflection to realize that this is a female version of "mansplaining". If a man had told a woman how women act (inaccurately), then refused to listen to feedback, they would absolutely accused of mansplaining. But men have no word for that, so I had to think it over.

Another example I have seen is men struggling to explain that many feel a sense of isolation from those around them/the world. This is probably partially because men are less interested in being parts of large social groups, on average, compared to women. However, a lot of this is because men's emotions are more likely to be ignored, or even lead to social punishment, when expressed. I do not believe that ignoring/punishment of men expressing emotions come entirely from one gender or another. However, many men are not used to explaining when this happens - they tend to just feel hurt or discouraged and push through. Pushing through emotions is not always bad, but it is a problem when men are unable to express why the way they are treated annoys them. This hurts everyone, since men end up feeling ignored and discouraged from expressing emotion in the future, and women end up confused when men get irritated at this state of affairs.

It took me a long time to realize that, in certain interactions, I felt like I expressed an emotion and it was totally ignored or discouraged. That idea is very simple, but very important. If you are a man reading this, think back to a time you felt frustrated by a conversation. I'd be willing to bet there is a good chance that at some level you may have felt that your emotions were expressed, but not received well (or at all). Thinking about when/how to express that directly is an important skill to learn.

These are just a couple examples, but I believe the underlying issue is that men do not communicate with each other like women. What I mean by that is that men tend to be more individualistic - men do not reach out and support each other in the same way. Men do not, generally, have the same sense of community. This often leaves men to figure how to express/explain themselves alone, rather than in a unified way. The more unified language women have is beneficial because it becomes something of a "cultural meme", meaning that people recognize and understand what they are saying immediately. 


So what is the solution to this imbalance? Online groups like Men's Rights Activists seek to address this in a sense - although I think their focus is a bit different. I do not identify as an MRA because I view that movement as fractured, making it hard to be totally comfortable with, and many members of it have some genuinely problematic beliefs. Their focus tends to be on discrimination against men, but less, at least right now, on helping men build up these tools I am talking about. However, they do raise awareness amongst men of problems men face, which can help lead men to reflect more on how to describe these problems. 

What about Men's Studies? After all, feminist/women's studies have certain been responsible for giving women some of the language I referenced. I think Men's Studies could help, but I also have some serious concerns about it. I don't want men to end up having the same sort of "grievance studies" focused around justifying a sense of perpetual victimhood that Women's Studies has become. 

I will write more about the idea of "Men's Studies" and my feelings on it in the near future, so if you are interested make sure to give me a follow! Also, if you found this content helping/informative, please remember to tip.

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3 years ago