Yesterday’s post about men demanding women take care of their feelings about misogyny got some attention, both good and bad.
I want to admit that I rushed that piece, and I wasn’t as thoughtful as I usually am about my writing. I made some jokes right at the opener that set a tone of derision. Snark doesn’t always work, and I own that. I’ll make a better effort in the future. I am a better writer than that.
When I set that tone, it put some people on the defensive about the rest of the piece and the main points were lost. I don’t want to sound defensive myself, but I will take that risk in order to make my point more clear.
- This isn’t about Dustin Hoffman, or his heroic (?) display of emotion in a video from years ago where he talked about understanding the harm that misogyny does. I really do think it’s great that he came to whatever realization he came to, I am glad he talked about it, and I hope it changed the way he treats and talks to women. I also am glad if it impacted someone else in a positive way. I support him sharing his feelings.
I could go 100% cynical and remind you (as I was reminded yesterday) that he is in actor. What’s to say his tears are real? I don’t actually doubt his sincerity, but could you blame me if I did? He emoted like it was his job, perhaps because it is.
Also, my chagrin was more about our communal fawning response to the video rather than the video itself. Dustin Hoffman does not deserve cookies for noticing misogyny. Noticing the harm coming to people around you is just basic human decency, and it’s really fucking sad that when a man notices the suffering of women, we collectively heap praise on him for his enlightenment. Wow, is our bar set low.
The Dustin Hoffman video was just the reason I wanted to write and discuss what was the main point of the post: that people with more relative power often expect/demand the marginalized groups to take care of their feelings for free. More on this below.
- Men have unreasonable expectations placed on them when it comes to expressing emotions other than anger and lust. I know that. I know that, often, boys and men are told not to cry, to hold it in, and they have that reinforced when they don’t see men in the public eye crying or showing emotion. I want men to show their feelings. I want men, especially the ones whom I am close to, to share their feelings with me-the good, the bad and the ugly. I want my son to know that his feelings are valid and worthy. But as Mark Nesbitt (former and occasionally current UpRooter) reminded me yesterday, we aren’t seeing anyone call Dustin Hoffman a sissy as a result of this video. He’s not being persecuted or forced back in the man box at all; in fact, we are seeing just the opposite.
From Mark: And a thought to “how hard it is for men to cry publicly so we should tread lightly and be extra careful to support and encourage his emotions” thing: what has been the real reaction to this man crying? Have people been bullying him or harassing him or even calling him names? I’ve seen nothing but support and admiration. We see this a lot actually. Most times I see adult men crying (mostly cishet and/or famous/wealthy men) the response is less “what a sissy” and more “oh my, this must be serious” and/or “how brave he is, this is great.” The whole “men are bullied [because] they won’t let us cry” thing that everyone takes as given doesn’t really pass the sniff test many times. Most dudes (specifically the most privileged, dudes like me) are totally allowed to cry, hell we’re applauded for it.
- Empathy really matters. But it’s less important that I am able to demonstrate empathy with someone who directly or indirectly benefits from my oppression than whether they can empathize with me. Empathy is an unfortunately scarce commodity, and is critical to achieving genuine social justice. I can say to a man who is mad about misogyny “I understand why you are so angry, but I am not able to take care of you around that anger.” That is both empathetic and honoring my own boundary.
- People with power maintain their power through the subjugation of target groups. Part of that subjugation, which is systematic and systemic, is to make demands on the time and energy of the folks in the marginalized group such that they are no longer capable of tending to their own needs. I have my own feelings about misogyny to attend to, and I will not sublimate them to take care of the feelings men have about misogyny. That’s not void of empathy; in fact, I am showing myself great care in setting that boundary.
- I will not be delicate or gentle in order to make someone more comfortable. I will not. I am nice, I am polite, but I am also not going to play games as a strategy for success. How I talk about feminism, how I deal with misogyny may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am really quite okay with that. We all have our own paths to follow. Being forthright and unwavering is my path, and telling me things like, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is a silencing tactic, I will not, as my friend Amy says, “suck up to my oppressors” in order to make progress. You know something? Flies fucking love vinegar. I will remain true to myself, and I am not going to sacrifice that to convince someone else to like me.
And finally, I want to restate the point of the original post. Men, do your own emotional work. Do not come to me, full of indignant rage about the behavior of “other” men, and expect me to make you feel better. Find other men who are also mad, or sad or guilt-ridden, and talk it out with them. You can make your own space feminist rather than taking over existing feminist space. Come to a place where the rage isn’t hindering you anymore ON YOUR OWN, through your own journey. If you can’t find other men to talk it out with, find a feminist therapist. They abound, and they deserve to be paid for their work.
And when you’ve gotten to the place where the rage, or sadness or guilt, is no longer all-consuming, and you are ready to leverage your privilege to forge justice, give me a call or an email. Let’s talk about how we can build the world we want to see, a world where every girl and woman is loved, honored and safe, a world where men crying is unremarkable, a world where we are peers and we share equitable access to resources.