[epistemic status: wholeheartedly endorsed, but more informal than usual as it’s a slightly edited speech I gave]
In my social circles, both in real life and online, I’ve noticed something quite odd. It’s become common for my friends to make derogatory comments about straight white cis men – to refer sneeringly to how violent they are, how much they lack emotional depth, or just as this sort of all-encompassing figure of evil.
My knee-jerk reaction here is to object to generalizations and stereotypes in general. But at the same time, though, I don’t know how many of my friends have actually been seriously hurt by straight white cis men, or how much of it is actually directed against the structures that give straight white cis males more power, or whatever.
And I also think it’s true, that straight white cis males are given more power by society.
And so I haven’t really spoken up much.
But in spite of all these valid objections, I think that in the aggregate it’s still a problem. Let’s look at the content of these statements a bit more closely.
The first argument made by this type of statement is its denigration of male weakness. For example: “#masculinity so fragile”.
Fragile masculinity is part of a patriarchal gender role. It says that, in order to be seen as “real men”, men have to do all this crazy shit. They’re not supposed to not wear dresses or to be emotionally vulnerable and in general not be feminine. And they’re all straight, very very straight, and definitely not gay; and they have to make sure that everyone around them is very very straight and definitely not gay as well. They’ve got to have large penises, because God forbid that they are intersex or something shameful like that.
(And they’ve also got to buy hair shampoos that smell like log cabins for some reason.)
And all in all it’s a quite oppressive structure. Gender conformity is enforced by peers, by parents, by teachers, by both men and women (and probably nonbinaries too). Sometimes it’s just through social ostracism, but at the worst extremes it’s through assault, through hate crimes, or through abuse.
Naturally this seems like a classical issue that feminism should really be concerned with! Like, destroying gender roles is literally one of the keystone parts of feminism.
But what you see happening instead is that some, perhaps a large number of, feminists see these men being forced into oppressive gender roles, which of course don’t fit perfectly, which are hard to fit in, and you see them pointing and laughing. This was something that I fell into at one point, actually, and I think it’s hard to realize that this is what you’re doing from the inside.
For example, there are these stupid ass shampoos that they sell that smell like log cabins, remember.
And so it was a proud moment for me when some “feminist” accounts posted them with the comments, “lol can’t believe men need this to shore up their fragile masculinities haha”.
Such a proud moment; I can’t tell you how proud I was.
Let’s look at people who’ve been forced into an oppressive gender role from literally the moment they’ve been born – or sometimes later – and let’s point and laugh, because it’s fragile and pathetic that they’re trying to avoid being physically abused and socially ostracised. Let’s look at products that people actually buy because it makes them feel more comfortable in their identified gender, and let’s point and laugh, at the people buying it! Let’s look at stupid ass products made up by the media, constructed by corporations, and created by sexism; and blame it on men! Despite the fact that similar stupid ass products are marketed to women!
And by the way, I don’t mean “reverse sexism” or something. This is sexism bona fide, traditional sexism that has forced everyone into incredibly narrow gender roles. And it’s also ableism to make fun of weakness, to treat “fragile man tears” as blood in the water, and it’s ableism that’s related to misogyny- because crying and weakness, remember, are often associated with femininity.
And guess who else is often hurt by trying to fit into the oppressive male gender role? Oh, that’s right. Trans people assigned male at birth. Completely slipped my mind. I’m going to make fun of people struggling desperately to fit into the male gender role because there is no one except for Evil Shitlord Cishet White Men who could possibly be hurt by it. Yes, cishet. Because it’s not like trans men or nonbinaries assigned female at birth could be influenced by male gender roles or anything like that, right?
And who gives a shit about the precious fee-fees of Evil Shitlord Oppressor Men, anyway? Not me!
Look, yeah, gender policing or homophobia or whatever because of fragile masculinity is shit, and it sucks, and in that context I don’t mind complaining about it. But otherwise, you should think long and hard about whether you want to talk about fragile masculinity.
The second argument made by this type of statement is its assumption of inherent male violence. When I look up “male violence”, on the first page of results, I find a charming little article, on a prominent feminist site, all about how “men don’t like being reminded of the fact that their sex class is demonstrably, undeniably, indisputably… more violent than ours”. The article then started talking about how “they do this shit, … and then they have the nerve to get offended when women are suspicious of them”.
And holy fuck, no.
The author tries to play it off as “regardless of race, religion, or class”. But you do not get to de-racialize, de-religionize, and de-class an issue that is intrinsically related to race, religion, and class.
The idea of men as these inherently violent, white woman-abusing class is racial. The worst lynchings and murders in American history are based on “defending” white women from “inherently violent” black men. The fear of nonwhite men, particularly Latinos, defiling the white women and attacking law-abiding white citizens, is the core of Trump’s case against immigrants and the core of the abusive and brutal policing of racial minorities. And let’s not even get into the way that Arab and Muslim men are seen by society as this evil terrorist threat, who keep white women in harems and attack white Americans.
Let’s not get into the way that seeing men as inherently violent was used to keep (white) women indoors, cloistered virgins protected by their fathers against the brutish poor men, who must be kept away from them at all costs.
Let’s not address the fact that neurodivergent men are routinely painted as monstrous threats, who therefore must be placed in institutions against their will or forcibly medicated because they are psychotic and freaks and dangerous to society , because they stand too close and walk too oddly or because they have hallucinations and delusions, and this must make them the next school shooter. Let’s ignore that physically disabled men and disabled people are by turns degendered or constructed as monsters by this analysis.
Let’s not address the way that this narrative of men as inherently violent, combined with transphobia, oppresses trans people assigned male at birth, who must therefore be prevented from infiltrating cis women’s bathrooms and cis women’s feminism and cis women’s spaces. Let’s ignore the way that this shames and guilts trans men and nonbinaries of any asab. Let’s ignore the way that these direct aggressive attacks on men and masculinity exacerbate scrupulosity.
No, let’s ignore all of that and focus on how oppressed neurotypical cisgender white women are. By men. #Yes All Men.
And this isn’t just one article! In articles in this vein, it’s routinely stated that men are creepy, that assault against (white) women is just this huge huge problem that is all the fault of men, that sexual assault is inherently a gendered crime of a man against a woman, and that the violence primarily runs one way, man against woman.
And the thing is that, in addition to the other issues that seeing men as inherently violent has, it’s dangerous as well.
It’s dangerous because it allows for the erasure of male victims of abuse. The conversation around violent assault and domestic abuse is often explicitly focused on males as the abusers and women as the victims. This erases male victims, female abusers, and non-straight instances of abuse. By law, donations can only go to women’s domestic violence centers, not men’s. Women are less likely to be convicted of crimes than men. And the legal definition of rape requires penetration to “count”, excluding rape by envelopment and instances of non-straight rape. Male survivors of domestic abuse are sometimes accused of “really” being the abusers themselves, and feminist movements rally around female abusers like Zoe Quinn.
This construction of men as inherently or even mostly violent plays into sexist gender roles and stereotypes.
Because it’s not a coincidence that people who society sees as male, that the ones who are oppressed on other axes are constructed as these threatening caricatures of violence. It’s because of race and ethnicity and class, it’s because of neurodiversity and not actually being a man; and it’s also because of the way that gender roles intersect with these oppressions.
The gendered construction  a man under patriarchy is that of violence. Masculinity and men are constructed as inherently violent and as inherently threats.
And this construction is part of what colors nonwhite men, poor men, neurodivergent men, and trans people assigned male at birth as violent aggressors. And making sure to specify that it’s not nonwhite men, poor men, or neurodivergent men doesn’t actually help any of those men! The ~feminist~ construction still feeds into stereotypes of trans people assigned male at birth as aggressive, invasive aggressors. The construction still reinforces patriarchy. And it does erase the straight white cis male victims of violence.
Men are not inherently or primarily violent. Power dynamics do not flow in one direction. We forget this at others’ peril.
The third argument made by this type of statement is its construction of straight male sexuality as defilement. Like everything else here I’ve discussed here, the construction of male sexuality as defilement doesn’t originate in feminism. It originates in society. (White) women were encouraged to remain inside, prim and proper and pure and modest, away from the defiling gaze of men. The institution of marriage was created in part to “protect” women from onlookers. The famous Madonna-Whore complex describes a man who cannot see his beloved as sexual, for she is too pure for his dirty desires; and simultaneously he cannot see a prostitute as worthy of love, for she has been defiled.
The ways that these structures hurt women have been well-documented, and it is well that they have been. But their root lies not only in misogyny, but also in the patriarchal construction of maleness and masculinity as defilement.
The most recent manifestation of this has been the unending castigations of straight male sexuality: for looking at women, for enjoying books and video games with attractive nubile women, for undressing women in their minds. And these criticisms certainly have value; women aren’t public objects, to be gawked at and objectified, nor should the only female representation in media be a flat character with extremely nonflat breasts.
But sometimes the criticism has gone too far. Certain brands of feminist rhetoric denounce simultaneously the intrusiveness of ever being asked out by a (creepy) man and the entitlement of a (creepy) man waiting for women to ask him out, insisting that the only reason that a man might stand close to someone or talk too much is because he is creepy. The anti-objectification movement has at times decried the practice of ever looking at pictures of nubile women with large breasts.
It would be bad enough if only cishet straight white men were negatively affected by this; no one should feel ashamed of their sexuality in and of itself, nor should they be shamed for social awkwardness or shyness.
But, predictably, the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of “male” sexuality has negative effects for people who are oppressed on other axes.
Women who are attracted to other women, for example, or really anyone attracted to women, are shamed by this rhetoric if their sexualities are “male” and not properly pure and female. Trans and gender nonconforming people assigned male at birth have been attacked for their sexualities and genders as perverts and deceivers. Neurodivergent and socially awkward men in particular are shamed for their social behavior, and the overtly accusatory nature of this rhetoric exacerbates anxiety and depression. So-called “chasers” are constructed as monsters in this rhetoric, which of course has spillover effects on trans people.
And male rape victims are sometimes dismissed with victim-blaming rhetoric that insists they must have wanted it, because of the construction of male sexuality as ever-present and all-wanting.
Gender essentialism and sexuality-shaming are never acceptable, and while feminist critiques of straight male behavior are entirely necessary and welcome, their negative implications and effects on non-straight males and non-straight non-males must be considered.
Typically, pretty much everyone would realize that making large generalizations about large groups of people, generalizations that use traditional prejudices structurally embedded in society, was kind of sketchy, and they’d stop. But that’s not what’s happening here.
And I think it’s because we’re encouraged to see straight white cis males as Literally the Most Privileged Shitlords, who we’re allowed to mock. It’s like they’ve become the Other, those outsiders who we identify against because we know that they can’t be hurt, or if they are hurt it is acceptable to mock them.
But the thing is that, yeah, straight white cis males are privileged as a class. But at the same time, there are real and true structural injuries against the Privileged Shitlords too, on account of and inseparable from their maleness and their straightness- and because of intersectionality, inseparable from their cisness and whiteness as well.
And insulting straight white cis men on gendered grounds can’t be separated from insulting all men, or all people seen as men, or all people who share that behavior or attribute. There is necessarily and inherently damage and hurt involved in sexist generalizations about men due to the way that maleness and masculinity intersect with other oppressions.
And the fact that people don’t seem to realize this, it makes me pretty damn uncomfortable.
We don’t teach our boys to love and yet they do, they do love and they are vulnerable and they are emotional; and that’s the thing, the entire thing of it, that patriarchy doesn’t make people inhuman and hollow and empty, because it can’t, even though it tries.
The feminism that I love, the feminism that I would love, knows this. It knows that people are people and that men are capable of love and vulnerability and legitimate hurt.
It knows that power doesn’t flow one way and that oppressions are myriad. It knows that it first and foremost it needs to do good, and only after does it need to look good.
It knows that activism doesn’t mean screaming at people or demanding ideological conformity. It knows that listening and caring and hearing others is important and valuable and necessary.
It knows that men aren’t the enemy. It knows that misandry as a societal structure exists in both gender roles and in a hatred and disgust for men.
It knows that men are sometimes oppressed, and that women sometimes have privilege.
And this vision isn’t what feminism looks like now.
I owe a lot of my thoughts here to these sources, especially the Unit of Caring.
 – These parts were edited based on Aapje’s comments here:
I would argue that the hyperagent role that is forced on men results in their behavior being far more often regarded as their own choice and/or indicative of their true character, while women are more often regarded as victims of circumstance. So when a man behaves in socially maladapted way, it is far more likely that he is classified as a ‘creep’. When a woman behaves similarly, people will look harder for explanations that do not reflect on her character (‘she is just drunk’). When no (somewhat reasonable) external explanation is available, she would most likely be called ‘crazy.’
The connotation of ‘creep’ is primarily that one is a threat to women, while ‘crazy’ is more neutral. So in the terms we also see the sexist assumption that socially maladapted men are a threat specifically to women, but not vice versa.
Note that feminism usually does address the other side of the same medal, for example that women are assumed to be less capable than men or that workplace successes are less likely to be credited to them.
Ironically, because the downsides to the male gender role are often downplayed, feminism quite often becomes male normative, where behavior that is forced on men is regarded as the endpoint of an equal society. For example, it is often assumed that an equal number of women would want climb the ladder to become CEO or high-level politician, even though society conditions men to work long hours, accept worse working conditions even if they don’t really need the money, accept not spending a lot of time with the kids, etc.
So where for many feminists a relative lack of female CEOs is considered to reflect oppression of women, I think that it primarily shows that men are strongly conditioned to sacrifice quality of life for rather useless status and money that they don’t have time to (meaningfully) spend.
Scrupulosity, Objectification, and Trans Obsession: Part 1…
Serano’s Why Myriad Oppressions