[The header image for this post is some shots of my eyes. Why? Well, why not? I couldn’t think of anything else for this topic and my arguments are based on my personal viewpoint afterall.]
This is going to be a long essay, and one of few times where I plan to weigh in on a complex issue with my own personal opinions. I love political science and even when I strongly disagree with an ideology I try to at least understand it on its own terms first. There are several reasons why I feel sexism warrants that I offer a more direct and intimate analysis than I’m usually accustomed to, however.
- As I alluded to in an aside during my examination of Star Wars, I feel the term “sexism” is sometimes thrown around too lightly in media today. As you’ll see in this essay, I’m not saying it doesn’t still happen, or that it’s not a serious issue when it does, or that it doesn’t effect both sexes to some degree. I am saying that by throwing around the label anytime someone holds an opinion as inconsequential as “Rey is a bad character” or “Ghostbusters 2016 looks kinda stupid” we dilute the actual cases of sexism out there.
- I believe there are honest misconceptions and willful ignorance regarding some of the complaints men and women have about society today. Not only that, but certain terms or talking points seem to be both thrown around and thrown out without actually understanding what they mean. Sexism is not the contest some modern feminists and “meninists” seem to believe it is, where one side must be completely punished/disenfranchised in order for the other to prosper. I say we’re all in this together and I believe at the core we should all want the same thing–true equality.
- I’m uniquely qualified to weigh in on the whole “battle” between the sexes due to my being socialized as one gender while now living as the other. However, it’s important to point out that even in my youth I was never really masculine and I felt alienated from most guys I knew. At the same time, I’ll never know exactly what a woman’s adolescence or pregnancy is like from firsthand experience. So, I acknowledge that I alone don’t know everything and my take is still far from perfect; I’m just saying I think I’ve endured some of the key pros and cons from both sides of the aisle. I’m not the final, most important voice on the matter but I do have a more balanced set of experiences than most.
These are the three premises with which I will examine the topic of sexism, and some of the ways men and women get the short end of the stick in society. The key thesis of my position is that both men and women have it bad, so let’s just rip that band-aid off right from the get go.
“Men’s Rights Activist” Shouldn’t be a Dirty Term
Men are pressured even now to be the breadwinner and protector, to the point where most men (are made to) feel like useless failures if they cannot do so or their woman makes more. With women working more often and getting better jobs, it makes more and more men feel emasculated or unworthy. This is especially so because women still prefer to be choosier and marry up. Men’s place in the world is changing, but society isn’t slowing down to talk about it; the things which typically defined manhood are being shared by women or demonized. Now, I’m all for tearing down gender roles–obviously considering my transition. I want to live in a world where men can wear dresses and raise kids if they choose while women can be tough and career-oriented without shame. However, that change hasn’t happened in both directions equally and in any case the growing pains have been and will be tough in the foreseeable future. The rising tide must lift all ships, and up until now, you could make a serious argument that men have been left out of the benefits. This is because women were oppressed far more in the past and had a lot of catching up to do, but it’s time we redefine our expectations and possibilities for respectable men in the modern world. Men are falling behind and now we need to help them catch up in certain categories.
There are also a lot of other issues where women’s increased autonomy and power has come at men’s expense. For example, a man can’t defend himself against a physically aggressive woman without jail and a dozen white knights coming to her aid. Women know this, and many take advantage to the fullest extent, to where if they were a guy they’d almost certainly get their ass kicked. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t advocate for women getting physically harmed; I’m advocating for the same punishments whether a guy hits a girl or vice versa. We need to acknowledge female on male crime happens and that it’s terrible when it does. Speaking from experience, some of my nastiest and most relentless bullies in secondary school were women. One of whom sexually assaulted me in public as a joke, as if to say nobody would ever do that to me willingly, and it was the most humiliating thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. It took years for my confidence to recover from that. I was still presenting male during all this and couldn’t really defend myself. Even at the time I knew if the genders were reversed and I had assaulted her, my life would have been destroyed. It’s good we punish men who abuse or assault, but women shouldn’t get a pass either.
There are fewer shelters or resources for abused men, and police tend to default to arresting the man in domestic abuse calls even if the woman is clearly the instigator. Not only that, women get custody and/or alimony 90% of the time and the man has to pay alimony just to keep up the woman’s lifestyle, sometimes indefinitely. It’s gotten so bad that a lot of men have formed a sort of “go their own way” movement and sworn off marriage since they no longer see any purpose. I could go on.
I think these issues and more are the cause of a lot of male backlash against modern feminism these days. I’m an unashamed follower of the men’s rights subreddit as well, and while sometimes their claims are overly hostile to women, they often make fair points. Most just want true equality and are sick of being demonized just for the “crime” of being born male. As one quick example, consider that when a man rapes a woman the news calls it what it is, where if a woman rapes a man they deliberately avoid using the word. Men being punished even if they’ve been proven to be falsely accused of rape is another.
My Experiences Presenting Male
Personally, I also find it cruel that society still expects men to make all the romantic moves first in this increasingly disconnected and impersonal world. Online dating has boiled down the complex system of attraction into a quick swipe after seeing one picture, or judging a whole life by one or two paragraphs. Speaking from personal experience, with the exact same OKCupid profile but one as my guy persona and one for my girl side, the dating market greatly favors women while the process can be extremely defeating for men.
Speaking for myself, the thing I hated most about presenting male was how useless and disposable I often felt. I can’t even blame it wholly on bullies or whatever either, because sometimes even perfect strangers would be cold or indifferent to me enough that I noticed and it hurt my feelings. I was strung along and/or ghosted more than once presenting male, which made me feel pretty lousy as you can imagine. As a woman, people smile at me on the street and approach me to say hello. I often feel like other women and even certain men are looking out for me and/or trying to be as warm as possible in parties or events, whereas in guy-mode I was often invisible. I feel valued in a way I didn’t when society saw me as a guy.
But the biggest double standard for me is genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation is rightly considered an egregious transgression against the victim. Male genital mutilation, known as circumcision, is so routine nobody even thinks about. Women have it done to their sons for reasons as arbitrary and stupid as “we wanted him to look like his dad”/“everyone else does it.” Circumcision means that the victims will never know a complete orgasm. It physically traumatizes the babies, to the point where a study had to be halted for ethical concerns. With children screaming in uncontrollable pain, psychological fallout and all for no documented medical reason. If it’s botched, the victim may not ever be able to achieve an orgasm or may be scarred for life. This kind of denial over someone’s bodily autonomy, before they’re old enough to speak for themselves, is inhumane. If we’re outraged at the female equivalent, why do we shrug and accept this calamitous injustice against men?
Even though I’m trans I consider circumcision the worst thing that’s ever been done to me. Besides the aforementioned effects, it means if I ever opt for GRS, I’ll be screwed because there won’t be as much tissue to work with. What makes it so insulting on top of the physical consequences is the fact that my parents, the people who were supposed to look out for me, did it. They admitted they gave no thought to it either, and ultimately just followed the crowd. If you’ll pardon the cliche, I guess if other parents threw their babies off a bridge, mine would have as well. Not only that, when I confronted my mom about it years ago, she actually laughed in response. I wish I were joking–and even some of my other female family members within earshot joined in. Imagine if the genders were reversed and a bunch of men laughed at a female genital mutilation victim? They’d be fired, publicly castigated, run out of town on a rail. But when it’s a man whose genitals are hacked at? Well, that’s no big deal.
The Problems I Have With Some Feminists
I’m the first to admit the wage gap is built on faulty info–and it’s been objectively proven to be a lie for years. It’s not that employers go “oh you’re a girl? Well, you get 77% of the salary.” It’s that women, even with more incentives to do so than ever, choose to go into nursing/teaching/whatever than higher paying career paths like STEM fields on average. They’re less likely to ask for raises. They’re more likely to drop out of their careers to start a family. Or drop out temporarily and then they’re left behind compared to their male counterparts. We could and should talk about why some of these happen and address them logically. We should also guarantee paid family leave…like EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE CIVILIZED WORLD. But what we shouldn’t do is pointlessly whine about this vast conspiracy of men to thwart the efforts of women. Men still to this day enjoy many privileges and it’s still harder to be a working woman than it ought to be, but the wage gap is born out of many nuanced circumstances, not some malicious grand plan of the patriarchy.
Now, a bit of what passes for feminism these days kinda rubs me the wrong way, to put it lightly. I personally hate how the loudest and most obnoxious women’s rights advocates choose objectively bad politicians like Hillary Clinton, or bad films like the new Ghostbusters, or badly written characters like Rey in Star Wars, as the hills they want to die on. They kick and scream that not enough people love these “strong independent womyn!” and act like it’s the greatest challenge women are facing today. There’s Anita Sarkeesian presenting deliberately false or out-of-context information to stir up controversy. You have the stereotype of the blue-haired Tumblrina whining there aren’t enough women in STEM or politics while they go into nursing or the service industry and draw anime fan art (instead of being the woman in politics or STEM.) You could argue that this is an offensive and made-up strawman, and in some ways it absolutely is. But I’ve met more than my fair share of them in real life and online. These “oppression olympics” people-who-define-their-existence-by-how-slighted-they-feel are out there, and they are as ornery and judgmental as anyone I’ve ever met.
Worst of all from my POV, there’s TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) who hate men so much they deny the existence of transgender people. They prefer to see us as yet another grand conspiracy of men to somehow thwart the efforts of women. Transmen either don’t exist or are traitors to all of womenkind. In reality, transwomen (even if you’re going to insist we’re not “real women” which in itself is lame, but I digress) should be a feather in feminism’s cap, as proof that femininity is wonderful and empowering in its own way. If you honestly believe that we are men who want to be women…isn’t that an unambiguous victory for feminism? Isn’t equal stature of the sexes and freedom from gender expectations supposed to be what feminism was all about in the first place? It seems to me like TERFs lost sight of that in their hatred of all things even vaguely associated with men, and they’re alienating potential allies for women’s advocacy in the process. Any way you slice it, “real women” or not, transwomen and cis/genetic women should be allies. There’s no reason for us not to be, except ironically, sex-based discrimination.
It’s because of stuff like this, and my aforementioned sympathy towards a lot of men’s issues, that I style myself an “egalitarian” rather than a feminist when it comes to social and political issues. (Yet another problem I have with some feminists? Apparently even just calling yourself an “egalitarian” is considered a slight against women in some circles.)
She Said=He Said (Why is This Still Not the Case?)
But you know what? All that aside, “feminists” (read: women) still have some legit grievances too. Even in this day and age, the cause of women’s rights still has a ways to go.
We’re more likely to get passed over for promotions at our jobs and/or talked over by men in personal and professional conversations. When we talk about our issues, we’re often marginalized and told to shut up. We have one of only two major parties in the US which has shown that it’s willing to nominate and/or elect men who are on tape bragging about assaulting us and accused of raping our sisters. They make rolling back our reproductive and sexual rights a constant and vocal priority. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard some prick brag about how men are more “rational” than women while in the next breath obsessing over getting laid or whining about his ex who has long since moved on. Meanwhile, as someone who’s had as many girl friends as guy friends at all stages of my life, I’ve never known women both individually and as a whole to be any less intelligent, focused or “rational” than the men I’ve known. That talking point is just as ridiculous and misleading as the gender wage gap itself.
Anyway, we also have three major religions here in the Western world that take extremely condescending at best, outright hateful at worst views toward women. These have unfortunately shaped our entire culture thereafter, beginning with framing Eve as responsible for mankind’s fall and demonizing Lilith for daring to consider herself equal. (The evangelicals supported Trump, Moore and Kavanaugh with open arms–don’t tell me Christianity is exempt.) There are a plethora of examples of how deeply entrenched sexism is in our cultural foundations. From women not getting to vote until 1920 (and some assholes openly talking about taking that “privilege” away again in the 2016 election) to the traditions of asking the father’s permission to marry his daughter, and the father giving away his property to the arms of another man at the wedding. Some feminists, like Anita Sarkeesian, do absolutely take analyzing these foundations too far into borderline self-parody. But all the same, we do live in a patriarchal society we’ve only just begun to claw out from under.
Perhaps worst of all, we’re bombarded with the message that our gender sucks at doing things until we internalize it. Whether you accept transwomen like me as women, or see us as “men in dresses” it’s completely fucked up that I grew up raised on the idea that femininity was lesser than masculinity. I was always uncomfortable with a lot of things my dad and my friends would say about women–how annoying they could be, objectifying their bodies, “can’t live with em can’t live without em” etc. It’s fucked up that I was pushed into things like sports I hated just because of my genitals and the expectations which came with them. It’s fucked up my wearing a certain garment kicked off a huge blow up from my parents that scared me into suppressing my personal growth for almost a decade. All because my parents prioritized masculinity, and were temporarily ashamed of having a feminine “son”/trans daughter. That’s not the world any of us should ever have to grow up in. You should be allowed to do what you want, no matter your gender.
Men in general are so dismissive of things like this that I even once had two male roommates who saw this ad I’ll link below and laughed/found no problem with it. (Even though one had a 2 year old daughter, and the other had a girlfriend and called himself liberal.) Direct quote: “what’s the problem? Girls can’t throw!” Cut to me trying to explain how upsetting it is that half the human race is growing up internalizing the idea of their inescapable worthlessness, incompetence and failure because they happened to be born women. Actual response? “Dude, have you ever seen a girl throw? Hahaha” I wish I was making this up. It truly upset me they could be so cold like that, and I was never able to think of them as highly again. That especially applies to the one with the daughter; I could never understand being so sexist and willfully ignorant in general, much less after bringing a sweet little girl into the world. There are certainly women out there who are guilty of misandry, but despite the stereotype of the “man-hating feminazi” I have never personally witnessed anywhere near the casual sexism and belittlement that everyday men show to women without a second thought.
You Can’t Have It Both Ways
When two people make a baby, it is the woman who is shamed and belittled into keeping it. It is she that has to pay for, and often drive long distances and cross a hostile picket line to get an abortion if she can’t have it. It’s she who’s shamed for “killing a baby” regardless of whether it was a personal choice, or a medical necessity, or a traumatic product of rape/incest or whatever the case may be. Now…I realize abortion is probably the single most divisive topic in all of politics. I’m not here to argue for or against it. BUT if you’re against a woman’s right to choose, you better support real sex ed, not abstinence only which is a proven failure. You better support safety net programs (or alternate solutions like Basic Income/Negative Income Tax) to help out single mothers forced to raise those kids you care about so much. You better defend single mothers from those who would make judgmental comments or jokes at their expense. You better support access to affordable birth control.
If you don’t do all these things to justify the validity of your “pro-life” stance, I have to call it out for what it really is–an excuse to control women’s bodies and sexuality. And now with this hobby lobby decision, women’s healthcare can be totally restricted if the corporation she works for arbitrarily decides it doesn’t want to pay for their well-being. Worse, we have states like Indiana who want to, or have, passed laws forcing women to ask their rapists’ permission to abort an unwanted rape-baby and/or have a funeral (paid for out of her pocket) for the aborted fetus. If that’s not cruel and unusual I don’t know what is. Seriously, women are not your playthings to dominate in the bedroom and then punish exclusively for the “sin” (and why is sex a sin anyway?) you both committed. Get over it. The world is already overpopulated as it is, I don’t see the point of forcing more unwanted babies to be born to women who don’t want/can’t afford them, or whose delivery could kill her. Let’s stop pretending 9 months pregnancy, agonizing childbirth, 18 years financial support and more is a fair consequence for (gasp!) being a woman that has sex.
And on that note, stop demonizing Planned Parenthood and birth control while you’re at it. They don’t sell baby organs you morons, and they provide valuable services to women besides just abortions. Abortions are like 5% or less of what they do (forget the exact percentage but I know it’s something like 2%.) And some women need birth control to regulate hormones, control their periods and prevent ovarian cysts among other non-birth related things. It’s not just about wanting to have rampant sexual flings, and even if it were, why is that so threatening to you? Do you not see the hypocrisy and hatred in bragging about having sex with a woman and then in the next breath shaming and/or punishing her for having sex? If you gave even the slightest care about women’s issues or healthcare you’d appreciate all this bullshit and more women have to go through for being the child-bearing sex.
A Woman’s Greatest Fear
Besides all that, it’s a different world when you’re female-bodied. You don’t get to go out alone, and especially not at night, without feeling afraid most of the time. Before I transitioned, I used to go out and about in the city all the time at 11 PM to as late as 3 or 4 AM to do some grocery shopping or grab a quick coffee and snack at the convenience store (I’m a night owl and always have been.) I never had a big problem doing so, never felt unsafe. After presenting as a woman though, I’ve had experiences where I felt unsafe even just 100 yards or so from my apartment building to throw my garbage in the dumpster at night. I’ve been catcalled, honked at, had guys come up to my personal space and touch me or play with my hair without permission, follow me home, rev their engine to make me jump…you name it. Women complain about these things all the time, and a lot of guys refuse to believe it happens, or is as bad as we say, because they’ve never (or rarely) seen it firsthand. It’s disgusting.
[ASIDE: And yet, they have no problem using unfounded fear-mongering about transwomen in the bathrooms when it suits their agenda to divide and discriminate. Like, it’s no big deal when a conservative Supreme Justice nominee, right-wing President or the Joe Pickup Truck does it, but if it lets us shit on a vulnerable minority group for easy votes suddenly women getting preyed on is a top priority.]
I’ve always believed my sister, girl-cousins and lady-friends when they talked about catcalling and assaults, but even so I wasn’t prepared for how it would feel when I was on the receiving end. I’ll tell you with all sincerity, it’s far more scary than you think it would be. When you’re a foot shorter and have far less muscle-mass, you’re at the man’s mercy. Even with mace or a pocket-knife, it’s very easy for even a weaker man to overpower a woman and they know it. If he wants to touch you, follow you, rape you, assault you, abduct you…there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I never felt so vulnerable in my life than when a man followed me home late at night, saying provocative things all the way. The first time it happened, it was the middle of the night and a car stopped in the road to yell at me, and I was terrified they might get out and try to hurt me. I was legit starting to hyperventilate.
On top of this, I’ve started receiving unsolicited dick picks and porn in my social media accounts. It’s disgusting and disrespectful. And anyone who’d say “huh durr, I’d love it if a woman did all that to me!” you’re thinking of a woman you’re attracted to, not the gross, creepy, rapey ones who actually stoop that low. Plus, again, you’re forgetting that difference of power. A woman following you could easily be fought off if it came to it. With us it’s quite literally a matter of life or death. You can’t fully appreciate the difference until you’ve lived it, believe me.
And before someone says it, yes, men can be raped/groped/assaulted–if you’ve read thus far, you know it’s happened to me when I presented male. No one is saying otherwise. But it’s not as widespread. It’s not as accepted/brushed over. It’s not done with the same inequality of physical and social power on average. Because female sexuality/presentation is a lot more controlled and shamed in our society, a lot of the guilt is also transferred to the woman. Hence the common victim-blaming phrases like “well, she was asking for it”/“well, what did you expect wearing that?”/“why were you out so late?” etc. I’ve known so many guys, even young ones, even self-professed liberals/leftists who refused to acknowledge this kind of shit happens AT ALL. It’s absolutely maddening. Just look at this thread filled with horrifying examples for starters. If that’s not enough, check out this one too.
Actually listen to some of the women who’ve talked about their #MeToo experiences. If you think it’s just a bullshit Third Wave feminist propaganda campaign, I guarantee your wife, mother, sister, daughter or friend has a story to tell. Recognize that even within the coastal, limousine liberal elite hubs like Hollywood, scum like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were allowed to carry on with impunity for decades. Because they were men with power, and a woman’s word is often shit in matters like these. While it certainly sucks to be on the receiving end, I now completely understand why women sometimes ghost men (I still think stringing someone along is inexcusably cruel and unnecessary though..)
Difference Between A Good Man and an Asshole
Also, just because I see it brought up a lot, understand that when women and/or feminists talk about “toxic masculinity” that’s not to say all men or all masculine traits are bad. What they’re referring to in those circumstances are the variety of arbitrary, ridiculous yet often vehemently enforced stereotypes which men must partake in to prove their masculinity to one another (and sometimes women–who also enforce this bullshit sometimes.) Some examples are how you have to be good at sports, you can’t wear pink or be openly emotional and you can’t show affection to anyone but close family or your girlfriend. Sometimes they’re as silly as not being “allowed” to drink any alcohol that isn’t straight liquor or 5+% beer, and not being allowed to use skin moisturizer or any kind of hair care products beyond plain shampoo. Basically, anything predicated on the expectation that “real men do this”/“if you like that, you’re a wuss/sissy/pansy/faggot!”
Back when I still presented male I was once shamed for kissing a boy–even though we were all drunk, playing truth or dare and I was dared to do it. (And even if that hadn’t been the case, why should that make anyone less of a man?) Another time I was specifically told I “traded in my testicles” for ordering a long island iced tea at a bar. Even though I didn’t like to be manly and wasn’t ashamed to be seen as feminine even then, the fact that some jackass felt like he could police my behavior like that really ticked me off anyway. But, again, women sometimes enforce this stuff too. I recall another time when I was at a bar celebrating my close friend’s birthday. One of the guys ordered some kind of sweet mixed drink and a girl who was drinking hard ale said “this is what you should be drinking” in a mocking tone. That kind of nonsense needs to end, yesterday. Both men and women need to stop enforcing gender norms on themselves and the other half if we’re ever going to get true equality. Speaking from experience, nobody deserves to be born into a mold.