Thursday, January 31, 2013

Empathy and Working on Alternative Masculinities

 Interesting read over at rosiesays, as a guy responds to her piece on street harassment.  He spells out how he has felt as the guy doing the harassing:

Here is something you should know about me. I intentionally hurt people sometimes to make myself feel better.    Being in the presence of a woman can be anguish. It’s loneliness (and sometimes horniness), and all that other Freudian bullshit rolled up into mundane moments. Just walking down the street can make me feel helpless when I pass a woman sometimes. I can’t shake it. If I could shake it, I would. Trust me. It’s no fun. But this is the hand I’m dealt, so I roll with it. 
I have a lot of empathy for men, in part because I have experienced the alienation that can come in a culture where traditional masculinity is so important.  I also think what I call the supply-and-demand model of dating is pretty broken, for all involved.  But I think striving against traditional masculinity is one of the ways that feminism can help men.

Despite my predilection toward empathy, it's difficult for me to respond with compassion for this guy. Even though he is suffering (and I think that he is--suffering within the shackles of bs masculinity), lines like "If I could shake it, I would. Trust me," just don't ring true for me. There's this thing called the internet.  Take a look around, search for alternative masculinities. Let me google that for you.

Yes, the masculinity we are given and trained in is bullshit. So let's create another one, rather than harass women.

Emily, like many feminist women, understands that traditional masculinity harms men, as well as women, and she expresses some empathy for this guy:
Without minimizing the overwhelming perfect storm of body hating, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, mixed messaging media bullshittery that women face on a daily basis, I do think there’s a void for young men about what modern masculinity really means. This is a conversation we’ve sorta kinda maybe a little bit started in this country, but for guys like this writer, already in their twenties, there are few role models of “manliness” that don’t involve killing the bad guy and getting the girl.
 Yes, men (and folks of all genders!) are having to reconstruct masculinity in a way that is hopefully not harmful. Yes, this task is difficult. Yes, men are alienated because of (in part) traditional masculinity. (As far as role models go, there are many to be found, if you look for them.) But I respectfully disagree with her when she notes that women should do something about this day-to-day: Be nicer:
And this is not unidirectional. Ladies (in this imaginary all-hetero world I’m writing in at the moment), don’t be jerks to guys that try to talk to you (assuming they are civil), whether you’re interested or not. You can politely move on without rolling your eyes, turning away, sighing in disgust, or being a generally uninterested pretentious douchface.   

People, be nice to each other. Niceness is a awesome. Niceness doesn’t mean I want to bone you, and it doesn’t mean you deserve a date or a drink or anything of the sort. It means that shit is hard out there, son, and a little kindness goes a long way.

Compassion and niceness is great, in general (of course!), but this line of thinking tends to ignore the lived experience of so many women--politely moving on is something that isn't "allowed" oftentimes, inasmuch as men so often respond to it with aggression and anger. The more empathy people can have toward men who are caught up in bogus masculinity, the better, but I think the onus is mostly upon men to do lots more work in this area before we can ask for or expect women to take on even more in this regard.

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