“I don’t like the way men are portrayed in that movie,” said my boyfriend when I asked if he wanted to see 50 Shades of Grey this weekend. His response surprised me for two reasons. 1) He has read all the Twilight books, seen all the movies and enjoyed them all. I think he enjoyed them more than I did. 2) When was the last time you heard a man complain about how they are portrayed in media? It’s been a rarity in my life, for sure. In a way, I like that this was his response and that he was offended by the idea that the most desirable men are aloof and sex obsessed.
Now, full disclosure, I have never read the books. I have spoken with many who have and it doesn’t make me want to read them. Frankly, I only wanted to see the movie out of curiosity and I have no problem not seeing it at all. That’s not what this post is about, anyway.
Men’s Rights Activists (or MRAs) often pop up in opposition to feminism. The common arguments I hear have to do with women falsely accusing men of rape and men going to jail for hitting a woman who hit him first. Both of those issues are extremely serious, but not nearly as common as women being raped for real or women being beaten. A better argument, an argument I more commonly hear from the side of feminism, is that people – regardless of gender – should simply not rape other people. People – regardless of gender – should not beat other people unless it is in self defense. People – regardless of gender – should not falsely accuse another of a crime they did not commit. We do all these issues a disservice by assuming they are only about one gender against
That isn’t to say I don’t see a place where MRAs can take hold. Certainly there are issues that are male-specific worth fighting for. You know what’s way more common than men being falsely accused of rape? People assuming men are animals and treating them accordingly. People assuming a man who cries or expresses feminine-like emotions is less of a man. These issues, lead to problems. They make it harder to diagnose certain mental health issues in men, such as depression, because certain signs of depression (holding emotions in and letting them build up to a boiling point) are also things we associate with masculinity. A man isn’t supposed to show emotion, we say. Don’t cry; be a man. As if crying could somehow make anyone less like the gender they are.
This sex obsessed thing is another issue entirely and I’ve often wondered why men aren’t more offended when people claim they are animals who “only want one thing.” Just as a woman is more than her sexual organs, so is a man more than his sexual desires. The funny thing is, nude images of men are not typically objectified, at least not by heterosexual women. These images are more likely to be associated with homosexuality, which comes with a stereotype of someone being less of a man. A woman who is seen as sex obsessed would be regarded as a slut. And, since there is no gender below a woman, said slut is usually seen as less than a human being. As a supporter of gender equality, I see a problem on both sides.
Now, is it okay to look at a person and admire them for how their physical body looks? Is it okay to be turned on by that and want (or have) sex with them? Of course! But that can be done without reducing a full human being, complete with a personality, emotions and feelings, to a sex object. Is it okay to be turned on by a person who looks at you with lustful eyes and takes the lead in instigating sexual acts? Same same answer. Sure, that’s okay as long as it comes with the whole package. I don’t think men want to be seen as little more than vibrators anymore than women want to be seen as blowup dolls.
Whether you agree with my boyfriend is, however, not the point. What i mean to say here is that there are legitimate things for MRAs to fight against. Men should be seen as people, not sex obsessed animals. Men should be allowed to express their emotions and seek out treatment if necessary. To the more violent crimes, men should not be afraid to tell authorities they are being physically or mentally abused by another, be that other a man, woman or life partner. These causes could move into others, such as prostate cancer. There are so many real issues that are specific to men. I welcome someone to confront them.
With that conclusion, I must point out one more thing. None of this here is meant to say that the stereotypes and abuse women face are any less than they are. Women often face more violent and more deadly abuse then men. Laws are passed to regulate women’s bodies far more than men’s bodies. Personally, I think there is still a lot more to be done in terms of women’s equality to me. It’s also important, however, to see where stereotypes negatively affect men. One problem may be arguably worse than the other, but they are still both problems.
Have you ever heard of Men’s Rights Activists? Do you think there are legitimate issues they can help solve? If feminism is about gender equality, shouldn’t it support the equality of men to women just as much as women to men? Does it?
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