These two posts by Lindsay of Majikthise got me thinking. I’m a bit of a geek, and more than a bit of a social misfit (I should have been a pair of ragged claws, and all that), and as a result, I’ve been pretty terrified of women in social contexts since the onset of puberty. Being a social misfit, particularly one who’s terrified of women, means you end up being around other men who are social misfits and terrified of women, so I've had a lot of experience with men like me. While I’ve never suffered from nice-guy syndrome (I’ve always recognized my own assholeness), which involves the belief that (attractive) women always end up with jerks, and then complain about men being assholes, while nice guys (which pretty much means misfits in this context) get the shaft, I have known plenty of afflicted men. These men genuinely believe that if only the woman would take the time to get to know them, and look past the surface (i.e. physical attractiveness), they would fall for them instead of the attractive jerk. It’s a strange belief that underscores the points about “privilege” that Lindsay and some of the commenters made in her first post. It basically faults women for being superficial by choosing the attractive guy, who ends up being a jerk, rather than the nice guy who’s less attractive but will treat her right. At the same time, it allows the self-described nice guy to be superficial, by choosing a woman for her looks (remember, if she hasn’t taken the time to get to know him, then he hasn’t had the time to know her). In other words, the nice guy is faulting the woman for doing exactly what he’s doing, and this sort of reasoning is pretty widely accepted by men everywhere. If that’s not a double standard of the sort that defines male privilege, I don’t know what would be.
Of course, not all the fear of women held by us misfits is totally unjustified. The same system that produces male privilege also produces something that might be called female privilege. It’s the privilege that allows women to reject men with little regard for their feelings, or require things (drinks, gifts, or whatever) in return for the honor of spending time with them. Even attractive men will be rejected more often than not, and often quite harshly, and it takes a pretty thick skin to take all of the inevitable rejection without developing some fear of women. The privilege arises out of the part of the social system that requires men to approach women (and in many ways frowns on women who approach men), creating the belief in many women that men should earn or deserve their attention, affection, or just the chance to sit next to them in a bar.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the male-dominated, and largely male-created social system tends to harm about as many men as it does women. Too many of us are on the outside looking in because we fit into propertly into the gender roles that the system (the patriarchy, as some like to call it) itself has created. Both men and women are harmed by both the male and female-oriented double standards of that system, and often we’re too blinded by those same double standards (as in nice guy syndrome, or harsh rejection disorder) to see that. It’s for that reason that I think more men should take feminism seriously. Feminism’s primary purpose is to expose the problems in the system, showing where it has created double standards, along with what the causes and effects of those double standards are. If those effects are just as often bad for men as they are for women, then we’d do well to take notice of them and, if possible, work to change them, at least in ourselves.
Yet, as the comments on Lindsay’s post show all too well, many of the men who are getting the short end of the patriarchal stick are a long way from seeing this. For them, feminism is just women bitching, blaming men for everthing, or making whacky claims about how fluid mechanics are neglected in physics because the fluid is associated with the feminine. Instead of thinking about what feminists actually say, these men are doing exactly what the double standard requires: blaming women. It’s women’s fault that I’m alone, bitter, depressed, afraid, or had to settle for a woman I didn’t really want, because (attractive) women exercise poor judgment when it comes to men, picking, as they do, the attractive over the nice. Or so the reasoning goes. But that reasoning has never gotten anyone anywhere, and it never will. It will just reaffirm the system that causes so much trouble for all of us. And trust me, that's just what the men (and women) who are genuinely benefitting from the system, at the expsense of the women (and men) who aren't, want.
Post Script: Yes, as the title of this blog, and the allusion in the second of this post indicate, I read too much Eliot. What of it?