Let women make the first move: what Mel Magazine gets wrong

The passive voice is inconsistent with initiating.

© Dave DuBay

Will women asking men out on dates further the goals of #MeToo? Mel Magazine thinks so. And while Tracy Moore may be on to something, the way she frames it is problematic.

Moore begins with a conditional statement: “If men took a sabbatical from making the first move…” But why men must take a sabbatical in order for women to initiate dating is unclear. A social norm where a person—regardless of gender—initiates a date if they’re attracted to someone makes more sense.

But Moore’s suggestion that men, by taking a sabbatical, initiate women’s initiation of asking for dates means women aren’t really taking the initiative.

If women want to take the initiative then the onus is on women to do so. To initiate is to take responsibility, but the very title of her piece is ambivalent toward women doing this. “Let women make the first move” presupposes that men are actors and women are acted upon.

This is a common feminist theme. In 2011 the Fatal Feminist wrote, “Get me off this damn pedestal.” One blogger pointed out the author’s passive voice: she appears to be a damsel in distress waiting for a white knight to rescue her. To say women need to take responsibility if they want to be the ones to initiate dates is to not put women on a pedestal. It treats women as equals. But to say men need to let women initiate is benevolent sexism.

Moore goes on to explain the benefits of women initiating dates. I’m in agreement here. When I was single I got asked out on average once a year. It’s flattering. But that some women have always chosen to ask men out shows that men are not preventing women from doing this. Women who don’t ask men out are preventing themselves from doing it.

Moore also points out that the experience of being asked out will enlighten men to women’s experiences and likely increase men’s empathy for women. This would be a good thing.

But while she notes that women also will experience rejection is a new way, her piece remains mostly female-centric with little awareness of the male gender role.

Women often think men have more power in the dating world. Feminism in general is reticent to acknowledge women’s power over men because it muddies the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. In reality, both men and women have power and powerlessness when dating, but usually in different ways.

Twenty some odd years ago I was a recent college graduate who got a job working with people with AIDS. Gay bars often did fundraisers for us.

Being a twenty-three year old man in a gay bar is an enlightening experience. I’d walk into a gay bar and men would turn to look. It’s very ego boosting.

I didn’t think of myself as attractive before that mainly because as a shy guy I was mostly invisible to women. Both sexes experience invisibility, but I don’t think feminists have any clue that invisibility is far more common for men compared to women in the dating scene.

In a gay bar men would initiate conversations. Being shy, initiating conversations has always been a challenge, but I realized that if I were gay I’d have no problem finding a date. Yes, there were a few creeps. But most gay men were fine with me not playing for their team.

With asking for dates, however, women often have greater privilege than men. Asking women out on dates is not a choice for men—it’s an obligation. A man who doesn’t ask doesn’t date. Asking men out on dates is a choice for women, though. She’ll still date even if she doesn’t ask, though she might date more if she does ask. Going against social norms means she’ll face disparagement time to time. But having more options is better than having fewer options.

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What’s up with male feminists?

Authenticity is a challenge.

Carefree, Arizona. © Dave DuBay

There’s no shortage of news items about male feminists who have fallen from grace. It’s infuriating and puzzling for people on the left. It’s schadenfreude for the right. Some commentators have noted how similar this is — with left and right reversed — when an evangelical preacher falls from grace.

But other people aren’t surprised. Even ordinary male feminists can come across as pandering and sycophantic. Feminists often distrust male feminists’ motives. Some feminists seem to think men should be seen but not heard (unless they’re checking their privilege or confronting other men about their behavior). And male feminists must accept that women in the movement may mock them.

What’s happening here? The observations that follow are not excuses for bad male behavior. We should all know what appropriate behavior is and is not. No excuses.

Nor are these observations comprehensive. The reality of sexism and misogyny are well articulated elsewhere, so I’m going to focus on other factors.

Seeking women’s approval

We all crave attention, and negative attention is better than invisibility. I doubt I’m the only man who has felt a deep desire for female approval. For most of us this starts in childhood with the need for our mother’s approval, which some mothers manipulate. Though men often talk about father wound, mother wound is discussed far less often. Emotionally it’s a much more difficult discussion to have.

Further, women have immense sexual power over men. And this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment.

It can also lead to a sense of entitlement. A man who fancies himself as one of the good guys may start to think he deserves women’s approval . If that’s not forthcoming then he may feel entitled to punish women.

Pandering

The desire for women’s approval may lead some men to call themselves male feminists or allies (though that’s far from the only reason for choosing these labels).

But feminism is a movement of women for women. It presents a one-sided rather than a comprehensive view of gender. So a man who calls himself a feminist or an ally must take his talking points from women, restricting his ability to speak authentically about gender issues.

Particularly, he must overemphasize the negative aspects of masculinity and focus on women as victims of masculinity while ignoring female privilege and entitlement, including situations where women take advantage of men. This can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, which often manifest passive-aggressively.

Getting past pandering

I support gender equality, but I’m not a feminist. This phrase is really annoying to many people. But I think it’s important to make it clear that my labels are my choice. I don’t believe feminism is the only perspective on gender equality. I also distance myself from reactive identitarian groups like the men’s rights movement.

I try to understand what feminism gets right and what it gets wrong . My goal is to develop a proactive perspective on gender equality that’s more comprehensive and non-identitarian.

Today’s gender myth implies that the dark side of human nature is masculine, which oppresses the feminine. It claims that gender is purely a social construct.

But I acknowledge that biology also plays a partial role. And I think it’s more accurate to say that masculinity can be both benevolent and tyrannical while femininity can be both nurturing and smothering.

Self-reflection

Then there’s introspection. It’s important for men to examine the mother wound, acknowledge feelings about women’s power over us, and how this may contribute to a dysfunctional seeking of female approval.

But putting women on a pedestal is a particular problem. Of course, today’s version of the pedestal differs from yesterday’s. It’s understood that it’s sexist to say women shouldn’t be firefighters because they’re so delicate.

But women who wish to remain on a pedestal must maintain their innocence, which means having someone to blame. Men can become scapegoats.

I try not to enable this. This means accepting responsibility for my failings but refusing to accept responsibility for other people’s failings. And failing to realize that we’re not entitled to anything is one of the biggest failings at all.

Feminism and incivility

Incivility is the order of the day. And this incivility finds its roots in moralistic self-righteousness, which leads to a sense of urgency where any means are justified. Such people don’t even realize they’ve abandoned their values. That’s one reason why President Donald Trump’s supporters are willing to excuse anything he does.

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Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, Arizona. © Dave DuBay

But this phenomenon is not limited to the right. Decades ago second wave feminist and sometime Ms. magazine editor Robin Morgan said, “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”

Her sense of entitlement is noteworthy. Hatred is not excusable because someone is oppressed. Hatred is self-betrayal of what you say you stand for. And the claim that sweeping and derogatory generalizations about a group of people is not hate if you lack power is a paper thin rationalization.

Feminists today take to Twitter with hashtags like #menaretrash, #maletears, and #masculinitysofragile. They say they’re being ironic, but as I noted earlier this is a passive-aggressive excuse for dehumanizing half the human race.

Yes, there are feminists who oppose sexism in all forms, just as there are conservatives who are true to their beliefs. Double standards, however, are too often the case.

Progressives were outraged when Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” But the truth is that he was repeating a feminist meme that said men instead of refugees (and M&Ms instead of skittles). Where was the progressive outrage then?

Worse, Lena Dunham recently called for the extinction of straight white men – a comment that rightly would be labeled fascist had it targeted any other group.

What is feminism?

Conservative columnist George Will left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump. And some feminists have left feminism to pursue more balanced gender equality instead. That’s integrity.

Feminism is about women’s self-interest. Usually this means promoting equality, but sometimes it means being anti-equality. For example, the National Organization for Women opposes shared parenting after divorce (but NOW has since deleted the link).

Feminists often don’t see this as a double standard because many of them believe that men arranged society to privilege men at women’s expense. But like most conspiracy theories this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Throughout most of history men have not been privileged. Ancient kingdoms and empires were tyrannies run by small groups of men. The common man – the overwhelming majority of the male population – was a beast of burden and cannon fodder. The common man did gain rights before women, but the gap between universal male suffrage and universal female suffrage is less than a century.

We’ve yet to have a movement with a comprehensive focus on gender issues. And there won’t be anytime soon.

Can you believe in gender equality but not be a feminist?

If you believe in gender equality then you’re a feminist. If you doubt that then look feminism up in the dictionary. It’s a popular argument that’s difficult to disagree with without being labeled anti-equality.

But does it follow that if you’re not a feminist then you’re anti-equality? It reminds me of the question, “How can you be moral if you don’t believe in God?” The black or white dichotomy such questions create is problematic.

Another problem is the attempt to define other people’s labels for them. A better questions is, “What do you call yourself?” And, “What’s your perspective on equality?” These questions are open ended and don’t push an agenda.

Feminism advocates for gender equality from a female point of view. This matters because the Seneca Falls Convention was held 168 years ago, but recorded human history stretches back 10,000 years. But men seem inconsistent in finding their voice about gender equality.

Feminism has changed men’s roles because women’s roles can’t change without shifting men’s place in society. But that change happens to men – we don’t have a choice. And that feeling of having no choice is one reason why men’s rights activists are angry with feminism. Feminists sometimes respond by saying that men need to understand that men benefit from feminism too. And while that’s generally true, the patronizing tone doesn’t help.

The men’s rights movement isn’t the answer, though. Their rightwing talking points fail to support women’s issues. Men’s rights activists even claim that feminism isn’t really about equality.

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Beehive Mountain, Acadia National Park

So is being a male feminist the answer? I agree with blogger Ally Fogg that feminism is a movement of women, by women, and for women. Men can’t define the issues or offer solutions. Men can’t even takes sides in disagreements within feminism without it being mansplaining. As a result, a male feminist must take his cues from women. This means avoiding certain issues and having his statements scrutinized for ideological purity, all of which constrain his ability to speak authentically about the male experience.

Fogg also points out that feminism is mainly concerned with issues men cause, not issues men face. And of course, issues that men face are for men to describe.

A return to the pre-feminist past is neither desirable nor realistic. Instead, I write in an attempt to develop a male perspective on gender equality and gender issues without the constraints of male feminism, but also without the anti-feminist and rightwing perspective of the men’s rights movement. This is a male viewpoint that runs parallel to much of feminist thought but which is also free to disagree with feminism at certain points.

Final thought: while I don’t expect people to agree with me (I’m simply defining my personal viewpoint), I also reject the moralistic judgments people sometimes make because I’m not choosing the labels they think I should choose. It is each person’s prerogative to choose their own labels and to define their own perspectives, and the attitude that someone must call themselves this or that disrespects that individual’s choice.