I am a feminist, and I have a Tumblr account that I visit on a daily basis. This means that I’m exposed to a lot of posts promoting feminism and criticizing patriarchal ideals. Recently this post showed up in my feed. It’s a quote from a TED Talk, and I would transcribe it here, but it’s quite long and I can’t copy-paste because it’s delivered in .gif form instead of simple text because Tumblr has this unusual obsession with .gifs that I don’t fully understand. I will, however, post the video that it’s quoting:
It’s quite a good video. The excerpt in the post, if you’re too lazy to click the earlier link, is the part talking about habitual body-monitoring. It’s essentially the act of checking your physical appearance constantly out of learned insecurity, and studies have shown that women do it constantly, because they’ve been taught to.
I wouldn’t have been bothered by it if she hadn’t prefaced with, “For the men in this audience, this might be news to you.”
Speaking as a man, this is not news to me. And I don’t mean I know it because I’m a feminist and have heard about this stuff before. It’s because I can relate to a degree. I don’t generally care that much about my physical appearance, but I’m constantly stopping to think about what others think of me, if the people around me think I’m acting like an idiot, and how I’m presumably screwing everything up even if I haven’t really done anything wrong. I constantly feel like I’m coming off as a mental or emotional wreck, and this impedes my social skills as well as my ability to focus on and complete tasks.
This is not uncommon. In high school my best friend and I both struggled to focus during our classes and our parents thought we were just thinking of pointless diversions like video games, but we had shared our troubles with one another and we both often faced the problem of what we called focusing on focusing, rather than focusing on the lectures. We were so concerned about the disapproval of our parents and teachers that the thought of it overshadowed the actual work at hand.
This has lingered with me for as long as I can remember, and it once caused me to try to kill myself because I didn’t fit the ideal that I felt like the world wanted me to fit. You might be saying, “That’s just because you have depression!” Depression was mentioned in the linked excerpt, and I feel the need to point out that suicide rates are far more likely among boys than among girls, and that boys are also more likely to drop out of school by a non-negligible margin.
See, just as women are negatively impacted by society’s expectations of femininity, men are negatively impacted by society’s expectations of masculinity. You’re expected to appeal to a pretty specific concept of What A Man Should Be, and if you don’t, you are most certainly singled out and shamed for it.
Of course, this problem men face is very different from that problem women face, and so it’s reasonable to discuss one and not the other. I harbor no ill will toward Caroline Heldman for her TED Talk — like I said, I really liked the video in general. But I’m familiar with the Tumblr Social Justice Brigade; I know they like to throw around this idea that men don’t face nearly as many problems as women, and that men don’t deserve to be empathized with unless they’re also a racial or sexual minority. Here, take a look at this post that also showed up on my Tumblr feed, which I’ll just go ahead and transcribe even though it’s pointlessly delivered in .gif form:
“A man can lie, steal and even kill, but as long as he hangs onto his pride he’s still a man. All a woman has to do is slip once and she’s a tramp. It must be a great comfort to you to be a man.”
It’s in the context of a character talking to another character in a movie, but the implication seems to be that while women have to worry about how they appear, men are free to do whatever they wish without a care in the world, and they’ll still be respected by others. This is painfully untrue. I’m so upset thinking about it right now that I’m beginning to have trouble breathing. To dismiss the problems men face as a result of our culture’s idea of masculinity is to deny what once led me to try to end my life. I do not appreciate that.
It’s not a lesser problem or a greater problem. It’s a different problem. Do not dismiss it.