About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The myth of the man-beast

Mealy-mouthed crusaders of Internet misogyny, better known as 'Men's Rights Activists' or MRAs, sometimes complain that thanks to feminism, men have gotten a questionable reputation of beastly savages unable to contain their primal instincts of murder and rape. 

As usual, MRAs blame feminism for something that men actually have another group to blame for: patriarchy, and by extension, themselves.

Earlier, I wrote about how the idea of what it means to be a man or how you can define yourself as a man, is a trap. It's always going to end up being restrictive.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't combat clich├ęs. All too frequently, men (and some women) invoke their so-called inherent primal nature to justify violence, stupidity and generally inappropriate sexual behaviour. But, let's not forget that no proof has ever been offered for arguments made by evolutionary psychology. Even if they were true, they are no excuse. We have managed to get ourselves potty trained, too. No one will defend shitting in the street because it's something animals would do or our ancestors might have done.

Let's become aware of some damaging internalised ideas and behaviour:
  • Men are taught that displaying grief, pain, fear or in some cases affection is a sign of weakness. However, getting in touch with the full range of human emotions and how to express them leads to a richer experience in life and makes it easier to relate to others, ultimately improving overall life satisfaction.
  • Men are taught that they should dominate others, especially women, either as benevolent protectors or as predators. Letting go of that social imperative produces more egalitarian relationships and less frustration for not meeting goals that might not even contribute to your happiness.
  • Men are taught that subtlety, nuance, caution and a fine command of language is a sign of indecisiveness and weakness. However, by getting a grasp on the shades of grey that are simply a part of life, understanding of how the world works deepens, and leads to decisions that are better-argued, with better outcomes.
  • Men are taught that verbal or physical violence is an acceptable answer in many situations. By restraint and resorting to violence only as a very last resort, situations are less likely grow out of control and breed lasting resentment.
  • Men are taught not to say sorry or sincerely apologise. By learning to admit mistakes, you become more honest with yourself and more open in your dealings with others.
  • Men are taught that they are or should be sexually insatiable and incapable of long-term monogamy, conflicting with the other essentialist view of women seeking the comfort of a long-term sexual relationship. An individual approach to sexuality that depends more on what a person wants for themselves instead of feeling pressured to do what they think they are supposed to do will lead to improved relationships and a better sex life.
  • Men are taught that some, if not most women, are there to be ogled and in some cases harrassed and assaulted for crossing some arbitrary line of decency, while at the same time not desiring sex. Breaking this mental dichotomy and viewing women as individuals with individual desires, moulded by social pressure just like you are, leads to less generalising and essentialism.
  • Men are taught that some occupations are manly and some are not. The more equal the gender ratio becomes in a line of work, the better the decisions are that get taken.
  • Men are taught that minorities and women are often out to get them or have a secret desire to oppress them. Realising that minorities and women have legitimate grievances resulting from centuries of systematic oppression that still exist today, but are invisible to you, will make you realise that progress is not a zero-sum game. Others' rights do not infringe on yours.
  • Men are taught that no sometimes means yes. By instead going for enthusiastic consent, you can be sure that partners are into it just as much as you are. The risk of ignoring boundaries is not worth it.
Now, as a last point, it is obviously true that the things men are taught can be and will be enforced by some women as well. This can be frustrating, but you should realise that women can be influenced and immersed in patriarchy just as much as men. Changing some women's binary gender thinking is not your job, but you can at least make a difference for other men.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Ten male privileges

Generally, men are unaware of the systematic privileges they enjoy. It's one of the major obstacles to a fair discussion about sexism, because they can't seem to tell the difference between a commercial that depicts some man as a savage brute or a woman that gets harrassed on the street. While they will correctly conclude that both are inappropriate, they completely ignore that the disadvantages that women have to cope with are institutional, programmatic and systematic.

We've talked about privilege here before, and there's also a nugget devoted to it in the 'Progress 101' presentation that I made.

Someone recently pointed me towards this list. It attempts to list the typical instances of privilege that (white, heterosexual) men enjoy and while I didn't think it was bad per se, it did contain a few questionable points, and was generally pretty US-centric. So, I've tried to condense the list a little and put my own spin on it.

Here we go. As a heterosexual, white man:
  1. I have the privilege of being thought of as the default audience by most modern media, in terms of representation (see the Bechdel test, for example) as well as how a lot of things are advertised alongside beautiful women (male gaze).
     
  2. I have the privilege of not facing scrutiny for being ambitious, assertive or career-driven.
     
  3. I have the privilege that all major world religions are led by people of my own gender and that most of their scriptures, traditions and rituals accord me a position of power and respect, most notably over women.
     
  4. I have the privilege that my chances of being groped, catcalled, sexually harrassed or sexually assaulted in a public space are negligibly small.
     
  5. I have the privilege that discussions that relate to my achievements, opinions or personality is unlikely to be taken as emblematic for all men - I am usually seen as an individual.
     
  6. I have the privilege that people are unlikely to dismiss my opinions merely because I am a man.
     
  7. I have the privilege that most economic, political and academic systems disproportionally advantage people like me, or are entrenched in a culture that is more benign to people like me.
     
  8. I have the privilege that large parts of society do not value me solely on basis of how I look.
     
  9. I have the privilege that I can indulge in casual sex without being judged for it.
     
  10. I have the privilege to be unaware of my privilege and to be blind for the difficulties that others face on a systematic and day-to-day basis.