5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it’s no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That’s kind of the definition of the word.

But we don’t talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism—from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse—it makes perfect sense that we’d care more about how sexism, patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women than we do about how they affect men.

But men undoubtedly get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure… but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists—and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists—ought to care about it, too.

I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me; I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don’t want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.

And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism… and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too—and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun—we’re going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumpersticker a friend once had on her truck: “Feminists Fuck Better.”)

So I’ve been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I’ve been looking at our society’s expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you’d have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since “professional tightrope walker” is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I’ve been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that’s not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I’ve been asking the men in my life—friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet—what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man and how those expectations affect them.

Here is a list of five.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet and Salon, 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men. This is actually an older piece that they’re reprinting: if I’d known, I probably would have revised it, and I definitely would have cleaned up the broken links. :-p But I’m glad they’re reprinting it: one of the most common MRA tropes is that feminists don’t care about the ways that gender roles and rigid gender expectations hurt men, and that’s just flatly not true. Anyway. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men
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12 thoughts on “5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

  1. 1

    Have you seen Guante’s spoken word piece “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’ “?? It’s on youtube. It’s pretty darned good and I’ve sent links to it many, many times.

  2. 2

    Sometimes I have an impression that literally all of us are into this. Men, women, boys, girls – everyone.

    Two days ago my daughter (early teens) came back from a school trip. There was an accident: one of the boys broke his arm and had to go to the hospital. My daughter seemed very impressed with him. “He was brave”, she remarked. “We were simply joking together and he didn’t cry.”

    Later she added that it’s just pathetic when a boy (but not a girl) cries and “behaves like a sissy”. I tried to discuss with her and it seems to me that she indeed accepted some of my arguments … but only on a theoretical level. I’m pretty sure that emotionally this conversation didn’t change anything.

    And I can’t blame her. Judging by my own case, I can see how difficult it is to change the way you feel. (Changing the way you think is far easier.)

  3. 3

    This is slightly off-topic and I don’t what to derail this too much, but I’m looking for help here. A friend of mine just told me that he’d recently made sense of some of his teenage memories and realised that he was raped by an older man some years ago while drunk and/or spiked. I want to help but I’m at a loss of what I can do or suggest. He doesn’t want to tell his family, he cut ties with his friends from that time (most of whom he now knows knew about it) and I’m not in face-face contact with him. I can’t swoop in all know-it-all like I usually do and then give him bad or unhelpful information.

  4. 4

    Usually, rape help services can answer these questions. Even if you’re not a victim, if you feel helpless trying to help someone who was raped, I’d suggest you call them.

  5. 5

    Number three seems most stinging to me. I haven’t had to deal with physical violence for a long time; even dealing with a stalker never required me to do more than be present and discouraging.

    Number two elides into three. And this seems to be something that might be accessible to change. Women hate aimless male aggression, it is a terrible force for intimidation, robs women of access to public life, and REQUIRES men to pursue women they don’t want in the vain hope that they can ‘get’ someone, anyone…

    In order to keep up the push, men either cease caring about women, or turn to hostile, spiteful ‘aggression’ that is disconnected from actual sexual desire.

    And I guess that slips in neatly with the ‘don’t feel, don’t show, don’t cry’ message in number four.

  6. 7

    Thank you so much for writing about this Greta! I totally agree with you that inequality and sexism exists whatever gender you are, and acknowledging it does not diminish the importance due to either. I have been raised by my mother alone, and, growing up, always lived with her and my sister, so I’ve never really had much of these issues at home; it just never happened in my home environment. My sister and I used to play together at home, either with dolls or with cars, or with action figures, or whatever. They were OUR toys, and we’d mix them all up. So I suppose I was lucky in that respect. I do, however, remember my grandfather warning me that if I kept playing with dolls, he’d go and tell my(male) friends. I told him I didn’t care (I must have been 6 or 7). He went and told them in an attempt to mock me, and my friends just came to play with the dolls with my sister and me! 😀
    Anyway, besides all of what you wrote, there are a few other minor and not so minor things men have to put up with, like going on holiday to places where bars and clubs that offer free entry for women and not for men are the norm, or not usually being able to wear anything but trousers to work, being ridiculed whenever we talk about domestic abuse by a female partner, being ridiculed when we talk about having been raped and even more when we have been sexually harassed by a woman, having comparatively heavier prison sentences than women who committed the same crimes, etc. Somehow some of the expectations put upon men in general lose strength whenever it is known I am bisexual. I suppose I become less of a man because I happen to like men, so it’s okay to behave in an “unusual” way. People are weird. I don’t let it get to me now. I used to when I was younger though, and I was bullied heavily. But not anymore. I hope the day will come when we won’t need to talk about these issues, sooner rather than later.

  7. 8

    Hm… On the “Can’t show emotion”, you triggered a bit of self-reflection.

    My dad was, in most ways, a traditionalist. Hell, he was Roman Catholic for most of my life, and a convert at that. I can even remember him nearly getting into a fist-fight when he thought a man on the bus was hitting on my older brother (in fairness to him, if such was the case, well, there was a sizable age-difference, and my brother was underage at the time, so a reasonable level of hostility would be there in any parent, I’d hope–but I doubt he would’ve reacted the same way to an older woman acting similarly [see, “want it all the time”]).

    But one thing he never, ever did was tell me to stifle my emotions–if anything, he wanted me to be open and honest about my feelings, as much as I could. Maybe it was because he was the non-custodial parent, and thus felt that he had to make the most of the time with us–and if that meant encouraging his kid to be honest with himself and others, so be it. No false emotional distance for him–hugs when I got off the train for weekend visits, more when I had to leave, and forthright declarations of affection and pride throughout our limited time together–so he didn’t just tell me to be honest emotionally, he set the example.

    And the thing is, if you’re honest about your own emotions, it helps you with empathizing with others, as well. So when I got older and started finally questioning some of my more conservative beliefs, I had to confront how those beliefs affected other people–which is the best way into a social justice mindset I can think of. So, to the memory my often homophobic, sexist and racist father, I have to say–thanks for that, Dad.

  8. AMM

    One interesting thing: in my experience, all 5 are enforced mostly by men. Yes, women sometimes repeat them, but it’s the other men that men mostly listen to (cf. the second half of #2.)

    One reason I keep (other men) at arm’s length is because I’ve gotten too many earfuls (not to mention fist-fulls) of this crap. I’ve found women who I can trust not to lay any of this on me, but I have a hard time finding men who don’t at least sometimes repeat these tropes.

  9. 10

    I loved the post at alternet. I have two little children, girl 4 almost 5 and boy 3. And it is very hard to fight the “girl-toy/boy-toy” stereotypes even now. But when I watch my little son pick up a baby doll and snuggle it my heart just melts. I love too when my daughter will bust out the Lincoln Logs and see how high she can build a tower. The trope that leaped to my mind was musical instruments. Guitar, tuba, maybe piano, saxophone, trumpet, trombone. Flute, oboe, clarinet, most string instruments. I played flute in middle school, life was not good for me.

  10. 11

    My “ah ha!” moment vis a vis feminism was when I realized that feminists were the only ones seriously challenging cultural attitudes that affect men. MRA’s, for all their bluster, don’t seem to care; they seem more concerned with punishing women than working with them in order to address the root problems that challenge us.

    I agree that point#4 in the AlterNet article is probably one of, if not the most damaging things that patriarchical society expects of men, and I have little doubt of the deleterious health effects it causes–not only to the men who submerge their emotions, but to their partners and families who are often pushed away emotionally, as a result.

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