DontMancriminate; how not to start conversations about Mens issues

So a post appeared on my Facebook wall recently, shared by a number of people, under the hashtag #DontMancriminate. It was a series of pictures depicting men being gagged with a little slogan and statements supporting the slogan and were doing the rounds on social media last year. I think I’m going to file it under “perfect example of missing the point” or possibly “how to completely trivialise real issues faced by men and women”. The fact they’ve made a re-appearance suggests that people think they have a point so here’s my take on them.

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Men can (and indeed do) wear heels or even large heeled shoes and wear makeup. Problem is doing so usually results in bullying from other men!!!! Companies usually make products to fulfil demand so perhaps the reason these products don’t exist is because men don’t feel comfortable wearing them due to social pressures? The same social pressures that make women feel forced to conform to strict beauty standards, which is why they wear make-up to avoid being branded ugly? As for stupid men being blonde, I know many blonde men who fit the stereotype and if men want “dumb men” jokes to be equal I’m sure there’s a comedian out there happy to oblige. But why would you want jokes made matching your hair colour to your I.Q?

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Here’s the thing with these 2; holding a door for someone, carrying their bags or giving up your seat is called courtesy; doesn’t matter if they’re a woman, elderly or disabled; but what have these got to do with this “It’s a man’s world”? Men haven’t had to fight very hard for rights , more often than not men are in power, men get portrayed as powerful in movies/books, men don’t get regarded as inferior purely because of their gender. Here’s the funny thing about these though. Women get free drinks because men buy them for them!! Women are completely able to buy their own drinks or buy them for men. Women get free entry because men let them in for free!! Women are able to pay for themselves or pay for men to get in for free. No one is forcing men to do this though and perhaps we should be asking why men feel compelled to act in this way toward women. Is there a sense of entitlement that some men feel, that when they buy a woman a drink they expect sex in return? Do men like to feel impressive and in control so they buy the woman a drink? How many woman actually enjoy the unwanted attention and are perfectly happy being left alone?

The last statement has the same root cause as the others above. Men don’t get sympathy because men have made it shameful to be weak!! As with wearing heels, men get bullied by other men for expressing emotions like fear, sadness etc. We’re told that men have to be strong and be the provider which is why they buy women drinks, let them in for free, give up their seats etc. Women accept these because they’re told they’re weaker than men and standing up to men often results in fairly dire consequences. If men are unhappy with women getting these things, then breaking the lies is the first step.

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Let’s get this bit out of the way. Yes, men are judged based on the size of their penis. Women judge them, but usually it’s other men judge them because the size of your penis defines you as a man according to society. For every article penned by a woman saying “size does matter” there are an equal amount saying it doesn’t. Also this picture is just flat out lying because men do discriminate against a “pussy” and we probably have pornography to thank for both problems. Rates of vaginal plastic surgery are huge and growing, far outweighing any equivalent seen in men. Much of this is brought on by porn and men claiming that vaginas need to look a certain way to be “clean”. They do nothing but reduce the value of a person to the size and appearance of their genitalia. This is an issue that does affect men but pitching it against women, especially lying in the process, is just not going to help anyone. We need to get away from us vs them and start having the conversation about body shaming and how it affects people.

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This is an awkward one because I actually agree with this one, but it also seems to trivialize the very real issue of domestic violence. Men suffer abuse at the hands of their partners, but don’t report it for the reasons I’ve said earlier: it’s too shameful and tied to a toxic masculinity. This is why it’s woefully under reported and men don’t get the support they need. When a woman attacks her partner and vice versa, it needs to be classified as domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is about power and control, far more than it is about rage and anger issues and women initiating violence towards men (statistically far less prevalent than the other way round) is usually also to do with control and domination. In which case, the phrase “I was wrong” is correct but is also equally correct for the male if he is the perpetrator. Instead the man simply repeats the all too common trope of “you made me hit you, look what you made me do, if only you had listened to me” etc. etc”. These can be used both ways but due to the ongoing stereotype of the man being the dominant partner in a relationship, are more common in men.

Now some will cite self-defence as a reason, I don’t have too many issues with this but possibly linked to the picture is this; what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear a story of a woman slapping a man? Now what about a man slapping a woman? Was it “self-defence” in the first instance and “assault” for the second? Domestic violence is a massive issue for all genders and pitching the 2 genders against each other in this way again blocks the very necessary discussion of how to tackle this problem. Why do people feel it’s OK to hit their partners? Many men have “anger issues” because anger is the only emotion that other men deem to be acceptable to express. Women can be abusers, let me be clear on that, and yes there is a disparity in how abuse is seen depending on who the abuser is, but instead of pitching this a gender equality issue, lets tackle the actual problem of abuse.

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As face value this one seems absolutely spot on. It seems very much the case that women get half the men’s savings in most divorce cases regardless of the reasons for divorce. However, a quick investigation (google search) into this showed that the situation is infinitely more complex. It seems studies have shown that women are usually much worse off after divorce and there are other factors in how the monies are split .

There’s also custody battles that come with this and statistics show that in the vast majority of cases women win custody of the children but again, this seems to be more complex than face value. This seems to be largely down to traditional gender roles which encourage us to see women as the automatic carers over men. This obviously needs to be challenged but when custody is court-ordered, Men Rights Activists etc. often blame this on feminism. Our court system is anything but feminist, never over the past few hundred years has it ever been feminist. The judiciary is arguably the most patriarchal of all our current institutions with a huge amount of judges being not only male, but also white and privately educated. I think the whole issue of divorce and custody are aspects that needs to be looked at but I guess my message on this one is things are not as simple as this makes out.

That last sentence, “things are not as simple as this makes out” could have been applied to all these pictures really. They oversimplify complex issues by ignoring root causes and instead of helping their cause of highlighting areas that men are impacted to help solve them (assuming that is their aim), actually damage it. All too often these discussions get dragged into “our issue is worse than yours” and these pictures just fuel the persecuted mentality some have developed. Men suffer many issues in this world and these need to be addressed, but pitching this against women’s issues or suggesting it’s women’s fault is just throwing up smokescreens. Until we acknowledge that whatever the root cause, it’s affecting everyone, we go nowhere.

 

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The art of friendship; my fiance responds

As the title says, this post was written by my fiance Sarah. I asked her to share some thoughts in light of my blog “The art of friendship“. As I alluded to, her relationships with men have not been great and my friendships have mirrored some of that; here she shares the impact of all that, and how she’s come to terms with it all.

As part of his blog on friendship, Graham has asked me to write my own blog about my experiences of these particular friendships as his fiancé, what feelings I felt and how we worked through it as a couple. Part of this process for me, was wrestling with my past experiences, so I will be discussing that and how it impacted our relationship. As Graham has already said, my experiences of men, in general, aren’t good. Unfortunately, I know only too well what it’s like to be taken advantage of, left behind and treated badly. But don’t get the violins out, my life really is great. Those things that I experienced as a child and as a teenager, although unpleasant at the time, have shaped me into the person I am today. I have a great life partner in Graham, a supportive (and crazy) family, I have a job that I love, working with young people, and my degree course is opening up lots of doors for me. Basically, I want to spend my life helping people, particularly those young people who are going through similar things to what I did, and supporting them and showing them that their pasts don’t have to affect their futures.

So, when I first met Graham, I was 20 years old. Young and naïve and full of expectations. He was my first and only boyfriend; we met by accident over the internet during a discussion on a Christian Forum. We very quickly fell in love, the distance between us (I was living in London at the time) making every moment we spent together all the more special. When I started to meet his friends, I noticed a strong recurrence; the majority of them were women, and, with the exception of his boisterous darts friends, the people who he was closest to and trusted the most were female. To begin with, this didn’t bother me; I got on with them well and they clearly cared about the friendship they shared with Graham. But as time went on, I started to realise that he had a lot more in common with those women than he did with me. Now, of course, logically that’s going to happen; he had known them for longer and had gone through a lot with them. But as his girlfriend at the time, I felt like a spare part whenever we would go out to meet them because they had so much to talk about, things that I didn’t give much thought to, like action movies, conspiracy theories, science and sci fi. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways and felt like I was crashing Graham’s time with his friends. I tried very hard to suppress the green eyed monster that was raising it’s ugly head, but eventually, I confronted Graham about it and told him how I was feeling. He was very understanding and incredibly patient with me as I worked through my issues; I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t upset because of something he had done, but because of my personal past experiences.

My dad left our family when I was 10 years old because he was having an affair with another woman. Up until that point, he hadn’t been around much anyway because of his job; he worked abroad a lot and wasn’t at home a lot of the time. So when that happened, all that I thought my dad to be (a jet setting super-dad who travelled to far away places and brought back presents and stories of the things that he’d seen) went out of the window; I lost trust in him and mourned for him as if he had died, and I had lost my dad, the divorce changed him. This experience is ingrained in me and has affected a lot of my friendships and life decisions. Unfortunately, it has filled me with a fear of abandonment and a need to ‘be enough’ so people will stick around. Before I met Graham, I had an unhealthy opinion of God and I tried to fill the void I felt in the only way I knew how; with boys. As I said, Graham was my one and only boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the company of guys beforehand. As I grew up and especially in my late teens, I put myself in social situations that I knew I was uncomfortable with but did because I was seeking male attention. Between the ages of 15 and 18, I developed a very strong emotional attachment to a boy who lived in the same village as me. He was my first proper crush and I hung on his every word. But he broke my heart and, looking back, that was when things started to spiral out of control. I hung around guys and older men who I knew were bad news, but I was looking for attention and love, no matter how small the gesture, so I stuck around. By the time I reached university in London, my tendency to be too nice landed me in real trouble. A guy living on the floor below me in halls had heard that I was a Christian and saw it as a challenge to get me into bed. Just for the record, he didn’t, but not for a lack of trying. I avoided him after I discovered his intentions. I was also stalked by a man I had met once in a supermarket and he sent me inappropriate messages and requests. After reporting him, the harassment stopped, but that was the point where the wool was lifted from my eyes. This was the treatment that the devil wanted me to believe I deserved, that this was all I was good for and that it wouldn’t get any better. These experiences left me with a bad taste in my mouth about men, and so I focused on allowing myself to be happy doing what I loved without worrying about what others thought of me. I discovered more respect for myself because I wasn’t doing things to keep people happy but because I wanted to do them.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand; having had these experiences, my response to Graham having close female friends wasn’t good. The fear from my parents divorce constantly nagged at the back of my mind and the devil had a field day feeding on my fears. I constantly tried too hard, putting myself out and spending too much money on surprises and gifts because I thought I had to earn Graham’s love. Because of the distance between us (our whole relationship has been at a distance, and will be until we’re married), Graham often got to see his friends more than he saw me, and that made me very jealous. It wasn’t his fault, or indeed, his friends fault, but I started to become paranoid that if I wasn’t around when he wanted me to be, Graham would look elsewhere. Again, this wasn’t any reflection on Graham’s character or on how he had treated me; it was all past fears and it eventually got to the point where it was affecting our relationship so much, with arguments, accusation and misunderstanding, that I had to make a decision. Was I ready to be in a relationship? Was I ready to make myself vulnerable and trust my heart to another man?

By the grace of God, and with a lot of patience, the answer to those questions became yes; I had to come to terms with the fact that I really didn’t have a clue what a healthy relationship looked like, and that all the Disney movies and chick flicks I had watched had given me unrealistic expectations of love and who Graham should be. My parents relationship before the divorce had largely been at a distance because of my dad’s job, and I was fearful that due to the distance in our relationship, we were headed towards the same end. I had to work hard to remember that Graham wasn’t my dad, and to trust that God would protect my heart from any more hurt. I didn’t want to become a wife who dictated when and were Graham could see his friends, that wouldn’t be fair, I don’t own him. I aired my concerns to him and he was very patient with me. We talked A LOT about the friendships he has and how it can sometimes make me feel, often going over the same ground several times. I have learnt that whether the relationship is romantic or not, Graham will throw everything he has into it; he doesn’t do half measures. At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust. Graham is aware of my past, and I am aware of this, and we both know how vulnerable we can be at times, so we continually reassure and talk about our feelings when they occur. That way, we don’t give the devil a chance to get a foot hold and turn our feelings toxic.

I will never stop Graham from seeing his friends, female or not, and actually, something that has really helped me is becoming friends with those women as well. Being frank and honest with them about how I feel and helping them to understand my fears has alleviated all the awkwardness that I previously felt because, having had a girlie heart to heart about it, I now know that they are not a threat, and that they care about Graham in a purely un-romantic way. Who would I be if I didn’t trust them on that? I have no right to control, accuse or assume someone else’s thoughts. I also have close male friends who I talk to and spend time with; none as close as Graham of course, but I enjoy their company and they’re special people in my life. Graham trusts me completely that those relationships will remain un-romantic, and that if any spark does occur, we agree to be open about it. I would like to give an example; Graham recently travelled to Los Angeles for a training week for work and I was missing him terribly as we couldn’t talk daily like we usually do. I was attending lectures during that week, and a male friend from the year below me offered a hug when he saw that I was looking glum. It was a long, tight hug that was very comforting, but it also made me realise how much I missed Graham and that I wished I was hugging him. I felt guilty as I feared I had shared an inappropriately timed hug with a man who wasn’t my intended, and so when Graham returned home, I told him what had happened. He said it was fine and thanked me for being honest. He said it was natural to find comfort in human contact and that he trusted me to keep things appropriate. And that was it, that’s all it needs to be. I think I have become a lot more aware of my words and actions since being with Graham; I used to be quite flirtatious, but now I am much more reserved in my interactions with the opposite sex. I am also aware of just how special our connection is and, as my future husband, there are things that only he knows and only hears from me because it’s such a special, treasured thing. I don’t think Graham and I would be as close are we are now if we hadn’t been honest and upfront with each other. I think my jealousy and pre-judgement would have eaten me up and destroyed our relationship and broken down any trust we had.