Feminism and Feelings of Male Inferiority
All men are jerks, right? No doubt if you’re a woman and you’ve had a bad relationship with a man, this statement rings true for you. Or, if you’ve ever been the victim of sexism or sexual harassment you may also believe the statement. Women have a right to hate the men of the past who saw nothing wrong with subservient wives who couldn’t vote or earn the same wages. But should this stereotype of the ‘typical man’ be maintained today? Should women still hate men just because they’re men? I’m well aware that there will always be a back and forth between men and women; we’re different, it’s normal. But, I want to specifically examine the effect of extreme feminism when raising male children. Suddenly this adage of male inferiority is ingrained in the mind of a child and can lead to feelings of shame for one’s own gender.
‘Oh boo hoo, a man feels inferior, who cares?’ Sure, for men who treat women poorly, they don’t have a right to complain, but what about men who have never treated women poorly? Should they also be grouped into the ‘all men are jerks’ statement? Allow me to explain where these thoughts are coming from.
Strong Female Influences
There’s nothing wrong with strong female influences. In fact, I would say that it is crucial to a well rounded individual. However, let’s say that there is no male influence to balance it, or the male influence is less dominating. Then let’s say that the female influence frequently denounces men, with words and/or actions. As growing children we have a tendency to believe whatever our parents say (up to a certain age) and those beliefs cling to us into adulthood whether we want them to or not. Maybe you hate a certain food because you associate it with pain. Maybe you avoid the number thirteen because you are superstitious. Or maybe you hate men because your mom hated men. But what if you are a man? Should you then hate yourself?
Television and Movies
I watched a lot of sitcoms as a child, probably ones I shouldn’t have been watching, and I noticed a distinct trend among them. This was probably characteristic of 90’s television, but when there was a husband/wife duo it was clear that the woman was in charge. This was played up for comedic effect, ‘what did Joe do this week to anger Jane?’ but when bombarded with this dynamic it sends the wrong message; one of a lopsided marriage where the man is kept in check by his wife and answers to her more like a child than a partner. There were many examples of this; Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, Wings, That 70’s Show, According to Jim, and The Simpsons just to name a few. I’m not saying these are bad shows, some of them I remember very fondly, but in each one it was clear that the man had to answer to the woman, even though the man was usually the main character. These shows probably weren’t the best thing for me to watch, but I did watch them, and they only reinforced the idea that men were hardly more than animals.
The Hideous Male Body
My mother was pretty adamant about covering the television screen when any sort of nudity came on, but there was a much different double standard where male/female sexuality was concerned. If a woman came on the screen wearing something scandalous, my mom would insist it was unnecessary, but if an attractive man did the same, it was completely acceptable. This told me, as a kid, that women can look at men like ‘beefcake’ (which was the word she used) but men cannot look the same way at women; such a thing was despicable and only further proved that all men were jerks.
But despite this idea of ‘beefcake’ I was under no impression that the male body was something beautiful. There is a quote from the show Seinfeld in which Elaine’s character states “A woman’s body is a work of art. A man’s is like a jeep; it’s for getting around.” (Not a direct quote.) For a very, very long time I lived by this idea; women were beautiful and men were just sort of apes that were only good for breeding. This led to what I jokingly call a ‘Joss Whedon complex’, where a large number of characters I wrote in stories (or watched at night on the computer) were lesbians. In my mind, the reasoning behind this was that I either didn’t want to look at the male body, or there was no man that could possibly live up to the female character I had created, so the solution was just to pair her with another woman. I call it the Joss Whedon complex because many principal characters in the Buffy universe became lesbians (or were already lesbians). I can’t speak for Joss Whedon’s childhood, but for mine, I attribute this abundance of lesbians to an ingrained dislike of men (or thoughts that they are inadequate). Only in my adult life have I begun to realize I shouldn’t be ashamed of my body just because I’m a man; being male does not automatically mean I’m ugly or unworthy of things women are worthy of.
Men who are no longer MEN
It’s true that feminists killed chivalry. I’m not saying that to start an argument, I’m saying it from personal experience. Growing up with a feminist mother, I was taught that a woman could do everything that a man could, and more. So the idea of pulling out a chair or dropping a coat on a puddle was not just foreign, but downright offensive to the woman in question. While the death of chivalry isn’t the end of the world, I do think that I’m at a disadvantage where certain male roles are concerned. For example, I’ve MacGyvered my way through most household problems (rather than fixing them properly). I know next to nothing about cars and I run in fear from bees as if death itself had manifest in the form of black and yellow stripes. All of this adds up to not feeling very manly and can lead to further feelings of inadequacy. My wife is very understanding if I fail to fix something; far more understanding than I am. I rarely give myself any slack for failure. Part of the reason is because I’ve always been hard on myself, and the other part is that I’m a man and I feel like I should know this stuff. I’m learning a lot of it now, but I constantly feel like I’m playing catch-up. But I can’t blame my mom for a lack of interest in these things; I just never really cared about cars, sports or tools. I was a nerd and now I’m a writer; better at using my hands for typing than handiwork (I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule).
So, what does all of this mean? Is feminism a bad thing? Not at all; women deserve all the rights a man has. Can I blame my mom for all of my problems? Of course not (she would probably deny everything I’ve said here anyway). But that isn’t the point; the point is that the man of today is considerably different than the man of fifty years ago. But as we continue to change, I think there are some important things we need to remember. First, feminism was about equality of the sexes, not superiority, and it’s a two way street. Women are our equals; and we are also their equals. Second, no one should ever be ashamed of their gender. I don’t agree with a lot of things men have done in the past, and continue to do, but I’m not them. We need to judge based on the individual, not a stereotype for half the population. And third; we are all works of art.