To your average feminist, this seems redundant. Of course men are people. Western literature and history have told us hundreds of stories about the struggles of men. Granted, it’s a worryingly recent development that men who aren’t white, straight, and/or Christian are people, but yes, men are people. What we should really be focusing on is how to get more people to see that women are people, right?
Except . . . do we actually see men as people?
Trump recently came under fire for being recorded saying that you should “make moves” on women regardless of marital status and, most infamously, that you can “grab them by the pussy” and get away with it because you’re famous. He dismissed this as “just words” and “locker room banter.” (But I thought he had the best words? . . . I digress.) He was saying this is just how men are. Men are animals, what can you do?
And herein runs the two parallel veins of sexism: Either a.) men are superior to women, or b.) men are less than human, men are animals subject to urges that can’t be controlled, and women should just learn to deal with it. “A” gives birth to things like mansplaining but is, fortunately, increasingly going out of vogue. “B,” on the other hand, perpetuates everything from the “doofy father/husband” stereotype on sitcoms to rape culture. But men are more than animals. Men are people.
Men are people. You’d think that the most resistance from saying that would come from snarky feminists, but in my experience, sexist men bristle at this the most. It’s not that they’re explicitly saying that men aren’t people, but rather that it’s easier to buy into the culture of toxic masculinity that says men are simple creatures. Because being a person is messy. Being a person means having feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams. I look into the eyes of the men I love, I listen to what they’re saying, I listen to what they’re not saying. I see their pain, their insecurity, their body hangups, their tenderness about their spouses and children, their dreams. I believe in them and their desire to make the world better for the people they love.
It seems tone deaf to urge people to believe in men more—after all, wasn’t believing in the potential of men too much what got us into the Brock Turner snafu?—but we owe it to ourselves to unpack men from the small but mighty box of societal expectations placed upon them, just as we are working to liberate women from the box of societal expectations placed upon them. Men are only “allowed” two feelings, horny and angry, and their bottling up of all the other emotions is, quite literally, killing them, whether directly through suicide or indirectly through heart disease. I realize that I’m preaching to the choir to a lot of men, but I see men trot out these statistics to try to show women that they shouldn’t complain about feminist issues, which is the wrong way to go about this. My desire to see my female friends and family not harmed by men and my desire to see my male friends and family also not harmed by men are not mutually exclusive.
Men typically think that calling out one sexist man won’t get rid of all sexism in the world, and one’s wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, and female friends will still have to fear for their safety and well-being, so why bother? But the onus has fallen onto women to make men better for far too long, just like the onus on educating white people about racism has fallen on Black people, and if a man won’t listen to a woman, he will sure as hell listen to another man. He may call you a White Knight because ugggggghhhhhhhh but your words are not “just words.” If you really believe in “#notallmen” as a concept and not a derailment tactic, you would tell a Trump apologist that no, not all men treat women this way. You would also tell a Bill Clinton apologist* that, but—and this is a big “but”—you do not make it Hillary’s responsibility to “get her man.” See above: placing the burden on women to make their men better when it should really be the responsibility of men to make themselves better. All this to say that if you really are one of “the good ones,” then, you know . . . be one of the good ones.
It’s funny to me that feminists get a bad reputation as “man haters” because the great majority of us love men. We’re friends with men. We marry men. We carry and raise men’s children (on our own terms). A lot of us are men. To translate “we want to hold the bad men accountable” to “we hate all men” is tragically insecure, buying into toxic masculinity so much that pulling you out of it would be like that scene in Spirited Away where they have to wash that spirit made of mud. But there is hope for you. Trump is too far gone, but there is hope for you. And it starts with seeing women and yourself as fully realized human beings.
*A Hillary supporter =/= a Bill apologist, and if I see one more goddamn pissing contest on social media over who’s the bigger sexual predator, I am going to scream. It’s such a terrifically unproductive way to come at this issue.