Men Are Not Brainless Sheep (Shocking, I Know)

“Shocking? What? Why should this concept be shocking?” I hear you ask. To which I counter: why is it not? How is it not, when so many of the fundamental assumptions our society is based on are designed to tell men that they are wild, uncontrollable, savages to be tamed, creatures of undeniable violent instinct who, when confronted with a flash of skin, a hint of cleavage,  or – heaven forbid!! – butt or upper thigh, cannot help themselves; they MUST HAVE THAT FLESH NOW.

Yes, I’m talking about feminism. I’m talking about rape. I’m talking about ‘they deserved it’ mentality and slut-shaming and all those sorts of things, and you know what I’m saying? They’re disrespectful to men, too.

Dude, I KNOW that the primary victims of these patriarchal paradigms are women, but if we’re going to convince men that feminism – real feminism, not “femi-nazis”, not man-hating, not these things which are just as bad as patriarchy, only in reverse – no, real feminism – if we’re going to convince men that this is something they need to get on board with – and ladies, lest you think we can do it alone, never forget that while we make up about 50% of the population, so do men – we need, as a culture, to recognise why these ingrained narratives are damaging not just to women, but the whole of society.

Men are not brainless sheep. I have a husband who, shockly enough, is a man. While we don’t always see eye to eye on things, we have tremendous respect for each other and for each other’s opinions and individual lives. And my husband, whom I have been married to for seven years, whom I have been ‘with’ for over ten, whom I met and started dating at sixteen – sixteen! – has never, ever once touched me without my permission. Not once. Ever. Not before we were married; not after. Not when I was dressed in sweats, and not when I was dressed provocatively. Never. NOT. ONCE.

Please take a moment to absorb the implications of that.

My husband, you see, is not a brainless sheep. He is not a bundle of uncontrollable impulses, something that is triggered by the appearance of womanly flesh and cannot be reined in, denied, constrained. He has a mind, and willpower, and morals, and knowledge of right and wrong – and he understands – really, truly, deeply understands – that women – even beautiful, attractive, scantily-clad women – do not exist for his gratification.

Husband? I know you will never read this, but thank you. With all my heart, thank you.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for society. And I do mean society as a herd rather than individuals; I think most people in isolation are fundamentally decent (whether because I am an optimist or have a restricted circle of acquaintances, I leave to you :D). But the paradigm in which we’re operating is designed to bring out the worst in people. It’s a paradigm where someone can hit you in the face, and it can be your fault. It’s a paradigm that says humanity is foundationally brainless, that women are empty vessels and men are mindless urges.

This comes because I was reading Elizabeth Esther yesterday, and in a link-click-link spree, came across this:

Rick Warren came out and said that a battered woman was not allowed to leave or divorce her abusive husband. In the ensuing cries, he backpedaled and said a woman could leave her husband physically “in the heat of the moment,” (as if a man so crazed that he is beating his one-flesh partner whom he is supposed to honor and sacrifice his own life for would allow her to walk out on the beating) but must return when things have “cooled” and submit to his authority. At no time have I seen him following up with a statement, “Men, you cannot beat your wives for any reason. It is a sin and a crime.”

(Source).

I hope, if you’re reading my blog, you will find the above horrifying on many levels. Yes? Good. Actually, the source is a good article, discussing the recent phenomenon of prominent (male) Christian leaders going out of their way to emphasise the sexiness of their partner (wife), and how this is just wrong on so many levels (But it’s monogamous sexual objectification!! That’s practically Godly!). But the takeaway point for me was as above in that quote: while we are busy reminding young women not to ‘put themselves in risky situations’, society is doing very little by way of reminding young men that this kind of behaviour is not, actually, acceptible. We’re operating from the default position that men cannot control themselves and so it’s up to the women to remove all temptation, and if something goes wrong, well, we told you the boys couldn’t control themselves, what did you think was going to happen?

Men: our culture has been telling us for so long that you are the ones who deserve to be dominant because you’re smarter, stronger, faster, all the while pulling the rug out from under you, insidiously operating on the assumption that actually you’re just a bunch of dumb impulses. Society is lying to you, just like it’s lying to women. But now – now is your chance. Don’t buy into that crap. Of course you’re not a conglomeration of lusty, violent instinct; you’re an intelligent human being. I know. I married one of you. You can do this.

Dear Girls In Class, Round Two

Dear girls in class, who are currently discussing gender politics: I am so proud of you. As you sit there and realise for perhaps the first time the ways that social constructions of gender restrict us, I can almost feel your hearts and minds being opened. And the fact that, although we are studying women’s rights in a girls school, you are discussing how sorry you feel for boys who are socially constrained to being “Male”, while girls have options, makes me practically burst. You’re chatting casually about how unfair it is that girls have so many options for clothing, and yet boys can’t wear dresses, can’t wear skirts… You note that a man once told you he’d love to wear dresses because they look so comfortable, and you agree: yes, dresses are great! Cool in summer, so easily personalised, formal or casual with little effort – and yet boys are stuck wearing the same tux over and over to formal events. Wow, you realise: gender constructions suck for everyone.

You have big hearts, girls, and they are growing bigger. Thank you, thank you, for reminding me that this thing I do… it has purpose.

Thank you for being you.

Happy = Unrealistic

In response to Michelle’s fabulous post here.

Actually, I reject the notion that endings can be divided into ‘happy’ and ‘more realistic’. This is a topic of frequent debate at work (i.e. in the English faculty), because there are certainly those in the faculty who despite any kind of popular or populist fiction as ‘trashy’, those of use who take a more midline approach, and those of us who would be more than happy to teach Twilight for its literary merit. I am refraining from commenting on that one, because we are all entitled to our own opinions, but suffice to say I am in the midline group.

One of the most interesting characteristics that delineate the approximately two groups (teach only highbrow lit fic, and teach more accessible texts that have equal merit too) is that it more or less ends up being a discussion about teaching sad endings versus teaching happy endings. Many of the classics are quite bleak, and it is entirely possible to get through several years of schooling and not read a single happy ending.

Personally, I protest. WHY are sad, bleak or depressing endings more valuable than happy ones? One argument is that they are ‘more realistic’, but that entirely depends on whose reality you are living. I have ups and downs in my life, as we all do, but honestly, on balance, my endings are happy. I have a great job, a wonderful family, a lovely home… I am privileged and (by global comparison) wealthy. My endings are happy. A bleak book does NOT reflect my reality, not at all.

I’ve talked about this before – why I don’t believe in depressing fiction.

I’m not saying that we should abstain from sad, depressing endings. I’m not saying that endings should be saccharine. Personally, I find the most satisfying endings are the ones that are bittersweet, or the ones that are happy, but where the happy ending was hard-won. No, I’m pretty sure most people don’t have saccharine endings. No, I’m pretty sure that for most of the world, things do not just appear out of the blue to give you a happily ever after. Some people like those books, and that’s great – whether because the books are wish fulfilment, or because for a small minority they really truly do reflect their reality, it doesn’t matter. Some people like sad, bleak and depressing endings too, and while I’m pretty sure that’s not wish fulfilment, and I acknowledge that it’s the reality for a much larger percentage of the global population, it’s still not the norm for the average voracious western reader, which, let’s face it, is the target market for a ridiculously high percentage of these books.

Ultimately, I couldn’t care less which kind of ending you prefer. I am free to teach ‘happy books’ in my classes, and my colleagues are free to teach bleak fiction in theirs, and you as a reader are free to prefer whichever the heck kind of books you want to. But please: can we all stop pretending that happy endings are less realistic than bleak ones? Because for the majority of readers, that’s just not true.
Thanks.