In the discussions around gender we have gotten used to feminists making sweeping statements about men and men’s proclivities and tendencies – essentially claims to understand men’s psychology. You’ll see statements about how porn makes men rape, or how men commit DV as a means of maintaining patriarchy, or how men only want equal custody of their kids to get out of paying child support (although somehow that doesn’t explain why women want custody), how men cannot possibly ever have anything like real post-partum depression, on and on and on.
And the standard excuse given to support this mind-reading is that as the oppressed class, women have to know men better than men have to know women. There are a couple of factual problems with this; for one thing people don’t suddenly appear in the world as men or women, they come in as infants, and if power differentials are what drives who learns what about whom, then men who grow up under the thumb of women, both at home and in school, are going to know a lot more about women than girls will ever know men. But as a piece of theory the contention has a certain common-sense plausibility. The problem is that facts are stubborn things and they intrude again:
孫子曰 : 故曰知己知彼百戰不貽不知彼而知己一勝一負不知彼不知己每戰必貽
Sun Zi said: So it is said: If you know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will not be defeated. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory you will suffer a defeat. If you don’t know the enemy nor yourself, in every battle you must be defeated.
In other words, if X knows so much about Y, then Y will always prevail over X, and X can never oppress Y. This leaves feminism with a conundrum: either women understand men and men are therefore unable to oppress them, or men do in fact oppress women, proving that women do not understand them. This is the other factual problem with the contention.
And it’s no good to claim that you need numbers to prevail, that a minority may know its oppressor thoroughly yet never have the power to prevail. The first problem with that si that womenare not and have never been a miniorty, in any sense of the word. The second is that minorities rueel the world and have always ruled societies. We call them elites, and they know us to a fare-the-well, and have always been able to play us. After all, the 1% are only 1% of us.
So in fact you do see a lot of clueless guesses on the part of women about men. Of course men do the same WRT women, but this is the difference: the conventional wisdom is that women are inscrutable to men, the opposite of this meme we are discussing.
The Grass Is Always Invulnerable and Privileged On the Other Side – Here’s one that commenter Clarence alerted us to:
“I’d probably go out dancing at a bar — hoot and holler, have fun, dance, flirt, etc. Kiss and make out with someone and decide later if I wanted to have sex. This is something I don’t feel like I can do now — have to be on the lookout, for safety’s sake … make sure to leave before anyone gets too turned on or goes too far.”
(There’s some serious ignorance in that thread about trans people having “swapped genders”, but luckily none of those comments are pertinent here.)
We should all recognize this one from discussions on male privilege, how one aspect of male privilege is that men can just go anywhere without having anything to fear at all. The violent crime stats tell a different story, but apparently “lived experience” trumps everything, even when it’s not your experience and you haven’t lived it.
And here’s another.
No Homo – Do you know that insurance commercial – I can’t remember which company; it’s not very effective at getting me to remember that pretty important piece of information – the one where the guy is on the phone with his insurance agent or whoever the guy is and he’s asking if he can get this and that and the agent answers:
“Any time, day or night”
“Any time? Because that how I need it.”
“Any time, any way.”
“Yeah, that’s how I need it.”
“That’s how you’ve got it.”
“Hey, we just had ourselves a little moment there, didn’t we?”
“We sure did.”
And the guy switches suddenly to talking about some place crawling with chicks. By this time he’s wandered into the passage between the kitchen and the family room, where his wife is sitting, and she hears this and scowls.
The conversation sounds like phone sex. Did you see how the guys recovered just in time?
ATTN: Various commenters – thank you, debaser andDaisy – helpfully pointed out my complete muffing of a Journey reference. These guys are having a “Journey moment” (which to my mind just conifrms the need for the no-homo maneuver, but anyway…) But as dungone points out:
The two guys, realizing they accidentally stepped out of their rigid gender roles, start trying to reaffirm their masculinity. But the wife interprets it as womanizing behavior. And it doesn’t really matter that she just doesn’t get it, until she tries to imagine walking a mile in a guy’s shoe and imagines the bar scene out of Urban Cowboy.
He also agrees with me that they are so young that they probably don’t have a Journey moment to have together. That’s not the only thing the writers muffed; the bar they talk about is supposedly in Fresno. I admit Fresno has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, but they don’t look very plausibly Fresno either.
So anyway, my mom – 85 years of living with and among men, loves and respects men and has never had the slightest problem moving easily in all company – hates this commercial because she thinks the guy is being disrespectful to his wife, and he is. But she is missing the whole subtext of the conversation, the one that leads the guy to talk about the place swarming with chicks. (And I am quite sure she would not see the similarity to phone sex!)What do you do when the dreaded g-word is hanging in the air? You hurry up and say the straightest thing you can think of in that moment. Well, not everyone, apparently
It’s not obvious to my mom, and therefore probably not to very many women at all, because she has never had to worry about her femininity being challenged for looking like she was a little too interested in women. That’s not the kind of thing that makes you any less feminine or female in this culture, and the wide availability and demand for lesbian-themed straight porn shows that. Maybe women really do worry about that kind of thing, but their behavior doesn’t reflect that. What is a spectre that haunts every little boy well into old age has just never registered on her screen.
I just have to wonder how much women really know about what being a man is, what living as a man entails, what men really think and feel, why it’s a particularly big issue, big enough to fabricate some myth of superior insight about.
I don’t mean to say that we are walled off from each other in those bunkers of ignorance we call our egos. I do insist though that we respect our limits and not indulge in arrogantly assuming we know each other through and through, that we regard each other not as puzzles to be cracked and solved, but as mysteries to be experienced.
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