Stumbled upon this peculiar article on Slate – “Cry Me a River (of White Male Tears)”:
What starts off as a run of the mill music piece about a new album by the Dirty Projectors miraculously transforms, as so many things do these days, into a cultural commentary instead. It seems this breakup album is no mere breakup album – this breakup album represents something greater. Apparently, the author believes that men no longer have the right to make art that reflects their life experience because patriarchy, or something.
Eventually, the author concludes that the album simply had to be a work of insightful self-criticism and not “fits of heartbroken pique that have long inspired male songwriters” because apparently that’s the only way the woke critic could justify still enjoying the band. It was impossible that a bepenised individual dwelling in the year 2017 could have the temerity to write an earnest album about his romantic feelings, because other bepenised individuals have historically acted in less-than-desirable ways.
The article left me wondering, when did men crying become a mockable offense among feminists? How did “male tears” become an insult? Why are men’s feelings and their heartbreak being held up for ridicule? And why is this even a little bit cool?
Slate investigated and attempted to justify the rising trend a couple years back. But I’m confused. I don’t think this trend is funny at all and in fact, as a feminist, if an unorthodox one, I actually find it inherently patriarchal.
Patriarchy is not only harmful to women, it’s harmful to men as well. We are all victims of the messed-up system we inherited, regardless of our gender. Women may be oppressed in a patriarchal culture, but men suffer too. They suffer under the burden of impossible expectations that they can never live up to. Men are sold a bill of goods by society in which they must be always strong, ready for a fight, sexually active and aggressive; they must never show emotion (other than anger, that is), even the slightest lack of of skill in traditionally male pursuits, or even a hint of weakness.
Failing to live up to this hypermasculine archetype means a guy is less than a real man. He’s a loser, a flop, a dud. A beta. The concept is generally referred to as toxic masculinity. Successfully achieving manhood in this kind of environment is undoable. Maleness is an unattainable ideal, a goal that is forever out of reach. It’s as impossible to achieve as being 36-24-36, a madonna, a whore, winner of both a major beauty pageant and also the NFL’s Punt Pass and Kick competition, and senior vice president of a Fortune 500 company is for women. Many feminists would agree that toxic masculinity is ubiquitous and harmful and we would all benefit from redefining the word “masculine” in a healthier and more inclusive way.
The argument can certainly be made that the fight against toxic masculinity all too often becomes a fight against masculinity itself, painting innocuous male behavior as sinister and unnatural, and that, in and of itself, is toxic and anti-male.
But let’s set that legitimate criticism aside to focus on the “Male Tears” trend itself. Using feminism’s own set of self-stated values, is belittling the emotions of men compatible with its greater philosophy?
Feminism itself says toxic masculinity is a bad thing. I accept that as being at least partly true. If so, if toxic masculinity is a slow poison that is eating away at our culture from the inside out even if just a little, then why on earth would anyone who identifies as a feminist delight in jokes that perpetuate it? How would being shamed for expressing sorrow and pain help anyone to become more tolerant, more understanding, more sensitive to the needs of others? Why would any feminist ever mock male sensitivity as weakness? Isn’t bashing men for being too emo simply promoting the toxic notion that the strong, silent, Marlboro-Man type of guy is the only viable way to be a real man? Doesn’t that just reinforce patriarchy?
Wouldn’t any reasonable feminist expect that men, with their stereotypical eggshell-frail male egos and all that, would respond negatively to jokes that belittle their emotional vulnerability? Or am I overthinking this? Making too much out of some harmless ribbing?
Hey, I get irony and self-deprecating humor. I myself enjoy a good sammich joke and I’m also a terrible driver. Used judiciously, humor can be a weapon in the arsenal for gender equality because it enables folks to share a congenial laugh about how silly prejudice really is while at the same time acknowledging that yeah, both genders have our adorable foibles and that’s ok, our differences are what we like about each other. But if you want to poke fun at others, you’d best be able to take a joke yourself. I find it hypocritical in the extreme for feminists to make anti-male jokes considering that many of them are perpetually offended over nothing and couldn’t recognize a joke if it walked up and groped them in an overly familiar way.
Beyond that, while I find most sexist jokes men tell are telling come from a place of affection for women, the reverse isn’t always true. At least some of the women that poke fun at male tears would admit freely that they don’t even LIKE men. They think men’s suffering is actually funny, because they think men deserve to suffer. That’s not humor, that’s ugliness with a punchline.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that women are actually wanting to milk males for their delicious tears, or that they think men should be rounded up and exterminated (yet) or whatever quirky proclamation they have imprinted upon their t-shirts in faux-cross stitched letters. But a passive-aggressive dig is not a joke. It’s meant to send a message, and the message is this: Dudes, toe the line, STFU, and if you don’t like it, tough. Cry all ya want, we don’t care about ur feelz. Your day is done, we don’t need you any more, the extinction of the white male is upon us, and males of other races, you’re next. Maybe we’ll call you if we have a flat tire or a spider is in need of killing. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
It’s not nice. Beyond not being nice, it’s dreadful strategy in the long term.
Mocking people for what they ARE, even if you claim to be doing it lightheartedly, doesn’t win you converts. It turns off potential allies (like me) who find your “humor” unnecessary, divisive, and distasteful. It makes your position weaker and your influence smaller. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that when there’s a legitimate case to be made, reasonable people make it with good sense and inclusive humor instead of stupid, unfunny jokes that dehumanize an entire gender…especially when your raison d’etre is to protest the dehumanization of an entire gender. And good thing it doesn’t, since everyone knows there are very few female rocket scientists.
Perhaps predictably, this unfortunate trend appears to have advanced beyond comical mugs about tears and misandry book clubs into jokes about things that even good-natured men tend to take a little more personally. Over the last few months I’ve repeatedly seen self-IDed feminists making dick-size jokes and suggesting that any men who disagree with them politically have probably never seen a vagina:
You people have literally never seen a vagina, have you? https://t.co/8QcwJtRgsO
— Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) March 1, 2017
I really, really think it's a weak argument that is beneath us as feminists to attack men on dick size and sexual prowess. https://t.co/HuDX5bzIVY
— atomickristin (@atomickristin) February 25, 2017
When I took exception to one of these remarks on Twitter – because I find it awful that any woman, let alone a supposed feminist, would ridicule a man over lack of sexual experience and/or prowess – a wise acquaintance pointed out that it’s a pretty dumb idea for feminists to contribute in any way to the notion that men’s self-worth is directly related to their sexual access. The idea that women are laughing at men’s feeble attempts to engage in intercourse and judging them harshly for being sexually inexperienced is downright radioactive. It feeds straight into the claims of some self-professed men’s rights activists – that women are vicious, scheming, emasculating manipulators who use denial of sex as a weapon and that most women deserve to be taken down a peg in one way or another. This dubious philosophy may have encouraged the actions of Santa Barbara mass murderer Elliot Rodger.
If we want a world where men relate to their fellow human beings with sensitivity and vulnerability and compassion, to define themselves by things other than a long line of sexual conquests and ostentatious displays of wealth and violence, it would seem to be a no-brainer to forgo merciless teasing about their tears and the size of their penises. This is an integral part of feminism. Feminists should not be contributing to a culture of toxic masculinity, not even ironically or in jest. Even if only for our own self-preservation. The women who are pulling this crap remind me of the Looney Toon where this cute little kitten is standing on the back of a giant bulldog and kneading it with its claws. The dog is mean-looking, but really kind, so he tolerates the pain because he loves the kitten. He would do anything for that kitten. He would lay down his life for that kitten. That dog is a good friend to have.
I’ve only seen my husband, who is very strong, and very silent, cry twice. One time was when he got a $600 traffic ticket, and once was when the cat had to be put to sleep. By cried, I mean, his voice cracked and he blinked a few times. I’ve never seen him actually shed a tear. He didn’t cry when his own father got a terminal illness and died. He didn’t talk about his emotions during that time, or even acknowledge that he was having any. He just got angry all the time, about everything. Despite being a good man and a fine person, he became very difficult to live with for a while. Would it have helped if he’d felt more comfortable expressing his emotions to me, to his parents, or even just to himself? His emotions came out in one way or the other. Maybe it would have been better if he’d felt freer to express the sadness he was experiencing instead of turning it into anger.
The implication of “male tears,” carried to its logical conclusion, is that men who are sensitive and caring and vulnerable are “betas” and not to be respected. Men’s feelings are ridiculous. Strike that, real men don’t even have feelings. Everyone knows real men are an amalgamation of motor oil, Doritos, rage, and pornography. They don’t cry, they punch walls and smash beer cans against their foreheads. If even the feminists agree that male emotion is a sign of weakness, an indication that a guy is less-than, where does that leave men – real, human men who do on occasion experience sorrow and pain? Where does that leave any of us?
I think we, as women, as feminists, should go back to celebrating the gentle, sensitive dude. Not only for the sake of the gentle, sensitive dudes of the world, not only for our own self-interest as women, but also for the mostly-always-tough guys who care about us and need our support, not our disdain. Those guys who are out there protecting us and taking care of us in ways that we don’t even realize sometimes. I appreciate those guys. I don’t want them to feel like they always have to carry their load alone.
One of the fundamental elements of feminism is the notion that just because things have always been this way, doesn’t mean they always need to be this way. There’s probably something biologically ingrained and natural in masculine and feminine stereotypes. But that doesn’t mean that we have to indulge them to the nth degree. At the very least, feminists shouldn’t indulge them! Feminists, you should know better.
Image by bixentro