Monday, January 2, 2012

What Are Feminists Allowed To Love About Men?

Today, an interesting article came up on my reader. Specifically, the issue of male objectification. Yes, you read that right. Here's the full, original article. What I find so interesting about this is hashed out a little more in the follow-up post.

How can men and women be appreciated, as a class, without being objectified?

DavidByron hits the nail on the head in his comment to the response article: "Honestly I am not sure what sort of qualities or reasons I *would* like to be appreciated for. It’s a tough topic."

Yes, yes it is a tough topic. When I first read the list, I was agape at that list being published on a relatively feminist blog. The basic definition of objectification is to treat something as an object, that is, with no due attention to it's desires, but rather, to be used for the benefit of the objectifier. This is said of men who leer at pretty young girls, they're not taking into account the fact that the girl is a person, too, they simply appreciate her for her sexual quality as one might appreciate a car for it's sleekness. Reading the list, this was very clear objectification.

Now, let me be the first to say that a year ago, I would've loved this list. Most menpeople seem to have no idea what objectification is and why it's bad, or at least can't see it from any perspective but their own. Men understand what objectification is when it comes to a "gold-digger" trying to use them for their money, that much is sure, even if they wouldn't use the term. In fact, in my younger days, I specifically harped on objectification as an example of female privilege, I felt like the ability to be seen like that was undoubtedly an advantage. While there are a few examples of how being overly sexualized can be beneficial (see: Women who can get out of a traffic ticket by showing a little tit), those examples are vastly trumped by the day-in-day-out damages of objectification: the lack of people taking you seriously, even people amongst your own gender, rape culture, and so on.

Regardless, part of why I came to start studying feminism is because I realized that my social perception of what it means to be a man was flawed, my perceptions were entirely in the box. Even though I couldn't articulate it, I knew it was flawed. I, and I imagine many men who browse sites like The Good Men Project, wish to be more than strong backs, more than chivalrous do-gooders. In fact, I suspect many of us want to escape that.

So how can men be complimented as a group without objectification?

The trick is to focus on the nature of why objectification is bad. Compliments like "Nice ass" leave no doubt as to why the suitor thinks highly of the young woman's ass. Because of the aesthetic pleasure he receives from gazing longingly at it. In other words, her being attractive isn't about her desires, it's about his. He makes it about him. In this sense, compliments about the good in men shouldn't be about what they do for women, but rather, should be about a more independent concept of virtue.

For example, Neely writes: "I love the shape of a man’s big, strong back when he leans over to pick up something heavy." This could be better phrased as "I love the muscle-bound, rough and utile bodies of men". The compliments seem similar, but the first one implies that she's sitting there watching her man of choice sweat and grunt and lift things - for her. Or for somebody. She's admiring him because of how he looks while he's doing things for other people. Commenting on the basic nature of men's bodies as a product of nature is more of a compliment, since they get to the very heart and reality of what it means to be a man. Nature gifts men with muscles during puberty that they didn't possess in nearly the same quantity as they had before. That's a compliment that isn't directed at "How are men useful to me?", but is rather oriented towards "What's cool about men in a general sense?"

What is important to realize, however, is that Neely walked into this with pure intentions. Feminists have a way of seeming rather dark on men in general, and Neely was trying to show the men of GMP that they're wanted and welcomed, even despite the (sometimes) unwelcoming language. To this end, I thank her.

Truth be told, though, the compliment I was really hoping for was "Thanks for respecting our need for safe spaces and trying to dismantle your own privilege". I know I'm far from perfect in either of those, but it's harder than it looks.


  1. Thanks for creating this great blog, Adam. Your posts are so well-worded and thought out. It's refreshing to see a...calm yet strong opinion on these issues.
    I especially liked your post about how women's issues and men's issues are intertwined; that you cannot end the objectification/suppression of women without first releasing men from the "man-box." (you may like this: As a woman, I have no idea what it would be like to be a man, but it seems like keeping up with the role of masculinity would be incredibly stressful and aggravating.
    I look forward to reading more of what you post! :D

  2. Thanks Kim! I just watched the video, it was excellent. Pretty much everything he said resonated with me. I'm thankful I never had to deal with a situation like the one he described, but I'm pretty sure that every man has some awful stories in his past related to the subject. I was inspired to create a blog because I feel like there needs to be more space to discuss the male role in the movement, so expect more things like that. I'm not nearly eloquent enough to really add to the community as concerns women's issues, although I'll try to take it on when I can.

    Anyways, thanks, and please feel free to give me any feedback. I'm still new to this, so any advice or suggestions are liable to be taken very seriously!