Opening a can of worms.
Sexual difference is probably the issue in our time which could be our ‘salvation’ if we thought it through.Luce Irigaray
As I sit down to write this blog post for what is now the second time I can’t help but hesitate. It might just be the lingering pain of having had my 1600 word blog post fail to save that’s got me hesitating to put word to page. It’s true, after losing over two hours of work I wasn’t overly excited to start over.
But no. There is something far deeper keeping me from putting my thoughts out there.
You see, of all the topics out there, few court controversy in the same way debates over gender differences and feminism do. Quite rightly, this is an extremely important topic to many, and lots hold very strong beliefs in regards to what “feminism” should be.
To make matters worse, there is a relative stigma held against individuals such as myself having a say. You see, not so surprisingly, women don’t tend to like having men tell them how they should feel! Who’d have thought…
For the most part, I can understand this. A large part of the feminist movement is about taking control. This control isn’t merely practical in nature. No. It’s academic as well. It’s discursive. A large part of the feminist movement looks to providing a voice to the voiceless. Men have been the authors of our societal discourse for a long time, and through feminism we aim to see this status quo relinquished.
It is as Luce Irigaray states,
If we continue to speak this sameness, if we speak together as men have spoken for centuries, as they taught us to speak, we will fail each other.Luce Irigaray, When Our Lips Speak Together
A large part of feminism is replacing our masculine language, with a new feminine tongue. For too long, the female identity has been trapped within a damaging male discourse. You may be wondering…
Why the sudden talk of politics? Isn’t this blog about mental health? Can’t you get off that soap box?
Well, since its origins, the role of the unconscious has been entangled within our conceptions of gender. Many of the symptoms that plague us in later life, can emerge from struggles of gender and identity. So feminism, a movement driven by these very things has a significant impact on the mental health of us all. In fact, any movements that shift the way things are discussed within society will have a knock on effect upon our wellbeing.
Don’t believe me? Look back to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.
For Lacan, an individual’s psyche is formed in a delicate dance between our desires, physical reality and the symbolic order of our language.
The symbolic order, for those not cool enough to stay up late flicking through Lacan’s Ecrits, is the system of linguistics and societal relations in which we find ourselves. It is the rules of society. It is language.
This can be seen as a growth from Sigmund Freud who coined the super-ego: the part of our unconscious in which ethics and moral understanding take shape. Lacan expanded upon this by linking it explicitly to those around us. Our subjectivity, is formed within the inter-subjectivity of those around us.
So when Luce Irigaray talks of speaking “sameness”, she is referring to the female identity being formed within a language created by men. Obviously, this isn’t great, and has had some less than desirable outcomes.
So up to this point, you can probably imagine I am very pro-feminism and would support most feminist movements. But well…
There have been numerous movements in recent years railing against what has been dubbed, toxic masculinity.
For example, the #metoo movement. This, according to Wikipedia, is “a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault“. It involved numerous women sharing the hashtag “#metoo” alongside descriptions of their experiences. There are obvious benefits to this.
It fights the stigma around women’s perceived weakness over their victim-hood and allows them to feel safe in opening up about their experiences. As a result, issues long hidden within our society were brought to the surface and can now be dealt with accordingly.
Another such movement, is the #menaretrash movement. Similar to the #metoo movement, this one sees its origins in South Africa. It was a rallying cry for the female victims of domestic violence within the country. Again, it brought to light a huge issue and has opened the door to change.
This has spread from South Africa – thanks in large part to twitter – and has grown into a global movement. Whilst often focused on violence specifically, it has now been expanded in many cases to look at all forms of toxic masculinity in society. Basically, it’s a big old arrow pointing at all the ways us men continue to be shit.
And believe me… There are a lot!
So again! What’s my issue?
This is the part where many similar arguments would simply state that such a movement relies on sweeping generalisations. That millions of good men can’t be held accountable for the bad ones out there. I could even make oversimplified, straw-man arguments, such as saying how saying #menaretrash, would be no different to creating a #muslimsaretrash in response to the treatment of women within Sharia law, or to terrorism. It would ignore the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are fantastic, loving individuals and blame the many, for the sickening actions of the few.
Whilst this can be argued – you can argue anything – it is overly defensive, childish, and you may simply retort that it ignores the obvious, unspoken acceptance that not all men are in fact trash.
My issue goes far deeper. My issue is that, such a dialogue creates an unhealthy atmosphere for men and women alike. We have already concluded that the dialogues around us have an important role in the formation of our identity. Well, what effect does a discourse in which #menaretrash, and repeatedly shown as the enemy, have on their wellbeing?
There seems to be a growing identity of the woman as a victim, and of men as having it easy. In her article, What Women Mean When We Say ‘Men Are Trash’ Salma El-Wardany declares that,
By that I mean, women have been playing with ideas and constructs of womanhood and girlhood since we popped out of the womb and were shoved in a pink blanket. We have constantly grappled with our gender […] On the other side of the spectrum, boys were never asked, ‘what type of man will you be?’Salma El-Wardany
Such a statement shows a staggering lack of empathy. Men suffer greatly from toxic masculinity, just as women do. Whilst it may not be in the physical sense, they do internally. The ONS found that three quarters of all suicides in 2018 were from men.
There is a mental health epidemic when it comes to men.
Not only have they grown in a society trying to match up to some unobtainable idea of masculinity, and live up to the pressures that all that entails, they are now being attacked for being what society has told them they should be.
Talk about psychological whiplash. Fucking hell!
You think I’m exaggerating, El-Wardany even says,
masculinity is in transition and it’s not moving f**king fast enoughSalma El-Wardany
I’m sorry if we haven’t been unpicking decades of cultural reinforcement fast enough, if we haven’t re-calibrated our very conceptions of our identities as soon as you would like. It is no wonder men are lost.
They are not being guided, not being given a new discourse. They are merely told that everything they thought they should be is rubbish.
For men to truly change in a healthy manner, they need a discourse – an identity to latch onto. They need more than an attack on what has come before. It is for this reason I believe #menaretrash is counterproductive. If you attack them, and they feel lost, they are more likely to double down on what they know. They may lash out more, or, in some cases fall into mental illness.
Healthy identities cannot be formed in a discourse of battle. Of us and them. For men to truly become better, we need to change the conversation. We need a dialogue built upon empathy between the sexes.
It is for this the reason I strongly believe successful feminism cannot be the domain of women only. We need a new feminism. A union between the genders, a language from both sides.
Before I finish, I would like to share a speech I have long found inspiring:
I understand some may disagree with me and that is fine. I am not trying to make excuses for men, or say that there isn’t lots for us still to do. Far from it. We have so much left to do.
I just believe that….
Telling us off might not be the answer.
But instead that talking. Really talking. Might just be a start.
All the best,