@AbsurdistWords had some powerful things to say on Twitter on Thursday about toxic masculinity and the ways we rob men of healthy tools for processing and expressing emotion. (I highly encourage everyone to read his TL for some great insights; the conversation was storified here.) While he’s right to say that men need to fight this cultural norm from within, I have been thinking for awhile about how feminists inadvertently perpetuate some of the very toxic ideas we despise.
When the “men’s rights activists” came out with their #NoHymenNoDiamond campaign and the “Men Going Their Own Way” (MRAs who have sworn off women due to their disgust with feminism) got another wave of attention recently, I was troubled by many of the social media comments I saw from women who I know consider themselves feminists:
- Derisive comments about the appearance of the men in the articles (“Look at that guy! He’s a real loss to women everywhere. /sarcasm”)
- Penis jokes or jokes about sexual inexperience (implying sexual incompetence or outright accusing the MRAs of having small penises)
- Fatphobic statements about any men who don’t fit the conventional body-size attractiveness standard
I see this stuff on Twitter all the time, too, as women respond to trolls with things like “I bet you have a one-inch penis” and “I bet you’ve never actually met a woman.” And so on.
Let me be absolutely clear: This is not a post about how women can prevent harassment or make things better for ourselves online. Harassment is wrong. It’s inexcusable. No comment from a woman justifies a rape threat or death threat or other abuse. It is not our job to protect ourselves from a system designed to oppress us; it is the job of the oppressors to change. But we can only strengthen our fight by applying our values consistently, and this is one hell of an inconsistency.
When we say that a man who claims to hate women is hardly a loss because he’s unattractive, we’re saying that unattractive people are worth less than attractive people, and we’re saying that if the man was attractive, we would be more inclined to be sympathetic to his bigotry.
When we say something similar about a fat man, we negate the work we’ve done (and undermine the work still to be done) to fight fatphobia and promote body positivity. If the worst thing you can say about an anti-feminist or troll is that he is fat, your critical thinking skills need some work.
My biggest pet peeve of all is the penis jokes and snarking about lack of sexual experience. A male friend said to me recently that from his perspective, women seem to claim to not care about penis size, but then turn around and make jokes with their friends that imply the opposite. I suspect it’s much like the experience women have with body positivity: men claim to like women of all body types, but the cultural narrative sets a very specific beauty standard, and the men in our lives often support it without thinking when they comment on a woman’s weight gain or make “thin” the ultimate compliment or imply that fat women are inherently unhealthy.
Studies show that penis size is far less important to women’s sexual satisfaction than men believe it to be. Furthermore, we all know that bodies vary and not all vaginas are the same; bigger is not always better and sex is more than just penetration. And we know that equating sexual experience with men’s value promotes the idea that women are conquests, even property—the cornerstone of toxic masculinity. So let’s show it, and swear off these horrible implications that large penis equals value equals the right to harass women.
If we want to support men in moving beyond toxic masculinity—and we should, since it is the engine of the patriarchy and it comes from a fear and hatred of femininity—we need to stop reinforcing the messages we hate. Attractiveness is not value. Body size is not value. Sexual ability is not value. No one, conventionally attractive or unattractive, has the right to be a bigot. And for Furiosa’s sake, no more penis jokes.
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