I recently observed a debate about women in STEM. It referred back to comments made by Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt that women in the lab “fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry”. The comments set off a firestorm as feminists condemned the comments, misogynists hailed them, and other conservatives stepped in to defend against the continued rise of the PC culture.
Before I get to the real purpose of this entry, I want to discuss that debate because it will translate into the real purpose. Those defending against the PC culture were right in some respect. Dr. Hunt meant what he said and caused no harm or threat to anyone, it really should not fall to others to police what he says. He was well within his rights to make those comments. Where criticism might fall is the impact of those comments coming from such an esteemed member of the STEM community might have on women.
Still, supporters of Dr. Hunt would rightly indicate that a professional, someone with a true passion for STEM, would not let Dr. Hunt’s comments dissuade them from pursuing their goals. Indeed, many women would not meet the definition set forth by Dr. Hunt and though he used generalised terminology in the statement I imagine he would agree that it does not reflect a universal truth. STEM can be harsh and people (not women, people) who can not handle harsh criticism have no real place in that field.
That is where I would redirect my criticism of the statement. The problem, in my opinion, is not that a Nobel Prize winner said this or the belief that women lack the thick skin to handle the criticism in the field – all of this occurred well after the problem – the problem is what feminists often summarise as “patriarchy”.
I have come to hate that term as it builds walls rather than bridges – it immediately implies to many that men are at fault and women are victims. I disagree with that. The patriarchy is not the fault of men and women are not victims. What I am referring to is expectation. Conservatives who would accuse me of being a leftist preoccupied with identity politics seem to miss this point of my writing: that I disagree with identity politics, but they exist and we must deal with them. Women and men experience life differently and some of those differences are natural; however, society imposes a great many of them.
Take this STEM example – women are too emotional to manage the heavily critical nature of the field. Women are naturally nurturing and supportive, so that sort of conflict becomes an impenetrable obstacle to success. I put it that women are not “naturally nurturing” though. Rather, a person is born and we immediately regard the infant as male or female (we even shove intersex children one way or the other) and assume a cisgender in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Those assumptions then colour every interaction with that infant. This little person who will develop a personality and preferences all their own, who has natural inclinations not yet discovered, will have roles imposed on him/her/them by society. What clothes they wear, what toys they play with, how we decorate their space in the home.
This is where the patriarchy becomes an issue. Men were the fighters and hunters in society, and much of early society formed around men. That is, the structure of society inherently favoured those cis male characteristics with respect to leadership. Even if society was not consciously misogynistic (though many were), we established one in which these characteristics were “male” and these were “female”. The “male” characteristics were the ones that translated to success in the society like power, assertiveness, and the like.
Now, I am not even proposing that we have to redefine the way we define that. We do want strong, assertive individuals in leadership positions (though compassion would not be lost on anyone). What I am proposing is that when we structure society like that, to continue imposing classic gender roles on infants is inappropriate. We teach young boys to be powerful, assertive, and the like. Those are boy characteristics. We teach young girls to be compassionate, nurturing, and the like.
So to those who say, “Women do not belong in STEM, they lack the skill to face criticism and succeed” I say, “Yes – we should be teaching women those skills from a young age”.
This goes out to all those men (and, generally, conservative women) who complain about double standards. When a man is violent society comes down hard on him, but women may only receive a stern warning. If boys fight at school the administration may send them home or suspend them. Girls may have no penalty. We do not consider (physical) fighting to be a feminine characteristic. If women fight it should be of a verbal nature, and a passive-aggressive one at that. These are gender expectations and they hurt everyone. They do not reflect our individuality; the reflect a social prejudice imposed on all of us.
So when we say to women, “How are you oppressed?”, that is the answer. Certain skills and characteristics are required to succeed in the society we built, and society only values teaching those skills and characteristics to men. Women can acquire them all the same, but we do a poor job even of informing young women that the option is available to them. This, I believe, is how we wind up in a situation where some see equality of opportunity while others do not. Technically, women do have equal opportunity. As we obfuscate that equality of opportunity through imposed gender expectation though, does that equality of opportunity actually exist? I argue no.
When I complain about the patriarchy, I am complaining about that specific aspect – gender roles assigned from birth that advantage males. The challenge is that those roles are not solely on the parents. The child will encounter those roles in every aspect of life – how teachers interact with them, how doctors treat them, how strangers become acquainted, and so on. Every little detail of life reinforces our expectation of “how a girl/woman should be”, presupposing certain outcomes and guiding them there.
While that unfolds for the women, something far more sinister may unfold for the men: toxic masculinity. This is where we take those “male” characteristics that equal success but see them go horribly wrong. One cannot stress enough that masculinity is not toxic. It is not abhorrent to be a “man’s man” – the criticism is not of that. The criticism is where men who failed to master those skills and characteristics attempt to tyrannise their way through.
These are your red pills, your incels, your pick-up artists, your men’s rights activists. These are men who believe one can manipulate women into sex if they do not consent willingly, that women owe them sex because they have been “nice guys” (or, worse yet, simply because they are men). These are men who genuinely believe that men are a superior gender tasked with running the show and the handmaids are here to fulfil a support purpose only. At the most extreme, these are men openly advocating violence and rape against women – that use threats to coerce compliance with their worldview.
And there is a strong correlation between these individuals and the far-right – the nationalists and the populists advocating white superiority and violence against other groups.
Men need to lean out as well.
Feminism has gone overboard – women are exhibiting an unfair degree of anger towards men and the social justice meted and doled as a result has reached intolerable levels. This is where I am siding with the feminists and attempting to reach out to other men: of course they are angry. Why shouldn’t they be angry?
One out of five college women in the United States will report a sexual assault this year. As just described, entire subcultures of men openly advocate rape and violence against them. Men write books about how to manipulate and coerce women into sex (which is not the same thing as consent – never was, never will be). Women come forward to report harassment and assault, but with the lack of hard evidence many never see trial and those that do rarely result in conviction. Those we have seen result in conviction do so with laughably inadequate penalties (looking at you Brock).
When women face harassment, threats, and violence, both sexual and physical, with the frequency we know it does occur, and there is minimal consequence for offenders, there will be anger. Righteous anger.
We need to own our roles in this and support women. That does not mean we need to prostrate ourselves before them and beg forgiveness for our privilege before we can interact with women, but we do need to recognise it. We need to prepare ourselves to check it at times. We all need to learn and grow in order to progress as individuals. We need to grow to the point that identity politics such as whether someone is male, female or non-binary becomes irrelevant.
No doubt, some reading this view this as lip service. The author is a male giving into the social pressure of feminism because the alternative means penalties in life and work. No liberal wants to be cast out from the PC, social justice community and seen as one of the villains, right?
I will not do that – I will take a lead by taking a risk. I am not perfect and I will share with you now concrete examples of the sort of thing that we as men need to start owning in order to make those improvements. I am not “Us” and you are not “Them”. We need to hold all people accountable in order for this to work, and just as Northerners have used the South as scapegoats to obfuscate their own racism, so too have liberal men demonstrated a misunderstanding of feminism (e.g. Schneiderman). We cannot defend feminism publicly as a means of concealing the ways in which we fail to live up to those standards.
Sitting in the break room while several female colleagues were conversing, I said to one of them, “You should smile more. You’re so pretty when you smile” – a familiar refrain to many men because it sounds like a compliment. That is how I viewed it at the time, and the day passed without incident. I learned later through interactions with my friends how that actually sounds though. “Your physical attractiveness is of paramount importance to me, and I expect you to smile to maximise that”. I gave her no reason to smile. I stated, all too plainly, that I wanted her to smile to appear more attractive around me; that she should adjust her mood arbitrarily to satisfy my expectations. That is unacceptable.
For years I subscribed to a traditional view of chivalry. I had to prove myself to women through noble acts. If I found myself attracted to a woman, I found myself hoping for to wander into unfortunate circumstances from which I could “rescue” her. I do not mean the life-and-limb sort of situation, but some difficulty where I could race in with a solution. The practice was harmless because no real harm would befall her – the point was that I would step in before that ever happened. The cognitive dissonance there should be evident.
Quick aside – again, this refers to the patriarchal problem from earlier. I develop a crush, someone ties her to the railroad tracks, and I swoop in and rescue her. That is how she realises the benefit of having me around and of her love for me. Note that in these hypothetical situations of rescue, the thing from which we rescue the damsel is generally another man. Therein we find the roots of toxic masculinity – I’m not the evil one; I’m the protector from the evil ones and you, my fair lady, are the prize for my efforts. Specious and opioid – they satisfy our insecurities by providing a superficial sense of identity to match the gender expectation pushed on us since birth.
I have asked out both waitresses and baristas on dates in the past. Why? Because they were nice to me in the course of doing their job; they seemed into me because they smiled and showed a modicum of kindness. This goes far beyond making a fool of myself though – spare a thought for those employees. I approached them at their place of employment, 1) a place where I knew I could find them on a regular basis, 2) from which they had little recourse to leave, and 3) in which their job security depends largely on customer service. Those are all formidable challenges in a situation such as the one I presented, where I expressed my interesting in going out on a date and then politely thanked them for their time after accepting the rejection. However, women routinely experience severe responses in these situations. “I’ve gotten hotter women than you”, “You’re probably a lesbian”, or, in some cases, threats of violence. Putting a woman in that corner is grossly irresponsible, and I wish I had realised that earlier in my life.
To a lesser degree, the behaviour of my male classmates has long upset me (speaking generally). I despised the way some of them interacted and spoke with my female classmates. Sure, we can write most of it off as inexperienced young men struggling to make sense of their new hormones (of course, going back to the patriarchy again, if society taught young men healthier ways to deal with it instead of “boys will be boys”….). At any rate, my response was to withdraw. I simply did not go to parties or hang out with people. Out of sight, out of mind. No, I should have been asserting myself with my peers, confronting their behaviour. I should have advocated for why their behaviour, like some of the other situations I described, was detrimental. I failed to be an ally in anything more than words.
With more than one girlfriend I was guilty of mansplaining. I still catch myself doing it at times. A woman mentions a problem and I feel a reflexive need to start offering my perspective on it. It wasn’t until one of my girlfriends started catching me with, “Yes, I know that. I’m just sharing what happened” that I began to realise my impulse (with women – not with men) was to assume that she lacked the ability to resolve the issue. You know that coworker who comes to you with a question and you know he is rather dense, so it’s far easier to just do whatever it is? We all have/had those colleagues. Now imagine you treat all women like that coworker. In my head I was offering (needed) help; in her mind I was showing an utter lack of respect. She was right. I never offer unsolicited help to those I consider capable, and yet with women I defaulted to “not capable” even with those I admired. That was a problem, and while I have improved I know I continue to slip. It remains an ongoing, conscious effort.
My gut reaction with women generally involves appearance, too. With men I do have a cursory reaction to their appearance, but not an evaluation of attractiveness. With men the aesthetic evaluation only serves as a threat assessment: does this person look angry or appear to be hiding something? If there is no obvious threat, I proceed to gather more information and make a determination about their character – intelligence, kindness, and so on.
With women, I find myself inextricably focused on something physical. She might be saying to me, “I’m sorry, did you say Tall or Grande?” but my mind is thinking, “She has really pretty eyes”. This spills over into the other problems as well – I am far more inclined to mansplain to women I find attractive. My mind stops evaluating the situation objectively and defaults to “you should probably try to help. Good people help others and this person has a problem”. If a woman is less attractive to me, I find it far easier to pause with “Is she asking for help or just support? Does she need my advice or is she venting about a problem she is solving herself?” – you know, the way one human should respond to another.
This is not to say that I am averse to appreciating aesthetics. I find women beautiful, and some more than others. That is also true of men though. The difference is that with men it does not monopolise the thought process. I can look at myself in the mirror, think, “Eh, good enough”, and go about my day; I can watch an Avengers movie, think, “Jesus, Hemsworth – that’s not even fair”, and move on with the film. With women it can preoccupy. I confess, colleagues stop by my desk to ask questions and with some there is a distinct sense of anticipation. “So-and-so is stopping by – she always smells nice”. “So-and-so needs help – I like her chic fashion sense”.
The trouble is that so-and-so paid her way through college to earn a degree in project management. The reason she stopped by for help is that she need my expertise to extract data on clinical trials pertaining to the twenty studies she manages, supervising a small team. My attention is not on her work ethic or intelligence – just her fashion sense. The thoughts are not distracting or perverse, and we conduct business professionally – no harassment or assault. I am a mature adult who can handle being around attractive women without losing control (it’s a bullshit excuse, guys). However, I know that instinctive reaction leaves much to be desired.
If a male colleague approached, my entire focus would be on his capability. “So-and-so is stopping by – I bet he’s having trouble with query parameters again”. Not once have I thought, “So-and-so is stopping by. Hopefully he’s wearing that blue polo again”.
Women have a visceral appeal to me as a heterosexual cis male, but that appeal should not prevent me from interacting with them as people first. I have learned over time to check down that impulse, to insert a conscious pause before my interaction with another person just to remind myself, “Kind, courteous, and respectful – evaluate their skill and their needs, respond appropriately”. The issue is less about the presence of the thoughts and more about the primacy of them. Time and place. Consent and personal agency. These are simple concepts to master.
I grew up playing sports. Male teammates have slapped my ass in congratulatory or celebratory fashion. Not once has that happened at a place of employment because we know that sort of behaviour doesn’t belong in a professional setting. One can find a barista attractive and want to ask her out, but cornering her at her place of employment is not the way to do it. The point is not to sanitise love, courtship, or intimacy – the point is to make it equal and respectful. Our traditional sense of masculinity and its relationship to those things fails us regularly.
I accept anger directed my way by women. They have a long history of facing harassment, threats, and violence from men. They have equally long histories of seeing no one held accountable for it, of being told what they are doing wrong in those situations. Dress a certain way, behave a certain way, only go to certain places if you do not want to encounter those issues. Boys will be boys, so don’t act surprised when the rattlesnake bites.
Men need to rescue women. From who? Other men.
What about our omnipresent social joke about the boy coming to pick up the girl for a date to find dad waiting with a gun? It’s funny because dad’s overprotect their daughters from young men who are all predatory pricks trying to get in her pants.
The traditional masculine culture is a self parody, a paradox. It self references all of the violence the feminists reference when they discuss patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Women don’t enter into that worldview as other people. They are objects to possess, destroy, or let alone entirely. The most noble aspects of masculinity aim to protect women from the worst aspects of masculinity – yes, I am arguing that we need to let go of some of the beneficial aspects because the corollary is the depraved lows.
That starts with owning up to our failures, of which we all have some. Women need to see accountability from men in order to heal the divide. They are angry. That is an emotional response that does not need validation from anyone else. Something happened, it affected them in a way that made them angry. That is all the truth we need. Decent human beings respond to those situations by addressing the underlying cause, or, at the very least, owning it. Men do not want to change their behaviour – accept that it angers women and this blow back will occur. Continuing with this behaviour and telling women to get over their anger, our current option, is insulting, condescending, and disrespectful.
In closing, we inevitably come back to the usual leftist complaint: stop forcing your view on me. Yes, that is the entire point here: not to force worldviews on others. Every person should have maximum freedom to exist, to live, and to pursue happiness in America. Where we draw the line is where the freedom of one infringes on those of another. That is the line we are discussing. You may feel that men are superior; you may simply feel that women are overreacting and traditional masculinity is fine.
Here is the distinction. The feminist worldview, that women should have an equal opportunity, does not affect you in the slightest. Apply to whatever jobs you wish, date who you wish, and so forth. The traditional masculinity worldview results in harassment, threats, and violence (of both a physical and sexual nature) against women. Women are not victims, but they have been victimised in a tragically real sense.
This is not millennial entitlement – “I wanted something and did not immediately get it”. This is, “One of my classmates ignored my ‘No’ and continued persuading me into sex until I finally felt so pressured that I relented because it felt like the only safe way to escape the situation. I was put at risk for disease and a pregnancy that I did not want, a pregnancy for which I would bear full responsibility to live a certain way and care for the foetus because the same people espousing these traditional views of gender are also stripping away my access to healthcare. Boys will be boys and all of the responsibility falls to loving, nurturing, complacent me” – a handmaid.
“I am a man’s man and I’ve never harassed or assaulted anyone”. Good for you – though harassment is experienced by the other person without regard to intent, so really you’ve only never been accused of it. I have never been accused of it myself, and do not believe I have. This is not a condemnation of men but of that masculinity. While you may have succeeded in navigating the sexual minefield, many men are failing horribly. The consequences are real and severe.
We need to hold ourselves accountable, we need to hold other men accountable in a constructive way – that does not mean beating the crap out of men who step over the line. All that does is fuel the machismo/bravado/ego fire with more of it. Be a “man’s man”, but do it respectfully and with accountability. We do not need a single definition of masculinity to which all men must abide – that is swapping one gender expectation for a new one. We still have the same sexist crap to deal with in that situation. We need a world of mutual respect and equality of opportunity in which people are free to be who they are, to live free, and to pursue happiness.
That begins with learning to identify and atone for our past mistakes as we grow and move forward.