Why I Don’t Say “But Patriarchy Hurts Men Too!”

Washington, DC  (TFC) – Most of us have heard this little bit of phrasing at some point in our lives. What does it mean? What does it imply? How does it affect us? How are men being hurt? When men find themselves to be victim of some kind of injustice, it is not because they are men, rather they are impoverished, disabled, a person of color, etcetera. Either that or they are subjected to what I call oppressive recoil.
There is no social power hierarchy that exists without some level of bite-back. This recoil is not the expected and justified retaliation of oppressed groups (I will not cover that), but rather a self-inflicted sacrifice for a more ultimate cause. If there are not enough active enforcers of submission, the oppressed may rise up in defiance. Enforcers are essential for hierarchies to exist. Not every member of the oppressor/privileged class must be an enforcer. Regardless of aggressive status, members of the oppressor class maintain the benefits from the actions of the more aggressive individuals of their shared class to which society places them. As long as enough fear exists to prevent the oppressed class from assuming active resistance, there is no need for everyone to be an oppressor. The problem arises in the fact that patriarchy/phallocracy cannot exist unless there are enough participants to maintain the necessary level of fear. Additionally, for every individual man that assumes his predetermined and socialized role as an enforcer, our culture of patriarchy grows. It is not enough to simply live in a patriarchy. Patriarchy does not merely exist. The system is self-supporting in a never-ending effort to grow, reach world domination, and resist any efforts of women meant to subvert such systems. This is true for all oppressive systems.
“Being told to be domineering is no where near as tragic as being limited and placed in a position predetermined to suffering and submission. That is the basic difference between how society attempts to manipulate men and women. Not being allowed to be vulnerable is not equivalent to not being allowed to be strong. Enforcing weakness onto women makes them easier to control and subjugate, while enforcing dominance in men enables them express power over other people. This system is intentional.”
In order to ensure there are enough enforcers in the oppressor class, there exists a self-sustaining effort to police and obsess over the behaviors of our fellow class members and even across class lines. The purpose of this policing is to bully members into accepting their roles as takers and those taken from. This is manifested in the heavily enforced system referred to as “gender” in phallocracy. Males are expected to dominate (think of manspreading, mansplaining, body building, etc.) and women are expected to submit (diet, care, appease, remain silent, avoid leadership, etc.). Naturally gender roles (i.e. The cultural/social expectations placed upon males and females) divides itself into two categories based on the commonalities throughout cultures and functional purposes of class development. These categories can be simplified into the oppressed and the oppressors within a binary and socially enforced/determined sex hierarchy with females at the bottom. This system is one of the largest ways patriarchy/phallocracy backfires. The system is not set up to oppress those who are feminine and those who are masculine, but rather femininity and masculinity is the system used to enforce the submission of women and privilege of men. By defining powerful traits to males and weaker traits to women patriarchy limits the paths available to men and women. It is important to note, however, that being told to be domineering is no where near as tragic as being limited and placed in a position predetermined to suffering and submission. That is the basic difference between how society attempts to manipulate men and women. Not being allowed to be vulnerable is not equivalent to not being allowed to be strong. Enforcing weakness onto women makes them easier to control and subjugate, while enforcing dominance in men enables them express power over other people. This system is intentional. The kind of policing necessary for men to be powerful is not comparable to the enforcement of limitation and servitude on women. The phallocratic tool of gender is but a small sacrifice made by some males in order to uphold a greater reward of systemic and institutional male privilege. It is important to keep in mind then that patriarchy/phallocracy is not some flawed system that fails to afford all possible privileges to males, because a system of infinite options does not exist in a violently enforced hierarchy. “Perfect is as perfect gets” so to say. Patriarchy/phallocracy has to be one of the most terrifyingly perfect systems of terror and oppression I have ever come to know. A man who defies sex roles (often referred to as gender) does not put his own individual privilege at risk but rather falls into the crossfire of men whose primary motives of maintaining male supremacy depend on the existence of men (the more the better) willing to dominate with violence. The reason why patriarchy suppresses the right of men to show their emotions is that otherwise it would leave male supremacy vulnerable to the possibility of men empathizing with the struggles of women. I call this recoil, because it is a direct result (if not intentional causality) of the powerful explosion that is directed at women from the barrel of supremacy. It’s all about power and control. Male invulnerability is almost necessary for male supremacy to persist, which is maintained by sex-role conditioning.
Framing the “recoil” as something worthy of our concern does not encourage anyone to dismantle patriarchy but rather obsess over how to modify patriarchy so that there is less to no recoil with every bit of bite afforded each bullet as was previous to such revisions. Many male supremacists are known to hyper-focus on these patriarchal recoils and choose to blame them on women, while also actively resisting women’s liberation. Women are all too often left in the dust. Don’t be fooled. Men are very willing to focus on eliminating this recoil while leaving women trampled in the dirt to suffer. Men may be capable of showing their vulnerability and solidarity with each other, while still maintaining the system that privileges their bodies over the bodies of women. I would rather not attempt to imagine what that would look like (if possible at all), but I see it happening in today’s society. Men’s concerns are always considered priority.
This concept is not exclusive to patriarchy/phallocracy. Similar language is also seen in race equality movements. For example, Tim Wise is especially known for being a well-meaning white liberal male who uses the “but white supremacy hurts white people too!” point when discussing racial inequality. I want to concede that this is not untrue. Similar to what was described above, however, the allied casualties of whites under white supremacy tend to be a means-to-an end to greater enforce white supremacy, rather than blind violence. Both white supremacy and patriarchy act as barriers to solving economic inequality (which affects white people and men as well as its disproportionate affects on women and people of color), which I will write a separate piece about.
Image Source: Charlotte Cooper, Flickr, Creative Commons

Image Source: Charlotte Cooper, Flickr, Creative Commons

Power systems tend to have some powerful recoil. White supremacy does have similarly subtle ways of hurting white people. Ableism has ways of backfiring on the able-bodied etcetera. This tactic of “but this {insert oppressive system} hurts {insert corresponding members of oppressor class} too!” is a great way to recruit allies and members of the oppressed class to join resistance movements, but it has some dangerous potential consequences.

One consequence of this short phrase (when used incorrectly) is that it frames women’s oppression as something that is of so little concern that unless men are also hurt, we can’t seem to be upset enough to take action. Does animal abuse have to “also hurt people” for us to be outraged about it? Fun fact: there are over two times the amount of animal shelters than women’s shelters in the United States. I’m not saying we need less animal shelters, rather I’m making a point about how little society seems to find itself able to care about women.
The second problem arises in that when this spiel is brought up among feminist discussions it tends to act as a derailment. Women have every right to be the center of discussion, especially within a topic that is so explicit in being about the rights of women, and when women are so often left out of discussions all-together in pretty much every other facet of our culture. When men are not centered in discussions, a decent amount of men might consider that “hate.” Men tend to equate not being the center of discussion as something just as terrible of the institutional oppression faced by women. By inserting these kinds of disclaimers like “I don’t hate men,” “men get hurt by patriarchy too” and “not all men are bad” we are keeping the discussion centered on men and how feminism will affect them. Women are used to being accused of “hating men” just because we have the “audacity” to care about ourselves and our sisters.
Women have every right to prioritize themselves. Obsessing over how men “also suffer” takes away focus on women’s issues and struggles (something society overwhelmingly ignores to begin with). Men then may feel it is appropriate to crash feminist activism and co-opt our language and abuse our time and resources to reallocate toward male interests. And we know what happens when we let men use feminism for their own means. Of course {insert #NotAllMen disclaimer here} but the risk is certainly great that we encounter plenty of men who find it completely appropriate to use the language they learn from feminist discourse to force their desires (no matter how misguided and problematic they are) to the center of attention.
“Patriarchy doesn’t have to hurt men for us to care about women.”
Women’s resources are scarce and severely unsupported by our institutions. Recent examples include the co-ed homeless shelter that kicked out all the women for “tempting men” (funny how the answer is never to kick out the men in these situations). There are also the happenings of women being forced to fund their own shelters with things like tampon taxes (while men’s needs are considered default and worthy of allocating general public funds to). Women are being told to “go fund themselves.” Some men will be subject to some of the kinds of male violence that women suffer, however, women are overwhelmingly the majority of the victims, and rarely the perpetrators. For example, 80% of human trafficking victims are girls. I could go on for hours about how women are disproportionately impoverished and how little of the land on Earth they own, and more, but I need to wrap this up. Considering these implications, it should be a priority to remember to keep women’s concerns on the forefront. We can’t keep letting men take whatever they want from our efforts. Stop letting men dip into our already pitiful funds (many countries don’t have active lobbies for women, which is made worse by the lack of female representation in authoritative positions). Every time I hear a man saying something along certain well-meaning allied verses that undermine the efforts of women, all I can hear is “what about the men?!” and “but what about male-on-male violence?!” Can you imagine white supremacists trying to co-opt the movements of people of color in order to save themselves from “white-on-white crime”? We don’t need anymore men sitting around to remind women that men hurt them too or that women are also capable of violence, or to point out the existence of female-on-female violence (something, while it does occur, is so much more of a rarity it would be a waste of time and resources to undertake a massive campaign to stop female-on-female crime etcetera).
This saying also puts the responsibility of saving men in the hands of women. Women need to put their best interests at heart to dismantle patriarchy/phallocracy and reminding us to “think of the men” or “remember the men” can too easily put pressure on women to also save men from other men. We cannot fight the battles of men when we are constantly forced to defend ourselves from overwhelming male violence as well. We are overwhelmingly the victims and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. That’s how oppression works. It’s not as if patriarchy ceases to exist because there is a handful of men who do not consider themselves violent or have been subject to male violence or violence at the hands of a woman. Men do not need a seat at the table of feminism. Men ought to fight other men rather than relegating their tasks to women to take space already allotted to men and make it feminist, and inclusive to women. In fact, I would say it’s selfish for men to focus on themselves when women are experiencing so much suffering. Men tend to get too invested in forcing women to make space for them in feminism’s own movement. It is not the responsibility of women to save men from other men when we are drowning in the struggle to save ourselves. The dismantling of patriarchy will naturally dismantle the recoil.
One thing I do like about this phrase (and I would like to believe is the original intention of it) is that it clarifies that women are not to blame for most of men’s troubles. Many enthusiastic male supremacists get excited about blaming women for just about everything without realizing that men hold most of the control and power in these situations to begin with. It also recognizes that women can be enforcers/self-checkers in the tool of male supremacy known as gender (think of Foucault’s panopticon, something often mistaken for “choice”). It can come short of driving home the point that men are the perpetrators of most of this institutionalized violence. It needs to be emphasized that patriarchy is not a duel-directional-barrel gun, but rather one-sided with recoil resulting from the firing of the weapon. It is important to realize the one who wields the gun is a man. It’s true that disarming the man will protect him from recoil, but women are not and should not feel guilty for doing it for themselves. The gun is patriarchy so to speak. Women should not be expected to stop and think about whether or not disarming the man will hurt him or save him. In fact I think that trying to remind the man of the existence of recoil will do absolutely nothing to disarm him. Instead we need to both ensure that the worth of women is recognized and the weapon is removed all together. Regardless of what disarmament will do to men, it’s a fact that while men are armed with patriarchy women are in danger. I believe it becomes the task of both men and women to disarm violent men of the patriarchal weapons they use to hurt all of us, while remembering that the liberation of women is the only way to achieve that and should be the ultimate focus. Saving men, animals, and the planet from other men is just a happy bonus. Women are not selfish for putting themselves first.
I took note when a popular feminist Facebook page (was around 17k likes before it was taken down by a troll attack of angry misogynists and republished) innocently presumed that men hurting other men is not contingent with male supremacy (reminder: it’s actually necessary for male supremacy). An admin shared a photo of a man dressed in a feminine apron that had text added (by a hate group that calls themselves “math4feminists”) reading “Meanwhile, in the western world… While young feminists are trying desperately to be like men, young simps and manginas are trying desperately to be like women. The saddest part is that none of these young fools even realize that it is feminism that has turned them into the joke they are!” This photo was shared with the added comment “How to tell a misogynist. He finds derogatory words to label men who ‘act like women’. Whatever in the f*ck that is supposed to mean. These MRAs [Men’s Rights Activists] are not on men’s side at all. In fact they are arguably the absolute worst for shaming men who disagree with them.”
The first few sentences are correct. I would agree that men who police the lives of other men tend to also be sexist. The next few sentences, however, bother me. It is irresponsible for us to pretend like we can’t possibly fathom why male supremacists would be cruel to other men. In fact, the obsessive policing between male peers is one of the greatest sign of alignment with male supremacy. Men actively seek to distinguish themselves from women, because they believe women are inferior. If men continue to see women as inferior beings, they will continue to seek to separate themselves from women , while bonding with their male peers through masculine conditioning, policing, validation, affirmation, reaffirmation, and training. Being a male supremacist doesn’t mean such a man will be nice to other individual men. Supporting individual men does not sustain patriarchy. By bullying other men for failing to take up their roles as dominant oppressors these bullies are looking out for their own self interests. The more violent and conforming to masculinity other men are, the more the male caste as a whole is privileged by the subsequent increase in oppressive force against women. These male supremacists are “on men’s side” in every sense by their actions. Their actions are marked by the clear intent to make the world a more dangerous place for women. Now, a man must not police other men to have attitudes congruent with male supremacy, but there is no question this horizontal policing behavior still works to help maintain the system of phallocracy, thus making such behavior more likely to be present in a man seeking (consciously or not) to be the patriarchal soldier.
One thing commonly referred to as a consequence of patriarchy is a seeming lack of concern for female perpetrators of violence. I hesitate to acknowledge this claim as being true especially after a recent Guardian article which showed that “female perpetrators” are actually over-represented in the media: “A number of studies found that female perpetrators of violence, including sexual and physical forms of violence, as well as female-perpetrated homicide of a male partner, accounted for a high proportion of the total volume of media reports on violence, despite the rarity of these events.” As it turns out, men have also convinced us that no one pays attention when women commit crimes, which is a pretty bold patriarchal myth. What else is untrue?
The biggest point is that the quip “patriarchy hurts men too” is appropriate to use when refuting men’s claims that their ails are either caused by women or are somehow proof that patriarchy doesn’t exist. It quickly becomes inappropriate to use when someone says something along the lines of “I’m a feminist because patriarchy hurts men too!” or “these [male supremacists] don’t care about men!] In these instances it becomes really insulting as men are seemingly placed at the forefront of a movement meant to give voices to the endlessly silenced generations of women. We must not forget that this “hurting of men” is not a random accident of patriarchy, but rather a calculated risk. It’s a sacrifice with the understanding that a greater dissipated power will be afforded to all men as a result. For all intents and purposes I try to avoid this common go-to expression.
I want to close with a reminder that patriarchy doesn’t have to hurt men for us to care about women.