I have been following a thread about male sexuality on a feminist blog. The tone of the post and the comments that followed are unsympathetic towards men. The feminists present male sexuality as something inherently dangerous and that must be controlled, if not wholly expunged. What I found interesting was the shifting nature of the discussion. Whenever men brought up how ineffective feminist advice was, the feminist response was to simply dismiss those men’s comments. When men presented their own experiences, the feminist response was to ridicule those men’s experiences. At each step, anything that presented male sexuality as positive or questioned the feminist view was quickly slapped down.
This forces men to reach a very specific conclusion, as one commenter did:
But even when it became ok to be feminist and have sex with men, male sexuality was still mostly present in feminist discourse with respect to sexual violence. I mean, just look at feministe, feministing, yes means yes – and check for sex and masculinity and count the amount of genuinely positive posts you’ll find.
Richard Jeffrey Newman to issue with Sam’s comment, responding with:
Instead, you intellectualize and over-intellectualize and end up more or less right back where you started: asking feminists to “raise the social value of male [hetero]sexuality,” something which it simply is not in their power to do. And before you tell me that I should look at the ways in which feminist discourse has, society-wide, devalued male heterosexuality, I would point out to you that there isn’t a single negative thing that feminists have to say about male heterosexuality that men themselves have not been saying for a very, very, very long time. Women did not invent the notion that male heterosexuality is predatory and violent; men have been saying that for millenia.
Actually, that is not true. While there are plenty examples of societies viewing male sexuality as potentially predatory and violent, feminists are unique in conceptualizing male sexuality as inherently predatory and violent. Feminists start from that position, whereas other groups start from a neutral or altruistic position and argue that men can be corrupted or manipulated in order to give in to their basest potential behavior (and unlike feminists, those groups applied the same logic to women).
Newman is correct that feminists are not saying anything men have not said before, but his argumentum ad populum does not address Sam’s point. The issue is not that other men say these things, but that feminists says these things, use them in discussions about male sexuality, and therein place men in double-bind. If the feminist position were even remotely positive, this double-bind could be avoided, but by Newman’s own admission the feminist position on male sexuality is hardly supportive:
So why aren’t you writing, or at least trying to write, those feminist-oriented sex-positive positive posts? Why aren’t you finding your own vocabulary with which to say, “This is what it means for me to be sexual; this is how my sexuality grows out of my feminism.” Why aren’t you, in other words, trying to articulate the view of male (hetero)sexuality that you want to have? Having that kind of vision come from men like yourself will be far more compelling and will be far more likely, over time, to have the result that you want–”incorporated into mainstream feminism, hopefully amending, or even changing, the still very negative discourse”–than will waiting for feminists to do it for you.
Newman offers a nice possibility, however, most of the comments from feminists on that thread assert that male sexuality is inherently negative and that men must conduct themselves in a specific, yet amazingly unclear manner in order to win women’s trust. The unwillingness to view male sexuality as anything other than destructive leads to comments like this:
In terms of what you specifically object to, you seem to think that the conflation of male sexuality and male violence wasn’t an imbedded idea in human society until feminism came along, which is a very strange outlook on the subject indeed. All feminism did was make it socially acceptable to object openly to pervasive male sexual violence and insist that there was something wrong with it; the idea of pervasive male sexual violence and violence as something that inevitable colored male sexuality predated feminism by millenia, literally. The only thing feminists can do on the subject of male sexuality and violence would be to stop complaining about it, and given how hard it was for feminists to get their complaints taken seriously in the first place(and sadly this has hardly been eradicated as an issue) I can’t imagine what motivation feminists could have for shutting up on the subject til the link between male sexuality and male violence stops being a significant problem for women in general. [. . .] I’m sure that once male sexual violence becomes less of a problem for women than male sexual comfort levels and availability, feminism will shift its focus accordingly. But that’s not a problem imbalance that feminists, individually or collectively, have the ability to change. I think it’s fairly obvious who, individually or collectively, would be more likely to have the power to change that situation.
Again, the assertion that “pervasive male sexual violence and violence as something that inevitable colored male sexuality predated feminism by millenia” is incorrect. Feminists are the only group to view male sexuality as inherently violent and harmful. What feminists did is akin to what Roman Catholics did in regards to sexuality. While every culture and religion has rules of conduct governing sexuality, the Catholics were unique in Western society in demonizing all forms of sex and sexuality. It was not just a specific set of acts they objected to; they objected to the act of sex in and of itself. To have sex, let enjoy it, was (and in some communities remains) a sin. Similarly, among feminists is not that some expressions male sexuality (like some expressions of female sexuality) is dangerous; they contend that male sexuality in and of itself is dangerous.
Lisa, the commenter, also engages in doublethink as she argues that feminists had the power to “make it socially acceptable to object openly to pervasive male sexual violence and insist that there was something wrong with it” while lacking the power to do anything about that imbalance. This notion that feminists and feminism are simultaneously powerful and powerless is nothing new. Feminists frequently make that argument when they run out of answers.
Feminists object to the current dating climate and attempt to offer advice to men in order to improve the situation for women. However, that advice often harms, shames, and demonizes men sexually interested in women. Those men then turn to feminists for more advice, only to be told that there is no problem, men should figure out themselves, men should just be themselves, or men should just be confident. When informed that under feminism all of those things can result in a man being labeled a creep or predator, and few of them even work, feminists simply have no answer.
The reason is because they have never conceptualized male sexuality as coming from any place than men’s basest desires. Strewn throughout the comments is the refrain that men approaching women for sex view women only as objects. If a man only wants a one-night stand, he is tantamount to a rapist. If he wants sex first and foremost, but is willing to befriend the woman, he is still kind of a predator. Even a man interested in befriending a woman is still skirting with predatory behavior, especially if he does not take his public rejection well.
If one views men in this way, eventually one will run out of options to offer men because technically nothing men can do will prevent them from being perceived as predators. The “it’s not feminists’ fault” retort is just another form of misdirection designed to dissuade criticism. And therein lies the irony: feminists want men to take responsibility for their actions and the social norms perpetuated by them, but feminists are unwilling to do the same themselves. Even when they readily admit they swung, readily admit they made contact with someone’s face, and readily admit they punched someone to the ground, they refuse to admit they are in any way responsible for the person falling down, hitting the ground, and lying half passed out.