There’s a great song in the musical Gypsy called “Gotta Get a Gimmick”, where the flouziest dancers and ditziest dilettantes tell Louise (soon to be legendary striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee) that she needs to find a little something shiny and special to perk up her stage routine. Glitter, butterflies, neon lights, a Geisha costume, whatever makes your routine special they say, whatever makes you stand out. We watch these women in ridiculous costumes, dangling from tightropes, desperate to be noticed, remembered, and yet the audience also knows that when Louise tugs off one simple glove, it is sexier and more memorable than all the bells and whistles belonging to the chorus of painted Vaudeville ladies. I ask you, when did contemporary feminists become these painted ladies?
With women steadily occupying more and more powerful jobs, balancing motherhood and careers, becoming breadwinners, and mobilizing to change attitudes on a global scale, why do American feminists feel the need to “cute it up”? I see underwear with BITCH emblazoned across the ass, girlfriends reading the pseudo-historical Cunt Book with a big pink daisy on the cover, and now we have…The Slutwalk. A worldwide event where women dress sexy and parade around to send the message to men to stop objectifying women. Their banners say, “I’m not asking to be raped”. Did anyone actually think that they were? What should have been a slap on the wrist to a numskull Canadian cop became one of the biggest feminist gimmicks in recent memory and has proved to be a sensational soapbox for women to climb up on and cry out inequality. The inequality is real but the way these women are mobilizing to express it seems counter-productive to me.
People seem eager to label The Slutwalk as the most important feminist event in decades but let’s think about our definition of Feminism for a moment. In the 60’s women were fighting to change discriminatory laws about marriage and most importantly in their careers. Back then, it was all about women being seen- women moving out of the kitchen and into the workplace. Women wanted to be more. But now, we aren’t aspiring to be greater than, we’re being shocking or a joke or something. We are not talking about the powerful roles of women, we are once more trapped in a sexual context. We are using a man’s cruel word, SLUT, and dressing up the part and parading around and that’s supposed to evoke change. I think it’s a confusing and dangerous message.
At the heart of the issue there is a disturbing truth: women aren’t safe, whether wearing pleated chinos or a playboy bunny bustier. But to claim that a random policeman is implying that dressing in less than church attire means that women are ASKING to be raped is really taking things too far, is it not? I understand all the issues that are being given a platform by this very public event, but what exactly started the whole thing? Oh of course, a man used the word slut, and yeah, that does sting a little. Good thing Slutwalk founders decided right then and there to take back the word “slut”. Oh goody, just like we took back the word bitch and put in on cheap Victoria’s Secret baby tees and took back the word cunt by having entire episodes devoted to it on Sex and The City and 30 Rock. Sure we may be able to laugh at these words, we may even find them benign or ironic, but when someone gets upset and hurls one of these insults out there for real, it will never feel “re-appropriated”. Now we are going to redefine “slut” with a confusing activist get-together that hardly feels like Rosa Parks keeping her seat, but rather a silly, self-indulgent, extroverted spectacle that is meaningless. I’d rather watch Tina Fey than fat women in bikinis.
I live in Hollywood, where people sometimes have great success and clarity when they embrace often stereotypical truths about who they are and what is asked of them by the general public. I was in an acting class with a beautiful African-American girl who really wanted to get more acting roles. The teacher said, “I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but sometimes, for certain scripts, you are going to have to black it up. You know what I mean?” She nodded, she did. That girl didn’t start raging about racism, she quietly thought about how she could use what she knew about the way the world saw her, fair or not, to get ahead, to get on top, to have the career she wanted and worked hard for. This is what is being asked of us women, not to cry out unfair and dig our heels in at the first sign of prejudice from the opposite sex, but rather to absorb what is being said and let it make us wiser. You’re given the opportunity to have an effect on people, and then to have the effect that they didn’t see coming. The more women who are on top of the food chain, the better example will be set to a younger more impressionable girl, the kind that might actually believe that dressing slutty is a bad thing. But all the gay guys and 40-year-old women marching around in cheap bikinis and see-through tops probably already know better. Does their message reach 13 year olds and if so, they might just go out and buy sexy nurse Halloween costumes? What message are we sending here exactly?
The Slutwalkers argue that women should no longer be victims, and especially in a global context, this is a powerful statement. I very much agree. Women should not be objectified, abused, or victimized, they should be treated with equality. But crawling out of a victimized identity will take more than a parade of dressed up women to get the message across. We play the game differently, we have a different road to equality and self-realization. I wonder if yelling and screaming and starting websites with personal stories isn’t affecting the people who might need it the most… um, men? To them it must look like hysterical, unsavory, “bitchy”, and quite frankly, overblown woman stuff. I’m frustrated that it takes nine steps for a woman to get something done that a man could do with one. Maybe its because of the way women are with each other, wary, competitive, emotional, and at times, naïve. Men are slapping each other on the back and handing out promotions and cigars, why don’t women help each other? I’m embarrassed to admit that if a friend and I were to go to The Slutwalk and dress up slutty, I would be upset because she looked like a hotter slut than me. Even if I was supposed to be listening about rape, freedom, and equality, I would be concerned about flab caught in fishnets and my skinny friend. So there you go…I’m already not tuned into the bigger cause because I’m distracted.
Jaclyn Friedman, a prominent feminist and Slutwalk speaker, gave an entire speech in Germany about cyber-feminism (watch on youtube here). Unfortunately, she felt the need to use a very silly sexual metaphor: “Digital Feminist Activism is like finding the clitoris”. So what started as an interesting talk about the online resurgence of activism had a strangely cute and accusatory theme that told, I assume men, that they don’t know how to pleasure women. She stooped to the Cosmo level, and now we’re going to talk about Libya? Come on! Get serious, and get real, and stop alienating half of your audience, the men! Women assisted in the revolt against Gaddafi by cooking for soldiers, smuggling guns and messages; as women, they were able to accomplish more. What joy it was for all Libyans to celebrate freedom together. The message of equality is most clear perhaps when the larger goal is more important than a sideways remark, but also when men and women find liberation together.
Until feminists find a more important cause to rally behind, the voices of women and their stories will be lost behind a lot of useless noise. Messages travel when women take REAL action every day. Wear what you want, and tell that guy on the sidewalk to stop hissing at you. Wear what you want if you feel beautiful, go to work and enjoy having the freedom, having an effect on people. But most importantly, wear what you want not to be silly, but to be strong and powerful whether in the Alaskan Tundra or the wilds of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Dress like someone who can be sexy, concealed, revealed, intelligent, scary, punk, masculine, androgynous or whatever but remember they are just clothes after all. If you want people to treat you for what’s in your head say so. Don’t worry about whether your bra is showing. I don’t want anything to do with this movement, it doesn’t feel like what I’m fighting for.
Men have a complicated history. The idea of manhood and masculinity is continually evolving along with our society, how we live and how we work. The feminist movement allowed women to begin to analyze their societal roles, their emotional inclinations, and their future possibilities. And from a sociological perspective, men haven’t really experienced the same collective surge of awareness. Don’t men deserve a breakdown of modern “masculinity” and a good hard look at why guys are the way they are? I think it’s already happening.
Tony Porter’s “A Call to Men” talk at the TED Women’s Conference is a really heart-felt and progressive approach to modern masculinity. His willingness to address men’s emotions and to reveal their fears and pressures feels like an amazing secret that is being let out. Why don’t we hear more voices like his?
Of course there are positive things associated with masculinity: strength, power, courage. But lust, aggressiveness, and objectification are also attributed to male behavior just as frequently. If you take a look at the Wikipedia page for masculinity, you’ll see the same sort of confusion. Even though the word masculine literally means, having qualities similar to a man, the definition of it has become a composite of many different characteristics attributed to men, or more interestingly, expectations of them. In a quick scroll down, Wikipedia tells us that the Ancient Greeks were concerned with laws dictating masculinity requirements, that hegemonic masculinity encourages men to one up each other for dominance, that in current psychological studies objectification of both sexes is on the rise (I blame the media), and lastly that men have less testosterone these days, less sperm, and smaller balls. Shit. It seems like masculinity is experiencing a major overhaul, whether we like it or not.
As an MRA, I’m in a community of men who are part of this redefining movement. Feminists don’t always understand that there is much more to male communities than bashing women. Maybe it’s threatening to them to think that men aren’t just thugging around thinking with their dicks but that they are questioning on a deeper level. We are fighting to redefine our own gender roles too and maybe it doesn’t involve power over women. At least, that’s what I think.
Porter uses the term “Man Box” or the collective socialization of men, which historically and dangerously encourages men to treat women like objects, sexual objects, and lesser human beings. The Man Box doesn’t allow enlightened thinking, empathy, and equality because they are signs of weakness and fear. Men are strong, women are weak. Men are superior, women are inferior. Women are of less value. Both genders are trapped here. And don’t these seem like really outdated ideas?
This is what I call “Toxic masculinity”, when the trappings of masculinity meet up with our natural sexual urges and women become sub-human. And if a man refuses to think with his penis all the time and refuses to objectify women as sexual objects, he is considered a wimp or less of a man. The expectations of men are sometimes unintelligent and unfair so why do we cling to something that is so bad for us, so toxic?
In my life, I have recently become sort of spiritual. When I say spiritual, I do not mean religious. I want to treat all people as worthy human beings like the golden rule says, ”Treat others as you would like to be treated.” This is a whole new attitude for me about women. I no longer wish to view women as sexual objects. I no longer want to think with my dick but with my heart and mind when it comes to women. There is humanity there, not just a body or a conquest.
The other day I was at work and a young lady came into the office. She was, objectively, very sexy. She wore a suggestive blouse showing her cleavage. My first instinct was to focus on her chest, like it was an automatic setting for me in the Man Box. But I took a moment and thought about who this person was, and who I was. Somewhere in my brain a bell rang and I shifted my gaze up from her cleavage and looked straight into her eyes. I saw her humanity. I saw that she was a human being on this earth with problems, ambitions, or hobbies, just like any man. I talked to her and asked her about her interests. She said she loved aquariums, fishing, boating, and loved to travel with her boyfriend. It was a truly different experience for me. I saw a whole person in that body as opposed to a sexual object. I figured out something for myself and I still felt masculine, a more evolved man, thinking with my head and my heart.
How do women really feel about gay men? Although, I am a heterosexual guy, a lot of men complain that woman love gay men. Straight men say that women love gay men because they can shop with them, or be friends with them without the man wanting to have sex with them. Many women say gay men are gorgeous and “hot’ because they dress well, work out, and keep fit, and have great personalities.
This confuses me, and I’m not alone here. There are websites and blogs belonging to outspoken male rights activists, angry men who have written about how they hate women and have cut them out of their lives; perhaps they have given up on the opposite sex. And then there are women who read this and accuse men of being “faggots” or “gay” but how can they love their hot, in shape, funny gay best friends one minute and the next minute attack men for entertaining a life philosophy without women?. I thought women were not bigoted against gay men, the way straight men certainly can be. Are women deeply threatened by a growing number of men who do not desire them? Certainly this hatred of women will illicit some cruel name calling, but what scares women more, a thriving gay community of men who are not attracted to them or straight men deciding to boycott the opposite sex. Have women become so difficult that more and more men are considering a world without them?
I mean, we are all familiar with a few of the age-old stereotypes: women complain that men are pigs and that all they think about is having cold, emotionless sex, they don’t know how to really love or nurture a woman. Men complain that women are cock-teasers, dressing sexy to have a certain effect, and then using sex to control a man. So what intrigues me is that gay men seem to be free of all of this back and forth. No matter how sexy, beautiful, or nice a women is, these men don’t give them a second look because they are gay. Even though women can be “fag-hags”, claiming that they love their gay friends, are they also secretly threatened by gay men because they have no sexual pull? There are effeminate men, macho muscle guys, ”twinks”, “bears”, “tops” and “bottoms” all in an elaborate buffet of man on man sexual preferences. But do gay men hate women? Maybe the real question is what is the effect that this gay world has on women? Some might argue that it is more respectful to hate women, or make them effectively irrelevant, then to stick them in the kitchen or treat them like sex objects.
How does a women feel about dating a bi-sexual man, someone who has been in both worlds? Perhaps women fear that a man could “turn out to be gay”, so is it better to date someone who is open about the possibility of being attracted to both? Of course, there is much less of a stigma against women who are attracted to other women. Straight guys have turned ladies who love ladies into the ultimate sexual fantasy, the typical dude would probably jump up and down if he found two women making out in his living room. What would happen if a woman found out her boyfriend watches gay porn or fantasizes about other men? I have a feeling like most women would be taken aback for at least a moment if her boyfriend got it on with another man.
If women really believe that men are “dogs” obsessed with sex, maybe its really a fear of male lust. Men’s sexual drive is a force to be reckoned with and it’s threatening whether it’s a promiscuous gay man, a cheating husband, or an aggressive guy at a bar. There’s a feeling that men are controlled by their sex drive, and that it has to be in check. Women may be wary of the consequences, they may also have little or no sexual power if male lust changes it’s course away from them. Is the real power in unbridled sexual lust or in manipulation and control? And who is winning in this tug of war, the power of love or the love of power?