Sunday, July 29, 2012

Toxic Memes - Angry, angry nerds

Recently, I posted a link on my Facebook about the vicious negative reactions that feminism receives online. Few things would bring all the boys to the yard than a woman getting angry about the way when are represented and treated in video games and the surrounding cultures - and the kind of vicious hate that would boil forth sometimes has to be seen to be believed. There is a culture war in video game/geek culture, and blogs tend to be the front lines. What follows is a good chunk of my thoughts during the discussion; as I attempt to conceptualize and explain why feminism (and women in general) get such visceral and hate filled responses online; I think it encapsulates a good deal of my thoughts on the matter.


I think, in some ways, 2nd wave feminism was a little too successful in (some of) it's aims. We've had a whole generation of men growing up internalizing these [feminist] messages, but instead of breeding a newer, fairer world, what we've ended up with is a lot of muddled messages, and a lot of men simply not know how to behave towards women. The internalized dichotomy of male/female, oppressor/oppressed, perpetrator/victim, good/bad has resulted in a peculiar sense of self-loathing amongst the male mindset - we're part of a system that hurts woman; okay, most people will be able to accept that, when pushed; but what throws men is that we will still encounter women who are deeply entrenched in their ideas of what men and women are supposed to be, and yet still throw all the responsibility on 'men'. As though 'men' are consciously attempting to create and maintain this system the way it is. What causes a lot of blow-back and hurt feelings is that a lot of the time it seems to men like women expect us to 'treat them better' (and what that means is going to be hugely subjective), but are completely unwilling to let go of their own harmful ideas and behaviors towards men.

How often have you encountered women who are ready to explain any and every misdemeanor as being just another part of our eternal quest for sex? How often have you met women who are so paranoid and mistrustful of your intentions that, no matter what you do or say, they'll always come back to the same base thing? How often have you seen communities of women support each other, whilst at the same time vilifying men as being no more than confused children, slaves to their most basic desires? The old ideas of men doing nothing be being shiftless and lazy, doing anything they can to avoid housework/time with their children/working too much (probably with their secretaries)/paying their wives any attention? Eat the beef and watch the sports. Why is it, in a liberated world, is it still considered 'gentlemanly' and appropriate to pay for dinner on the first date? Why is the expectation of the household provider still often largely on the men's shoulders?

Many women will deny this, of course - they don't think this way, they know it's wrong! And that's my point - NO ONE (beyond the most vile of the lunatic fringe) actively believes in oppressing and hurting other people. But - because of the way our culture operates, because of the messages we internalize, the EXPECTATION, the OBLIGATION remains. Part of it's just being young, I suppose, but for a lot of men who internalized this particular dichotomy, women end up being placed on pedestals - glorious beings of light and perfection, who are in an essential way, wiser - or just plain better - than us. Bullshit, of course - women are just silly little flesh-bags, like all of us, fumbling around in the dark. But sometimes that kind of idealization leads to a deep-seated resentment when the reality cannot live up to the image - and now we've got a lot of men very confused about who and what they are, and about what their role in society is, particularly alongside women. And they see women who are attempting to speak about the problems facing them - and they see women who are perfectly willing to cast the responsibility for the way things are on others, whilst next-to-no-one gives genuine voice for the anxieties and issues facing men- and they are hurt, and angry. What makes them so special? Why do they deserve this special treatment? And so we end up where we are.

I some ways I think the way people speak about gender needs to change - very often, men are spoken about in stereotypes, half truths, and 'common sense' facts. The tropes, ideas, and expectations that confine us and who we are supposed to be are still very strong - men don't talk about their feelings, men don't go to the doctors, men don't ask for help. Men put a lot of their energy into fulfilling this idea of strength and stoicism - stepping outside these very narrowly defined boundaries is grounds for marginalization, dismissal, and ridicule. Men who appear weak are treated with scorn - men who don't aggressively pursue sex-as-conquest are treated as deviants and freaks. Men who are interested in anything other than mainline alpha-male pursuits and activities are belittled, ostracized, and ignored. We receive these messages from everywhere, from both sexes, and whilst feminism gives women a platform to say 'this is bullshit', men do not have that kind of organized support system.

In short, I think the way society views genders is still much too narrowly defined, and causes pain that does not need to exist. It is everyone's responsibility to change this - feminism is just one aspect. It's not a tool of oppression. However, the people behind the movement are just that - people. Feminism is not a single ideological bloc - there are different ideas, factions, agendas etc etc. Very few of them are based on outright misandry, I believe - though there are certainly bits of that here. In short, feminism isn't the enemy - but there should be space made for male perspectives in a feminist discourse, or else it just becomes one huge circle jerk. Women/men aren't the problem - people are.


I think a big part of the problem is that, growing up, men construct much of their identity around what they think women want them to be - not necessarily as sexual/romantic partners, but as 'decent men' - of course, that was always present to some extent, but the feminist ideas that we internalized growing up has given the matter perhaps more urgency than previous generations. We spend a lot of time defining ourselves by what we DON'T want to be - the aggressive, arrogant, alpha-male, who ignores, dismisses, uses and abuses women, who treats them as a tool for his emotional and sexual gratification - a classic narcissist.

The problem is, of course, that by doing this, we, in some ways, retard our own development as human beings - we are afraid to 'want' anything from women, as that is, from our perspective, tantamount to abuse. We use women as some kind of measuring stick - not in the sense of how many we sleep with so much anymore, but as testers and evaluators - as things that can tell us whether we're preforming our roles as human beings and men correctly. We give so much of our sense of self over to women, that we deny ourselves the pursuit of anything. And naturally, the id does not like this. Though there are always exceptions, generally speaking a heterosexual man wants sex - or more to the point, he may want whatever emotional payoff he would get from sex and/or a relationship. Part of this is because there's an awful lot of pressure put on us - the romantic relationship is very much idealized as something that should be striven for at all points throughout your life, regardless of your personal physical or emotional circumstance. And even the basic sex drive is STILL championed as a sort of measure of your masculinity.

If it seems like I have just contradicted myself, it's because the dualistic images of masculinity - what we 'were' (driven by sex and/or power) and what we 'want to be' (respectful towards women) sends us a lot of contradictory images about what men are, and how we are supposed to function as human beings, particularly with regards to women. And thus, when we see men who ARE aggressive in their pursuit of women - and when we see women responding to that pursuit, even condoning it, it feels like a betrayal of every idea we had about what we thought women wanted. Rather than beings who wanted respect, they become the image of the narcissist, the spoiled brat who expects everyone to work towards her ends, but does not want to understand or respect the fact that we behave in a quiet, restrained way for HER benefit - we feel like our efforts are unappreciated (and it often IS an effort), and from that, a resentment builds. And from there, it's only a hop, skip and a jump to the kind of rampant abuse you see bubbling up online all the time.

Naturally, the problem is that a) many women cannot really empathize with this situation, as they are unlikely to live it in the same way men do, and b) even if they did understand it, expecting affection in exchange for good behavior is still treating the entire arrangement as a a transaction, an economic exchange - I'll give you X if you give me Y. And whether that's the old arrangement (an exchange of provision and protection in exchange for progeny and sex) or a new one (say, exchanging good behaviour for affection and validation), it's still reducing the target of your interests to an inhuman device, which ignores their own agency - that they may want something else besides what we think they want.


And that seems to be a good collection of my thoughts on the matter - I could try to organize it into a more formal structure, but I don't think I've repeated myself too much, so I probably just leave it as is for now.