Feminism and the Pain of Women

April 8th, 2011 by Pelle Billing

Over at my friend Eivind’s site (Masculinity Movies) there’s been quite an intense discussion over the past few days (scroll down to see the recent interaction). It was triggered by a woman, called Marianne, who stormed into the discussion thread, claiming that people were ignoring and minimizing women’s pain. Marianne also adheres to an extreme form of the feminist framework, in order to support her stance.

Eventually I posted a long comment over there, which I will repost here since I believe it will be valuable to my blog readers as well. Let me know what you think:

This is an internet forum. Or an internet blog on an internet site, if you so prefer. The ways of communicating on the internet cannot be the same as in real life, by definition. I cannot see your body language, your tone of voice, your facial expression – and you cannot see mine.

This means that behaviors that may work in real life do not work here. If a woman is ragingly angry at me in real life, then I can stay with that, and see what the resolution will be. I can listen to her, and as I listen she will likely calm down. Eventually I will hear her message, and if that message is “Men have done so many wrongdoings towards women throughout history!”, then I can acknowledge the truth in this statement, and we can both stay within that space and feel into all that pain.

So far so good, and I truly would do that for a woman, if she has some kind of meaningful role in my life, or if I come across her when teaching.

However, there are two things that worry me.

The first one is that because of the twisted worldview of “gender feminism”/”radical feminism” – or whatever you want to call it – women’s suffering can only be made visible by minimizing, ridiculing or even ignoring men’s suffering. Men have chosen their gender role no more than women throughout history, and men having to face violence, injury and death in quite extreme proportions has neither been a choice nor something deserved. Gender roles were stereotypical by need in historical times, not by choice (today, however, we have much more choice – men and women alike).

Ultimately this first worry of mine means that I doubt that many women in this world will be ready to truly listen to men and truly take in their pain, without judging them. After all, if you’ve been taught all your life that men are the cause of all bad things in society, how can you feel deep empathy for a man? If you haven’t been taught about the expendability of men, and the fierce evolutionary competition between men to mate, how can you even begin to understand the story of men and the fate of men? Usually you cannot, and it’s through no fault of your own. Women don’t deserve to be taught this very one-sided view of gender issues that dominates our worldview in the West (and beyond).

This first worry of mine does not mean I and other men cannot listen to women’s pain, but it does mean that I keep on working towards spreading a more complete view of gender issues – for the healing of both sexes.

The second thing that worries me is that some people expect men to meet, contain and stay open to women who rush into internet forums, hurling insults and being more or less out of control. This is not a real life interaction! We need other rules of engagement. It’s impossible for me to tell whether Marianne is even open to some kind of resolution, open to being heard, and eventually open to calming down. What if she is only here to inflict pain and “get back” at men? Since these things are impossible to judge I would suggest that it’s unhealthy to allow a person – woman or man – to behave that way in an internet forum. I will not allow Marianne inside my boundaries, quite simply because I do not know if she deserves it – and it’s impossible to gauge what she will do next. Therefore I keep my boundaries much further out than I would have done in real life.

Does this mean that my own behavior has been perfect here? No. To some extent I am fed up with reading Marianne’s kind of rhetoric on the internet (i.e. extreme feminist rhetoric), and because of that I may be excessively cold and dismissive, when I could just ignore her. I have likely been doing some of that in this thread. But then again, I probably needed my own internal process which led me to this post – which feels like some kind of resolution for me, at least at this point in time. Who knows what kind of response will seem appropriate to me next time I come across this kind of situation.

22 Responses to “Feminism and the Pain of Women”

  1. hopeless case Says:

    Pelle:

    Ultimately this first worry of mine means that I doubt that many women in this world will be ready to truly listen to men and truly take in their pain, without judging them

    Priviledge is *never* relinquished without a fight.

    I don’t take the prevalence of Marianne-style feminist rhetoric in the world as an indication that there is a lot of irrationality afoot, just that there is a power struggle afoot.

    All human behavior is solving a problem: when someone appears irrational, it is because the problem you think they are solving is not the problem they are actually solving.

    In Marianne’s case, and the more general case of people refusing to engage in rational dialog and hurling insults and rage, I don’t believe the lack of rationality (or presence of rage) is genuine. Her style of arguing works wonders in discussions where some of the participants are not really paying attention, which has contributed greatly to the anti-male bias in the court system.

    The reason it didn’t work here is that we are paying close attention to her arguments and refusing to get outraged.

    I am proud of all the back and forth we all had with her on your site.

  2. hopeless case Says:

    Another thought. It is tempting to see someone like Marianne and ask yourself what must have hurt them so much in the past that they are so full of rage and irrationality. There may not be any such incident. It may simply be that at some point in her life, she noticed that by complaining in a certain style, she got attention and support, which caused her to complain more in that style, leading to a vicious cycle.

    I was reading about a study some psychologists did recently on victimhood. They had volunteers read various stories about people who did bad things, to figure out under what conditions people would be willing to overlook bad behavior. What they found was that while heroes could not get away with bad behavior (people judged them even more harshly for having been heroes and doing something bad, then they would have judged a normal person), victims were given a pass, even if their bad behavior was not related to how they were victimized!

    In one of the stories, if I recall correctly, a victim has stolen something (they didn’t need it, it wasn’t a hungry person stealing food), and the volunteers didn’t notice that the victim had done anything wrong.

    Is it any wonder, given how powerful a force victimhood is, that people will go to almost any intellectual lengths to acquire the title?

  3. Eivind F S Says:

    I don’t think you need to worry so much about that first one, Pelle. I have spoken with many women in this process and all of them, as far as I could tell, consider Marianne’s behaviour peculiar and unsympathetic, support me in my work, recognize the pain of men and emphasize that they don’t need or even want men to apologize to them for something they never did. These women want empowered men and probably intuit what apologizing like this means.

    I’m constantly delighted by the sheer mass of women that applaud the work I’m doing. It may be because my social circles aren’t representative for the larger society, but it’s still reassuring.

  4. Vladimir Says:

    First off, please do tell me if I spew some ignorance in this post. I am reading and studying gender issues as a secondary endeavor alongside my current master studies.

    I just finished reading the entire post and the comments on the mentioned blog.

    In my case, I can say I am what I am. I do feel, and I do feel empathy. But I do not feel the need to apologize for my treatment of women. Actually, I go way out of my way to give them better treatment then I do to men. It was part of my upbringing. I will condemn a bad person, be it male, female, of any nationality, ethnicity or religion. I will not condemn entire population, any population, because of their ancestors or individuals inside who are also shunned by their own group. This goes for both men and women.

    It is absolutely ironic that a gender feminist uses this approach to try and downplay the masculinity we as men have. Marianne actually denies us our “otherness”(I’m quoting Simone De Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”) in her eyes, yet demands it for femininity in ours.

    I call that sexism. She also used example of physical violence against women. My interpretation of her comment is:
    “I will call the male gender physical aggressors, I will treat them like that, I will behave cautiously around them, only giving exceptions to those who prove themselves to me in a way that I demand. And if I am accused of being sexist, I will say that I never called that particular person an abuser.”

    If a man was to express similar sentiment but aimed at perhaps emotional abuse (it happens, but it is not the norm just like the physical violence), I would expect a full broadside of very nasty comments, including profanity, in form of extreme feminist rhetoric. And it would be considered more or less acceptable by society in general because of the “hurt feelings”.

    Yet if this woman was to be treated the same, there would be public outrage.
    Maybe it’s bad idea to think this, but I firmly believe no one has the right not to be offended. We do have right not to be slandered though…

    What may fuel this kind of abuse, specifically aimed at Pelle in this case might be his positivistic approach to logic and philosophy, not surprising considering his background and formal education. Most feminists(with whom I spoke or whose works I read) are quite anti-positivist and find the former way of thinking dehumanizing, demystifying, simplistic and reductionist.

  5. Eagle33 Says:

    I don’t know if this is the first time I’ve ever offered my opinions on this site. Nevertheless, here goes.

    Reading through the commentary section of the site was really troubling for me, not to mention the brief descriptions of the manifesto under examination and cross-examination.

    Firstly, on the manifesto itself. As someone who has been seriously bullied by both genders (men and women, boys and girls) in the past as a youth and high schooler, the suggestions and value systems men are encouraged to adopt from their perspective is downright toxic to me. Part of my own healing process is distancing myself from such extreme advice as its really detrimental to full aquisition of a blanced mindset.

    I’ve reitirated the stories of my abuse before in other forums, but in order to get a better picture where I am coming from, it’s imperitive to do so in this one.

    1) When I was five or six, I was diagnosed autistic. Part of getting this label required me to go through exercises in hearing, sight, speech and comprehension at a general hospital. The experience was really negative for me as every caregiver and tutor screamed and yelled at me to do something the proper way, even grabbing my arms harshly to display “normal” body language. One even went into a flying rage right in front of me because I misinterpreted instructions. Those caregivers and tutors were women.

    2) In elementary school, for three days, a mob of kids would gang up on me outside the rear exit doors and charge forth, pulling my pants down. Girls were there along with the boys.

    3) Young women in high school were no stranger to insults as they called me “Weirdo”, “Oddball”, and “Strange”.

    4) I was friends with one young crush. Helped her out in computer class with assignments. Became close, or I thought we did. Then she tried forcing me to show my underwear in front of the other students due to a little game they were playing with each other. I refused, and she grabbed my pants to try to get her hands down them to pull my underwear up. After fighting her off, I ended our friendship. days later, while roaming the halls, I’m yanked against a locker by my shirt collar. Her boyfriend stares sternly at me and says “If you ever speak with her again, I’ll kick your fucking ass” as she stands beside him, grinning.

    5) One young woman in the same class read a short story I was printing out in a mocking tone as the others looked on in amusement. She proceeds to take the story out of the print and wrap it around me, calling me “Freak” as the whole class laughs.

    Those are the main portions of my abuse I will share.

    But I’m sure you can see why I felt nauseous with the manifesto. Asking me to apologise for stuff I had no hand in perpratrating on a group, the last thing I need is more shame. People have shamed me in the past in order to make me act “Normal”. I don’t want someone shaming me again in order to make me act like a “Real Man”.

    Especially when I’ve had enough abuse heaped on me by both genders.

    The manifesto wants to talk about shadows. People already were afraid of the shadow they assumed I cast from the beginning. I dread having more of the same in the name of women’s rights. If society were to fully acknowledge that women too have a shadow, then yes I can stand in solidarity. But too often, I’ve seen acknowledgement and attention paid to women’s suffering while anyone who dares speak of how men suffer is cast into the nether regions of society.

    Sexism and oppresion work both ways. People so easily forget this.

    As far as the actual content of the commentary section is concerned, again I have a problem with Sten’s argument that we need to apolagise for women’s suffering anyway. How about we apolgise for men like me who have been ridiculed and tormented in the past by the girls and women, yet have very little avenues to consider compared to say when they are bullied and tormented by boys and men? That’s the worst part of my life I’ve been working on fixing.

    I had an emotional breakdown last night to the discovery of one of my favorite author’s supporting some pretty far out belifes that triggered my traumas. Luckily, I had enough skill and experience to pull myself out of suicidal thoughts and back into positive thinking. This is my reality as a survivor. Manifestos and feeling guilty are not my preogorative and for Sten to suggest carrying more guilt and shame? If he walked a mile in my shoes, he’d see what I have to go through on a regular basis with this.

    And that Marinne or Marianne person? A more extreme example of the mindset that I’m avoiding due to where I am currently. She and the manifesto are terrible adherences to follow in terms of healing for me on a personal level.

    What I’m saying is, yes women have and still go through tough times. I will support that. But to assign blame to myself for making it so? That’s a knife for me to slit my throat with. To also worship women and denying their shadow? That’s personally insulting for me to even consider.

    Anyway, this is all I’ll say for now.

  6. L. Byron Says:

    Very thoughtful & considerate response, Pelle, i wish i could be so balanced in debate.. That Marianne was HORRIBLE…!!

  7. Pelle Billing Says:

    Thanks L. Byron.

    Eagle33, thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    Eagle33,

    I just want to say that your story is a prime example of why the manifesto is not healthy. A healthy manifesto would not feel as bad to you. So thanks for adding that valuable insight to the mix.

  9. Rick Belden Says:

    Eagle33′s post brings an important aspect of the manifesto to our attention. Many men who were abused as boys (whether emotionally, physically, psychologically, or sexually) already struggle with deep feelings of shame and inadequacy because they could not protect themselves, and in many cases, other people around them (often other children) from the abuser. Many of these men also secretly worry that they were somehow responsible for the abuse themselves and/or that they might someday hurt others as they were hurt.

    The manifesto is an emotional and psychological minefield for men who are trying to recover from childhood abuse. Many of them already feel responsible for a long list of bad behavior that wasn’t theirs and over which they had no control. If they were abused by another man or men, they may already feel that men are inherently bad, including themselves. They may have problems understanding and asserting proper boundaries in terms of where their responsibility for actions and behavior ends and someone else’s begins. And they may already be overwhelmed with shame and guilt for things someone else did, but for which they feel responsible (often because abuser(s) and enablers told them the abuse was their own fault).

    In addition, many men who were abused as children have already been scapegoated (as children, as adults, or as both) for talking about the abuse, for acting out because of it, or even simply for being abused in the first place. The last thing they need is to be told they should take on the sins of humanity in order to be “conscious.”

    I think that anyone, male or female, who has been abused, or is familiar with the psychological dynamics of abuse and recovery, should be able to understand this.

    Thank you Eagle33 for sharing your story and opening the discussion to this important issue.

  10. Eagle33 Says:

    It’s ten times worse, Rick, when you’ve been bullied by girls or women. You not only might feel shame and inadequecy, guilt and all the trappings of a recovering mind from serious experiences but its extremly rare for anyone to acknowledge that girls and women can be abusive or bullies towards boys. Now imagine trying to find some support, only to be given either the cold shoulder or a “you’re an unusual case. But boys and men are still the majority bullies”. Thinking about it, I’d rather have the cold shoulder than the blunt object of an opinion if you know what I mean.

    Here’s a story a man recalls of an incident at a public pool:

    http://www.privilegedwhitemale.com/2010/09/stories-from-my-past-swimming-pool-nut.html

    To boil it down, he was teased by two girls. One of them suddenly shoved him. He accidently lands on the other. After receiving help and he explains what happened, the adult asks him if he apologised for falling on the girl. That’s the extent of support he gets: Shaming for something the other girl did to him in the first place. Now, how do you suppose this incident will play out for him as an adult?

    Also, I should share how sad I felt one day after a casual conversation at work. One of the people who was speaking was a mother who expressed her story of how other girls were bullying her daughter relentlessly.

    “Girls can be so mean to other girls” she remarks,

    Everyone nodds in agreement.

    “Girls can also be mean to boys” I add in passing.

    Silence. A subtle “Ummm…”sound from the mother.

    And these were people I trusted as friends who gave me the silent treatment.

    So, yeah, welcome to the world of someone who thinks its futile sometimes to even talk about it with Joe and Jane Public about girls bullying boys.

  11. Pelle Billing Says:

    Rick,

    When I read what you write I find myself getting an intuitive flash. Can some of the men who agree with the manifesto, or even the men who wrote it, handle their own shame from being abused through “being responsible men”? I.e. maybe they feel some level of control if they own all the aggression in the world themselves, instead of having aggression be unpredictable (anyone can be aggressive) and impossible to eradicate from this world?

    It may be a bit far-fetched but it does fit with the masochistic tone of the manifesto.

  12. Pelle Billing Says:

    Eagle,

    I even find myself getting a knee-jerk reaction from “girls can also be mean to boys”. This stuff runs deep…

  13. Eagle33 Says:

    Pelle, It’s society’s dirty little secret they’d rather covertly hide than deal with. Heaven help anyone who dares to mention it, much less confront it head on.

    Meanwhile, manifestos like this one are peddled without regret.

  14. Rick Belden Says:

    Pelle, I think you’ve suggested a possibility that is certainly worthy of consideration as another level of response/reaction to what was written in the manifesto. Survivors of abuse come up with all sorts of creative ways to manage their feelings of shame and powerlessness, and with good reason, so I think it’s conceivable that some men might relate to the manifesto in the manner you’ve described.

  15. Eagle33 Says:

    I agree with you, Rick.

    Survivors are extermly resourceful if they have no means of visible support and have to turn to themselves. While that event I described with friends was dour, it doesn’t change my opinion of them in the long run. They’ve been there for me in the worst of times and in turn, I’ve brought them out of their ruts.

    With this kind of unconditional closeness, yes us survivors are very resourceful and certainly don’t need manifestos like this one dictating levels of self-reproach and self-healing.

    I’d be okay with a more healtheir manifesto though that absolves NEITHER side of personal responsibility right there on one page instead of dumping the onus on only one side.

  16. Mattias Says:

    The discussion developed into something else, something new and feminism stayed the same.

    I think people like Marianne are the ones loosing the power they had and dont know how to argue for their right to it. The power of course being the one with the right to define the problem.

    There is no stronger human trigger than helplessness.

  17. Jim Says:

    I notice that comments have finally closed. Marianne’s parting shot was that the Manifesto has been very healing for women and what does it say about Rick Beldin.

    I don’t know her cultural background, but this kind of toxic victim-mongering is very familiar to a lot of us. Rick or some other commenter points out that the Manifesto is toxic, and Marianne swoops in demanding white knight sacrifice from the men. And she definitely sounded as thogh she was the voice of moral conscience. She called a bunch of men there an embarrassment to the human race for not agreeing.

    I also found Sten’s reactions to pretty retrograde and the weird thing was that iIam pretty sure he would think he was being progressive. Is this just generational, that backwrdness is considered progressive, or a matter of regional culture, or what?

  18. Rick Belden Says:

    Thanks, Jim. I didn’t care much for getting clobbered and slimed like that. I had tried my best to express some understanding of her point of view without giving up my own, but that only seemed to infuriate her further. Next thing I knew I was a racist as well as a woman-hater. I felt like I’d fallen asleep on the crazy train.

    On a more positive note, I saw a very encouraging quote the other day in an article entitled “Men and the Spirit Century” by a woman named Diane McCann Mathews, who said, “Women need to change their assumptions about men and start being curious about what men may have suffered and what caused them to close off rather than complain about it.”

    I hope that kind of thinking is catching on.

  19. Jim Says:

    “tried my best to express some understanding of her point of view without giving up my own, but that only seemed to infuriate her further. Next thing I knew I was a racist as well as a woman-hater.”

    Or whatever. She really came across as a very clear case of BPD.

  20. T. Rose Says:

    I agree Marianne was way out of line and it really does a great disservice to getting men to actually support the issues she stands for,it’s counter-intuitive.

    The response was actually quite reasonable,especially in a thread where the discussion was otherwise healthy.

  21. Pelle Billing Says:

    T. Rose,

    Yeah, I think it was a learning experience for many people in the thread.

  22. Eagle33 Says:

    I actually read the counter manifesto for women here: “http://awakeningwomen.com/2010/10/21/our-deepest-apologies-to-man/#more-555%3Cbr%20/%3E”

    To be blunt, I don’t like it. While it’s a stepping stone, they forgot one important thing and I’ll state it as an idea for an apology:

    “We have stood by and let the feminine be elevated so much that any hurt caused by women (whether it be sexual, emotional, or general bullying) is disbelieved and the pain of victims, particularly of males, marginalized. Some of us have even participated in this elevation, unintentionally or overtly.”


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