Be Careful Equating Unwanted Sexual Advances with Harassment

October 2017 saw a series of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in Hollywood spark a conversation about sexual misconduct in society. I don’t object to that conversation happening, but I do object to one concerning trend: people and outlets conflating unwanted sexual advances with sexual harassment.

(Length: 800 words.)

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The Women-Are-Wonderful Effect (We Don’t Live in a “Culture of Misogyny”)

Attitudes towards women are hostile and contemptuous, according to the standard model of prejudice (as described by Glick & Fiske, 2001). This view is prevalent:

A “culture of misogyny” is “deeply-rooted in our society” (Kathleen Wynne, former Premier of Ontario). “We live in a culture of casual misogyny” (Megan Leslie, former deputy leader, New Democratic Party in Canada). We live in a “patriarchal misogynistic society” (Tina Garnett, Equity Committee Coordinator, York University). “Misogyny runs so deep in this society […] all the women-hating, woman-blaming, woman-fearing instincts” (Polly Toynbee, columnist for The Guardian). “[W]e should look in the mirror for woman-hating culture” (Stephen Hume, columnist for the Vancouver Sun). “This Is How Much America Hates Women” (Anne Helen Petersen, PhD, writer for BuzzFeed News). “America really, really hates women […] there is actually nothing women can do that is right” (Megan Murphy, Feminist Current).

But the actual psychological research on gender attitudes and stereotypes paints a very different picture, one where women are viewed more positively than men. Glick and Fiske describe this phenomenon (the women-are-wonderful effect) as an “extremely robust” finding (although it is found more strongly among women than among men).

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Sexual Double Standards for Men? Player, Virgin, Creep, Objectifier (also: Male Nudity and Male Homosexuality)

We treat male and female sexuality differently. The most well-known example of that is the slut double standard for women (casual sex is seen as degrading and disgraceful for them to an extent that it isn’t for men), but we also have some important sexual double standards for men. The first and second (player and virgin) involve having or not having sex, while the third and fourth (creep and objectifier) are about expressing sexual desire. The fifth (“male nudity is funny, not sexy”) is a difference in how we tend to see men’s and women’s bodies. The sixth is “male homosexuality is uniquely offensive”.

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Men’s Lives Matter Less? “Among the Dead Were Women and Children”

News organizations and human rights groups reporting on tragic events commonly single out the victimization of certain groups (based on gender, nationality, religion, age, etc.) as especially noteworthy. Sometimes this is based on the circumstances of the incident, like if a group is disproportionately targeted or affected (“Gunmen shot dead 11 people, mostly Christians, in central Syria on Saturday”). Other times it is based on properties of the group, such as if they’re more relatable to the audience (“At least 2 Americans among the dead in Nice, France attack” in an American outlet).

Singling out “women and children” is especially common in this reporting. Sometimes it happens when they’re disproportionately affected (“Dozens killed in Aleppo; mostly women and children among the dead”), but even when men are disproportionately affected—which is very often—it’s still generally “women and children” whose victimization is singled out. I consider this an example of male disposability and finding the suffering/death of men less distressing than that of women (and children).

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“Yes, Dear”: Henpecked Husbands and One-Sided Relationship Dynamics

“Yes, dear” is the characteristic phrase of a one-sided relationship dynamic where the woman functions as the “boss” of the relationship and the man is said to be “henpecked” or “whipped”. This is a common portrayal of marriage on TV or in jokes, but it also underlies a lot of real relationship advice for men. It’s a problem because taking it to heart can leave men unable to stand up for themselves in relationships.

Stories and jokes aren’t obligated to portray healthy relationships, but in light of these portrayals and especially the serious advice, men (particularly young men) need to learn that this is not ideal, and certainly not inevitable, in a relationship. It’s likely that we’re not as concerned about teaching men to stand up for themselves in relationships due to the history of men being head of household, but that’s largely a thing of the past.

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Spotlight on: Men’s Suicide Rates

This page is a resource on suicide as a gender issue for men. It includes first some statistics demonstrating the concerning fact that men are a lot more likely to kill themselves, and second some possible explanations for why that’s the case, including in the context of the “gender paradox of suicide” where men kill themselves much more but women consider and attempt it somewhat more.

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Defining, Demonstrating, and Understanding Male Disposability

Male disposability is our society’s tendency to have less concern for the safety and well-being of men than of women. The concept is central to many men’s advocates’ critiques of society similarly to how women’s traditional lack of access to power (and their current lower levels of direct participation in it) is central to most feminist critiques of society.

(Cet article est également disponible en français.)

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