Recently, a letter to the editor was published about the “misandry problem” at Wesleyan. While the letter rightfully points out the damaging effects the patriarchy has on men, as it does on people of all genders, it ignores the bigger picture of why and how we should combat toxic masculinity. It equates misandry to other forms of oppression and ignores nuances within the vast gender spectrum, which detracts from solving the problem brought up within the letter. The path to ending toxic masculinity lies in the liberation of all non-men.
At Wesleyan, jokes about men are frequent. While they may be bothersome, they cannot be equated to the sexist treatment that women receive. In fact, it is healthy that non-men feel safe enough to make these jokes at Wesleyan. It shows that our school is beginning to foster an environment where non-men can freely express themselves and gain respect. When jokes about men are made, it is often from someone holding less systemic power, who has to fight to be treated with the same amount of respect.
Jokes made about men do not have the same power and weight behind them as jokes about non-men; a joke made about a man is not going to take away his inherent systemic power. Meanwhile, there is an entire system of oppression existing behind jokes made about non-men. There is a difference between punching up and punching down. Until there is equality for all genders, jokes made about men are a way to reclaim power for marginalized people.
Asking ourselves about the context of jokes like these is also important. The very fact that the same jokes would entirely endanger the security of non-men outside of bubbles like liberal arts universities (and sometimes even within them) is a testament to the prevalence of the patriarchy.
Though we have come a long way since Wesleyan was an all-male school, sexism is still rampant within our community. While Wesleyan prides itself on striving for equality for all people, the reality of the world outside the Wesleyan bubble still seeps into the Wesleyan community. Men are often placed on pedestals, and non-men have to do twice the work to gain a semblance of the same recognition. Non-men are objectified within the Wesleyan community and beyond, especially those who are people of color and/or members of the LGBTQ community. They face even more daily discrimination because of their identities.
The letter states that “it would be nice to be able to criticize misandry without also connecting it to the oppression of women or transgender people,” while also stating that the author values intersectionality. This results in a failure to acknowledge how interconnected misandry and misogyny are, and how deeply both are rooted in the same patriarchal system. It is difficult to talk about misandry as an isolated issue because of the circumstances in which it flourishes: the very same that oppress other identities. But rather than seeing this as a complex issue, the author seems to believe that misandry is devalued in discourse simply by way of being entwined with other forms of oppression. For example, students discussing issues like feminism are bound to also bring up misogynoir as a facet of misogyny. But this doesn’t in the least reduce the value of the initial discussion—it builds on it by way of intersectionality.
The letter also pointed out how media that speaks up for Palestine often focuses on the brutal killings of Palestinian women and children, and that this pointed exclusion of men signifies a cultural attitude in which Palestinian men’s lives are not considered worth defending. The letter then says that this cedes to the idea that all Palestinian men are terrorists.
While the observation that men of color face discrimination is entirely true, what it misses is that women and children are traditionally the ones most vulnerable in conflicts: They are less mobile due to gender norms prescribing them to households, often with less access to any defense. All lives that were and are being lost in Palestine as a result of attacks on civilians are equally important to speak up for, yet the article declines to note that headlining tragedies with focus on “women and children” is a historic trend in documentation to draw attention to the brutality of any conflict, just as noting that civilians being attacked has the same effect. The terminology also may implicate women as being weaker, and has equally misogynistic undertones as it does misandrist.
A credit to the letter, and perhaps its sole one, is its note on how misandry cannot be attributed only to non-men, and that it too is a construct supported by various demographics within a community. What, then, can be said for strengthening the argument against misandry? While specificity is valuable in regarding any conflict intellectually, pinpointing inflections in counterculture discourse like jokes about men incites a slightly inarticulate but well-justified response among us: there are simply bigger bones to pick in battles like these. Being vocal about issues affecting men is a productive way to argue against true misandry, but it cannot come without at least noting how convoluted this issue is with others. The world we live in isn’t simple, so no wonder that generating discourse on any one issue is bound to be complex. If it’s that simple, it might not be true.
In order to combat toxic masculinity, it is necessary to fight for the liberation of all women and gender-nonconforming people. If femininity was not seen as something inferior, then toxic masculinity would not exist in the first place. In order to break out of confinements of gender, it is necessary to lift femininity up to the same level as masculinity. Support your non-male friends, so they feel that they are given the same respect; fight against issues such as sexual assault and domestic abuse that, while affecting all genders, disproportionately affect non-men; and advocate for reproductive rights. Once non-men are liberated, men will be liberated too.
Lily Ahluwalia can be reached at email@example.com.
Janhavi Munde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.