Men Attacking Men Online & Trying Not To Lose Feminism’s Actual Signal in the Noise

There was an interesting article the other day at Medium.com entitled “What (Else) Can Men Do? Grow the Fuck Up.”  The article was shared pretty widely, front paging on Reddit and Digg.  As a man the title of the article speaks directly to me, so I figured I would click through and read it.  I was very disappointed by what I found.

[FN] Before I get into it, a couple basics for those who would try to disregard the content of this response. I am not a “Men’s Rights Activist” (MRA). Although I am a middle-class white male (yes, my life has been exceedingly easy) I gew up in New York City, went to a liberal arts college, and obtained a graduate degree from a school in New York City. I did theater. I voted for Obama. As far as big scary men go, I am about as liberal as you can get.

Feminists have, for many years, used the internet as a great outlet to get their message out, to deconstruct, to forward dialogue.  This use of the internet in this way and to forward these purposes has been, by and large, a wonderful thing, particularly for females who might not otherwise ordinarily have a loud enough voice in what remains (admittedly) a patriarchal society (not all women are using it well, of course, but with any population you’re going to have those who excel and those who do not; tolerating the 90% is worth it for the 10% that is brilliant).  The internet allows for these things to grow and be communicated organically.

However after several years of this, a new pattern has emerged of men on the internet tearing other men to pieces.  Case in point, is “What (Else) Can Men Do? Grow the Fuck Up.”

The author of this piece stands on the shoulders of actual feminists and actual advocates — but instead of forwarding the conversation, or adding his voice to a chorus seeking equality and progress, he takes the low road and simply tells men to “grow the fuck up.”  He doesn’t say how, or why, or when.  He just criticizes and shames and vilifies “men” in general.  He thinks he can absolve himself of his own guilt by simply calling men out in general.

The article links to an article by a woman named Ashe Dryden which, if you are interested in this topic, I would encourage you to read.  Dryden wrote a piece for modelviewculture.com (I believe it’s also on ashedryden.com) in which she outlines her experience as a woman in tech.  The article is eye-opening, and it is not pretty:

I tell you this so you can understand the contrast between the interactions I have now, and the interactions I had before I focused on diversity work, when I worked full-time as a programmer. It’s an immense difference. In the shift my tactics have changed; I’m far more direct and specific about what needs to change and how. In response, I’ve had economic opportunities removed, been dismissed as fringe, received hundreds of abusive emails and comments online, experienced death and rape threats, been verbally abused and belittled at tech events, and more.

It is important to read and to understand what she is talking about.  Dryden is awesome – she’s brave, she’s smart, and her views on these issues are valuable because they are first-hand.

The “Grow the Fuck Up” article does not build on that work by actual feminists.  The author merely insults and belittles men in general.  And the real kicker?  The author does it because he feels guilt about promises made to him as a child and his interpretation of those promises:

“The answer, I think, has less to do with the boys who bullied me, and more to do with the well-intentioned adults who tried to “help” me through that bullying: When I was a nerdy kid, adults regularly assured me that the abuse I suffered was acceptable because one day I would be entitled to constant positive sexual attention from women.

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It’s taken me a long time, but at this point I genuinely believe that much of this “GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH” rhetoric is little more than patriarchy’s bespectacled wingman.

Later on, the author makes an awful confession about his own personal feelings towards women in his professional career:

The kind of “you must coddle my unwanted special feelings for you or else you are a horrible she-beast” bullshit she describes is juvenile and pathetic, but I’d be lying if I said it weren’t familiar to me. There have been too many times in my life when I’ve bought into that toxic mythology, when I’ve said to myself, “Well, grown-ups told me that girls would like me some day so any girl who does not like me is compounding my childhood trauma and MUST BE DESTROYED.

If the author of the article feels guilty about the promises made to him, and the actions he took based on those promises, and the fact that he saw sex as currency, that is a good thing.  Anyone who thinks that they were entitled to sex from women, or has commoditized sex, should feel bad about that.  However, what this author did was take his personal guilt and vilify all men.

[FN] I’m not sure how the entire article manages not to crumble in on itself as a black hole of cognitive dissonance.  Despite lecturing all men about “growing the fuck up,” the author began the article with this beautiful platitude: “Growing the fuck up means being able to admit that you still have learning to do. It means opening yourself up to narratives in which you are not the expert or the hero. If you believe that your exceptional smarts make you an authority on other people’s experiences and perspectives, then you have some growing the fuck up to do.”  Then he goes on to lecture others as if he is some kind of expert, and projecting his own personal experiences and perspectives on others.  I’ve read a lot of stuff on the internet, and I’ve very rarely seen anything as hypocritical as this.

Lest you think I am picking on this one article, this is a phenomenon that I have seen around the internet in increasing frequency.  In addition to general admonitions (e.g. Check Your Privilege, Die Dis Scum) it appears that the new trend is simply tearing into men, in general, for being awful, in general.  What is the point of that?  Especially from a fellow man who has no idea of the actual impact of his behavior?

Shitty is shitty, it doesn’t have to be gendered.  Young boys are not the only ones who are promised that challenges encountered in youth will be rewarded down the road (young girls are made the same promises).  I, too, was one of those smart children who was assured over and over again that those bullies would be the ones pumping my gas when I was older.  That hard work would be rewarded.   That if I stayed the course and stayed true to myself that I would succeed and have a fulfilling life.  In what world does that translate to being promised sex?  In what world does that translate to patriarchy’s bespectacled wingman?  At what point did this become a problem with only men and not growing the fuck up?

The author of the Medium.com article stood on the shoulders of an actual feminist like Ashe Dryden, an actual advocate who has lived through prejudice and threats, and co-opted her message for page clicks.  The author’s shame is his alone — if he didn’t realize until after he was 30 years old that his attitude that “girls who do not like him MUST BE DESTROYED” was a mistake — that is not a failing of society, or a failing of men.  That is a dramatic and terrible personal failing.  The author does not have license to lash out, as if he is somehow morally superior, projecting his sins onto others.

“Grow the fuck up” doesn’t advance the discourse.  “Grow the fuck up” provides nothing new – no research, no information, no insight.  It merely ostracizes, projects, and criticizes.  Not only does it not help forward the discussion — it actively harms it by making men defensive and by drowning out the valuable literature in a sea of click-bait.

Does anyone honestly think that “grow the fuck up” is going to result in a teaching moment for someone who might not understand the nuance in the battle for gender equality?  Men don’t need to “grow the fuck up.”  Horrible people need to “grow the fuck up.”  Men who believe themselves entitled to sex from women need to “grow the fuck up.”  Articles like that, which attack a straw man (or the author’s own demons) have no place in the discourse — people like that need to step aside so that the signal doesn’t get lost in the noise.

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Editorial.

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