Do men want to be “treated like men?”


Trigger warning: transphobia, misgendering; gendered/sexual violence.

I have a few more thoughts on Don Miller’s post about whether women want to be treated equally or like men. Firstly, about what inspired the post:

I read an interesting article the other day about a lesbian couple who decided to go straight. How? One of them got a sex change.

Sigh. No. Transitioning one’s public presentation to be inline with one’s gender isn’t changing one’s gender. It’s definitely not changing one’s sexuality. Couples do not decide to “go straight.” This is not how it works.

The continued insistence of some people that transitioning happens on some sort of a whim – like, “Oh, I think I’ll become some other gender now!” – is very revealing of a failure to empathize and identify with trans people as equal fellow human beings.

Would you up and change your gender for kicks tomorrow? Is your gender that easily shrugged off and swapped out? For most people the answer is no. More to the point, it’s the exact opposite of what (in my experience) trans people say about transition: it’s not changing gender, but rather living publicly as and/or being recognized as they gender(s) they are.

Whether or not one chooses to learn about or acknowledge the biological reality of transgenderism as part of the spectrum of human diversity, it’s basic respect to refer to someone by the name they request to be called by. Yet Miller continues to call the trans man he’s writing about “she” and a “woman” throughout the article.

This isn’t really that complicated; insisting on calling someone by a label or name that they don’t claim themselves is something we do to hurt or poke fun at other people, or when we don’t consider them deserving of basic courtesy. In this case, Miller shows complete disregard for and and indifference (dare I say contempt) for the couple he’s writing about, especially the trans man.

Fascinating enough as it is, the part of the article that peaked my interest was that [the trans man in the article] didn’t much like the world of men. [He] liked being a man, but [he] no longer liked the way the world treated [him]. [He] said men don’t compliment each other, they don’t encourage each other, and when they shake hands, they grab each other firmly and look each other in the eye without smiling. It’s like they don’t know how to get along, [he] said. (I have long believed that women are, socially, higher developed or designed than men in some ways. They seem to understand the true language of humanity, that somehow validating a person’s identity is paramount.)

Oh? Validating a person’s identity, like respecting that they just might know what gender they are better than you do?

I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the article. I actually like the way men interact. As a man, I find it more direct and to the point. I find it annoying to always have to think about how people feel about things. But that’s not what I’m getting at.

Witness the logical contortions! They are impressive in their flexibility and contradictory nature. Women are “higher developed” and recognize how validating a person’s identity is important! But men are more direct and to the point and it’s such a nuisance to have to think about yucky feelings!

I’ve written before about how this idea of women as more evolved emotionally or somehow elevated above men in this abstract, romanticized fashion is really a roundabout way of reasserting male superiority. Miller does it again.

The idea that there’s some secret men’s club where we are all for each other and waging a war on women is simply false. As a rule, men are not nice or kind to each other…I don’t know a single man who isn’t more kind to women than they are to men. Men are tough with each other and much more likely to fight with each other than they are to fight with a woman.

Oh, so much one could say. I guess Miller lives in some alternate America where 1/4 of women *aren’t* raped (mostly by men), and 1/4 of women *haven’t* experienced domestic violence (usually from men). I guess he lives in an America where white male politicians aren’t falling all over themselves to decide which kinds of rape victims deserve reproductive health services, and colluding to deny these same services to pretty much anyone with a uterus.

But let’s say we live in this other world where patriarchal male violence against women and girls and other gendered oppression isn’t an issue. Let’s say that’s the case. Miller’s blithe assertion about how unkind men are to each other raises a question that he seems unwilling to consider: Do all men want to be “treated like men?”

This is the real question raised by the article Miller read. And honestly, I think a big part of the knee-jerk hostility many cis people show towards trans people is that we’re frightened by what the alternative requires. Relating to trans people as full and equal human beings means we have to reexamine everything we’re taught to take for granted about gender. A lot of people find that very threatening.

So instead of considering whether this trans man has something to offer in challenging the idea that masculinity is “naturally” brusque and unfeeling, Miller denies this man’s masculinity altogether, insisting that he’s a “woman,” and perverting his story and observations about how cisgender men are socialized into an example of how “women” want to be treated “like women.”

I confess I’ve long believed the soul is gender neutral. What I mean is, our bodies and minds, our biology and biochemistry may be gender inclined (or mixed, and common sense have proven) but our souls are of the same, non-gendered orientation…I think of our souls as eternal while our bodies replaceable. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no gender in heaven.

Nevertheless, the issue is still important because we are talking about a framework within which to dignify or indignify a fellow human being, which has enormous and eternal consequences for the soul. [emphasis mine]

Hey Donald Miller: THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Souls are genderless and there’s no gender in heaven, but if you treat someone like the “wrong” gender (by Donald Miller’s definitions, not by the person’s own statement of who they are and what they want), this has ENORMOUS ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.

Say what?

Funny enough this sounds a lot like Joshua Harris’s teaching that wives should be totally cool with submitting to their husbands in everything on earth because they have the comfort of knowing there’s no gender in heaven.

Do you want to be treated like men in every area of your life? And if not, is it confusing for you to want to be treated more kindly and tenderly in a social area, but more straight-forwardly in the sense of economic and cultural equality?

Let me be more pointed: As women, do you want for men to say you’re beautiful? Because if we treat you like men, we will never say you’re beautiful. We don’t really care. And we won’t make you feel small or special or precious, either. We won’t protect you because, quite frankly, you need to protect yourself or you’re a wimp. Do you really want us to treat you like men? [Emphasis mine]

Good lord, the condescension! Again, note how Miller claims this is all about honoring the dignity of women and treating women kindly and our more highly developed emotional intelligence or whatever, at the same time that he’s presenting attributes and behavior he associates with masculinity as superior.

Kindness and tenderness are contrasted to being straight-forward, direct, and to the point (and apparently it’s somehow confusing for the ladies to be at the receiving end of both kindess and directness). Straight-forward” is pretty clearly a euphemism for “practical” and “rational” – attributes Miller sees as belonging to men. Wanting to be seen as beautiful or to feel special isn’t “straight-forward.” A man who can’t protect himself is a wimp, but a woman who can’t do it is just a woman.

Don Miller can believe this if he wants. But don’t try and play it off in mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy fashion as “respecting” or dignifying women. It’s straight up male chauvinism and there’s no way around it. Just be direct and to the point about it, OK?

But the other thing is – what makes Miller think all men don’t want to be told they’re beautiful? Including by other men? Do men never feel the need for protection? Do all men embrace or benefit from the idea that any man who can’t protect himself is a “wimp?”

Contrary to popular misconception, gender justice activists have had quite a lot to say about how patriarchal masculinity hurts men – how it makes men more vulnerable to certain kinds of violence, how it damages men’s health and wellbeing by encouraging them to ignore or suppress pain and other signs of illness, how it limits the range of men’s emotional expression in ways that damage their emotional, mental, and physical health and the strength and health of their intimate relationships.

The question isn’t whether women want to be treated “like men” (where the definition is what Miller and other white patriarchalists think “like men” means). The question is whether being treated like men – being expected to behave “like a man” – is even good for men.

Miller also seems unaware of the reality that there are cultures – even quite patriarchal ones – where it’s completely normal for men to hold hands, kiss, cry together. Maybe Miller is confusing being a white Western cis dude for the universal experience of all men? It wouldn’t be the first time.

8 Comments

  1. One thing I thought about this piece was that Donald Miller seemed to be framing the trans* man in the beginning’s experience as some kind of misguided power-grab. The way I read it, it seemed like Don believed the man only transitioned in order to gain male privilege or something and Don was shaking his head and laughing at how “misguided” that poor “woman” was. Just, everything about this piece is the worst.

  2. The idea that men naturally treat each other worse is behind a fair amount of transmisogyny, too. I’ve been directly accused by some men of trying to “get off easy” by transitioning. I suspect that this partly accounts for why transphobic cis men are particularly nasty to trans women: they want us to know that we’re “not getting away with it.” :(

  3. I think that because masculinity is considered so fragile, the gender roles for men are far more performance-based than those for women. I’ve got three male roommates, and separately, they’re pretty decent (aside from one creepy one who I just avoid). But together? They become hyper-manly manman men. Men seem to be the ones trying as hard as they can to reinforce the gender binary, because masculinity depends on being so far apart from femininity that they need to have those clear dividing lines otherwise oh no! Someone might call them a girl and that’s *the worst thing ever!!* And emotional connection is ~gasp~ girly, so men gotta make sure they show none of that!

    Now I wonder if that’s why Christianity is always soooo considered with “emasculating men” and so critical of feminism. I wonder if their real fear isn’t in “oh we know you women want to be treated like women not men” but in “if you start to demand to be treated as complete, full human beings, then your icky femininity will touch EVERYTHING and men won’t have their own little special manly corner” or something. I’m not sure if I’m articulating this well.

    Though conservative Christianity has it’s own strict gender performance for women in a way that the rest of society doesn’t. I was constantly striving to prove I was a *real* girl before I figured out that I really wasn’t. But I was only trying to prove it because NOT wanting the things that patriarchal Christianity says a woman should want is wrong – even possibly sin. So you can’t even win. Miller’s assumption is “all women want x things” and the whole culture follows that logic with “so you if you don’t, you’re not *really* a woman, and you should fix yourself until you *do* want those things.” It’s an endless loop.

  4. Pingback: I Don’t Want to be Joshua Harris’s Special Little Princess

  5. Just found your blog, linked on someone else’s blog — totally impulsive comment here, but this is awesome. I’m a Christian but I’m in grad school overseas in a program that involves/allows for a lot of feminist theory (this is after I accidentally discovered gender studies as an undergrad) and sometimes hearing the essentialist things coming out of the mouths of my friends back home (at church) makes me want to scream. THANK YOU for writing this! Keep doing amazing work!