A Plea to Young Men

Change is hard. It’s really fucking hard. It’s hard enough to change one’s self. It can be near impossible to change another person. I considered this when planning this essay. And I’ve decided that I’ll never be able to change the minds of those who will refuse to read this in the first place. No, the only way I can reach out to them is by expressing my thoughts and sharing my own shortcomings as a young man–flaws I still struggle with today. I want other young men to relate. Keep that in mind if this blog post isn’t aimed at you.

Let me just spit it out before I go any further. I hate the word “feminist”. Not because of what it stands for, but because of the reactions it generates in many men and to a certain extent many women. I have a sneaky feeling part of this issue is that the term stems from the word “feminine”, which might as well be a pejorative to most American men. While we generally view feminine as an ideal trait for women to have (which by the way is an age-old sexist belief), we consider it an insult to compare a man to a woman. I feel so strange writing this during a time when gay marriage has been legalized and when the US is slowly becoming accepting of all the LGBTQ community. And yet what looks good on paper is not the same as what is really happening on the streets. And that is a sad sentence to write.

Now, I can only explain how I used to think of the word feminist. It was a shitty thought process, one I’m not entirely sure I’ve completely escaped, but nonetheless was there. I won’t dare say I speak for every sexist man out there, but I feel confident enough that I shared the same reasoning of a few others.

Before we go any further, let me provide a little background about myself. I’m a white male and as of the year 2016 am aged 29-years-old. I’m fairly educated, I hold two bachelor degrees, though I sadly haven’t had the chance to put them to use, unless you consider a blog no one reads a success. I’m not wealthy either. I sell used stuff on the Internet–mainly on eBay and Amazon–and receive a monthly SSDI check for a disability (though I am in the process of getting off the supplement). All said and done I make roughly $20,000 annually (which is rounding way up), which may make many of you a little surprised, but I think this detail is important because of how many young men are in this same economic position as me.

Now, growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I never paid much attention to the word let alone idea of feminism. I wasn’t taught it in school and I didn’t hear about it with friends or on the Internet. The sad truth is that I really formed an opinion of the word from backhanded compliments from adults around me. You know, like the stereotype that all feminists are overweight lesbians with short hair cuts. It’s a nasty stereotype, one that has done harm to the the thinking of many young men such as myself.

But the reality of it all is that the image wasn’t what made me hate the word. No, that was just the punchline I used to soften the blow of my hostility to it. The truth is I felt threatened by it. My mind races back to the images of women burning their bras in public during the 60s and the burning belief that feminists hated men.

Nevermind you that I was never explicitly taught this nor heard it out loud. It’s only by reflecting back on this time in my late teens and early 20s that I can confidently say my hatred of women was there, boiling just under the surface of my consciousness, only revealing itself in moments of crisis and insecurity. I’m too ashamed to tell you how many times I’ve told various girlfriends to fuck off, and that’s one of the few things I’m even willing to share.

How is it that a young male teenager cringes when he hears the word without any context or meaning? Again, without any scientific research, I can only conjecture that the problem with the word is that it sounds like the word “feminine”. Now I could go on for pages about how feminine qualities are something to cherish, not just in women but all genders. And just before anyone gets the idea that I think masculinity is bad, I find the trait to be just as important to all genders. The problem is that most men my age weren’t raised to value feminine qualities.

The irony is that I was raised by a father who would come out of the closest during my sophomore year of high school. Even after the fact, I would never call my dad feminine nor would he agree if you said he was. And no one was more surprised as I was when I realized I was bisexual in my mid 20s. I’m drawn to women more, but I have been emotionally involved with two men in my past. But just as I wouldn’t consider my dad feminine, I would never call myself that either back then. And honestly, I would laugh if someone called me that today.

I mention all this because as more people feel liberated in having agency over their sexuality and gender, these prejudices won’t just disappear. Honest to god, some of the most bigoted and sexists men I’ve ever met were members of the gay community. I remember a year after I had come out, I started going to the gay bar downtown (they had $1 dollar drink night every Thursday–you’d be surprised by how many straight friends I saw there). There I met other men, most gay, stereotypically so, and they were always surprised when I told them I was bi. They would chuckle, and say the same catchphrase over and over, “Bi now, gay later”. They all. said. it. Maybe they were just egging me on, sharing their own little inclusive joke. But honestly, it felt just as bad as standing around a bunch of hairy straight men at a tailgate party for a football game and hearing an insulting remark made toward me. The funny thing about it is that those pussy hating assholes were wrong. Here I am, five years later, still not gay–if anything borderline straight, wondering if I now hate gay people (I’m only half joking). You get the gist. To them it was a joke but it only made me an outsider. 

But this isn’t what I want say. I can recall one night being at a friend’s apartment amongst a group of five gay men and while discussing porn, told them I only enjoyed watching straight porn. The disgust on their faces was comical, but one guy went so far as to say “Vagina! Ew!”

Maybe you’re laughing when you read that. They all thought it was hilarious. But it was that insidious disgust when it came to women that drove me away from the scene and community. Till this day I don’t associate with the LGBTQ community nor would I want people to know I once did. No, not all gay men were like this, but it was the ones I met who were that really made me distance myself from them. Which is funny, because I thought I was the one with women issues.

So the reality is that a lot of men feel hostility to the idea of being feminine, nevermind that that is not what feminism implies. I feel split on the term the more I think about it. Part of me respects the idea of the word having ties to what is traditionally considered a feminine quality and understands the importance of trying to change the thinking of sexist and ignorant individuals. But the other part of me wonders if maybe the word feminist needs a PR change.

Is it better to shed the unfortunately implied hostility of the word or would it be more effective to try and change the mindsets of those who were like me? I’ll be honest, I don’t have much of a horse in this race. I’m a man and this is something that must be left to women to ponder. I feel like an asshole just for writing that sentence but I include it because I want the same sexist and ignorant people like I was to see how I’ve processed my own thoughts.

Now that I mention not being the one to make this argument, from my own experiences, I’ve been further isolated from encounters from many well intentioned feminists, and just as many Social Justice Warriors (one day I’ll write an essay on that term just like this one), who cause me not to want to join in one the conversation. I feel part of the issue that makes men hostile to the word feminist is that some of these earnest people are, and I kindly use the term, bullies. And I get it, we all want to fight against socially backwards thinking assholes and shut them down. But as any successful parent will tell you, children will only learn through a conversation, not a shouting match. And let’s face it, anyone who hates feminism–the idea, not the word–is childish. Again, I say that kindly.

I feel so outside the issue all together. The honest to god truth is I feel more comfortable relating to sexist men. There’s a multitude of reasons, and I feel like lately I’ve been straddling the neutral zone between both them and socially minded people. Maybe it’s because I’m a loner and I just don’t have it in me to constantly fight the good fight. I admire those that do, but honestly, hanging out on Twitter or Tumblr all day finding any and every possible problematic issue in art and politics and private conversations just isn’t my thing. I can’t do it. And I’ve found that the people who do aren’t the ones I want to associate with. Which is pretty disheartening. I respect these people. I read their websites and blogs. I even follow their twitter account despite the fact that I roll my eyes when I see something that makes me want to reply “You’re missing the forest for the trees.”

So what do I do? Everyone I know hates the word feminist. And by extension, hates the idea of feminism. It’s weird. I hang out with my mom often, and I don’t hear her complain about sexism, nor do I hear her throw around the word feminist. I asked her to read this before I posted it to get a woman’s reaction, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there’s no point. And I’m not implying that she’s a bad person. If this were an article on abortion, she’d be my first beta reader. The irony is that it’s the very same people that I would want to read this article that I don’t know. And trust me, I envy those of you that do. Sitting at home envying random people on Twitter who have like minded followers carrying on these conversations is soul crushing. 

So to those of you are reading this, I can only tell you I’m not going to start getting in your face when I hear you call a woman whore in as an offhand remark among the other guys. But there’s no sugarcoating my feelings. Face it: women deserve to be treated better. And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself when’s the last time you called a woman a bitch or a slut behind their back. Just listen to rap music and wonder why black women feel so damn isolated.

As much as I hate to say this though, I want you to have an ally, because you certainly are not going to change by having enemies. I don’t want to be that guy. But just as every accused criminal needs a defense lawyer, every sexist needs a friend. But to be frank, you’re driving me away from you more and more with your hate. And listen, I’ve run out of people to associate with. It might get to the point where I’m writing these posts on a cardboard box outside the homeless shelter, hoping someone will give me a dollar or a burger.

Which brings us to a close. I’ve only scratched the surface on my thought process, and to be honest this was hard as hell to write. Even when I thought I got over my woman problems, I still winced at the idea of calling myself a feminist. Even did the second I wrote that. But I begrudgingly find myself slowly entertaining the thought. Truthfully, I don’t feel qualified to call myself one and worry I’d be rejected by others if I did. I don’t even think I’m the right person to write this blog entry. I still have some messed up views, ones that I know I shouldn’t have. But alas, as I mentioned, change is really fucking hard. I set out to try to change the hearts and minds of men like me, but the truth is I can only change myself. I’m 29, I dated my first girlfriend when I was 16. That’s thirteen years of slowly chiseling away at my unformed psyche. And I still hesitate to call myself a feminist. Perhaps the more appropriate title should have been “A Plea to Myself”.

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About Michael Medlen

My name is Michael and during my free time I avoid having a day job. Strangely enough, this gives me the freedom to run this blog. I write just about anything that can be considered art. I also occasionally post articles that may or may not be relevant to the theme of this site. You’ve been warned.
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