Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

On hating the straight white male

2011 . 03 . 10

Susan B Anthony wasn’t the only woman who led the fight for women’s suffrage in the 1800s, but her partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, is the women’s rights hero that no one cares to celebrate these days. 

Stanton was cut out of feminist history because she lost sight of the real goal of feminism. She was so engrossed in women’s rights that when black men were given the vote before women of any ethnicity she lobbied for educational requirements for suffrage—requirements that would have disqualified most black men from voting as well as a lot of women and other groups without access, including the large immigrant population of the United States. Her elitism is all the more shocking when considered in light of the fact that she was an abolitionist before she was a feminist.

Though an important figure in US history, Stanton is barely known today. She’s the shameful secret of feminism in this country, but her legacy lives on in surprising ways. Countless present-day feminists follow in her footsteps.



flower bud

I can think of so many examples of Stanton-like behavior that it nauseates me, but three of the more colorful and personal examples of it that come to mind are these:



flower

When last I checked, men are people too, and it angers me when women can’t see this.

For Elizabeth Cady Stanton and feminists like her, the double standards come easily. These women make excuses, acknowledging that men feel societal pressures but still have more of a choice. They are unable to see people as individuals if these people happen to fit the traditional profile of the oppressor—if they happen to be male and especially straight white ones. And an offense that they would never tolerate if a female was the victim suddenly becomes “no big deal” when a male is the victim.

But these double standards are like all double standards: they are wrong.



rotting flower

Oppressing someone because he is a straight white male is the same as oppressing someone because she-he is not. Believing that someone is less deserving of respect because of his sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sex is always wrong no matter the sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sex of the parties involved in the exchange. Oppression is never okay.

I can understand the frustration of Stanton and her followers: it is hard to live in a world still so full of inequalities. But while I sympathize with them, I don’t condone their actions. Their lack of empathy makes all feminists look bad. It makes people think that we’re all that way even though we are not. Most of us remember that feminism is first and foremost about equality.



- -—UPDATE 2016 . 11 . 15—- -

Men’s rights activists have appropriated this article as a defense of their anti-feminist behavior, republishing my words repeatedly elsewhere on the web. It makes me angry that they did this, and it also surprises me for two reasons:

  1. Men’s rights activists are clearly not my intended audience. The article was written for feminists. It’s a plea to keep feminism inclusive and to be vigilant about separatist tendencies, and it’s obvious that I’m talking to other feminists when I say “most of us remember that feminism is first and foremost about equality.”
  2. Men’s rights activists are the quintessential Stantonites, because, instead of working for equality for all, they want rights and privileges only for people who look like them. In other words, men’s rights activists seem to be excited about an article that is actually a critique of their dangerous behavior.

I’ve learned a lot from having my words co-opted by a backwards cause, and I am working hard to never again give men’s rights activists material they like.


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-- Adriana -- 2011 . 03 . 10 --

Thank you for addressing such an important topic.  My partner works in a hospital, and is constantly being asked if he’s old enough to be working there.  Comments about his appearance are totally accepted in the medical community while the same would never be said to his female colleagues.  And, contrary to popular belief, no one actually likes being made fun of, no matter what the circumstance.  It would really be for the best if everyone just treated each other with more respect in that hospital!

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-- Danielle -- 2011 . 03 . 10 --

I enjoyed reading the article, and in fact I’ve just come to a realization in my life that I’ve in some ways acted as if men didn’t have feelings, fears, hang-ups and issues of their own. I appreciate you bringing light to the sometimes downplay of mens emotions, etc. but I don’t quite understand how you tied it all into discrimination against the “straight white male” I could have taken this article better had you made mention of unfair treatment of all men not just one particular demographic. Thanks for sharing.

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-- Vanessa Nix Anthony -- 2011 . 03 . 10 --

Spot-on as always Gwenn. I am always railing about this. As my hubby is a stay-at-home dad he faces this kind of discrimination daily. People making comments to him directly about our choice and others pulling me to the side to ask when he’s going to get a job. If a woman makes the same choice to be a stay-at-home mom she is lauded for the “important work,” she is doing but men who do it are still thought of as slackers or moochers. My hubby made the decision to stay home for many reasons, none of which was laziness. He did it to help support me in my writing career, to ensure our children are raised by us and not day care and nannies and to create a deep bond with his kids—the kind he never knew with his own father.

We always talk about choices for women and we (the majority in this country) assume, wrongfully so, that men have always had all the choices. But even that is in err. We view it this way because now women can choose to work or stay at home but for most men, in society’s view, what choice do they have but to work outside the home, if they don’t want to be seen as losers.

Your piece brings further inequities to light and I have been saying this for a long time. Discrimination of any kind towards anyone, is just plain unfair. We should all be able express ourselves, make the choices we want in our lives, living as freely as possible, as long as our choices don’t take away the rights of other individuals. It seems so simple—yet every day I see the same issue over and over again, just taking different forms. People who want to force their ideals down someone else’s throat while stepping all over their rights.

I’m sorry David had to deal with that kind of crap and it’s certainly NOT the kind of feminist I am or associate myself with.

Great piece.

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-- Michelle -- 2011 . 03 . 10 --

Loved your article and thought you explained it perfectly well.  There are many instances where women earn less in the careers that matter, that shape the world.  Politics, finance, business and banking hardly have any women.  There are far, far more males and not just white males working as executives, bankers, hedge-fund managers, coporate lawyers and politicians who are rich.  These oppressions of women which keep them out of high earning jobs are real but targeting all men, white or otherwise and oppressive figures is unfair and bullying behavior.

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-- cjy -- 2011 . 03 . 10 --

Very good article Gwenn.
@Danielle - I think the point is that it is a given that men of color, homosexual men etc. are discriminated against while it is rare to think of straight white men as suffering unfair treatment.

” Every time he tried to stand up for himself, the institution’s Stantonites knocked him down, even going so far as to redefine discrimination as something that could not be done to straight white males.  ” GS

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-- Aura -- 2011 . 03 . 10 --

Here is what I think you’re trying to say: when people are cruel, rude or disrespectful, it’s wrong (regardless of race, religion, sex, orientation, etc.).  I agree with all of that.  I also think you’re saying that people who choose to identify themselves as progressive often aren’t. 

Here is where you lose me: discrimination and oppression are very charged words.  We can argue about semantics, but the reality is that these words necessarily bring up (especially in the U.S.) a painful history of oppression that targeted—and continues to target—people of color.  This treatment has more recently been acknowledged to apply to women, the LGBT community and so on.  To suggest that the maltreatment of a privileged, educated, straight, white male is in anyway analogous to that of a minority growing up in a low-income, single-parent household is problematic. 

I don’t think you were suggesting that your partner’s experience is “the same” only that he (and other straight white men) aren’t immune from being treated poorly.  Fair enough, but I think your use of language is careless and encourages people who may not know you to make that leap more easily that you may have intended.

Incidentally, I don’t think hairy men are perceived nearly as negatively as hairy women (George Clooney, Sean Connery, David Hasselhof, Pierce Brosnan, Harrison Ford seem to be clear examples of men with facial/body hair who are considered desirable).  I can’t think of a single woman heralded as quintessentially feminine who has natural body hair.  This doesn’t only apply to celebrities.  Many men in positions of power have facial hair (Steve Jobs comes to mind).

I think the most productive thing we can all do is to be supportive, respectful and kind to other human beings—no matter what—and I think that’s something we can all agree on.

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-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

@Aura: You imply that semantics don’t interest you particularly, but then you also say that my use of language is careless, indicating that I’m not getting the nuances.  I do get them.

It’s important to note that this is the definition of discrimination:

Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

At the same time, it’s also important to note that I don’t say anywhere that males are the only ones that suffer in our society.  I know that oppression happens to people besides straight white males and that it happens to those kinds of people a lot more and in many more ways than it happens to straight white males.

My point is that males—and specifically straight white males—aren’t exempt from prejudices and societal pressures.  And I don’t think that pretending like they are helps anyone.  In fact, I think it allows too many people to justify bad behavior.

In the end, we agree: empathy and respect are invaluable. 

That said, I’d also love for you to point me towards an ad that shows a bearded man or one with a hairy chest…!


@Adriana, Danielle, Nessa, Michelle, Cathie, Aura:  Thank you for taking the time to engage with me on this topic.  It’s been a very learning experience for me!

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-- Aura -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

I also think we agree.  While you did not explicitly state that your partner’s mistreatment—or that of other similarly situated straight white men—replaces that of minorities, by failing to acknowledge how it pales in comparison to what minorities face on a daily basis suggested otherwise.  The fact that you’ve explicitly clarified this is important. 

I have a few examples of men with hair in commercials, but perhaps this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIZCtDJtFPw) and this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zd_khk6zXo) will do for now.  Any commercials with naturally coiffed women you can direct me to?

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-- Vanessa -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

Depends on your definition of naturally coiffed. By definition all film and movie work requires make-up in order for the subjects to look somewhat appealing under the harsh lighting requirements. This is the reason, for instance that glue is used as a stand-in for milk in commercials etc. Here’s a few “naturally coiffed” women:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vilUhBhNnQc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUsKIApTewQ

Just for fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT89qfDx3yM

Here’s one that has a man with a beard but proves men have a lot of pressure to conform in our society as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuexzKkMIDc

 

plus-sized: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMxyZQfMmM4

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-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

@Aura:  You reframed the discussion again.  I say “men can be oppressed” or “men have to shave a lot,” and you don’t hear that.  Instead you hear me saying “no one but men can be oppressed” and “no one but men have to shave a lot.” 

I know it’s hard to find images of women, famous or otherwise, with natural body hair.  I know about these kinds of things and about the oppression of other groups besides women.  I know about them and I talk about them regularly on my blog. 

I don’t think I need to address all the troubles of the world in one blog post.  This one is focused on the way certain feminists excuse certain behavior towards males.

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-- Aura -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

Actually what I said is, “[Y]ou’re trying to say: when people are cruel, rude or disrespectful, it’s wrong (regardless of race, religion, sex, orientation, etc.).  I agree with all of that.  I also think you’re saying that people who choose to identify themselves as progressive often aren’t.”  In my second comment, I added, “While you did not explicitly state that your partner’s mistreatment—or that of other similarly situated straight white men—replaces that of minorities, by failing to acknowledge how it pales in comparison to what minorities face on a daily basis suggested otherwise.” 

In other words, I think it’s important to address the fact that when it comes to oppression or discrimination, many people have it worse than straight white men.  I appreciate that you don’t think you have to address all the troubles of the world in one blog post.  I don’t think you could do it if you tried.  When it comes to oppression and discrimination, however, I think acknowledging that many people have it worse is important and you do not.  In this respect, I suppose, we disagree.

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-- Vanessa -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

Aura writes: “In other words, I think it’s important to address the fact that when it comes to oppression or discrimination, many people have it worse than straight white men.”

In this world, one can always find someone who has it “worse,” than another, this does not absolve us all from having empathy for another’s plight. When we make comparisons in speaking about things in broad terms, like when we are talking about politics, social issues and actions to be taken (in the form of laws etc.) they can be effective. But when we break things down to individual circumstances and experiences, comparison becomes ineffective. Why?

Because though, some may have it worse, the ways in which they experience the pain, isolation or humiliation of their individual experience is incomparable, unless these individuals come from identical backgrounds and emotional set points.

For example, in my life, I have overcome many things that other people have commented to me that they do not know how I survived. I have watched friends fall apart over something, that to me, seemed minor. But that does not mean my experiences carry more weight or that theirs is more devastating. We are each handling and struggling with our own challenges in the world and while those that have handled more in the past may be more adept at it (and more put-upon), it does not negate their experiences. Nor does it mean that the person who has never had tragedy befall them, is whining. These are individual human experiences that challenge us all, meeting us at our individual levels of coping.

As such, (and I do not know if this is true, nor am I asserting that it is but it is conceivable that) Gwenn’s partner may have felt the sting of prejudice just as sharply as a woman experiencing sexism for the first time or child experiencing racism for the first time.

At issue here, was a never spoken up for segment of the population (not those whose struggles we are deeply and sadly for these segments more familiar with)Gwenn was choosing to do something brave in speaking up for a population that most everyone in our society now thinks should never have a right to complain about anything.

Because of this societal agreement, there are the beginnings of sanctioned prejudice in the form of reverse sexism and racism of the white straight male. One has only to look at the media to find countless examples of the “stupid straight white male.” They really are becoming the only segment of the population that it’s OK to make fun of and they had better just sit down, shut up and take it (—if we are to listen to people like those who harassed and minimized his situation.)

If you’d like to enter a discussion about other marginalized groups in this country (and we all realize there are many and the magnitude of what they’ve been through)then you might try starting a blog of your own. But to charge that you know best how Gwenn should talk about how she feels, is quite arrogant.

Gwenn’s point comes through clearly (without all the side notes on history of oppression involved with sexism,racism and sexual orientation in this country) as does her intention, which is that ALL people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and not have their feelings or rights minimized.

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-- Aura -- 2011 . 03 . 12 --

@Vanessa: I appreciate your passion.  I can assure you that I do my part to support marginalized groups in my own life.  Gwenn’s blog, by virtue of keeping the comments open, makes it clear that she is inviting dialogue from others, and—to her credit—does not censor those of us who may not agree with her in every respect.  I do not (and have never condoned) the mistreatment of anyone.  Ever.

As I said before, the most productive thing we can all do is to be supportive, respectful and kind to one another—no matter what.  In this respect, if nothing else, we all seem to agree.  And that’s a good thing.

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-- Brian -- 2011 . 06 . 21 --

I love your article! You don’t know how happy I was to read it and see that women actually acknowledge that this problem exists and actually care about the men who are victims of it. Even straight white men have a hard time admitting it’s a problem, and talking about it (we’re not very good in that area), but the problem DEFINITELY needs to be addressed and I am so glad some women are concerned, because we need all the help we can get.

The media and the power hungry “feminist” leaders have really been treating the white straight male pretty badly recently. There is no excuse for it, as we should all be looking for equality. There is no room for hating another due to their skin color, race, religion or sex if we are truly looking for equality.

Straight white men are really starting to get sick of being treated like dirt, and having people like AURA (above comments) not take our issues seriously. As you stated, Gwenn, we are people too, we have feelings too, and we DESERVE respect just as much as women, or gays, or blacks, or any other culture. It’s really sad that many women and blacks and gays have taken their “equality agenda” way too far and are now becoming the oppressors. Really, really, sad.

Again, thank you Gwenn for the article, and the nice comments from your female readers. We really need to make others aware of this problem and rectify it, and we can use all the help we can get!!

Thank you!

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-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 06 . 28 --

@Brian:  I think it’s hard for anyone to admit that they are a victim, not just straight white males.  It’s not a strong or pleasant place to be, and most of us would rather pretend the victimization isn’t happening.  Add to that the layers of historical guilt which may or may not be warranted but are certainly a part of our culture’s conception of things, and males are bound to be skittish on this subject!

Thank you for speaking up.

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-- Joe Lund -- 2011 . 08 . 23 --

Thank you for the informative post and for sharing a piece of history. Susan B Anthony sounds like a great person. I also believe that Elizabeth Cady Stanton should also be honored. Thank you.

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-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 08 . 27 --

@Joe: I think that sweeping Elizabeth Cady Stanton under the rug is part of the feminist problem today.  Her actions may not always have been admirable, but forgetting what she did only allows too many people to make the same mistakes.

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-- Webz -- 2014 . 02 . 23 --

I really appreciated this article.

I’m a straight-white-cis-male who more often than not aligns himself with feminist ideas of what women are capable of, and how men shouldn’t be expected to behave.

But in nearly every case, class, and group I’m apart of, I can’t help but feel totally alienated. Not necessarily by the members themselves, but the ideologies.

There’s very little about the rich enforcing their particular ideas on those they have power over. In which case many materialistic women and power-hungry men both did a good job of enforcing ideals that women shouldn’t have to, nor be allowed to, have positions of power or provide for themselves.

There was little discussion on why violence is more common amongst men, or any difficulties men face. In fact, doing so has often been met with ridicule. Yet people have to appreciate soft men before strong women will face less resistance.

I’ve usually seen feminism, the name, as referring to the suppression of feminine values and an imbalance of too much of a distorted definition of masculine. This doesn’t privilege men. Only those men who are power-hungry, angry, or violent. If you aren’t these, you are pressured to become them. We have to acknowledge this issue before men would really get behind it.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 02 . 25 --

@Webz: Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!  I get that the term “feminism” is problematic for a lot of potential allies to the cause of gender equality.  It’s something I struggle with, but, ultimately, I admit that I feel a deep attachment to the word.  Perhaps the next generation won’t feel that draw (and there’s some evidence to suggest that’s true), and, in any case, while words are important, I do think that fighting over them can be a distraction from real issues.  What are your thoughts about the term?

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-- humanequalityisgood -- 2014 . 09 . 14 --

I must says I really liked your blog.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 09 . 15 --

@humanequalityisgood: smile

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-- Roy -- 2014 . 11 . 20 --

Excellent blog.  As a straight white man, it took a bit of time for me to realize that I was the target of this discriminatory behavior, not only from American females, but from American born minorities, as well.  It just suddenly dawned on me that everyone had an axe to grind about me just for being who I was. At first, I felt as though I had to fade into the background or something because I was unacceptable as a person. Gradually, though, I began to realize that many of those offending me did not appear to be personally operating from a high moral ground. When questioning them, I often found that their real goal was more about overthrowing than power-sharing. They seemed to be seeking empowerment through tearing down single white men, and becoming in the process the self-same narcissistic, opportunistic, power-mad persons they were railing against. As you say, discrimination is discrimination, no matter who does it, and it doesn’t belong under the banner of equal human rights.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 11 . 22 --

@Roy: I hope the frustration you feel at being discriminated against never stops you from fighting for equality for everybody. Because that’s what it’s done to your oppressors, and it’s really a shame when that happens. Bon courage!

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-- Steve -- 2015 . 02 . 09 --

Why can’t we tear down white men? I mean, in seeking balance of any sort, you kind of have to topple down the power structures. Getting any kind of equality is a fight, and if you’re afraid of stepping on a few toes to get your point across, then nothing is ever going to change. Seriously, I’m going to say this outright what I’m pretty sure aura was attempting to say, but she said this in much politer terms: FUCK being nice to white men or really caring if they get butt hurt from people saying they really don’t have much to say in this debate, unless it’s wholeheartedly agreeing that they fucked shit tons of people over. Them trying to analogize anything to the humiliations that a non white non male person has to suffer through (granted, variegated) is so insulting that it makes me want to kill myself. I mean, whatever. But what is the point of me writing this? Seriously what is the point? My point is: the reason why nothing gets done is because people in power aren’t willing to give that power up. By admitting that they are COMPLETELY wrong is an act of resignation. And so it’s not gonna happen. How sad.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 02 . 09 --

@Steve: I agree. In order to create equality-equity-balance, you have to tear down power structures. That said, people are not power structures. Tearing down individuals will never lead to anywhere good, and that’s the point of this post.

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-- Roy -- 2015 . 02 . 09 --

We are all human, Steve, and women have just as many structures as men. I think the real work begins with disassembling our own self-made structures before we go around tearing others down. I think it’s important to remember that we have the power to make great changes, just by changing ourselves. That’s REAL change work.

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-- Dylan -- 2015 . 02 . 27 --

I am a white straight male, and i definitely have been quite discriminated against…I grew up in an almost all-black area, so it was quite interesting, reverse from the typical racism scenario. I was targeted and bullied constantly throughout school…and I’d say white women who slept with black men were the main insulters…usually something to do with the supposed inferiority of my genitals… and sometimes going so far as to tell me I’d be better off committing suicide. like Gwenn says we are all individuals, and I am not responsible for what other white people did, only my own actions. The article already got that point across, but I just wanted to share my story of discrimination against a white man… Oh and when I go out to California and suddenly exposed to the true heartland of feminism, not only am I a straight white male, but I am a straight white male from the south, even worse. I’ve definitely heard the claim that it is impossible for a straight white male to be discriminated against, even that a hate crime against me is not a hate crime at all, and justified(always by feminist women). I have come to consider feminism a very dangerous movement, not quite genocidal yet, but its certainly moving that direction…although I completely respect the women who started the movement a century ago, and I support all kinds of equality for everyone, and I give everyone a chance…. but I’ve learned the hard way to be generally mistrustful of feminists. Oh, and on the beard note, I am an ungroomed fellow myself, and certainly get some shit for it, police target me, in fact I’ve been arrested for simply walking into a gas station trying to buy something, and the store owners immediately yell at me to leave, then call the police and I am arrested for ‘trespassing’...I have no proof my beard is the culprit but I strongly suspect it (and my head hair is long, general ‘hippie’ appearance)...so you see this whole prejudism subject goes pretty deep. Well I keep rambling on about my own personal nonsense, but anyway thanks to Gwenn for the article, it was the only one on the Google search page that wasnt spewing hatred….peace

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 02 . 27 --

@Dylan: I’m glad that my article made a difference for you! The point of the post is that we can’t let our frustration at being discriminated against ever stop us from fighting for equality for everybody. That’s what Elizabeth Cady Stanton did and that’s what many of the people who have oppressed you are doing as well. They feel like the whole system is against them, so they punish individuals. None of us should do that, and all of us should fight to change the discriminatory systems in place.

In fact we’d probably get things done a lot quicker if, as W. Kamau Bell suggests, we all fought for each other’s rights instead of our own! (Read his text in the second half of this post.) Imagine a world where women fight to ensure men are not worn down by micro-aggressions or where black people fight for gay rights or where transgendered people fight for immigrant rights. I really like that world.

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