The student in my office was really convinced that as a male he was going to get a raw deal all around. He’d been accused by a female student in my largest class of stealing her I-Pod, and she had reported it to the police.
After questioning by the police, who found nothing, he sat in front of me and said: “I know this is a liberal school and so I’m just afraid that whatever a girl accuses me of, I’ll be considered guilty ’cause I’m a guy. I don’t think this is over.” He was visibly shaken, conveying a sense of hopelessness.
He worried that I’d hold it against him, I suppose as a “liberal” professor in what I consider a fairly middle of the road university that he considers leftist. Who knows, he was thinking, what could lie ahead for a white male like him?
I made a quick point: “My evaluation depends upon your work in class, and because this is a ‘liberal’ place you’ll be considered innocent until proven guilty, like everyone else.” It sounded as if the police were done with the matter, and I couldn’t vouch for how a “conservative” place might handle this.
The doom never materialized. Things calmed down after the police completed their investigation. He’s in class acting like any student.
But what’s been running through my mind since is the fact that this nineteen-year old student who was privileged to come to the university after graduating from a private, all-male, college-preparatory school was already convinced that white males are getting an unfair shake and that “liberals” are the cause.
Enough ink has been spilt analyzing the feelings in many white males that they are victims of everything from feminism to affirmative action. So we know there are many sources.
And one of the standard dynamics of any oppression is that when a victim stands up to the oppressor, the oppressor flips into the victim role, even saying: “I’m the greater victim here, and no one’s paying attention to my victimization.”
There’s something tacky about it. But it’s a recognizable, ongoing theme in AM talk radio, FOX News, conservative blogs, and right-of-center books and articles – white men don’t have a chance anymore.
So many men have absorbed it that their anger surfaces quickly in disagreements when I discuss gender conditioning, no matter how much I speak of how men must be mistreated to be conditioned into the very American machismo that devalues women in comparison.
There’s no question about it – men are hurting in our culture from the failures of an economic system ruled by other white men. But the spokespeople who benefit from that system don’t want their own privilege examined. So they’ve honed the ability to focus attention on non-males and men of color who are also victims of the system. The result is a diversion that keeps people who should be allies in the fight to change the cultural-economic system that’s hurting them from doing so together. The energy is wasted fighting each other.
Rationality doesn’t prevail in this discussion, I’m sorry to say. The facts about which groups really do suffer from this cultural-economic setup don’t phase emotional responses.
Recent studies continue to show that women lag behind men in all economic categories. They still make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same job.
And another study released this past month mirrored the national trend that women are gaining little ground as business leaders and even losing board director positions.
New unemployment data shows that as the recession continues women will surpass men on the nation’s payrolls. So, eureka, there’s data to use to support men’s victimization. But this very fact is based upon the dominance of men in the major industries. Women dominate the lower-paid service jobs (hotel maids and food-workers) and most large-scale layoffs have been in male dominated industries that pay so much better.
Discussion of the feeling of male victimization, however, is so at a non-rational feeling level for many men that fear and hurt rule it rather than logical argument or evidence to the contrary from the broader culture. Facts become mere opinions, and untruths spread by the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys are repeated constantly in support.
On top of this, the very masculine conditioning that keeps the system going still says men aren’t supposed to admit their fear, hurt, or confusion, especially to each other. Instead, real men are supposed to believe that they will beat the system by mastering it, not face the fact that they can’t without the help of others, that is females and men whom they see as less masculine.
Convincing well-conditioned men that we are all in this together and that the system, not those other human beings, is the problem, contradicts how “real men” are supposed to respond. The solution calls for connection, not further illusions that healthy manhood is isolatingly self-made.
So, anger and scapegoating are the responses. And attacking messengers who disagree brings temporary relief.
Since all people have stories of being hurt by another human being of any demographic, there’s always a convenient personal story that can be interpreted in terms of gender or race to support the feelings of victimization, and generalized on an entire group.
So, it’s an overwhelming mythology to fight to help our brothers see that the victim role isn’t a place to land. That there are hurts from individuals in everyone’s life that need the healing emotional attention men aren’t supposed to give them.
That adding our anger to that of other victims might really feel like the manly response, but it obscures the fact that the culprit is a system that’s inhuman to us all, a system that sets men up to emulate a role that gives them privileges at the expense of their full humanity.
That we have to recognize that sometimes we personally are the targets of what our gender has built in the past. And that it’s past time we took our part in breaking the patterns of masculinity that we didn’t choose, but have made things such a complicated mess.
It’s the tallest of orders.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.