Stand By Your Mans

Tammy Wynette said “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” But nobody ever wrote a folk song about how hard it is to be a man. Not a straight, white, cisgendered man, anyway.

But it is.

Oppression is never just individual; it is systematic, too. That’s why it makes sense to say that reverse racism and reverse sexism don’t exist. Can an individual woman think men are all pathetic and worthless? Yes. Are there culturally accepted voices that shout these things out into the mainstream? Yes. But is there a deeply entrenched cultural and political dynamic which places all power, wealth, property, freedom and societal control in the hands of women? Is there a memetic belief that men are weak, useless, manipulative, and ultimately participants in and deserving of any and all violence directed towards them, however disproportionate in extent or occurrence?

No. Hell no.

But still, it can be hard to be a man. Especially now, and especially emotionally. The biggest killer of Western men aged 15 to 45 is suicide. The more successful feminism becomes, the more men too want to redefine the constraints on their own gender – and we find it equally hard to do so. Those constraints are loosening and changing, but into a blank page, leaving many confused. Back in 1982, Joe Jackson pointed this out with his incredible song “Real Men”. Yet still we hear the cry about real men. Real men are tough. Real men don’t cry. Real men don’t hit women. Just the other day, I was sharing this article that points out why men often fear female work equality: because without a well-defined role as the bread-winner, they feel worthless and ill-defined. Somebody responded “REAL men don’t fear equality”.

Real men aren’t afraid of anything, I’m sure. How dare I suggest otherwise.

Documentary maker Jennifer Newsom is working on a film called The Mask You Live In, tackling this problem: the way the world makes it hard for men to express any emotion, let alone weakness. It is an idea that is actually becoming more and more prominent, and some wonderful health and well-being campaigns are being set up to help deal with these problems.

But there are still things that aren’t being talked about enough, and understood enough. And being excluded from the all the things they are deeply connected to. Men can’t be feminists, I’m often told. At the same time, many young people continue to reject the term feminism because it doesn’t sound like it’s about equality. Feminism is a “women’s issue”, about fixing whatever problem women have. As if whatever these problems might be are as mysterious to us as the female reproductive system was to men of the previous generation. The old waterworks was important for ladies to look after, but not for us men to know of or speak about.

But that presents some kind of fantasy world where women are down in a hole of oppression and men are on level ground and once the women climb up to our level, everything will be alright again. Hell, we’ll even lower a rope, if we’re feeling magnanimous. It doesn’t work like that. Oppression is part of a system, and we men are part of that system. The way to fix the system is to break it apart, maybe even tear it to pieces. And that means things have to change, and change a lot. And that change is going to happen to everyone. You simply cannot change things for women without changing things for men.

It’s not just because women make up over 50% of the population. It’s not just because women are our mothers, our daughters, our wives, girlfriends, employers and employees, our doctors, lawyers and politicians. It’s because how we relate to women is part of how we construct being men. Or at least, it has historically always has been. Changing the role of women changes not just the roles of men, but how we define what that means, and who we are. We can’t talk about feminism without talking about men’s issues – and vice versa.

Nobody likes change, ever. But worse: what we get out of this change might suck. Certainly it will at first. Breaking down the power dynamic means sacrificing that power we enjoy, and the privileges we forget we even have. It might mean, say, finding your favourite game character has been replaced with women. It might mean feeling uncomfortable when all the girls at the Magic table talk about how they never date geeks because they are so ugly. It will certainly leave you feeling very confused about what you can and can’t say on a first date, if not about your sexuality as a whole. I know, I’ve been there.

Ladies will be pulling out the World’s Smallest Violin here but even though these problems are small compared to those suffered by women, and are problems we should welcome as they make things better, they are still problems – and we should talk about them. Because only by talking about them can things get better – for women AND for men.

All of this gets harder when you’re an ally, too. Allies are fighting for all of this to happen, so they really can’t be seen to complain. But allies don’t get cookies for their fight, and they often don’t get invited to the victory parade. When the game store has women-only game nights, the allies don’t get to go no matter how hard they advocated for them. And to get that, along the way, allies have to work hard. Being an ally is not just promising not to be sexist, and making sure you’re never “that guy”. It means challenging sexism every where you see it. It means speaking out even when you’re tired. It means, in some cases, leaving groups you enjoy or not buying products you want. It my case, I’ve lost friends and been asked to leave social groups for being too loud in my barracking.

Our friends, the Men’s Rights Activists, would say we do it all to try to attract women – what’s called White Knighting. And the truth is, it’d be nice if that worked, because who doesn’t want to attract women? But unfortunately, women are human beings who like people based on emotional connections and shared experiences, not because you slew a dragon, metaphorical or otherwise. Of course, we don’t tend to talk about any of this because maybe it would be sexist to even bring it up, assuming we even know how to bring it up, with anyone.

It’s a long list of complaints. But why list them? It doesn’t change the issue. It isn’t going to make us less dedicated to making gaming an open space. The answer is because we need to talk about the things that make it hard, because that’s the only way to get through them. And we want to get through them, because although it may seem, on the surface, that feminism causes a lot of problems for men, we want it anyway, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it also leads to men’s salvation. Feminism is about BOTH genders having a better, kinder, safer, freer space to inhabit.

So if we’re working towards equality, we should be talking about the barriers in our way. And when I say we, I mean men. Without ‘man-splaining’ or taking over, we need to talk to each other about these issues, without being afraid or ashamed. Because they’re our issues. And because we suck at talking to each other.

But to start talking, we need signs of support. And that’s what we’re here for. And by we, I mean the MESSAGE.

I keep coming back to issues facing men because that’s what makes the MESSAGE different from other groups building gamer equality: we’re a group for men, about men, supporting other men, helping other men and leading other men. Because making gaming equal is not an easy task, and being an ally is not an easy job. And because it leads us to a world where things have changed and will change more, and the only way we’re going to be able to deal with that change is by supporting each other.

If you’re a woman, men who’ve got the MESSAGE have got your back in making things better, because we know it sucks. If you’re a man who’s got the MESSAGE, then the rest of us have got YOUR back, because we know it’s hard. And we’re all in this together – men and women, Real or otherwise.