A few months ago, a male brusko friend, familiar with my feminist position, asked me about how he should respond to being catcalled by his seniors. His reaching out to me was quite remarkable, because at that point it was rare for me to hear a man bothered by catcalling. He was hesitant as to how he should react because, on the one hand, he felt violated; on the other, he felt he shouldn’t be because “he is a man”. Another male friend, who shared my advocacy on sex-positivism and on gender equality, disclosed how he was sexually assaulted by a former “friend with benefits”. He had explicitly voiced opposition prior, but he was too drunk by then to prevent unprotected sex. Unlike my brusko friend, he was unapologetic and forthright in pointing out the violation he experienced.
I could understand the difference in attitude between my two male friends: one was surrounded by more people schooled in gender sensitivity. That was when the question hit me: Could I be living in a society who fights for gender equality, yes, but not as all-inclusive as how it really should be?
I can remember how I internally reacted to their stories. I responded with sympathy, of course, because at the end of the day, they were accounts of sexual violence, towards which I am profoundly against. To be frank, however, my reaction lacks a certain emotional impact – characterized by rage and revulsion – as to when a woman shares such narrative. I am uncertain if it is because, deep down, I strongly know that women and men share different lived experiences. It is common to hear women feeling unsafe and disgusted when they are catcalled. Even though some cities have already passed an anti-sexual harassment ordinance, for instance, Quezon City which is the first to penalize street-level harassment, it still happens more often than we can imagine. Meanwhile, it is uncommon to hear men talk of similar experiences.
Historically speaking, women were and still are more oppressed than men. They were made to believe that their only purpose is rooted in their biological function and nothing else, ipso facto, they belonged to the domestic realm. They were deprived of education, of suffrage, of ownership, of voice. As Charlotte Perkins Gilman narrated in her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), women were helplessly hidden in the attic and made to stare at the yellow wallpaper day in and day out, to “cure” their hysterical tendency; it did nothing but drove them to madness.
The feminist movements blossomed to combat gender inequality and oppression. These movements, together with the LGBTQIA+ movement, pushed for intersectionality—a mindful, interconnected, and harmonious existence across all social strata—for being seen as the Other in reference to men. As the narrative progressed, anything done to or on men remained isolated cases.
As a feminist, my own reaction haunts me.
I understand that patriarchy has found its way to entrench itself into our system. The current debates in feminist theory revolve around whether the actions that we think empowers us actually accomplish their purpose legitimately or feed the misogynist system unconsciously. Considering this, there is still indeed the need for platforms that address women’s issues. In these platforms, we get to build the kind of network we need and the solutions which could end our struggles.
Just November last year, University of the Philippines – Diliman’s Gabriela Youth and its Gender Office hosted Usapang Puke, a Filipino translation of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues (1996). The series emphasized the kind of platform where women push to normalize and celebrate their sexual experiences in more public spaces, not least of which, the victory for sexual terms finally rendered in our own language.
However, within the context of my male friends’ stories, I ruminate if there has ever been an Usapang Tite where we get to ask men how they are doing. It seems that there have been no healthy platforms for men to share their frustrations and sufferings. I could only think of two existing platforms, but these do more harm than good.
Smooth (whose real name is Sein Meneses), Pick-up Artist Academy’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, revealed that he resorted to pick-up artistry out of lamentation and revenge because of his wife’s adultery and his daughter’s death. Early this year, the Academy’s misogynistic philosophy went viral.
The first time I encountered the Academy was during a brainstorming session for my undergraduate research. My first thought then, which would hold true even in the present, was: “These men are existentially doomed.” I was enraged. The objectification of women, once more; even worse, institutionalizing the objectification of women! The common denominator among these men is that they were once victims of the Universe’s mundane wickedness. Under the pressure set off by toxic masculinity, a man’s emotions had to be kept deep down to the point of explosion but, even in its explosion, he would be expected to remain strong. Being a victim meant a defeat to his worth and so losing was never an option. At the toughest and most unbearable times, he would not be allowed to fall apart—but he may, as it turned out, fall to being cruel or insane.
In addition, just recently, Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (2017) where the term himpathy was first coined, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times entitled “Brett Kavanaugh and America’s ‘Himpathy’ Reckoning” (2018). Although in this piece she focused more on its implications in the realm of politics, the idea could still manifest even on the level of daily life and the common people.
“Himpathy” is when we give “inappropriate and disproportionate” sympathy towards men who display misogynistic behavior. We use his driving force to commit a certain act–which usually stems from repressed emotions–to justify what he has done. We sympathize with his suffering at the expense of her suffering, which should not be the case. Understanding is far different from justifying.
I think the term itself could be redefined. It has the potential to become a healthy platform where we could talk about his pain, offer our sympathy, and help them to come into terms with it without judgment. This himpathy I propose could have a preventive rather than justifying quality.
In art, male nudity is another disputed platform. His nakedness was the epitome of beauty in classic Greek art until her body dominated the traditional nude oil painting, satisfying men through the genre’s natural graspability. We have grown accustomed to seeing the nude female body in whatever position and in all possible angles. People gradually saw the male body as unfamiliar. When Secret Fresh Gallery included OOOOHH (2017) by Richard Gomez in this year’s Art Fair Philippines, the audience had a conflicted aesthetic experience. Despite the selling price of P196,000, his acrylic yellow painting of a penis did not enjoy a certain gravitas as when we see works depicting a vagina. The male body has now become nothing but a symbol of either erotic strength at best, or a laughingstock at worst. Perhaps, this what Linda Nochlin, in her essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (1971), meant when she declared that “men themselves will soon realize that they are diminished by denying themselves access to traditionally ‘feminine’ realms’…” Could an element of suspicion surround the acceptance of men of roles and spaces long been considered soft or inferior?
On a more grievous note, I recently read B. del Rio’s shocking article, “Our Current Justice System Thinks Male Rape Victims Deserve Less Justice Than Female Victims” (2018), for Preen. By the very rigid definition of our law, men could only be sexual assault victims; its implication then to the offender is a maximum of twelve years of imprisonment, way less than half of the maximum number of years an offender committing rape could be sentenced for. There seems to be an odd gap between defining a sexual crime and corresponding punishment set by the law.
Denying the oppression of women and the LGBTQIA+ serves only a tyrannical patriarchal hegemony, and that is not what I want to accomplish here. Nor do I intend to revive the discourses on how our history is shaped by a man’s voice or how many scientific discoveries have been wrongly credited to men or how they dominated the art world for a long time. Counterintuitive may it seem to go against feminist ideas, I feel we must also include men in our dialogues to secure all discursive space.
I do need to say it: we need to evaluate if we have truly achieved the goal of gender equality. It seems to me that in our journey, we have forgotten that men are also part of our fight, not as our enemies but also as victims of this hegemony. I hope we can amend all laws that favor heteronormative biases, that we can normalize sex and sexuality. This is a plea to end toxic masculinity and, especially, our very own oppressive tendencies.