One of the feminist concepts that’s wonderfully useful when applied to men’s issues is the notion of microaggressions. Microaggressions are all those things that you get every fuckin’ day that make you feel marginalized or alienated, none of which quite cross the threshold to where you can get pissed about them, but which just wear away at you. Here, have a bunch of examples.
Now, as a straight white cis male Normal Person, I’d never really thought about microaggressions as they apply to me. I don’t get all the shit in that video, I don’t get told I don’t exist the way bisexuals and trans folks and so many others do–by most metrics of social oppression, I’ve got a pretty sweet deal.
Thing is, though, it turns out that “less fucked up than some other folks” is not even close to the same as “not fucked up”. When I sat down and looked at the issue, I discovered that my average day contains a wealth of microaggressions, little things just picking away at my sense of self, all focused on the fact that I’m male.
I’ve stopped watching most TV comedies because it just gets too wearing to see the same old men-are-all-slobs men-are-all-stupid men-are-all-horny jokes over and over and fucking over. The laughter payoff I get is just not worth being called an asshole that many times in 22 minutes. Well, okay, except for Community and Louie. But those are less into gender assumptions than most.
I also don’t dare watch TV commercials, and I go well out of my way to block internet ads as well. I will switch browsers to one with stronger ad-blocking software if I feel like there’s a chance I might accidentally view a commercial. A couple years ago, someone told America’s marketing departments that there’s this Crisis Of Masculinity going on, so now way too many ads are about “Be a Real Man by purchasing this specific product!” The worst part isn’t even those prescriptivist ads, though, or their counterparts about “Men have no idea how to perform simple household tasks! That’s woman’s work! With these specific products!” The ones that really get me are the ones that take performative masculinity for granted, the ones that say “Sure, you’re a normal guy, eating some hot wings and watching the game with your bros…” Okay, seriously, I don’t like hot wings, I don’t watch the game, and I don’t have bros. Thanks a lot for cutting me out of my gender.
I hate that when I’m dining out with one of my girlfriends, most of the time the waiter will hand me the check, or at least put it on my side of the table. 90% of the time, I’m not getting the check, being a broke-ass starving writer and all. Being handed that check stings; it’s a reminder that I’m a bum, an unemployable ne’er-do-well who can’t even fulfill my assigned Success Object role well enough to pick up a lousy dinner check. It’s also, implicitly, an insult to my date, a denial of her own economic agency. (Ozy’s Law strikes again!) What really makes me crazy, though, is when she lays down her credit card, they go and run the card, and then hand me back the slip to sign. Now really, I know that people’s names and gender presentations vary a lot, but if you’ve got two people at a table, only one of them’s got tits, and you’re holding a credit card with the name Susan on it, is it that unfair to play the fucking odds?
Then maybe I get home and I relax by reading one of my favorite humor websites, like Cracked.com. Man, you know what’s funny, apparently? Pointless enforcement of gender roles! Now, let me talk seriously about comedy for a second. I think Seanbaby is one of the most talented humor writers of his generation. He’s got a clear, recognizable style that makes me laugh every time. Also, every single sentence he writes is about gender enforcement. I have no idea how the bastard orders lunch without implying that the waiter’s dick would be bigger if he did more push-ups. Possibly he doesn’t, I don’t know. It’s not just him, of course. Search that site for the terms “manly” “manliest” and “badass”. Clear your calendar first.
If it were only that site, I’d ignore it and go get my giggles elsewhere, but dear god, the enforcement is unending. How many jokes do you see in a day based on the premise that seeing a woman’s body is hot and sexy, but seeing a man’s body is gross and disgusting? (Again, that’s offensive coming and going!) I turn on TV and I get called an asshole, I turn on the internet and I get called gross.
Never fucking mind if I want to do anything with a kid. Take my niece out to the zoo? Look after a girlfriend’s kids for a while while she has a date? Even just walk through a park that has a playground? Oh boy, the looks I get. Obviously any man having anything to do with a kid he didn’t father must be a kidnapper or a pedophile or whatnot. I want to tell these parents who shield their kids from me, “Look, it is a statistical near-certainty that if your kid is molested, it will be by you or someone you trust. If your kid is kidnapped, chances are actually above 99% it’s by you or someone you trust. All the math says your kid would actually be safer eating candy in my van than at home with you, your family, and everyone else who’s more likely to hurt them than some random bald-headed stranger.” But that would be rude, and then they’d ask why I even have a van full of candy, and it gets awkward.
None of these things exactly wreck my day. I’m a mature adult (with a surprising amount of candy) and I can handle some tasteless jokes, some wary looks, and the goddamn restaurant check. But Jesus H. Christ in a highball glass, it adds up. It wears on a fella. It gets to where some days I just want to stagger home and write a long, snarky post with a lot of cussing.
This is a lightly edited reprint of a previous Noah Brand piece.