Why Men can’t stand the word “Men”
Have you noticed that men rarely talk about “men”? If it’s possible grammatically, they’ll just avoid using any subject at all in the sentence about men. Here’s an example “In the U.S. more people are murdered than in any other country in the developed world”. This sentence is structured in the passive voice, which means it doesn’t specify the subject, the agent that does the killing. The passive voice, which writing handbooks say should only be used when either everyone knows the agent, or when nobody knows the agent, allows for obfuscation. This sentence hides the fact that in the U.S. more men are killing more people than in any other country in the developed world. Men don’t like to read that more men are killing more people. It gives men a bad reputation.
Men will do anything to avoid giving men a bad reputation. This is hard to do when you’re writing about human history, which is full of men killing and raping and pillaging and betraying. Or when you’re talking about current events. Listen to the evening news and you’d have no idea people are divided into genders and one of them is the most violent and destructive. “Police brutality is at an all-time high” – would that be among male police officers, female officers, or both? It’s a no brainer, right? I was just listening to a report about sexual assault in the military. The announcer said “The problem lies both with those who commit sexual assault and with those who stand idly by.” Right. He really means that the problem lies both with those men who commit sexual assault and with those men who stand idly by. That sounds so accusatory , doesn’t it? Like men are being accused of misbehaving. Uh huh. That’s exactly what they need to be accused of. By other men.
I’m ready to swear that as soon as anyone starts a sentence with the word, “men”, all men within earshot panic. I guess that’s understandable given that only women start sentences with “men”, and they are accusing men. Naturally all men within earshot begin asserting that they aren’t actually men themselves. They don’t conform to masculine conditioning themselves, oh no. They may have biologically male bodies, but masculine conditioning did nothing to them, nope. They’re simply “themselves”.
I think fear of being accused is one principal reason that men prefer to use the term “mankind”. As a generalization, that term immediately absolves men of responsibility. They can simple say it’s a human problem, not a masculine problem.
Women live their whole lives identified with a specificity – they are one particular gender within humanity. But this allows them to see themselves as part of two categories, the specific “women” and the general “human” and to compare them.
When men prefer to think about “mankind,” they are refusing the same specificity. They want to think of themselves merely as human, representing the totality of humanity, rather than as one specific gender among others. This doesn’t allow them to make the comparison between the categories, “men” and “human”. Such comparisons can be really fruitful.
If men would start naming men as the killers and rapists and warmongers, they could have a chance to recognize that those behaviours and attitudes are specifically masculine behaviours and attitudes, not human ones. Those behaviours and attitudes are constructed as part of gender construction. Until men learn to see and speak more specifically, they will be blind to their gender conditioning and wholly unable to make the choice not to conform. To undo the conditioning. To refuse to perform as constructed, no matter how strong the internal script. Because what is a man if he’s not a man? Were he to recognize that he belongs to two categories, he could realize he could fall back on being human.
I think men are ashamed of being men these days. They’ve been accused of so much by women — and the facts support women’s accusations — that men have been foundering. They throw up their hands and dig their heads into the nearest sandbox and pretend everything is fine. It’s not fine. It’s not okay for men to be ashamed of being biologically male.
As women have been learning that they are more than their gender, that they can drop some of the requirements of femininity and still be human women, so men need to learn that they can drop some of the requirements of masculinity for the sake of being better human men.
We’re all crippled caricatures of human beings, really. When you think about our awesome potential, you have to wonder how we can be so mean and petty and brutal, to ourselves and to others. And it’s interesting to note that the more we conform to gender stereotypes, the more cartoonish we are. Think about the ultra-feminine ditz teetering about on spikes, placating all the men she encounters in a day. And think about the graceless goon whose every second word is “f*ck” and who has to yell as loud as possible so everyone knows he’s there.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if both those types could see themselves as separate from the constructions of their gender, worthy of letting go of their gender identities? We can be so much more.