Got Sexism?

I apologize for the complete lack of posts lately; I’ve been busy volunteering and exploring New York City, where I am currently located. However, I’ve decided to crawl out of my Russian-food-and-thincrust-pizza-filled cave in order to comment upon this:

What are we looking at here? Silly-looking men holding cartons of milk? Not so simple. These are a series of new ads released by the Got Milk? advertising campaign. The ads showcase the fact that milk can supposedly help reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and feature men making pseudo-sarcastic statements that reference the fact that women are supposedly very moody while on their periods.

The ads point to a website, EverythingIDoIsWrong.com, which is a slick, sardonic guide for men to help placate their bitchy wives and girlfriends during that time of the month. The tagline of the site is, “Your home for PMS management.”

Here are some revealing screencaps from the site, helpfully annotated with my comments:

Attention, men! Because you are from Mars and women are from Venus, you need a special vocabulary to speak with them.
I find this one especially ironic given that women’s concern with their weight has much more to do with societal pressure to be thin than it does with PMS or with making their partners’ lives miserable.
Sorry, men, you’re just going to have to deal with the Evil Women in your life always blaming you for everything.
Because clearly, the only things women care about are gold, silver, and chocolate.

I’ve written about this peculiar menstruation-related misogyny before, except that in my previous post about it, it was being perpetuated by and for women. This ad campaign, on the other hand, targets specifically men and sets up a “yeah bro I know what you’re going through” vibe with its audience.

I won’t repeat what I said in the previous post with regards to the validity of this whole PMS = bitch business, but I will add that these ads rise to a new level of chutzpah, because they somehow manage to turn PMS into a men’s issue. How do they do this, you might ask? After all, it is women, not men, who must deal with the inconvenience of bleeding out of their private parts every month, getting cramps, and feeling fatigued and nauseous. Right?

Wrong! The crappy thing about periods, apparently, is how difficult they make life for men. I mean, duh.

Furthermore, if these fictional men’s concerns do actually contain a semblance of truth in them, maybe it’s time that we recognize the fact that menstruation isn’t to blame here. Rather, the culprits are bad communication skills and a general lack of ability to promote healthy relationships. After all, the relationships hinted at by the men in the ads are anything but functional. Maybe the cure isn’t milk, but a good couples’ therapist.

But of course, it’s much easier to chalk such issues up to women being Complex Demanding Creatures who will never be satisfied by anything their partners do for them, especially not when it’s That Time of Month.

Honestly, this may come as a surprise to you, but most intelligent women find themselves much more pissed off about crap like these ads than about being on their period (or about their partner not taking out the trash/putting the toilet seat down, as the case may be). After all, this is so reductionist. The message to women is, You are your hormones. The message to men is, Deal with her PMS and you’re home free. In the end, advertising campaigns stand to gain from portraying men and women in this way, because the less people understand what really causes conflict in relationships, the more they’ll attempt to buy Stuff to solve all the problems.

And no; just like diamonds, flowers, and chocolate, milk is no panacea.

[Well, now I have two entire posts tagged with “menstruation” on this blog. I’m proud. Also, if you happen to really miss my writing, here’s my short-form blog, which I update much more frequently.]

More posts on this topic, if you’re interested:

OK, I’m done. Promise.
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Who Has it Worse?

There’s a game we progressives sometimes inadvertently play. I like to call it “Who’s More Oppressed?”

You can probably guess what I’m talking about here. It’s the tendency of social justice-oriented people to engage in lengthy polemics regarding “who has it worse.” Is it Black lesbians? Is it transsexual Hispanic men? Is it lower-class white teenage mothers?

In fact, some (quite liberal) friends and I recently tried to figure out which identities the hypothetical most oppressed person in the world would have. (I’ll leave the conclusion up to your imagination.)

I encountered a less dramatic form of this argument recently on (where else) Tumblr. A male user had responded to a graphic against slut-shaming with the comment, “Try to nail every girl you know? Douchebag. Try to be civil with every girl you know? Fuckin friend-zoned. It works both ways.”

A user named, of course, “stfuconservatives” reblogged the post and added some commentary to it, claiming that being called a slut is worse than being “friend-zoned” and that women have it worse than men. Further comments on that post agreed with stfuconservatives and generally bemoaned the preponderance of sexism in this world.

Let’s step back for a minute. Yes, being called a slut is awful. Nobody should ever call someone that. Period.

Besides which, what this guy wrote and the way in which he wrote it is definitely quite presumptuous and entitled-sounding. However, for the sake of argument, I’ll play devil’s advocate and take his perspective. First of all, he never said that this men’s issue is worse than being called a slut is for a woman, which is what the responders claim he says. But in fact, he specifically says, “It works both ways.” What does that NOT imply? That men have it worse. This man never said that he finds it appropriate to call a woman a slut, or that he doesn’t think this is a problem. Let’s not put words into his mouth.

Furthermore, why this immediate assumption that this man’s claim does not deserve attention? Several commenters immediately point out that they themselves have never “friend-zoned” a guy for being nice. Perhaps not. But this issue is one that I have heard mentioned by guys many, many times, and it strikes at the heart of the conflict between masculinity and sensitivity that most (if not all) American men have to face. This culture glorifies the “Bad Boy,” and men are taught from an early age that being a man means being callous and aloof. Rape culture permeates through our society, teaching men that inducing women to have sex with them is a worthy goal.

On a personal level, every “nice guy” I know has experienced at least one situation in which a girl he liked picked an asshole over him. In fact, when I was younger, I did this all the time. I don’t know why women do it. But it happens. There’s no need to pretend that this isn’t an issue, because it is, and it should be addressed.

Finally–and this relates to a topic I’ll be addressing in a later post–the name “stfuconservatives” (means “shut the fuck up, conservatives,” for those who aren’t familiar with chatspeak) is just so damn wrong. How will progressives benefit from silencing those who disagree with us? Argument and debate not only causes us to strengthen our ability to defend our own views, but it also reminds us that we might not be right about everything, and that many different perspectives exist in the world. These perspectives should be valued, respected, and engaged with.

But back to my original point. What good, exactly, does it do to argue about who has it worse? Why can’t we acknowledge that even groups that we associate with privilege can have issues, and that different kinds of privilege operate in different social contexts? There are so many different kinds of prejudice and stereotypes.

For what it’s worth, I’m glad that I’m a woman, and I can act as kind and generous with men as I want without them relegating me to the status of friend (and nothing more). I’m glad that when it comes to dating, being the person I truly want to be–caring, sensitive, and witty–actually helps me get dates and find relationships, rather than hurting my chances.

Ultimately, I think it’s unfair to make any claims about who has it worse. Each of us sees the world through our particular lens. In terms of things like access to employment opportunities, salaries, historical discrimination, and reproductive justice, women undoubtedly have it worse. But how about being expected to get a job that can provide for a family? How about being drafted to fight in wars? How about being expected to show little emotion, to know how to do practical things around the house, to love sports and be athletic, to propose marriage?

Who has it worse is irrelevant. Let’s fight for social justice without trampling on any group, whether it’s traditionally “privileged” or not. What this comes down to is choosing to speak, write, and argue in ways that are inclusive, rather than exclusive. Like it or not, about half the world is men. There’s no need to make them feel like we don’t care about their viewpoints.