One of the most challenging, and essential, parts of growing up is learning how to take responsibility. Unlike childhood, during which we’re at the mercy of other people’s opinions, choices and behaviours, adulthood necessitates that we think, decide and act for ourselves. This vital distinction between adults and children is made clear within our legal system, which stipulates that any one under the age of ten cannot be arrested or charged with a crime, and that whilst those between the age of ten and 17 can be arrested and charged, they must be treated differently from adults (gov.uk). Necessary as responsibility clearly is to the very definition of adulthood, though, there are some adults who are held significantly less accountable for their actions than others. And they tend to be men.
Those aware of current domestic and sexual abuse conviction rates and the many gender-based abuse/exploitation scandals that have emerged over recent months and years will likely agree that men, in both the public and private spheres, are not often enough held accountable for their bad behaviour towards women and girls. But whilst it’s clear that much work needs to be done to balance things out, not everyone agrees on the best way to go about it.
A few weeks ago I came across an article in my Facebook newsfeed which reminded me (not that I really needed to be reminded) of just how problematic the issue of accountability is when it comes to gender. The article in question was titled, ‘When We Blame Men We Ignore This Uncomfortable Truth,’ and it was written by a female author named Galina Singer. Published by Elephant Journal, a platform dedicated to issues relating to wellness and New Age spirituality, I was prepared to discover opinions and sentiments that oppose my own understanding of the subject matter. What I wasn’t expecting to find, however, was an emphatic endorsement of why it is that women are to blame, and should therefore take responsibility, for the childish behaviour of their male partners.
All men are children!” exclaimed my married friends when I had come too close to being fed up with the babysitting. “There is no one better,” is what they would say next, unwilling to contemplate any other way of relating…
I don’t want my partner in life to be one of my children… I want an equal! Yet, when I speak to other women and dig deeper into myself, I realize that most of us do not really want an equal either: we want a father figure. We crave finally being taken care of by a stronger authority figure…
We fight for equality publicly, but privately what we still want is someone to save us, to spoil us, and battle the hardships of life on our behalf.
We are filled with conflicting messages, torn between the remnants of patriarchal conditioning and the need for change… Most women I know, me included, end up blaming our partners for our unhappiness, abstaining from taking our share of responsibility for our own well-being.
To get the guy to commit we use every trick in our seduction toolkit—then we try to break him in and domesticate him. We proceed to turn our men into helpless children: exactly what exasperates us once we have succeeded…
We want our men to be sensitive and vulnerable, but not too much so or they become too needy. We want them to be strong, decisive, and take initiative, yet sufficiently obedient and willing to compromise at home…
When any of these expectations fail, we feel betrayed… We come to the conclusion that, since now we have to do everything on our own, men have simply become obsolete… The emasculation of men has become normalized.
Now, I don’t usually bother reading or thinking too much about articles of this nature. I mean, the sentiments are so simplistic that it’s hardly worth making the effort. However, as a writer and feminist with some knowledge of this issue (albeit limited) I do feel a certain obligation to speak out against opinions that seem to engender and/or endorse gender inequality. I’m aware that there are many intelligent, well-meaning women who desperately want to improve their romantic relationships and wholeheartedly believe that they can achieve this simply through working on their own behaviour. However, and I can’t stress this enough, arguments that shift accountability for the actions of men onto women’s shoulders truly are the antithesis of sound feminist rhetoric. For a start, contemporary feminism and its fight to break through the barriers of patriarchal ideology is not about disrespecting or emasculating men. Nor is it about expecting vulnerability and sensitivity from them. Contemporary feminism is about achieving equality and respect between men and women. That’s it.
Secondly, I actually agree with Galina when she suggests that some women have too high expectations of their male partners—I myself have been guilty of this. But unreasonable as some women’s expectations of men can be, gender stereotyping goes both ways. As such it is utterly preposterous to suggest, as Galina does here, that women’s expectations of men are to blame for their immaturity. Every person, regardless of gender, has the power to choose for them selves how they will relate to their friends, partners, lovers, acquaintances and family members. It just so happens that men, a great number of whom have benefited from more money, more respect, and more opportunities/privileges in society for hundreds of years are still generally not held accountable for the disrespectful and pig-headed ways in which they choose to think about, talk about and behave towards women.
Arguments that shift accountability for the actions of men onto women’s shoulders truly are the antithesis of sound feminist rhetoric.
Whilst acknowledging that many men are emotionally stifled within our current system (rates of suicide amongst men are significantly higher than they are amongst women), I also have to question whether it is fair or reasonable to suggest that women should take the blame when men choose to shirk responsibility. If only women did have the power, as Galina suggests, to tackle this problem from the comfort of their homes simply by acknowledging their own shortcomings and lowering their expectations of men. If only it were that easy.
As much as I can empathise with Galina’s desire for a more grown up gender dynamic, and even agree with what she says about the importance of forgiveness and compassion for healthy relationships, her article is extremely narrow in its view of an immensely complicated issue. It patently and naively disregards the fact that those who hold the most power and privilege within our society (i.e. men, and particularly those who are white, cisgender and heterosexual) are often both encouraged and rewarded for behaving in ways that overtly/covertly oppress, disrespect and abuse women.
For a sea change to occur it’s absolutely necessary that women learn to recognise when they are not to blame, and that men begin to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Rather than supporting a move towards balance, articles like this reinforce the idea that we should continue to ignore the real issue at hand. The real issue is that men are not often enough held accountable for their behaviour and attitudes towards women. Not in their relationships. Not in their workplaces. Not in society more generally. We all want change. Wilful blindness is not the way to achieve it.
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