There are two strategies in feminists’ fight for gender equality. The primary one is to give women the things men have in equal measure: economic opportunity, participation in the government, reproductive freedom. A smaller, less important program is underway to give men some of the things women have. Like intense body-scrutiny (celebratory and critical) hang-ups about body hair, carb shame. Sorry our stuff sucks, guys!
Obviously, feminism’s first mission is more important. But the second one is funnier and more viral. It’s cathartic for the women who have been complaining about the big stuff for years, fighting for incremental change while continuing to cope with the small stuff too. Still, how-do-you-like-them-apples feminism has been met with its social-justice-ish backlash movement recently. It’s called menimism (or meninism), a hashtag with which men can testify to injustices such as having to pay for dates, being asked their height on dating sites, and having to live up to an impossible beauty standard perpetuated by Magic Mike.
According to BuzzFeed’s history of menimism, it’s hard to tell whether the movement’s social-media posts reflect sincere contortions of male victimization or an in-joke, like feminism’s ironic misandry. Menimists’ handwritten selfie signs and Twitter memes mimic feminists’ online consciousness-raising, but the real anti-feminist action is underway elsewhere, like in Men’s Rights groups.
The earnest feminist response to menimism would be that patriarchy hurts men, too. Dating and sex will get a lot more fun for men once women no longer vacillate between needing them and fearing them. I’m more inclined to roll my eyes. Most women I know consider letting men pay for their drinks a small act of redistribution for the pay gap. Body-image issues pale in comparison to the impact of restrictions on reproductive and LGBT rights. And most feminist attempts at equal-opportunity debasement are more interested in proving a point than harming actual men. When Brooklyn women organized a large-scale revenge-porn operation last year, it was for art. The dick pics they collected were never distributed, and the victims were completely unidentifiable, even to those who trekked out to Bushwick to see them hanging, en masse, in a gallery. When we shamelessly objectify men, they tend to be high-status ones who make more money than their shamelessly objectified female counterparts (or fictional cartoon characters).
Besides, it would be a lie to say we’re not relishing the interim period, a little, wherein men get a taste of their own medicine, in part because we know how the stakes are for them. Remember Lulu? The ex-boyfriend review app (“Yelp for men”) promised to be a practical tool for feminist spite, allowing women to enact the same dehumanization and slut-shaming we’d suffered at the hands of men. Instead, the female users were so nice that everyone’s grades got inflated until it was useless for information or misinformation. More important, men knew the criticism couldn’t hurt them. “Even my ‘bad’ reviews are kind of good,” one told Maureen O’Connor. “I sound like a player.” And unlike real-world degradation, he could always opt out of the app.
Still, the menimist backlash does suggest that turning the tables of sexism, even rhetorically, won’t make all men more sympathetic to feminist causes. That might be because, as Amanda Hess wrote in her explanation of ironic misandry, feminism is still framed as a zero-sum game, the End of Men. “Advocating for women’s rights won’t lead to the castration and extermination of all men, of course, but it will require the deflation of male power,” she wrote. “Putting more women in the Senate will mean fewer male senators; elevating more women’s voices to the op-ed page will require silencing some men.”
But that’s only true if we believe that all men and women should be measured by the same, traditionally male, definition of power. Feminists aren’t coming to seize men’s jobs. They want to solve the problems that mean women aren’t even considered for men’s jobs, and that the jobs women already do aren’t considered jobs. That includes big, structural issues, like the inflexibility of workplaces for those of us with baby-making parts. It also includes small problems, like the constant objectification that leads to distracting, crippling self-doubt. To be a menimist — and to complain about sharing women’s small problems while continuing to benefit from women’s big problems — is to say that you’re not up to the challenge of competing with women on a level playing field. To which I can only suggest, for lack of a better term, manning up.