The Unladylike Project: Calling Men Out

me rolling my eyes and looking exasperated as hell

Empowerment is more easily said than done. There are so many feminist principles that I champion in theory, and that I’d gladly shout from the rooftops or text to friends in all caps, but that I find so damn hard to implement in my actual life.

One such principle is the idea that men should treat women well, listen to us, respect us. Obviously I believe this. I decry disrespectful men on the internet, point out when dudes treat my friends poorly, and criticize shitty men in TV and film. But when it comes to how I’m treated by the men in my life, I find it harder to kick up a fuss.

True, I’m lucky enough that most of the men in my close social circles are fantastic. My little brother is one of my favorite people on earth and treats me like a precious jewel; my dad is an upstanding protector and a fierce feminist; I have several male friends who perennially prove themselves feminist allies. Unfortunately, though, patriarchal conditioning is really hard to unlearn, and even the best men sometimes backslide into toxically sexist behaviors without noticing it. And sometimes I backslide right along with them.

These aberrations come in many forms. There are the family parties where the men sit comfortably in their armchairs after dinner while the women clear the table. There’s the subtle way I and my single female friends are likelier to be harangued about not having a partner than our male friends are. There’s the expectation that women are “naturally better” at emotional labor and are thus expected to nurture and support our male friends in times of need, even when we barely have the energy to take care of our own needs.

Most of the time, I am pleased as punch to help my friends – of all genders – in any way I can. But when the labor expected of me becomes too much, and operates along visible gender lines, sometimes I need to call out my dude-friends for tumbling into troubling tropes. And I’m usually too meek to speak up when I need to, due to yet another gendered trope which says women should be subservient, small, and “ladylike.” Well, fuck that. If someone’s walking all over me, I am well within my rights to point that out and insist that they stop!

Our culture encourages women to cattily compete with one another, while constantly deferring to men and seeking to impress them. This results in a psychological environment where I’m much likelier to blame a woman or get angry with her, even if a man is equally or moreso to blame for whatever slight has taken place. This is internalized misogyny through and through, and I hate that I sometimes unwittingly perpetuate it. I want to take off the rose-colored glasses through which I see men, and expect as much from them as I expect from everyone else in my life: respect, kindness, consideration, integrity. Men aren’t exempt from being decent humans just ’cause I find some of them attractive and want them to think I’m attractive too. That’s no excuse!

Some of my male friends know about my tendency to downplay my own needs and boundaries, so they’ll check in occasionally: “Please let me know if I’m talking about myself too much,” they’ll say, or, “Feel free to ignore this unsolicited advice if I’m totally mansplaining, but…” It’s great that they give me these opportunities to set boundaries when I need to. I should take them up on those offers more often. It’s important to me that I be a polite, kind, supportive person, but you start to lose your energy for supportiveness when people are constantly steamrolling over you. So maintaining better boundaries, and calling out people who mistreat me, is good not only for me but also for my friends. I am a better friend to them when I am mentally and emotionally healthy and happy.

Non-male readers: do you also have trouble speaking up when men treat you badly or carelessly? Got any tips?

  • Tyler Giesel

    I know I am not a non male reader. In fact I am probably an ally friend who often misses when I steam roll others. However I find it fascinating how much of this I still identify with. So I would like to share some of my own ups and downs with being male.

    I am a very large, tall, cis, white man, pretty much the kings of privileges. But I fear hurting people, so I try to be as nice as possible to avoid that, and to avoid the fear. So my whole life people have been projecting on me what that means to them. My grandmother wants me to have a normal job and kids and carry on the family name(I’m the last male heir in our line, and she doesn’t know that I want to take my girlfriends name). My step dad wanted me to get in more trouble as a teen(to the point that he said that he dreamed of bailing me out of jail. I guess that would prove my manhood to him). I had “friends” tell me I must be gay because my best friend is. Or because I like electronica. Or because of how I crossed my legs, or countless other reasons. The amount that was used as a bad thing in my early life is why I couldn’t accept that I was heteroflexible until I moved to Toronto a few years ago, and now I am just starting to accept that I might be bi or Pan.

    Most people tend to fall into two categories of perception of me. Fear, or utter indifference, like by trying not to seem scary, or by trying to be a nice man: That means that I am weak or worthless. So people that know me either walk all over me, or assume that my offers of help, friendship, get togethers are false in some way and never use them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying: “boo how, privilege can suck sometimes too” more that there is a lot of subtle social backlash for not acting “like a man”. However the privage of size can help me by pass some of that, for example when I want to have pretty painted nails, strangers are not going to comment, lol.

  • Lunabelle

    I feel like I might need to write a post just for the issues I have with this in professional settings. When I am expected to get coffee for a visitor, even though I’m the highest ranking person in the room…and I’m halfway to the kitchen before I realize what just happened. When I slow my walk so the “chivalrous” older male I’m meeting with isn’t annoyed that I opened my own door (or *gasp* held it for him). When folks make comments about watching their language/tone “with a lady present”, even though I’d prefer to be blunt and drop the occasional f-bomb myself. When customers demand a hug from me in lieu of the handshake they happily accept from my male peers, and I uncomfortably comply. When I’m expected to walk a vanishingly thin line between “overly sensitive” and “aggressive bitch” in everything from sales pitches to salary negotiations. When the bold idea in my head emerges from my mouth with a question mark at the end, so the man I’m proposing it to doesn’t see me as too pushy.

    I find it’s even harder to overcome gender conditioning in a setting where the person with those gendered expectations is contributing to or signing your paycheck. I’m much more apt to fight it now than 10 years ago, but it’s still a daily struggle.

  • Beatrice

    When I talk to men in general. I pretend they are actually women, or otherwise not cismen. Basically, if my views of people who aren’t cis-men have been made equal to how I view myself, I want all folks to be equal. So instead of putting cismales into their own category, I place them into the same category as myself. So all folks become equal without me changing myself or putting anyone on a pedistal.