Consider the statement: "Not all women are annoying. Some are dead."
Or this: "Women have only two faults: Everything they say and everything they do."
Or this: "Men must be twice as good as women to be thought half as good. Fortunately this is not difficult."
Sarcasm such as this is obviously sexist, yet these same messages are OK if directed against men. How do I know? I copied these statements from greeting cards and message pads on display at the local supermarket, then reversed the gender to direct them against women. Nothing else was changed. Imagine the reaction if the following had been printed on a greeting card: "With affirmative action, whites must be twice as good as blacks to be thought half as good. Fortunately this is not difficult."
Attacking blacks is racism, attacking women is sexism, but attacking men is consciousness-raising or comedy or both. While public criticism of women is taboo, public denigration of men is a major industry in this country. Male bashing is entertaining, lucrative, and can earn its practitioners millions of followers on social media.
However, these public images of men are far removed from the lives of most men I know. I understand this both as a man and a psychotherapist who is asked to understand the inner personal experience of both women and men in my work.
The prevailing narrative in America holds that women are oppressed, men are dominant, and men are women's oppressors. Yet my own experience does not confirm this dismal public image of the male gender in America. For the most part, the men I know lead quiet, productive lives; are concerned with the welfare of their families and treat others with respect, including women. No, they are not perfect, but they lead ordinary lives and are thus invisible to feminists.
A generalized distrust of men as men is ingrained in our culture. Consider, for example, our tendency to view maleness as inherently problematic. When a man does good, the good deed is gender neutral, but when he does something wrong, it is often attributed to his gender. A male physician who heals a sick woman is a good person who just happens to be male, but a male physician who is disrespectful to a female patient does so because he is male.
It is not that women are not oppressed — they are oppressed. The difference is that our society as a whole cares about the suffering of women, but is relatively indifferent to the suffering of men. Consider, for example, the problem of domestic violence again women. This is a major social problem and deserves the attention it now receives in the media and the criminal justice system. However, the fact that men are over four times more likely to commit suicide generates little publicity. In line with this, look at how we respond when women mistreat men. Consider Lorena Bobbitt, who became a celebrity in 1993 and was an inspiration to womyn everywhere when she cut of her husband's penis because of his affair. This assault quickly became a national joke and was a gold mine of comedy for late night talk shows. Now imagine the public response if he had cut off her clitoris because she was the one having an affair.
Just as people in the Dark Ages firmly believed that the sun revolves around the Earth, today the real truth about the relative status of men and women is little understood. We now know, of course, that the sun's revolving around the Earth is an illusion -- just the opposite is true. However we do not yet understand that apparent male dominance and privilege are also an illusion.
The bad news is that both women and men still face gender discrimination, the difference being that talking about prejudice again women is consciousness-raising, while talking about prejudice against men is whining. History should teach us that to disparage any group of people, whether they are women, blacks, Jews or whomever, will have serious negative social consequences.
Fortunately human kindness and decency have no gender. When we listen with respect to the perspectives of both men and women alike we will begin to heal the hurt and misunderstanding that often divide women and men from one another.
Fred Medinger is a psychotherapist; his email is email@example.com.