Our perspectives are so limited by the time and place we were born into, the racial or ethnic group we belong to, the religion we are raised in, and so on. But we can gain a new perspective, for example, by living in a different culture.
To live as a different sex, however, is far more difficult. But not impossible. As Norah Vincent wrote about her year long experiment posing as a heterosexual man:
She also gained a new perspective on women:
But men are not allowed to be vulnerable. She writes, “a tough front is all you have when there’s nothing behind it but the weakness that you’re not allowed to show”. (p.279)
Recently I read Max Wolf Valerio’s The Testosterone Files, a memoir about how he came to terms with being transgender – back in the 1970s when the issue was almost completely invisible. Going from a radical lesbian feminist to a heterosexual man is a paradigmatic shift, to put it mildly.
He writes that while still appearing female “she” got cat called all the time. He expected street harassment to stop once the testosterone physically changed him. And it did. But what he didn’t expect as a man is being at greater, not lesser risk of violence:
He explains male privilege as
Valerio writes that such observations of the male gender role, and the feminist failure to understand it, caused a greater departure of feminist friends than coming out as transgender did.
A man showing his vulnerability is a man admitting he is weak and in need of protection – not a real man. To talk openly about domestic violence against men being far more common than popularly believed, about male victims of sexual abuse (especially with female perpetrators), paternity fraud, and so on is an admission of vulnerability. This is too radical even for many feminists – particularly male feminists, who in my opinion, seek a positive male identity as the protectors of women. Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young write that for many, “taking any problem of men seriously would mean taking a non-feminist point of view”. (p.246)
But these issues are important precisely because of men’s humanity. An exclusive focus on the men at the top – history’s kings and today’s corporate executives – ignores the overwhelming majority of men. Because not only is it mostly men at the top – it’s mostly men at the bottom. Feminism’s understanding of gender roles is distorted because they don’t see these men at the bottom – the overwhelming majority of war deaths, job deaths, suicides, and chronically homeless being men. Men are even a slight majority of sexual assault victims in the military, but few are talking about this.
I’ve even heard some use the sexist dismissal that, so what, it’s men who create war. This ignores men’s humanity, however, with its refusal to acknowledge that men forced to die in war are not to blame for choices made by other people who happen to look similar to them.