A Feminist Primer for Bi Men

5/6/2017

A recent study found that young men today are more sexist than their father’s generation. Another 2015 investigation showed a full quarter of young men believed “women’s gains had come at the expense of men.” That same study, in partnership with MTV, showed 44% “of males say women use gender equality as an excuse more than they should…and that people are too sensitive about gender.” Reading this, you’d think that men aren’t impacted by gender roles—but men are hurt by sexism, too.

So…what is feminism?

Feminism is recognizing there are systemic structures in place that impact our access to thrive, and that these structures subjugate people. Feminism is the concept that people are people, that we do not exit the womb along binary gender lines with corresponding deficiencies and predilections.

When we are born, we are assigned a sex based on our genitals: female, male, or intersex. This is our sex assigned at birth. Along with it comes a gender, most likely approached by others as masculine or feminine. Overwhelmingly, sex and gender are treated as correlated and binary. If you are Male Assigned At Birth (MAAB), your assumed gender is boy, followed by man; the only other option is to be Female Assigned At Birth (FAAB), leading to a life as a girl, then woman. So from the start we’re given bows or arrows, trucks or ballet slippers, hugs or “stiff upper lip”s. This leads to a lifetime of inequality, both in how we see the world and how others see us.

One way this manifests is the prevailing perception that women talk more than men. This is an untrue generalization. But another conversation pattern is universal—men interrupting women. Men’s voices tend to take over in spaces people are most likely to be heard and listened to. Next time you’re in a conversation or meeting, pay attention to the patterns as well as your tendencies. You may find yourself feeling uncomfortable with ceding the floor. Feminism fights the concept the floor was ever yours to give.

Though men benefit from feminism,it remains important to center feminist work on the people most impacted by gender oppression, including trans and cis women, nonbinary, intersex, and trans people elsewhere and overlapping on the gender spectrum.

Read and listen to people who are different than you.

As a recent study of bi people showed, coming out as bi can be some’s first experience with a marginalized identity. White people can get lost in this experience, focusing on a “But I’m oppressed!” mentality. Oppressions are different, and discrimination based on sexuality is different than racism. A white person cannot understand the experience of a black person based on that white person’s marginalized identities. The concept of intersectionality, conveyed by activist and author Carter as “a theory to analyze different types of oppression simultaneously,” was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the way race and gender oppressions intersect for black women. Racism and sexism exist in bi spaces. White people are not immune to being racist because we are queer.

Our gender is a factor in how sexism impacts us. A trans person will be impacted by misogyny differently than a cis woman; a nonbinary person will have different life experiences with sexism. When you are reading and listening to people who are different from you, it is important to remember that their lived experiences are different than your own.

The bi community includes almost every identity. The spaces we create and perpetuate must be welcoming and accessible. To engage in feminism as a man, you must let others drive. Don’t ask to be taught, but allow yourself to learn. There is a plethora of resources already in existence. These words should by no means be the only ones you read this month, this week, even today on gender discrimination and allyship. Use your own time and energy to find varied voices. And listen.

Don’t ask us for unpaid emotional labor.

Many men are socialized to expect women to provide time, energy, and other forms of support, and to do so without the same in return or monetary compensation or even acknowledgement. A telling platform for this is social media. Being a woman on the internet often involves fending off male entitlement, including requests for our time and energy, threats of assault, and other harassments. The way that many men appropriate space online is not unlike the way men take up space on the subway. Taking, seemingly without awareness but with every ability to be aware, what is not theirs to have. Forcing us be encroached upon no matter how we choose to proceed. All while our own experiences of male aggression and violence color the interaction, and those same experiences remain up for debate as reality.

Before you engage someone on social media:

  • Consider the intersections of the person you want to engage with, and consider the person you want to engage with already knows what you feel compelled to share.
  • Ask yourself if the conversation serves the other party you are engaging with in any way, or if it is one sided.
  • Just like in school, wait until the line of thought is done before responding; your contribution just might be covered.
  • If you have a question, do a search. Even if someone is working out their thoughts on a topic on a public forum, that does not mean they are there to guide you.
  • Ask yourself what your goal is. Are you trying to learn more? Allow what you’ve learned already to inspire your own explorations. Avoid asking questions to simply open to the door to you sharing your opinions on the subject.
  • Never engage to antagonize.
  • Respect the boundaries of others. As Carter says, “if you’re told you’re wrong or to stop engaging then just stop.”
  • Remember that just because you haven’t experienced something does not mean it does not exist. Your experience involves your privilege (be it class, education, race, gender, etc.), and rejecting someone else’s experience from your place of privilege is a silencing tactic and at best, a microaggression.

Explore male privilege and toxic masculinity

Male privilege allows you to move through the world in a different, easier way than others. Your bisexuality does not automatically negate this. Acknowledging your male privilege, learning how it helps you, and using it to help others are all a part of being a feminist and an ally.

Starting with those arrows, trucks, and “stiff upper lip”s of youth, toxic masculinity contributes to a violent, unsafe culture. Learn about  how it has shaped you and the ways you contribute to it, including the words you choose and how you react to people embracing femme expression. Toxic masculinity is not only deeply harmful to all men, it is a root cause of violence against queer and trans folks, especially women. Trans people are more likely to be bi or queer, and toxic masculinity is behind the violent loss of trans members of our community, especially trans women of color, especially black trans women. Be sure that you are supporting the entire bi community, not just the parts that are like you.

Use your voice to boost others.

Compared to the general LGB population we are more likely to experience mental illness, encounter assault, be harassed, be discriminated against. Bi women, in particular, experience exorbitantly high rates rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault when compared to lesbians and straight women. (Studies do not tend to consider the entire gender spectrum so current data tends to be binary.) The objectification of our sexuality, layered with the objectification of women, as well as toxic masculinity, are all contributing factors.

We, like you, are paid less than gay and straight people, intersections of race, disability, immigration status, and more compounding the problem. But women are also impacted by the gender wage gap. Bi people are more likely than gays and lesbians to be parents, bi women at double the rate of bi men. While parenthood can lead to an increase in income for men, the opposite is true for women. Speak out in support of reproductive rights, and advocate for—or just ask about—parental leave at work. If you are in a position to ensure pay equality is a standard, then make it a priority. Boost the voices of people who are most impacted by discriminatory laws and practices, especially over voices that are more often heard and listened to.

Consider what you consume

Many “men’s magazines” normalize sexist behavior and sexual assault. They are a perfect example of toxic masculinity. Be a critical consumer. It’s a theme that isn’t relegated to magazines alone. As shown through movie posters, even women superheroes are subject to subjugation. A part of feminism is just in the act of noticing the sexist messages we receive every day and not contributing to their unobstructed dissemination. Is this less fun? For you, maybe yes! But remember, for others, it has always been less fun.

Where do you go from here?

You may be tempted to respond to what you’ve read here in one of two ways: by insisting not all men are misogynists, or with a story about how you’re also oppressed or discriminated against. These may be true, but you should still take the time to reflect on why you’re compelled to respond in such a way.

Your voice is heard louder, clearer, and longer—especially by other men and society as a whole. Pull those without male privilege to the forefront with you. Think before you request. Whether you’re in a meeting, on a train, or online, don’t talk over, mansplain, or manspread. Remember no matter how much you’ve learned, the person who has lived it is the expert. And continue every day to read, listen, and diversify the information you consume.

Sensitivity reader services provided by Carter. Find more of Carter’s work here.

SB Swartz
SB Swartz is an author covering inclusive wellness, queer family, and reflections of our world as seen on tv. She’s a proud member of the #StillBisexual campaign, working to dispel the myth that bisexuals don't stay bisexual. Her home is filled with Battlestar Galactica posters, her husband, and their troublemaking cats. She adores them all.

Follow SB Swartz on Twitter @sbswrites and see more of her work @sbswartz on medium.