Why Only 1 in 5 Men Reads Feminist Books
Apparently, only 20% of feminist book readers are men. I think I know why.
All men and women are victims of patriarchy.
Daily, some fathers harm boys who express their emotions so they "don't become homosexuals," husbands hit wives that do something "she shouldn't have done," and mothers, according to Feminist Pioneer Riane Eisler, "direct their suppressed anger against men they feel are weak or vulnerable—their sons for example."
I have lived and seen other men live through patriarchy's consequences.
In college, I developed chronic anxiety after losing my dad's support and not knowing which career to pursue. I didn't ask for help because that's not what men do, so the symptoms did not fade for three semesters.
Among my young male friends, there is an inner pressure to work. They feel they must be making more money and looking better and more put together than other men. Otherwise, as older male figures have told them, the woman they wish to date won't care about them.
"Workaholism is the most common addiction in men," says feminist theorist bell hooks." Parents don't believe the health consequences of being one are that detrimental. So they convince their sons and daughters it's necessary: to stand out, mate, and be happy.
A recent internet "funny" meme I saw reminded me of how early parents do this. It showed a father taking his little girl around the world so that, by the time she starts dating, she has a high bar for where her boyfriend should take her. People of all ages, sexual orientations, and genders laughed because, under the jokes, there is a collective hunch that the girl will grow up with those expectations. Most men won't be able to hit those expectations unless they work more than everyone else. And they grow up knowing that.
Most men I know are aware of the exact expectations that cause chronic stress. If you asked older men, they would likely agree too, even if they were too stubborn to admit it. Then, it's worth asking, why don't more men read feminist literature?
Reading hooks' The Will to Change, a book I enjoyed, I realized I had a partial answer. The problem with a significant portion of feminist literature is that it proposes data-less, biased arguments.
hooks' take on the Hulk is an example of such an argument.
"The Hulk linked sexism and racism…The cool, level-headed, rational white-male scientist turned into a colored beast whenever his passions were aroused. Tormented by the knowledge of this transformation, he searches for a cure, a way to disassociate himself from the beast within." "After committing violence, he changes back to his normal white-male rational self. He has no memory of his actions and therefore cannot assume responsibility for them."
Let's break it down.
Even as a person of color, I can't understand why The Hulk, being a colored monster, represents other non-white people and me. Think of the color you would choose to draw a monster. Would it be non-human? If so, are you racist? Were the people from 1,400 years ago who represented non-human creatures in non-human colors also racist?
Also, why does it matter if the Hulk's non-transformed form, that is, the scientist Bruce Banner, is white? Patriarchy influences the entire world: from Canada to Colombia to India to Albania. If Bruce were black and remained black as the Hulk, would it still be racist? What if Bruce was white and remained white? Would this imply that all white people have an inner, uncontrollable beast ready to murder?
I don't think so unless the Hulk was clearly being derogatory. The question is, how do we decide what's derogatory or not?
She says Bruce Banner is "cool, level-headed, and rational." These are traits I agree patriarchal thinking promotes. But why is it sexist to have these traits, especially if you design a character who hovers between extremes of emotions? Sure a man of any color in a non-patriarchal age or society had these traits.
Is it OK to have these traits at all? Playing with the idea that the Hulk is a white female, I wonder if hooks would be OK with that. Or if she would think it's sexist because it somehow proves the patriarchy has the female Hulk under its control. Say the Hulk was a white woman that had the opposite traits. Would it not be sexist? Or would it be more problematic because it somehow signals women can't be cool, level-headed, and rational?
I can see how we can interpret hooks' argument as follows. We have a "cool, level-headed, and rational" character who is white. His "bad" side is the opposite. Emotional, unstable, and irrational. Those are undesirable traits. So the opposite of "white male" is bad.
Yet, I think that's overthinking it, as, based on what I know, Bruce's skin color hasn't ever been mentioned. It's not relevant.
It's common for men influenced by the patriarchy to dissociate. Parents tell us to suck up emotions and keep moving forward, even though that repression can increase our likelihood of developing diseases.
Still, as far as I know, for most of his existence, The Hulk has been trying to cure himself. He doesn't receive joy from killing people or because of his inability to remember how he did it. Rather, he lives under constant stress over his inability to change this. In one movie, he moved to a different planet to not hurt people. He is willing to stay away from those he loves because he regrets his actions.
You are right if you feel I'm overthinking and drawing intangible connections to prove my point. So are the feminists I criticize.
Their urge to prove a phenomenon leads to making connections that do not exist. And, if they do exist, they aren't taking the time to find the data backing to support their existence.
As a feminist, do you hold a belief that you wish to prove? Fantastic. Go find evidence that proves and disproves it.
Let's see how this works for the belief that men like masculine toys (high status, violent, dictatorial) like The Hulk and not female toys like Barbies because parents socialize them into liking them.
On the disproving side, we have evidence that men and women tend to like specific toys before socializing. Evolutionary psychologist Gad Saad shares three examples in The Parasitic Mind.
First, he shares how men and women consistently differ in the relative lengths of their index and ring fingers. The ring is longer than the index for males, whereas their lengths are more similar for women. This results from exposure to androgens: a hormone that develops and maintains male characteristics, such as growing a beard. So the wider the difference in these lengths, the more "masculinized" the person is. According to studies, the more different the fingers' lengths are, the more masculine the toy preference.
To understand what these results entail, picture a scenario where we have one 1-year-old boy and a girl. If the boy has a masculine finger length ratio, which he is likely to have because he is a male, he will probably prefer playing with male toys.
Now, picture the same scenario, but consider that you have two 1-year-old girls. A has a masculine finger length ratio, and B has a feminine one. In this scenario, A is more likely to pick a Power Ranger, The Hulk, or James Bond action figure than B, even though she is a female.
This is one piece of evidence, not enough to demolish any theory. So let's look for more.
There have been links to higher testosterone levels and masculine toy preferences. Researchers collected the urine of children between seven days old and six months old. These were both times before socialization. The higher the testosterone was, the greater the odds the child would like male toys, regardless of whether the child was a boy or a girl.
So far, we have morphological and pediatric endocrinological evidence against the feminist's claims. Not enough to lose hope but enough to doubt one's claims.
So we keep looking, this time at comparative psychology, a branch that tries to understand human cognition by studying other species with which we share common evolutionary ancestors. It was found, says Saad, that vervet monkeys, rhesus monkeys, and chimpanzees exhibit the same sex-specific toy preferences that humans do.
After reading three pieces of evidence against her claim, all coming from different fields, the feminist has two choices.
One, and this is the one I'm afraid I AM not seeing as often as I would like to, is to find research errors that prove this evidence isn't right or that it's not enough to lead to population-level inferences. Then she would have to find evidence across different fields (to avoid biases) that proves socialization (e.g., patriarchy) determines toy preferences.
Two, and this is the one I'm seeing the most, is to come up with a claim that no person with a genuine interest in learning about feminist literature will buy. Something like, "men conducted these studies, and if there were women involved, they were brainwashed by the patriarchy." Or that the patriarchy's extent is so marked that even primates are victims of it.
You might think I'm cherry-picking, and I am. I'm showing you one example of data-less arguments. But there's a reason.
First, to make the scientific feminists reading this as uncomfortable as I am. To think, "is this guy really using one example (e.g., toys) to claim an issue?"
There's also the fact that, as with most fields, I can find information backing and rejecting the same thesis. You can name a feminist who follows the scientific method, I can name one that does not, and we can carry on forever. I'm not saying all feminists (male or female) make these types of claims. I'm saying many do, and many are part of the scientific discourse, and that's a problem.
I became interested in feminist literature after reading hooks' book. One day after finishing the book, I picked up the work of Camille Paglia, a recognized feminist scientist. But I'm confident most men who read this book will do the opposite: stay away from feminist work.
The lack of science behind many claims and propaganda types of narratives gets exhausting.
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