Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence and Abuse
Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life came through sports. They taught me hard work, commitment, and teamwork. They also taught me some of my most foundational lessons about masculinity and sex.
Not all of these messages were problematic and harmful. I often had coaches talk to me in positive (though sometimes paternalistic) ways about “respecting women.” But looking back, most of the messages I received about sex and my masculinity’s role in sex were quite horrifying.
Perhaps one of the most terrifying messages that I received came from an older soccer player named Dave when I was in tenth grade. One day, he was bragging to me about his sexual relationship with his girlfriend, a girl widely recognized as “hot” and “popular.”
In the midst of his braggadocio, he mentioned wanting to perform an incredibly violent sexual act that would violate her consent and would likely lead to serious injury.
He said he was only joking, and I laughed along, but it didn’t sit right with me. No matter how uncomfortable it made me, though, I didn’t dare challenge the “joke.”
After all, to do so would not only have challenged a man I was supposed to look up to, but it might have led to me being further ostracized for being “gay” (because apparently men are gay if they stand up to violence against women, and being gay was the “worst possible thing” I could have been in high school).
To this day, I’m ashamed that I never said anything, but I simply didn’t know how. I was a young man lacking in confidence, and I felt like it was “normal” that we were talking about women in this way.
Though some might write this story off as adolescent immaturity, this story speaks to a wider problem of patriarchal masculinity and how we as men are taught to understand sex and sexuality.
Feminism vs. Patriarchy
For generations now, feminism in its many iterations has done an amazing job of pointing out the terrible impacts of patriarchal masculinity. And, increasingly, feminists have focused on how patriarchy hurts people of all genders.
With the rise of the Internet as a dominant force in so many people’s lives, though, the resistance to feminism has only grown louder and stronger.
The power of the Internet for organizing Men’s Rights Activists, Pick Up Artists, and other anti-feminist groups has meant a surge in numbers of those who see feminism as “anti-male” or who despise the ways that feminism subverts patriarchal masculinity.
And ironically, these groups prey on men who feel hurt, who feel insecure, who feel entitled to sex, but who struggle socially and can’t find fulfilling relationships.
MRAs and PUAs tell insecure men that the problem is feminism, not patriarchy, and in doing so, fuel a particularly violent online (and offline) misogyny.
Yet the hurt and frustration these men face when it comes to sexuality is almost always directly tied to the ways in which patriarchal masculinity distorts male sexuality – which is a battle that feminism fights.
In her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks describes patriarchy as “the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.”
If we are ever going to engage men more fully in dismantling patriarchy and ending misogyny,we need more men to understand how the messages we receive about sex hurt more than women. These messages hurt us in myriad ways, too.
Thus, though I could likely unpack just about every message about sex that we receive, I want to analyze five of the most prominent messages men are taught about our sexuality.
1. ‘Sow Your Wild Oats’
Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.