Average reading time: 9 minutes.
I have been a feminist since the age of 15. Only recently have I come to understand that there is an unseen oppression to men in this system... and a system in which every one's oppression makes things worse for the other ! So this is about unseen oppression - far from an exhaustive list, just what impacts my area of expertise: loving relationships. All of this is usually unconscious, internalised societal pressure. And the "oppression" of which I speak here is not obvious, neither for the person living it, nor for the outsider.
It seems that most men have little to no clue as to the oppression suffered by women, and most women have no inkling that this system is oppressive to men. And many cis people do not even realize how they are corralled.
And I think that learning to make love can help you out of this oppressive spiral - but of course, you have to understand it first.
1. Emotions and gender: everybody hurts
The emotion part is harmful for both genders. Women are "forbidden" to show anger or make demands, men are "forbidden" to express vulnerability or emotions aside from anger. Apart from being ridiculous (we are human beings, we experience all emotions), this leaves many women with anger and frustrations which they cannot express, and many men with feelings of sadness or fear that they have to hide (even from themselves). These emotions are felt, but they cannot "get out of the system", so they get stored in the unconscious mind and continue to affect your life. Those pent up emotions fester in the subconscious and create unexplained pain which can transform into aggression or depression.
Also gender roles are such "silos" where people learn different things, that it creates walls of misunderstanding.
2. How the gender system oppresses women (and your love life), from an orgasm lover point of view.
It is not intuitive to men: many of the things that women find oppressive, men would like to have - for instance, too much sexual attention. Some knowledge will help trying to mentally walk in their shoes and understand how it can be unwelcome.
- Women do not have the same experience with sex as men. For them, sexual pleasure is not guaranteed, and pain is a very real possibility, even with a sexy man: 30% of women report experiencing physical pain during consensual vaginal intercourse (and 72% during anal). And when I say pain, I mean it: sexual organs are very sensitive, so painful sex is excruciating!
- Therefore, when you are a woman, deciding to have sex with a new partner is a risk: sex can be painful even if consensual, not to mention the risk of a man behaving violently (hitting her, doing things she explicitly doesn't want...). Plus, there is the general physical power, usually men are stronger. And the chance of having pleasure is abysmal (46%), not to mention complete orgasm!
- There is also general objectification. This one is hard to understand when you have not lived it. When a man is making a sexual joke with his friends or colleagues, or when he initiates conversation with a woman in the street or a bar, or just making a compliment, it is not meant as an aggression - from his part. Usually, this is in good faith and intention. The problem is that so many men do it, all day long, and when you are a woman, these comments on you as an object of desire happen many times, and every day. You are always a focus of attention, as a sexual object. And, for a woman, being a sexual object is a risk! Therefore, as a woman you live with a constant more or less threatening atmosphere. It is quite a burden.
- Rape is an enormous trauma, physically (imagine rubbing your penis with a scraping sponge), and mentally (sexual organs are intimate, all the more when they are internal). It will follow the victim for many years to come, and especially put a dump on her sex life. And rape is a constant risk. Any sexually charged interaction with a man (seduction, comments, jokes...), can remind women of this risk - including harmless attempts at seduction. When a group of 2 men comment on the beauty of a lonesome woman in the street, she knows there is a possibility that they may want to rape her, and that they may try it. Street harassment is not at all innocuous: it is reminding a woman that she is never safe, that men are dangerous, that she can be the victim of sexual torture for no reason. And, yes, street harassers are really making dating hard for all men!
- Women are also raised in such a way that they are taught to endure their own pain - in general. Staples of "femininity" (high heels, waxing...) imply that in order to be accepted, you have to endure some degree of pain. Therefore they are raised to not tell what they like or dislike. Stating their actual wishes is a cultural effort - especially to someone they love. Until their frustration reaches a point of no return. They tend to accept and endure pain or dissatisfaction, until they break up.
- Plus, the myth of "Prince Charming", taught to children, makes them want many different qualities from a single person - qualities that may be incompatible (e.g. being decisive and taking other's opinions into account; or being ambitious and making your love life a priority...)
3. The oppression suffered by men - a burden you may not be aware of...
When you live as woman, it is hard to not have the impression that men have a much better deal. Society is built for them, sex is always shown in a way that is beneficial to them (guaranteed pleasure), and basically they have the power. I used to think they had the better end of the deal, with those "male privileges". But as I studied what it is to be a man, I discovered that they, too, have a very bad deal in this patriarchal, gendered society. Which is not at all obvious. Again, imagining what it can feel like to have these demands requires quite a lot of empathy to understand.
- A man is taught that he should take what he wants, or demand his satisfaction. Seems like a good deal, right? No: that means that he is not supposed to ask for them. Which sucks in general, because enjoyable intimacy demands respect, trust, and honesty, so it makes it a lot harder to create a trusting bond, especially with women. This gets worse now that women demand respect (which they should), so taking and demanding will probably be met with hostility, so what you were taught to do is often met with hostility.
- There are also aspects in social life, where men have little access to intimacy, respect, there is often a hint of competition, even if they are not aware of it. Especially, a man cannot show tender touch without being seen as having sexual intentions! So sex becomes the only road to intimacy, so it works as a spiral and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Those high stakes about sexuality, in addition to stereotypes around male sexual desire, can even deprive sexuality from being really pleasurable, or give sexual pleasure a sour aftertaste. More about sexual desire, satisfaction and frustration here.
- There is a very hard double bind, where the stereotype that makes you appear as a desirable man is still the "conqueror" type (a man who takes what he wants without asking). This creates a "double bind": an impossible demand, where you are supposed to be dominant in order to be admired and loved, and gentle and respectful in order to be liked and live a loving relationship!
- This appears most obviously in the way that most women want a man to show the "courage" to approach them and initiate the conversation... but approaching someone is usually disturbing their day, so in most cases, there is a contradiction between that "courage" and respect for people's boundaries. Disturbing, interrupting someone, is not courage! Indeed, you can be both confident and respectful, but even with a lot of confidence, you will only initiate contact and take the risk of disturbing someone's activity when you really feel it's important - not to mention basic shyness ! A jerk will have no qualms about approaching you if you look busy, or if it would make you feel threatened, of if he has no intention to follow through... so he will do it much more often than a confident, respectful man. So statistically, 99% of men who will show this "courage" in a woman's day are indeed the 10% of actual jerks - people who have no respect for you. This "rule" prevents many women from meeting the men who have all the qualities they wish for ; and, in any case, that rule leaves less room for respectful people, and gives many men the impression that jerks get more respect... and therefore, gets in the way of people understanding each other.
- There is the constant pressure of being "manly", meaning not showing weakness. This pressure creates a real difficulty in showing your true self. All humans have weaknesses, fears, and hurts. It is by recognising this shared nature that we can create intimacy. Therefore this pressure creates a very intimate loneliness, where you cannot share your deepest vulnerabilities. And since loneliness is emotional pain, you still have to hide this pain, and as you do not show your vulnerability, it gets in the way of true intimacy, and therefore creates loneliness... a system of dereliction. Brené Brown shows this pressure very well.
- This pressure of not showing weakness goes all the way to intimate relationships: women wish for men to be able to be relatable, and show their emotions, vulnerability, so that they can work together in these matters. But whenever a man shows vulnerability, a woman fears that he may not be strong and solid and reliable. This double-bind is very well described by Esther Perel in her couples therapy. This means that there is no safe haven for being taken care of your emotions and pains. How sad and lonely is that?
- In playgrounds and "boys' clubs", empathy is often considered as a sign of weakness. Which, aside from being sad, makes young boys have to unlearn empathy (which is present in all young children), and adult men have to re-learn it... which is ridiculous, costly, and creates another double-bind: when is it OK to show empathy, when is it not?
- The "manly" principle of appearing "strong", confident, makes it hard to ask for advice or help - which would be considered weakness. So you have a hard time improving your skills... or yourself! Asking for help to develop a skill is often seen as weak - hence my own endeavour to help you with sexual skills, because asking a woman may result in negative judgement.
I used to resent men for what gender inequality does to women, and especially gender violence. I have come to realize the cost to their privileges, and now I see we all have to suffer from this system. But especially, these injunctions make it hard for people to meet and feel empathy, connection and love.
In one sentence (from Carol Gilligan and Naomi Scinder): Patriarchy sends men into violence, women into silence. Both are dreadfully harmful to intimacy, sexuality, and love.
I do think that learning to make love can really help in changing this dynamic.
Destruction looks like power, and is a form of power, but making things better for others is harder - therefore, a benevolent power is stronger. And everyone can see that. So a man with the power to make a woman happy will be admired for that. Empathy, trying to understand the other's experience, is hard, but really worth the effort.
When you become a master at giving orgasms, this shows true power, and it opens the door to an amazing kind of intimacy. Sharing love, pleasure, and being open to your partners, in my mind the way out of this dreadful system.
What about you?
- Were you aware of these aspects of gender oppression, especially for those on the other side?
- If so, how have you learned of them?
- What do you do to dampen their effects on your own life?
Please let me know in the comments.