So, I’ve been mulling over the exchange between Say Uncle and KAG about the new hair salon designed for [straight] men, Gentlemen’s Top Cuts. I like both of them and I find that KAG has a homey kind of feminism that appeals to me, so when Uncle starts throwing around accusations of misandrist behavior on her part, it sets me thinking.
Specifically, it sets me thinking about slut-shaming and whether there’s a male equivalent.
Slut-shaming, to try to put it concisely, is a method of trying to control and/or curtail the the behavior of women through labeling them as a slut. You might wonder, well, what’s so bad about being called a slut? If you are, live it and love it, and if you’re not, well, just ignore the haters. But see, the tricky thing is that we still carry around this belief that sluts can’t be raped. So, calling a woman a slut and getting the label to stick is not just about damaging her reputation; it’s about marking her as someone who deserves whatever sexual violence just “might” come her way. A bit like when the crime boss comes into your shop and remarks about what a nice business you have, and what a shame it would be if anything were to happen to it, you know, if you got some kind of reputation for being a troublemaker.
It’s that element–the threat of violence that lingers behind the slut-shaming–that makes it very difficult for me to imagine a direct equivalent for men. You could sleep with six thousand women and, if by chance, one of them got you drunk and stuck a dildo up your ass while you were passed out, no one would think you were asking for it. Or maybe for a more applicable example, you could sleep with six thousand women and if one of us lied to you about being on the Pill in order to trap you into a relationship because now we have your kid, folks would still recognize that wasn’t your fault.
But the Patriarchy doesn’t let men off scotfree. I think it’s immediately obvious to most folks why calling any guy a pussy or a bitch or a fag (meaning, of course, a man who–like women–lets [or can't stop] men put their penises in him) is demeaning to women–because it makes being like a woman an insult. But the thing that we don’t often acknowledge is that those insults do have lingering somewhere in the back there the insinuation that, because said bitch, pussy, or fag is acting like a woman, he’s vulnerable to the same kinds of violence that happen to women.
So, the foundation is that it’s okay to use violence to keep women in line and that there are certain women–sluts–who so deserve the violence that might be visited on them they are responsible for that violence.
But the next level up, the floor we’re visiting today is the floor in which men are taught that the worst thing they can be is like a woman, because women are vulnerable to violence, and being like a woman makes men vulnerable to violence too and so don’t be womanly and don’t be vulnerable. And we all know that needing or wanting something makes you vulnerable.
And what is one thing that most straight guys want? Girls to pay attention to them.
So, it seems like many straight men, especially young straight men, are trapped in this position where they’re told that, in order to be a real man, they have to get women without being vulnerable to them. So, they both have to prove that they desire women (because they don’t want to be labeled as being fags) and they have to not desire women too much.
Think, for instance, how we call a man who acquiesces too much to the desires of his wife or girlfriend “pussy whipped.” Want us, but not too much.
And this seems to me to be where we get closer to the male corollary to slut-shaming, the shaming of the guy who’s not a “real man,” especially the shaming of the guy who can’t get laid.
I think this type of “loser-shaming” (for lack of a better term) is really dangerous, especially as perpetrated on young guys who lack the finesse and skills of older men when it comes to getting attention from women. Look at how it has the potential to fuck up everyone.
What is the easiest way for a guy to have sex with a woman while at the same time proving that he doesn’t desire her as a person in a way that makes him vulnerable to her? Make sure it’s clear that he’s in charge; that he’s the one deciding that they’re going to have sex, not her.
Which, finally, brings me around to my problem with this statement from KAG:
I suspect Gentleman’s Top Cuts’ clientele will end up consisting largely of men who spend much of their time playing video games in the basement apartments they share with their cats, located underneath their moms’ houses – guys whose actual dating/love lives are so sad that it actually gives them a thrill to have their split ends lopped off by a stranger in a bikini.
Am I wrong here? If you are a woman, would you care and/or find it quite pathetic if the man in your life got his hair cut here? And if you are a man, would you go here? More tellingly, would you actually admit to patronizing this place?
There’s nothing wrong with straight men desiring women. That’s how it works. Yes, there are huge problems with how men act on those desires, sometimes, but the impulse–to want the attention of attractive girls–isn’t wrong.
And I can’t help but read this and see some massive “loser-shaming.” It looks like KAG is saying that only losers would go to this place, that only losers pay women to pay attention to them, that those men have sad love lives and that women would find it “quite pathetic” if men got their hair cut there. And why?
I think it’s two-fold. One, because we’re supposed to see it as pathetic that a man might so want attention from a woman that he’s willing to pay for it: he wants her too much, thus marking him as not being a real man. And two, because just like slut shaming is about using the insult and the amorphous threat of violence behind it as a way to keep women acting “proper,” this is clearly about using the insult,with the threat of not really being able to attract women which then carries with it the threat of not being seen as a real man which carries with it the amorphous threat of violence, as a way to try to control men’s behavior.
But we just can’t work it that way. It’s not right.
It’s fine for us to think that the Gentleman’s Top Cuts business model is stupid. We might see it as exploitative of women and even exploitative of men. I think it’s fair to make those kinds of arguments against it.
But we know, we know as feminists, that what makes a “real man” and what makes a “loser” are fucked up expectations of men and the pressures that men feel to be “real men” and to avoid being losers are toxic, not only to them, but to us.
And so, even if we don’t like what a man is doing, we can’t fall back into trying to make them ashamed of being seen as a loser. That’s just not right and only reinforces the notion that being a loser is the worst thing a man can be.