Putting Men Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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.

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25 thoughts on “Putting Men Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  1. First, (working from memory, because the thought of wading back into that post is frightening) I don’t get your sentence about being “pussy-whipped.” Wants us, but not to much.

    We toss that term around as a way of controlling our friends that we don’t get to hang out with as much, but IT SELDOM WORKS. We all know that having a wife or a steady means an end to even the best bro-mance. But it isn’t really considered a put-down. If a guy friend allows his partner to control every aspect of his being, then we would more actually say he has lost his balls. That is a put-down.

    There really isn’t any stigma attached to being unsuccessful with women, either. Throughout the years, I’ve had many friends and acquaintances that were either too uncomfortable, or had another more pressing interest, namely, sports. The ones that try and fail with women usually end up worshipping guns. ;)

    Seriously, I think both genders contribute to the problem of making men feel inadequate. We have attached so much shame to the idea of exchanging sex or even companionship for money, that some guys will act out violently.

    I guess I’m uncomfortable over-analyzing the bullshit guys say to each other. When I call Danny a pussy, I sure as hell am not implying that he is now vulnerable to violence. I’m saying he is not being man-like. Whatever the fuck that means to me in that instant.

    Lastly, I think what we teach people about relationships and expectations is a huge factor in domestic violence, even if no one raises a hand in anger…

  2. Sounds like a place that just opened up near me – it’s called Sports Clips and puports to be the haircut store for men and boys. It’s mostly staffed by women (and a couple guys), but it’s very sports-themed and they have little televisions set into the walls so that you can watch football while you’re getting your monthly trim. The magazines are all sport-oriented, mostly surfing because it’s San Diego. They also have spa-like package deals that include a scalp massage with your hair wash, but beau’s tried it and he says it’s not as nice as it sounds.

    Mostly they just seem to be setting themselves up in opposition to traditional haircut places – carving out a space that feels exclusively male (because what’s more manly than football?) so that men don’t feel demasculinized when they get their hair cut. I actually spoke with one of the hairdressers (I got there for my haircuts, because they give out coupons like mad) and she said that guys like to come here because it feels less “girly” to get their groom on when they’re surrounded by sports screens. Their whole shtick is that “real men” don’t go to (women’s) hair salons, which feels uncomfortable for some of the same reasons you’ve mentioned above.

    Granted, I’m still not totally convinced that being accused of lacking in Real Manship is equivalent to slut-shaming; some of the elements are similar, but I don’t believe it’s quite as damaging. Most of the guys I know wouldn’t qualify as Real Men, but they all hang out together and their social lives haven’t really suffered for it. Being labeled a slut, on the other hand, can get you ostracised from your social group and, as you mentioned, makes you vulnerable to all kinds of violence – emotional and physical.

  3. I like “bro-mance” too…

    Like…I’d love to watch a “bro-mance” movie between Mack and say…George Clooney.

    That would rock!

  4. Sara no H. the more I think about it, the more I think “equivalent” is probably not quite the right word, because of what exactly you’re getting at here–one of the most powerful things about being called a slut is that it alienates you from others.

    But I still don’t think it’s good for us to reinforce bullshit gender conformity in order to shame men out of doing things we don’t like.

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  6. I went to Sports Clips when I lived near one. It was mostly about just having the TV to watch while getting my hair cut. I hate sitting in that chair with nothing to do so having a tv to watch was a nice change. If I went to Top Cuts it would be for the same reason.

    Like Uncle says, it’s about entertainment. Getting a haircut is a lot like a layover at the airport. Boring. So it’s nice to have a football game or a woman in her underwear to look at.

  7. But here’s my completely tangential thought: what happened to barbers? I’m under the impression that y’all go to barber shops and get your hair cut and read the paper and talk sports and catch up on man things. Y’all don’t do that any more?

  8. It’s getting pretty generic these days. I go to a barber shop now because there’s one in Old Hickory, but I never found a good one when I lived in Antioch. They’re getting rarer as more chain salon places open. (Think Great Clips.)

  9. Barber shops are almost impossible to find now – the kind of place my dad took me for my first hair cut. Plus we’ve grown and learned so much as men from them wimmens that a having good style to our cut is more important than a set of whitewalls over the ears.

    So we have to go to people whi have a sense of style and fialr, right? That means girls – and gay guys, right? ;)

  10. Pingback: SayUncle » slut-shaming

  11. what, barber shops getting rare?!

    huh. there’re at least three different barber shops in my smallish midwestern town, and i may have overlooked some neighborhood corner-shop ones. i haven’t tried them all; the first one i stepped into was just fine, so i’m sticking to it.

    (the decor is just past fin-de-siecle small-town midwest barber shop, complete with a rusty old blackpowder shotgun on one wall. the barbers seemingly all know how to do a decent flattop, except the one female one, who refuses to try. since i like flattops, i haven’t tried her services.)

    oh, and as i mentioned at Uncle’s place, i’m firmly decided that “sex sells anything” has now officially jumped the shark. either that, or i’m getting old. i’m all for looking at ladies in skimpy outfits, but let’s not combine that with haircuts please.

  12. South Nashville still has Bobby’s Barber Shop on Nolensville Road. Cleve used to get his hair cut there. It’s very, very old school…like going back in time.

  13. So we have to go to people whi have a sense of style and fialr, right? That means girls – and gay guys, right? ;)

    Oh, man, this is soooo gonna be news to all the wives and girlfriends of all the Italian barbers in NYC.

  14. “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.”

    Scenario #1. Sleep with that many women and you are asking for it, regardless of what “it” happens to be.

    Scenario #2. If you don’t intend to marry a woman, and then don’t use a condom because she says she’s on the pill, you also deserve anything bad that happens.

  15. Scenario #1. Sleep with that many women and you are asking for it, regardless of what “it” happens to be.

    Scenario #2. If you don’t intend to marry a woman, and then don’t use a condom because she says she’s on the pill, you also deserve anything bad that happens.

    Yes, of course, lets attach as many punishments as possible to sex, lest people, you know, engage in it. The horror!

  16. Scenario #3
    Sit around a Berry Hill BBQ joint reminiscing about how that was the best $300 you ever spent in the wake of Scenario #2.

  17. “I don’t believe it’s quite as damaging.”

    Um. when guys are called “fags,” that is pretty damaging to boys. It is meant as the most derisive thing imaginable.

  18. I won’t deny that the insult can be incredibly damaging to young men who are still figuring out their masculinity. It is one of the few words meant to police young manliness in the same manner as “slut” is used to police young womanliness and at younger years I would agree that they serve approximately the same effect.

    I am not sure that they remain equivalent terms as the persons using them age, however. While fag and slut still carry threats of implicit violence in adulthood, calling an adult man a fag does not seem to have a similar social effect as calling a woman a slut. Primarily I would attribute this to the fact that, as we age, we generally learn that it is not acceptable to mock or deride others based on their sexual orientation – but “sluts” are still considered fair game, as evidenced by countless articles and pieces of so-called journalism that waste thousands of trees worrying over what’s to be done about all these out-of-(men’s)-control women.

  19. I know this was written quite some time back, and I only now ran across it.

    Aunt B, I want to say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for this piece.

    Thank you for pausing a while to consider a bipartisan view, recognizing that there remain unfortunate differences BUT perhaps not quite so deep as many would like to pretend in pursuit of some nonsensical form of social “victory” over “the other side”. There aren’t even supposed to BE sides, and as the Battle of the Sexes escalated into the Gender Wars, people have simply gone mad with gender-centrism coloured by their own egocentrisms.

    Compassion has gone out the window.

    THANK YOU for your compassion. I’m seldom surprised by people anymore, and most often it’s unpleasantly. You surprised me (this is the first thing I’ve read by you, so you’ve surprised me by comparison to others) in a way that has made me smile and breathe a sigh of relief. Seriously — thank you.

    Urban Sasquatch

  20. Lady janes is a similar place but even little boys get hair cut there. I don’t think anyone and everyone is a loser. I go there and have a 60 hour work week.

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