“Being Silenced” vs. “Refusing to Talk”

I think cissexual het men have largely ceded the field of talking about male sexuality…
To refuse to talk about it, though, is to be a prisoner of the privilege.

– Thomas Millar, Yes Means Yes Blog, Things (Cis- Het-) Men Are Afraid to Talk About

There is an idea, floated among feminists and other progressive thinkers, that some groups of people have been “silenced,” or are being “silenced.”  I think this idea has some merit, although it’s not always so easy to identify who is silenced and when.  For example, I find gay and lesbian history fascinating because here is a group of people who were quite obviously silenced fifty years ago.  And yet, the fact that this group was silenced is obvious in retrospect and only in retrospect.

Fifty years ago, homosexuals were not considered an oppressed minority at all.  In fact, many of them were seen as privileged men willfully engaging in a socially destructive sexual fetish.  And I’m sure the psychoanalytic establishment at the time faulted these men for “refusing to talk about it” – for standing apart, arms folded, turning their backs on the truth.  These men were not “silenced,” they were “refusing to talk about it.”

When Thomas says that heterosexual men have ceded the field when it comes to talking about male sexuality, that’s interesting.  “Heterosexual men” is a large category.  What would cause all heterosexual men to “cede the field” on a topic this important?  Thomas thinks this is because “there’s a huge unstated assumption that to even address the question [of male sexuality], for men, is to mark one’s self as ‘other.’”

Is that the reason?

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31 Responses to “Being Silenced” vs. “Refusing to Talk”

  1. Danny says:

    “there’s a huge unstated assumption that to even address the question [of male sexuality], for men, is to mark one’s self as ‘other.’”
    Given the way that said assumption can be enforced with anything from words (use of the word fag) to alienation (gay people being disowned by their families and abandoned by friends) to outright violence (assault and murder) I don’t think its right to say said assumption is unstated. Beating a man to death because he’s gay is making a statement. A homophobic statement of course but its being stated.

    By that virtue I guess one could argue that men are being silenced under pain of homophobia or that men are refusing to talk under pain of homophobia.

    I think cissexual het men have largely ceded the field of talking about male sexuality…
    To refuse to talk about it, though, is to be a prisoner of the privilege

    I’m a bit curious about what privilege is holding such cissexual het men prisoner? (I’m asking because I’m wondering if this is just another attempt at pretty much trying to make everything about men a privilege simply because we are talking about cis het men.)

  2. Hugh Ristik says:

    When I signed up for male privilege, they never told me that it was going to imprison me. My privilege is clearly defective… I’d like to take it back to the store and get a new one.

  3. Danny says:

    I know right? I thought a part of male privilege was supposed to be about getting what a want so easily that I don’t even consider whether it was fair to those who aren’t male.

    But seriously I find it almost laughable to have people go on and on about male privilege for so long that after they finally start to see that its not so glamorous they still fight tooth and nail to call it male privilege (versus the concept of female privilege where they will grasp for the smallest of downsides in order to declare that female privilege does not exist).

  4. John E. says:

    Sexually active heterosexual cis men talk about sex.

    We just don’t talk about it around the rest of you…

  5. Jim says:

    So Thomas thinks this is all a function of male privilege. he’s the One Good Man who shows us all how wriong we other men all are. He fits Typhonblue’s definition to the letter:
    http://www.avoiceformen.com/2011/03/16/the-one-good-man/

  6. Lynet says:

    Interesting thoughts, Miguel.

    There is massive social pressure on men to conform to a narrow set of admissible thoughts and feelings about sex. In that sense, they are ‘silenced’ in exactly the same way that (previously-recognised-as-) oppressed groups have been.

    I think this notion bends people’s minds a bit because it’s much easier to think of ‘oppression’ as something one group does to another. The more insightful types of feminists, anti-racists, and social justice commentators have been saying for a while that this isn’t really how it works — or, at least, it isn’t the only way that it works. ‘Patriarchy’ doesn’t really mean that the men get together and choose to force women into social roles, while the women try to resist but can’t. On the contrary, patriarchal ideas get internalized by both men and women, and restrict us both. There have been lots of women who were rigid enforcers of patriarchy — think of the stereotypical Victorian matriarch, whose main aim is that of enforcing ‘propriety’ (and that means patriarchal gender roles among other things).

    With this in mind, the idea that heterosexual men can be silenced by a patriarchal system isn’t so difficult to believe — and yet you’re right, we’re often reluctant to use the term even when it basically applies.

    Thanks for the insight.

  7. Hugh Ristik says:

    Lynet said:

    On the contrary, patriarchal ideas get internalized by both men and women, and restrict us both.

    But if those ideas restrict us both, then why call them “patriarchy,” a word which only reflects how they restrict women?

    With this in mind, the idea that heterosexual men can be silenced by a patriarchal system isn’t so difficult to believe

    I just don’t understand why we must keep calling this system “patriarchy.” Instead of using a name for this system which emphasizes harm to women and advantage to men, and then tacking on “patriarchy hurts men, too” when people don’t understand… why not use a word in the first place that doesn’t obscure the disadvantages of this system towards men?

  8. Hugh Ristik says:

    Btw, Miguel, I’d really love it if you added a latest comments widget to the blog, so I can keep up with threads better. Thanks!

  9. Lynet says:

    I know why it was originally called ‘patriarchy’ — because it was a set of norms that said, most prominently, that men should be in charge. That this set of norms also placed restrictions on men to prove themselves worthy of the ‘manhood’ that would put them in charge, and suggested that there was something wrong with men who did not conform, didn’t change the fact that the norms were pretty clear about men being in charge.

    I did wonder, while writing that post, whether I shouldn’t have used the term kyriarchy instead, but I thought it might have been too obscure and lefty-academic. Still, ‘kyriarchy’ has the advantage of describing more generally the way social structures restrict us and place some people over others, and it also has the advantage of not implying that this is something that only men do. Do you think it’s a better word?

  10. Hugh Ristik says:

    I think kyriarchy is definitely an improvement, because it marks the problem as the “lords/masters,” not the “fathers/men.”

    Based on this post, kyriarchy still seems to put white heterosexual men at the top of the pyramid, unless I’m misunderstanding. Although that hierarchy makes sense in some areas, it doesn’t make sense in others.

    For instance, look at the survivors of the RMS Titanic: Men had a lower survival rate than women. And even first-class men (the “masters” who are supposed to be at the top of the pyramid) had a lower survival rate than the third-class women, (who are supposed to be at the bottom). Clearly the theory of kyriarchy is incomplete.

    Rather than viewing privilege as a pyramid, I would view it as a pyramid-complex. There are many pyramids, and the hierarchy of each pyramid is different. For instance, getting hired for jobs is one pyramid; surviving disasters is another; being able to have romantic relationships is another. Leftists tend to treat advantage/privilege as unidimensional, whereas I believe that it is multidimensional.

    Part of the point of this blog is to examine certain areas where white heterosexual men are not advantaged. For instance, let’s say that an introverted, shy man goes 2 years in between dates/relationships, while his fraternal female twin goes 6 months in between dates/relationships. Meanwhile, he makes 10% more than her at his tech job, because even though the are equally skilled, he is perceived as more competent.

    The concept of patriarchy or kyriarchy would put the man on “top” of the hierarchy. Yet even though he is higher on the workplace dimension, he is lower in the mating hierarchy. That’s why we need to talk about workplace-privilege and dating-privilege as two separate dimensions.

    Saying that the guy is more privileged actually ascribe value to his workplace advantages, but fails to ascribe value to the emotional and romantic benefits of being able date on a 6 month timetable rather than on a 2 year timetable. Ironically, that’s a highly masculine notion of what’s valuable in life (work > relationships).

  11. Lynet says:

    I have to take a deep breath when I see you mention things like men’s lower survival rates on the Titanic (though I see your point about society valuing women’s survival over that of men) and remind myself of what you’re not saying. You’re not saying women should be grateful for the small advantages we have and stop complaining. You’re saying both sides of the system are wrong and should be changed. So that’s okay.

    It’s true that ‘kyriarchy’, as it’s currently understood, tends not to place a lot of emphasis on the ways that sexism can hurt men, or the way that my heterosexuality makes me more vulnerable to traditional gender roles, and so on. This is because ‘kyriarchy’ is most commonly used by feminists who are doing that whole ‘yes I have privilege’ speech that you’re always criticizing in male feminists. Yes I have privilege, and I make mistakes: Just a few months ago, after an Asian woman told me she came from New Jersey, I asked where her parents came from, like she still had to be essentially from outside America because of her race, when I’d take a second-generation white immigrant at face value, and at the time I didn’t understand the awkward face she made before responding politely. Like that.

    (I’m glad I realized that was a bit insulting, though. I won’t do it next time.)

    I think we could extend kyriarchy to include an understanding of the ways in which white heterosexual men can be devalued (beyond the axis of class, which is ‘officially’ included already even if people don’t talk about it much). However, current users of the word kyriarchy care, a lot, about not using your privilege as a way of prioritizing your own oppression as the first on the list (or the only thing on the list) to be considered. Which makes sense. So those willing to make the leap of including your disadvantages would still be saying, hey, by all means add yours to the list (and it’s a big list), as long as you’re not trying to drown the other people out. Which definitely means you’re still allowed to explain your own experience on your own blog, and I, for one, will still be listening.

    Sorry, that was long and complicated, and it’s only my perspective anyway. But the possibility of including some of the problems highlighted on this blog as part of ‘kyriarchy’ really interests me, so I’m trying to see if it could fit.

  12. Hugh,

    Hugo S. says that it is Hegemonic Masculinity that is the problem.

    From what I read, that means some men “dominate” other men and “subordinate” all women. Also, men live shorter lives then women–he would probably say something along the line that machismo keeps men from seeking medical care. (Hope that isn’t unfair to put words in his mouth….) Although saying Hegemonic Masculinity is the problem does allow for some mens woes…. I’ve just been surprised how the feminists have been attacking “nice guys” who seem to be disadvantaged at dating. (There are a few things problematic about the “nice guy” tag but I won’t go into it here.)

    The whole kyriarchy concept is problematic. It allows for multiple axis of oppression, so a bit better than the patriarchy concept but it doesn’t allow for the complexity of modern life. Certain “privileges” aren’t considered “privileges.” Obviously a beautiful women has advantages in dating or if she is trying to become an actress. Those advantages don’t count for much if she is trying to become an engineer and also, beauty fades (all things do.) It would be kind of funny if someone made a pseudo GPS like device that said your “privilege” is here at this moment and here are your “axis of oppression.”

    It seems like the whole “privilege” thing is used to shut down unpopular veiwpoints (feministe anyone?) It is a dismissive term like saying a man is mansplaining or saying a woman must be “on the rag.”

    Rock On!

    Stoner With a Boner

  13. “I have to take a deep breath when I see you mention things like men’s lower survival rates on the Titanic (though I see your point about society valuing women’s survival over that of men) and remind myself of what you’re not saying. You’re not saying women should be grateful for the small advantages we have and stop complaining. You’re saying both sides of the system are wrong and should be changed. So that’s okay.”

    Lynett, when addressing a feminist (I am assuming you are and if not, apologies for the assumption) I should state something along the lines of there is injustice in both sides and we should work towards greater justice on both sides. Also, not to diminish suffering on one side or get into a pissing contest about who got the shorter straw, lets say that if side 1 is looking for a,b,c and d and side 2 is looking for d,e,f and g–we should atleast team up temporarily to achieve d and not stand in the others ways on other points.

    Am I close here?

    Rock On!

    Stoner With a Boner

  14. Lynet says:

    Eh, I’m mostly just working out my issues in public with that comment 🙂 Saying that “Hey, women get some privileges too!” is easily read by feminists (including me) as a way of saying “Your problems don’t matter.” So it’s a lot easier to accept a statement that explains how women get some good things out of a sexist situation if it’s clear that the person making that comment isn’t trying to say that this means that women should stop complaining and we should just let the sexism slide. I was just publicly reminding myself that (and, checking that) this seems to be the case here.

    But I’d go further than just “working together on d”. Feminists want a, b, c and d to be recognized as important issues by everyone, and see the claim that “but we want e, f and g, as well as d” as requiring, firstly, that we check for ourselves whether we, too, should care (morally speaking) about e, f, and g, and, secondly, that we try to impress upon you the additional importance of a, b and c from a social justice perspective 🙂

    That said, if we can’t agree on the other stuff, then, sure, work together on d.

  15. David says:

    Lynet,

    I wish more people would articulate their thought processes like that. I think too many times we get these conversational hangups because even partial concessions of a point are seen as “ceding ground”. Thank you 🙂

    I think conversation on the net is a delicate balance. Visa-vis gender dialogue and feminism, there are some sites that skew to way more women than men, then some way more men than women. I think either case leads to problems with a poisonous conversational atmosphere. One of the things that stoner mentioned was the “mansplaining” comment. The first time I had that used on me, I first looked for my privilege in the conversation.

    Then the cogs in my mind started turning and I wondered why they were using a gendered attack to discourage me from commenting.

    Anyway, I like the idea of stoner’s privilege app. I might write something like that for a joke one of these days.

  16. Ky says:

    But if those ideas restrict us both, then why call them “patriarchy,” a word which only reflects how they restrict women?

    It’s a case of definition/understanding creep, I think.

    Patriarchy’s root is not man, but patriarch—that is, the one man who was head of the family and had not only multiple women but multiple men under his power—a circle of wives, daughters, sons, servants, slaves, workers, employees, and perhaps less-economically-secure neighbors to some extent dependent on his benevolence and subject to his whim.

    This is a model in which a few men oppress and control not only women but other men, and the other men support the system because it offers them the opportunity to become patriarchs themselves—if not the top guy in the manor house, then certainly of their own little families or households or workplaces.

    Of course, the popular understanding of a word is not always accurate to the word’s actual meaning, and has somehow managed to morph into “blame the men.” And I suppose it’s accurate to note that the word was put into use by white feminists, who, when their sensitivity to the experiences of other groups is not the best, tend to view men oppressing women as the Big Problem.

    I prefer kyriarchy, even though I’m a bit miffed that they chose to use the same spelling-root as my name. The original meaning is technically accurate, but easily misunderstood.

  17. Danny says:

    Exactly.

    Why is it that society is labeled something that highlights what (a relatively small portion) of men have and then when someone makes a good point about how the system harms men all we get is a “(oh yeah) Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (there I said now shut up)”.

    Its funny how we are all in this together but the only time men are mentioned is when they are the ones with power and privilege. Damn the rest of us I guess.

  18. Danny says:

    For instance, getting hired for jobs is one pyramid; surviving disasters is another; being able to have romantic relationships is another. Leftists tend to treat advantage/privilege as unidimensional, whereas I believe that it is multidimensional.
    I think it might be more of a breakdown than that.

    Like getting a job. Even when limited to the scope of gender being one gender is not the magic bullet that will get you in any door you wish. That’s how you end up with some jobs that favor men over women and those that favor women over men. And that also explains why simply telling a man he’s privileged is pointless and incorrect (in this context at least) when he’s assumed to be a child molester for wanting to work at a day care center.

  19. Danny says:

    You’re not saying women should be grateful for the small advantages we have and stop complaining. You’re saying both sides of the system are wrong and should be changed. So that’s okay.
    Yes on the money.

    So those willing to make the leap of including your disadvantages would still be saying, hey, by all means add yours to the list (and it’s a big list), as long as you’re not trying to drown the other people out.
    I can understand the hesitation behind that (because if we really want to get down to it we all have valid complaints that need addressing) the part that bothers me is that the ones saying that are the ones that have done exactly that to others.

    And if those folks are so concerned about helping everyone why does it take a “leap” to include the disadvantages of certain other people?

  20. Danny says:

    This is a model in which a few men oppress and control not only women but other men, and the other men support the system because it offers them the opportunity to become patriarchs themselves—if not the top guy in the manor house, then certainly of their own little families or households or workplaces.
    I think the problem comes in when its assumed that any man that’s not on top is supporting the system in hopes of getting to the top themselves. And from there you end up with blame being assigned to those men as well the patriarchs themselves. Thus the morphing into “blame the men” you mention.

    And I suppose it’s accurate to note that the word was put into use by white feminists, who, when their sensitivity to the experiences of other groups is not the best, tend to view men oppressing women as the Big Problem.
    True it was white feminists who started but as can now see its being used by male, black, and most other types of feminists in the exact same manner. Even by those who will in one breath talk about how white feminists have let women of color down and in the next will still use this twisted form of patriarchy.

  21. Danny says:

    So it’s a lot easier to accept a statement that explains how women get some good things out of a sexist situation if it’s clear that the person making that comment isn’t trying to say that this means that women should stop complaining and we should just let the sexism slide.
    Considering the hissy fits I’ve seen feminists throw when trying to fight off the “its all men’s fault” type accusation I would think it would be easier for them to recognize that someone pointing out how men are harmed is not the same as saying women are not harmed.

    In short it ends up with is this odd dance where men must step carefully for fear of pissing some feminists off (and said pissed off-ness is auto justified) while feminists have free reign and if some men get pissed off it must be because those men are misunderstanding something because a feminist would never do that.

  22. Lynet says:

    There’s a famous quote by Samuel Johnson: “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.”

    Point being, in the past, when men talked about the system giving women advantages, they often were trying to justify a blatantly unequal system. Which is why feminists need to take a deep breath and read carefully — which I agree we sometimes don’t do often enough.

  23. Giorgio says:

    I like that, in other words a dynamic pyramid complex with “priviledges” are changing depending of the contex.

    That makes more sense than the rigids of patriarchy or kyrarchy. Actually in this contex everything become meore or less true from a kyrarchy system as macro social and patriarchal as micro social reality, but it also add a matriarchy and a gynarchy both in the macro/micro social reality.

    Interesting, this add material for a hole new social analitical tool.

  24. TheBi says:

    Nothing substantive to add, just want to say thanks Lynet, I’m enjoying your comments (and everyone else, but she seems to be the minority view here and she’s being very fair in her responses)

  25. Sarah says:

    (Sorry for the repost I suck at HTML)

    You wrote:

    ‘Fifty years ago, homosexuals were not considered an oppressed minority at all. In fact, many of them were seen as privileged men willfully engaging in a socially destructive sexual fetish. And I’m sure the psychoanalytic establishment at the time faulted these men for “refusing to talk about it” – for standing apart, arms folded, turning their backs on the truth. These men were not “silenced,” they were “refusing to talk about it.”’

    That paragraph really struck me, because that is EXACTLY what silencing is. I know whereof I speak, I’m a psych survivor. The psychiatric establishment also faults us for refusing to parrot their stories about us–the stories that say all our thoughts are diseased, that our diseased thoughts make us undeserving of being listened to until we’re “cured”, generally through drugs.

    I mean, I write letters to the editor and stuff, but when the one time your constituency gets any media attention is after someone the mainstream media labels as one of you goes on a murder rampage, and you read endless faux-concerned editorials about how you and your friends are all a bunch of ticking time bombs, yeah, they’re calling you dangerous but that doesn’t mean you have power. Because if you weren’t being silenced you’d have a rep from MindFreedom or whatever doing the “talk/backtalk” companion piece to every one of those speeches in the mainstream media denying your humanity. Then again maybe I shouldn’t be calling myself “silenced” because MindFreedom does exist along with many other groups like it, it’s nothing like the bad old days before de-institutionalization. There are degrees, I guess. But in any case, you can’t ask the people doing the oppressing whether so-and-so group is being silenced, because they will lie. They will say, “they’re refusing to talk about it,” meaning, refusing to talk about it in the oppressor’s words and framework.

  26. Danny says:

    Point being, in the past, when men talked about the system giving women advantages, they often were trying to justify a blatantly unequal system.
    Certainly true that there are some like that. It just bothers me when people get to making assumptions for the sake of writing people off. But I think that’s the result of old wounds that people on all sides of the gender discourse carry.

    Which is why feminists need to take a deep breath and read carefully — which I agree we sometimes don’t do often enough.
    Hell I’d say that we all could stand to do that.

  27. Jim says:

    “You’re not saying women should be grateful for the small advantages we have and stop complaining.”

    Lynet, I just now realized that this is probably what irritates many women about throwing the Titanic into the discussion, and thank you for that. These women had as little choice to get onto those boats as their men had – not much at all. Gratitude is a *lot* to expect in such a circumstance.

  28. Jim says:

    “Saying that “Hey, women get some privileges too!” is easily read by feminists (including me) as a way of saying “Your problems don’t matter.”

    So is that what feminists mean when they talk about male privilege, that men’s problems don’t matter? I do see it very often in that very context, and presumably with exactly that menaing, but not always.

  29. Lynet says:

    Actually, as I noted above, the reason it’s often taken that way partly has to do with history, too — we hear “society/nature has given women so much power…” and start autocompleting in line with Samuel Johnson above. Hence, deep breaths, read carefully.

    Certainly I don’t recommend assuming that any woman who talks about male privilege is trying to say that we cannot be concerned about any problems that men have. I’ve seen plenty of counterexamples.

    There are also feminist blogs who state explicitly that this is a space where we’re trying to look at things from a female perspective, and that the outside world is full of male perspectives, so there’s no shortage. This, while broadly true, has the disadvantage of ignoring interesting points of view like Miguel’s, which are uncommonly acknowledged despite being explicitly male. Such spaces have their uses, nevertheless, and participation in such a space doesn’t mean that men’s problems will always be ignored by the participants in all situations, it just means we’re not focusing on them right now.

  30. Danny says:

    Anyway, I like the idea of stoner’s privilege app. I might write something like that for a joke one of these days.
    I’m sure you would mean it as a joke but I’ll bet it would not be taken as such by a lot of people on multiple sides of the debate.

  31. Jim says:

    That last sentence is so true. If you focus on everything, you’re not focusing. It’s very helpful if you state it in terms like that rather than “What about teh menz?”, which is all too common.

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