The XX Factor

Men Studying Crotch-Kicking Jokes

Let us all hope that the New York Observer paid Jonathan Liu amply for his work in reporting on the upside-down, unhinged world of “men’s rights activists” pushing for “men’s studies”: an anemic would-be field that rolls up complaints from knee-to-crotch jokes to actual problems such as men’s declining wages, and blames the whole shebang on uppity women drunk on feminist silliness about equality. If nothing else, I hope the Observer gave Liu a bonus check to pay for the post-conference drinking money, which you could call a “mental health addendum” for accounting purposes. Even a teetotaler would need a stiff one after hearing conference presenter Michael Gilbert whine that men don’t get to menstruate, a concern that I think could be cured in troubled men by putting tampons up their butts for five days out of the month until they feel less envious.

Liu captures beautifully the incoherence of what is deemed the “masculinist” philosophy: Adherents tend to both praise men for being superior to women, and then turn right around and claim that women should deliberately downplay their abilities and ambitions so as not to be too threatening to men. You’d think one benefit of natural superiority is that women couldn’t compete, but apparently not. The reason that masculinists are confused and self-contradictory is easy enough to understand, though. They’ve constructed feminism as the enemy, but pretty much every single one of their legitimate concerns would be fixed by more feminism, not less of it.

Take the concerns brought forth at this conference. The concern that teenage boys won’t be able to identify as men if their mothers work? If we don’t define manhood as superiority over dependent females, but in other ways, both the teenage boy and his mother get their needs met. Concern that men can’t compete economically as more of the American economy becomes service-oriented? Dismantle the social stigma against men doing nurturing work like teaching and nursing, and men will be able to take those jobs. Concerned that men die younger than women? If we adopted a feminist worldview where men don’t have to prove themselves with violence or poor health habits, that disparity would mostly disappear.

But what can feminism do about the greatest injustice in history, i.e. the prevalence of hack comedies that rely on jokes (usually a small child or an old lady) about someone kicking a man in the crotch and reducing him to a whimpering ball of pain? Yes, I believe that feminism can cure even this most intractable of problems. After all, the “humor” of the joke relies, as humor often does, on a reversal of expectations: The big, strong man is brought down by a simple blow from a person in a subservient position to him, and, not only that, but it turns out that the very symbol of masculine strength, the phallus, is in fact an Achilles’ heel and men’s true vulnerability. But if men weren’t considered superior and stronger than everyone else, and phallic worship was relegated to the dustbin of history, this joke would become meaningless and disappear because of it.

The tantalizing possibility of the end of this particular hack joke should really be reason enough for full-throated support for feminism.