What I’m Saying Is, The Search For Equality Is Pretty Messy

Tumblr is basically a sentient computer network that is trying to communicate with us via pop culture memes. At least, that’s what I once assumed, though as a person with a Tumblr, I am increasingly assured that real human beings are behind it.

These days, when you go onto Tumblr — or, as I like to think of it, fall headlong into the bottomless pit of semi-amusement that Tumblr represents — you will indeed see a great deal of pop culture memery, and as of late it is not unreasonable to expect to see a great deal of Thor and Loki pop culture memery in particular. People love Thor. People really love Loki — and they also love his proxy in this human realm, Tom Hiddleston, aka, “Hiddles.”

You might further see the occasional objectification of Thor or Loki. They are topless and sexy and they will be shown for their toplessness or sexiness.

Which, you know, hey: these are sexy gentlemen. If I looked like either of them, I’d be running around shirtless non-stop. I’d be at the bus stop, the grocery store, the drunk tank — just, boom, long hair, no shirt, some oil on my hairless chest, I’d just be —

Shit, I’d just be working it.

Still, you might be the type to think — or even to say, on social media — “Hey, jeez, men aren’t supposed to objectify women, but women can apparently objectify men? We will be chastised for our gaze, but they will not be chastised for theirs?”

And then someone might comment on that particular nugget of social media and add, “Right, and they can ‘ship together two dudes into a gay relationship but if I ‘ship together two ladies into a lesbian relationship, I’m a sexist asshat.”

Thus begins a discussion that essentially looks at the search for equality and suggests that equal is not really equal, whereas one group can get away with a special kind of sexism or racism while simultaneously shouting down the sexism or racism of others. And eventually this all leads to the classic example of, how can black people use the N-word but white people can’t. Or a further devolution might ask why women get feminism but men can’t get dude-ism (see Joss Whedon’s recent misguided repudiation of the word “feminist” for a softball shit-the-bed version of this). Or, even creepier, African-Americans get “black power” but white people can’t have “white power.” And on and on; there exist justifications all the way down.

Abstractly, intellectually, some of this would seem to make sense. Oh, well, sure, if we’re all equal, then we should all be equal in the same way. No double standards here, no sir, no ma’am, that would only undo the very search for equality in the first place.

But like I said earlier, equal isn’t really equal.

Legally, we’re all equal, you know, more or less. We can all vote. We can all drive. On paper, we’re all allowed the same pursuit of life, liberty, happiness, cable TV, iPhones, Tumblr, shirtless Thor-and-Loki. But culturally, endemically, we’re not really equal. White people — in particular, white dudes, and even more particular, heteronormative white dudes with some cash in the ol’ bank accounts — get a gold-standard version of equality. Like, were I to use an airplane metaphor, we’re all allowed to fly and go to the same place, but the heteronormative white dudes get more legroom, free and better drinks, hot towels, all that happy shit.

Or, to go back to that cable TV half-a-joke I just made, okay, sure, we’re all allowed to buy cable TV, but these white dudes are the ones who can afford it (they make more money than women and minorities). And they’re the ones who run the cable companies. And who direct and write most of the shows and star in most of the shows and — well, you get the picture, right?

I mean, hey. Thor and Loki? Both heteronormative white dudes in mythology, in the stories, and reportedly as actors. Thor 2: The Dark World is a film written by a white dude. Directed by a white dude. The poster is a lotta white dudes. The black dude on the poster is ill-seen. The lead actress, Natalie Portman, appears classically demure — a damsel in distress pressing herself against the white dude’s chest as if for protection. (The other woman on the poster appears slightly more bad-ass, though is not shown being bad-ass so much as she’s shown concealed behind the might of Thor.) We can have Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man. But we can’t have a Black Cat film. Or a Wonder Woman movie. You know?

This isn’t meant to be an indictment against any of these films — I’ve not yet seen Thor 2 — but this rambly jumble of thoughts is there to remind you that what we have here is a very strong legacy forged in favor of the heteronormative white dude (heretofore referred to as HWD).

It’s easy to say, “Yes, it’s wrong for men to objectify women and so it must also be wrong for women to objectify men!” — but here, you may find more value in shoving words like “right” and “wrong” off the table and instead replacing them with a different term:

Result.

As in, what is the result?

The result of men objectifying women is stacking more weight on an already imbalanced scale. It’s contributing, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, toward that legacy I’m talking about. A legacy of unequal pay, a legacy of cultural separation, a legacy of rape culture and other forms of victimization. It adds to that legacy while robbing something from a whole group of people.

The result of women objectifying men is — what? Again, not asking about right or wrong but — what happens? I’m still Mister Lucky over here. You objectify me and I still won the HWD lottery. I’m still likelier to get paid more, to get the jobs, to get the kudos, to get to be a hero Daddy, to get to be the rule-setter. I’m still going to have a better shot at being a CEO. Or a politician. Or, or, or.

I point all this out not as a finger-waggling tongue-clucking judge and jury against the HWD. I point this all out as an HWD who has in the past wondered some of this stuff and had go ahead and open his eyes and see that, yes, there’s more going on here than maybe I imagined. It’s hard to see the forest because of all these white dude trees, you know? We like to think it’s keen to aspire to a color-blind world but the result of that is usually that white people are just blind to people of color. Whedon wants us to put the word “feminism” away, but all that would really result in is putting away feminists and, by proxy, those who are female.

So, when it comes to things like men’s rights or presumed double-standards or why we can’t join in on the cultural appropriation of bigoted words — maybe we need to think about the consequence of all this instead of whether something seems right or seems wrong.

More to the point —

Maybe we just need to suck it up and be allies for others instead of allies for ourselves.

Postscript to all this: I’ve been sitting on this for a couple days because I’m always nervous — worried not that I’m going to offend somebody, which is par for the course around here, but because this is sensitive stuff and I’m a certified HWD who has all kinds of secret little prejudices and unrecognized bullshit I’m probably not even aware of. I don’t want to try to play the hero and drum my chest and say, “Now that a white guy has brought this up, we can canonize it.” This is all very easy for me to say, and I’m going to get stuff wrong from time to time because of all this baggage and privilege and the sweet leg-room and free drinks and hot towels. Let me know if you think I’m off here — and, obviously, please play together politely in the comments because otherwise I’ll dump you in the spam oubliette where your shrieks will find no ears.

Second Postscript: I won’t link to the original discussion that led me to write this post, in part because I don’t want to send more signal into noise, and further, it’s already gone, poof, someone took it down. It was a trail I’d followed reading stuff about the Joss Whedon “genderist” speech — and his speech is probably a whole other post for a whole other day.

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