“Men ruin everything. Think you’re having fun? Just you wait—a man will come in and ruin it.”
I say these words nearly every other day. I tell people it’s my motto, in fact. I say it mostly in jest—after all, I am surrounded by male family members, friends, and acquaintances who do not, in fact, “ruin everything.” But I wish I were fully joking. The fact of the matter is, lately, whenever I find myself unreasonably upset, frustrated, or angry, I realize the source of my emotions is something a male has said or done. There is some truth to “men ruin everything,” not just in America, but across the globe—especially in the media of late.
Still truth needs to be grounded in fact. And the fact is, though I am learning, I still have much to understand about feminism and the gender imbalances in our society. And so, I write this article not to list all the terrible things males have done in the media recently, nor to just criticize myself, but to encourage others to not make the same mistake I did and run away from topics that feel uneasy.
I started by thinking back to the beginning. In elementary school, I spent more time with my male classmates than female classmates. I liked being like them—provoking each other, coming up with hairbrained schemes to get ourselves into trouble, traipsing into the woods behind the school to see what we could find. It was a lot simpler spending time with them than the girls in my class, who I could quickly offend if I didn’t invite them to my birthday party or forgot to save them a seat in assembly. I preferred being around the boys, who were aggressive only physically, not relationally, like the girls.
By middle school, the ratio of my friends, guys to girls, was probably even. I had come to appreciate my girlfriends, since they listened to me more and provided me more emotional support. This appreciation grew in high school. In boarding school, I found it practically impossible to talk to my male classmates, who seemed almost incapable of having a normal conversation. (I’m not saying that’s how it was—just how it seemed). I decided I was ready for college, where everyone, not just guys, would be a little more human, a little more themselves, and a little better at communication.
And thus far, that has generally been the case. I’ve made some irreplaceable friendships at CC, with people of all genders: fulfilling, meaningful, and supportive friendships that will last a lifetime. Where did “men ruin everything” come from, then?
Maybe it was when my advisor bravely shared her story of sexual harassment following the Harvey Weinstein allegations, before #metoo was even a thing. Maybe it was when #metoo became a thing. Maybe it was one of the numerous times video footage or recordings of our president saying or doing despicable things to women were released. Or the other morning on Equal Pay Day, when I read that women still receive less recognition, respect, and pay in the workplace. Every time I baffle my male counterparts at the climbing gym for “sending their proj.” The times when I was catcalled on every street corner studying abroad in Cuba last year. The times when I’m catcalled in Colorado Springs. The list could go on and on.
However, my half-joking motto really arose from me finally recognizing the gender imbalance in our country, and then overcompensating. Because the truth is, though I was familiar with terms like “feminism” and “patriarchy” before college, I wasn’t educated on the subjects. In fact, the first block of my FYE was called “Women and the Body,” a feminist and gender Studies course. I hadn’t paid any attention to the Block 1 course; I was looking forward to the psych course in Block 2, “Women and Madness.” I was utterly terrified when I walked in on First Monday to a room of very passionate females, all highly active in their respective high schools’ feminist clubs. Just sharing why they chose to take the course, three girls started crying. Our professor said we’d cover “Feminism 101” in the first hour of class the next day. I was shook—I probably felt exactly as male students do taking feminist and gender courses at CC. And so instead of taking the opportunity to educate myself on the subject, I fled in panic to the registrar and switched into existential philosophy.
I realize now how foolish that decision was; I had so much to gain from taking that course. But I was suffering from “feminist threat.” In my personality class last semester, we read an article by Moradi, Martin, and Brewster (2012) that demonstrated that although many people agree with feminist ideals, they don’t identify as feminists. They either fear being associated with possible negative feminist stereotypes, or they know they’ll feel dissonance if they proclaim themselves feminists but do not adequately act like feminists. I felt both, and by fleeing that class, I missed an opportunity to bridge the gap of my understanding—from actually finding girls annoying in elementary school to saying “men ruin everything” on practically a daily basis by my junior year of college.
Whether it’s feminist and gender studies or molecular cellular biology, educate yourself, no matter your misgivings. Otherwise you run the risk of creating unproductive blanket statements and having a half-baked understanding.