I recently befriended a straight man — alert the press. This was totally accidental and not intentional at all. Don’t go thinking I would ever go out of my way to accompany myself with the likes of straight men. I’m kidding, of course. Straight men are just turned off by my friendship because straight men don’t like to be criticized for their systemic privilege. I get it. Accepting criticism is hard. But this particular man doesn’t mind the occasional feminist outburst from me. Shiny gold star for him!
Through this friendship, I have learned that a white, straight man can be informed and decent but also choose to remove himself from political stances, which can be attributed back to systemic privilege — can’t everything?
It is completely understandable why a cisgender, white, middle-class, straight man would choose to absolve himself from political issues. Political issues don’t invalidate his identity, threaten his livelihood, discriminate against him or prevent him from having the same academic, professional or familial opportunities as anyone else.
However, they do affect people around him. People he may be related to, people he is friends with or even just people he walks past. People are affected by sociopolitics throughout their whole lives. But cisgender, straight, middle-class, white men are, on the main, exonerated from racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and classism.
Therefore, taking a political stance on any of these issues becomes an active choice, one born out of empathy rather than the inevitability of impact.
What is most frustrating for me is that cisgender, white middle-class straight men have the most say on such issues, issues that they themselves are not affected by. What brings men in the position of leadership is not the drive for progressive change, but a want for power — specifically, the want for power which will ensure that the status quo which exists in their favor prevails.
Men are not taught to be apathetic. Not directly, at least. But they’re not taught to be empathetic. Empathy, the ability to care about someone else’s hardships even though you yourself may not experience them, is a feminine quality. Empathy is a maternal quality. And although women may celebrate an empathetic man, men do not celebrate empathetic men. And men’s work is geared toward a male audience, whether it be in government, in entertainment, in the media or in academia.
Men are at the top in every one of these industries, but men are also the top consumers in every one of these industries. Men do not only have the power to create and influence, but the power to consume and to perpetuate the work of other men. (What’s the word for that, again? Oh yeah, patriarchy.)
My concern with this work is that it is not empathetic. It does not take a political stance because it doesn’t have to.
This is not to say that straight, white men do not do anything at all for disenfranchised groups such as women, the LGBTQ community and minorities. But the reason they do so feels more of a concession than an authentic show of solidarity. Rather than genuinely empathizing with the disenfranchised, straight, white men are merely acknowledging that the disenfranchised have a claim over their success. Although minorities do not have as much power, they still make up a percentage of viewership, of voters, of consumers. It is therefore not their inherent value that is respected, but rather their value to the perpetuation of the success of the man in charge.
Men are not heavily criticized for taking a stance because they do not have a stake in the stance itself. The work of men, specifically in entertainment media, need not provide another perspective other than their own. The mainstream perspective is and has been the white, straight man’s. Holden Caulfield, Nick Carraway, Michael Scott, Walter White and other straight, white men have bravely shared with us their anxieties and ignored those of anyone not directly aligned with them. My claim is not against these fictional characters, but their creators. It is a great privilege to be informed, to have influence and then to use all your knowledge and power to further your own perspective rather than distribute that power to those affected by yours.