[CN: Brief discussion of sexual assault and rape culture]
You’ve no doubt seen them. Man Poses as Woman on Online Dating Site; Barely Lasts Two Hours. Men Try On Ladies’ Sexy Halloween Costumes. The Try Guys Try Labour Pain Simulation. And, most recently, Guys Experience Periods for the First Time.
They all follow the same arc: It can’t really be that bad, women are exaggerating. Oh my god I can’t handle this. Women weren’t lying! Wow, women are tougher than we thought.
It’s played sometimes for laughs, sometimes for enlightenment, often for both. And it fucking infuriates me.
The humour part is pretty simple. Fish out of water! Men wearing sexy costumes! Men wearing pads! Oh my god! (Putting aside the fact that these laughs are based in gender essentialism and are often entirely ignorant of the fact that transmen exist who may well wear pads, get pregnant, etc.) This is pretty standard and boring fare.
What’s more troubling to me is how this not only reifies the default position that women are liars, but serves to give cookies to men who find out that women aren’t in fact liars (about this one particular thing) not by believing women but by playing at some poor approximation of the thing many women experience.
We are surrounded by examples of how patriarchy defaults to a place of women being untrustworthy. From the routine disbelief and victim-blaming of sexual assault survivors; the refusal to believe that sexual assault is as prevalent as it is; the assertions that women frequently lie about sexual assault despite the false report rate being slightly lower than all other major crimes; the prevalence of cat-calling; the threat of cat-calling; sexual harassment on the internet; sexual harassment at work; sexual harassment on the bus; how doctors take women’s pain less seriously. And on and on and on and on to infinity.
These are stark examples of the harm that not believing women does.
Here’s an example that clangs around my head quite often. As does the fact that it wasn’t until Hannibal Buress called Bill Cosby a rapist that people started to believe it. Hell, Cosby himself admitted to drugging women to have sex (sexual assault, that’s called sexual assault) with them in a deposition in 2005 and people still figured women be lying.
But let’s move away from the heavy stuff and go back to the funny, funny idea of men having periods. Unlike most in the genre, this video actually recognizes that some men do have periods, so kudos on that. But that’s about where the kudos ends. The video follows three men dealing with “periods” (that is, beet juice and corn syrup in their underpants) for three days. While I have no doubt whatsoever that every menstruator out there has dealt with the kind of blow-out these guys inexplicably experience multiple times a day, I don’t think most menstruators would list dealing with blood as the worst (or defining) part of their periods. Higher on the list might be the cramping, the nausea, the diarrhea, the hormonal rollercoaster, the bloating, the constant peeing, the rage, the tender breasts, the sore back, the exhaustion, the rise in body temperature, the insomnia, the anxiety and panic attacks, and any other joys I don’t personally experience. And then, on top of that, the taboo of talking about periods and the assumption that any emotion or reaction aside from pleasant, meek compliance is evidence of PMS rather than an appropriate reaction to fucked up behaviour.
Anyway. Women are taught, from a young age, that they won’t be believed. And men are taught from a young age not to believe. And so we find ourselves in this pickle where a man can admit under oath to what he’s done, another can show his employers video of himself assaulting someone, and people will clamour to call women liars. And then wonder why women don’t come forward. If they were telling the truth they would have come forward right away. It’s a toxic chicken producing a poisoned egg.
I’ll leave you with my favourite video of the genre:
Dude 1: Did you know that according to women childbirth is the worst kind of pain there is?
Dude 2: And did you know according to women that us men can’t handle any of it?
Dude 1: Well, did you know that according to men, women exaggerate everything?
It’s my favourite both because the men get karmic retribution when they start crying at about a 2 out of 10 in the pain-scale and because of this interaction halfway through:
Dude 1: Stop smiling! ARGHHHHHH.
Wife 1: *Laughs and highfives the other wife.*