Years ago at work, a co-worker of mine came to complain about a bumper sticker that had found its way to the bulletin board in the cubicle of one of his female co-workers. At first, he just laughed it off as clever, but the more he thought about it, the more he was offended. The bumper sticker said, "Women who aspire to be like men lack ambition." What my friend was experiencing was a subtle form of "male bashing" in his workplace.
He wasn't quite sure what to do but he knew that it was troubling him. He didn't want to come across as overly sensitive or defensive, but he also knew that if a bumper sticker that was derogatory toward women appeared in his cubicle, he would be told to take it down.
Male bashing can take many forms, and it almost seems to be a standard form of humor these days. In the popular media, it can take the form of advertisements, situation comedies, "funny guy jokes" or commercials that depict men (and especially fathers it seems) as inept, immature and ineffective while the women around them are eminently calm and capable.
Male bashing is at its root a rebellion against generations of "female bashing" at the hands of men. After all, what man has not heard all of the ridiculous "blonde jokes" that further the stereotype of a woman with blond hair being hapless, hopeless, and gullible. Many men have told the jokes, perhaps with a tinge of guilt because they knew that they were disrespectful.
But they also probably knew a blonde who was just like the protagonist in the joke.
For every blonde joke, there is probably an equally disrespectful man joke that is told. And the people who tell them probably have the same guilt feelings, assuaged by the fact that they know at least one man whose life and habits are reflected in the joke.
So, the bottom line is that there will always be some "male bashing." It may be inescapable, just as blonde jokes are when we all know they are wrong. So, if you are there when the male bashing starts, what should you do? What is the right approach to take when someone in your presence starts to denigrate men?
Don't ignore or engage in the bashing. When I have had to investigate cases of sexual harassment before in my career, I found that frequently the perpetrator had no idea that his conduct was unwanted or unwelcome. So it is important to politely and firmly stand your ground. A comment like, "I can't believe you just said that! Do you have any idea how that makes a good man feel?" is a good place to start. And if you hear male bashing going on and you add a male bashing comment of your own, you are now complicit and you encourage the bashers further.
Don't overreact. If the male bashing was simply innocent banter, it will probably stop once you express that it is unwelcome. So, if the situation occurred at work, don't go running to your corporate HR office and complain or make a bigger deal about it than it deserves. If the male bashing continues in your workplace, even after you have expressed a concern, then it may be time to take it to the next level.
Document male bashing in the workplace. Male bashing has often been seen as creating a hostile work environment under sexual harassment standards. If the male bashing does continue at work, you should document the experiences. Put in writing the date, time and location, what was said and who was present. Most workplaces require there to be a pattern of bad behavior with lots of details if they are going to take some kind of action.
Don't argue or debate. People who have anti-male attitudes generally come to the situation with a lot of baggage and can react badly when confronted. What you want is for the behavior to stop and you probably would not get someone with an anti-male stereotype to change it, regardless of how persuasive you are. So, simply express your concern about the behavior and then watch to see if the behavior changes.
Keep your own house in order. If you are concerned about male bashing, you need to be sure that you are not telling blonde jokes or acting in any way that disrespects women. Your behavior toward women has to be positive and non-derogatory or your expressed concerns will sound hollow. This is especially true in the workplace where, as an "accuser," you will often find yourself on trial, whether through formal or informal means.
Male bashing, no matter how pervasive, is still wrong and denigrates good men and good fathers everywhere. It will only become unacceptable when we let the male bashers know that we feel disrespected and that the vast majority of men are worthy of respect, not bashing.