In praise of ‘sensitive’ men | Pakistan Today

In praise of ‘sensitive’ men

  • Steaks are ‘masculine’ and salads are ‘feminine’

Masculinity cannot be gauged by one’s insensitivity to suffering.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is no stranger to controversy. It’s an international organisation well-known for its radical approach towards animal welfare. PETA is constantly under fire for its zealous promotion of veganism and call for reduction of violence against animals in all forms.

Recently, PETA uploaded an infographic on the need to avoid “anti-animal language”. Instead of saying phrases like, “Kill two birds with one stone”, PETA suggests that we say, “Feed two birds with one scone” and so on. The concept behind the infographic is that we mustn’t trivialise violence against animals, which is a serious and often overlooked problem.

It wasn’t unexpected to see the comment section filled with the precisely the sort of “anti-animal language” that PETA recommends we avoid. Thousands of people shared the infographic not for serious consideration, but to draw attention to the supposed absurdity of liberal extremism. People, particularly men, tagged one another in the thread to join them in laughter or anger.

I did not find the post absurd. As a writer, I’m no stranger to the power of words; and how they’re used to discourage or normalize certain behaviors. I can imagine one’s indifference towards this post and skepticism regarding its effectiveness. One expects apathy at worst but not hostility towards a simple suggestion to be good to animals.

However, the post was an easy target for insecure males exercising their masculinity by the way of staunch insensitivity. Reading between the lines of the comments, the opposition essentially called for acceptance of ‘moderate’ cruelty towards animals as opposed to PETA’s allegedly girly demand of ‘extreme’ sensitivity.

This resistance to social progress represents a predictable pattern. First they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. Had a white American from the early 1800s gazed into a crystal ball to see black people who are not only free from slavery but also able to cast votes in the Presidential election, it surely would’ve seemed absurd to him. An average modern man might be able to tolerate the idea of not butchering animals, but to modify human language for animals’ sake may seem ‘extreme’.

Those who assert that we must modify our behaviour further than we already have, provoke knee-jerk anger

This signifies a common bias among people, even those who see themselves as progressive. Every generation appears to believe that they’ve peaked in terms of social development; and that any effort to be even more sensitive towards others is unnecessary at best and outright absurd at worst.

Those who assert that we must modify our behaviour further than we already have, provoke knee-jerk anger. PETA’s infographic struck a nerve with so many people because of its insinuation that we aren’t as nice as we choose to believe. The post signals that we have not yet arrived at your final destination of social development, and there’s yet another mile to walk. We, the exhausted travelers, want to go no further. We want to pause and congratulate ourselves for the progress we’ve already made.

Those who try to push us further are mockingly referred to as “Social Justice Warriors” or SJWs. This is a curious term, implying that ‘social justice’ must be doled out in moderation like salt in a karahi. It suggests that too much social justice is a problem in itself rather than a solution. Feminists are well aware of this opposition, and so are activists fighting virtually any form of oppression. Any story of harassment courageously narrated by a vulnerable victim, is rigorously combed by men to assess whether the incident was really that big a problem. Men are as likely to conclude that it’s a non-issue, as white right-wing men are expected to dismiss Islamophobia. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there’s always someone on your left that you think is “too radical” to take seriously.

What’s worse is the established belief that cruelty and insensitivity are ‘masculine’ traits, and sensitivity towards others’ physical and emotional well-being is ‘feminine’. Steaks are ‘masculine’ and salads are ‘feminine’.

Insensitivity is not worth striving for. If one believes that an activist’s opposition to racial, sexist, or homophobic slurs is trivial, then it’s equally trivial to complain incessantly about those miniscule behavioral adjustments which are intended to make the world less cruel.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.