But I don't think feminism is only about women's empowerment—or, at least, there have been other feminisms, too. Specifically, feminism often takes the form of critique, especially of misogyny. This is often defined as the hatred of women, but in her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano provides a broader definition. She says that misogyny is the "tendency to dismiss and deride femaleness and femininity." In part, this involves deriding and devaluing women, but it also means devaluing any expression of femininity, no matter the gender of the person in question. For example, misogyny means that people see bosses or those with hugely successful careers as being more important than those who stay home and care for their kids, because caring for kids is seen as feminine. Empowerment feminism tends to argue that women should be able to do anything that men can do. But there have also been versions of feminism that argue that what men do isn't necessarily so great; that maybe, instead of leaning in to be the man, we should try to see if we can get to a place where no one has to be the man at all.
So one thing feminism is about, and has been about, is questioning what it is to be a man, which obviously affects men pretty directly. Women are the main victims of misogyny, because women are inescapably associated with femininity. But other people can suffer, too. Gay men, for example, are stereotypically seen as feminine, weak, frivolous, and helpless: "A pansy has no iron in his bones," to quote the author Raymond Chandler in one of his more misogynistic and homophobic moments. Similarly, femininity is often seen as fake or inauthentic—a trope that is especially damaging for trans women and men, whose gender identities are often seen as unmanly, false, fake, or performed.
Nor do straight men escape criticism. Heterosexual guys get many advantages from misogyny; they’re perceived as the least feminine kind of person, and as a result, they are seen as the most valuable and worthy of respect. But that position is always precarious, always threatened by the creeping threat of femininity. As just one iconic example, in Sixteen Candles, the high school hierarchy is enforced through rampant misogyny against men. The geeks are constantly called "faggots" and pushed around by burlier, manlier jocks. Meanwhile, the character Long Duk Dong—a vicious Chinese stereotype—is “comically” paired with a larger, stronger woman to emphasize his ridiculous unmanliness. Men who are not white, who don't play sports, who are interested in video games, or who, like me, do a lot of child care—if they can be construed as feminine in any way, they become targets of ridicule and, sometimes, violence.
It may seem like these stereotypes protect certain kinds of people from misogyny—like straight, white jocks, for example. But that's not really true, either. No man is perfectly, ideally masculine, which means anyone could be considered too feminine. As I said last week, Elliot Rodger seemed to be very aware of this threat; he felt like his status as a man was damaged because the women he felt he deserved weren't sleeping with him. His turn to violence was an extreme and horrible reaction—but not exactly unique. The fear of being feminized can lead to violence in many situations. For example, in her book Women and War, Jean Bethke Elshtain talks about how this threat of being considered womanly or unmanly is used as a lever during wartime; internalized misogyny and fear of being singled out pushes men to fight—and die—“like men.”