Red Hearts, Razors, and Emotional Labor: Untangling Men’s Issues From Feminism

I not only believe there is a place in the gender equality minefield for men’s liberation, but that, in such a politically charged society, this movement is sorely needed.

I know this is an odd statement to make in a space that by and large houses Feminist thought and action. But I’m certain that encouraging such a movement is the only way to preserve the integrity of Feminist spaces. I’m absolutely not suggesting we contact our local MRA’s and ask them out to lunch. I’m not of the mind that the bridge trolls that comprise such a movement are capable of any action that would complement, or even run remotely parallel to, the outcomes Feminism works to achieve. What I have in mind is more of a safe space for men seeking to combat the toxic masculinity so pervasive in our culture.

The fact of the matter is, toxic masculinity is not and should not be a Feminist issue. But it impacts women so deeply, many Feminists bear the burden of trying to combat it. The very act of assuming this task is a form of emotional labor painfully blatant. And yet, we don’t seem to address it in such terms. Rather, it almost seems like a duty we’ve decided is a key component of discussions about Feminism.

I don’t know about any of you, but I for one am sick of doing men’s work for them.

In 2016, a document started circulating factions of the internet concerned with women’s interests. It was pulled from this thread, which was inspired by Jess Zimmerman’s article on The Toast that addressed the unpaid emotional labor women shouldered on men’s behalf. For those not already familiar with what the term Emotional Labor means, the short version is basically “shit we do that nobody notices, but takes an emotional (and sometimes physical) toll on us”. Unfortunately,  this unrecognised workload is usually lumped on women.

Emotional labor is a simple way to discuss a broad range of issues. I urge you to take a look at the above links if you haven’t already because the scope of what emotional labor involves is vast. It covers all manner of things, from remembering and taking charge of housework or the birthdays of your partner’s relatives, to providing ongoing and taxing emotional support with minimal reciprocation. It’s hard work, it’s exhausting, and worst of all, it’s so expected of women, men often don’t realise the sheer weight of it.

Despite most Feminists being aware of what it means to bear the brunt of emotional labor and taking steps to actively resist it, we have still allowed this labor to occur for an obscenely long period of time. It occurs in a variety of ways, and while some of these actions are called out for the bullshit they are, others seem almost permanently entrenched in Feminist discussion.

One such burden is regularly experienced by Sherele Moody, an Australian journalist who, since 2015, has granted voices to those who have lost their lives to violence through her Red Heart Campaign. Moody’sstatistics encompass not only the gender of the victim, but also the gender of the perpetrator, and whether or not this information is known. The numbers themselves are unbiased, and sources are provided on the Red Heart Campaign website for these murders. Her extensive and (unfortunately) regularly updated catalogue of casualties paints an alarming picture of what it means to be a woman in Australian society.

Though Moody has collated the data relevant to sex and age category without bias, on her Facebook page, her emphasis is on women who are victims of men’s violence. Her Facebook page falls in line with her wish to advocate on behalf of women who are no longer able to speak. Sadly, it is this advocacy that many men wish to focus on, ignoring her clear passion for providing information regarding a wide scope of violence in Australia.

A quick browse of both Moody’s personal Facebook page and the page specifically devoted to the Red Heart Campaign confirms what we as Feminists are already acutely aware of: no matter what platform we build for ourselves to address violence against women, there will always be a swarm of detractors that demand to know why this platform is not also being used to shed light on violence experienced by men (as though they’re entirely incapable of speaking on their own behalf). Some even straight-up claim any focus on violence suffered by women is a direct attack on men.

The sad irony in these demands is that Moody actually does use her pages to address violence experienced by men. These posts experience little to no engagement – the men who are so insistent she speaks on their behalf are nowhere to be seen.

Because the comment sections of Moody’s posts are often populated with women sharing their stories of trauma and survival, the female victims of violence often become responsible not only for defending their right to this platform, but for carving out a space designed to satisfy yet another aggressive man.

None of this is to say that men’s issues aren’t worthy of attention. There are plenty of areas affecting men that would benefit from being addressed. And they should be. It’s just that it shouldn’t be on women and Feminism to do it for men.

There have been some brilliant steps in this direction so far. The r/menslib community is a great example of what positive, inclusive action should look like when initiated and maintained by men. Their subreddit hosts links that answer the majority of questions belligerent men put to Feminists on a regular basis. But, more than that, they are supportive, loving, and validating of each other, and make no hesitation to call out any toxic behaviours that occur within their community. While not always perfect, r/menslib is proof that men taking charge of their own issues and experiences is something that should be further encouraged.

Unfortunately, attempts to address the ways in which men are socialised and interact with each other are not always met favourably, as witnessed by the backlash popular shaving brand Gilette experienced in their marketing campaign, “The Best Men Can Be”.  The campaign sought to address toxic ideas and behaviours prevalent in male social circles. Rather than view it as a positive action  by a multi-national company with the interests of men clearly at heart, many chose to see the campaign as an act intended to emasculate or (god forbid) feminise men. The double whammy to these detractors seemed to be the ad’s connection to the #MeToo movement, and the ways in which it implored men to hold themselves responsible for male-initiated violence. Because #notallmen, right?

As can be expected from the unwashed miscreants that so often inhabit the internet, much of the backlash was aggressive, vile, often incoherent, and unfortunately, largely missed the point of the message altogether.

Still, there were many who praised the message in the campaign, and who were not ignorant to the overall point. If nothing else, this should indicate to Feminists that there are plenty of men who are receptive to the messages we’re trying to get across. For something of this nature to gain such traction, it’s obvious that, despite the many pushbacks against attempts to address male socialisation, there are just as many, if not more, people with whom these attempts resonate.

All of this is well and good. But how can we, as Feminists, begin to reduce our emotional workload of fighting for our own issues, and push back against assuming men’s issues?

1.      Rather than attempt to show how Feminism benefits men (as we often seem to do), double down on your point and ask how men seek to further their own causes.

2.      Feel free to direct said men who aim to detract from your point to any male-focused Feminist-friendly communities that are known to you. r/menslib is honestly a great place to start.

3.      Remember, “no” is always a complete sentence. You are not obligated to show how you are being considerate of men’s issues (whether you are or not). In most cases, when you’re being asked to answer the question “what about men?” it’s usually by someone who couldn’t give a shit about what you’re saying anyway. Why is it up to you to appease these people?

.     It’s not. You don’t have to justify your cause to someone who seeks to derail it. Just keep doing your thing and fighting your fight. Their inability to fight for their own interests is not your problem.

Ultimately, none of this is about hating men, as we as Feminists are so often accused of. In the same way we are unhappy with men taking it upon themselves to represent our interests (and often missing the mark), we should not be expected to adequately represent the interests and needs of men. This expectation is just additional labour that compounds with the stack we’ve already accumulated over centuries. If we want to truly do our best work and target the areas that need our attention, it’s time we start shrugging off all of the issues that, by all rights, should never have belonged to us in the first place.

By: Roxie Gray

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here:


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