THE BLOG
05/20/2014 04:26 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2014

The Problem with 'Real Men Don't Buy Girls'

The meme "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" has gained steam in the wake of the kidnapping of more than 300 Nigerian girls. The slogan, written on placards held by famous men, is supposed to be a bold statement against human trafficking.

Perhaps I should be happy that noteworthy men are taking a stand for the missing Nigerian girls. Then why does it leave such a bad taste in my mouth? Maybe because a slogan that reinforces the tyranny of gender conformity, while implicitly accepting the commodification of the female body, is no help to the feminist movement, or to the missing girls themselves.

First of all, any kind of statement of what a "real" man is just the imposition of another form of reductive masculinity. Some may argue that this is the point -- to recast masculinity with a more progressive, feminist patina, so that men feel sufficiently pressured to behave like moral human beings, all in the name of being a "real man."

But the idea of a "real man" discounts all of the different ways of being a man, and by extension repudiates the full range of gender identities. Moreover, it casts men in the role of the protector, a tired and harmful trope. Men aren't supposed to not abuse women because women have intrinsic rights of their own, but because that's what a "real man" does.

Furthermore, just the very language of "buying girls" commodifies the female body and chips away at the dignity of these missing girls. Also, factor in that the female bodies in question are Black bodies, and the commodification becomes even more troubling.

Talk of "buying" or "selling" human beings ignores the intrinsic rights of all people, especially girls and women, and casts them as commodities. Because even if Boko Harem does make good on its promise to force the girls into marriage, their inherent dignity will not be lost, and this should never be forgotten.

In all "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" reminds me of a cheap advertising ploy -- for example, you could easily fill in that "Real Men Buy Budweiser." Did Don Draper come up with this campaign?
Men should not be praised for solely attempting to engage with the feminist movement. Constructive engagement is the goal. And "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" may be more harmful than helpful.

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