The Difference Between Acknowledging and Triaging: Things the Men’s Right Movement (and many of the rest of us) Haven’t Learned

There is a difference between acknowledgement and triage.

Acknowledging someone’s subjective pain or difficulty is completely different from triaging (assigning the priority needed) to fix that pain.

Again, using our understanding of medicine as a jumping-off point:

We can acknowledge that many – or even all – of the people in an emergency room rate their pain as being extremely high.  But it would lead to gridlock if we tried to treat everyone with their own self-evaluation of how much pain they were in.

There are many other factors that go into effective triage (or sorting and prioritizing).  A few examples:

  • Which patients need to be isolated because they are contagious?  
  • Which patients will suffer permanent damage without immediate care?  
  • Which patients have conditions that will worsen without immediate care?

Medical personnel were trained effectively in triage… but addressing each indvidual’s pain as a subjective measure is a fairly new thing.  But rather than having more patients be frustrated with the triage process, the mere experience of being heard and acknowledged helped them be more understanding that other people’s needs may have to come first.

This also goes with emotions, and how our subjective pain (or difficulty) translates into real-world triage.

A trivial example:  My girlfriend has a very busy schedule one day a week.  I check on her stuff and make sure to prepare (or at least start to prepare) a meal for her so that she can come back to her house and simply relax.  I don’t normally cook much anymore, and I often have to rush from my own job to make it in time, so it’s a minor inconvenience for me. I do it anyway, because regardless of how much I might not feel like cooking that day, when I look at it from a triage perspective my inconvenience is minor compared to what she has to deal with on that day of the week.1

If I focused on my own selfish perceptions instead of what we both need, our relationship would suffer.  Yet at the same time, I really appreciate it when she acknowledges the effort and (minor) inconvenience.  (Thanks honey!)

Right.  So let’s play this up to a large-scale example:  the Dr. Nerdlove article "When Masculinity Fails Men".   Although Dr. Nerdlove doesn’t say the difficulties men face in today’s world are due to the patriarchy in quite so many words, they lay the blame directly at patriarchal norms:

[The problem isn’t women doing things to men.  The problem is] men. More specifically, it’s masculinity. The traditional societal definitions of masculinity – and its attendant gender roles – fails men.

The patriarchy does screw up men.  Quite a bit, actually.  It causes a crapton of subjective pain for men.  But I think both Dr. Nerdlove and I would agree on this:

Acknowledging the subjective pain the patriarchy imposes on men is distinct and different from triaging the problems the patriarchy causes men.

Straight white men (such as myself) are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.  When we work toward undoing the damage that the patriarchy and male social norms have inflicted on society, I am at the bottom of the list.

But the Goofus in our example here are the asshats in the "Men’s Rights Movement".  They don’t want acknowledgement, they want to be bumped to the top of the triage line.  They use the language of empathy and acknowledgement to demand a change in triage.  This is at best selfish.

To use myself as an analogy:  Sinus pressure is debilitating for me.  I experience it as far worse pain than a broken toe or wrist.  And yes, it’s nice to have someone notice and acknowledge that I hurt.  But, damn, that doesn’t mean that my subjective experience of pain from a head cold means I get treated before someone who broke a bone!

By screwing up such a basic distinction between acknowledgement and triage, the selfish asshats that call themselves the "Men’s Rights Movement" make the overall situation worse for everyone.  Not only do they undermine the ability to have one’s pain and difficulty acknowledged, but by insisting their needs come first they end up perpetuating the very system that causes the difficulty they experience.2

1 Yes, I’m cheating here a little bit, because I enjoy doing things for her, even if they’re things I don’t like doing for myself.  I like being useful, and even at worst it’s only a minor inconvenience for me. But you get the point, yes?
2 I’m sure there are some (most? many?) people in the "MRM" whose intention is exactly this – to support the patriarchy by undermining those who work for the rights of all people. But I also suspect there is a non-zero number of men who have never been taught the difference between acknowledgement and triage (thanks, patriarchy!) and are unwittingly perpetuating the thing causing them pain.