I’m a man, and I’m against ‘men’s rights activists’.
I see these blokes all over the internet; I can’t get away from them. Whenever I see a video of my female friends and neighbors at a rally or an event, or read any article that mentions gender, I’ve come to expect the invective and bile of the MRAs, talking about how women have usurped all of our power through feminism and cultural left-wingers and male pro-feminists like me are sort of anti-male fifth column bent on destroying manhood (possibly in some sort of scheme to ‘get laid by the feminazis’- I kid you not, I have been so accused).
Guys? Can we talk? Give me a break.
The idea that women have somehow usurped male power is ridiculous; every branch of government remains dominated by men, as does the upper classes of the economy. Women worldwide remain the perpetual underclass of most societies, and even in the ‘post-feminist’ (hah!) West, suffer disproportionate poverty and a host of double standards, from unequal coverage in health insurance to the entire complex of women’s domesticity and the demand that they perform the unpaid domestic labor in any couple (no, being allowed to live in the house and eat the food doesn’t count as payment- slaves got that too; remuneration and economic empowerment implies the ability to decide what to do with the rewards of one’s labor). Deaths by domestic violence are ridiculously one-sided, almost always male-on-female. Rapes, likewise, are almost always perpetrated by men, mostly on women. Women have by no means become the dominant sex (nor is that the goal of feminism).
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t areas where men suffer because of gender- there are. Men are expected to be the breadwinners and shamed if they want to take a domestic role; stay-at-home-dads are laughed at, ‘Mr. Mom’ is a comedic concept, and our media is replete with the images of the distant workaholic dad who’s inept around the kids. In Japan, some men go to work away from their families for the whole week, coming back on the weekends to estranged kids. In the Americas, many migrant workers have to spend months away from their children.
It’s not just work, either- men are expected to go off and fight. My sisters never had to register for the selective service (or have the pleasure of lighting their selective service card on fire with some hippie’s joint at an Arlo Guthrie concert) because it’s us men who are raised into a gender role that expects them to be willing to go off and face bombs and bullets, allegedly for their country (and quite possibly for the private gains of other, more privileged men, but that’s a whole other issue), and then, stiffs the returning Vets not only with the high rates of unemployment and the lack of support for physical disability, but with stigma and shame towards those men who seek help for very real and damaging emotional and psychological scarring. That’s not just a military thing- men as a whole are shamed for having emotions, weakness, or vulnerability. It’s one of the big things in male gender roles, sort of central to the whole deal. What do we get for the emotional repression? Men commit suicide at a higher rate than women- and small wonder. Meanwhile, while abuse and rape is largely male-on-female, female-on-male abuse does occur and is often ignored, or even seen as somehow acceptable (though we shouldn’t ignore the persistent apologism and joking about abuse of women that does occur). Also, as MRAs have pointed out, in divorce cases, the children usually go to the mother. These are all things that need to be addressed.
But do MRAs do a whole lot to actually address these? Nope. For the most part, they seem to busy attacking feminists in a bizarre belief that gender liberation is a zero-sum game, a bias they self-confirm when feminists quite rightly fire back at their reactionary, anti-feminist rhetoric. Really, as far as I can tell, the only group that seems really concerned with actually addressing the ways in which gender roles adversely affect men, or analyzing just how the gender expectations on masculinity work, or working towards equality between the sexes and a breaking down of restrictive gender roles… is feminists. In fact, that’s how I got into feminism; when I heard Jean Kilbourne talk, in Still Killing Us Softly, about the construction of male body image. Suddenly, the idea that feminism was some kind of war against men got called into question. I’d never heard anyone honestly talk about how sexism affected men before unless it was deceptively couched in language attacking women and feminism. The more I studied feminist ideas and gender as a whole, the more I found out that, yeah, it turns out the sexism women face and the problems sexism causes for men stem from a common source.
Let’s face it- the problems that men face are a backlashing side affect of the same system of gender roles that disproportionately advantage men in other areas. People don’t usually acknowledge things like female-on-male spousal abuse or rape because men are supposed to be the tough, dominant guys and admitting your wife beats you would ‘feminize’ you. Kids often go to the mother in divorce cases because we’ve constructed the idea that she’s the domestic one and we’re the ones who focus on careers- the same reason men are shamed if they want to stay at home and let the women make the money.
A lot of these problems all come back to how we’ve constructed gender roles and how we shame men for deviating from a dominant, public role that refuses to admit vulnerability. MRAs sometimes come so close to realizing this, sometimes really start to critique the unspoken and damaging Guy Codes, but always fail at the source- they blame it all on women and their sexual demands, on women setting men in competition to each other, in a narrative suspiciously similar to those ‘nice guys’ who complain about the women always dating the jerks (a topic I wrote about before; MRAs, of course, seem to disproportionately be these phony and self-described ‘nice guys’).
But, these are not gender roles women forced on men; for the most part, they’re gender roles men enforce on one another. We’re a homosocial culture. Men don’t avoid vulnerability or feminization to get the ladies (though a lot of men fool themselves that that’s the reason)- they do it to avoid ostracism from men. If we want to change the things that disadvantage men, we should start by challenging the way we men police each other into those gender roles.
All of these would be readily apparent from the framework of gender exploration provided by feminist thought (and, indeed, that’s the framework I’ve been approaching it from). If you want to end unfairness to men, fight for gender equality and the abolition of dehumanizing cultural constructs of mutually exclusive, essentialist gender roles- do what feminists do. Critique the gender system. Work with feminists. Be a feminist (and don’t get neurotic about the name like all those ‘I’m a humanist, not a feminist’ morons- I’ll have to write about that another time… for now, just remember that substance is more important than the name). But, MRAs won’t do that. They’re not actually interested in an honest assessment and challenging of the problems of modern gender politics towards men. Their actions and their blogging have very little to do with how men police each other’s emotions in collectively self-harmful ways, or how advertising industries (dominated by men) create, in a way similar as they have for women, standards of buff and cut beauty that most men can’t live up to, or how to address female-on-male abuse (there are a lot of blog posts about committing violence towards women and a few protests to take money *away from women’s shelters*, but not a lot to support services for battered men).
They’d rather spend their time explaining how women who get raped deserve it for dressing too scantily and playing with men’s supposedly irrepressible hormones (strangely, my own raging hormones have never caused me to become an unthinking sexual-assault machine, because, you know, that’s not how hormones work), declaring that they want to mail-order brides from countries where women are more submissive, and talking about how feminism has somehow hurt men. At the end of the day, their primary motivations are perpetually revealed to be a mixture of ignorance and misogyny.