Okay, true confession time: if there’s one group that really still gets under my skin, it’s anti-feminist “men’s rights activists.” In the comments below this post, a fellow named Jeff JP wrote:
You say, “I’m not hard on men because I am filled with self-loathing.”
With all due respect, I just don’t believe that. The very fact that you use terms like “predators” and the incredibly overused, misused, and abused “patriarchs” suggests to me that there’s really something else going on here.
Furthermore, the gaggle of feminist groupies who hang out here is also telling. Sorry, pal, but I just do not believe it.
If you want to be a feminist, fine. That’s your right. However, feminism has by and large been discredited as an anti-male hate movement, so don’t be so surprised when men don’t warm up to that.
I mean, it’s not a particularly profane or nasty comment — I’ve read much worse and been unfazed by it. Why do commenters like Jeff JP (and a few others) get to me? Simple: my first reaction is to see guys like him as (not so subtly) questioning my manhood! I’ve done years of work around my own sense of myself as a man, and have grown infinitely more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been called a sissy, a queer, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, “pussy-whipped” and worse from the moment I first started working on gender issues almost two decades ago. Most of the time, it rolls off my back. But every once in a while, it gets to me.
True confession: my very first impulse with men who do this is to be reactive, stoop to their level, and defend my masculinity. “You want to question my cojones, buddy? Let’s do a 20 mile round trip race to the top of Mt. Wilson and back, you so-and-so, and I’ll show you who’s a man!” It’s embarrassing, but the first thing I want to do is re-establish my manly credentials by suggesting some variation on a boyish pissing contest! Really, I have to laugh at myself.
Fortunately, I don’t actually let myself react that way. Instead, I pause, think things through, and usually (if particularly irked) pray for the person who has enraged me. That usually allows me to return to a calm civility in short order. I don’t know if the women who were so casually dismissed as my “feminist groupies” won’t still want to respond!
But the men’s rights movement bothers me for other reasons that have nothing to do with my own insecurities, such as they may or may not be. I’ve blogged about them before, in a brief summary of the broader men’s movement. Jeff JP put up some of their links in his comments, and I’ll repeat them here:
And many, many more.
The first of these, the NCFM, has a philosophical premise that sounds appealing and valuable: freeing men from restrictive gender roles that have damaged them. In their mission statement, the National Coalition says that they want to free men from the following:
…From the tendency to evaluate themselves and each other by the degree to which they meet an impossible ideal.
…From conditioned competitiveness and the fear of sharing failures, anxieties and disappointments with one another.
…From a mistrust of their feelings and instincts and an over reliance on logical thought processes.
…From the notion that violent action confirms and enhances their manliness.
…From a relative ignorance of their bodily functions and disdain for their body’s warning signals.
…From the pressure to be what they are not in preparation for their success role.
…From an over reliance on their jobs for a sense of identity.
…From the social barriers and pressures which stand in the way of their establishing close emotional friendships with other men.
…From the inclination to turn their wives into permission giving mother figures.
…From the need to prove their worthiness as protectors and providers.
…From feelings of inadequacy in matters of child care and child rearing.
…From feelings which inhibit them from developing a closer more emotional relationship with their children
Well, heavens to Betsy, that sounds good to me. Indeed, these “freedoms from” are part and parcel of the “pro-feminist” men’s movement for which I have a good deal more sympathy, represented by Men Can Stop Rape and NOMAS. Unlearning violence, developing healthy intimacy with other men, overcoming workaholism — it all sounds terrific. But where the men’s rights movement falls flat on its face is when it chooses to see feminists not as allies, but as opponents. Here are some other things the NCFM wants to free men from:
…From preoccupation with sexual technique and from imperatives to concentrate on satisfying their partners sexually, seemingly at the expense of their own sexual pleasure.
…From divorce laws which presume the naturally superior capabilities of women to care for children and which stereotype men as wallets.
…From harsher treatment under law for criminal violations than the treatment accorded to women in matters of arrest, conviction and sentencing.
…From the notion that as a class they oppress women any more than women as a class oppress them, or than society in general oppresses both sexes through stereotyping.
I bet lots of women are fascinated to know that millions of men are miserable, dutifully denying themselves sexual pleasure in order to concentrate on satisfying their partners. Who knew?
But seriously, it’s the last of these statements that is the most patently offensive: an insistence that men’s victimization is equal to women’s victimization. It’s the staggering blindness to male privilege that is so damn galling. It’s a gross misunderstanding of history and of culture. (By the way, let me applaud Ampersand’s list of our male privileges; it can be found here).
The problem with the men’s rights movement is that they confuse men’s unhappiness with oppression. They assume that if men were in control, they would be happy, because patriarchal oppressors ought to be happy. Therefore, if a man isn’t happy, he isn’t oppressing. Newsflash, folks: Just because you don’t know you’re privileged doesn’t mean you’re not. Just because there are aspects of your power and privilege that you find alienating and burdensome doesn’t mean that you are any less a beneficiary of an oppressive system! Both men and women do need liberation from rigid, traditional, gender roles. The difference is that collectively, men are the architects of the system while women are merely forced to live within it.
Let me quote from Christopher Kilmartin’s fine textbook, The Masculine Self:
“(Profeminist men and mytho-poetic men’s advocates) see men’s oppression as an internalized quality that is changed through self exploration… the men’s rights movement sees oppression as a socially pervasive sexism against men, who will continue to be victimized unless something is done about it.”
The men’s rights movement gives men the luxury of self-righteous indignation; the pro-feminist men’s movement forces men to recognize their own role in both their own oppression and that of the women in their lives. The men’s rights movement feeds on anger; the pro-feminist men’s movement on a sense of profound responsiblity to our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and lovers as well as to ourselves.
I know where I stand. And Jeff, I’d still like to go for a run with you. No racing or chest-beating, I promise!
UPDATE: Trish Wilson has this great post about NCFM from 2003. The NCFM has a history of opposing government funding for battered women’s shelters, claiming that to fund such shelters for women is sexist. Here’s what they say about state funding for women’s shelters in Minnesota:
We insist that this egregiously sexist law be struck down in its entirety, at which time the Minnesota State Legislature can begin a new process and an entirely new approach to addressing the social problem of domestic violence — an approach that utterly discounts and discredits the old “women good, men bad” model and forthrightly recognizes instead that domestic violence is a shared problem between men and women.
Yes, domestic violence is a shared problem between men and women. Murder is also a shared problem between the victim and the killer, but that doesn’t make the differences between the two any less stark.