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The Trouble with Men’s Rights


I adapted the following from several posts I made on the topic of feminism. The conversation was immediately joined by several people who criticised feminism not for what it is, but what they imagined it to be, or for the excesses of a particular fringe school of thought. My posts were made partly in response to them.

There are rational criticisms one can make about feminism as a contemporary movement and about the validity of certain paradigms that have become popular within it. One can argue about the scope of current day feminism and how it applies in the western world. One can even make arguments based on empirical evidence or on efficiency grounds in favour of certain aspects of traditional gender roles or dissect the headline statistics on the gender pay gap.

Usually, though, when I see feminism being argued about on the Internet, chiefly by men, I see a lot of generalising, mischaracterisation and misuse of terms that have very specific meanings. I see a lot of emotional arguments, strawman arguments and, let’s face it, misinformation being spread under the guise of rationality. Chiefly, I see it whenever the topic of “Men’s Rights” brought up.

Why is that?

People don’t like to be the bad guy. Nobody ever thinks of themselves that way. Nobody. This is especially true of people who have tried their whole lives to strive for “good” or “proper” behaviour. The idea that beliefs and behaviours central to your identity, those you firmly hold to be good, or at worst inoffensive, are morally wrong causes a good deal of cognitive dissonance and a lot of otherwise good, rational people will react with denial or anger when confronted with the idea.

I think the backlash against the feminist label is borne out of this aversion to condemnation and the shame it brings.

The same impulse leads to white southerners trying to paint the Civil War as a fight over something as inoffensive as “states rights”. It gives white southern identity, and by extension themselves, an easy way out of responsibility for the evils of slavery and racism. It’s the same reason many white southerners will downplay the ongoing racial issues the US still faces. The reality of a post-racial utopia absolves them of guilt over systematic problems beyond their personal control.

That’s why you’ll see men demonising feminism in spite of (often) being favourably disposed to its aims. The attacks aren’t (necessarily) just a symptom of an entrenched patrimony trying to keep women down at all costs, but rather a ham-fisted and misguided attempt at defending overall male identity, and thus one’s own. The idea that a habit that feels as natural and intuitive as checking out a pretty girl could be a symptom of something that causes real harm is distasteful, so many will simply attack the accuser rather than seek to learn the underlying idea behind the assertion.

Feminism presents several premises in which beneficiaries of male-oriented power structures are also the beneficiaries of systematic and endemic inequality. We in the western world are taught to believe that equality is a good to be valued and that anything (and anyone) that perverts it or profits from it is bad. Thus, upon finding out that one is the beneficiary of inequality, one feels guilt.

Is it impossible, or even unlikely, that many would react to guilt over actions they didn’t ever consider wrong with anything less than contriteness and good grace? Is it inconceivable that telling people that they have spent their lives aiding and abetting evil will lead them to react with denial or hostility?

I say no.

The trouble I see with many conversations regarding feminism on the Internet is that people are generally blind to privilege that they themselves benefit from. As with conversations on race, pointing this out is to attack the very foundations of their identity. So people react, angrily and irrationally.

It’s a problem with no easy solution and politeness in language will only get you so far. It seems to me that the answer is to keep on pointing out the obvious truth. Only by exposing it to the light of day can we hope to diminish the insidious effects of privilege in our society.

Which isn’t to say that being deliberately provocative is always the best tack. I suppose it’s up to the individual to use their best judgement.

  1. DaPoet
    09/10/2013 at 8:48 am

    Feminists such as yourself tend to argue the false claim that feminism is about gender equality or equal rights. While men who are opposed to feminism do so by pointing out the salient fact that feminists actively promote and demand laws and policies that are the direct opposite of what they preach. While the actual experience of an ever increasing number of men reveal the ideology of feminism – as preached by yourself and many others – for what it actually is a deception and a scam.

    • 09/10/2013 at 9:52 am

      One of the underlying premises of my post was that feminism in its modern form, like all intellectual movements, is a multi-headed hydra, full of controversies, contradictions and mutually incompatible ideas being presented by each of the different schools of thought.

      For instance, there is a school of thought that deliberately excludes or denies the rights of transgender people, something, I think, that the majority of feminist thinkers today would disagree with. Then there is the work of Dworkin from a generation ago, which is as extreme a formulation as you could imagine. The thing is that these elements, though loud and highly visible, are also fringe, just as communists and fascists are fringe elements of left and right wing political thought respectively.

      Are there excesses? Certainly. In Scandinavia, you see policies and social engineering being espoused that are well beyond feasible for even the most progressive cultures.

      At the end of the day my point is that feminism is about equality between the sexes and that it has possibly outgrown its label since it is so often misunderstood. Far from promoting female supremacy, feminism aims for equal treatment and the elimination of bias or privilege, though arguments can be made on how best to achieve this.

      Even in an area where men traditionally come off the worse, like custody battles, the only reason the bias toward the mother exists in the first place is because of the sexist assumption that children are automatically better off with their mother without taking into account each individual case.

  2. DaPoet
    09/10/2013 at 7:06 pm

    Re: At the end of the day my point is that feminism is about equality between the sexes and that it has possibly outgrown its label since it is so often misunderstood.

    If this were true then feminist would not be demanding laws that actively discriminate against men on the basis of sex. And since this is the goal of feminists in this day and age your false claim simply marks you as a liar.

    • 09/10/2013 at 9:29 pm

      I’m having to guess at what you’re getting at here, since you haven’t given specific examples, but I assume you mean pushes like affirmative action in hiring?

      The aim there, for instance, is to redress structural inequality by instituting quotas. It’s an imperfect solution, but imagine that you belong to a group that hasn’t been allowed to fully participate in your chosen industry, and because of that, you aren’t taken seriously by your peers and have trouble forming the networks you need to compete. Perhaps there are better methods of addressing this issue, but I haven’t ever seen many put forward.

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