What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too
Continued from previous page
There’s a problem with that, though. Once the dismissal is done and the conversation is dragged forcibly back onto the rails… what about the men?
Feminism tends to focus on women. The name’s a bit of a giveaway there. Many of the biggest feminist issues have been women’s issues: reproductive rights, discrimination against women in the workplace, derogatory stereotypes of women. These are all serious issues, and feminism has made great strides in addressing them. The historical abuses against women’s rights are too numerous to list here, but even a cursory glance at the history of feminism shows that a focus on the rights of women has been necessary, important, and successful.
Then, too, many feminists have done excellent work in dealing with men’s problems. Stronger rape laws and paternity leave are just two of the benefits men have received because of feminism, and many survivors and many families are better off for it. Shelters, counselors and hotlines for survivors of rape and abuse, usually established by feminists, almost always also provide support for male survivors, support that would not exist otherwise. Groundbreaking feminist theorists like Michael Kimmel and Shira Tarrant have focused on men’s issues in addition to women’s. However, this valuable work has just made the problem clearer by highlighting how much more needs to be done. Freedom is not a zero-sum game. Liberating men from restrictive gender roles and gendered oppression is intrinsically bound up with liberating women from the same things.
Many feminists respond to arguments along these lines by saying that men ought to start their own movement, that they don’t see what feminism has to do with any of it. Unfortunately, this is the latest manifestation of an issue that has long dogged feminism and held it back: the inclusion problem. Feminism started as a movement by and for straight white middle-class women, and there were struggles over the inclusion of people of color, poor people, sexual minorities, trans people and the disabled. Many of these struggles continue to this day, and they all have one thing in common: the side of “we wish you well, but that’s not our thing, and that’s detracting from the important issues we want to deal with” turns out to be wrong. In fact, second-wave feminist lack of inclusion turned out to be wrong with such embarrassing regularity that the third wave gave up and invented a word for it being wrong: intersectionality, the overlapping and reinforcing structure of different forms of oppression.
The same thing is true for men’s issues within feminism. The anti-racism, economic freedom, queer rights and disability rights movements all are movements independent of feminism: however, they are all movements that feminists agree with and pay attention to when they work on the same issues. Similarly, the feminist movement ought to take the same attitude to men’s rights.
Underscoring this point is the fact that there is something that calls itself a men’s rights movement, but it consists of nothing but kneejerk anti-feminism. It is made up primarily of angry, alienated men who have fully bought into the myths of hegemonic masculinity and gender roles, and not found the success and happiness that the myths implicitly promised. Since feminism is the only movement around that is attempting to dismantle those myths, they conclude that feminism is the cause of their unhappiness. If not for those meddling feminists, things would be okay. They would argue that this is a mischaracterization, but a thorough examination of their arguments reveals that this is, in fact, their sole intellectual basis. Any analysis of any issue that does not begin and end by blaming feminists, or preferably all women, is immediately discarded. Thus, lacking the social analysis tools feminists pioneered, they can accomplish nothing but surly misogyny and occasional outbreaks of violence. We spent quite some time attempting to find MRMs who could be engaged in a constructive manner, but eventually gave up. If men’s rights are to be addressed on any kind of serious level, it will have to be by feminism.