March 11, 2011

Some thoughts on men's rights...

I am in favor of a men's rights movement. I might get some backlash for saying this, but allow me to explain myself.

First, let me make it clear that I am not ignorant to the fact that men-- especially straight, cisgender, white men-- benefit from a huge amount of privilege. I'm a woman, so I'm not even sure how it would be possible for me to be ignorant to this fact. (Quick! Someone ask Phyllis Schlafly!) I have a current personal income of like $12/year, but if I had an actual income it would be 77% of that of the man at the desk next to me. This alone is a numerical indicator of privilege. I could list 1000 more non-numerical indicators of male privilege, but honestly, I feel like I'd be preaching to the choir. So, in short, before I get into my reasoning as to why I support a men's rights movement, know that I'm wholly aware of male privilege, and I absolutely do not endorse it.

Okay, business aside, I think a men's rights movement is totally legitimate. In spite of male privilege, there are plenty of masculinity-related issues that I think are worthy of some discourse. To name a few:
  • A "boys-don't-cry" culture that penalizes men for showing emotion.
  • Representations of masculinity that often glorify violence and homophobia.
  • Tons of stupid media that illustrates men as incompetent, overgrown children.
  • Circumcision. (Regardless of your viewpoint on this I think that it is a topic that deserves discussion!)
  • Double standards in dating.
  • Domestic violence against men (It happens!).
  • Men's health! (Cancer screenings! Birth control! Men need these things too...)
  • Stuff about fatherhood (Being a great dad, right to parental leave, custody law, etc.)
My conception of a men's rights movement definitely wouldn't be in opposition to or in competition with the women's rights movement. In fact, in an ideal world, the movements would collaborate sometimes, since each essentially promotes the same ideology-- equality, health, happiness, eradication of stereotypes, etc.

A couple of places online are already doing this. The Good Men Project is a great website that shows men as dynamic, well-rounded, and kickass people. Lots of (CORNY PHRASE ALERT!) "daddy blogs" do a great job illustrating what an expanded definition of masculinity could look like (trigger warning: it's sort of sexy...).

I'm sure there is a bunch more stuff like this out there, but in my searching, most of what I found when I looked up men's rights had nothing to really do with men's rights. Google brings up tons of articles that bash feminism, call rape allegations hoaxes, and demonize women based on fringe news articles. Also, this cool article that refers to me as a "cum dumpster" in the comments!

I think this situation is a good example of a how a movement can wreck a message. A men's rights movement is a fundamentally good idea (albeit, maybe not the most pressing cause on the activism forefront). The movement that labels itself as the "men's rights movement," however, has almost nothing to do with the well-being of men, and more to do with shaming women, which I think discounts the men's rights philosophy as a whole.

Thoughts on this subject? I wrote this at 5am after writing a 9 page paper for class, so apologies for perhaps being a little scattered....


  1. Just a thought: did you really mean "77% less than that of..." and not "77% of that of..."?

  2. it needs another name. and it should be part of feminism. Boys don't cry culture is intimately linked with "don't be a girl" culture which is a feminist issue.

    which double standards in dating? you mean that men should pay? go back to your point about who makes 77% of who's pay. Again, this is a feminist issue. men working for breaking down definintions of masculinity are breaking down the idea that being a woman is bad. it is an example of how the patriarchy hurts men too.

    and fighting patriarchy is a feminist issue.

    though, I agree that circumcision as an issue is not taken seriously enough since people are used to it.

  3. i agree that it needs another name to distance itself from the fake men's rights movement, but i'm not sure if it should be lumped in with feminism.

    by double standards in dating, i mean the notion that men are expected to "make the first move" and be the aggressor all the time. i suppose this could be flipped on its head as a feminist issue that argues with the belief that women should be passive in dating. guess you could paint it either way

  4. Two issues that I have to bring up to my female high school students repeatedly are:

    1) It is not ok to lie to a guy about your feelings, opinions, preferences, or facts about you yourself. They have the right to expect honesty from you.

    2) It is not ok to slap, punch, or scratch guys as a way of showing your pride. Even if they are bigger than you and you are not going to hurt them much. This behavior is for physical defense only, not as a remedy for hurt feelings.

    I think the key is that men have the right to be treated as rational human beings, and heterosexual men have the right to expect rational and honest behavior from the women around them.

  5. It is also not OK to punch a guy "for funsies". Don't be a hitter! It doesn't matter if you're a wee little girly thing and he's a big buff huge dude, it still hurts, and he can't hit back, even in fun.

  6. All of the things you listed are *already* important parts of most of the movements we call "feminism," as far as I can tell. I'm not sure there's a need to reclaim the phrase "men's rights" just to generate a redundant effort, since the phrase is already so tainted by the types of things you found in your search.

    People sometimes balk at the word "feminism" because they assume it implies a set of ideas which support women but not men - but the distinction is artificial. Arbitrary gender distinctions harm both women and men on individual bases and in particular domains even if most of them boost male power in general.

    The "boys-don't cry" culture cannot exist without stereotypes about emotionality and femininity. The lack of paternity leave depends on and reinforces norms about women's obligation to prioritize childcare. Etc.

  7. P.S. - Wow, those comments are vicious. Don't listen to their bullshit.

  8. There's a program on Dutch tv right now called the Men Liberation Front (conveniently spelled with an exclamation mark between the first two words, making it, sigh, M!LF). It deals with a lot of the things you mention: the trailers for it say stuff like "real men don't iron/do dishes/etc/etc". It annoys me to no end because hello, that is not what being a guy is all about!

    So yeah, a proper men's movement seems like a good idea. Perhaps we need to move towards broader equality movements, rather than splitting it all up.. (although how that would work in practice is beyond me, it's much too broad!) And although much of it is also a feminist issue, I don't think it would work to incorporate it into feminism, as there is a lot of cultural bias against feminism in the first place. I think that would just make it harder to change stuff. Sometimes you need to compromise to get the message out. And this seems like a pretty harmless you said, it's just how you paint it.

  9. I was sort of thinking about things along these lines today as well. But I don't think a men's rights movement that was called men's rights in addition and potential opposition to feminism would necessarily be the best option. What I see happening there is one movement called feminism working to allow women to be like men and another called men's rights working to allow men to be like women, without either movement realizing that they are working on problems with the same root cause.

    I realized this morning that basically all of the gendered disparities feminism works to correct have sprung from the deeply ingrained notion that masculinity is extremely valuable and femininity is laughable at best and dangerous at worst. To the best of my knowledge, Feminism has thus far only worked towards the equality of men and women. I feel that working towards an equality of masculinity and femininity as well would help to dissolve a lot of the inequalities between men and women, relieve a lot of the pressure to align gender expression and gendered expressions with gender and sex, and open up public space for people non- and cross- binary genders.

    I can see how a men's rights movement would be helpful, I just don't see it as the best option.

  10. Yeah, I agree. And it's nice to see this issue get some attention for a change.

  11. I wrote a research paper several years ago against circumcision, and I remain extremely passionate about it to this day. You basically can't even mention the word while I'm in the room without me launching into a moral tirade.

    I'd also like to mention two things about discrimination in regards to domestic violence. One, a friend of mine used to work for a shelter that accepted men who were victims of abuse, and they lost a tonne of funding and support because of this. Two, a different friend worked at another women's shelter, and when a lesbian woman came in after being physically abused by her partner, they TURNED HER AWAY because the shelter "couldn't take action against one of their sisters". The message is pretty obvious: men can cause pain, but not be victims of it. Why do so many people seem to believe that supporting women has to mean being against men?

  12. People need to stop looking at gender with a "them" and "us" attitude. Like with what @Gun Street Girl was saying, not taking action against a "sister" or helping an abused guy is so irrational and stupid. Like, really? It's abused vs abuser, NOT man vs woman.

    And in terms of feminism and I call "masculinism," it's a real shame that men are stuck in traditional stereotypes. Feminists work so hard to challenge female stereotypes -- why is no one recognizing that masculinism is growing (slowly) but needs further support?

    This is all very frustrating to me...

  13. It's all still sexism whether it's against women or men. That's essentially what I'm getting at.

  14. I'm not sure why the rights of men are separated from feminism. Feminism is the belief of equality between the sexes. Feminism has largely been about women's liberation, because historically women have always been the more disenfranchised gender. But I don't think that makes feminism exclusive to the liberation of women. However, clearly the belief that men should be liberated from gender roles and the discriminations men face because of them is a lot different than the men's rights movement.

    The men's rights movement will often blame women's liberation for these problems. This is why I believe men's rights should be included in feminism, so that there's no confusion or the divisive men vs. women mentality where only one gender can come out on top.

  15. Jamie, thank you for posting about this. I count myself a feminist, and feel discussions of such issues are not only important, but also often very interesting.

    Reading blog posts and having discussions about the way the media portrays women, and the discursive societal pressures upon women to be a certain way, I began to think about the way our society portrays men, and the expectations society has of us.

    And, as a man who has never had any interest in being macho or playing certain roles in society or in relationships, I have come to realize (duh) that despite our privilege men really are just as pigeonholed as women into having to act a certain way, to be a certain way, in order to be "a man."

    I think this really clicked for me the most when I spent time in Japan, where, for all the gender issues and women's rights issues and such going on there - which I absolutely don't deny - at the same time, there is an alternate mode of masculinity that says men can be fashionable, can be thin and not particularly buff, can be cool without having to be tough guys; can be pretty boys rather than rugged men; and that none of this compromises their masculinity or perceptions of their heterosexuality.

    Anyway. I don't want to go on and on, but I thank you for acknowledging these issues. I think the best way for feminism (and "men's rights" or whatever we want to call it) to move forward is for everyone, men and women, to together break through the misconceptions of feminism being anti-men, and of a macho form of masculinity being natural and normal, and for everyone to together recognize the need for societal change.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to your future posts, as always.

  16. You know, I always assumed that the issues brought forth by the men's rights movements were the same as the ones brought by feminism. I mean, the whole idea behind feminism (as I understand it) is equality, so it would make sense for women to want for men the privileges we have. Also, just like feminism, men's rights is almost a dirty term. Both have got such a -- mostly undeserved-- reputation for hating each other that it can get difficult for dialog to really happen.

  17. A few more issues:

    When parents divorce, the children are usually (as in 99% of the time) left with the mother, even if she can neither support them nor is mentally stable. Tons of horror stories in that area.

    Army: In countries which still have mandatory service, usually only men have to do that. I lost a year to running around and doing nothing useful.

    The world is a lot more sexist against women, but there are quite a few issues which go the other way too.

  18. I say we just support equality to both genders! If you think about it, most of these issues and most feminist issues can be a problem for both sexes. I mean, on the subject of double standards in dating, I completely understand what you're saying. As a girl, I feel like I would be nervous to ask out a guy, because most of the time it doesn't work that way. I often hear other girls talking about how frustrated they are because the guy they like hasn't asked them out, and they feel like they can't do that. On the flip side, even if it weren't for this double-standard, I'm SUPER shy so would probably never ask someone out anyway. It occurred to me that a man could just as easily be shy as I could, and yet they would feel obligated to do the asking-out.

  19. I didn't see "body image" in your list of masculinity-related issues. I suggest that it is a very, very important topic for men. I have worked the past two years as a theatre costumer and tailor for private clients. Working so closely with people's clothing and bodies, I hear self-denigrating comments from nearly 100% of my clients, no matter who they are or what they look like. EVERYONE thinks some part of their body is too fat, too skinny, too long, short, etc., and they tell me all about it, as if to apologize for the fact that I can't simply sew something in a standardized size for them. As if to apologize for the fact that they deviate from the "norm" somehow.

    Going into this line of work, I expected it from women, from gay men who are subject to male gaze, from trans people who have dealt with the difference between their bodies and their genders their entire lives. What has surpised me over and over again is that (in my experience) straight, priviledged men think about, and criticize, their bodies as much as the rest of us. Furthermore, my current work experience has caused me to think back on every male sexual/romantic partner I've had. Indeed, they have all had complaints about their bodies and appearances.

    As I come to realize how very universal the experience of poor body image is, I wonder how much more all the genders have in common with each other than we realize.

  20. "men-- especially straight, cisgender, white men-- benefit from a huge amount of privilege"

    Damn straight. They die younger, get murdered and commit suicide 4 times more often than women, have to sign up for the draft to get college loans or run for President, and they make up most of the homeless. They're swimming in so much privilege it aint funny.

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