Thoughts

Who’s Infringing Upon Men’s Rights?

My target audience for this blog post is men. I share my thoughts and questions so that other men can question their role in society and how to create a better world. For far too long, women have spoken out. It’s time for men to listen and act.

As a white man, I live a privileged life. I grew up without the fear of being persecuted for my gender or race. Society in Western counties (such as Canada, where I’m from) is shaped around white supremacy and male supremacy.

If you look at the people in power–politicians, judges, religious leaders, CEOs–you find that they are almost exclusively white and male. They look like me more than they look like you (if you’re a gender other than male and/or a person of color). Why is this?

Last week, I discussed my journey to understand race and how that journey has forced me to accept that Western society is built upon a foundation of white supremacy and oppression of people of color. It forced me to admit that I was raised to become a racist and, unless I do something about it, to perpetuate a system of white supremacy.

So, what about gender? What about men?

To think about maleness and masculinity, it’s important to start by thinking about how boys live their lives and how that shapes them as men. The documentary The Mask You Live In does a phenomenal job at exploring this and looking at the unique way that society affects boys and men. The film asks: Is American masculinity harming our boys, men and society at large?

The Mask You Live In begins by exploring the lives of young boys, looking at what causes them to feel depressed and angry. It looks at media and how stereotypes of rich, athletic and sexually confident men affect boys and their self-esteem. It continues by looking at men and unhealthy aspects of their lives: crime, suicide, alcoholism, etc.

Another documentary which tries to explain these same issues is called The Red Pill.

There is a group of men (and some women) who say they want to help men. They call themselves men’s rights activists (MRAs). They don’t have a great reputation however. According to the urban dictionary, MRAs are:

Men, typically wearing fedoras, who actually believe that men have a systematic disadvantage as compared to women. Claims that feminism is against equality and oppresses men. Do not seem to understand the concept that giving another group rights that you have always enjoyed does not take away your own rights. Will use bogus facts, faulty logic, contradictory statements and basic insults. There is a grain of truth in the fact that MRA’s state that mens’ issues are equally important in achieving gender equality (something that most reasonable feminists agree with). However, that being said, they often berate the female gender in doing so. Most MRA’s appear to be men that want to mask their prejudice in a socially acceptable manner, giving lip service to equality when it is clear they don’t actually believe in equality. Basically, trolls.

In a past blog, I looked at the issue of anti-feminism and the question, raised above and by many MRAs, of: Do feminist researchers explore men’s issues? The answer is a definite YES.

So, we can already tell that MRAs are use myths to make claims: declaring that feminism is only about men, when in fact it explores power, identity and biology in terms of gender.

Most people might consider MRAs a fringe group online, but I feel moved to speak out about this topic regardless. The group profiled in The Red Pill is from the website A Voice For Men (AVFM). On their website, AVFM lists affiliate groups. One of these is from my hometown of Edmonton. So, I feel obliged to speak out.

Specifically, I question the motivations of men (and some women) who identify as men’s rights activists (MRAs). Are they fighting for all men, or just themselves? Are they fighting for their own self-interest, and ignoring the wider issues of masculinity? Are they pointing blame at feminists, without looking at their common oppressors?

 

Violence Against Women

When exploring MRAs, I looked up some of their views and source material. One binary idea seemed resolute: (1) men as victims and (2) women as their victimisers. MRAs seem to ignore cases of gender-based sexual violence that are solely caused by men: on campuses, at work (fields and offices), and in the military.

MRAs think of men in two categories: “good” or “bad”. The “good” men don’t do any harm. And the “bad” men do all the harm in the world.

Is what reality shows us? I don’t think so.

This excerpt from the GQ article Can We “Cure” the Men Who Pay for Sex? by Brooke Jarvis is illuminating:

During the third class, Peter drew a slanted line on the whiteboard and wrote “Gary Ridgway”—better known as the Green River Killer, who confessed to taking the lives of more than 70 women, many of them under-age prostitutes and runaways, in and around King County in the ’80s and ’90s. The men looked a little shocked; clearly no one in this room was on par with Gary Ridgway.

The men stared silently back at him.

“Let’s back way, way, way up,” said Peter. From the murderer’s name, he followed the diagonal line to the bottom, where he wrote the words “catcall” and “rape joke.” David clearly couldn’t believe the comparison he was seeing develop between killing and catcalling—“That’s the most standard pickup line at the bar!” he said. Put yourself in the woman’s shoes, Peter responded. You might not mean to scare her, but that doesn’t mean you’re not. When David defended “complimenting” a stranger by wolf-whistling at her, it was another student, Anthony, a burly, tattooed guy from the Philippines, who chided him: “If she wanted to know what you thought, she’d ask you.”

This class for men who pay for sex gives us a window into what men think and how they come to devalue women. It forces men to think differently and put themselves in the shoes of the other gender.

Then Peter began to discuss outright violence. The room went quiet. He asked the men what they did to prevent being raped; they stared back at him like he was nuts. If the classroom was full of women, he told them, correctly, it would be full of strategies.

Men need to recognise the harm that physical acts and verbal comments have. We need to recognise the emotional impact even small acts or comments have. We need to admit that this needs to stop and that all of us have a part to play: either positively or negatively.

I now violence on a spectrum and understand that it’s all bad.

Visualising violence against women as a spectrum from highly likely (on the left) to less likely (on the right); adapted from Brooke Jarvis’ GQ article

When we hear about men like Robert Pickton, who killed 49 Vancouver women, or the Highway of Tears, we are disgusted by the inhumanity. But it’s important to know that men who rape and kill don’t start from that extreme; they become more violent over time. Their last acts may be rare, but they start with much more common forms of violence.

Boys learn to be sexist and disregard women because our society is sexist and disregards women.

Men make sexist jokes, often invoking violent acts like rape. The touch women without their consent and feel offended if corrected for this behaviour.

When women try to gain new freedoms, whether in politics, business or sport, men react violently. Women don’t react this way, since men already have access to politics, business and sport, without restrain.

Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially finish the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1967, after this physical scuffle. (AP)

We (men) need to counter this behaviour, and everyday sexism so that the extreme forms of violence never happen.

Now, ask yourself: Is violence against women just a case of a few “bad” men? Or, do all men perpetuate a culture of violence in a society that does little to hold them accountable?

 

Men in Power

First and foremost, I think it’s important to say that I think that men can have a part to play in gender equality and there are unique aspects of society that affect men disproportionately than women.

But, what about “male supremacy”?

It’s a phrase rarely brought up by MRAs. Men often bring up war-related deaths or workplace injuries as proof that they are the real victims in society. But, do they ever question who is responsible?

MRAs hold contradictory views. They will say one thing to support an argument, then say something to make a second argument while contradicting their first argument. For example, a MRA might state that (1) “men are no more or less violent than women” because both can commit domestic violence. Then, in the next breath, they might use military death stats, like those below, to show how (2) “men are disproportionately the victims in wars”. This second point, as well as being known by almost everyone, is used to show that society sees men as responsible for its defense and that women “don’t do their fair share”. But it also points to male violence. We should think about whether the source of these deaths–war–is supported or protested by MRAs.

Screenshot from The Red Pill

We can also ask: Who sends men (and some women) to war to die?

Who is responsible: men or women?

I think this 1922 painting provides some clues about who is responsible for war and the deaths that inevitably follow:

General Officers of World War I, by John Singer Sargent (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Look at all those female generals. Wait! There aren’t any women in the room. Almost like (old white) men in positions of power are responsible for sending (younger) men to die in war.

The Red Pill uses the modern case of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and the #BringBackOurGirls online campaign to prove its points. But, in fact, it does the opposite. MRAs (and in the film, it’s a female MRA, or so-called “Honey Badger”, that brings this up) complain that #BringBackOurGirls doesn’t care about the boys harmed by Boko Haram. The film points out that the news reports on various attacks against “people” or “children” and not saying how many “boys” or “men” were harmed. The incredible hole in their thinking is the hole MRAs also refer to Boko Haram as “they” rather than “men”. It seems they want boys’ rights talked about while ignoring who is infringing upon those rights. The same Honey Badger even uses the world “chivalrous” to describe Boko Haram. It’s unclear if she understands the irony of using a term that is part of patriarchy.

Using this example from Nigeria is also hypocritical and racist, since MRAs seem to be exclusively white. This isn’t that surprising, though. If a group can’t see oppression based on gender, they’re unlikely to see other forms of oppression.

Once you realize that all of society (not just the West) is dominated by men, you realize that men are the group that stands in the way of progress. This is patriarchy.

Men, in government, stand in the way of funding homeless shelters for men (and women) and domestic abuse centers for men (and women). It’s incredible to talk about a lack of resources or public funding for men’s issues and point to the group (women) who had to fight for their right to vote only a few generations ago. MRAs have no memory of the past, it seems.

One of the biggest topics for MRAs is “father’s rights” or the notion that fathers are treated unfairly in court cases on child custody. Even a basic look at the facts shows that the likelihood of a divorce case giving a mother sole custody is going down while cases of equal shared custody is becoming more common. Everyday, the courts are becoming more respectful of fathers. Or, to put it another way, MRAs are spreading a myth to support their preconceived ideas of “good” fathers and “bad” mothers. MRAs don’t discuss why women perform the majority of unpaid care work–caring for children and elderly, as well as performing routine household chores, such as cooking and cleaning–and how this led to the creation of child support payments to support single mothers while they attempted to enter a work environment tailored to men.

MRAs point to workplace deaths and injuries as a problem, which I totally agree with. But they never seem to ask why the CEOs of those hazardous workplaces don’t provide safety measures. They certainly don’t ask why there are more CEOs named John than all women! This is part of the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” that bell hooks wrote about.

On issue after issue, MRAs seem to be willfully ignorant about the history of gender relations and how historical male supremecy lingers in our society. Although MRAs insist on labeling themselves as “activists,” they seem unwilling to explore the masculinity and the needs of men in a wider context then their own singular experience. They seem to lack empathy to other men and, obviously, to women.

 

MRAs in Denial

The actions and tirades of MRAs point to a phenomenon I learned last year called DARVO. Last year saw the #MeToo campaign bring to light the toxic cultures of film, television, politics and elsewhere. The accused men seemed to follow the same series of responses after they were accused of some form of sexual violence:

  • Deny the behavior.
  • Attack the individual doing the confronting.
  • Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim–or the whistle blower–into an alleged offender.

This phenomenon seems to apply more broadly to male supremacy and anti-feminist movements.

For example, if shown the statistics of violence against women, they may start denying that men, more broadly are responsible for the behavior, only the single man. They might attack the individual making the claim. They can then complete their response by reversing the issue to place them

Men who use DARVO do two things. First, in the most extreme cases, they shield sexual predators. Secondly, they perpetuate a culture that doesn’t respect women and doesn’t punish men for their harmful actions.

 

Final Thoughts

I think MRAs are dangerous, for a number of reasons.

They are dangerous because they spout misinformation about women. They judge, rather than listen.

They are also dangerous because they distract men from their actual problems. If men want to make the world a better place, they don’t need to fight for more rights. They already have enough.

Instead, men should fight for a different kind of society, one that supports them. They should advocate for increased housing for homeless men, free access to mental health care, greater awareness of suicide, and better health and safety in the workplace to reduce injury and deaths. They should fight for better access to public defenders in courts, for more paternity leave, and for more time off from work for themselves and for their children. There are so many things that could be done by men.

But it’s not just about pointing out what’s going wrong in society. It’s even more important to look at who holds power and what they use that power for. All of the past problems faced by men could have been solved by men in power. But they didn’t do anything until feminist began pointing out how society harms women and men.

Even if, as a man, your motivations are selfish and you want to only help men, you can still do it in a way that improves society for everyone: men and boys, women and girls, everyone. We need to be honest about what causes our societal problems and accurately point the blame at those, in power, who stand in our way.

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