Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Manliness is Not Next to Helplessness

Pinpointing the exact reason for my hesitation to claim the title of "Men's Rights Activist" or a member of the Men's Rights Movement has been a tricky subject for me.

The movement for men is a collection of men (like myself) many of whom have been brought up to think that "real men" are never helpless. We are DO-ERS. We GET SHIT DONE, SON.
In general, our ultimate goals are the same. I'd like to see a world where traditional male gender roles aren't the only option for those born with a penis. I'd like to see a world where people who naturally grow facial hair aren't expected to be violent. I'd like to see a world where persons with testicles aren't seen as the only perpetrators of crimes.

But still, something keeps me from waving the high flag of Men's Rights - and I think today I had a breakthrough.

One thing that nearly every single male MRA has experienced is what it's like to grow up in a culture where men are expected to be Men you know, a Man's Man. A Manly Man or a MAN.

Thanks to Feminism (no, really, THANKS!) women are feeling less and less pressure to be "Woman's Woman" or "A Womanly Woman" or "WOMAN." Gender flexibility for women is increasingly prevalent and that's a good thing for women AND men.

No thanks to Feminism (No, really, NO THANKS) men are still being told by each other and many, many women that they still need to be MEN.

The result is the mentality that a man who cannot act upon his surroundings is no man. This is Male Potency - and it is one of the core attributes of what it means to be a man.  Without it, we are impotent, pitiful, and even comical.  Barney Fife. 

For all our screaming and yelling – a habitual inability to affect any change is pitiable and unmanly. We don’t want to be Barney Fife – we want to be Andy Griffith.

Cool, calm, collected - but authoritative, effective and respected.
This hidden psychology is creating problems for men in the MRM, where they are drawn towards concrete issues with concrete solutions rather than the more intangible work of swaying cultural perceptions and overall societal biases.

If we do a quick run-down of the more concrete, policy-based issues that MRAs are concerned about, it might look something like this:
  • Military draft only applies to men
  • In custody disputes, women are considered default care providers
  • False Rape Accusations unfairly target men (and are hard to defend against if the accusation reaches the criminal court level)
  • Male adult victims of DV/rape/sexual abuse have essentially zero support resources
  • Sentencing disparities for crimes committed by men vs. women (doubly so for sex crimes)
  • Lack of parenthood choice for men - (Men's options for fatherhood end at conception, women may use Plan B, abortion or adoption)
And the following is a list of the cultural perceptions and societal biases that the MRM would like to overthrow:
  • Men being seen as the "expendable" sex
  • Men incapable of being "victims"
  • Men unable to control their sex drive - leading them to cheat/rape
  • Men being dirty
  • Men unable to "nurture"
  • Men being violent by nature

It’s not that the second list is unimportant.  In fact, many of those general concerns are folded into the aforementioned issues - the ways that men are stereotyped relates directly to the policies and stigmas that men face in the first category.  It’s just that we can’t directly fight against bias in the same direct way that we can fight for policy change.

This situation creates a whole new level of complexity when viewed through the lens of "Male Potency." Like any movement in its infancy, MRM must pick its fights in order to avoid the pitfalls of early defeat.

With that in mind, if you look back up at the issues men are facing - you'll see a problem.
All of the problems in the first category involve solutions that have the potential to harm women or children, though indirectly. If the amount of money being given to DV survivors is zero-sum, supporting men will mean taking support from women. If men are given an option to default "out" of parenthood, more children may be raised without child support. If we change the standard of proof for False Rape Accusations, rapists could go free and rape survivors could be wrongly charged with a crime.

Those are all bad things. But as it stands, MRAs are faced with the cruel reality that those issues are the only ones they are capable of changing.

So, the MRM faces a dilemma.  In choosing its battles, will the MRM choose to tackle issues where satisfying, concrete change is possible, or will the MRM choose to tackle the more intangible, less directly actionable issues of public perception and stereotypes?

The first category allows men to feel potent and effective in directly tackling a problem with a face and a name, and seeing progress in ways which can be measured and quantified.  But, it comes with the consequence of damaging the movement’s reputation when our actions are incorrectly interpreted as a battle against women and children. Sometimes Feminists may make this interpretation. Sometimes gender-inequality non-Feminists may make this interpretation - but either way it creates a Public Relations nightmare for our cause.

The second category would avoid that problem, as we are reaching out to create awareness and appeal to the empathy of others through outreach efforts.  But it feels less satisfying, as change in public perception is so slow and so difficult to see or measure.  You can’t really tell if anything you are doing is making any difference at all, and the efforts we launch now are likely to not come to fruition within our lifetimes. This is difficult for men who need action and want to feel empowered to create tangible change.

And I believe it is for this reason that the MRM has focused on policy changes and legislative action.  It’s tangible, progress can be measured, and it is concrete.  It isn’t that men don’t care about public perception - I'll bet most men would prefer a world where men aren't seen as "expendable" or "dirty." But how do we do that? You can't pass legislation to change public perception. Feminism has shown us that stereotypes and public opinion take decades, even centuries, to change — especially when the roots of such ideas are at the very heart of Western Culture. So instead, it’s that the MRM is drawn towards issues where concrete, effective change is possible, and can potentially be achieved quickly.

This focus is understandable, particularly for a group whose needs have been ignored and even ridiculed for so long.  But it is backwards.  Policy change flows from societal perceptions.  Until stereotypes are challenged, there will be no political expediency to change policies to become less discriminatory towards men.  And even more than that, when we fight the policies first, particularly with the potential negative consequences for women and children, we earn the movement a reputation as being anti-women or anti-children rather than being pro-men.  In this way, not only do we fail to create forward progress, but we actually create extra work for ourselves, because we must work backwards through the negative reputation attached to our efforts.  

Let’s look, for example, at the struggle for gay rights.  At first, all attempts to legislate equality failed miserably, and in fact resulted in a backlash where religious groups attempted, sometimes successfully, to pre-emptively define marriage as being only for straight people, in an attempt to prevent gay rights from becoming legislated.  This only changed once the movement focused primarily on public outreach - on encouraging gay people to come out of the closet and reach out to their family and friends and community. It was only once a majority of the public knew a person who is openly gay, that the stereotypes about what it means to be gay started to come down, people started to empathize with the plight of gay people, and public bias started to shift. Only then was legislative reform successful, when it came after a successful movement to shift public opinion.

And this is the reason why I hesitate to describe myself as a Men’s Rights Activist.  Because my focus is on awareness, public perception, overthrowing bias and stereotypes.  I can’t get behind all of the legislative policy change proposals of the MRM because I believe it will come at a cost too great to our movement.  We have to do this in order.

* We, as in us gender egalitarians.


  1. Nice post. I can't identify as MRA either, but I'll try to convey my thoughts on why we don't need to pick our battles.

    IMO the MRA movement shoots itself in the foot because it has too many members who say stupid things and we are in an environment where there's lesser tolerance for stupid things said by men. F&F's a great example where concrete legislation is being affected through effective and civil lobbying on behalf of men minus the angry mob.

    Second, you assume that laws are not actively pushed against by advocates for women's interests. For example the attempt to lower the bar on campus sexual assault is problematic. If people advocate against that change, it may not be a step forward, but atleast isn't a step backward.

    Third, a lot of the soft biases are most effectively combatted through legislation. For instance, if default joint custody were legislated as the norm and children in the sole or joint custody of their fathers fared no worse, or better than those with mothers, it would completely change how fathers are viewd. Suddenly divorcing men go from selfish violent child abusing monsters to nurturing parents. You'd get a sufficient cohort that was raised by their fathers who won't stand for anyone badmouthing their parent solely on his gender. Almost all legislations of this sort is preceeded by dire prognostications, but then the world doesn't fall apart and everyone wonders what the big deal was.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Solo.

    I certainly don't want to give the impression that I don't stand behind ANY legislation for Men's Rights.

    I believe with about 70% certainty that if the draft was ever instituted again, it would be repealed by popular vote or the selective service would be modified to include women.

    Secondly, I DO realize that laws are being pushed that harm men by some of the powerful women's organizations in the world - and I'm trying to fight that as well.

    But - I think we'll have to agree to disagree on the third point. I want MORE positive male role models for the gender-egalitarian narrative. I want to see less useless husbands in TV and movies. I want to see more men being well-rounded fathers. I want to see more stories about men being survivors of abuse where "violent revenge" isn't the resolution.

    You know, we may disagree on how we get there, but we at least agree on the destination.

  3. Interesting points....

    Two things I will never be: a Male Feminist or an MRA....

    I believe them to be two sides of the same coin, that is it is like comparing a Satanist to a Christian...

    The true heretic is the agnostic....

    There's allot of "issues" with the MRA's-they seem too "right wing" for my tastes....

  4. I think you have a legitimate point but you are missing a few things

    First it doesn't have to be a zero sum game as much as you say it is, especially when it comes to money. Instead of taking money away from womens shelters and research for that of men, why not just add more money for men? Theres no law saying that we have to do otherwise. (see my series of pieces on relative power)

    second, not everyone wants legislation first on every issue. Legislation needs to come right away for some things like auto-arrest laws and father's rights, because whether the public is willing or not those have to be done. After the civil rights movement, many people particularly in the south were still bitter racists but they had to put up with the new laws.

    Also, it is rather vague to say that it is only about law reform. There is a huge "don't like what I am doing? Well fuck you!" factor to the MRM particularly the concepts of zeta masculinity and MGTOW. Just yesterday I posted a piece for my blog about why in contact sports we need to be able to go all out against women, despite scrutiny for the sake of social change (ok i am done plugging today, I swear!)

    I was reluctant to call myself an MRA at first, but then a few things made me go all out:
    -I found the most support
    -I thought that they were doing the most work for men, and it would be best to align with them to get more done
    -They are the most straightforward people you can ever meet. Yes, there are some right wing/libertarian elements that i really disagree with but I know exactly where they stand, and appreciate the strong belief in transparency.

  5. You've got a great point here, EasilyE. The consciousness-raising aspect of tackling injustice is key, and I might add, it is key in regards to the oppressed group itself, also: the Black Panthers, the feminists, et al. achieved the lasting legacy they did because they also did a ton of internal consciousness-raising among themselves, as well as outward activism. The MRM is on the whole not yet ready to take this step, because to admit that men need to raise their collective gender-consciousness (a problem handed down to us from past generations) puts them in a situation of humility instead of progressive outward combat.

    One other thing I would like to add: please don't be so despondent about changes that will "likely not come to fruition in our lifetimes." Things can change very very fast!

  6. I generally agree with you on this, Easily Enthused.

    However, increased awareness of misandry (and the the fight against it by the MRM) will probably require something concrete. This might even be a legislative battle fought by the MRM, which could have the side-effect of doing some real good.

    At the same time, it's good that masculist ideas are being mulled over in intellectual circles, since major incidents will raise questions, and the masculists will eventually be there to provide the answers.

  7. As with many new ideas change usually happens first at a interpersonal level. I share many of my thoughts on gender issues with clients, friends and family and then we have some interesting discourse. I think the biggest advances will need to come from these areas. The internet allows people to gather info.(both good and bad) but it is in our day to day relationships that change will happen. Some days slow other days quick. I love the look on someones face when it dawns on them that they never thought of it that way. :)

  8. Think I have identified a possible reason for the gulf.

    This new progressive "gender egalitarian" movement is essentially a bourgeois movement where members of the upper middle class are applying academic solutions to problems that don't really effect them so much. Where as the men's movement is the voice of the proletariat, the one that actually sees police cars, hardship and prison in real life as opposed to on the television. So that's why we see the men's movement focusing on the hard and pressing issues and the upper-middle class progressives discounting those issues in favour of more long term and theoretical solutions.

    I see history repeating itself, its like the upper middle class progressive feminist white women taking over the civil rights movement in the 1970s.

    Does that make sense?

  9. That's actually pretty profound, acatalogueoflies. I've not thought of looking at the gender equality movement through a marxist lense before - and generally, I'm not in favor of its "us vs. them" mentality - but you could be right or at least partially right here. I'm going to think about that some more.

  10. Well I'm not suggesting that there should be an us v's them mentality, I was trying to perhaps understand a gulf that you perceive. I'm in favour of a unified social organism but unfortunately this sudden interest in the men's movement from what appears to be upper middle class progressives has brought with it a division perceived and defined by themselves as they to try to distance and differentiate themselves from and wash their hands of the existing men's movement to one degree or another. The most extreme example being NSWATM, who appear to have a policy to stonewall the real men's movement altogether.