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.
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)
- 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.