I blame Twitter for this.
There was a brief spate of laughter at the idea of men’s rights the other day. @Carachan1 quipped:
“For ‘men’s rights’, please turn to the page that describes our current & past governmental policies”
This was in a reply message to Tracy King, who later replied to somebody else’s point: “Men already have all the rights.”
I didn’t get involved with it at the time, but I did unhelpfully suggest to nobody in particular: “Twitter, if I have to start talking like a men’s rights activist, I’m blaming you.”
I mean, come on. All the rights? Really? Do black men have all the rights that there are? Do gay men? Do men with disabilities?
I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s worth looking at exactly what people mean by “men’s rights” when they laugh at the concept. Very few people are sociopathically misandrist or misanthropic enough to insist that men don’t have rights, and Tracy King’s certainly not among them. Rather, what’s so funny is the idea that men’s rights might need to be defended.
After all, men have had all the power throughout history. We’ve made the decisions, we’ve overwhelmingly filled governments and boardrooms. We didn’t even let women vote until a couple of generations ago. Men are obviously ahead, and it’s women whose rights need to be supported and fought for.
Unfortunately, this non-starter of an idea is undermined by the simple fact that sexism/oppression/rights/privilege is not a one-dimensional sliding scale.
Pop quiz. Who’s more privileged: A rich black guy or a poor white guy? A black lesbian or a white man with no legs? Which mental condition is more in need of recognition and equality: Asperger’s or severe depression?
If you answered any of those questions with an actual answer, you fail. The Oppression Olympics are not helpful. In different situations, different people will find themselves at an advantage over others. It’s not necessary to collate all that data into a single ranking.
Here’s one example. Women appear to be consistently underrepresented in Hollywood, engineering, and business. Why is that? Are they generally less interested in being involved in these fields? Are they less capable? Are there social pressures based on our expectations of women which are unfairly keeping them out? I don’t know, although I suspect that last one is a significant factor. Either way, it seems like women might be facing unfair disadvantages based on their gender here, and if gender equality is something you give a shit about, these questions are worth asking.
Here’s another example. There are way more men in prison than women. Why is that? Are men generally less moral than women? Are they more innately or biologically prone to committing socially unacceptable acts? Are they just more stupid, so they get caught more often? Are there unhelpful expectations of male behaviour, which result in unjust social pressures on them to conform to a certain ideal of manly, macho masculinity? I don’t know the answer. These are difficult questions, but what I do know is that asking the questions at all is not laughable. They’re worth asking, if gender equality is something you still give a shit about.
Men are also more likely to commit suicide than women, which it’s thought may be to do with the pervasive notion that it’s not “manly” to talk about your feelings.
It’s much more socially acceptable to make jokes about men getting raped than women. Men are more likely to have trouble being taken seriously when they reported being sexually assaulted, either by other men or by women.
I’m not listing all these examples to imply that men have it “worse than” or “as bad as” women. I’m not denying or ignoring that women suffer unfairly because of sexual assault in all sorts of ways that I’m never likely to directly understand. I’m not in any way denying the virulence and abhorrence of misogyny, and the extent to which many aspects of sexism against women are casually woven into our language and society, to extremely damaging effect.
But the way some warriors against misogyny have to veer deep into misandry to make their point is profoundly inhumane and lacking in compassion. The types of social expectations and stereotypes which negatively affect men are exactly the kind of thing that feminists highlight as sexist when the victims are women. And they’re often correct to do so, but to claim that it’s entirely one-way, and men have all the rights, is ridiculous.
There definitely is a nasty segment of men’s rights activism, which has arisen as a hateful, frightened response to modern feminism, in the same way that “white pride” and “straight pride” are a reaction to minority groups demanding respect. But while many people rightly find these misogynistic extremists laughable, their disparagement too often stretches way beyond a just or tolerant remit.