Posts Tagged ‘misandry’

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.”

Well, shit.

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.

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Right, I’m finally not too lazy to write about this interesting new collaborative blog I’ve been enjoying.

The phrase “What about teh menz?” has an odd place in gender-related and feminist discussions. It refers to the way that, in the middle of a feminist conversation about something presumed to be a feminist matter, the plight of men will sometimes be injected into the discussion, often unwelcomely.

When women are talking about rape, for instance, it’s possibly for a man to unhelpfully steamroller in and complain that everyone’s ignoring how men can be raped too, you know. If someone new to the debate starts acting as if this omission is the gravest injustice of the whole topic, as I’ve seen happen, this can be frustrating for women trying to discuss a serious matter without being told that they’re the insensitive ones.

When Giles Coren tried to discuss the ways society can be unfair on men, the mocking cries of “What about teh menz?!” were flying thick and fast, as people of both genders characterised his views as a needy whine with no relevance to the important sexual discrimination going on in the world (i.e. that against women).

The thing is, though. There are male victims of rape and sexual assault out there. And there are gender-biased assumptions that do men no favours. There is some serious injustice against men which deserves to be addressed.

But it seems to have been historically extremely difficult to support one side of the debate without, inadvertently or deliberately, disparaging the other. There has been a tendency for men to bring up male victimhood in a way that shuts down or hijacks women’s conversations: sometimes “What about teh menz?” really can be an unwelcome whine.

At the same time, the stereotypical idea that men’s rights don’t need to be defended is one that a lot of feminists seem happy to propagate, and there’s a great deal of unfair antipathy to the very idea that there might be biases against men which should be fought.

But there’s no reason these two schools of thought should be antithetical. If we can avoid being outright dismissive of either, we might be able to actually make some worthwhile progress toward proper gender equality.

Which is why it’s good to see a blog asking: No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

Anyone who’s been paying attention will be familiar with my rambling cogitations about feminism, and whether it’s worth pursuing, or worth adapting, or just too nebulous and variable to really mean anything. I’d all but abandoned use of the word, as being too laden with baggage, but the FAQs on this blog offered an interesting clarification. Here’s a snippet:

Where feminism seeks to improve gender equality with a focus on issues affecting women, masculism seeks to improve gender equality with a focus on issues affecting men. Taken together, these two (complementary!) movements form “gender egalitarianism.”

There are ways in which women are unjustly worse off than men in our society; this deserves to be addressed by anyone who values fairness. There are ways in which men are unjustly worse off than women in our society; ditto. Highlighting the importance of one cause doesn’t need to downplay that of the other. And whether the specific thing you’re talking about seems more like a feminist or masculist issue, you should probably be thinking about it in the context of making things better for everyone.

If I’m going to be a feminist, I’m damn sure going to be a masculist too.

Actually, maybe being a humanist will cover both bases just fine.

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I am in favour of the objectification of women.

Okay, that might be a little misleading, but if I said I was against it then that wouldn’t be controversial or edgy at all.

Either way, I should clarify my position a little.

Objectifying women isn’t always a good thing. Nor is it always a good thing when it happens to men. Transfolk probably bear the worst of it. But gender-based degradation of women is no small deal.

Strip clubs and pornography exist, (predominantly) for the enjoyment of (also predominantly) heterosexual men. We like being able to lust after and fantasise about women explicitly, and these things give us a chance to do that in a way our hormones crave but society doesn’t often allow us. There’s a vast industry which relies on exploiting and reinforcing the role of women as objects of men’s sexual desire.

And it’s not outrageous to imagine that these attitudes might spill over into other areas of human interaction. Women have a hard time being taken seriously by some people in many areas of business – the corporate and political worlds are still predominantly white and male.

There’s a degree of imbalance and inequality between the genders (let alone among people who don’t fit neatly into one category or the other) which nobody should wish to see perpetuated.

But if your intent is to be a critical thinker, a skeptic, a rational humanist – in other words, if you give a shit about people and you care whether what you believe is actually true – then you should be open to criticism of the ways you might think this imbalance ought to be addressed.

In particular, I think the sexism debate could do with much more emphasis on building up than dragging down.

Take strip clubs. Some people – mostly women who identify with a particular definition of feminism – think these are awful places, and want to see laws passed against their very existence. They don’t want men to be encouraged to see women as pieces of meat on show for their enjoyment, and they don’t want women to feel pressured into having to take a demeaning job as the best way of supporting themselves financially, because of the sexist attitudes this perpetuates.

Rather than doing anything to support or encourage women, this seems only to assume that men can’t be trusted and will inevitably behave with deplorable incivility if offered the slightest prompting to do so.

Some men fail, or refuse, to act as if women are ever anything more than sexy pieces of meat. That’s undoubtedly a bad thing – it’s a pretty crappy move to write off most of an entire gender’s potential like that. But it’s not clear that this behaviour will be diminished even slightly if you remove the venues where men get to enjoy ogling the sexy meat with impunity. It’s not going to stop men noticing that women are sexy and they are made of meat, or stop them behaving in ways inappropriate outside of allocated zones like a strip club.

However… this also isn’t to say that there’s not a problem worth addressing here. The fact is that men often do take the “sexy meat” attitude to women beyond reasonable bounds. Most women I know have had direct experience of being made to feel as if their physicality is all they’re good for, in a way that wasn’t appropriate and which they didn’t enjoy.

But there’s no contradiction in letting people know what’s inappropriate and what isn’t in the majority of human interaction, while also letting people earn a living through sex work or a related industry.

There’s an automatic connection in many people’s minds between a person earning a living in the sex industry, and that person being diminished in the perception of the rest of society. But that’s a problem with society and its hang-ups, not with the industry itself.

Some people are generalised about and de-individualised, because of their gender or gender identity – something of which both men and women can be both objects and perpetrators. Some women find that the sex industry provides the only means through which they can financially support themselves. That’s a problem with the economy and the job market, not with the one profession offering them a life-line.

I understand some people’s frustrations at the “freedom of speech” counter-argument. Josie Long has tweeted in the past about how little she appreciates the way she’s sometimes stereotyped as a woman, and sees strip clubs as a part of the problem. She appreciates the importance of freedom, but has tried to explain that it’s an unhelpful thing to use as a conversation-stopper.

Freedom’s important, but a lot of people still aren’t happy, and there might be something we can do about that even if we don’t agree on what we can do about it straight away.

Banning the burqa was an attempt to address an illiberal cultural tradition by means of an illiberal national law. I think passing legislation against strip clubs is a similarly bad idea, but re-emphasising the importance of people’s personal freedoms doesn’t solve the issue of the oppression of women within Islam, or of the bidirectional gender discrimination in the rest of society.

Giles Coren didn’t solve any of those problems either, but he was right about a few things. Misandry deserves to be given proper consideration, and men can be victims of just about every injustice that can befall women. But the two distinct problems don’t need to be placed in competition. We don’t need to bring attention to the suffering of men by playing down the hardships faced by women, and we don’t have to decry the evils of the sex industry if we think women deserve a greater societal respect. (How much respect does it show for the men and women in the sex industry, if we insist that they and their profession must be eliminated before we can make any progress?)

Some women want to have sex for money. Some women want to be treated more like an actual human being around the office. Both of these are fine aims, and we only need to make sure we’re giving each issue a reasonable amount of attention, without letting any one side of the conversation become stifling.

By which I mean: Let’s not get so hung up on the issue of freedom in the sex industry that we ignore the plight of women who feel inappropriately sexualised and objectified by men – but, let’s try not to focus on sexualisation as a bad thing, to such an extent that people in the sex industry feel marginalised or demeaned themselves.

Let’s not sneer at any attempt to raise the subject of misandry in a sensitive discussion about gender discrimination – but let’s also not be so persistent or strident in bringing it up that women always feel like they’re being shoved aside so that men can talk about their own problems.

Yes. Let’s all just follow my advice and everything will definitely be fine.

(If the comments below happen to go feral again, do try to keep things civilised.)

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