Men’s rights activism: an analysis

September 23, 2013

I know, the title alone is charged.  I’m gonna try here, guys.  I really am.

Men’s rights activism, to the best of my knowledge, is a sort-of reflection of feminism, but for men.  There’s a lot of mentions of fedoras, and they frequently use the acronym MRA.  Ugh, that was not a good start.  I’m trying, I’m SORRY   

I’m going to do a little breakdown of some of the stuff that I’ve seen written or that I’ve heard.   I’m gonna slowly transition from arguments I feel are valid, to ones that squick me out, to ones that need to die in a fire.  I try really hard to be reasonable, so please tell me if I’m not doing so.  Again, as always, I can’t really speak to trans* issues, so this is limited to cis (and mostly hetero) men and women.

“Men are basically never granted custody of their children, and that’s messed up.”
Dude, agreed!  That is messed up.  Custody is supposed to be based on the best interest of the child, and family law in the States is super problematic on that count and also in paying alimony (which used to be a bigger thing when women didn’t work).  To say that men are somehow inherently less nurturing than women is not okay!  It’s not okay to say that women are inherently better at being nurturing, so why would the reverse be true?  And yes, women can now support themselves, so alimony payments are frequently super wack.  Let’s work on that!

“If a man is abused by a female partner, it’s basically ignored.”
Awful!  That’s not okay, either! I agree.  I’m not being childish when I say no one should hit anyone, and accusations from a male against a female should be taken just as seriously as the reverse.  Yes, man-on-woman violence is much, much more common, but this is immaterial in the face of an individual case of abuse.  And no one should tell a man to just “walk away if you’re that scared,” just like they shouldn’t tell a woman that: it’s rarely, if ever, that simple!

“Boys are ignored more, medicated more, and punished more in primary and middle school, plus all the teachers are women.”
Not cool!  We got lots of meds all up in schools, and lots are for ADHD boys.  Many are probably not diagnosed correctly (like many diseases!  Misdiagnosing is a problem for all disease, and more of a problem for mental illness), and are just ‘being kids.’ (Some do totally need it, though!) However, I frequently saw the reverse as true, with rambunctious boys being allowed to do what they want under a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, when girls behaving the same way were shushed.  This happened to me.  Perhaps it has changed, or perhaps my experience was unique, but I found the reverse of this statement was true.  Either way, altering your treatment of a child based on gender is not acceptable.
And tons of teachers being women?  Yes, but here’s the thing: it’s been that way for a while.  It was a “safe” profession, frequently one of the only actual professions women could hold (and, way back, one they had to leave if they married).  No one sees a kajillion women teaching and thinks “hey, we’ve made headway into a traditionally male profession!”  More male teachers!    

“Mental illness is not adequately treated in men.”
Dude, right?  Depression gets diagnosed and treated in women WAY more than in men, and that’s not okay!  Even the ads for all the drugs are mad sexist: they always feature women, and they usually imply that these ladies can’t take care of kids or shop like they used to, or some other stupid thing like that.  We can’t tell men to just “tough it out” because their masculinity will just overwhelm their illness.  It doesn’t work that way!  We need more treatment for all people who suffer, and we should recognize that men are in that group. 

“The portrayal of men on TV is basically that they’re dumb and need their wives to fix things.”
Not okay.  I super agree.  I really don’t know why they keep making shows where the punch line is “the wife is smarter than her husband der der heh heh” because that’s got to go.  Men are picking and writing these shows, though, so that’s even weirder!  There isn’t some kind of coven of women behind the scenes trying to make you all look bad.  This has got to go, but so do the other stupid things on TV like “gorgeous wife/below average husband,” “one woman in the office fixes things while the men screw up,” and “racist jokes.”  Wait, that last one doesn’t need quotes.  To sum up: yes, this stuff is messed up, but feminazis are not doing it.

“Men are constantly told they’re rapists, and somehow can’t be assaulted.”
Aw man, so many feelings on this one.  This may be a response to the emphasis on getting consent, and it IS a bad thing if the information is phrased as an implication that it’s only a man’s job.  (Also totally ignorant of relationships outside of man/woman, which is also not cool!) Whoever you are, get consent!  This emphasis may have something to do with the fact that many men, especially young men (high school age), really have no idea what counts as consent, so from a purely numeric standpoint, people have decided to dedicate time and money to this one portion of sexual relations.  However, it should NEVER come across as “men are inherently disgusting rapists.”  It should come across as “consent is important, here’s what it looks like, here’s what it DOESN’T look like, and get it no matter who you are.”

But, if your discomfort lies in the fact that rape is currently discussed more than it ever has before, I may tell you that you’re reading into it too much, and it’s not personal.  Rape happens, it is usually a man attacking a woman, and I urge you to analyze whether you feel personally attacked because you’re actually BEING personally attacked by the literature, or if you feel attacked because rape is being discussed, some men rape, and you are a man.  It would be like my being offended that racism is being discussed, some whites are racist, and I am white.  Claiming “but I’M not a rapist!/racist!” as loudly as possible doesn’t do much to fix the problem.

“The way women dress these days, of course they deserve attention!  It’s what they want, right?”
Duuuuuude.  Nope.  She’s a coworker, or an employee, or your boss.  It’s where you work.  You treat them like they work there too.  Or she’s a fellow commuter, or another person in the coffee shop, or someone getting a drink at the bar.  Or someone at your gym wearing tight pants because tight pants are sometimes good for exercising.  I don’t care how she’s dressed, you shake her hand and talk to her like a person until she tells you otherwise.  I’m serious here: you can’t assume anything about a woman based on how she’s dressed, and it’s straight up not okay to do so.  It’s a violation of her space.  You don’t have to understand it, and you might not be able to: not because you’re stupid, just because the world acts differently around you as a man.  Again, similar to not really getting the experience of a black person if you’re not black.  Even if you don’t get it, if you believe in respecting people, it’s what you need to do. 

“Women work now, but I went on a date and she expected ME to pay for dinner! Ugh, screw feminism!”
Okay, I’m being facetious; I’m sorry. The quotes aren’t this easy.   (And in general, people, if you go on a date, always be prepared to pay for yourself.  Male/female/neither/anything pay for yo’self).  I’m not defending women who insist on men paying for dinner; that’s not okay.  But reducing the argument to “I went out with a woman one time and she wanted me to pay means feminism is dumb” is no good.  Anecdotal evidence is not acceptable as to why feminism is evil or failing.  The subpar behavior of one lady doesn’t mean feminism is the worst, in the same way that you’d like it if not all men were tarred with the “rapist” brush.  Goes both ways.

“I’m basically getting punished for finding women attractive and wanting to have sex with them.”
Just as a side note, women have been punished far more than you have forever about this: guys who have lots of sex are studs, women who do the same are sluts.  But really, I get it!  The world of dating and attraction is complicated, and it totally sucks getting rejected and called a creep.  And it’s also super not okay that identical behavior from two men is “creepy” if it’s an unattractive man and “sexy” if he’s attractive.

BUT.  There’s going up to a woman at a bar, introducing yourself, offering to buy her a drink, and walking away calmly if she says no, AND THEN there’s grinding up on a girl in a short skirt in a club without asking permission and being offended when she pushes you away.  There’s a difference between telling a woman that you like her bracelet and yelling out “nice ass” as you drive by.  There’s a difference between saying a woman hurt you when she rejected you harshly, and calling all women “bitchy cock-teases” because one said no.  Acting like taking an extra second or two to consider if you’re being a terrible person before you interact with a woman you find attractive is THE WORST THING EVER is just straight up bullshit, I’m sorry.  The male sex drive does not outrank respect for women. 

“I’m basically getting punished for being male.”
You’re not.  I swear you’re not.  And seriously any woman who says “I hate all men” and MEANS it is not a representation of what feminism is meant to accomplish.  Feminism doesn’t hate men, it hates a system that has and still does elevate men above women.  The goal is not to tear down men, it’s just not.  However, since the positions of power are unequal, with men occupying a higher position than women, sometimes things that may feel like “rights” to men will be lost: a male office, getting consent for everything, and just generally rearranging your thought processes.  Feminism doesn’t hate men.  It wants men to keep being cool and just let women be given the same opportunity to be cool. You’re not being attacked.  WE WERE AND ARE, and we’re trying to fix that.

“Feminism did all this.”
My major disagreement with any given MRA is probably that he may think these problems are a result of feminism, and I think they’re a result of the patriarchy.  The patriarchy, an entrenched system, which tells us that men are stronger than women, tougher, can handle things, is what keeps men from getting custody, keeps men from getting the help they need.  As my friend Baird put it, “feminism didn’t create the idea that women aren’t violent.”  That idea has been around forever!  And it’s totally wrong. We got some issues to deal with, but feminism didn’t cause them.

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