Friday, July 4, 2008

Men's Rights Activists

So I'm sitting on my bed, reading the news. I have this nifty tool installed in Firefox called StumbleUpon. Basically, when I click a button I am randomly referred to a web page that the tool thinks I would like, based upon my votes on other sites. I give a lot of thumbs-up to activist pages, so I was not surprised to be referred to a rights group.

What I was surprised to find, however, was that the rights group was a men's rights group.

I was curious. What are Men's Rights Activists? Do they champion the causes of men in Africa who can't afford to feed their families? Do they push for a male birth control pill? Do they speak out about abusive parents?

No.

They speak out about the "violence" that the feminist movement has done to men. They talk about the Femi-Nazism of the government that punishes men for being masculine. They rage against women who ask ex-husbands for child support and alimony.

Basically, they think that society is out to hurt men by making them act like humans.

Their basic tenement is that men should be free to act like men. By men, they mean homophobic, hyper-masculine, violent, abusive, irresponsible failures of humanity.

How do I know this? Why, they are opposed to feminism. Feminists hold that the default definition of masculinity alienates men from their emotions and empathy, and is ultimately damaging to the individual and society as a whole.

Men's Rights Activists, on the other hand, hold that the gun-toting, children-leavin', anti-sissy model of manhood is the only thing holding humanity back from anarchy.

Really.

They also claim that both women and men are equally oppressed, or that men are oppressed more than women. Which is evident, of course, when one considers that less than 1% of the world's wealth is owned by women.

Men are "success objects" they say, and burdened as providers. Because, you know, women that labor unpaid in the house or underpaid as a teacher or maid are lazy lie-abouts.

They say that violence against men is more pandemic and tolerated then violence against women. While more men are mugged or killed in war, MRAs fail to comprehend the obvious: the people killing men also happen to be men.

Men killing and hurting men. Men killing and hurting women. Men killing and hurting children. Men running nations and sending men to their deaths. See a trend? In general, the subject of such violent sentences is typically a man. The very notion that women, or feminists, are responsible for the actions of men is laughable.

Largely, however, MRA groups tend to concentrate on one particular area: divorce law. They maintain that men have lost the right to a fair trial in family law and custody settlements. This, of course, is the fault of women.

The majority of law-makers are men. The majority of judges are men. Hell, the majority of high-paid lawyers are men. Perhaps they are responsible?

No! Who's to blame? Well, their "bitch of an ex-wife" who wants child support and alimony.

Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed studies sporting statistics that women, more often then not, get the short end of the stick at every point of the marriage life-span, including divorce, MRAs hold that men are being systematically attacked and oppressed by a justice system that they, as a gender, have largely perpetuated and dominated since antiquity.

If, by accident, the website I was perusing stumbled upon a legitimate concern to "men's rights", they approached the discussion in such a misogynistic and hostile fashion that hilarity ensued and rational argument was absent.

Yes, but the feminist movement can be hostile and angry, right?

Of course. Notice, however, that mainstream feminists reserve their rage for social forces that oppress humanity, disgusting criminals, sexist leaders, and, in general, people and forces that are actually doing something wrong.

MRA activists direct their rage towards women, and in particular, their ex-wives. The privilege that these largely middle-class white men receive and exercise is rendered completely invisible. They deny or ignore men's domination of powerful institutions, traditional familial structures, and popular culture.

When they do discover an example of a man without power, they typically ignore the fact that these are examples of men's powerlessness in the hands of other men. The injustices that men suffer by the hands of the legal system are largely the fault of modern male lawmakers, and wholly the fault of historical male-dominated institutions.

That is not to say that their observations are unfounded. Plainly speaking, men have lost power in all areas of modern life compared to their historical counterparts. This is not because of some feminist conspiracy or culture of man-bashing, it is because as society moves to correct millennia of inequality, the privileged will perceive a loss of power as resources are distributed more equitably.

For the purpose of illustration, assume that society has one pie and a group of four people. Because of various social doctrines, Bob gets to take half of the pie as his share. Mary, Rebecca, and Peter each then take a sixth of the pie for themselves, but only after years of political struggle and pie-lessness. Mary looks at everyone's pieces and finds that Bob's piece is far bigger than hers. She can think of no real reason why he is entitled to a bigger piece. So, she gets Rebecca and Peter to join her in demanding their fair share. Bob is eventually forced to give up half of his piece, so that everyone has a fourth. Bob thinks to himself, "why, this sucks. I was always told that it was my birth-right to have half of a pie. Now, I have to content myself with a fourth of a pie. I have lost pie. This is all that bitch Mary's fault".

Bob is right: he has lost pie. However, Mary and the others were right to demand more pie. If Bob wanted to blame something or someone, he should blame the people that originally decided that pies must be divided unfairly, or the social forces that inflated his expectations of what his "share" ought to be.

Men are given a far bigger share of the "pie" of wealth, power, and prestige than they are rightfully entitled to. MRAs are not wrong to observe the loss of those privileges, but they are wrong to view women, who still have yet to achieve full equality by law and otherwise, as the enemy.

When men are born into a society that indoctrinates them into a culture of inequality, but simultaneously purports equality as a social value, men develop the notion that their unfair share of global wealth and power is rightly kept, and that such inequalities are somehow "equal". When these advantages are taken away, and made more equitable, a man feels as if he is being treated unfairly.

What MRAs advance is the notion that, as men, they are treated unfairly by increasingly equitable (but not wholly so) legal systems. In that, they are absolutely right. Given that the definition of "man" as "he who is rightly entitled to a larger share of worldly power and wealth by the chance of being born with a penis", men are being treated poorly by the justice system.

As humans, however, these men are treated more than fairly, if not outright favored, in everything from family law to criminal law.

They are favored, by men, because they are men. If they are killed, hurt, or treated unfairly, they are largely abused, also, by men.

Such self-reflection, however, is beyond the power of those who maintain that violent and robotic models of masculinity are something to be preserved instead of destroyed.

22 comments:

Debi Crow said...

I once read an MRA comment on a feminist blog claiming that the fact that women naturally live longer than men is an example of women oppressing men! I mean, if that's not desperate then I don't know what is. Basically, they don't have an argument, or a leg to stand on, and they know it, so they just beat their chests and go on and on about how "oppressed" they are in the hopes that if they shout loud enough they'll get some attention. It's pathetic, it really is, classic child-throwing-toys-out-of-pram behaviour, all because, as you say, some people would like them to act like human beings and treat women as human beings.

Very good post, by the way!

Jen said...

Thank you! I was shocked that everything I heard people say about MRAs was actually true. I just had to write about it.

Michael said...

Jen, this is just one specific MRA. Unless you can provide LOTS more examples, and nobody else can provide ANY, I don't think it's fair to say that, in general, MRAs are like this.

Of course, I'm sure plenty of them are, but if you take the opinion of the occasional feminist that "All heterosexual sex is rape," and generalize it in the same way that you're generalizing this particular MRA group, you get the same results, which I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate.

Hell, I consider myself a proponent of "Men's Rights," but I'm a proponent of everybody's rights. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Aww, poor ickle mens, having to share 1% of the world's wealth with women. debi crow, you are absolutely spot on there: *throws rattle on floor and punches teddy*

Anonymous said...

It's not up to you to decide what forms of masculinity should be "destroyed".

Just like it's not up to men to tell women what it means to be feminine or a woman, it's certainly not up to women to tell us what it means to be masculine or male.

It's also not up to you to tell us what's harmful to us and what isn't, in terms of these things.

You're not a man, and will never be one, so your opinion on the things men experience will never be as good as a man's opinion on the things he experiences.

You will forever be an outside observer, and that makes what you have to say about it worthless in terms of what it means for us.

The feminism 101 blog agrees with me on this. So, go ahead and delete the comment, as I'm sure you will.

You seem to erroneously believe that it's up to Teh Mighty Feminists to tell us poor, stupid men how we should behave, act, and think.

Well, no. We'll behave, act, and think how we want, without you trying to control us.

If men shouldn't control you, you certainly shouldn't be trying to control us.

Vodka Vicky said...

yeah it's just reactionary bullshit.
it even exists in radical space.s i was once at a coference and my group used the word "manarchist" (todesrcibe chauvinist anarchist/adical/progressive/ males who think because they are so open minded they cant be sexist) and we got a stick up our ass thrown for gendering it.

like no offense but- sexism is male oppression over women. there is no such thing as reverse sexism because we live in a patriarchal society with a systemtic oppression agaisnt women on social, poltical, nd economic levels. this type of structure does not exist against men.opression IS gendered in this way, to deny it is over PC and counter productive.
that said- there is this thing called dudefest which is like a group of dudes that want to reconstruct masculinity which is kinda rad.

Amelia said...

I like this post. Especially the pie metaphor. But really, I have not ever met (and by met, I mean I have never been virtually harassed online by) an MRA whom I could take seriously. The biggest, and IMHO most important point you make in this post is that, yes, men are "losing" power, but that is only because of growing equality. And yes, when men do face injustice, it is usually doled out by other men who run so very much of this country.

Thanks for talking about this. :)

Fidelbogen said...

Be honest now, did you steal the pie metaphor from me, and then "retrofit" it? Of course, I don't know this for sure -- but if you did, it would have been sporting of you to link to the original. Here, I'll do that now:


Equality: A Zeno's Paradox


Anyway, I invite you to nip on over to my blog, the Counter-Feminist, and introduce yourself, and I think that you will meet some very interesting MRAs indeed. Y'know...well-educated, intellectual types whom you might find challenging . . . ;)

Think you can handle it?

I'll let them know you're coming. :)

Or you can just keep hiding in your little echo chamber here. It's your call.

Anonymous said...

I am suprised that feminists actually confirm the fact that MRA's actually exist..

That statement in itself must be harrowing.

Renee said...

I wish I could just give you a standing applause for this one. MRA's drive me around the bend. I have had more than a few infestations of them on my blog. Thanks for laying it all out so clearly!

Anonymous said...

"like no offense but- sexism is male oppression over women."

No, sexism is discrimination based on sex.

Lindsay said...

So anytime someone makes a metaphor about pie, privilege and power, they're stealing from you?

I read your pie metaphor and while similar, it doesn't seem like she's stealing it. And besides, it's a metaphor - it's not like you have a copyright on pie analogies.

However, if Jen did read your blog and wanted to rework the analogy to a more appropriate one, then she does have every right to say, "Yeah, I modified your pie metaphor because x,y and z is why you're wrong."

FeministGal said...

as soon as i began reading this post i knew you'd have a problem with vocal MRAers - good luck, this is a tough subject to write about without trolls coming out of the woodworks...

wakemenow said...

This reminds me of arguments about Black History Month when white students would ask why we don't have White History Month. The reply invariably was because every month is White History Month.

Same could be said about Men's Rights Activists. It is reactionary to the Women's Movement for social equality, but I wouldn't get too up in arms about it since it's really nothing more than a reflection of the typical everyday shit we already deal with. They don't deserve special recognition and distinction for pushing the same agenda that already dominates society.

Factory said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Randall said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jen said...

The pie analogy was gleaned from the popular metaphor featuring "shares of pie" that people are apt to use when they describe inequalities of wealth. I did not steal it from anywhere.

I find looking at MRAs useful, because they echo some of the very same objections to feminism that a non-MRA would.

Jen said...

Fidelbogen:

Thank for the much needed chuckle. I especially liked the website. Very dramatic. Emphasizing my youth and hypothesized fatness was also a move right from a comedy of errors. Well done.

Oh, and I'm not a masochist. You can have your echo chamber, and I'll keep to mine.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kate said...

Anon,
As someone who's mother recieves alimony, I highly resent your comment for both its content and language.
I allowed it through moderation simply so I could respond to it.
My mom stayed home to raise my sister and I, at my dad's request. She was out of the workforce for 18 years before my dad left. It took her almost a year to find work because not-so-suprisingly not many companies want to hire 50 year old high school graduates who haven't worked in almost 20 years. That is why alimony exists, so women can stay afloat while trying to find a job.
The media's portrayal of women who are given alimony is completely unrealistic. Most women don't buy boob jobs with alimony; they buy groceries.

Amelia said...

Good for you, Kate. I wasn't going to allow Anon's comment through.

Jen said...

Since I'm a cold-hearted Feminist, I'm deleting all posts that use inflammatory language (like whore, thanks for that insipidly stupid comment there) or specifically attack the feminist movement. This is a pro-feminist space, boys, back the fuck up.

We come here to escape from bullshit, not to give it a free stage to spew. Notice I'm not touching your space, your blogs, with a ten-foot pole. So kindly piss off our space.