The very first International Conference on Men’s Issues happened over the weekend, in the unlikely surroundings of a VFW Lodge in Detroit. The thought of a bunch of men’s rights activists converging to swap stories of how good women have it these days isn’t one that fills anyone with joy (unless they’ve been on the Reddit red pills for a while), and I’m loath to give it any more publicity — but fuck it, the event has already happened, and it provided a pretty good snapshot of where the MRA movement, such as it is, is at in 2014. And, perhaps most frustratingly, its very existence basically precluded any sensible discussions of the issues it professed to address. Good job, everyone.
It’s easy to write off MRAs as lunatics — any group who can call feminism “a multibillion-dollar hate industry” isn’t exactly asking to be taken seriously, especially since I’m writing this on a day when the Supreme Court just decided that a corporation’s right to believe in whatever bullshit it likes is more important than a woman’s right to insurance-subsidized birth control. If you want proof that the world is still biased very much in favor of men, have a read through Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent on the Hobby Lobby case, and then meditate on this for a bit:
There are many things to dislike about r/RedPill types. Many, many things. But here’s the issue: quite apart from their hatefulness, they do their “cause” — such as it is — absolutely no good at all. As with extremists in many other areas, they hijack and polarize a discussion that is worth having.
Clearly, on balance, you’re inevitably better off being a man in this world than a woman. Quite how much so varies depending on just where you are — there are openly patriarchal societies like Saudi Arabia, where the extent of women’s oppression is extreme and unapologetic. But even right here in the good ol’ US of A, it’s a whole lot better to be the average man than the average woman, just like you’re better off being white than a person of color, and heterosexual and cisgender than anywhere on the LBGT spectrum, and so on. The world we live in is one in which being a straight white man is pretty great; being anything else is pretty fucked. So has it ever been.
This isn’t, of course, to say that there aren’t areas in which it’s disadvantageous to be a man — especially if you happen to also be a person of color. The prison population is the example that springs to mind immediately: in 2008, one in every 18 American men was in prison, compared to one in every 89 women. (And, of course, the vast majority of those men are black.)
Intuitively, you’d think that gender relations are the archetypal zero-sum game. Anything that elevates men oppresses women, and vice versa. If you accept this view, then you see why MRAs feel the way they do about feminism: by the same rationale, anything that elevates women oppresses men, and thus feminism is by its very nature bad for men. It’s a short hop from this to thinking that it must therefore be driven by hatred of men, which explains the fondness in these circles for throwing around the word “misandry” at regular intervals.
This, of course, is bullshit. A society in which both men and women can flourish is substantially healthier than one in which both sexes are shoehorned into predetermined, arbitrary roles for which they may well be ill-fitted. What feminist theoreticians refer to as the patriarchy is exactly this: as Carole Pateman writes in The Sexual Contract, it’s a society wherein “the patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection.”
If MRA types and sympathizers stopped with their anti-feminist drumbeating, they’d perhaps realize that this is a system that helps almost no one. Clearly, it privileges men above women. But it also privileges a few men above most other men. If you don’t fit the mold, you’re out of luck. And I don’t just mean that this is the case if you’re a sort of stereotypically effeminate boy who doesn’t like football — look at how traditional institutions of masculinity, like the military (and, um, the football team), demand conformity.
The point that patriarchy oppresses men as well as women isn’t exactly a revolutionary one — but it’s one that’s studiously ignored by MRA types, who prefer to blame women and, particularly, feminism for their woes. In this respect, nothing has changed in 2014, because the conference on “men’s rights” seemed to entail more bitching about feminism than finding solutions to what were ostensibly its central issues.
Our friends at ANIMAL New York drove out to Detroit for the conference, listening in on the press conference. The results make for fascinating, if depressing, reading — because, again, there are kernels of truth lodged in the avalanche of shit. In amongst a bunch of declarations along the lines of, “Radical feminism is without doubt a female supremacy ideology that’s driven by misandry; a hatred for men and boys” and “It’s time to stop talking about overturning a patriarchy that doesn’t exist,” there are points that have at least some currency.
The thing is, there’s no causal link between feminism and any of the issues that the MRA brains trust (lololol) identifies as problems that disproportionately affect men. Most of these problems are systemic, and long predate the existence of feminism, let alone the supposed existence of “female privilege.” Young men have been dying by the thousands in stupid wars for millennia, for the empowerment and benefit of other men. (MRAs should actually see feminists, who fought to put women on the front lines alongside men, as their allies on this issue.) The decline of traditionally male jobs, and the alienation that’s induced in a certain male demographic, is a problem precisely because there are traditionally male jobs — in other words, because of the existence of predefined gender roles to which both sexes are expected to conform.
The family court, another favorite point of MRA anger, is another manifestation of the patriarchy — women tend to be granted custody, and men expected to provide child support, precisely because women are expected to be carers and men providers. The prison industrial complex uses male bodies as free labor for the enrichment of a privileged elite… who are pretty much entirely white men.
And so on. These are problems that afflict men more than women. Does this mean that men are somehow uniquely disadvantaged in society? On balance, no, of course it doesn’t. Anyone who wants to argue otherwise is someone who’s possessed of the ability to perform mental gymnastics like blaming the mother of a kid who records a video talking about how much he hates women, then goes out and shoots a bunch of women, as if the whole thing is somehow her fault. (No, I’m not making this up — you can watch the video via ANIMAL.)
But these are issues. And their solution lies in the abolition of the patriarchy — something that’s just as true in 2014 as it was not even a century ago, when women first won the right to vote in the US. If the assclowns who profess to care about their fellow men just want something to complain about, feminism will always be a convenient scapegoat. If they want to actually fix the problems they’re complaining about, though, they need to stop blaming women and start looking in the mirror.
(Feature pic: Aymann Ismail/ANIMAL New York)