I study gender. Specifically, I study masculinities in social and political contexts. I examine how masculine gender patterns are formed, how they are reproduced, and how they are maintained. Put simply, I study maleness in North American society. I say this so that it might underscore what I am about to say: the “men’s rights” movement is a hollow and empty thing, built more out of frustration at a perceived loss of social status and a misunderstanding of feminism than out of any legitimate grievances. Before I go any further, I’m going to define the words I am using.
“Misandry”: The dislike or mistreatment of men. I understand there to be two distinct – though related – forms of misandry: the structural or systemic form, and the personal or individual form. Structural Misandry refers to institutional or systemic practices in a society which unfairly disadvantage or harm men as a group. Personal Misandry refers to the attitudes of a particular person with regards to their feelings about men.
“Men’s Rights Movement/Men’s Rights Activism”: a social and political movement where the “ … focus is on promoting activism in support of men’s rights and equality, and providing readers with… way[s] to inform and empower men’s rights activists in their goals to create a more just and fair society.”
The past 60 years have been marked by an explosion in civil rights activism. Women’s rights, gay rights (more so in Canada and Western Europe than in America), minority rights, and increasingly transperson’s rights and the rights of non-human animals have all steadily marched forwards (for the most part). This activism has been marked in places by physical violence, legal penalty, and more often by scorn, derision, and dismissal. And yet, at the close of the first decade of the 21st Century, we can say that our society has never been more equal or fair – although that’s not to say that it is fair, just less unfair than in times past. In Canada for example, women’s pay, while better than it has been in years, still lags well behind a man’s pay and the numbers are worse for women of colour. There is a long, difficult road ahead, as activists struggle to guide and shape social change in order to more firmly establish those hard-won rights, but progress is clearly possible.
On the list of Fortune 500 CEOs, women make up a mere 3.6%, while holding an exact same percentage of Fortune 1000 positions.
In other words, men control the majority of the levers of power in our society; from politics to business to academics, men hold the overwhelming majority of control, influence, and prestige. To date, women are still considered the primary caregivers in the family, and women continue to shoulder much of the unpaid work that is done in the home – roughly twice the amount of work as men – even after they have increasingly become part of the formal workforce.
It is against this backdrop that we must examine the “men’s rights” movement. Ostensibly concerned with ‘promoting equal rights for men’, the movement in general tends more often than not, to serve as an opponent of what is often referred to in MRMs as ‘radical feminism’. But what sort of topics do “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) spend most of their time on? Well, they spend their time wondering if men ought to have an ‘equal’ say in the reproductive choices of women; they lament the mistreatment of men at the hands of the justice system – particularly the parts that deal with parental rights. MRAs feel that more often than not, women are awarded full custody of children simply because they are female, and finally, and perhaps most ludicrously, MRAs spend an almost creepy amount of time concerning themselves with the horrible ‘epidemic’ of “false rape accusations” that threaten to destroy men’s lives and ruin them financially. Let’s take a quick look at these areas of concern.
Men ought to have a say in a woman’s reproductive health choices (including the choice to abort or not)
Put simply, if a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, but her partner does not, should the man be able to force the woman to carry the child to term?
Um, no – at least not without explicitly endorsing a position that is both anti-choice and anti-autonomy. If MRAs truly believe that men and women ought to be equal in the eyes of the law, and they believe that a person ought to have autonomy over their own body, then they must accept that women, as autonomous agents, have control over their own bodies. To argue otherwise is to show that MRAs in fact believe that women should be less autonomous than men. As MRAs are often so fond of saying, women and men’s bodies are different in some respects, and this is one of them. If MRAs don’t want to be fathers, then they should buy condoms, use them every time, and maybe get a vasectomy. Men don’t carry children; women do. Until this changes, the principle of autonomy would seem to indicate that the person whose body is being used by the fetus should be the one to determine its fate.
Well then, shouldn’t men be able to renounce their parental responsibilities in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?
They can. Parental Responsibility is a legal concept and one that men are able to renounce – provided that a guardian (such as a step-parent) is willing to take on the responsibility. Currently there is no way for a father to get out of paying child support for such a child however, unless a step-parent agrees to take that on as well. So what’s the lesson to take from this? Sex has consequences, one of which is the potential for parenthood. If a man has no desire for children and has no desire to pay for any potential children he may produce, he should a) ensure that he is responsible for birth control (condoms w/ spermicide, etc) and b) be up front about his lack of desire for children. It’s helpful to remember that these laws were put in place historically because men refused to take responsibility for a distressing number of children. Now that there are laws in place to protect women against the ‘bastardization’ of children by unwilling fathers, there has arisen a new source of tension; the rights of the mother and the rights of the child versus the rights of the father. By having sex, men implicitly accept that children might result and so implicitly accept the responsibility of caring for that child. Don’t like that idea? Don’t have sex. Pretty simple, really. Part of being a mature individual when it comes to sex and sexuality is to acknowledge the risks of sexual activity – including the risk of having children – and since any thinking man must recognize that at least half of the process is outside of his direct control, he must also recognize that there ought to be a level of trust between himself and his sexual partner. If he doesn’t have that trust, or doesn’t bother to find out if he does, then I’d say that’s a bit of a problem for him, isn’t it?
The only way that these rather petulant demands for a legal way out of paying child support make sense is if the man is looking for consequence-free sexual activity on his part. If that’s the case, then may I offer a suggestion?
The Justice System is biased against men, because women usually get custody of their children.
Women are more likely to get custody of their children, because women are more likely to ask for custody. In cases where men ask for custody, they often receive it. If a man wants his children, and if he can make the case that he can provide a safe home and a comfortable life for them, then he stands a pretty good chance of getting them. This myth of bias is most often ‘supported’ by anecdote or testimonial, not hard data. In the first place, the law in the United States gives no explicit preference to any gender, and second, more often than not custody is determined outside of the courtroom – either through arbitration or informal discussion.*
There is also a bit of an assumptive bias present here, because many MRAs seem to operate under the assumption that either women are more nurturing or that they at least appear to be. Either one of these positions effectively generalizes about the ‘nature’ of women or of women’s roles in society, and if true of MRA’s beliefs about women, indicates a sexist view of women that predisposes MRAs to think a certain way about women and mothers. In other words, if an MRA believes that women are ‘naturally’ better mothers (or society at large believes them to be), then he may be misled into thinking that legal institutions are therefore biased against men.
What about male victims of ‘false rape’ accusations? Surely men are more often than not the victim of such accusations, and their lives are ruined forever by them. Isn’t this wrong?
Yep, false rape accusations sure are terrible and wrong; thankfully there are few of them. It is an extremely difficult thing to pin down the numbers of ‘false rapes’ that are reported, and one of the largest confounding factors is that within the law enforcement agencies of the developed world (including the United States) law enforcement agents tend to believe that as many as 75% of all rapes reported are fake. This folk belief is not just troubling, it’s profoundly misogynistic. Imagine this: at your local cop shop, the chances are good that many of the men there believe that 3 out of every 4 women who report a rape are liars. And people wonder why so few rapes are actually reported. Of those rapes that are reported, studies seem to indicate that between 2%-8% might actually be fraudulent.** If MRAs are so concerned with ‘equal rights’, then they should be absolutely furious that so many police officers seem to believe that the majority of women are liars or vindictive bitches when the evidence indicates precisely the opposite.
This is another area of the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) where anecdote and second-hand testimony seem to carry the day. An example of this are the common ‘false rape’ threads in the “Men’s Rights” subreddit, where even testimonies of questionable validity are taken as gospel that women are all out to ruin any man who has sex with them, or that women will cry ‘rape’ even if the person she accuses is just a boyfriend who likes sex rough (even if she says ‘no’).
The point I’m trying to make is this: Men don’t need an advocacy group in the same way that whites don’t need a special ‘history month’. Men are the dominant force in our society. Men control governments, corporations, religious institutions, educational institutions, and charitable organizations. Yes, it is absolutely true that individual men can be taken advantage of, discriminated against, or made to feel weak, small, or inadequate, but it’s important to remember that it’s all taking place at the top of the social pyramid. It’s true that more men fight and die in wars, but only because until recently women weren’t even allowed to fight. More men are in prison, but more men commit crimes. That’s not the fault of women or of feminism; it’s not some gynocentric conspiracy to keep men down. It points to systemic problems (in a system run and organized by men, mind you) that place men in impossible positions. Some women can be accused of misandry, but that’s not the same as saying that the entire system is biased against men, because it’s not. Any man who thinks otherwise is simply not seeing his own privilege.
Feminism has often been called the “… radical idea that women are people”. What is it about this that MRAs have a problem with?
* Cancian, Maria, Meyer, Daniel R. “Who Gets Custody?”, Demography, Volume 35-Number 2, May 1998
** Philip N.S. Rumney (2006). FALSE ALLEGATIONS OF RAPE. The Cambridge Law Journal, 65 , pp 128-158 doi:10.1017/S0008197306007069
PS: One of the single most disgusting aspects of many MRM groups is the almost pathological need for member to engage in rape apologetics or to admit to a ‘technical’ rape, but argue that the rapist is, in fact, the victim. [TRIGGER WARNING] The links above (particularly the second) contain some fairly graphic and disgusting descriptions of what appears to be a full-on rape – a rape that is somehow ‘not really a rape’ for some fucked up reason or another.
Well, it appears that I am not the only one who has a problem with the rampant misogyny of the Men’s Rights Movement; the Southern Poverty Law Center, a social justice advocacy organization in the United States, has rightly chosen to add the movement to a list of movements that spread hate. Good on them. Maybe this will force the MRM to begin a serious round of introspection and reflection. There are legitimate issues that affect men that demand attention, but the current configuration of the Men’s Rights Movement does more harm than good.