Sunday, 3 June 2012

Feminism and "Men's Rights Activism"

I aspire to be a feminist, but cannot fairly say that I am one. There are people who believe in feminism and there are actual feminists, and I'm no Rebecca Watson, though I admire her work greatly.

This is largely because I really have no starting point to try to comprehend challenges that women face. I was born to this world to well-off, white, upper-middle class parents. Every bit of discrimination society has historically practised works out in my favour. As much as I want to support feminism I really don't know how I can contribute beyond calling out sexism where I see it and not being sexist.

And then this happened. While Jimmy Zinn is a real flake, MRA (Men's Rights Activism) exists. What this approximately says is that gender imbalance now favours women over men and we need to push back.

Somewhat surprisingly, it believes many of the demands of MRA can be met as feminism achieves its goals.

All their arguments play on the same trick - they have enough familiar truth in them that they sound believable, and have reasonable sounding conclusions. The problem is that their conclusions are based on the assumption of a bias against men that doesn't exist. This makes the arguments quite persuasive - I really believed a few of them for a while before seeing how much there is left to do for feminism.

Arguments for MRA fall into a few categories, I'm going to try to tackle one at a time.

Women abusing their spouses isn't taken seriously
The plausible truth: While there is clearly truth behind this, and TVTropes list many examples from media. There is a mainstream perception that a woman beating up a man is funny. There was even an episode of Friends about it, largely playing it for laughs.*

While it seems that society is getting better about this, the problem is that men who admit to being abused by their spouse are seen as weak for not standing up to their weak little wives.

Ah. There's your problem! Until society is comfortable with men and women being equal partners in a relationship, this isn't going to go away. Until society starts treating women as human beings who are just as capable and worthy of respect as men this isn't going to go away.

If you want abused husbands to be taken seriously, support feminism.

Also related: The groin attack, played for laughs. (Not sure when I stand on this. In a slapstick environment I do tend to find this very funny.)

Women control the dating scene / a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
This sounds counter-intuitive as men are expected to make the first move, but many do see this as putting women in control. Even in the very open world of online dating, where women can make as many first moves as they like and no-one can know or judge them for it, OKCupid still has to compare the success of women's profiles in terms of "number of new contacts per month" (average 7.5), with men using "replies per first message sent" (average 0.6). Men are putting themselves forward for the women to pick and choose, apparently.

So maybe the dating scene is a woman's world. Sit back, wait for the cute guy to nervously make his approach. Maybe toy with him for a bit. That's what they do in the films, right? What if he doesn't approach? Could I approach him? But I wouldn't want everyone to know I did, because ...

And now MRA falls down.

In making the first move, the woman indicates she is sexually available, and seeking and someone out there will try to slutshame her for it. Either that or she'll find that men she never expressed interest in suddenly act as though they are entitled to her, because she was outwardly available. What. The. Fuck?! Men are expected are to be sexually available, but its still taboo for a woman to do so.

The only way  this will ever be balanced is if we stop treating women who are sexually available as second-class people. Support feminism.

* Season 5, Episode 15: The One With the Girl Who Hits Joey


  1. I had typed out a long response that basically just agreed with you. Boiled down:
    The most helpful way I've found to think about gender inequalities is in terms of patriarchy (that is, male domination of our culture and society). Each of the rigid gender roles which are enforced by the patriarchy has pros and cons. Unfortunately for women, it's incredibly biased towards men.
    MRA means having a problem with the disadvantages that come with the male role. That's fine; discrimination is bad. Let's all fight discrimination.
    But feminism is the idea of undoing the patriarchy, of stopping the male domination of our society. If they fight feminism they're fighting what will most help their position.

    An illustrative example: patriarchy says that men aren't supposed to care about their looks, and women are.
    Men get laughed at/harassed for wearing revealing/skimpy/skintight clothes. Women get catcalled and harassed for the same thing. Both groups suffer, but in different ways.

    On being a feminist. I don't think you need to be part of a minority to be one (in fact, that would be a self-defeating system.) If you try to challenge misogyny (and, more broadly, the patriarchy) you can reasonably think of yourself as a feminist.
    As a man, I found the male privilege list quite enlightening:
    And, reading around your link, I found a female privilege checklist:
    Caveats: no experience is universal, these are based on statistics and trends. I think that they do effectively demonstrate how discrimination can be traced back to gender roles.
    (Also, don't read them and start feeling like a monster because you're a man. It's no more your fault than anyone else's.)

    1. Really insightful stuff: thanks for the link to the Male Privilege Checklist.