So-called men’s rights advocates make me impatient. Yes, men’s roles are changing, and modern men need to think more about the changes. But men’s rights advocates are so vicious, so full of a sense of entitlement that I find sympathizing with them impossible. Instead, I am simply astonished that anybody could be so wrong in so many different ways at the same time.
I may not be an expert on identity, but I have been around long enough that I’m no stranger to the issues, either. From my own ups and down and self-questioning, I can say with some assurance that no one can build a healthy sense of identity based upon:
- A negative identity based upon what you are not. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a negative identity in the short-run; for instance, most boys and girls go through a period in which they claim to dislike everything to do with each other. But in the long run, a negative identity requires constant reinforcement. In the case of men’s right advocates, that means a constant and tiresome denunciation of women and supposedly feminine traits.
- Bullying or abuse. Not only are both socially unacceptable, but neither creates a stable personality.
- An assumption that you have the right to every woman’s time and space. Believe it or not, most women have their own priorities, which do not include listening to a man’s passing attraction to them, dealing with a man sitting too close to them, or putting their own concerns on hold for a man. Even a man in a permanent relationship can’t assume that; if he does, the relationship is unlikely to last long.
- A sense of privilege. While many people unconsciously think of themselves as the stars of their own movies, most people learn that other people are not extras in that movie. The learning process is called growing up, and it involves a reining-in of the ego.
- Considering yourself a victim of women (or anyone else). You can’t assert your own rights to self-realization by complaining when other people do the same. Ironically, the traditional gender roles whose loss men’s rights advocates frequently bemoan would find this attitude shameful.
- Equating the difficulties faced by modern women and men. With the changes in modern society, men feel uncertain. But women are also likely to face abuse and discrimination. The two are not even remotely comparable, no matter how much anyone quibbles and rationalizes.
- Trying to continue old narratives. Personally, I suspect that the old gender roles were never as simple as the nostalgia of men’s rights advocates would make them. At the most, people – mostly women – simply suffered in isolation. But, whether that’s true or not is irrelevant. Whatever value the old roles might or might not have had, they’re gone, and for strong social and economic reasons. They’re not coming back.
- Creating an imaginary opposition. In the case of men’s right’s advocates, this opposition is generally “all women” or “all feminists.” Either way, everyone lumped into the category is assumed to act or think the same way. This is a map so different from the territory as to be useless for anything.
- Not listening. Much of the rhetoric of the men’s right movement seems dedicated to denying the truths of women’s lives – claims that women really don’t face discrimination, that gender differences in pay are reasonable, that rape doesn’t happen as often as the statistics suggest, and isn’t so bad as women claim. The trouble is, these things are not only too well-documented, but – more importantly – too well-witnessed that anyone can do more than nitpick about the details. Not only is that a waste of time, but believing such things mean that you are acting on faulty intel. Act on faulty intel, and you end up doing things like invading Iraq.
- Anything so fragile as gender. Gender may be all-important to adolescents or to transsexuals trying to figure where they fit. However, for the rest of us, it’s not the only source of self-identity, or necessarily the most important. You need much more to build any sense of identity.
I could go on and on, but my point is clear enough: The men’s rights movement is based on half-truths and psychologically unhealthy. Its complaints are a form of mourning for a social order that never existed the way its members imagine, and the only reason not to dismiss it completely is that even an out-of-touch group can still be dangerous.