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Posts Tagged ‘men’s rights’

To anyone who tries to observe accurately, men are clearly the privileged gender. However, this observation is likely to generate a hostile response from certain types of men, because they do not feel privileged. They have heard their right to privilege questioned, and seen their privilege somewhat diminished in the last few decades. The diminishment does not go nearly as far as it should, so far as I am concerned, but, because their privilege forms a major part of their identity, the change is resented out of all proportion to its effect. To far too many men, being male is a major part of their identity, which is particularly difficult because the traditional roles no longer work.

In the last century, traditional masculinity took two blows it has never recovered from. First, in North America and Europe, two generations were decimated several times over and warped by the loss of millions of men in the two World Wars. Some of the survivors returned home handicapped or suffering trauma, others eager to put their experiences behind them and become an economic success.

Neither of these attitudes made many of the survivors ideal role models for their children. As a result, several generations of men had to re-invent masculinity for themselves.

Lacking examples, many stalled in adolescence, which is often a time of exaggerated and over-simplified gender roles. Instead of learning responsibility for their dependents, the use of their physical strength for others, or any of the other expectations that could sometimes make the traditional masculine roles acceptable, they focused on the superficial – swearing, drinking, watching sports, and domination without responsibility.

In particular, as adolescents often do, they developed a negative identity, defining themselves primarily as not being women. A negative identity is always a shaky basis for anyone’s sense of self, but what made this identity particularly unstable was that the necessities of war time had also caused women’s roles to change as they actively helped the war efforts. The result was that the basis for many men’s identities shifted. Add the reduction of domestic work due to automation, and the liberalization of many laws, and by the 1960s, many women realized they no longer needed to depend on men.

Since male identity depended on a disappearing view of women, the change in the female gender role suddenly left many men with no sense of who they were – a problem that many men still struggle with today. Rather than adjusting to the changes, they prefer to lament them, evoking a view of traditional masculine roles that the men of the past would probably openly despise. Rather than learning from the example of feminists and starting to examine their own roles, they obsessively blamed women for destroying their sense of identity.

Those men who escaped these dead ends have done so mainly by building identities that are not based on their gender. Their senses of themselves are based on their accomplishments or sense of ethics. Rather than viewing themselves primarily as men, like feminists before them, such men have struggled to identify themselves as humans first, and to consider their biological sex as a detail only relevant in one part of their lives. Unlike the Men’s Rights Activists, they have tried to develop an adult sense of themselves, one that is self-contained and not dependent on women’s roles.

There are many advantages to this new definition of masculinity, not least of which is the possibility of actual friendships with women. However, to men who invested so much in a distortion of the past and in not being women, this new definition is unacceptable. They call men who adopt it effeminate, as though the old insult has any power over those whose identity is self-contained. The truth is, they have too much invested in their confusion and resentment to move beyond it into anything healthier.

They would rather condemn or attack, and assert their own psychosis than consider any other alternative – and, unfortunately, there is no easy way to make them re-evaluate themselves. A few learn flexibility as they realize that their wives and daughters benefit from feminism, but for the most part, they continue the confusion and the hurt by passing their perceptions on to other generations, condemning their own sons to a distorted and corrupt perception of themselves, ensuring that their self-inflicted misery will continue.

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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.

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