A Civil Exchange With a Men’s Rights Activist
December 6, 2009 § 15 Comments
In response to Factory, whose original post you can read in the comments section of our site or on his. Here is my response:
Well, let me open by thanking you for adopting a civil tone and actually addressing Christina’s original assertions, instead of hijacking the debate and taking it onto some other topic or a laundry list of accusations that we as feminists must account for. At least that’s what you did with your first comment, though the second betrayed the disdain and contempt you hold just under the surface for us. Still, it’s a welcome alternative to Paul “The Happy Misogynist” Elam (yeah, fuck you, Paul).
But I wanted to respond to you, so I took the time to address everything in your post. Let’s see if we can’t find a little common ground.
What most MRAs object to here is not that there are centuries-old sex-roles, but that they are “patriarchal”. This mainly sprouts from a general tendency to regard Patriarchy Theory as rather thinly veiled man-hate “justified” by a made-up history, twisted via the exclusion of the male viewpoint almost entirely. An opinion I happen to share.
OK, so MRAs reject the term “patriarchal” because it’s “thinly veiled man-hate ‘justified’ by a made-up history.” I’ll try to explain the history of the term—at the very least how I perceive it.
The word itself is derived from Greek, but the concept was taken from the ancient Hebrews. They believed that Yahweh bestowed onto man (and only man) all authority in this world—what with making Adam first and all—and their society reflected that. This idea, along with laws restricting the economic, political, and social rights of women, ensured that almost always it was the elite class of men (that is, the richest and the eldest) who wielded authoritarian control over their families and society. From the ancient Jews, it went to the ancient Greeks. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, they all believed that people were born women as divine punishment, which I think we can all agree is sexist as fuck.
However, it was not a view shared by all contemporary societies. The Egyptians and the Celts, for instance, had much more egalitarian ideas about the roles of men and women in society. Now, I’ll be careful to point out that I don’t believe that these societies were matriarchal, in any kind of corresponding sense; they just weren’t “sexist as fuck.” But Jewish philosophers picked up what Aristotle was throwing down and they couldn’t have been happier, and by the Middle Ages, the two philosophies had fused together. Muslim philosophers also endorsed the idea, though it all had an ambivalent relationship with Christianity until Thomas Aquinas (another sexist fuck: “Woman is a misbegotten male,” Summa Theologica) made it the official teachings of Roman Catholicism.
Over the following centuries, as Christianity and Islam spread across the world, this sexist attitude and the authoritarian exercise of power spread with them, becoming synonymous with the word “patriarchy.” These centuries during which it was taken for granted that women were inferior to men are what Christina was referring to when she mentioned centuries of “bashing and disinformation” (I think everyone mentioned above qualifies), a reference that you and the others trivialized or ignored. But how trivial would it be if men were the ones who had endured it? It wasn’t until the first wave of feminism, with writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Sarah Grimké, that this idea was publicly and effectively questioned. The radical feminists of the second wave took it ever further, but I’ll get to them in a second.
So, when a contemporary feminist uses the term “patriarchal,” they are invoking a history of sexism and authoritarian control—not all instances of male power. The villains of patriarchy are patriarchs. If we wanted to vilify all men, we would say “all men.” I for one am a man and I am no patriarch.
Would it make you feel any better if we used a different term? For instance, kyriarchy, which I mentioned in an earlier comment that everyone ignored. Would that help? If feminists talked about kyriarchy and kyriarchs, or is that still just man-hate? Do you honestly reject the historical fact that the people in power, the people controlling the wealth and the land and the laws, were (not all, but almost exclusively) men?
The people I hear using the phrase “real man” are nearly universally both women, and feminists.
So you claim men don’t use the phrase “real man” to belittle other men. I suppose they don’t need to since they have plenty of other phrases like “little girl,” “pussy,” or “mangina”—phrases that somehow link said men to females, the implication being that any man who behaves remotely like a female is not a real man. “Faggot” is another popular one. Fidelbogen suggests the term “collaborationist” for men like me, which equates me not with women but with Nazis, an equally inane and idiotic enterprise.
But this belays the fact that Christina was not using it in any derogatory sense from herself, personally. She was merely illustrating that patriarchal social and political systems (in the aforementioned definition of “patriarchal”) use sexist gender roles to belittle and harass any person (man or woman) who does not conform to them. She used quotes around the phrase not to indicate that this is the literal phrase used in every instance of sexism towards men, but to capture the essence behind the phrase as well as illustrating that it is a phrase of dubious value at best (think: air-quotes). You seem to have brought it up so you could hold us responsible for every hateful thing any woman has ever said to you or anyone you know, in response to which I can only very tiredly sigh. . . .
“When the patriarchal system says that women are the tender caregivers and not men, is it really any wonder why the courts are biased in favor of giving women child custody?”
Actually, back a few years ago, when women were “owned” (you know, The Patriarchy), child custody was nearly universally granted to men, not women (this was because the children were legally considered his property, I know). That alone makes your contention that it’s head-patting condescension leading to this imbalance tenuous at the very best.
First off, what do you mean by “back a few years ago?” Women have not been owned by men (at least in Western countries) for quite some time. Perhaps at that time child custody was nearly universally granted to men, but Christina was talking about contemporary courts. Let me rephrase it so you can perhaps see more clearly what she was saying:
“When a [sexist system of gender roles that permeates a culture] declares that women are [and should be] the tender caregivers and not men [who are oafish brutes whose domain is violence], is it really any wonder why the [contemporary] courts [have a cultural (social, philosophical, and legal) foundation for prejudices] in favor of giving women child custody?”
You also conveniently ignore such Feminist inspired (and implemented) gems as “no fault Divorce”, the Duluth Model (only men abuse, only women are victims) – and the sorry state of the DV industry as a result – which consistently bombards the public with messages that men are dangerous, paedophiles, and incompetent parents at best. We also talk about “father figures” in children’s lives as if they’re somehow equal with “father”…when do we say “mother figure”?
No she didn’t. She was simply talking about something else, the reasons behind the reasons, if you will. The cultural foundation. No-fault divorce, the Duluth Model, and the Domestic Violence industry are concrete consequences that naturally follow from that cultural foundation (among other things). Only your last point about “father figures” and “mother figures” (which I’d never noticed before but, now that you mention it, is pretty bogus) gets at what she was talking about, since the terms seem illustrative of the assumptions our society already makes. Perhaps if you’d given her a shred of credit, perhaps if you’d come here without already assuming we were enemies, you would have seen what she meant instead of focusing on what she said. Let’s let Fidelbogen stew on that one for a while. . . .
What seems to rub you guys the wrong way is our motivations differ strongly on which changes should take place.
Wrong. What rubs me the wrong way is the assumption that we are already enemies; what rubs me the wrong way is the rhetoric of war; what rubs me the wrong way is the willful ignorance of how shitty many women (in addition to men) have had it and still have it in life; what rubs me the wrong way is the full embracement of extremism and misogyny; what rubs me the wrong way is the arrogance that allows you to tell me what I believe; what rubs me the wrong way is the denial of who I am in lieu of what you want me to be. That’s what rubs me the wrong way, Factory. Paul has already decided that feminism is irrelevant because women were never oppressed. Gogo is so quick to label himself a martyr he can’t give us twelve hours to respond. Fidelbogen wants to redefine who I am and what I say. Tell me what I have to gain from listening to any of them?
We can’t be enemies because you don’t know me. Read what I say. Talk to me. Fuck the feminist movement, fuck the Men’s Rights Movement, if that’s what it takes. But if you come to my blog, remember you’re talking to me.
You seem to want men to be either exactly where they are now, or even more feminised.
What the fuck do you mean by “feminised?” Because that reeks of—no, that is sexist language based on the assumption that one’s gender determines what men and women should and should not be. I want people to have the freedom to determine their own identities. If that means they choose qualities that are traditionally seen as masculine or feminine to you, then so-fucking-be-it—so long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights. I want people to stop using power—in the form of social prestige, law, and money—to dominate others. If that makes them feminine to you, then so-fucking-be-it. I want people to agree that this world sucks in a lot of ways for a lot of complex reasons and that we can work to make it better. If that sounds the least bit feminine to you, then so-fucking-be-it.
If you want to get a better idea of what the MRM is, look at Feminism in the very early 60s.
OK, so this is the big one. This is by far the most frustrating thing that we have had to deal with so far, so I’ll be real clear. You say I should look at the feminism of the sixties to get a better idea of what the MRM is? Well guess what:
If you want to get a better idea of what feminism is, look at what feminism is now!
I am not, nor will I ever be, a radical feminist from the sixties. I was born in 1982. I do not, nor will I ever, agree with what some radical lesbian said forty years ago. And I do not have to answer for it. Those people were nuts. They probably did hate men. I don’t! When did I ever say I did?
Furthermore, your categorization implies an authoritarian center to that movement that did not exist. The feminists back then came from all walks of life, and that is even more true today. The feminists that you hold up as the models for all most likely belong to one of the wealthiest and most academic minorities. They were also one of the loudest, and because controversy followed them everywhere, the media focused most on them. They are also the feminists who would (with frustrating frequency) sell-out the lower classes of the movement for their own personal gain (they were usually white, usually well-educated, and usually wealthy). There is still mistrust between different branches of the feminist movement that falls along racial lines. There has been from the very first wave, when Sojourner Truth wrote Ain’t I a Woman. Paul talked about how women were idiots to ever question gender roles because they were all treated like royalty. But that rests on the mistaken idea that all women everywhere were subject only to the positive attributes of those gender roles and that those gender roles were actually accurate. Meanwhile, it was the common opinion all the way from antiquity up through the Victorian Era that women were literally inferior to men. That went doubly true for minorities.
The contemporary feminist movement is closer to a confederation of ideologies than one single unified voice. And it should be approached as such. I am not this “Feminist” you have constructed, just as not every liberal is Joseph Stalin, just as not every Christian is Pat Buchanan, just as not every Muslim is Osama bin Laden. You unfairly critique Christina for the “‘only following orders’ approach in reverse” by misinterpreting the metaphor. Blaming god for a fire is what the MRM is doing when they define the root cause of all men’s woes as “Feminism.” Everyone from the past (men and women) built this house we live in (society) and they did it with flammable parts (sexist gender roles). The fire—the blame, the hate—that’s an accident of history.
. . . socialization (read: feminisation) . . .
I’m biting back my anger because I want to reach an understanding with you, but you betray an insidious sexism here.
You laugh at feminists because fifteen years ago they were too busy focusing on their own problems, which were (and are) plentiful, to help men with every single one of theirs? You were told to get off your ass and do something because there weren’t enough people and there wasn’t enough money. I’m glad you went off and started doing stuff yourself, but that’s not why you get vilified. You get vilified because you twist feminism into an ideology of hate and you respond with hate in kind.
…and once again, the MRAs try to engage in serious conversation, while the Feminists dissemble, insult, display contempt, and totally avoid saying anything of substance…. (ellipses in original)
If your “serious conversation” is turning us into straw men and brow-beating us with your talking points, then, yes, you can expect us to end that conversation. You call us cowards when we don’t want to talk to you. Wonderful, more hate.
I read your Catalog of Anti-Male Shaming Tactics. They were very familiar, because they’re exactly what I’ve had to deal with as a feminist, and if you flip the gender on nearly every single one then you get what other feminists have to deal with every day. I think this speaks more to the nature of sexism than anything about feminists or MRAs. We feminists could even write a dictionary of our own, though the comments section of your Catalog and another post, “What Would Life Be Like Without Feminism?” serves that purpose pretty well already. You and others label feminists and women (but mostly just women) as “brainwashed” and irrevocably insane, as though they didn’t have good reasons to believe as they do, almost as though they aren’t human (or at least fully functioning ones). “Twits,” “femifascists,” “hoary rugmunchers,” the gems just keep coming. Then there’s my favorite comment, courtesy of Khankrumthebulgar:
[Feminism] is the most evil Movement in modern history. In terms of the innocent lives taken. It eclipes [sic] Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, Mao TseTung, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, Atilla the Hun, etc. It is akin to a Religious Cult. Denying Human biology, Reason, Empirical Evidence, Logic and Science. It is a form of Mental Illness. And it is plunging birth rates everywhere it is being embraced.
But then, not be outdone, there’s Reverend Porkchops:
When a woman marries a man, she is essentially consenting to sexual intercourse with said man, thus it’s impossible from a legal perspective to charge a husband with raping his wife.
Because he asserts that a marriage license means women lose autonomous control over their bodies, as though their bodies were property.
Was there ever a time during the posting of that or the reading of any of the subsequent comments when it occurred to you that you were creating an environment that perpetuates the sexism that you claim to abhor? Or do you genuinely believe that sexism only applies when it’s perpetrated by women against men? The ad in the upper-right-hand corner of the site, which objectifies both men and women, is merely the icing on the sexist cake. I’m sure you justify it all to yourself in a way that somehow exonerates you from any sexist guilt but, for whatever reason, does not apply to the “over 90%” of feminist responses you receive.
The Men’s Rights Movement, at least the movement I’ve been in contact with for the past few days, has not positioned itself against sexism. It’s positioned itself against feminism (or rather “Feminism”), which it insists are the same thing. As you said yourself, “many of us define ourselves as ‘counter-feminists’ instead.” But you’re clutching onto this definition of feminism that just does not apply to the greater contemporary movement. We have so much in common. I’ve been reading about many of the goals of the MRM and I don’t think I outright disagree with any of them. Marriage, divorce, and sexual harassment laws should be amended, just as education, employment benefits, and health care need desperately to be improved. Genuinely false rape accusations should be punished severely, and punishments for crimes should be equal and proportionate for all criminals. It was even the National Organization for Women that passed a resolution in 1980 opposing a male-only draft as discriminatory, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project that provided aid to the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Rostker v. Goldberg. We can work together. We can.
But, if any of you ever actually cared to listen, you might be a little shocked at what men are deciding for themselves.
And, if you’d bother to open your eyes, you’d see that I am a man, and I’m a feminist.