Category Archives: feminism

A Quick Book Review (and some shameless self-promotion)

I’m going to take a break from ranting about gender issues to share some exciting personal news: I’ve participated in an essay project that got me published for realsies, in an actual book that you can buy and hold in your hand.  I’m more than a little excited, and also a bit intimidated, since some of the figures in the men’s movement that I greatly admire are co-contributors to this book (notice me, senpai!).  The book is called Daughters of Feminism, and for what it’s worth, I’m credited under the name Elizabeth Jack (non-coincidentally related to the name Jackalope).

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You can get yourself a copy here.

Shackleton (whom I’ve been corresponding with lately for another project) compiled essays written by women about their personal reasons for supporting gender egalitarianism rather than ideological feminism, intended as a sister publication to Janice Fiamengo’s Sons of Feminism, where men describe their experiences with discrimination and other men’s issues in the context of a feminist world.

I knew I was going to eat this up regardless of its content, because I’m in it and only human, but please don’t take my ringing endorsement with a grain of salt.  There are some really fabulous, engaging, insightful essays in this book.  It opens with a transcript of one of my very favourite talks, given by Cassie Jaye on the subject of motivated reasoning and ideological tribalism (if you don’t wind up reading Daughters of Feminism, please watch this talk — it’s magnificent), and ends with an insightful critique of the feminist movement written by Fiamengo.  The authors run the ideological gamut, from gender liberals like me who just want a more balanced approach to the progressive discourse, to hard-line traditionalists, and everything in between.  Some women explain why they were never sold on the feminist narrative, while others detail long and often painful personal journeys from feminism to gender balanced or men’s rights activism.  Some focus on the reasons they feel our current paradigm harms and demeans women, others list their personal experiences with men and men’s issues.  One woman provides a fascinating analogy between the progression of a romantic relationship, with all its excitement, lulls, and opportunities for toxicity, to the trajectory of the relationship between men and women as groups in the West.  There is something here for everyone.

Of course, I don’t agree with all of my co-contributors.  Some of their life philosophies and conclusions are polar opposite to mine.  But I love this because it demonstrates that one can come to an egalitarian perspective from any direction.  Regardless of your personal ideology, all it takes is compassion and an open mind to agree to the shared goal of gender equality.

It’s worth a read.  Go get yourself a copy!

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Filed under activism, antifeminism, equality, feminism, men's rights, misandry, personal, Uncategorized

Things That Are Not Misogyny (because they’re misandry)

Let’s talk about a phenomenon commonly discussed on the Left:

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When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

This sentiment comes up frequently in feminist rhetoric, usually along with the truism that people rarely give up power willingly.  The idea here is that people don’t often recognize the advantages they have, because these conditions are part of their daily lives and they have nothing with which to compare their own experience.  This is the philosophy behind the concept of privilege checking.  A white person, for example, is unlikely to acknowledge all the ways in which he doesn’t suffer the particular types of racism that affect black people, simply because he’s never suffered them.  He doesn’t know what his life might be like as another race, so he might not realize some of the ways in which his life is different from theirs.  When he’s talking to a cop who is less likely to perceive him as a potential criminal, it often won’t occur to him that the experience he has might not be a universal experience.  He might argue, “I’ve talked to lots of cops, and I’ve never seen them behave this way.”  His argument is sincere, but limited, because he hasn’t seen the way some cops treat other people.

Generally I agree with this sentiment and the importance of trying to think outside one’s own bubble to understand the experiences and perspectives of others.  While I strongly disagree with the way privilege checking and its surrounding philosophy is used to shut down conversations and silence people perceived as privileged, a metric to determine someone’s credibility and moral authority on the victim hierarchy, its original purpose before identity politics and tribalism misappropriated it was to facilitate understanding between groups with vastly different experiences.

The white person in my cop example might roll his eyes when he hears about police brutality, feeling that the situation is blown out of proportion and that white people are under unfair scrutiny in the pursuit of more equal criminal justice.  The cop himself might feel even worse when he is held to stricter standards that might prevent him from acting on a prejudice, but might also increase his risk of harm in the line of duty.  In these ways and many others, it’s easy to perceive a move toward equality as a step away from it, if you are the one who was advantaged in that arena, causing you to feel harmed or attacked and oppose the change. When you feel this way, it’s beneficial to try to think outside yourself to understand the situation from the perspective of someone else.

While a lot of the above arguments might come across as uncharacteristic or unusually SJW-esque to much of my readership, the reason I bring this up is because I’d like to turn it around on one of the movements that likes to use this type of rhetoric the most.

If you’re a regular reader, you might already be familiar with my article “On Gender and Privilege,” in which I compare many of the statistics and phenomena used to identify racism against black people to the experiences of men and boys.  I’ve said many times before that women are the white people of genders, but many women don’t see it that way.  I would argue that this is due to a combination of confirmation bias and the fact that most women, by virtue of their singular perspective, don’t see the ways in which they are actually advantaged in western society.

When I say confirmation bias, I refer to the way women are taught by socially ubiquitous beliefs and references to expect that others will mistreat them on the basis of their gender.  Because of this assumption, commonly held from an early age by many women and girls, universal human experiences and individual events will be interpreted through a very specific lens.  For example, when someone refuses to take a man seriously, he is likely to interpret the experience as a single event, perpetrated by a single actor.  He’ll think, “that person is an arrogant jerk,” and leave it at that.  But for a woman, this is often interpreted as having a gender-prejudiced motive which represents not just the attitude of the actor, but of society at large, even when there is no evidence in the conversation itself on which to base this interpretation.  While the man might think, “that person is condescending,” the woman will think, “that person is mansplaining.”

Similarly, if a man is passed up for a promotion, he may think, “nepotism is the worst,” or “my boss doesn’t appreciate all my hard work,” or “that person must have buttered him up somehow.”  Or even “maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was.”  A woman in the same position is more likely to presume that she was passed up because of a gendered prejudice on the part of her boss, conscious or unconscious (especially when that assumption prevents her from having to face potential shortcomings of her own).  Now, repeat this difference infinitely, through bad communications, rude interactions, workplace misfortunes, poor treatment, and other unpleasant experiences throughout life.  You can see how any negative interaction, to a feminist woman, might appear to corroborate her view that many people are prejudiced against women, regardless of whether or not any of those experiences came with evidence of that prejudice.  And since she has never lived outside female experience, and she likely won’t listen to men about their own, she’s been unable to debunk this misinterpretation by comparing her experience to someone else’s.

Women are given by popular culture and ideology the cognitively distortionary tools to believe that they are disadvantaged beyond what an objective observation of their experience might suggest, and this exacerbates the effect described in the quote above.  An individual is already unlikely to see many of the privileges they enjoy, by virtue of only having experienced life as themself.  Add in a foundational belief that they suffer oppression or discrimination on a broad and institutionalized scope, and they are even less likely to see their own advantages.

As for women’s privilege, Fred Hayward put it well in The Red Pill:

If women are so different from men that men can’t understand the female experience, and we need to listen to women describe it, then the male experience is so different from the female experience that you can’t understand it.  You need to listen to us.

Women have a great deal of social and institutional advantages that most of us simply don’t see, because we have no idea what it’s like to not be a woman.  The result is that we often refer to many phenomena as misogyny when they simply aren’t.  Sometimes this is a normal human experience being perceived through the lens of confirmation bias, sometimes it’s a move for equality that upsets a position of privilege and makes us defensive, and sometimes an advantage that a woman does not find satisfactorily advantageous is perceived as a disadvantage.

The following examples have come from talking to men about their own perspectives, or simply experiencing life while considering what it might be like to not be a woman.  These are phenomena that are often perceived as examples of misogyny, which I will use to argue that the true underlying phenomenon is actually misandry or female privilege.

 

Growing Old and Online Harassment

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Men don’t age better than women, they are just allowed to age.

We’ll start with something simple.  This famous Carrie Fisher quote was meant to communicate the belief that women past reproductive age have lost all societal value, that actresses are washed up once they are no longer conventionally attractive, and that regular women are too.

I, of course, don’t agree that society stops valuing women once they reach middle age, and I think the likes of Betty White and Maggie Smith would agree with me, as they continue to be well respected and consistently employed figures in media entertainment, known for both their work as actresses and their charitable work off the screen, and continue to receive awards and recognition well into the years most people would have long sought retirement.  No, they’re not being cast as protagonists in romance flicks, but neither are Brad Pitt or Leo DiCaprio.

So what’s really happening here?  When you’re an attractive young woman in the media, you’re on the cover of women’s magazines, hired for commercials, known as iconically sexy, and you turn up in the fantasies of millions of men and boys.  You’re the center of attention and an example of what to be, constantly interviewed about your lifestyle, nutritional regimen, and the beauty products you use in the hope that other women can be like you.  You’re practically worshiped.  What this looks like for regular, non-famous hot women is that people are extra polite to you in public spaces, they go out of their way to strike up a conversation, they buy you drinks, compliment you, laugh at your jokes, and are more willing to help you when you need it.  You’re even at an advantage in interviews and the workplace.  In short, attractive women get treated way better than other people.

Feminists will argue that this is merely self-serving behaviour: men are more polite, more giving, and more accommodating to attractive women because they have hopes of sleeping with them.  My answer to this is so what? Not only is this nicer treatment not exclusively from men, but if someone goes out of their way to treat me nicely, I don’t really care why they’re doing it.  The result is the same.  I’d still be getting doors held for me, drinks bought for me, and help carrying heavy things.  If I have to say “I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I’m not interested” a few times in exchange for almost universal better treatment, that’s a deal I’m more than willing to make.

But what happens to this attractive woman when she hits her forties or fifties and the free drinks start to dry up?  She starts to feel invisible or neglected.  She worries that she’s done something wrong, or that her time is over, or that she’s not valued as a human being anymore.  I can understand where the feminists are coming from, for the same reason I can understand how a white person interacts with a cop and doesn’t see what the big deal is.  It’s easy to see how, when Carrie Fisher aged out of her position of Hot Actress DuJour, or when Jane Smith the Regular Hot Lady stopped being greeted every day on the sidewalk, either of these women could feel slighted or ignored and criticize society for this, because neither of them realizes that now that they’re not hot women anymore, they’re being treated the same as everyone else. Meanwhile, the woman of average or lower attractiveness (let alone a man) would kill for a free drink or the kind words of a passing stranger, and to them, Fisher’s comment that women aren’t allowed to age comes across as entitled and ignorant.

It’s not that women aren’t allowed to age, it’s that attractive women who have aged no longer get treated better than the average person.  To them, equality feels like oppression.

 

A similar phenomenon is the way women react to treatment in online spaces, particularly gaming spaces and anonymous forums.  Women frequently report rudeness and harassment from other users in these contexts, and it has become a major feminist issue discussed extensively by people like Anita Sarkeesian.  What the women who experience this treatment don’t seem to realize is that online shit-talking is a fairly universal behaviour, directed at anyone and everyone, regardless of their sex.  But women are used to being exempt from the sort of banter-insults familiar between men and boys.  Women aren’t used to being told things like “OP is a faggot” or given death threats for dying in a game, so when they enter online spaces where a culture of hyperbolic banter is already established, or where anonymity facilitates nastier treatment of all, they interpret this behaviour as targeted, gender-based harassment.  Even though online harassment is understood to be experienced about equally by both sexes (while threats of violence are more commonly directed at men and sexual remarks at women — who’da’thunk that someone trying to get under your skin might tailor their insult based on what will get the biggest rise out of you?).

Once again, women who are used to generally polite treatment feel targeted or mistreated when they experience normal treatment.

 

Chivalry

My boss is from a more conservative, traditionalist country.  Recently he raised a lot of eyebrows by suggesting that the men should bring chairs in for the women before staff meetings, so that we don’t have to do it ourselves.  Many of my coworkers over the next couple days, particularly male coworkers, were overheard complaining about the sexism of this request: how demeaning, to imply that women can’t carry their own chairs.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate being stood up for when I think it’s warranted.  But I didn’t feel at all insulted by this incident.  From where I’m sitting (comfortably, in a chair brought for me by somebody else), chivalry doesn’t look misogynistic.  It isn’t a gesture to imply that women can’t open their own doors, must sit while men stand to preserve our fragile frames, or that basic tasks are beyond us.  There is absolutely no reason to assume anybody thinks these things. (Are the rich perceived pathetically weak and incapable of cleaning their own houses?)

Chivalry is a code of conduct used to condition men to be women’s servants, in many of the same ways that nobility was served in older times.  Holding doors, offering seats, standing while others sit, performing simple favours, and deflecting any suggestion that he ought to do otherwise are all typical forms of deference offered by a lord or lady’s attendants.

Men have been taught to serve women, and like my coworkers, they only question this when their service is considered offensive by their masters.  It’s so hard to find good help these days.

 

The Military and Representation

When the military is all-male, women often see this as exclusionary or discriminatory.  I see where they’re coming from.  There is no reason to prevent a capable person from pursuing their interests.

This is related, I think, to women’s frustration with fiction, particularly of action heroes where male characters dominate, as well as the male majority in high profile careers.  Women look to these things and hypothesize a glass ceiling preventing us from success in the fictional and non-fictional worlds.

A much simpler explanation is that throughout history, as it has been women’s burden and repressive role to bear children and manage domestic tasks, it has been men’s burden and repressive role to protect and provide for women, risking their health and giving up time with their loved ones to fulfill these demands.

Heroes in fiction (and in reality) are usually men because it is men’s blood we have always demanded, men who have been required, by norms or by conscription, to risk life and limb to protect their family, community, and country while women are kept safe.  It is men who have been taught that it is honourable to fight and die so that women and children might live.   Exemption from this requirement is an expression of love and compassion, not condescension.  While fiction is thankfully more flexible than reality, it stands to historical reason that male characters are more often associated with these burdens.

As far as the military, it represents the very epitome of male disposability.  Until very recently, like the Colosseum, the military has been an institution of male slaves, torn from their families and forced into a bloody death for the glory of their leader.  A woman being angry that she hasn’t been asked to join the military is like a white person being angry that she hasn’t been asked to pick cotton.

Similarly, there will never be gender parity in any field of work as long as there is not gender parity in the social pressures for success.  While women have the social freedom to pursue any career interest, men are viewed as failed husbands or failed men if they do not make a living that allows them to provide for their families.  This pressure leads to the predictable male majority in fields that provide money and prestige at the cost of sleep, peace, privacy, and time with their families.  Since women are not seen as deadbeats for doing so, they tend to pursue lower-stress careers with better hours, offering them more time and energy to spend with the people they love and on tasks they enjoy.

Which is to say, women are less represented as action heroes, scientists, elected representatives, and business executives for the same reason we are less represented on oil rigs, garbage trucks, the battlefield, and coal mines: women are not expected on pain of ridicule and ostracism to pursue these paths for the benefit of others.  We have the advantage of pursuing them only when we are interested in doing so.

 

Transmisogyny and Homophobia

It is often said that trans women and gay men are ridiculed and discriminated against because they are feminine, and the feminine is seen as “less than.”  This philosophy is also applied to any stigmatized male behaviour (cross dressing, interest in stereotypically female activities, showing emotions, etc.).  It is said that there is a hierarchy of gendered expression, with masculine males at the top and feminine females at the bottom.

There are some major flaws in this interpretation.  Most obviously, women aren’t stigmatized for feminine behaviour; they’ve historically been encouraged toward it. If the feminine were categorically stigmatized, women wouldn’t be encouraged to be feminine.  They’d be punished for it.  This makes it apparent that it isn’t femininity which is seen as “less than,” but deviation from one’s prescribed gendered role.  This is most severe in males, since 150 years of feminism have granted women virtually infinite socially acceptable mobility along the gender spectrum.  Trans women (seen as men by everyone who mistreats them) are significantly more stigmatized than trans men, and most reports of violence and murder in the trans community affect trans women.  Meanwhile, gay men are subject to four times as much hate crime as gay women.  Women who deviate from their gendered role, thanks to generations of activism and normalization, are at most congratulated, at least seen as standard.  Women who wear pants, appreciate sports, or work outdoors are commonplace.  Men who wear dresses, appreciate makeup, or knit sweaters are subject to ridicule, ostracism, and in some places even violence.  This isn’t because masculine things are good and feminine things are bad.  It’s because female deviation from pre-industrial roles has been painstakingly and relentlessly normalized by gender equality movements, while the male role has remained largely untouched and unexamined.

The phenomenon of transmysogyny, therefore, isn’t hatred of a trans woman for being a woman, and homophobia toward gay men isn’t hatred of the stereotypically feminine, but rather both are discrimination against a person perceived as a man who is behaving outside the narrow and repressive boundaries of the male role, a type of discrimination from which females have long since been liberated.

 

Dating, Romance, and Sex

Women are quick to describe the experience of relentless harassment, objectification, and other unwanted attention by men who want to date or sleep with them.  This is treated as a major feminist issue.

I wrote about the heterosexual dating dynamic in my last article, and the criticism I received was largely based on its perceived bias, painting women as advantaged in the sexual marketplace.  I did my best to detail as many pros and cons of both sides as I could, but ultimately I own this bias, because women are, unequivocally, advantaged in the sexual marketplace.

Women have been taught to see validation, appreciation, and the desire for love as sexist imposition.  While a woman may experience a deluge of messages in her Okcupid inbox as pestering and reading them as a chore, a male user will stare forlornly at his empty inbox and wish for a shred of the validation women are accustomed to.  He must put in endless effort, reaching out to as many women as he can in the hopes that someone will return his interest, knowing that few women will unless he is clever, funny, charming, thoughtful, handsome, and confident without being too forward.  Meanwhile, she sits on a digital throne sorting through supplicating suitors, and has the nerve to call this a women’s issue because most of them fail to meet the unreasonable standards she has set to impress her.

If she does decide to meet someone, he is now met with the task of impressing her in person.  He is expected to pay for her meals, drinks, and cover charges while they are out, unless she is a member of the particular branch of feminism which sees this as demeaning or an expression of the expectation of sex.  If this is her interpretation, she fails to see that the expectation that he pays isn’t an insult to her, but a statement that her time is worth more than his.  She has the privilege to eat and drink for free, because he knows that his task is to win her over.

In a relationship, she is to be treated like a princess, proven his worth, pampered, pleased in bed, and showered in gifts and affection.  There is very little suggestion or expectation of the reverse.  Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and even weddings are about pleasing her and giving her a day she’s dreamed about.  Even music indicates this dichotomy.  When a woman is singing about pursuing the right man, she don’t want no scrubs, that don’t impress her much, and you gotta rub her the right way.  When a man is singing about pursuing the right woman, he would buy a big house where they both can live, he’ll be your hero baby, and when a man loves a woman, he’ll give you everything he’s got.  It’s clear: in love it is a man’s task to impress, provide for, protect, and make her comfortable.  Reciprocity is not expected or required.

If she is on the street, she is likely to read staring, compliments, and even greetings as harassment or a demand of her time and attention.  Instead, like a monarch of the ancient world, she expects men to avert their eyes and speak only when spoken to, a level of deference not due anyone else in a democratic society.

The idea that women are at a disadvantage in the dating scene could only be arrived at by the ignorance inherent in significant and staggering privilege.

 

It is common for women to interpret any perceived slight, inconvenience, or discomfort as sexist disrespect because women are used to being pampered, validated, and pandered to, usually without even realizing it.  When any other group expresses this misconception, they are called privileged and told that their feelings are invalid, only felt due to their ignorance of the struggles of others from which they themselves have been exempt.  Why is it, then, that when women are exempted from conscription, showered in gifts, given male servants, treated like princesses, and constantly validated, do we accept the argument that women are oppressed? How is this different from the white supremacist claim that white people are treated the worst of all?

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Filed under antifeminism, feminism, gender roles, misandry, misogyny, privilege, sexism, Uncategorized

On Gender and History

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I’m really surprised that I haven’t written on this yet, since it’s something that so fundamentally underpins my perspective on gender issues and relations. Unsurprisingly, my view of gender, history, and power is not the commonly accepted view. I don’t see men and women as part of a gendered hierarchy by which women are subordinated under men’s power. And even more controversial, I don’t think it has ever been that way.

Gender roles are and always have been a division of labour by biological aptitude, a set of reciprocal entitlements and responsibilities under which neither gender was objectively better off than the other. If women can be said to be oppressed by their expectation throughout history of motherhood and relegation to the household sphere of duties and childcare, despite their entitlement by virtue of being female to any protection and provision their male relatives could provide, then I see no reason not to say that men were equivalently oppressed by the expectation of hard and dangerous physical labour, providing for their families, and participation in war, despite being entitled to more overt political rights in some socioeconomic groups. Even in modern times, can we really say that the women who are not allowed to drive or leave their homes without an escort in oppressive theocratic nations are definitively worse off than the men who are tasked with going out into the very dangerous world and enduring hard labour to provide for them, or drafted into the military as adolescents or children? Gender roles aren’t unilaterally harmful. They’re restrictive and harmful to everyone, especially under pre-industrial or third world conditions.

Sure, women didn’t have individual property rights until fairly recently in history, but they had the right to occupy, use, and benefit from the property of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons, who were tasked with providing them food, shelter, and protection. Women didn’t have overt political rights, but they ran their households, which gave them influence over their husbands and sons at home, and they raised children, effectively having the power to govern society from its root by shaping who individual men and women would become. Further, almost every woman had a household to rule, but very few men throughout history had the chance for any political power at all. Just because the tiny minority of politically or religiously powerful people in the pre-industrial world usually constituted far more men than women doesn’t mean that men had more power or advantage than women across the board. That tiny proportion of powerful men tells us very little about what it was like to be the common man or woman.  The average male peasant through the vast majority of generations had no more ability to influence his government or state than his wife did.  He had no more opportunities than his sister to become a lord or cardinal, and he did not benefit from sharing a physiological quality with those who were.

Under gender roles, women were expected to spend their days cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, and to risk their lives in childbirth. Similarly, men were expected to spend their days wearing out their bodies in fields. They were expected to risk their lives by protecting their families from intruders or wild animals, to go to war where many would experience indescribable suffering, and to be the last pulled out of a burning building. Yes, women were kept in the kitchen, patronized, and talked down to. But men were used as pawns whenever the king or lord wanted to squabble with neighbouring powers.  Women were treated, in many ways, like children, but men were treated like cannon fodder.  Both sexes suffered from a lack of freedom, respect, and human dignity, but in different ways.

The word “patriarchy” gets used a lot to describe this division of roles, but it seems simplistic and disingenuous to refer to the above scenario as a system of male dominance and female subordination or a system where men benefit at women’s expense. Men and women benefited in ways, but men and women were subordinated to their roles. Men benefited by having some property and political rights, and having their homes taken care of. Women benefited by having a near-guarantee of protection and provision, and exemption from compulsory projects like the draft. Men were subordinated to a role that destroyed their bodies in wheat fields and risked their lives on the battlefield. Women were subordinated to a role of labour in the home and the more dangerous labour of bearing children.

But neither of these roles were implemented out of spite. In a much older world, they were necessary. We didn’t have factories, breast pumps, baby formula, tractors, or many of the other modern conveniences that allow practical mobility along the gender spectrum. We had women, who could bear and nurse children, which made them incredibly important but also very vulnerable. And we had men, who were built with far more muscle mass and bone density, and thus the physical strength and constitution to dig ditches, work iron, build walls, and fight wars. Thus, over millennia women and men were separated, as they are in the rest of the animal kingdom, into roles that were suited to them by their respective unique physiological abilities. A man couldn’t stay at home and feed the baby even if he’d wanted to, and a woman couldn’t go out and lift heavy things for 16 hours, physiologically speaking. (Women could do less physically demanding jobs, though, and in fact, brewing and weaving were common enough female professions that the surnames Webster and Brewster have been historically passed from mother to daughter. Baxter – for bakers – is another example, and midwifing was a more or less exclusively female profession for most societies.)

Then the industrialization happened. Up sprung the factories, allowing traditionally male work to be done by just about anyone (including children – there’s a downside to everything). It is no coincidence that this was when feminism also sprung up.  However, by the time most women were physically able to do what had been men’s role for all of human history, it was a long established norm that each gender had their sphere, and ne’er the two shall meet.  So, like any other harmless deviation from long-established norms, they had to fight for their right to mobility across those spheres, even though the physiological barriers no longer applied. Which is to say, women weren’t kept out of male spheres because they were considered “less than.”  Women were kept out of male spheres, and men out of female spheres, because we had a very specific, socially enforced, bilateral division of labour.  You’ll notice that now, 150 years later, there is no stigma for women working outside the home, but men who want to do what was traditionally women’s work (from nursing and childcare to being a stay-at-home dad) still face a great deal of stigma and ridicule.

This is because when feminism arose, it sought to eliminate women’s gendered role, and the disadvantages associated with it. I am glad we have had a movement to liberate women from relegation to the home. I’m glad I can vote, choose any profession, go to school, buy a house, and use birth control. I’m glad for Roe v. Wade and the Equal Pay Act. But I am so disappointed in the unilateral nature of the movement that gave us these things. The feminist movement took a one-sided look at a complex and bilateral problem, and addressed half of it, the half that affects women.

Without a broader gender equality movement exploding into the mainstream sphere as feminism did, men are still held to exactly the same traditional male roles, from the trivial (it is normal for women to wear pants, but men cannot wear skirts without severe judgment) to the extremely disadvantageous: men’s historical role as protector means that men alone must sign the draft registry, although muscle-dependent swords and shields have long since given way to tanks and jet planes; and similarly men’s historical exclusion from the female sphere of childcare means that men lose the majority of custody battles, while still being expected to foot the bill for their children’s care, even though men could just as easily be the primary parent or women the primary breadwinner in today’s society.  Men protect, and men provide, and there’s very little else that they have the opportunity to do, because we have done nothing to change the role they filled when feminism started to address women’s.

Men also face a tremendous amount of disadvantage due to schemas associated with being seen as the actors, protectors, and aggressors of society.  For example, every criminal justice bias we point to as evidence of racism also affects men. Because men are seen as aggressors and agents, people who do not need protecting, people who commit but do not suffer violence, they are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced than women. Men on average receive 63% longer sentences than women, when controlling for the crime, criminal background, and other relevant factors. Women, on the other hand, are regularly dismissed as perpetrators by judges who do not believe such a thing could exist, or who know that no jury will convict a woman. This disparity evokes the days when a man could be arrested for his wife’s crimes or held responsible for the debts she incurred before marriage. Men were, and still are, viewed as actors and do-ers, while women, any time a man is involved, are viewed as beings to whom things are done.

This is especially troubling when we get into issues of domestic and sexual violence, which, due to the prejudices I listed above, we view as male-perpetrated acts of violence against women, even though they are committed at least as often by women against men. There are only two men’s shelters in the US, so when men seek refuge, they are regularly turned away. When men call domestic violence hotlines seeking help, they are routinely referred to batterer’s programs. When they report victimization to the police, they are about as likely to be assumed the primary aggressor and arrested as they are to be assisted. Never mind the disappointingly prevalent police officers who will unabashedly laugh in your face if you try to tell them a woman raped you.  This is a clear manifestation of the traditional belief that men can and should take care of themselves, be stronger than those who would try to attack them, and protect others.  A man who cannot defend himself from an assailant is not a protector, and thus renders himself invisible or worse.

For some background information, the MRM is fundamentally a human rights movement that seeks to dismantle men’s traditional roles, not a group of outdated traditionalists as the popular myth suggests. An MRA is necessarily opposed to gender roles, which are the cause of most of the issues we raise. It is important to understand, for example, that we as a society permit men to be drafted, circumcised, and socialized to take dangerous jobs because their well-being was not and is not valued under a gender role system. They are labourers and protectors, not the protected.  It’s “women and children first,” “end violence against women,” and headlines like “60 Confirmed Dead, Including 4 Women;” not “save as many as you can,” “end violence against everyone,” or “60 Confirmed Dead, Most of Them Men.” It’s #bringbackourgirls, not #avengeourboys.

Men’s job, according to their gender role, is to wear down their bodies to provide for their families and risk death to defend them. In centuries past, we couldn’t afford compassion for people in that role.

This goes well beyond “patriarchy hurts men, too.” If we lived in a system adapted for men’s benefit at women’s expense, in which women were seen as less than, men wouldn’t be the majority of the homeless, overworked, and suicidal. They wouldn’t be asked to sacrifice themselves in mines and on oil rigs so that their wives and daughters can have food on their tables.  They wouldn’t get half the federal funding for their cancers that women get for ours. They wouldn’t get their genitals cut at birth, while girls are protected by law and basic human decency from ever having to experience that. Men would always have access to their children, and they wouldn’t be extorted for their care when women have every reproductive option available to be or not be a mother. In a patriarchy, women would be punished, not ignored or enabled, for raping or abusing men. Women wouldn’t be the only victims we care about, and men wouldn’t be the majority of those shipped off to die in times of war.  In a patriarchy, men, not women, would be the group whose issues get attention and redress, rather than an elaborate network of women’s organizations and government initiatives forwarding women’s issues while widespread censure and protest stand in the way of the same progress for men.

The popular understanding of gender roles is skewed and one-sided. Patriarchy Theory is a polemic oversimplification that ignores half or more of the gender issues we face as a society. Men didn’t make this happen. They aren’t accidental casualties of their own arrogant folly. They are and have always been just as much a victim of the narrow and now-obsolete system of gender roles as women.

The only difference is that we’ve spent the past century and a half addressing women’s side of the problem.

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Rape Culture: A Comparison

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While discussing issues surrounding sexuality and gender I encounter a great many conversations affirming the idea that we live in a rape culture, a society that excuses, normalizes, or even condones particularly male perpetrated sexual violence toward women and girls. Considering today’s third wave intersectional feminism, which declares itself diverse and inclusive of people of all colours, shapes, sexual orientations, and a wide variety of gender identities, I find it interesting that I still keep encountering this simplistic, exclusionary, unilateral understanding of violence and violence acceptance: it is women who are raped, men who do the raping, and this specific gendered practice which society does not take seriously enough.

As a female survivor of male assault and an anti-violence activist, I’m more than familiar with the public and private responses to any experience like mine: an automatic outpouring of empathy for the female survivor and pitchfork-wielding anger directed toward that person’s male attacker. I’ve seen this time and again with little variance, no matter where I go, no matter my audience, to the extent that I would be genuinely shocked if I stumbled upon anyone who blamed me or dismissed my account of those events.

This, of course, is good news, but I have struggled in vain to find that same compassion and understanding for my many acquaintances and loved ones who have suffered the same or worse, but are male or whose assailants were female, who I am regularly told don’t exist, don’t matter, or are unfortunate but not part of the “real” or “larger” problem we need to address (never mind the way I’m dismissed when I tell of my experiences at the hands of other women). If you’ve read my blog before, you know that my thesis on the subject of rape culture is that it is victims outside this male-on-female model, including LGBT individuals, but especially male victims of any kind, who are widely swept under the rug, neglected, blamed, and mistreated when they are raped. To illustrate my point perhaps more succinctly than I have in the past, here is a simple pop culture comparison.

 

In 2012 multiple Steubenville high school football players took egregious advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk at a party. There were members of the district staff who were aware of the incident but kept quiet, and some even attempted to cover it up. When the story broke, the American people were quite justifiably in a blind rage about this, calling for the heads of the rapists, coaches, and district. Two boys and a staff member were convicted and sentenced. Many other staff were forced to resign and charged, and these events even allowed other cases to be uncovered and addressed within the same district, which appeared to have covered up other assaults, as well as cases of child abuse.

This story is frequently held up as an example of rape culture, despite the outrage expressed by pretty much everyone at the events, despite the fact that most of those involved have been held criminally responsible in accordance with due process, and those who weren’t have lost their jobs, status, and reputation. In this culture where it is supposedly normal and acceptable to rape women, rapists were tried and convicted along with those who enabled them, and everyone’s reputation was smeared across the country in a sensational news story among echoing cries for castration and death.

In 2015 Brock Turner took advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk. The two men who discovered and helped her were hailed as the heroes they are. The rapist plead guilty, was convicted, and was sentenced, though his sentence was abnormally light, offensively lenient. When the story broke, the American people were, again very justifiably, foaming-at-the-mouth angry. They called for the heads of the rapist and the judge who sentenced him. When Turner was released from prison there was another wave of outrage as the public was reminded of him and his callous crime, solidifying his name in history as synonymous with a host of ugly and well deserved pejoratives.

Like the previous case, this story is considered a quintessential example of rape culture, despite the outrage it sparked in every corner of the country. It has been widely used to argue that rapists get off easy due to a lack of public interest in punishing them, even though there are currently over 15,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons for sex crimes, even though the average sentence for convicted rapists is about 10 years, not the three months young Brock got away with serving. Turner’s fate is in no way typical for his crime, even less a consequence of his gender, especially when you consider how much more leniently female rapists are treated under the law. It’s overwhelmingly apparent that it was the wealth and influence of Turner’s family that got him off easy, not his sex. And yet this case is iconic in the conversation surrounding the theory of rape culture, used to promote the idea that the American people are okay with women getting raped and don’t care if rapists are punished.

However, in stark contrast to these news reports, a year prior to the events of People v. Turner actress and comedian Amy Schumer gave a speech at the Gloria Awards and Gala. She detailed a story from her college days in which she, sober as a judge, took advantage of a male peer who was so drunk that he couldn’t stay conscious. The line “Is it still considered head if the guy falls asleep every three seconds?” stands out in my mind. And this wasn’t an apologetic admission of guilt, either. This speech was an empowerment story, a brag about how she used a mentally and physically incapacitated person to regain her confidence in her body and her sexuality.

And this time, there were no torches, no pitchforks, no public outcry at all. There was no court case, and no judge held accountable by the people to give a proper and deserved sentence. In fact, there was applause. Social media was ablaze with an outpouring of love and appreciation for Schumer, and she was hailed across liberal news outlets as courageous, empowering, and feminist. She was praised for this speech on Huffpost, Gawker, Bustle, Vulture, and the Washington Post, to name just a few.

Amy Schumer committed exactly the same crime that earned the likes of Brock Turner national vitriolic outrage, and yet the few journalists who tried to point out that her actions even constituted rape were largely ignored or dismissed. There’s even an article entitled “No, Amy Schumer did not give a speech celebrating how she raped a guy,” in which the author blames Schumer’s victim on the grounds that he drunkenly initiated some acts (conspicuously ignoring the fact that Schumer painstakingly described him as being so wasted that he was not himself, had little motor function to speak of, and that he repeatedly lost consciousness during the encounter), and even suggested not-so-subtly that he was the one taking advantage of her due to her dissatisfaction with the experience in the moment.

If either of the women in the above criminal cases had initiated their encounter before passing out, would that have made the men involved not rapists? Would those men have become her victims, rather than the other way around, had they reported feeling uncertain, disappointed, or disgusted by her drunkenness while they raped her? Is there any conceivable excuse by which their actions would not still have been universally and emphatically condemned? Is there any conceivable order of events in which Brock Turner or Ma’lik Richmond would have been praised for penetrating a drunk, unconscious woman?  Imagine feminist pundits and journalists, members of a movement whose platform is largely centered around its opposition to sexual violence, hailing those men for their courage had they told their stories on a stage with the goal of empowering men.

No. The difference is clear: Amy Schumer, a woman, is celebrated for raping a man, while men who are caught committing such acts against women are met with conviction, prison time, and the uncensored hatred of every American who reads the news.

So tell me, which gender’s rapists are widely condoned, excused, or swept under the rug? Who is most often told they are asking for it? Who is blamed for their victimization? Who is ignored, laughed at, or disbelieved? If any national news story is to be held up as an example of rape culture, it is the story of Amy Schumer’s speech, in which she brags publicly and unabashedly in front of cameras about raping a young man, and is met with congratulations, in which anyone who objects to her actions is dismissed as hyperbolic or confused, in which the national conversation about rape and the way it’s addressed continues to exclude female perpetrators and male victims because they are generally believed to not exist or not to merit discussion. This is what rape culture looks like.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have no doubt that there are cases in which women are mistreated by the criminal justice system while attempting to report victimization. I’m sure that there are places where women have been disbelieved or told they shouldn’t have been drinking, however patently condemned this practice is by the overwhelming majority of our society. My argument that this sort of treatment is not considered acceptable and is not ubiquitous should not be taken as an ethical statement excusing it. Officials who actually do behave this way should be exposed and punished.

But everyone is aware that women can be, and sometimes are, the victims of sexual assault. Law enforcement and social workers are trained to anticipate female victims of male assailants, and to believe and assist the woman accordingly. Everyone is horrified when male rapists appear in the news, especially when they fail to be properly punished. (Of course, if more women were aware of this, rather than buying into the narrative that they will be disbelieved and blamed by the public and the criminal justice system alike, more women would probably be willing to report.)

But further, male rapists do appear in the news, earning those news stations hoards of outraged viewers. They don’t get laughed off as unusual or silly. Unlike men, women are not assumed to always want sex; their gender and sexuality are not treated as indicators of blanket consent. Men and boys are taught to be respectful and that one of the worst things they can do is take advantage of a woman, while girls get no such lesson. Unlike men, women who say no are not called homophobic slurs or considered less of a woman. Male perpetrators are not celebrated or represented as a comedy trope. Women aren’t laughed at when they try to report, nor are they told there’s no such thing as a female rape victim or that they ought to be happy they got laid. No one hi-fives them or calls them lucky. Female victims are immediately met with compassion when they reveal themselves as such to any audience; they don’t have to seek out small online communities within a fringe human rights movement to find someone, anyone, who is willing to give them empathy and understanding for their suffering.

The majority of the neglected, ignored, and blamed rape victims are male. If you’re going to discuss rape culture, you wouldn’t just be remiss, you’d be neglecting the bulk of the problem if you didn’t address the way we respond to male victims and female rapists.

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The Fourth Wave

Many modern feminists decry the fairy tale narrative of the princess who needs to be rescued. I, too, much prefer the story in which the princess rescues herself.

Based on this sentiment, I find it contrary, then, that so many modern feminists are intent upon achieving their ends by begging men and the establishment for their legitimacy, as if it were someone else’s choice if we are legitimate. Rather than focusing on being equals, they instead demand to be viewed as such. Rather than demonstrating our adequacy and excellence to earn respect, many women merely demonstrate their grievances to earn sympathy. I find this unbecoming of an empowered 21st century woman, especially in light of the movements that preceded us.

The first wave addressed legal inequalities. They said “we can do it,” and then they proved it. They did this by demonstrating their competency, their tenacity, their strength, and their courage. Because of them, we have property and voting rights we might not otherwise have had, enabling us to better participate in our politics and economy.

The second wave addressed systemic inequalities (albeit with some really terrible offshoots of postmodern thought interspersed between their advancements). The women of the second wave used strength of will to pursue their goals, kicking down social norms and laughing at anyone who suggested they were incapable or bound for failure. They sought to prove that they were as formidable as any man in any field, and they were largely successful. Their hard work enabled us to control our bodies and better pursue our careers, among other accomplishments.

But the third wave seems to have done away with that will and excellence in favour of more emphasis on postmodernism, and rather than “we can do it,” women declare that they can’t, instead requesting help, handicaps, and accommodations. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, they don’t seek to be treated the same as any man. They seek to be given considerations and provisions that men don’t receive, putting forward their perceived injury as justification for the kid gloves with which they ask to be handled. In the name of women’s empowerment they ask to be treated as fragile, helpless, and incapable, so pitiful as to justify policies that often neglect or harm others (like the original VAWA and the erosion of due process), or policies that are downright degrading to women.

They ask for affirmative consent policies, predicated on the idea that women can’t advocate for themselves, that we are too helpless to discuss our preferences and boundaries without the intervention of our partners and the state, and that we are so under the thumb of social pressure that we lack the strength of will or cognitive power to say “no thanks” or “I’m not interested.”

They ask that traditionally masculine fields specifically recruit and cater to women, as though we were not capable of pursuing our own interests without being marketed and pandered to, as if we need someone’s permission and a flashing neon invitation to become doctors, engineers, physicists, or economists.

They claim that women are harmed by things as inconsequential as a compliment on the sidewalk or a scantily clad image in a game, that the expectation of wearing makeup and bearing children is too great for our fragile wills to overcome by mere examination and choice.

They ignore the incredible strides women have made in the past 150 years, treating us as injured children rather than the force to be reckoned with that the generations before us proved us to be.

The “we can do it” attitude of the past empowered women to move forward and succeed, while today’s approach instead mires women and girls in fear, learned helplessness, and self doubt. Which would you rather teach your daughters? I want the next generation of women to be respected, not pitied.

If there is a fourth wave, and if I have anything to say about it, it will be a movement to reclaim women’s dignity. If this movement can come to pass, I will proudly call myself a feminist:

She was patronized, insulted, and stripped of her agency. She was called ignorant for believing in her strength and hateful for seeking to dismantle the structures that unjustly benefit her. She was discouraged by dramatized narratives of discrimination and bigotry, frightened by falsified violence statistics, and threatened by those who wished to silence her.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

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On Subjects and Objects

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Laci Green, from her video on objectification

Lately I’ve been mulling over some thoughts on the subject-object dichotomy that feminists talk about sometimes, and I think there’s a grain of truth to it. While I disagree with many of the ways feminists characterize it (particularly that it is unilaterally harmful), there is definitely a binary paradigm of actor and object by which we view men and women respectively, and this is true within both feminist and traditionalist gender philosophies.

Men are viewed as agents, as actors: assertive, capable, and often dangerous. They are viewed as protectors and providers, and sometimes even as heroes, or as the perpetrators of violent crime. Men are the ones, as the perception goes, who make the first move in the dating scene, negotiate shrewdly in business, rush into burning buildings, and violently harm others. In positive and negative ways, men act.

Women, conversely, are viewed as victims. Women are definitely objectified, but not sexually. We are objectified by the idea that women are leaves on the wind, that our fate is to be guided by social norms, controlled by tradition and society, and victimized by violence. Women are acted upon.

Thus it is easy for us to garner sympathy by describing the ways in which we perceive we are acted upon. When we are or believe we are victims of violence, mistreatment, systemic disadvantage, or bad luck, we are viewed as the sympathetic protagonists of a story of struggle. People are willing to listen to our complaints, come to our aid, and rally behind us. The other side of this coin is that we are ignored, apologized for, or minimized whenever we act as harmful agents (either toward ourselves or others). When we commit acts of violence or mistreatment, when we make mistakes or otherwise fail to act responsibly or respectfully, we are told it isn’t our fault, and our victims are swept under the rug. When we fail to express a lack of consent in sexual situations or attempt to negotiate for better pay or a higher position, we are seen as victims of socialization and cultural pressures, rather than individuals who made choices. When we act violently against another person (especially if that person is male), we are excused, presumed to have acted in self defense, or dismissed as though our actions have been minimally harmful.

If we put our hand on a hot stove, we are victims of that stove’s mistreatment. If we put someone else’s hand on the stove, we are victims of the stove’s coercion (and this plays out regularly in courts when women are charged with a violent crime).

A man’s identity, however, is tied up in his agency. He has responsibilities as a man, and he is seen as less of a man if he does not fulfill them, including providing for his family, sacrificing for his loved ones, and the competent execution of his life goals. As such, it is not part of the general conceptualization of men to be the victim of violence or systemic disadvantage. When men are victims of these, they are ignored or explained away. Men themselves will often acknowledge, for example, that as males they are more likely to be victimized by violence, but will still argue that violence against women is worse or more of a problem. This is because of the strange cognitive dissonance that happens when someone who conceptualizes himself as an agent or actor is acted upon by forces outside his control. Usually he is assumed to have done something wrong or stupid to earn the event that happened to him (such as in the case of violence victimization or the gender gap in criminal justice), or to have sought it out or enjoyed it (such as in sexual assault). He is seen as having failed to fulfill his responsibilities as an agent, or questioned for complaining at all. As such, most of mainstream society is reticent to accept that men can be legitimate victims. Or if they are, they are victims by virtue of other factors (such as the black victims of racist violence, who are seen by their colour but never by their gender, unless they are female).

If a man puts his hand on a hot stove, he is blamed for his foolishness and expected to learn from the mistake. If someone else puts his hand on a hot stove, he is likewise blamed for his inaction to prevent the harm that is done to him (such as the many male victims of partner violence who are asked, “why didn’t you fight back?”).

A woman’s identity, on the other hand, is often tied up in her victimhood or reception of action (especially for feminist women, but again, this is not specific to the feminist worldview). She isn’t seen as less of a woman if she demonstrates competence or agency, but she is inundated with ubiquitous messages about her victimhood, and her supposed inability to transcend that victimhood. In stories, the villain is identified by his willingness to harm her, and the hero by the sacrifices he makes to protect or rescue her. In real life, she is told even by those who purport to empower her that she will meet barriers in almost every part of life erected by those who actively seek to prevent her success. She is taught that the world will place her into an unfair role from which she will be unable to deviate, as though her personal choice to do something different were immaterial or unable to be actualized. She is told that she is likely to be harmed by others, regularly showered in skewed statistics about violence that, if she believes them, will make her fear for her safety whenever she is in public. She is taught to carry keys between her fingers and cover her glass in bars, but ultimately that if someone means to do her harm, there is little she can do about it. She is taught to be afraid of those pesky actors, men, who are very likely to harm her just by their natures.

Feminist advocates will assert that she needs a social movement to overcome gendered expectations (such as that to shave her legs or become a mother), as though she lacks the ability as an individual to choose her own behaviours, aesthetics, and pursuits. They will tell her that she cannot overcome the existence of sexist assumptions without sweeping policy changes and ubiquitous social campaigns. She is taught that real, insuperable harm is done to her by men finding her attractive, catcallers, magazine ads, and beauty standards, reducing her to hollow, childlike puppet to the culture, media, and beliefs of those around her. Meanwhile, a traditionalist father will threaten to sit on the stoop with a shotgun to scare off any men who come knocking, presuming their ill intent and her inability to consent, effectively deny consent, or ensure her own safety.

Apart from this, not only is she ignored or excused when she acts in a way that harms herself or others, but she is generally conceptualized as someone who cannot or does not act, not in positive or negative ways, not to prevent herself from being harmed, not to harm others, and not to move forward and be successful on her own merits. She is a non-agent, and as such it is practical or even necessary that she be afraid, vigilant, and protected and supported by others. But of course, because of this perception, she is protected and supported by others, even when she doesn’t need to be.

Obviously both of these perceptions, reinforced in a host of ways by feminism and more traditional viewpoints, are harmful to both men and women. But in many cases, as Warren Farrell puts it, “men’s greatest weakness is their facade of strength, and women’s greatest strength is their facade of weakness.”

Of course, each side has its own privileges as well. Agents are given the respect of presumed competence and autonomy. Women are, quite rightfully, tired of being infantilized. They should be treated as beings who are capable of directing their own destinies, as men are, rather than frightened with fear narratives and patronized with social campaigns. Conversely, victims are afforded empathy, compassion, and the willingness to help (and they are subject to lesser consequences for harmful or foolish actions). While an excess of victimization leads to infantilization, fear mongering, and a lack of respect, a dearth of it leaves real victims without the help they need. Sometimes men need help from others, and it’s a real tragedy that we are so reticent to acknowledge this, let alone provide that help.

It would benefit all of us to consider both sides of this coin and the harms we perpetuate when we, feminists, traditionalists, and everything in between, promote this binary narrative of subjects and objects. The world is not divided into male actors and female victims. Men and women can act and be acted upon, and we would do well to remember this as we wade through all the false statistics, skewed definitions, and popular wisdom describing men and women as centuries-old stereotypes of human beings.

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Women’s Rights Part 1: On Reproductive Freedom

I find myself more and more often repeating this sentence in debates with feminists: American women have more rights than men. To most people this is a shocking and unreasonable statement at first, due to how directly it contradicts conventional doctrine, but I think anyone reading this would have a hard time coming up with a legal right that American men and boys have in 2016 that women and girls do not (if you can come up with one, I’d love to hear it).

Now consider, for example, that baby girls have the right to bodily integrity, and are not permitted to be circumcised at birth. Or that women are not required to sign the draft registry at 18. Or that women and girls have access to shelters, hotlines, and other state-funded and prescribed services specifically geared toward them when they are victims of partner violence. I could write an essay on each of these, and I eventually will. This is the first in a series of essays that address cases of female legal privilege, rights that women and girls have in the first world that men and boys do not.

As if my ideas aren’t controversial enough, today I’m going to talk a little about abortion. More specifically, about reproductive rights.

This debate has been ongoing and ugly. Its emotionally charged nature has led it to become one of the more polarized topics of discussion our nation has seen. As a result, both sides have been reduced to absurdist straw men. Liberals who believe in bodily autonomy have been painted as baby killers who have no respect for human life. Conservatives who believe a fetus is a person have been described as flagrant misogynists who are pretending to care about protecting the unborn so that they can wage a war on women out of pure spite. This is a debacle that I’d like to think we’ll all be embarrassed by in a decade or two.

Personally, I fall squarely in the pro-choice camp. I think bodily autonomy is one of the most important human rights, and the freedom to choose to or not to be a parent is definitely up there too. Becoming a parent should always be a choice, one that is well thought out, decided out of a genuine interest in child-rearing, and never forced upon anyone by circumstance. I side with the (reasonable) feminists in that a woman’s right to contraception and abortion, women’s reproductive freedoms, should be secured, maintained, and expanded.

But here’s the side of the coin that almost never gets discussed: What about men’s? Even with the difficulties women face in this arena, we have far more reproductive freedom than men do.

First off, we have access to the overwhelming majority of contraceptive options, from pills and patches to shots, to IUDs and Nuvarings, to emergency contraception, and that’s just a brief summary. We can discuss if or to what extent these should be provided to us at low or no cost by insurance companies or the state, but the fact is that we have them. They were developed for our use and we are free to use them.

Should any of these myriad options fail us and we do become pregnant, we still have an array of options. We can choose to terminate the pregnancy (albeit with some difficulty, depending on things like location and wealth). We can carry the pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption. Or we can surrender the baby to a police station, hospital, or other safe haven, no questions asked (in most states, this is immediately considered legal parental surrender, and the infant is adopted as a ward of the state, at no legal risk to the mother), and we can do this or any of the above without so much as asking the father.

Alternatively, we can choose to become pregnant, have the baby, and raise it, needing no one’s permission to do so.

While it’s reasonable and admirable to fight to maintain these rights and make them more accessible to all women, in the most basic sense, we have the right to every imaginable resource in the process of deciding if we are parents or not.

Men aren’t so lucky.

In terms of contraceptive choices, men have condoms, and that’s about it. No pills, no shots, no patches, no implantable devices.  Granted, condoms are nice because you can see them, and most of us can feel whether or not one is in place. It’s obvious if a condom isn’t being used, is being used incorrectly, or fails. You don’t need to say that you trust someone to use a condom. It will be immediately apparent if they are not. This is not the case with women’s contraception. A man must trust that the woman he’s sleeping with is being honest about her contraceptive choices and is using them correctly. (This is not an accusation of deceit toward women as a group, by the way. Some women deceive their partners, just as some men do, but there are also women who are uninformed about the use of their chosen contraception. For example, not all women know that some forms of birth control are less effective while taking certain antibiotics.)

Legally, a man has no say in whether or not his female partner becomes pregnant, or what measures she may take to ensure or prevent pregnancy. She isn’t legally obligated to to adhere to his wishes, or even to disclose this information to him.  Should a condom break, birth control fail, or a female partner has been dishonest or poorly informed concerning her contraception use, sexual intercourse is treated as consent to fatherhood, even though it is not consent to motherhood. Obviously, he does not have the right to demand that she not become pregnant or have an abortion (which is admittedly reasonable – it is her body that is in question), but the only way for him to ensure he doesn’t have a child, with all its entailed responsibilities, is to be abstinent. She gets the final say on all baby-related decisions, and regardless of his opinion on the matter, he foots the bill.

A non-custodial father is responsible for child support regardless of his consent for the child to exist, regardless of his awareness of the child’s existence at birth. According to one Chicago judge, he can even be held responsible for the support of a child conceived with sperm he didn’t use for vaginal intercourse. The woman in this news report used sperm from oral sex to impregnate herself against her partner’s will, and the court has ordered him to pay $800 a month in support of that child. Even more outrageous, this expectation can apply even when the woman became pregnant by sexually assaulting the father, even when the father was a minor at the time of the conception. Sex with a woman, any sex, even non-consensual sex, is legally taken as consent to fatherhood.

I want you to take a moment to picture what the evening news report would look like if a judge had ruled that a female statutory rape victim must pay her rapist child support so that he can raise her child.

As a man, you can find out that you’re a parent, which you had no interest in becoming, even if the mother deceived or raped you, you owe hundreds or thousands of dollars, and whether or not you have that money, it’s a felony offense to fail to pay it. There are very few ways in which an American citizen can be imprisoned for poverty, but according to a 2009 South Carolina survey, one in eight inmates was incarcerated for failure to pay child support. That’s over 1200 people in the state of South Carolina alone, just in 2009, who were imprisoned for the heinous crime of having sex while poor.

A friend of mine (who has given me permission to tell this story) has been arrested on such charges. I’ll call him Mike. The child in question had been the result of an unplanned pregnancy, conceived long after he and the mother had discussed that Mike wanted no part in fatherhood, but she decided that she wanted to keep the baby. When the child was born, the mother, who did not live with Mike, agreed to take care of the infant herself, needing no help practically or financially, until she discovered that in order to access services like Medicaid, she needed to make an attempt to collect child support from the non-custodial father. She filed the claim and an amount was set. He was far too poor to make the payments by any reasonable standard, working a minimum wage job and barely making ends meet before child support came into the picture, but that didn’t stop the state trooper, who pulled him over for a dead tail light, from arresting him and carting him off to the county jail, where he was stripped, searched, and thrown into a cell for two days, most of that time having no idea why he’d been arrested in the first place. Mike has emphasized to me over and over what an unpleasant, confusing, and dehumanizing process it was.

The day of the hearing, the judge was disinterested in Mike’s insistence that he barely made enough to support himself alone, and did not have the money they were asking for, or else he’d gladly pay what was owed. The judge was accustomed to and tired of such pleas.  Mike was told firmly that he’ll pay, or he’ll go to prison. After being released, he wound up dramatically cutting his own living expenses in order to avoid another arrest. This required moving from his apartment to a camper on a friend’s property and eating so little that at one point he was close to starvation. All for the care of a child he hadn’t planned, hadn’t asked for, and to whom it had once been agreed that he would not be responsible.

Later, the mother of Mike’s child admitted to him that she did not need the money to meet the child’s needs, and could have ended the requirement at any time after being approved for the health insurance. But she enjoys receiving several hundred dollars in the mail every month, and doesn’t want to stop the flow of free money. So every month Mike pays. He is fortunate enough to have a better paying job now, and is in no danger of starvation, though that doesn’t stop me, as his friend, from being angry with his ex for putting him through all this, and angrier with the system for allowing such exploitation.

Mike’s case may sound extreme, but there are millions of men across the country who struggle to pay court ordered payments on pain of imprisonment.  In fact, a majority of child support arrears are owed by the very poor, parents with an income of $10,000 or less, whose median dues are set at 83% of their income.  Imagine being charged more than three quarters of your income for the crime of fathering a child.

Is this shameful extortion really the best way to ensure that the children of separated parents are appropriately cared for? You can’t feed your child from prison, after all. And when you get out, it’s not so easy to find a job that will support both you and the non-custodial child. Less severe deterrents include confiscation of the delinquent father’s driver’s license, another measure that does nothing to assist him in collecting an income that would help him make his payments. These methods seem better designed to punish men for being poor than to provide funding for the care of a child.

Court ordered child support is a violation of men’s reproductive freedom. Just as women are permitted by law to surrender all parental rights and responsibilities even after a child is born, men should have this right as well: the right to choose parenthood, rather than being forced into it. Many MRAs refer to this concept as “financial abortion,” but I would compare it to the safe haven laws that women have access to. Men who wish to be in their children’s lives, as many fathers do, are free to financially support those children to the best of their ability, and men who have no interest in fatherhood should be free to waive all rights and responsibilities associated with a child that may have been conceived and born without their consent, just as a woman has the right to waive her parental rights and responsibilities.

As far as ensuring the well-being of the child after such responsibilities are waived, we already have many social programs for helping single mothers raise children they wish to keep, from Medicaid to WIC to housing and heating assistance to other grants, and I’d be happy to see these programs expanded, unified, and made gender neutral (since some custodial parents are fathers) to ensure that no child goes hungry. A child’s well-being should not depend on its parents’ willingness or ability to pay for its needs. Child support should be a social program, not a punishment for an unwilling father. This solution would be far more effective in ensuring that the child’s needs are met, without extorting the non-custodial parent into poverty and cyclical incarceration.

Now let’s take a look at the other side of reproductive rights: the right to parenthood. A woman needs nobody’s permission to be a mother. If she can become pregnant, she can be that baby’s caregiver, barring any extreme behaviours that any reasonable person would agree would make her an unfit mother (such as severe drug addiction or child abuse).

Men who are separated from their children’s mothers, on the other hand, are unlikely to see their children even as often as the mother does, even if he is paying child support. According to 2009 census data, only 18% of separated fathers are the custodial parent. More comprehensive data from 2007 showed that a mere 20% of fathers had equally shared custody.  More specifically, to counter the frequent feminist point that this disparity is because men simply do not sue for custody, in a five-year study of 2,100 Massachusetts fathers who sought custody, only 29% were awarded primary custody of their child.  Other similar studies have had different findings, but the fact remains that many custody courts favour mothers.  I have known many loving and devoted fathers who have been fighting ongoing legal battles for years just for the right to see their children at all.  Meanwhile, women’s rights organizations like NOW have unapologetic published stances in favour of a “primary caregiver presumption” for mothers, arguing that fathers who seek primary or equal custody of their children are merely abusers trying to get closer to potential victims.

Some feminists will argue that the expectation that a woman is more suited to parenthood than a man is an an unfair assumption of women, part of the female gender roles we should dismantle. I can’t say I disagree with this (being myself a woman without an ounce of maternal instinct to speak of), but this argument misses the point.  Yes, it is wrong to assume that a woman is especially fit for parenthood just because she’s a woman, but fortunately courts do not routinely award women child custody against their will.  They do, however, often reject men’s appeals for custody.

In short, despite the many salient and necessary conversations that are ongoing about women’s reproductive rights, men are left completely out of the discussion, even though their rights are far scanter.

A woman has the right to use a vast array of contraceptive options, become pregnant, terminate a pregnancy, give a baby up for adoption, surrender a baby to a safe haven, or give birth and raise the child, and all of these are her choice and hers alone. For a woman, sexual activity can be an expression of love, a source of physical pleasure, or an intentional step toward parenthood. She gets to choose. A man has the right to ask nicely, and cross his fingers and toes in the hope that his wishes will be considered.

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