Men’s Rights Activism and Feminism

In a previous blog post, I wrote I did not entirely adopt the feminist label as I felt it was too reductive of my views as a whole. I’m for equality across all genders, ethnicity and most creeds (more on that later). Or as I might jokingly say: I will learn to hate everyone equally without borders or prejudice. It’s perhaps part of my motivation to self-identify as an agnostic. In my interactions with others, I find fewer religious individuals seem to react negatively towards agnosticism than to outright atheism. Part of it must stem from their view “there’s still hope he will convert/revert to his Catholicism” or simply outright ignorance of what agnosticism is.

In February 2014, I was working on the Healthcare.gov (aka the Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare”) website and found myself in Reston, VA, about a half hour from Washington, DC. I was working regular 100 hour work week shifts and when the 14th came around, it totally slipped my mind it was St-Valentine’s Day. So when I went out to eat, all the restaurants were full and had at least an hour wait time. The hotel’s room service was closed that evening. Therefore, I went to the only place which seemed to be accommodating: bizarro Tim Horton’s.

They primarily sell sandwiches with donuts on the side.

Amidst the half full restaurant, I certainly was an odd sight. Most of the other patrons were teenagers or students. I.e. those who could not afford the overpriced St-Valentine’s Day menus at the much better restaurants nearby. So, I was seated alone at my table, exchanging the occasional text with the girl I had dated once before my 2nd tour of work in Washington. I’m sure all my lady readers must think that the epitome of romance! 🙂 When suddenly, an early 20 something guy of Asian descent approached me offering for me to join him and his friends to discuss the topic of love. Glancing over to the group, they were also a bunch of early 20 somethings of very diverse ethnicity. Thus, I surmised they must have been university students and wanted to discuss love from a philosophical or intellectual point of view. After mulling it over, I walked over and introduced myself. I must have looked like a wreck as I was thoroughly exhausted. I woke from my haze when the Asian man asked everyone to take out their bibles.

Going through my mind: Remember, you’re in the US. They are more likely to have guns so be careful what you say.

They asked me if I was religious and explained I was raised Catholic but identified as agnostic. No one at the table knew what that meant. One of them chimed up asking: “Is that like an atheist?” with a very disconcerting look on his face which the others quickly mirrored. I explained to them what it was which seemed to defuse the situation.

Now, while that isn’t the end of that story, I went on the above tangent because many men and a good deal of women react negatively or with skepticism towards those who identify as feminists. The reaction to Mad Max: Fury Road trailer is just one of many examples:

Translation: GET YOUR POSITIVE EGALITARIAN SUBTEXT OUT OF MY [INSECURE] MALE POWER FANTASY!!!!
A lot of people are concerned or outright afraid of being labeled a feminist because they associate negative connotations to the word. Rush Limbaugh, and other strident anti-feminism proponents, will often call feminists “feminazis”. When I first heard the term out of context, I thought it was probably some type of fetish porn. No, I have not nor will not do a search on the internet to see if such a thing exists. Because duh, it’s the internet. It probably does! While some like Limbaugh paint all feminists such a way, I think most non-demagogues or sane people rather define it as militant feminism. It’s difficult to speak out against oppression or unfairness because there’s always the self-centered worry you will also suffer by coming to the defense of the downtrodden or oppressed. Growing up, many other boys attempted to bully me and I learned to defend myself. As an introvert, when they instead turned to ostracizing me, I was mostly “ok” with it. I wasn’t the most social of individuals to begin with but I do feel it might have stunted the growth of my social skills.

So when I first heard of the Men’s Rights movement, I was initially intrigued. What exactly was the grievance men had against society? The unfunny joke about women able to get out of speeding tickets by flashing a quick smile (or more) to a police officer aside, none immediately came to mind. Upon research, the movement does have a few legitimate points:

  • The default position for custody of children in the event of divorce or separation favours the mother.

The State of California has taken strides to remove the assumption. Most Western countries have processes in place allowing fathers to at least contest or challenge this to become the primary or sole caretaker for their children. This is an area where both sides of the political spectrum might reach a consensus but for differing reasons. The far right seems hell-bent on oppressing women and taking away their rights does not seem to be a particular road block. On the left, it is a more nuanced position. We have to weigh whether or not we wish to take away one of the few privileges to an under-served population in favour of promoting equality. Further, it can be perceived as political suicide. The only answer I can offer is to try to extract other concessions from the right in favour of support in this. Ideally, it should be the best parent who should become the primary caregiver. With the exception of cases involving domestic, child abuse, or physical/mental impairment, some form of shared custody should also be promoted.

  • Men are more likely to receive harsher prison sentences for similar violent crimes than women.

This partially stems from biology. Men tend to be more muscular, larger, and more physically dominating than women. If they commit a violent crime against a woman, she’s more likely to already be in a position of weakness. However, the perception if a woman abuses a man is often “well, he should have been able to defend himself”. A crime is a crime, no matter who perpetrated it. Obviously, there are circumstantial factors for each case.

There is the assumption by many where one of the few venues a woman can own a sense of accomplishment or self-realization is through childbirth and rearing of children. The refrain is “there is no greater bond than a mother and her children.” A long prison sentence will prevent these women from realizing this. I personally, can’t speak to this experience. Instead, I’ll answer with a rhetorical question: Not every woman (or man for that matter) truly desires children and even if they did, should they receive clemency because of it? That opens up a loophole I’m not qualified to make. Further, with the risk of overpopulation, I am not overly worried for the survival of the species when it comes to reproduction and passing on of genes but rather the risk to the biosphere.

  • Domestic abuse and rape against men are not treated with the same gravity than when they are committed against women.

Although she was eventually not sentenced for any crimes, the situation with Hope Solo was a touchy subject. The few times it was treated in the news, you could see the male newscasters were walking on eggshells. Compare these to other cases of athletes abusing their significant others at roughly the same time and public condemnation was largely unequivocal. Now, the mitigating factor here is video evidence in the case of Ray Rice (and a few others).

The other aspect of this, as I described earlier, women are usually in a position of physical inferiority to men. Now, there is a red herring or straw man fallacy in the debate when MRAs will bring up statistics which indicate men are far more frequently the victims in rape and a lesser extent to domestic abuse in public awareness. Yet, the perpetrators of the former are largely other men. Their reasoning is prison rape but also military rape is hardly discussed or even accepted as part of society. These happen to women too. Rape is bad no matter the victim. If it happens more frequently to one group, then we need to find solutions. The priority is to help the most people. My suggestion to the Men’s Rights movement is to find common ground with women and see how to integrate some of the concerns of male victims into the overall goal of diminishing the frequency of sexual abuse. I feel this would be a more constructive way to help men but also humanity as a whole than to try and diminish the women’s fight to replace it by your own.

Some of the other points are legitimate, but it’s not solely an issue of men’s rights but also includes other factors:

  • Military Conscription or obligatory military service targets men and not women.

The band System of a Down sang it best:

Why don’t presidents fight the war?
Why do they always send the poor?

Military conscription is nearly universally targeted against those who benefit the least directly by the gains. Now, wars of defense are different (and I’m not talking about pre-emptive wars) as there is certainly fears of oppression at the hands of foreign powers, etc. Again, this comes to biological concerns. Men are thrown into the meat-grinder of war because from a reproductive standpoint, we are expendable but also most likely physically fit to do so. From a nation’s view, women’s lives are far more valuable because a woman can only be pregnant a certain amount of times, while a man can impregnate many women who could be pregnant concurrently.

Why can’t the solution be let’s stop war? Idealistic I know, but this has to be a decision taken as a whole by the society or nation in question whether or not conscription is required. Military service is often lauded but PTSD, like other mental disorders, are not often spoken about. In recent years, a former client of mine has taken steps to bring greater awareness to mental health and I am certainly pleased with the results although there is a long way to go. The pragmatist in me says wars will happen until such a time we reach massive universal prosperity. People don’t like to rock the boat when things are “good”.

  • Men are more likely to pay alimony or give up half their earnings to their wives in the event of divorce.

While I did touch upon this in my point about divorce, I feel this is again an issue of social class. Wages have stagnated since the late 70s, early 80s. Many of the laws on divorce were passed prior to that when the households survived on a single wage. When women finally entered the work force en masse, they had fewer opportunities and it was often seen as a secondary income. Thus, one of the reasons equal pay is still an issue. Employers will always try to negotiate salaries downward, not upward. If they feel they can take advantage of women more to do so, they will. Now, again things are turning around with the primary wage earner either being the one to pay alimony or in the case of Quebec, common law is becoming the norm rather than marriage. Society as a whole is moving forward already on this. Again, this issue stems from other sources and not stigma against men but rather in adjustment to counter discrimination against women.

  • Affirmative Action. 

Earlier in my life, I was entirely against affirmative action. I found it silly for employers to be forced to take less qualified employees to reach a fair representation of the population. However, as I was made aware of other factors such as income disparity and historical prejudice, my position has evolved. I see Affirmative Action as a temporary measure that still needs to be enforced. Quick answer here is “suck it up”.

The long answer is again based on a historical measure. Affirmative action exists to allow minorities or certain groups who are disproportionately poor or financially dependent on others (either through marriage or state welfare programs) an opportunity to climb out of that situation. Essentially, it allows equal opportunity whether you are rich, poor, male, female, white, aboriginal, etc.

Unfortunately, prejudice exists in the world and if no effort is made to remedy these, they will continue to be pervasive. However, where I might disagree slightly with progressives or other left-leaning individuals, I am still reticent to enforce affirmative action in the private sector. You should be allowed to choose your own employees in your business with the understanding you will reap the consequences good or bad. In Quebec, I am against the signage laws because my view is if a business is willing to not accommodate a large segment of the population then it is turning its back on a huge source of revenue and thus profit. The situation isn’t the same obviously, but the analogy is appropriate because if someone is prejudiced towards a segment of the population then they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. I’m all for the “free market” to intervene like when there is public outcry denouncing such business practices.

Yet at the same time, I’m for equality of opportunity. Forcing someone to do something won’t change their views but make them resentful. Educating them and exposing them is the way to win hearts and minds. At a recent condo meeting, we were discussing setting up a terrace on our roof. I was opposed to the idea because of the costs involved. To add to the discussion, I wanted to inform everyone of the insurance liability we’d also expose ourselves. However, at the time I couldn’t think of the word for liability in French (responsabilité as it turns out. I had thought there was a more specific word). So, I explained I was an anglophone and went on we’d incur greater insurance costs for liability if someone choose to jump off the roof, etc. The next person to speak was a 70 year old man. As I was walking back to my seat, he turned to me and exclaimed: “Ici on parle le Français!” (“Here we speak French!” for my English-only readers). With a few people clapping in approval. My retort of: “Et le Québec fait toujours parti du Canada.” (And Quebec is still part of Canada) earned much greater support.

Inevitably, the best way to bridge the divide between men and women is to have them co-exist and through sympathy, empathy and understanding will we reach equality. However, in the mean time stronger methods need to be used to weed out the bigots and misogynists.

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