Thursday, July 3, 2008

Men's Rights Activists

So I'm sitting on my bed, reading the news. I have this nifty tool installed in Firefox called StumbleUpon. Basically, when I click a button I am randomly referred to a web page that the tool thinks I would like, based upon my votes on other sites. I give a lot of thumbs-up to activist pages, so I was not surprised to be referred to a rights group.

What I was surprised to find, however, was that the rights group was a men's rights group.

I was curious. What are Men's Rights Activists? Do they champion the causes of men in Africa who can't afford to feed their families? Do they push for a male birth control pill? Do they speak out about abusive parents?


They speak out about the "violence" that the feminist movement has done to men. They talk about the Femi-Nazism of the government that punishes men for being masculine. They rage against women who ask ex-husbands for child support and alimony.

Basically, they think that society is out to hurt men by making them act like humans.

Their basic tenement is that men should be free to act like men. By men, they mean homophobic, hyper-masculine, violent, abusive, irresponsible failures of humanity.

How do I know this? Why, they are opposed to feminism. Feminists hold that the default definition of masculinity alienates men from their emotions and empathy, and is ultimately damaging to the individual and society as a whole.

Men's Rights Activists, on the other hand, hold that the gun-toting, children-leavin', anti-sissy model of manhood is the only thing holding humanity back from anarchy.


They also claim that both women and men are equally oppressed, or that men are oppressed more than women. Which is evident, of course, when one considers that less than 1% of the world's wealth is owned by women.

Men are "success objects" they say, and burdened as providers. Because, you know, women that labor unpaid in the house or underpaid as a teacher or maid are lazy lie-abouts.

They say that violence against men is more pandemic and tolerated then violence against women. While more men are mugged or killed in war, MRAs fail to comprehend the obvious: the people killing men also happen to be men.

Men killing and hurting men. Men killing and hurting women. Men killing and hurting children. Men running nations and sending men to their deaths. See a trend? In general, the subject of such violent sentences is typically a man. The very notion that women, or feminists, are responsible for the actions of men is laughable.

Largely, however, MRA groups tend to concentrate on one particular area: divorce law. They maintain that men have lost the right to a fair trial in family law and custody settlements. This, of course, is the fault of women.

The majority of law-makers are men. The majority of judges are men. Hell, the majority of high-paid lawyers are men. Perhaps they are responsible?

No! Who's to blame? Well, their "bitch of an ex-wife" who wants child support and alimony.

Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed studies sporting statistics that women, more often then not, get the short end of the stick at every point of the marriage life-span, including divorce, MRAs hold that men are being systematically attacked and oppressed by a justice system that they, as a gender, have largely perpetuated and dominated since antiquity.

If, by accident, the website I was perusing stumbled upon a legitimate concern to "men's rights", they approached the discussion in such a misogynistic and hostile fashion that hilarity ensued and rational argument was absent.

Yes, but the feminist movement can be hostile and angry, right?

Of course. Notice, however, that mainstream feminists reserve their rage for social forces that oppress humanity, disgusting criminals, sexist leaders, and, in general, people and forces that are actually doing something wrong.

MRA activists direct their rage towards women, and in particular, their ex-wives. The privilege that these largely middle-class white men receive and exercise is rendered completely invisible. They deny or ignore men's domination of powerful institutions, traditional familial structures, and popular culture.

When they do discover an example of a man without power, they typically ignore the fact that these are examples of men's powerlessness in the hands of other men. The injustices that men suffer by the hands of the legal system are largely the fault of modern male lawmakers, and wholly the fault of historical male-dominated institutions.

That is not to say that their observations are unfounded. Plainly speaking, men have lost power in all areas of modern life compared to their historical counterparts. This is not because of some feminist conspiracy or culture of man-bashing, it is because as society moves to correct millennia of inequality, the privileged will perceive a loss of power as resources are distributed more equitably.

For the purpose of illustration, assume that society has one pie and a group of four people. Because of various social doctrines, Bob gets to take half of the pie as his share. Mary, Rebecca, and Peter each then take a sixth of the pie for themselves, but only after years of political struggle and pie-lessness. Mary looks at everyone's pieces and finds that Bob's piece is far bigger than hers. She can think of no real reason why he is entitled to a bigger piece. So, she gets Rebecca and Peter to join her in demanding their fair share. Bob is eventually forced to give up half of his piece, so that everyone has a fourth. Bob thinks to himself, "why, this sucks. I was always told that it was my birth-right to have half of a pie. Now, I have to content myself with a fourth of a pie. I have lost pie. This is all that bitch Mary's fault".

Bob is right: he has lost pie. However, Mary and the others were right to demand more pie. If Bob wanted to blame something or someone, he should blame the people that originally decided that pies must be divided unfairly, or the social forces that inflated his expectations of what his "share" ought to be.

Men are given a far bigger share of the "pie" of wealth, power, and prestige than they are rightfully entitled to. MRAs are not wrong to observe the loss of those privileges, but they are wrong to view women, who still have yet to achieve full equality by law and otherwise, as the enemy.

When men are born into a society that indoctrinates them into a culture of inequality, but simultaneously purports equality as a social value, men develop the notion that their unfair share of global wealth and power is rightly kept, and that such inequalities are somehow "equal". When these advantages are taken away, and made more equitable, a man feels as if he is being treated unfairly.

What MRAs advance is the notion that, as men, they are treated unfairly by increasingly equitable (but not wholly so) legal systems. In that, they are absolutely right. Given that the definition of "man" as "he who is rightly entitled to a larger share of worldly power and wealth by the chance of being born with a penis", men are being treated poorly by the justice system.

As humans, however, these men are treated more than fairly, if not outright favored, in everything from family law to criminal law.

They are favored, by men, because they are men. If they are killed, hurt, or treated unfairly, they are largely abused, also, by men.

Such self-reflection, however, is beyond the power of those who maintain that violent and robotic models of masculinity are something to be preserved instead of destroyed.

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