No, but seriously… what ABOUT the menz?!


One common complaint about feminism is that it is inherently anti-male. “It’s right there in the name,” say critics “you should just call it humanism if it’s not inherently gender biased!” As tedious as I find arguments over semantics, I will allow myself to be drawn into this one long enough to say that the reason it is called feminism is because it came as a response to the prevailing misogynist culture. The fact that it has grown and developed since then doesn’t require the existence of a new word, it simply requires our understanding to grow along with it.

But there is something besides simple semantics to the complaint. Feminism, at least as popularly practiced, tends to focus on issues relevant to cis women when compared to cis men. To an outsider’s view, it would certainly seem as though feminism is based on the overriding axiom that women are always treated as lesser than men. Cases in which men suffer are thus dismissed as either of secondary important or simply illusory complaints by people who have all the privilege anyway.

It certainly raises the question of why any man would self-identify as a feminist, considering that he will spend his entire life having his complaints ignored and dismissed. Lurid fantasies about the intentions of male feminists bubble to the surface – they (we) must be working an angle to be accepted by women feminists in order to have ready access to the orgy tent or something. While that is certainly a parsimonious explanation (especially when passed through a filter of bitter resentment), it is a particularly odious (and internally incoherent*) lie.

But the question remains, why don’t feminists care about stuff like this:

In 2011, the New York City-based Families and Work Institute reported for the first time that American men now suffer more work-life conflict than women. Even though many women work and contribute to the family income, the report says that “men have retained the ‘traditional Male Mystique’–the pressure to be the primary financial providers for their families.” At the same time, they don’t want to be the distant dads of the 1950s.

“Men today view the ‘ideal’ man as someone who is not only successful as a financial provider, but is also involved as a father, husband-partner and son. Yet flat earnings, long hours, increasing job demands, blurred boundaries between work and home life and declining job security all contribute to the pressures men face to succeed at work and at home and thus to work-family conflict,” said the report.

In a 2008 national survey of 3,500 employees, including 1,298 men, the Families and Work Institute found that 60 percent of men in dual-earner couples reported work-family conflict, up from 35 percent in 1977. Among the roughly equal number of women, the percentages rose much less, from 41 percent to 47 percent.

Well, the short (and snarky) answer is “they (we) do! Don’t believe me? Look at where that story was printed!”

The longer answer is probably much more satisfying. Feminism, at least the kind of feminism that I practice, could be just as accurately referred to as “gender skepticism”. There are a number of popular claims made, sometimes overtly and sometimes only by implication, about gender and sexual identity. Given what we know about the extreme sexism in the history of a wide variety of cultures, it is reasonable to adopt a skeptical stance toward any ‘traditional’ attitude about the difference between sexes (or even what those sexes mean at a practical level). The good skeptic then assumes the null hypothesis – that men and women are fundamentally equal until such evidence is presented that conclusively demonstrates otherwise.

One of the largest conventional gender claims, and one of the most damaging, is the idea of ‘femininity’. That there is some essentially “womanly” behaviour that is inherent to the biological reality of different reproductive organ systems. These claims take on a variety of forms, often to do with motherhood and social functioning. The net result of blindly adhering to those claims has put women on the lower end of the gender power divide in most meaningful senses – political power, economic power, types of social punishment, ‘permitted’ behaviours, expectations of success, the list goes on. The earliest feminists were almost all women, and as a result the push has been to critically examine and fight against the femininity myth, because it was the most apparent to them. It is the same reason, incidentally, that I focus on anti-black racism more heavily than racism targeting First Nations people, or East Asian people, or (insert group here) – not because they’re less important but because I live with one of them.

That being said, the other side of the femininity myth – the masculinity myth – is also a major issue (as illustrated above). In the exact same way, men are expected to adhere to a set of behaviours – decisiveness, aggressiveness, hypersexuality, emotional rigidity, unfailing physical competence – that are damaging in the same way to men to whom those traits are not inherent. They (we) are expected to perform and respond and maintain an image that sees us suffer social punishments for any deviance. Al Stefanelli recently recounts a story of what happened when he, for entirely pragmatic reasons, violated the most superficial of gender norms.

In the above article, we see that gender norms are harmful. Surely men should be allowed to balance work and family life without the expectation that they must sacrifice one to save the other. The fact is that, as long as they’ve been in the work force, women have always been expected to make that sacrifice (often in the other direction). The only reason that we are suffering is because we have been duped into believing that this way is the only way to live, and that there must be a constant struggle between men and women for equality. The fact that we know that these gender norms are bogus is largely because of methods of inquiry pioneered and developed by feminist inquiry. We men are struggling against the same system that oppresses women, and we owe that recognition to feminism as well.

Feminism is an approach, a methodology, a philosophical stance. It is the rejection of the idea that gender identities are normal and fixed. Like any methodology, however, there are basic competencies that have to be grasped before one can wield it properly. Those who rail against feminism as being inherently anti-man are demonstrating conclusively that they lack that basic competency, by failing to recognize that the problem is gender, not a gender**. Male feminists like myself are called to address the problems facing all genders, and are the best equipped to actually and productively answer the question – “what about the men?”

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*Any woman who cares about gender enough to be an open and notorious feminist isn’t going to boff some dude on the sole qualification that he identifies as feminist as well. At least give them that much credit.

*In the same way that anti-theists recognize that the problem is religion, not a religion. Some are worse and in need of more urgent addressing than others, but they’re all bad.

Comments

  1. smhll says

    I like your article.

    My largest contribution to freeing men from the harm of gender roles is being the fairest, most supportive mom I can be to my son. I encourage him to be competent and considerate, because his father and I believe that it’s good for human beings to be happy and fully emotionally alive.

    I think the article you cited makes an important and true point:

    Even though many women work and contribute to the family income, the report says that “men have retained the ‘traditional Male Mystique’–the pressure to be the primary financial providers for their families.” At the same time, they don’t want to be the distant dads of the 1950s.

    “Men today view the ‘ideal’ man as someone who is not only successful as a financial provider, but is also involved as a father, husband-partner and son. Yet flat earnings, long hours, increasing job demands, blurred boundaries between work and home life and declining job security all contribute to the pressures men face to succeed at work and at home and thus to work-family conflict,” said the report.

    I want to note that I do not think it was the aim or the accidental consequence of feminism that led to “… flat earnings, long hours, increasing job demands…” or blurred boundaries.

    Feminism potentially DID lead to men having more hours of household work to do, which can contribute to work/life conflict. I don’t think feminism is the reason men want to spend time with their kids, though. Father love exists independent of feminism. A man who had all the housework chores in his home fully automated (or staffed) would still have work/life conflict if his job didn’t give him as much time to be with his kids as he wanted to have.

  2. Konradius says

    Feminism doesn’t need to be renamed humanism for the same reason that atheism doesn’t need to be renamed to rationalism.
    Feminism/atheism when practised our way does mean humanism/rationalism. But humanism/rationalism doesn’t make clear what the main thrust is of the movements.

    Well, IMNSHO anyway :)

  3. Dexeron says

    Well written, but wow, I almost didn’t finish reading it after following your link to Al Stefanelli’s piece… only because I was so livid after reading the way he was treated that I had to step away from the computer for a few minutes. What the actual fuck.

  4. Dexeron says

    np, I’d like to share this with some people who I think are having a lot of confusion about exactly the things you’re describing here (“Why not use the word HUMANIST?” “What about the MEN?”).

  5. smhll says

    The thing that lingered with me after reading Al’s article was my projection that he’s going to be somewhat more uncomfortable every time he goes to Chuck E. Cheese because he could bump into the same harasser again. Or a different one.

  6. says

    I think the first sentence in that article is incorrect. Should be: “In 2011, the New York City-based Families and Work Institute reported for the first time that American men now suffer more [complain more about] work-life conflict than women.”

  7. invivoMark says

    Damn you Crommunist, forcing me to agree with your reasonable take on a complex issue again!

    Just one thing: “In a 2008 national survey of 3,500 employees, including 1,298 men, … Among the roughly equal number of women….”

    3500 employees, 1300 of which are men and 1300 of which are women? What are the remaining 900? Lizards?

  8. says

    Probably lizards. We have 7 or 8 working at my office, always complaining that they don’t get enough time to spend with their clutch of eggs…

  9. karmakin says

    Agreed 100%

    Just depresses me that I feel like we’re moving away from gender skepticism as a movement, for whatever reasons.

  10. karmakin says

    Possibly, I just don’t think that sexist language (in either direction) promotes gender skepticism (exactly the opposite) and it’s worrying how many people defend it or are entirely unaware of it’s presence. It’s really sad to see people using “ungendered” language (like ze or hir) and sexist language in the same post, although to be honest it really shouldn’t surprise me.

    Or to put it simply, I think that the “war footing” that feminism is currently on…and for some really good reasons, don’t get me wrong..does not lead to the goals that you put forward.

  11. Sivi says

    Well put.

    I think it’s worth noting that this – “Yet flat earnings, long hours, increasing job demands, blurred boundaries between work and home life and declining job security…” – shows how things like capitalism and class can intersect with gender issues. Some of the drivers of this tension are gendered, like parenting involvement, pressure to be the main provider, etc, and some are class-based, since the described work pressures are largely problems for lower- and middle-class people, not the upper crust, or not in the same ways.

  12. says

    I think your complaint boils down to the fact that people aren’t perfect. There are a lot of self-identified skeptics who hold some pretty damn non-skeptical beliefs. There are some pro-gay folks who make some pretty appalling blunders. There are anti-racists who say some decidedly racist stuff. It happens. We just dust ourselves off and try to do better.

    And I disagree that “feminism” is on war footing. I think the fighting draws the majority of the attention, but the difference is being made at a level far below the major blog platforms. We fight our big battles in public to air out the issues that people face in private. No ‘war’ is won by its generals – they (we?) simply try to direct the fighting as best we can. I look at this on a much larger timescale. Ain’t no shot that we’re going to “win” in any meaningful sense any time soon, but look at what the atheist conversations were about maybe 5 years ago, compare it to now, then imagine what 2017 will look like.

  13. Jesse says

    Maybe part of the issue is the popular conceptions of feminism, which the anti-racist people run into as well. The people that get the press are the ones that say the things that are most outrageous.

    I’m old enough to remember when the first introductions of Afro-centric curricula were introduced. And yes, a combination of stupid coverage and some people saying stupid things made a lot of non – African Americans think that the idea was to tell kids some variation of Louis Farrakhan-type history. A big mess all around.

    With feminism, it’s the stuff like “all hetero sex is rape” which was attributed to Dworkin, though there’s a case to be made that she ended up with that without necessarily meaning to. When people who aren’t really familiar with the movement or feminist thinking see stuff like that it makes them want to throw up their hands and say “what’s the point?” Because that’s what happens. If someone is going to say you are evil for being what you are, then what?

    In some ways it reminds me of talking to Christians about salvation. A Christian will talk all about “Believing in Jesus” or something, which opens up a lot of questions about behavior — like the fact that what’s in your mind seem to matter more than your actions.

    So, it’s not a surprise that when faced with the usual images of feminism, a lot of cis males would ask “what do I get besides being called evil?” With race the same thing happens. If you call someone a racist, unless they are a Klansman or something the response you are likely to get is “OK, you think I’m irredeemably evil. Now what?”

    Getting past all that is hard to do. Speaking as someone raised by a lefty, red-diaper family, I ran into it when everyone thinks “Communist” meant wearing T-shirts that say “I love Stalin and the Gulag” and “I hate America” And that in turn made it really difficult to air public critiques of US policy and capitalism. (A similar issue comes up whenever anyone discusses policy viz. the Islamic world).

    So, I try hard to focus on behavior when I talk about people being racist or sexist, because I can’t read minds. And I don’t care much how someone “feels” — hey, I “feel” that I should be able to fly like superman, but that doesn’t mean jack in the real world.

  14. says

    Excellent post. Though I’m not sure about the specific example you quote. Admittedly I can’t find the original research article, so my thoughts may be totally wrong…but were they just asking men and women how they felt about work-life conflict? Or did they have some objective measure (hours put into each, etc). Because I can see men reporting more conflict not because they actually have more conflict, but because they’ve been so used to not having the pressure of having to juggle both until feminists started calling for equality. That is, they may have the same level of conflict now, but are more stressed out by it since they’re used to the privilege of not worrying about it. If men are stressed because they’re losing unfair privilege, I have a harder time sympathizing with them. But if we’ve genuinely set up a system where men are now getting the short end of the stick, then obviously we need to work to make things equal.

  15. David says

    I carry a “shoulder bag” (I’m not sure where the line between bag and purse is, but I’m told it exists) pretty much everywhere now. They’re immensely handy and it surprises me that anyone would actually be actively hostile about it. Curious and confused, maybe, but once you demonstrate how useful it is being able to carry around half a toolbox they start contemplating getting their own bag. That’s the way it should be, anyway. Al’s recount is an obvious sign that at least certain parts of society aren’t ready for such things.
    On another note, as a Zach Galifinakis lookalike, I do believe I need to get that replica he mentioned.

  16. garybannister says

    One common complaint about feminism is that it is inherently anti-male. “It’s right there in the name,” say critics…

    But I have never seen anyone claim that humanism implies hostility toward non-humans. Odd, that.

  17. John Horstman says

    I think you’re right about what it is that’s bringing work-life conflict to light for men (feminism), but wrong that they don’t have more now. Having more now is a result of both shifting family dynamics (more women working, so men needing to step up more to handle housework and child raring) and shifting economic distribution (a wider gap between the top and bottom means most people need to work more hours or jobs to achieve the same relative income). Men ARE stressed because they’re losing unfair privilege, in the sense that being boxed into the “breadwinner” role is an unfair privilege relative to the “homemaker” role. Before the shift of many women into the paid workforce, women didn’t need to worry about work-life balance as much, either. Granted, the situation HAS been skewed to men’s advantage for a few decades, since women have been increasingly working outside the home while still being expected to do most/all of the domestic labor (on average, for heterosexual couples where people even identify as men/women), but I don’t think that should decrease your sympathy. If the shifts had occurred at the same time men would still be feeling the tension of work-life balance, just as women did when moving out into the paid workforce (and continued to do through the present). If you’re going to have sympathy for women striving for balance, it really should extent to men as well. What we need here is economic reform so workers – all workers – can achieve balance in their lives. For example, if we re-conceive of what full-time employment looks like by scaling it back to 24 hours a week, 30 at most, we can simultaneously address issues of work-life balance AND unemployment (or course, this will require greater pay equity and a drastic reduction in capital profits, which I also only see as good things, but to which the pro-capitalism crowd vehemently objects).

  18. John Horstman says

    Talk to PETA; I’m sure you can find people who object to Humanism as anthropocentric.

  19. eric says

    I was thinking something similar; feminism is just about women the way football is just about feet.

    Sure, the name says something (vague) about the subject. But if you think that’s all its about, you probably don’t understand the activity.

  20. says

    I agree with you. I have sympathy for anyone who’s actually struggling with work-life balance, and think we need to work to make that better for everyone. I’m just saying that this study might not distinguish between perceived imbalance and actual imbalance due to previous privilege, so men may not actually be affected more. But if there are other studies that have looked at that, I’m totally on board.

  21. ludicrous says

    Wake me up the day women can live at home, at work, school, at conventions, everywhere, with the non concern for their physical safely that we men enjoy.

    At that time I will seriously concern myself with the difficulties of we menz face vis a vis feminism.

    Threat of violence underlies, most misogyny, nothing else comes close.

    Oh gosh that’s just the way it is, you can’t change human nature blah blah blah.

    Whine on boyz and don’t go out after dark and maybe home is not so safe either. Keep the doors and windows locked and the alarm on, make sure you have 911 on your speed dial. When walking and driving don’t make eye contact with anyone you don’t know.

  22. says

    Feminism, at least the kind of feminism that I practice,…
    I appreciate this distinction. In my dealings with feminism it seems like feminism actually is a monolith when it comes to positive generalizations….and positive generalizations only.

    The fact is that, as long as they’ve been in the work force, women have always been expected to make that sacrifice (often in the other direction). The only reason that we are suffering is because we have been duped into believing that this way is the only way to live, and that there must be a constant struggle between men and women for equality.
    So it’s a matter of women having been expected to give up external work for internal work and men having been expected to give up internal work for external work? That I can dig.

  23. says

    Many males who are seen as very feminine, sissy or queer do have these fears and experiences. I can’t even imagine what it’s like not to live with those fears. That’s my experience as a queer, femmey boy.

    I think one of the big issues for me with feminists or profeminists is the heterocentrism in much of it, the way “male experience” and “men” talked about without any qualifiers when, in reality, it is a masculine, heterosexual man’s experience that’s being talked about. I like feminism but I don’t feel welcome in it when shouted down, often by heterosexuals, to stop “whining” about homophobic violence being a kind of misogynist and patriarchal violence I suffer.

    I liked the viewpoint expressed on this blog entry. Refreshing. :)

  24. says

    Dworkin didn’t say that. Dworkin said – more or less – that in any context where coital sex is compulsory or it’s inconceivable for it not to be an option, it’s socially coerced out of people. When that is the case it is meaningless to talk about consent for the same reason that it is meaningless to say “I consented to learn English” when you are born in the United States. She was right; take a look at any standard heterosexual forum and watch how most people talk about sex. People assume that sex IS coitus. They call everything else “foreplay”. They frame “foreplay” as a preliminary activity which in “sex” always leads to what they call “the main event” – which is coitus, and which ends when the man ejaculates. If you try to say that sex is not coitus or that you can have sex between women and men without coitus as a part of it, these people will completely deny it and ridicule it. They simply do not accept that. Not all people, of course, but certainly a large enough majority of heterosexual people to warrant a generalization.

    So she was right. If something is compulsory in a given cultural context, then it’s not reasonable to talk about meaningful consent, as the consent is culturally coerced. That’s what Marxists say about “choosing” to work when no viable alternative exists. It’s not “man hating”, it’s an astute observation. It’s also not even close to the same thing as saying “all heterosexual sex is rape” or “all coital sex is rape” or “consent is impossible”. That’s scaremongering which people seem to use to avoid a reasonable consideration of Dworkin’s arguments. Indeed, in some cases it is men in heterosexual relationships who question the centrality of coital sex, or who just don’t want to have it, and their female partners are outraged or pressure them – because the culture they are immersed in does not conceive of the possibility of such a thing. Should we ignore the weight of cultural inertia when considering consent? This is nothing the asexual movement is not bringing up also. Consent is not meaningful if “no” is not conceivable.

    I’ve read people who think that all heterosexual sex is rape, I know their arguments, and I’ve read Dworkin. Dworkin didn’t think that or argue that. Dworkin is unfairly misrepresented and maligned. She made many brilliant observations.

  25. says

    Wake me up the day women can live at home, at work, school, at conventions, everywhere, with the non concern for their physical safely that we men enjoy.
    But if you’re sleep how are you gonna be out there helping women?

    At that time I will seriously concern myself with the difficulties of we menz face vis a vis feminism.
    Oh that’s not nice. If women are willing to help men out via feminism then sure it’t not too much trouble for to do the same right?

    Threat of violence underlies, most misogyny, nothing else comes close.
    That sounds an awful lot like trying to figure out “who has it worse”. I thought the point was help everyone.

    Whine on boyz and don’t go out after dark and maybe home is not so safe either. Keep the doors and windows locked and the alarm on, make sure you have 911 on your speed dial. When walking and driving don’t make eye contact with anyone you don’t know.
    Might be good advice. While women are more likely to be targeted for sexual violence men are more likely to be targeted for most types of non sexual violence.

    Why are you here again?

  26. M Groesbeck says

    Well, there are academic “anti-humanists” or “post-humanists” (not to be confused with trans-humanist…though it tends to get muddled when one group uses language metaphorically that the other uses literally). Those people, though, are mostly also humanists. And feminists. Funny how it’s possible to have more than one opinion! The MRA people will be shocked to discover this…

  27. says

    Great post, and I have to add one more short (and of course, less satisfying) answer: If you take all responsibilities and power from women, then you have to give them to men. In trying to take responsibilities and power back, women will take those extra responsibilities away from men. We’re just in a mid point at the moment, where women have tried to give the responsibility of family to men while taking away the responsibility of work to an extent. It’ll take a while to equal out.

    Though it would equal out faster and more smoothly without people throwing hissy fits over “B-b-but I don’t want a WOMAN upstaging me!” Those people saying “I have to be the breadwinner and the caregiver now” are listening very selectively to feminism, hearing that they need to take more responsibilities in the home, without hearing the part about giving the responsibility in work to the women. And then they blame feminism for that. Bah.

  28. julian says

    While women are more likely to be targeted for sexual violence men are more likely to be targeted for most types of non sexual violence.

    I dunno but to me it looks like that’s because violence against women always becomes sexual.

  29. says

    Great article here. I think there’s an important point you miss though, and one that could make it easy for someone to take apart your arguments. That being pointing out that there are thousands of different feminisms, some of which are indeed pretty anti men, or at least think that men’s problems aren’t even worth considering and that men have a blanket privilege. This makes it very easy for anti feminist types to take a couple of quotes from these types of feminists and claim that feminism itself is anti men.

    I have to say that I do really like the term “gender skeptic”, I think it might be a more specific term for my personal beliefs on the subject!

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