I admit to being pleasantly surprised by this Lindy West article, for two main (and related) reasons. One, it addresses a lot of thoughts and concerns I’ve had in the past few months, and in more depth than usual. Two, while West is generally an intelligent and (more importantly to my sensibilities) very forthright writer, she sometimes falls into the glibness trap when discussing serious issues, and I was prepared to find some of that in an article of this length and dealing with issues of this much import.
Well, she didn’t. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything she said, but this is some of the best stuff I’ve seen from her, and I am glad for it. I should probably say at this point that, while I’m not of one mind regarding current social justice movements, you can safely count me out of the “MRA” and “masculism” camps. While I share some of their concerns, the philosophical framework either of those movements are currently predicated on seems to me, at best, misguided.*
That said, I wouldn’t be writing about the article if I didn’t have at least one bone to pick, and I do. Specifically, I have an issue with the intersection between two parts of West’s argument.
In her first point, “Part One: Why Feminism Has “Fem” in the Name, or, Why Can’t We All Just Be Humanists?” West points out that the reason feminism continues to identify linguistically as a movement of women, rather than one of general equality, is because women are the victims of systematic oppression across the board – politically, economically, socially, intellectually – while men are not. While I think her attempt to explain the reasoning behind this via Dr. Seuss and Freddy Krueger metaphors inches dangerously close to that aforementioned glibness, they’re pretty good explanatory tactics – but from my reading, she also intended them to be persuasive tactics, and I don’t think they can pull that much weight. Since I already had that reasoning “pre-loaded” before I read the article, though, perhaps I’m wrong.
However, in her fourth point, “Part Four: A List of “Men’s Rights” Issues That Feminism Is Already Working On,” she then goes on to mention that practically every issue MRAs/masculists are worried about forms part of the apparatus of patriarchy, which is exactly what feminists are working to dismantle. I think this, by contrast, should – in a sane world – be an incredibly persuasive piece, because the MRA/masculist view on these issues is strongly (but not entirely) informed by personal experience, or by fear of a certain experience being realized.
(Image used with tongue firmly in cheek. Took me a while to find one that made the point and wasn’t a .gif.)
The reason I have a bone to pick here, and it isn’t with West alone, is that it smacks of trying to have your cake and eat it too, especially because the view social justice movements currently have of allies (or Allies) goes something like this: voice your opinion, especially when it’s risky or uncomfortable to do so, but only so long as it’s the opinion you’ve been told is shared by the group you’re helping. Freddie deBoer has pointed out how quickly this can be derailed, though only for a sufficiently superficial level of dialogue.
There is an important message in that: if you’re a man, you will likely never understand the systemic problems a woman faces for her gender. If you’re white, same with people of color. If you’re straight, same with the GLB community. If you’re cisgender, same with trans and genderfluid/genderqueer people.** Yet I think that when you appeal to men to recognize that their concerns dovetail with feminism, while at the same time blaming all of those problems on a mechanism (patriarchy) that should, theoretically, advantage men in every possible circumstance, there is a fundamental disconnect there.
I’ll try to explain what I mean. While I’m not entirely on board with this comment (especially the latter part), I think it brings up something like the point I’m trying to make:
But the fact is, there is a systemic mistreatment of men who do not fit into traditional male roles in our society. I’ve seen women laugh at men for crying. I’ve seen women laugh and make fun of men for being weak. I’ve seen women laugh, make fun, and discriminate against men who have small penises. Why do these things happen? Because the truth is that men are objectified. Part of that objectification involves assuming a role of mental, physical, and sexual “power,” but that doesn’t make the objectification any less real, or damaging to men (and by proxy, women).
The responses to this mostly identify the parts I’ve bolded with patriarchy, and that women who engage in such behaviors have internalized patriarchal rolemaking. My sense is that this, like the earlier metaphors, works as an explanatory tactic, but I don’t think it’s ultimately persuasive. It effectively dismisses any example of anti-male behavior on a woman’s part as either 1) her giving up her individual agency to her internalized patriarchal structure, 2) a personal dislike for a specific man, or 3) caused by a man complaining too much about a hatred of his gender that is not borne out by social structure.
I think there’s a definitional difference. To modern feminists, “misogyny” seems to require a systemic impulse. (Which makes it, to my mind, indistinguishable from the current definition of “sexism.” But I’m not up to date on my definitions.) Thus “misandry” cannot be existent, because it doesn’t have any systemic support. To the MRAs/masculists, “misogyny” lacks this systemization, but requires a stronger psychological impulse. Their biggest mistake, I think, comes in thinking that because they don’t hate women as a gender (in their view), they are not misogynists – but the only reason feminists, in their view, could be so focused on men is because they hate them. Thus the label of misandry.
This is an uncomfortable subject and I need to shut up about it, not necessarily because I don’t have more to share, but because I get the sense that I’m talking over myself and in so doing missing important points. Your thoughts are welcomed.
* I would be willing to endorse a “complementary” vision of masculism. By that, I mean one that recognized that systematic oppression in modern society is wielded against women, and that masculists should work vigorously on women’s issues as a path to progress for men as well. I don’t know if that’s possible, for various reasons, but that would be ideal.
** As a comment on West’s piece pointed out, binary gender is itself part of the patriarchy as well, though according to friends I have in the trans community the debate on that continues to be a point of contention in current feminism.