How Anti-Feminism is Killing Men

If you haven’t heard of “Men’s Rights Activists”, they’re a disturbing bunch:  A loosely organized network of men primarily concerned with the injustices of being stuck in the “friend zone” and women accusing them of rape, whose activities of choice seem to be writing angry and threatening things about feminists in the dark corners of the internet.

But although the conversation has mostly been dominated by fundamentally bad people, there is an undeniable need for an open conversation between men about gender in our society.

Deeply ingrained gender roles and expectations touch every aspect of our families, our jobs, our health, in ways that are incredibly harmful not just to women, but also to men.  We grew up within the constraints of a warped vision of manhood, one that says masculinity is not just about strength, but about violent aggression, not just about protective care but about possession, not just about resilience, but about never being vulnerable.  This twisted caricature of manhood is reflected in the ways we treat each other every day, our laws and institutions, our economy and popular culture.  A real men’s rights activism would appreciate the good in masculinity while pushing back against the ways in which our society’s distorted understanding of manhood hurts us.

The problem starts with the idea that men are invincible.  That we are the ones born with the strength to fight wars and build economies.  But it ends with the idea that men are disposable.  That our bodies can be thrown down coal mines and into battlefields and prisons, often in the name of “protecting” women, who we view as too weak to work long or dangerous hours and endure such harsh violence and punishment.  A real men’s rights activism would stand up for the rights of workers, fight our relentlessly expanding prison system, and demand an end to war.

dangerous-jobs-ny-girderWomen continue to bear the brunt of poverty in America, with low-wage jobs justified by the assumption that women don’t need to be paid equally.  But gender is also used as a tool to exploit male workers through long hours and dangerous conditions.  The most under-regulated sectors of the economy, where worker injuries and deaths are commonplace, overwhelmingly employ men.  Attempts to improve worker safety standards in constructing buildings, extracting minerals, managing waste, and operating heavy machinery are crushed by deep-pocketed corporate lobbying that manipulates powerful social norms viewing men as indestructible work machines.  While other countries have shortened the work-week, mandated paid vacation time, supported earlier retirement, and even provided paternity leave for men to take care of newborn children, the American man is supposed to be tough and hard-working.  He is not supposed to mind late nights at the office away from his family or missing most of his child’s first months of life.  American males work more hours in their lifetimes than anyone else in the industrialized world.  As more and more women have entered the workplace in recent decades, men are not working less hours as some might have predicted, if anything they are working more, particularly white-collar college-educated men.  Where is the outrage from so-called “Men’s Rights Activists”?  Who stands up for men’s rights to be more than cogs in the machine of economic production, to be safe at work and spend time with their families?

The explosion of America’s prison population in recent decades overwhelmingly affects men.  The US holds more prisoners than any other nation in the world.  With 5% of the population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners, due to harsh laws mandating unusually long prison sentences, heavy imprisonment of nonviolent drug users, low investment in prevention and rehabilitation, and a parole system that throws people back in prison as a response to minor violations like missing meetings.  While prison policy is often labeled a black or Latino issue, it would more accurately be described as a men’s issue, with men representing over nine in ten inmates.  Our ever-expanding prison industrial complex is made possible by our society’s perceptions of men—young men, low-income men, men of color—but ultimately men.  We stubbornly reject proven cost-efficient and effective reforms like preventing crime by investing in programs for at-risk boys or helping formerly incarcerated men adjust back into society with education and job opportunities.  Those are “hug-a-thug” women’s solutions.  Real men understand that other men are violent and irreversibly dangerous—they cannot be helped by compassion but instead must be separated for decades from their families and communities.  The show “Orange is the New Black” is largely successful because it depicts a women’s prison—we are capable of being horrified by the shocking conditions only once we can imagine women having to endure them.  But we will never reform our prison system until we can recognize the humanity of other men.

There is no greater testament to our society’s willingness to treat men as disposable than war.  Who fills the caskets that return home draped in flags?  Who are the faces of the homeless veterans who line freeway exits and downtown sidewalks?  Who are the survivors of war facing job discrimination and social isolation from disabilities and post-traumatic stress?  When women and children are victims of war we are disgusted, horrified, inconsolable, outraged—why can’t we muster the same compassion for fellow men?  We have swallowed the lie that we are so strong that our lives aren’t worth saving.  If “Men’s Rights Activists” truly cared about fundamentally improving the lives of men they would be marching in the streets for peace, not grumbling about feminists on Reddit.  It is not women who are sending us to die overseas, but powerful men who place such little value on the lives of other men.

These problems fall most heavily on working-class and poor men who fill our prisons, our most deadly jobs, and the ranks of our military.  This puts men under an unrelenting pressure to succeed in today’s brutally competitive economy to escape the fleeting life expectancy of low-income men in America.  It’s easy to think that only young men or only black men or only poor men end up behind bars or dying in Afghanistan or working in a steel mill, but middle-class college-educated men should remember that this system thrives on that mentality.  Men are constantly running an economic rat race because somewhere inside we recognize that we are only one slip away from the fate we condemn other men to because we think they should be tough enough to handle it.

If we want to make life better for men, we must stop blaming women.  We must remember that the gender roles that reduce women to silent property and sexual objects are the same that reduce men to emotionless machines made for fighting and hard labor.  Feminists are not enemies of men, but allies in a common struggle to reclaim our humanity.  When we refuse to believe women who survive rape and blame victims for “asking for it”, we feed a society that views us as uncontrollable sexual monsters who must not be provoked, that makes women afraid to see us on the street and parents afraid to trust us with their children.  When we try to justify the pay gap by saying men work harder or negotiate better or deserve to make more because we financially support women, we feed a society that judges men’s worth by our ability to make lots of money and be cutthroat competitors who live for work alone and never see our families.  When we defend the domination of all levels of government by “strong, tough” men and not “irrational, weak” women, we feed a society that continues to send millions of our fellow men to die in battle and rot in prison because that’s what strong, masculine leadership supposedly stands for.

So-called “Men’s Rights Activists” have only succeeded in carving out a little online world that provides an outlet for validating a few men’s deep-seated bitterness towards some particular women in their personal lives.  But we deserve better than that.  We deserve a world that doesn’t treat men as disposable machines, one where we live longer, freer, happier lives.  We can’t get there by hating women.  We can only get there by loving ourselves.

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13 comments

  1. Cherie Eulau

    Insightuful and comprehensive approach to this issue. Remember us when you are a well known activist appearing on The Daily Show or whatever Colbert is doing!

  2. Mythago

    This won’t be productive to the convo, but go fuck yourself you mangina lap dog and take your Marxist hand book with you. The feminist is the useful idiot of the state and your type is the useful idiot of the feminist. I’m for equality that’s why I despise feminism.

    • Anonymous

      Kudos to Lucas (with whom I nearly completely disagree on this topic) for leaving this bilious, hateful negative example of public discourse (by Mythago) on this site and not deleting it.

      Although I am not an active part of the Men’s Rights movement, I feel this article mischaracterizes the participants and grossly stereotypes them. I would also encourage you (Lucas) to engage in discussion with Karen Straughan who, although her posts viz this article are clearly not supportive, is a highly intelligent, well-read and articulate defendant of the Men’s Rights Movement (and who can no doubt commiserate with you on the role of hate-posts in a discussion thread).

    • Robert Borneman

      Kudos to Lucas (with whom I nearly completely disagree on this topic) for leaving this bilious, hateful negative example of public discourse (by Mythago) on this site and not deleting it.

      Although I am not an active part of the Men’s Rights movement, I feel this article mischaracterizes the participants and grossly stereotypes them. I would also encourage you (Lucas) to engage in discussion with Karen Straughan who, although her posts viz this article are clearly not supportive, is a highly intelligent, well-read and articulate defendant of the Men’s Rights Movement (and who can no doubt commiserate with you on the role of hate-posts in a discussion thread).

  3. markxneil

    “Who stands up for men’s rights to be more than cogs in the machine of economic production, to be safe at work and spend time with their families?”

    Existing men’s rights groups DO stand up for men regarding these issues. Who do you think is leading the charge regarding the media’s ignoring Boko Haram terrorism that resulted several massacres of boys (while setting girls free) before they realized the media didn’t care and so kidnapped girls (still better than being slaughtered)? Who do you think keep pointing out that, when mines collapse or trade center towers crumble, it is predominantly, if not entirely men that are affected, and yet, all we ever hear is about how “miners” (not men”) have been trapped, how “first responders” (again, not men) gave their lives to rush in and save lives, or how “student”s (not boys) where locked inside their dorms and burned alive? Just because you’ve chosen to be ignorant of the men’s movement, doesn’t mean your ignorance is truth. Most of the issues you describe here as “being ignored by the men’s movement”, have been documented for YEARS as issues men’s rights groups seek to address:

    http://www.avoiceformen.com/men/mens-issues/compendium-of-mens-issues/

  4. markxneil

    Also… you seem to have a serious problem differentiating between feminism and women. The two are not synonyms and should not be used as such, yet you rely heavily on interchanging these words in order to paint the men’s movement as hating women, and the feminist movement as completely undeserving of such hate. It’s dishonest and manipulative at best.

  5. Matheus

    “If you haven’t heard of “Men’s Rights Activists”, they’re a disturbing bunch: A loosely organized network of men primarily concerned with the injustices of being stuck in the “friend zone” and women accusing them of rape”

    How incredibly dishonest can you be? Don’t expect everyone who reads this article to be a part of your echo chamber. Some people are actually able to do research on groups on their own, and realize just how pathetic your generalizations are.

  6. Honey Badger Radio

    “So-called “Men’s Rights Activists” have only succeeded in carving out a little online world that provides an outlet for validating a few men’s deep-seated bitterness towards some particular women in their personal lives.”

    Hi and welcome to honey badger radio. My name is Alison Tieman and I’ll be your host on this episode’s topic “Silencing the Female Voices of the Men’s Rights Movement”, with me today is Karen Straughan, Hannah Wallen, Rachel Edwards, Alyss Majeur and Kristal Garcia.

    http://www.honeybadgerbrigade.com

    We’re female members of the men’s rights movement and we were silenced by this article.

  7. karen straughan

    It’s amazing how much this article coincides with EVERYTHING MRAs say. The only difference is that you see women as victims of the system men created, while MRAs see both men and women as collaborators in it. You see women as powerless. MRAs see women as at least as powerful as men. You may see men as capable of being hurt, but you refuse to see women as capable of hurting others.

    Which of us is sexist?

  8. Jacob Antwone

    Your complete inability to distinguish between feminism and women alone shows how much incredibly dishonest you are.

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