Josh Kleinberg rejects the idea that feminism and men’s rights are incompatible aims. In our fight for equality, he argues, we’ve got to weed out the reactionary behavior.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in both feminist and men’s rights communities, and each camp (like all political factions) has a small but loud minority of agitators. But just as the SCUM Manifesto does not define the feminist movement, the men’s rights movement should not be conflated with slur-hurling macho men (no matter if they claim to speak under the men’s rights banner).
I had a couple of problems with Hugo Schwyzer’s March 8 column, “How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong.” As someone who tends to straddle the two camps, I was a little dismayed to see yet another self-identified feminist dismissing men’s rights advocates outright. I take issue especially with the article’s gradual conflation of the “older, angrier” men’s rights advocates with the movement as a whole.
More importantly, is it fair to dismiss the movement as merely a symptom of angst about traditional gender roles? Schwyzer argues that men are not responding to social structures like “a biased family court system, or feminist college professors, or the perceived injustices of Title IX athletic funding.”
I say that’s exactly what they are doing—or the good ones, at least.
It’s true that some MRAs unfairly attack women for the structures they rail against, but it’s unmerited to extrapolate this (ultimately irrelevant) fallacy as representative of the movement, especially without actually responding to any of the claims.
Take a look at the Men’s Rights subreddit at Reddit.com (perhaps the largest and best known community of men’s rights activists). Some complaints are fair; some aren’t. But the defining thread is that these complaints stem from discussions of policy—both social and legal. The most prevalent discussion in men’s rights circles is not even about men’s relationships with women, but their allowed interactions with children. MRAs’ most trumpeted claim is that in an overzealous concern for children’s safety, men are often unfairly and preemptively categorized as predators.
One member of Reddit’s men’s rights group told a story of taking his daughter to the park and having the police called on him as a possible child molester. Another man described being totally dumbstruck when a friend pulled him aside to express concerns about the frequency and comfort with which he touched his son while playing in the yard. Regardless of identity politics, this is a question that can’t go unaddressed by any man with a child in his life.
Men’s rights and feminism are not incompatible aims. I’ve seen wrestling programs defunded as a result of Title IX, have heard feminist professors attack anthropologists not for unsound research but for the “dangerous implications” of their findings, and I’ve seen bad decisions in family court make a good father weep. And none of this made me any less thankful for Lily Ledbetter, or less outraged by the proposal to defund Planned Parenthood.
Gender politics is not a subscription service. You don’t just pick a team to root for and then disregard arguments from every other angle. If our interest is equality, we must also examine issues where the paradigm is counterintuitive or unclear.
And no, I don’t believe we have the option of focusing our attention on the “more oppressed” group for the time being. The programmed mode of thought that says a man is less fit than a woman to touch his child is the same mode of thought that necessitates a cozy place for women in the sphere of domesticity. When we weed out the static—the reactionary yelling and finger-pointing from both sides—we see that men’s rights and feminism, far from being opposed, are means to the same end.