How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong

Hugo Schwyzer explains how a handful of men are angry for all the wrong reasons.

When I was getting clean and sober in a Twelve Step program many years ago, there was one phrase from the literature that always resonated with me. We addicts have been, the book said, the “architects of our own adversity.” Yes, I thought the first time I read that. It’s time to stop blaming others for my own pain. It’s time to take responsibility.

That same phrase comes to mind when I think about Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). I’ve been crossing verbal swords with the MRAs for many years, particularly since 2004 when I began to develop a public presence as a male feminist writer and professor. I learned quickly that not all MRAs were the same; some offered thoughtful criticism while others offered only nasty invective. (Look up “Hugo Schwyzer Mangina” if you need evidence of the latter.)

As a professor who teaches courses on Men and Masculinity, as well as a mentor to many young men (and as a man myself, of course), I’m intensely interested in the ways in which men position themselves as victims. I’ve spent years reading the literature and talking points of MRAs and “fathers’ rights” groups. I’ve spent a lot of time in conversation with men who are going through divorce, something I’ve been through more than once. My male students range in age from 17 to 70, from bright high school students taking their first college courses to retired professionals curious about gender studies. I meet with so many of them—jocks, geeks, gamers, drifters, ambitious future politicians and wary-eyed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

From so many of these men—online and in real life—I hear the same thing: the narrative of helplessness.

♦◊♦

The older, angrier MRAs describe a world in which women (and their male “collaborators”) have usurped traditional male privileges for themselves. Men, they claim, are at a disadvantage in the courts, in the business world, in academia. The MRAs see public space in the Western world as increasingly feminized, and they fancy “real men” (in whose ranks they invariably include themselves) to be under attack from a dark coalition of feminist activists, cowardly politicians cravenly surrendering to the cultural left, and a media that never misses an opportunity to demean and belittle traditional men. It all provides a satisfying sense of being “under attack,” which is why many—not all—men’s rights activists use, absurdly enough, the language of oppression and resistance to describe their movement.

When heterosexual masculinity is defined by violent obtuseness, these “guy rules” rob boys of their chance to develop emotional skills to thrive in relationships with others.

These men feel victimized, they feel exploited, they feel ignored, they feel impotent. And those feelings are powerful. I don’t think these boys and men who turn to the men’s rights movement are lying about their pain. The problem is that they’ve completely misunderstood two things.

The cause of men’s very real unhappiness isn’t a biased family court system, or feminist college professors, or the perceived injustices of Title IX athletic funding. The source of men’s anguish and uncertainty is the straitjacket of traditional American manhood. Men are suffering because their emotional, psychological, intellectual, and sexual potential is stunted by their own efforts to live up to an impossible masculine ideal.

Whether they got it from their fathers or their older brothers, whether they learned it from peers or pastors, coaches or drill instructors, almost all American boys grow up learning the “guy rules.” As Deborah David and Robert Brannon first showed in their landmark 1976 book on men, The Forty-Nine Percent Majority, the rules are crushingly simple: Big boys don’t cry. No sissy stuff. Be a “sturdy oak.” “Be a big wheel.” “Give ’em hell.”

Being a man, in other words, is defined by divesting oneself of anything remotely associated with femininity (like kindness, sensitivity, intuition, empathy). When heterosexual masculinity is defined by violent obtuseness, these “guy rules” rob boys of their chance to develop emotional skills to thrive in relationships with others. This frantic effort to shut down a whole aspect of one’s potential isn’t caused by testosterone or Y chromosomes. It’s caused by the longing to live by the “man code.”

♦◊♦

Most MRAs agree that the “man code” exists and that it does great damage to young men. But they blame women for these cruel and limiting rules. According to many MRAs I’ve spoken to, it is women’s sexual desire for the alpha male that forces boys to compete ruthlessly with one another. “Women say they want one thing but choose another: they always go for assholes,” so many guys say. If women would broaden their sexual appetites to include “betas” and “omegas,” their reasoning goes, boys would feel less compelled to compete ruthlessly with one another. (The men’s rights activists tend to be wildly off-base about what women actually want, but that’s another topic.)

It’s a typical but tragic mistake: MRAs wildly overestimate women’s power, sexual or otherwise. Men, they insist, are helpless by comparison. But that claim ignores a long and unmistakable history of male domination in human history. And if there’s one undeniable truism about our species, it’s that the rules are made by the dominant group. The “man laws” or “guy rules” were created by and for men. Historically, winning validation from other men has mattered more than getting sex or love from women. (If you don’t believe that, think for a moment about how hard boys will work to please a demanding football coach.) Males are raised to be “homosocial,” which means they’re taught to get their primary affirmation from other men rather than from women. Working too hard for female approval just makes you a “mama’s boy” or “pussy-whipped,” and the frantic efforts young men make to ensure neither of those labels apply to them tells you all you need to know about who it is they are really trying to impress.

♦◊♦

So men are indeed architects of their own adversity. This doesn’t mean that each boy is individually responsible for his own suffering. But it does mean that the pain so many men feel from broken relationships, social isolation, and the gnawing sense of personal powerlessness is not women’s fault. It’s the fault of a rigid code that was set up eons ago, a code that many of us continue to perpetuate. Extricating ourselves from the emotional straitjacket the code forces us to wear requires taking responsibility for our own lives and choices. It requires letting go of blame. And it requires seeing that feminism—with its remarkable claim that biological sex has nothing to with our human potential—is the best avenue for our personal and collective liberation.

♦◊♦

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Super Villain or Not, Parenting Paranoia Ensues
The Garbage Man Explains Happiness
How To Not Suck At Dating

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website

Comments

  1. hot debate??? there is no debate, if your comment is not welcomed by the hivemind, it is removed.

  2. “The cause of men’s very real unhappiness isn’t a biased family court system, or feminist college professors, or the perceived injustices of Title IX athletic funding. The source of men’s anguish and uncertainty is the straitjacket of traditional American manhood. Men are suffering because their emotional, psychological, intellectual, and sexual potential is stunted by their own efforts to live up to an impossible masculine ideal.”
    Thank you so much for explaining the source of men’s unhappiness so succinctly.
    Before reading your article, I had no idea that the reason my ex-wife got custody by default was due to my own personal stunted emotional, psychological, intellectual, and sexual potential. I would never have guessed, after my ex abandoned the children and I got custody, my efforts to live up to an impossible masculine ideal would result in my being ordered to pay her continuing child support despite my custodial parent status.
    And who would have guessed that the terrible straitjacket which we willingly don is the reason why we receive such a disproportionately low percentage of health care funding?
    Alas, it saddens me to realize that the many young men who’s children are adopted away from them against their will would have had the opportunity to parent their own flesh and blood, had they only been less masculine.
    Or, you could be a complete tool. Yes, that’s it. A complete and utter tool.

    • You realize that it is the “straitjacket of traditional American manhood,” that was the reason why you did not get custody of your children? We live in a heteronormative culture that does not allow for men to be good parents, despite the fact that they are equally as capable as women. The courts just reflect what popular culture tells them, and for YEARS, the courts have been told by this heteronormative culture that one shouldn’t trust men with kids (which, let me remind you again, is utter bullshit). It’s not just you personally in “straitjacket of traditional American manhood,” it’s the entire American population trying to live up to the heteronormative culture that’s to blame.

      Also, please, refrain from personal insults. Even if you don’t like or buy someone else’s argument, if they remain polite, then so should you.

      • Okay… So why were men granted custody by default prior to the 20th century? What we’ve seen in the court system is an over correction based on a narrative that is, at most, 100 years old. This is the result of patriarchy how?

        The feminists that have gotten laws enacted and changed haven’t done anything to safeguard the rights of the opposite sex and they’ve gone to great lengths to preserve everything that benefits them. This does not mean all women or all feminists deserve the blame for male suffering, but it does mean two things:

        1. Prominent feminists have played a part in slighting men and stripping away some of their human rights.

        2. Patriarchy is not an adequate explanation since that would mean that the definition of patriarchy is so flexible as to be meaningless. This system, which was specifically designed to benefit men and secure their privilege – a system that still remains albeit in a weaker form, according to feminists – has made it so that men are no longer trusted with children and many of them face numerous restrictions when it comes to their own kids? That completely flies in the face of common sense.

        There’s plenty more to delve into, but anyone who is curious enough about this can find plenty of MRA sources that talk about these subjects. As for myself, I don’t think that either gender is oppressed in the west, and that the only way to deal with the problems that remain is to adopt a two-pronged approach. Doing otherwise will result in oppression, and it will also allow simplistic narratives like patriarchy theory to become the official standard for how people view the world.

    • Exactly what he said. Your social narrative simply does not reflect reality, Schweizer.

  3. “Men are suffering because their emotional, psychological, intellectual, and sexual potential is stunted by their own efforts to live up to an impossible masculine ideal.”

    Couldn’t it be argued, as a counterpoint, that men are driven to that kind of self-defeating pursuit by social pressure?

  4. ZimbaZumba says:

    Having Hugo Schwyzer writing an article for The Goodman Project reduces it credibility by many orders of magnitude.

  5. Demonspawn says:

    Feminism? I think I understand Feminism far better than you do.

    The first thing to remember is that feminism was never and likely will never be a movement for equality. It was a movement for, in it’s most pure form, equal rights for women. But equal rights alone is not equality, as it ignores the burdens of equal responsibility. And remember this point, as we’ll return to it again. But for right now, let’s look at modern feminism:

    1) Please enumerate any government-granted rights which men have and women do not have in equal or greater levels.

    2) Please enumerate any government-enforced responsibilities which women bear which men do not bear in equal or greater levels.

    If women have equal or greater rights and equal or lesser responsibilities, as enforced by government, then why is there need for feminism (a supposed movement of equality) to petition the government for redress of grievances?

    Otherwise, to propose that the government needs to assist women to create a equal playing field is an admission, by feminists, to one of two potential facts:

    A) Women are not equal to men, and therefore women need help from the government to be equal to men (to be able to fairly compete).

    B) Feminism is not about equality, and is instead about giving women advantage over men (if women were equal to men AND receiving government help, then they would be in the position of an advantage over men)

    Given that it is easy to see where feminists are arguing for more rights in areas where women’s rights are equal to or exceed men’s rights, then we must question the ultimate end:

    If A is true, Feminism is a lie. If B is true, Feminism is a hate movement. I can demonstrate that it is both.

    How can it be both? Well, if we suppose that the people who support feminism truly do believe that men and women are equal, then they exist under condition B. Feminism is a hate movement of female superiority. As for it being a lie, I’ll hold that to the end because I want to tackle another issue on the idea of equality.

    And that issue is the idea of social influence. Despite the fact that government has no business regulating social values, feminists will argue that feminism needs to petition government to re-adjust social values so that women can be equal. This, again, is a farce. Given that women make up 51+% of the population, then again women would have to be less than equal to require government’s help to change social values. But it gets even more interesting. Given that 85+% of K-12 teachers are female, given that 40% of births are out of wedlock, given that women get primary custody in divorce 90+% of the time, given that even in intact families women are much more likely to be a stay at home parent… we can see women’s disproportionate impact on influencing the youth of the next generation. When you add those facts to the understanding that women are a majority, how can the next generation be anything other than what women want it to be?

    I’m sure the wealth argument will be played out next. This is quickly dismissed by multiple studies that demonstrate women control 80% of consumer spending. The results of this are very easy to tell as women are the sacred cow in commercials. Women also have more free time than men on average, which reinforces the positive portrayal of women on ad-supported television.

    So now that we’ve demonstrated, without a doubt, the feminism cannot be about equality, and given plenty of evidence towards demonstration of feminism as a hate movement, how can it also be a lie?
    That comes down to the third leg of the equality triangle. There are rights and responsibilities, but there is also privilege. Privilege is the relative ability to escape responsibilities or to extend rights beyond what is codified. While this is easy to measure in the realm of government and laws, it is a bit more murky in the public sphere. But what we will find is that women have greater privilege than men, and the fundamental reasons behind this are biologically driven (and therefore uncorrectable). This is why exact equality, where each leg of equality is balanced, is impossible between men and women. As such, the only possible equality between men and women is relative equality where each leg is imbalanced but the total is roughly equal. Traditionally, this has worked by men having more rights, women having less responsibilities, and women having greater privilege. (hrm… notice that feminism was all about “equal rights” and ignoring the other two legs where women were ahead? More proof that feminism was never an equality movement.)

    Our society and, in fact, all societies serve women. They are more important than men. Men are the disposable lives that protect society, and women are the lives that are society. This is how it has been for the history of the world. Some societies protect women by reducing their freedoms (Islam) others do it by not holding them accountable for their actions (Western society). But the gall of feminism is to rail on about “the patriarchy” when, in fact, all societies treat the average woman better than the average man.

    Why? Reproduction. It comes down to that simple fact. Might makes right, and numbers make might. That’s why we don’t send women to war (we need to repopulate so we are safe from the next invasion), it’s why we get women and children off the boat first (repopulation), it’s why we care more when women die working in the coal mines (and, notice that women only wanted “workplace equality” once jobs didn’t include the risk of life and limb?). Quite simply, society individual men as more disposable than individual women.

    But there’s a counter side to that as well. You can’t treat the men as too disposable because society advances on the backs of men. Now, I could repeat Dr. Baumeister’s insightful essay, but I’ll just condense it down into a few points. Men create civilization by the gender trend to value equity over equality. Women prepare the next generation by following equality over equity. Women select the best men and reward them with sex and children. Men compete to become the best men to be chosen by the best women. That competition is what advances society. This is why when sex becomes cheap and competition declines, so does the society.

    That’s the fundamental bedrock of what makes civilization work. That’s another reason that feminism is not about equality. The truth is, we cannot free our men from traditional roles as we have freed our women from them. To do so would be near-instant social suicide. The sad truth is that freeing women from traditional roles is also social suicide, just on a slower scale.

    So there it is, Feminism is not only a hate movement, it is also a lie. And the sad truth is that it can’t be stopped. The simple facts are that if you give legal equality (including suffrage) to a group which enjoys social favor, the disparate influence will shift the legal equality to legal favor… ever increasing until the system can no longer support itself. Or, as I like to say: Feminism is a self-correcting social problem. It destroys the society it infests.

    • Your comment has helped me cope, for the moment, with the doubts I’ve been having about myself in a social scene where anyone who isn’t a feminist is either dumb, evil, or uneducated.

      Bravo. I’m saving this to show to other morons that say I have “male privilege”… while I’m holding the door for them.

    • Thanks for this comment, it realy makes a lot of sense and puts things into perspektive.

    • Understands Feminism says:

      You got one thing wrong, though. Feminism is not just for “women’s rights” – it is for the advancement of all humans regardless of biological sex or gender. Your false dichotomy, and assumption of a gender binary, shows that you actually just simply don’t grasp the later waves of Feminist Theory. i’m male-bodied and don’t call myself a feminist, but at least i know the basics.

  6. Jeff Wolfsberg says:

    Hugo,

    Thank you for the post. I enjoy reading another point of view. I just completely disagree with most of what you write. I read this post and tried to imagine if it was written about women and the hail storm that would erupt. Men continue to take in on the chin and whenever we stand up for ourselves have to contend with “he’s angry” or “women hater” of “he’s anti-women” no I’m not, I love women, I’m just tired of men being treated like idiots in the media when we are the ones financially supporting most of the institutions and products that make us the butt of jokes. I continue to enjoy your point of view, but I couldn’t be further from your point of view.

    I look forward to your next post.

    Jeff

    • MRA’s face a two-front opposition to be heard; feminists who have the default support of women and male feminists. Feminists alone did not make the changes, and still do not make the changes, that MRA’s seek redress for. Men who support feminism facilitate these changes as well. The problem now is feminist men do not want to face the real problems that men, outside of the feminist utopia, face. Men are treated well until divorce, accusation of rape, accusation of DV, being on the receiving end of violence from women, being raped by women, access to their children, right of true paternity knowledge or even being recognised for men.

      There is a serious disconnect were some problems are dismissed as phantasmal simply because they happen to men. This is where feminist men get the MRA’s wrong.

    • Awesome. We should totally try to “translate” some of Hugo’s stuff.

      David Byron explains to angry women why they are all wrong</blockquote.
      Ladies, I know you're all up angry about not having the vote, but remember that your tiny lady brains cannot be expected to take on the serious work of democracy. Every month your bodies are subject to the emotions created by the loss of blood pressure that takes away oxygen from your vitals and makes it so you can';t think better than an ape or perhaps a monkey. Now just go home and make me a sandwich.

  7. Demonspawn:

    Given that 85+% of K-12 teachers are female, given that 40% of births are out of wedlock, given that women get primary custody in divorce 90+% of the time, given that even in intact families women are much more likely to be a stay at home parent… we can see women’s disproportionate impact on influencing the youth of the next generation. When you add those facts to the understanding that women are a majority, how can the next generation be anything other than what women want it to be?

    It has nearly always been the case that women were the primary child rearers. Would you argue that female domination has also nearly always been the case? That explains why we’ve had so few male presidents, I guess.

    In seriousness, it would appear there’s something fallacious about assuming that a generation raised by women will become one which is good for women. Oh, and how the heck do out-of-wedlock births demonstrate female influence? I thought they were a mutual act (which women bear much more of the cost of).

    I’m sorry about the custody thing, but as long as we’re spewing generalities, how many men are expected to be the primary caretakers of kids? That’s what more MRAs need to fight for — the right to change the damn diapers! That’s what I support, anyway.

  8. This entire article is just one long run-on ad hominem attack on men isn’t it?
    Is that true of all this guys articles?

    The source of men’s anguish and uncertainty is the straitjacket of traditional American manhood.

    (1) I’m not American
    (2) I don’t care about “manhood” or “tradition”
    But mystifyingly I arrive at the same conclusions as the MRAs (except even more so).

    Next week:
    Hugo responds to all of my arguments by explaining “he’s just a momma’s boy”.

  9. At what point do you determine that male anger is justified as opposed to merely a symptom of a “masculine ideal”? Rather than glossing over the real issues and telling men how they should feel and why they feel it, wouldn’t it be far more honest to acknowledge that such unfair systems exist?

  10. odd and disturbing that the author doesn’t write of the large-scale violent assault and mutilation of male infants (yes, what people numbly and blindly call “circumcision”). if u can’t see, or imagine, how this violent genital assault on an infant has profound effects, you are in major denial and fear. please… look directly and deeply, honestly, into this basic sickness yet among us.

  11. My impression is the opposite, I think women have been successful in morphing the masculine ideal into something they ironically dont like. I know my dad didnt teach me to be a man, it was something I had to piece together myself. Why do you think the program Mad Men has become a roaring success? I think there is something primal that attracts women to men who dont complain, who have a mission in life, are oversexed and unapologetic.

  12. Dear Hugo. Look up Trojan Evolve commercial. Do you feel like a pig?

  13. “The men’s rights activists tend to be wildly off-base about what women actually want, but that’s another topic.”

    That topic being “women want a drug addict who will attempt to kill them while they’re unconscious.”

    Seriously, why is Hugo being published here (or anywhere for that matter)?

  14. I going to say one word: Patriarchy. Its the word that makes people look at me like I am crazy when I say it.

    Then I am going to say Thank You. Spot on. I’m glad my observations are seen by someone else. I am very observant. People think I’m insane when I say I think I know people’s motivations… my bluntness can kill. Apparently.

  15. “If you don’t believe that, think for a moment about how hard boys will work to please a demanding football coach.”
    The fact you think football players are working hard only to please their coach is astonishing to me, that you can understand even less about male nature than female feminists. Men work hard to please themselves. They want to impress themselves. Not other men. Football players work hard for their coach because they want to succeed as football players, because they trust that their coach is pushing them for their own good and because they understand the need for order and authority in a sports team and that their coach decides whether to play them or not and has a large say in whether they succeed or not.

    This is typical of the hateful garbage you hear from feminists. All maleness is wrong, idiotic and harmful. It originates not in our nature, that we behave in certain ways because we are happier that way, because it satisfies and stimulates us and helps us work towards the things which we want, but because we were socialized away from being the perfect, beautiful, emotionally sensitive, empathetic angels women are.

    “Working too hard for female approval just makes you a “mama’s boy” or “pussy-whipped,” and the frantic efforts young men make to ensure neither of those labels apply to them tells you all you need to know about who it is they are really trying to impress.”
    Maybe it’s because women would never be able to give you any advice on how to get what you want from them. They’d tell you to be nice and kind and caring and a good listener and on and on and on about things that don’t actually cause attraction in them but are just something they’d like. Men figured this stuff out long ago. The men who follow their male nature get into the panties of the women they are attracted to. The men who try to do what women tell them they want get to take care of their kids once those women are in their mid-thirties. Feminists understand their own nature almost as little as they understand male nature.

    This article is so hateful, insulting and dismissive of men it’s hard to fathom how a man could have written it. The fact you teach classes on Men and Masculinity concerns me. You’ll be contributing to men being confused about their feelings and desires and incapable of understanding themselves.

    And as far as the reasons for the MRAs, a lot of them are men who have been incredibly screwed over by the biased courts system and other things in our society so for you to say that their unhappiness does not stem from that is disgusting, condescending drivel. Theirs does. They’re not the architects of anything, they were treated unfairly by a despicably biased system and >>>are<<< victims.

    This is so unbelievably typical. Find a way to blame men even when they're the victims, while feminists consider women victims in every facet of their existence.

  16. I once heard a woman say there was no need for a movement for issues men have because there already was one called feminism. Wtf? Look, if “feminism” were about human beings it would be called humanism. It doesn’t take a a genius to see the root of the word has to do with females. In addition, when feminists such as yourself talk about men, there is either a total lack of understanding of the realities now faced by men or a suspicious lack of empathy/compassion. People who deny the misandric core of our society just prove over and over how deeply ingrained it really is. By not addressing the disadvantages and injustices men now face after so many years of living in a totalitarian feminist matriarchy, you reveal yourself to be intellectually dishonest and unworthy of serious discussion.

  17. I should add that although men are the victims of feminism, playing the victim is a female’s game and I don’t recommend it. To any young men stumbling upon this information … do not bother with workinv within the system because it is already too far gone and corrupted. The best you can do is to gain a deep understanding of what you are up against and protect yourself. It is always better to take the red pill.

Trackbacks

  1. […] if you wade through the comments below my Tuesday column on MRAs at the Good Men Project, you’ll see lots of invective and ad hominem. If you visited this […]

  2. […] such argument is made by Male-Feminist Professor Hugo Schwyzer, where, in his article, “How the mens rights activists get feminism wrong”, he asserts that men are the sole cause of the “anger” men’s rights advocates […]

  3. […] of them, no surprises here, actually popped up in the wake of the post on so-called Men’s Rights Activists and the ones specifically dealing with rape […]

  4. […] if you wade through the comments below my Tuesday column on MRAs at the Good Men Project, you’ll see lots of invective and ad hominem. If you visited this […]

  5. […] without being hostile towards feminism. I would also recommend checking out Hugo Schwyzer’s How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong, and Amanda Marcotte’s The Solution to MRA Problems? More Feminism. Share this:Like […]

  6. […] [38] Schwyzer, Hugo. “How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong.” The Good Men Project. N.p., 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.  http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/how-the-mens-rights-activists-get-feminism-wrong […]

  7. […]       If men truly wish to overcome the sometimes toxic restrictions of 21st Century Western masculinity, far from seeing gender equality is a zero-sum […]

  8. […] about the men’s rights movement can be found here, here, and if you’re feeling especially intrepid here. Amusing coverage of the […]

Speak Your Mind

*