Noah Brand makes the case for a non-adversarial model of gender.
I get asked, from time to time, what I think about the “war between feminists and MRAs.”
I’ll be frank–I don’t think there’s any such thing. It’s like asking me what I think of the demolition of Toontown.
The Manichaean Fallacy is a very common trap in human cognition. It’s the constant temptation to reduce any situation of perceived conflict down to an absolute battle between two pure opposing forces, equal in strength and power, which can only end in absolute victory for one side and defeat for the other.
For whatever reason, our brains really, really like to frame things this way, to where we’ll hammer situations that don’t fit until we can make ’em fit. There aren’t really two sides? We’ll mentally assign people to teams. The sides aren’t purely homogenous? We’ll just pretend they are. The two sides aren’t remotely equal? We’ll just talk as though they were. There, that only took three steps, and now we have a nice, comfortable model that doesn’t resemble reality at all.
There’s a secondary fallacy, where some folks like to tell themselves that ultimate truth is always at a midway point between the two perfectly opposed sides that they imagine. You’ve heard these guys, “Well, there are extremists on both sides, but I find the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. If only people were willing to compromise…” In other words, they pick two imaginary points, derive a third imaginary point from them, and call the result objectivity. These folks are fun because you don’t have to torture them with rats to get them to truly believe that 2+2=5. You just have to get some of the pundits on TV saying that 2+2=6.
The “war” between feminists and MRAs is a creation of this fallacy, including the “well, maybe there’s a middle ground” corollary. It makes some folks feel like they’re in an intense, exciting struggle with the whole world at stake, which is a fun thing to pretend to believe.
Thing is, it just isn’t so. Feminists and MRAs are not pure and not equivalent, victory for one does not equal defeat for the other, and it certainly doesn’t map accurately to people’s real-life experiences of gender. I reject the entire silly model as a useless framing of gender roles in our society. It’s a lousy model with no predictive value and I’ll have no truck with it. A better model lies not in the middle, but outside the manichaean conflict entirely.
There’s a principle we discovered over at No Seriously, What About The Menz?, that we named Ozy’s Law. It is simply this: you cannot form a stereotype about either of the two major genders without simultaneously forming a concurrent stereotype about the other. Or, more simply: misandry mirrors misogyny.
Pick out whatever sexist stereotypes offend you, and you’ll find that every one of them has a corollary stereotype. Men always want sex; women never want sex. Men are slobs; women should do housework. Men are shallow and looks-obsessed; women are only valuable for their looks. Men are only valuable for their success and money; women are shallow gold-diggers. There is no end to these, no offensively wrong stereotype that doesn’t carry its offensively wrong twin.
Therefore, the entire asinine notion of gender liberation as a zero-sum game in which one gender must lose for the other to gain… simply doesn’t make sense. It cannot make sense. Men and women can only be liberated together, or not at all.
We cannot liberate men from the trap of the success myth without liberating women from the beauty myth. We cannot liberate women from being nothing but housewives without liberating men from being nothing but breadwinners. We cannot liberate everyone from repressive and outdated sexual roles if we’re only going to pick at the edges of the problem, trying to free this person’s penis or that person’s vagina. At this point in the game, we are either freeing everyone from repressive gender roles or we’re just fucking around.
That in mind, I think we should get to work, because the hour is late and we’ve left a lot undone.