While many of us are building bridges across the gulf that exists between men and women, zealots continue to demand that we all pick a side and fight.
Maybe I’m cut from the same cloth as American Catholics. You know, a person who joins the Catholic church and then picks and chooses which part of the church’s dogma they’re going to actually buy into. American Catholics are known for supporting the use of birth control even though the use of it is clearly condemned by the church. But the fact is, we all have to do do this sort of thing in our social, political and religious lives. It’s part of a long and honored history of free thinking. We align ourselves with a group or issue and then we proceed to create our own version of the ideology as we marry the complexity of our life experience with the various rules or expectations associated with that group. Some folks consider joining any given group to be more trouble than it’s worth, but not me. I’m a born ideological tinkerer, a men’s rights feminist; and a lot more besides.
As citizens and human beings we are not only entitled, but in fact, obligated to intentionally engage the ideological bell curve. We must question the dogma pop quizzes. We must self identify as heretics in the cathedrals of accepted wisdom. I’m making this my life’s work because feminism and men’s rights are too important to be left in the hands of the true believers. Those people never get anything accomplished. They preach to the choir. They alienate the rest of us. They’re an odd combination of angry and boring. They are the past, yelling at the future. An exercise in angry impotence.
No single point of view can ever be a litmus test for movements as fluid and wide ranging as feminism or men’s rights, but there will always be those who consider themselves to be the ideological gatekeepers for these movements. This small but vocal minority among MRA’s and feminists think they hold the keys to the kingdom of thought, to what is acceptable dialogue and what is not; which articles should be permitted to be published, what subjects can be discussed, what is allowed. Period. They are binary to their core, neither permitting nor hearing the kind of iterative and curious conversations that lead to real growth and change.
Their arrogance borders on laughable were it not for the damage they do to the very causes they seek to advance. These are causes we should all be concerned about; causes that seek to advance basic human rights, justice and equality. Valid causes that are being undermined and marginalized by people who show over and over again that they need to maintain the primacy of their ideological stance more than they need to solve the problems we all are facing.
And this is the problem with labels and movements. While many of us are attempting to build bridges across the gulf that exists between men and women, zealots stand in the gap with laundry lists of ideological absolutes, demanding that we all pick a side. And if we don’t pick a side, they slander and assault us with such open savagery that many of us are left shocked and silent.
“Fuck you, assholes,” is all we can muster.
And therein lies the biggest trap of all. “Fuck you, assholes,” is a recipe for intellectual and spiritual death. When you allow yourself to be drawn into a binary stance in opposition to the worst aspects of some opposing camp, that ideology begins to define you (as its opposite.) I would suggest that we all carefully consider the ideologies we are choosing to be in opposition to. If that ideology is a blunt and simplistic generalization, how can the opposite of it be otherwise? And yet, we are invited into binary discussions every day. By the loud and the arrogant who ply their binary trade.
For the record, I am APPALLED by extremist feminists. As much as I am APPALLED by extremist Men’s Rights activists. But I love many of the ideas and philosophies from both camps and I do not let the rabid few steal my right to speak into these spaces, nor do I allow them block my curiosity about the wider range of ideas they seek to monopolize. I think the issues of gender, family, society and sexuality need layered and complex conversations. These issues deserve innovative thinking that tracks the ongoing evolution of our culture and our society so that dialogues and solutions necessary thirty years ago don’t become unexamined engines of oppression today.
It is clear that the future of humankind hinges on these conversations becoming more mainstream.
Those of us who seek to break free of the antiquated social rules that govern gender, sexuality, and politics need to be growing the range of allowable dialogue and discourses, meeting people where they are, not entrenching ourselves in idealogical grudge matches.
Because, if we’re not talking, we’re not changing. And the conversations that create real change are always a two-way street.
Update: I wrote this in response to a protracted set of comments below, the majority of which amount to a wide ranging critique of feminism. I would like to state clearly that I am not a feminist. Nor am I an MRA (Men’s Rights Activist). I am a Men’s Rights Feminist. Which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. My comment follows:
“Tom, I would prefer that you call me a man’s rights activist as well as a feminist because I am both and therefore…neither, (but that part of it is completely getting lost here, as some of us seem to be obsessed with assigning and then condemning labels). I am working as a writer for the Good Men Project to insure that men have equal representation for our issues but I do not advocate from a position in opposition to extremist feminists or MRAs.
There is a ton of good work to be done that will open up the spaces for men to present their side of the story without engaging in that binary debate. When we fall into those binary debate spaces the extremists on the feminist side and the men’s rights side have us right where they want us. As troops in their ongoing grudge match to the death. I am not going to get dragged into that unending war when there is so much else that goes unspoken in the public spaces where the general public can and is being educated. THAT’S where change will come. A battle for hearts and minds. For example, just making public the story about millions of stay at home dads is changing the landscape around divorce and parenting dramatically. And that space has little to do with the battle between the extremist parts of the feminist and men’s rights movements.”
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