Men’s rights activists descended upon the New York Academy of Medicine last week for the Second Annual Conference on Male Studies, to discuss exactly what plagues the modern man. Their unsurprising conclusion: feminism.
The men’s rights movement has been the subject of more attention in recent years, as male unemployment persists. The concerns it raises are not without merit; the financial crisis has indeed hit men harder than women and the gender discrepancy in higher education becomes more pronounced with each passing year. But, as we’ve explored before, these men’s rights activists too often blame their favorite scapegoat—feminists—for economic and social hardship.
According to Jonathan Liu of the New York Observer, this conference was no different. Hosted by Guy Garcia, a journalist and former AOL executive, it featured a series of six “scholars” who provided a bit of statistical evidence coupled with a heavy dose of paranoid conjecture. Among the highlights was Garcia blaming male unemployment on working mothers.
Mr. Garcia’s greatest hit came some time later, an off-the-cuff theory on the scandal of male underemployment. “As we all know,” he said, “when boys are growing up, the way teenage males define themselves is against their mothers. They want to be not-Mom. So what do you think happens when Mom works?”
Later, Garcia argued that if the current sociological trends continue, men will become violent. “We know what happens when men have no hope,” Liu reports Garcia as saying. “They turn to violence.”
In another lecture, Michael Gilbert (author of The Disposable Male and a researcher at USC), lamented that society no longer limits sports and coming-of-age celebrations to boys. After all, girls get to menstruate— what need do they have for other rites of passage?
Even couched in faux-academia, the argument sounds ridiculous:
[Boys’] bodies don’t move to lunar rhythms—menstrual cycles. Jewish boys will not get a sweet 16. They won’t be given away in marriage—which is a bride-centered ceremony—behind a mysterious veil. Jewish husbands will not get pregnant, they will not go through the tunnel of birth, they will not suckle infants at their breast. All these powerful, recurring, female-affirming passages aren’t available to males.
Garcia, Gilbert and the other attendees (mercifully only 40, Liu estimates) highlight exactly what’s wrong with the men’s rights movement: it’s willfully blind critique of feminism. As GMPM contributor Amanda Marcotte points out here and elsewhere, most of their problems could in fact be solved with more feminism.
Take the concerns brought forth at this conference. The concern that teenage boys won’t be able to identify as men if their mothers work? If we don’t define manhood as superiority over dependent females, but in other ways, both the teenage boy and his mother get their needs met. Concern that men can’t compete economically as more of the American economy becomes service-oriented? Dismantle the social stigma against men doing nurturing work like teaching and nursing, and men will be able to take those jobs. Concerned that men die younger than women? If we adopted a feminist worldview where men don’t have to prove themselves with violence or poor health habits, that disparity would mostly disappear.
Thankfully, some men recognize that true gender equality benefits everyone. Just three days before the Conference on Male Studies convened in New York, NOMAS, a pro-feminist men’s organization, hosted its 36th National Conference on Men and Masculinity. Rather than whining about being victimized by feminism, this conference discussed gender roles, violence prevention, LGBT issues, and abuses of social power. The juxtaposition between the two symposiums underlines the central failure of men’s rights movement; they refuse to recognize that gender parity—and the erosion of gendered cultural imperatives—is key to achieving their goals.