Matthew Dean believes that fighting for other people is noble. And he believes that fighting for women and women’s rights is noble. But he also sees the need for men to fight for the specific issues that impact them.
Let me just go ahead and…just one sec…just opening this can of worms here. …[POP] Ah there it is.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my experience of being a man. Actually, for me, a lot of this reflection began when I saw this video about six months ago. In it, Jackson Katz immediately grabbed me with this:
A lot of men hear the term “women’s issues” and we tend to tune it out, and we think, “Hey, I’m a guy. That’s for the girls,” or “That’s for the women.” And a lot of men literally don’t get beyond the first sentence as a result. It’s almost like a chip in our brain is activated, and the neural pathways take our attention in a different direction when we hear the term “women’s issues.”
Katz’s TED talk is entitled: “Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue.” His argument is so effective yet seemingly-obvious that not only did his premise ring true, but I wondered how I had never really grokked that aberrant behavior by males is primarily a men’s issue.
Katz has an insightful explanation for that, as well (emphasis mine):
Let me illustrate that confusion by way of analogy. So let’s talk for a moment about race. In the U.S., when we hear the word “race,” a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander, on and on. A lot of people, when they hear the word “sexual orientation” think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual. And a lot of people, when they hear the word “gender,” think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to. Right? As if white people don’t have some sort of racial identity or belong to some racial category or construct, as if heterosexual people don’t have a sexual orientation, as if men don’t have a gender. This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us.
In other words, we’ve arrived at a moment where not only is a conversation about men not including men in the conversation, but many men don’t even realize that the conversation necessarily has anything to do with them, personally. By framing violence against women as a women’s issue, then to the degree that you, as a man, might get involved, it’s to “help women” with “their issue.”
As I began to explore this issue, I realized that I had always seen myself as an advocate, an ally for the goals set forward by feminism. But I had never seen them as my goals.
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.
Well absolutely, I can get behind that. I want equality, and I want to do what I can to help do what I can for women.
The very nature of how that thought is constructed nails what Jackson Katz is talking about. Even if I consider my intentions to be good in joining feminism, as a man, I can still avoid introspection from an entitled position. That’s not to say that I necessarily will avoid those things, but I can see how it does happen, because feminism is, in its definition, focused on a group of which I am not a part.
That does not mean men have not benefitted from feminism or should not be involved in it. If anything, men should be even more aligned with the goals of feminism. Equality is a human right. We all benefit from it.
So, then, why do we need something in addition to feminism? Why do men need a movement? If the real goal of feminism is equality, then why isn’t feminism enough for everyone, both men and women?
I think that’s a good question.
A person on Twitter (@stylesnuggle) posted this quote (attribution unknown):
The thing is, men don’t need a movement to defend their own sex because, not only have they not been majority oppressed in the way that women have throughout all of history, but because feminism benefits them too!!! Feminism exists because men have ALWAYS been seen as the superior sex in society and women need to fight for their equal rights. We already live in a patriarchal society, therefore men have nothing they need to fight for that feminism doesn’t already include…
I agree. Men don’t need a movement to defend their own sex.
I agree. Feminism benefits men.
What’s being referred to is the “men’s rights” movement (MRM). So, since we’re talking about men’s movements, let’s get an important thing out of the way in regards to the MRM: I am not a fan.
If you don’t know, the men’s rights movement is considered to be a countermovement to feminism. That’s a nice way to say it. Men’s rights activists frame conversations as men currently being victims of female oppression, and having their rights further eroded by feminism.
In other words, men’s rights activists flip the argument of feminism and say that either men are the sole or primary victims of oppression, or men are the hidden victims of oppression which feminism seeks to ignore.
Some of the facts highlighted by men’s rights groups are accurate. Men are victims of violence, usually by other men, but sometimes, men are victims of violence by women. Sometimes parental rights skew more towards women. Yes, one can find imbalances to be corrected. But the whole antagonistic approach of men’s rights to shut down the voices of women reeks of more misogyny.
And, as many feminists note, feminism is not exclusionary in the realm of rights. Equal rights does not imply a subtraction of rights from one group. It’s not a limited bucket of rights. Granting more rights to one group does not mean you lose, unless you stand to benefit from that group’s subjugation.
So, if “men’s rights” is not a movement men need, then why do men need a movement?
It’s this that bothered me:
“…men have nothing they need to fight for that feminism doesn’t already include.”
Is that true?
Does feminism give men everything they need to fight for? Is equal rights the only thing we need to be fighting for here?
Is equality enough?
The idea of equality can seem like a position on a track, or a rung on a ladder. But I think there’s danger at seeing the equal position as the finish line. I don’t think we just need women to reach the same position on the track. I think both men and women need to reach a further point, together.
In other words, we need men to recognize that they are not there yet. To see that patriarchal systems have been damaging to men. Not damaging in the sense that the men’s rights activists would have you see it. It’s been damaging in how we view ourselves. Which is to say: we usually don’t.
As Jackson Katz notes, dominant groups often have no need for introspection. One of the struggles of men in patriarchal culture is to learn to deal with feelings responsibly. Or at all. Or: even recognize that feelings are present and not project them all over everyone else around them.
And as happens too often, this lack of any sort of internal knowledge sometimes manifests as anger that is directed outwards in the form of violence. To the less extreme, as misogyny. You have less capacity to control a self that you don’t know, and in a desperate need to control something about their lives, men look outward. It’s the only direction they’ve been taught to look.
Certainly not all men are violent or controlling. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, by and large, there’s a place further along the track than where we are now. Equality should not just be women reaching the position and the state where men currently exist.
In truth, if we are going to reach equality, the work for men is to evolve as individuals. In other words, if the women’s movement is about the external balance, the movement that men need to restore balance is an internal one. Feminism is a yang movement. It is about redressing lack of equality in the world. And yes, it addresses equality for all, but it isn’t all we need. It especially isn’t all that men need.
What’s missing is a movement of yin.
I once thought of equality as something that I needed to do for someone else, and that I needed to give up something of myself in order to achieve it.
Fighting for other people is noble. Fighting for women and women’s rights is noble.
But I wasn’t fighting for me. Like many, I didn’t even recognize that there was anything for me to fight for on behalf of myself. I didn’t realize how much I stood to gain by undoing the effects of patriarchy and learning emotional competency. I could not see the potential awaiting me as an individual, as a man. The potential for all men.
Because I wasn’t looking at me. I was too busy being noble.
Feminism has done a lot for me. The thorough self-examination I’ve gone through in the past would not have been possible without women sharing their personal stories to #YesAllWomen. The work of feminism is incredibly valuable for men, and there’s no doubt that feminism is changing the world for the better.
But, this time, men don’t need to change the world.
Men need to change themselves.
Men need a movement.
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