I ask myself, what is the value in aligning myself with men’s rights AND feminism? Answer: Because I can.
Recently Jimmy LaSalvia, Leader of GOProud, an organization for gay conservatives, struggled to rationalize why anti-gay conservatives at CPAC should welcome his organization. In this particular case, Jimmy is fighting an uphill battle. He’s gonna have to convince a group of bigots to be inclusive of the very group (gays) that those same bigots profit from attacking, vilifying and dehumanizing. Put simply, LaSalvia has aligned himself with an organization that hates him. I laughed at LaSalvia when I read about him. It seemed pretty comical to me that he would put himself in camp full of people who loathe him based simply on who he is.
And then, when I’m all done laughing it up, it occurs to me that I’m not all that different than Mr. LaSalvia. Honestly, why I would ever choose to align myself with men’s rights or feminism? There are extremist individuals in both camps that clearly hate people like me. They have enough rigid dogma to give the Vatican library a run for its money. And they defend it fiercely because somewhere back down the road, defending their dogmatic beliefs came to mean more to them than actually solving the problems they abhor.
And yet, here I am. Aligning myself with both camps. Jumping right in to the mix, (on a process level, no less.) And the reason I’m doing it is simple. If we continue to let the dogmatic true believers suck all the bandwidth, drive the public discourse and represent the movement for change, we’re all screwed. Because they are alienating the middle, the independent voters, if you will, the place where minds get changed and things like gay marriage go from an anathema to a political reality. And they’re alienating people because of their volatile, divisive, and polarizing rhetoric, which is overshadowing ideas which otherwise might actually find even more widespread support.
And I want to be clear here. For the purposes of this article, I’m speaking about gender dialogues in terms of people who are working on men’s rights issues and feminists, a small minority of each group which qualify as extremist in their views. By this I mean, I’m not talking about most feminists or the full range of men who support some kind of discourse on men’s rights, most of which would not label themselves as MRAs. I’m talking about the small number of men and women in any camp which hold extreme binary and polarizing positions.
Its also important to note that the larger realm of feminists and people focusing on men’s rights still don’t hold the entire universe of men’s and women’s interests or world views. Far from it. They represent only two zones on a vast spectrum of ideas. The dialogue about and between men and women is not limited to any simple binary. But we need to understand what it looks like when conversations careen toward the binary and the high costs we pay when the wider range of voices are shouted down by overheated polarizing rhetoric.
And finally, I am not saying that feminists in any way equal MRAs or vice versa. I am saying extremists equal extremists, regardless of their ideology. So, if you are not an extremist, than I am not talking about you or your ideology.
Extremists don’t like it when dilettantes like me go mucking around in the divisions between supporters of men’s rights and feminism. But the fact is, if there’s white male privilege in the world, then clearly, we have to acknowledge white female privilege, too, right? Hello? Hillary? I mean, I want to have THAT conversation without being shouted down. And there’s more stuff I think about that’s guaranteed to piss somebody off. For one thing, I don’t view women as the enemy. (Shocking, I know. But there it is.) Nor do I view being the primary care giver to a child in any way shape or form exclusively woman’s work. The fact is, I see the social and sexual oppression that women face every day, but I also see the social and sexual oppression that men face every day. And what I’m saying here is not an exercise in tit for tat, or false equivalencies; its simply the truth. Anyone who’s not hell bent on proving their gender’s side has it worse can see this. All men’s issues and all women’s issues are interlinked. And they are interlinked in ways that are best solved by creating partnerships among people with divergent belief systems. But discussions exploring partnership and collaboration across ideologies can bring fierce reprisals.
The Good Men Project regularly faces a firestorm of angry polarizing attacks by extremists that simply can not imagine how a men’s site hosting a wide range of men’s stories and conversations could be valid (or god forbid, helpful to their causes). Instead of seeing the Good Men Project as a way to move outside of their ideological echo chambers and present feminist or men’s rights ideas in spaces they normally don’t have access to, the most dogmatic extremists assume negative intent in every utterance. Its a missed opportunity of tragic proportions. A conversation undiscovered. Another bridge burned before it is ever even built. Extremist MRAs and Feminists want nothing less than the complete silencing of the GMP. They advocate for isolation and shutting down of the site.
Meanwhile, a wave of collaborative feminists, men’s rights supporters, and others who are unaligned are having remarkable, insightful and powerful conversations on the Good Men Project. It must be quite aggravating to the hard core partisans to see their troops leaving the trenches and walking out across no man’s land to talk.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been verbally assaulted by strident MRA’s because of my association with the “obviously feminist site” Good Men Project. Meanwhile, the very next commenter will dismiss me (not just my writing) based on broad brush feminism generalizations about male privilege and patriarchy. But if many of us here at the Good Men Project are getting these kinds of reactions from both ends of the ideological spectrum, then we are CLEARLY in the right place for real and generative discussions that are creating change.
Don’t get me wrong. The true believers of the gender wars have done some good work. God bless their little binary hearts. They deserve credit for bringing women’s and men’s issues into the spotlight, and moving issues forward that need to be addressed. But the extremists among these two movements have become a big part of the problem. And they certainly will not be part of the solution unless they bring their thinking forward to the here and now. As society changes and in some very real ways evolves, gender extremists are not tracking the cultural evolution happening around us. They remain in the trenches firing round after round at the enemy. They are addicted to the war.
The challenge is that people have bound themselves to binary styles of discussion. It is the primary mode of communication (or lack thereof.) We need to learn to listen to each other and we need to talk in ways that present our grievances, but hold our anger in abeyance. We need to presume good will on the part of those who hold other positions. And that needs to be reflected in how we communicate.
For example: “Men are facing unjust legal challenges because of antiquated legislation put in place a generation ago to address women’s issues.”
…works a lot better than…
“Men are facing unjust legal challenges because of antiquated legislation put in place a generation ago to address women’s issues, you stupid white knight, mangina asshole!!!” (I’m foregoing the all caps here, but you know what I mean…)
Believe me, I fully understand that there is a whole host of devastating human rights and equality battles which we need to continue fighting. We know about the full range of valid women’s rights issues in the home, on the street and in the workplace. We all know that women continue to be assaulted and raped. We know this has to stop. What feminists are screaming bloody murder about continues to deserve to the highlighted. Every day. And they certainly don’t need my approval or permission to do so. So please, carry on the good fight for women’s issues.
But not to the exclusion of what men are saying about their own lives and their own experiences. We must also honor and act on what is coming out of the men’s rights movement.
The fact is, men in relationships are the victims of brutal and bloody physical violence committed against them by women; a huge and mostly hidden trend of violence that goes unaddressed, simply because it happens to men. Just look at the CDC’s (1)National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey | 2010 Summary Report. page 2. The report states: “More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”(1)
In case you missed that last part, men are victims of rape, too. By women.
Divorced fathers are regularly removed from their children’s lives by a court system that view mothers as the only valid full time car givers.
Violence against men simply isn’t considered with the same level of alarm as violence toward women. And the list goes on.
But we will not make much progress without creating spaces where common ground and mutual respect can grow. None of us can demand that everyone align themselves with our dogma. Therein lies madness. We have to learn to respect differences and form alliances based on diversity, not uniformity. Only then will common goals and solutions emerge that are not exclusionary. In this way. the solutions do not end up being as damaging as the injustices they seek to address.
Gender war extremists believe they and they alone own the conversational spaces about gender. Well, I’m here to say no, they do not. They seek to control and shut down conversations that do not align with their ideologies. They seek to take the complex web of dialogues right here on the Good Men Project and condemn the entire exercise as rape apology or feminist propaganda. It is a disgraceful exercise in binary partisanship, and a real dream come true for those who benefit from seeing men and women pitted against each other.
I’d like to quote a simple but elegant observation made by a remarkable Good Men Project author and commenter named Danny. In a recent article titled Wow! See What a Civil Intelligent Men’s Rights/Feminism Dialogue Looks Like!, Danny writes:
“When it comes to theories on gender I’m of the mind that there is a system in place. And this system exists not to hold any one above any one else except for itself. It will mow down anyone regardless of gender, race, financial status, etc…. The system keeps people in the places where they will be the most beneficial not to themselves but to the system. In practice this is quite harmful to damn near everyone. The only way to free everyone up is to undo this twisted system. The main road block is that in keeping people in their places (sorted by gender, race, etc…) we are pitted against each other.”
Its time that we all ask some simple questions. What will the next phase of our conversation about men and women look like? Will we continue to cede the gender discussion to binary voices who seek to shame and silence those of us who do not pass the litmus test of “ally?” Voices that intentionally or not, continue to pit men and women against each other? Or will we take the best and the brightest ideas and move forward in a way that empowers us all?
Its time to take back the gender dialogues. Its time for what comes next.
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