‘Masculist’ Myth Busting – A Primer in Patriarchy

This week men’s rights activists (MRAs) attempted to draw attention to their cause and promote ‘masculism’ (the antidote to feminism, they believe) by getting #INeedMasculismBecause, a play on the feminist viral campaign, trending on Twitter. In that, they succeeded, yet it rather spectacularly backfired as many feminists used this to parody and portray the contradictions and misunderstandings of ‘masculist’ arguments. Since most MRAs are unreconstructed misogynists, their arguments easy to mock and debunk, why do feminists find them extremely exasperating nevertheless? And why, when they are so clearly wrong about their position in relation to power and privilege, is their anger clearly so real and deeply felt? Whilst MRAs may genuinely feel limited and frustrated by the expectations of their gender, far from having touched upon uncomfortable truths for feminists as they flatter themselves, many of the limitations and pressures they experience are in fact manifestations of patriarchy which have long since been subjects of feminist critique:

Father’s rights:

        By far the greatest concern amongst MRAs appears to be father’s rights. Whilst there is truth in their argument that mothers are favoured in custody cases, based on a belief that women are natural caregivers, they fail to recognise is this is derived from the very same ideology that posits that men and women belong in separate spheres, with men being fundamentally more suited to public life. It is this idea that has been used to deny women the vote, resist women’s inclusion in the workforce and persists today in the gender pay gap, a significant part of which is due to career breaks to raise children as well as the presumption by employers that young women are a risk. As such, most feminists fully agree that parents should be allowed to divide maternity and paternity leave as they wish.

Right to be homemakers:

        Likewise, many MRAs complain that they too should have the right to be homemakers, yet overlooking the fact that this too is based on the idea that women are more suited to the ‘private sphere’ (whilst the ‘public sphere’ remains a man’s domain), to the extent that women are expected to carry this burden whether they work or not. Yet again, most feminists are in full agreement with what MRAs believe to be a ‘masculist’ cause.

The ‘Glass Cellar’:

        MRAs also argue that men bear the responsibility for the most dirty, dangerous and degrading work, in what some have termed the glass cellar’ . Yet firstly, this is another flip-side of a patriarchal belief, namely that women are weak whilst men are protectors and providers. Furthermore, far from being a matriarchal conspiracy, many of these dangerous jobs have consolidated their male dominance through formal legislation or informal discrimination designed to keep women out, for example through trade union protection rackets in the coal mining industry and formalised discrimination to keep women out of the better paid but more dangerous front line positions in the military. Additionally, MRAs overlook female dominance in other, equally insecure and undesirable jobs; whilst it may be true that in the Western world most jobs such as ‘roofer, welder, garbage collector, sewer maintenance’ are performed by men, the vast majority of cleaners, maids and personal care workers, which are equally ‘dirty’ and socially devalued, are women, who also constitute around 60 percent of the minimum-wage workforce and 73 percent of tipped workers in the USA.

Paying for dinner:

        A seemingly more trivial concern, but that appears to be a serious preoccupation for many MRAs, is the social expectation that men should pay for dinner on dates. Once again, they see only the way that men are restricted in a system that is fundamentally more oppressive to women, in this case because it is derived from the idea that wealth and property are man’s domain, and the expectation that men are the providers, therefore a man must prove his ability to support a family in order to impress a woman. Many women are in fact uncomfortable with this arrangement due to the presumption of dependence but also as some feel that there is an expectation that this should be ‘repaid’ with sex. By seeing feminism in terms of a crude battle of the sexes, they conflate archaic traditions such as this with ‘feminism’.

Negative media portrayal:

        MRAs also frequently express the bizarre claim that men are particularly targeted for ‘negative’ media portrayal, in particular focusing on the bumbling, domestically incompetent sitcom dad. Firstly, this is spurious to suggest that men are the only ones to be portrayed clichéd and unflattering ways. Indeed, not only are lead characters on TV and in films are overwhelmingly male, but they are more likely to be developed nuanced, characters, whereas female characters tend to exist only as props to facilitate developments between the male characters.  Indeed even these ostensibly ‘negative’ portrayals favour men, as male characters can be flawed and less than conventionally attractive but loveable nevertheless (and probably still get the girl). Women however must be conform to high standards of conventional beauty to be considered a plausible love interest or even just to appear on screen. On the very rare occasion this does happen, far from cheering on the everywoman for getting the guy, it is met with absolute incredulity. Yet even if we were to accept the premise that the domestically incompetent dad trope is uniquely prevalent and offensive, yet again it legitimises the idea that domestic labour is fundamentally a women’s responsibility that men are by their nature less suited to.

Presumption of guilt of sexual assault

        Another concern of frequently expressed by men’s rights activists is the belief that all men are potential rapists, and the related vulnerability to false accusations. Firstly, the alleged ‘female privilege’ of being able to make false accusations is a crime and exceptionally rare. However, whilst rape remains endemic, it is estimated that around 97% of rapists walk free, given the very low conviction rates and consequent under reporting. Furthermore, rape victims are often treated with suspicion, and can expect to be asked all kinds of irrelevant questions such as about what they were wearing and their sexual history, and are generally not taken seriously if they fail to be the ‘perfect victim’. As such, feminists are equally disturbed by these rare incidents of false accusations, as this trivialises a crime that is already not taken seriously and feeds this misogynistic myth. Furthermore, most feminists are also strongly opposed to the idea that women are somehow responsible for making themselves a target, such as by dressing ‘provocatively’ or walking alone at night, as this is victim blaming, but also, as many feminists point out, the idea that men cannot be accountable for their own sexual self-control is offensive to men as well. These assumptions are based on the idea that men desire sex to a much greater extent than women, a myth which as I have discussed before was created and is used to justify the control of women’s bodies, sexuality and lives generally.

        Men’s right’s activists have a real sense of the restrictions and expectations derived from rigid and heavily enforced gender roles. However, they are generally accepting and unquestioning of their positions and the privileges it affords them, seeing them as neutral, natural and correct, only noticing the few manifestations that ostensibly hurt men more and wanting to start (and end!) with these. Patriarchy posits that men are stronger and natural leaders, and this masculine ideal can be highly restrictive to men, hence Patriarchy Hurts Men Too such as in the ways detailed in the above complaints. However, ‘masculists’ fail to recognise that the system is fundamentally based on male dominance and superiority, favouring men and masculinity, and bestowing what are deemed more desirable attributes to them, meaning that men are generally held in higher esteem, even though all men may not necessarily always be uncomplicatedly better off all of the time. For all these ‘pressures of privilege’, there is usually an opposite and generally more limiting set of expectations and limitations placed on women.

        If men truly wish to overcome the sometimes toxic restrictions of 21st Century Western masculinity, far from seeing gender equality is a zero-sum ‘battle of the sexes’ whereby every advancement for women constitutes a loss for men, their own fulfilment antagonistic to women’s, they would do far better to understand themselves in the context of patriarchal oppression, and work with feminists to overcome the unhealthy and unattainable codes of gendered behaviour that ultimately limit everyone.

Comments
7 Responses to “‘Masculist’ Myth Busting – A Primer in Patriarchy”
  1. Schala says:

    I’d like to tell you this twitter hashtag was started by 4chan, as a trolling attempt (they were only half-serious), and EXPECTED to the tag to be “invaded” the way it has been. They succeeded apparently, it wasn’t a backfire for them, it was “as designed”, not a bug.

    “Since most MRAs are unreconstructed misogynists, their arguments easy to mock and debunk, why do feminists find them extremely exasperating nevertheless?”

    Okay, so when I get falsely identified as a MRA because I actually care about both men and women having victim services, both men and women having their roles expanded, both men and women having more rights, and the binary being weakened (I’m all for other identities, even if I identify within the binary, as a trans woman). When that happens, I’m being told I’m a unreconstructed misogynist?

    Lest you think I’m the exception, it’s the norm on feminist and feminist-leaning blogs to be called MRA, pretty much always as an insult, even when commenting on topics about men themselves, or on neutral topics. As long as you don’t toe the line, you’re evil apparently. Greer, Raymond, Daly and Jeffreys, marginalized somewhat as feminists – yet still recognized as feminists, not told they’re misogynists or anti-equality for their positions.

    “And why, when they are so clearly wrong about their position in relation to power and privilege, is their anger clearly so real and deeply felt?”

    Privilege is bi-directional in the realm of gender, with privileges afforded in certain domains and withheld in others, depending on which gender you’re perceived to be. The weight of the privileges and disprivileges depends on what you value about life.

    Female privileges will favor safety, security, help services and nurturing roles (being seen as harmless has perks when you don’t want to intimidate), as well as quality of life generally.

    Male privileges will favor independence (in a fly or die way), ambition and assertiveness (or you get walked all over) where you can, potentially and possibly, hit the sky with more ease (at least you were raised in a way possibly favoring it, not that everyone is the type to want it).

    As such, you could find your side’s privilege utterly useless or getting in your way (you don’t want to be seen as harmless when in the army or as police), or helping you. Depends. What feminism was objecting to was the limitations caused by this, and I completely agree. Except it only looked at male privileges, and completely ignored female privileges, even used them as leverage to get services and votes for their stuff (the whole “protect women and children” trope is what made DV services so easy to get…but for women only).

    A fair look would want to reduce disadvantages on both sides, so that everyone gets help, people aren’t presumed helpless or violent based on sex, competent or too frail and the likes. Feminism hasn’t done that in practice (even if it says it goes for equality).

    “By far the greatest concern amongst MRAs appears to be father’s rights. Whilst there is truth in their argument that mothers are favoured in custody cases, based on a belief that women are natural caregivers, they fail to recognise is this is derived from the very same ideology that posits that men and women belong in separate spheres, with men being fundamentally more suited to public life.”

    100 years ago, men got custody immediately and instantly, no questions asked. They were the better parents because money. That’s patriarchy for you.

    Today is something different. And feminist groups (like NOW) are opposing starting from a 50/50 presumption of custody, only modifying such arrangement if there is abuse. Decide wether you want to fight the “mothers are best” or to agree with it, but pick one side.

    Lastly, I don’t think you’ll convince men to join your fight …against men (patriarchy) except the naive (who believe this is a real fight for true equality) and the self-hating (who think maleness deserves hatred) men.

    Couching the oligarchy (the 1%) in terms other than “patriarchy” might be a good start. Obama is a man, and he’s black. Has he made the life of men and black people better since he’s there, while neglecting women and white people? I don’t think so. Him being a leader only makes people think the leader position might merit a male leader…but his positions don’t pander to male voters because of it (he doesn’t even throw them a bone, he chastised deadbeat dads on father’s day even).

  2. Toysoldier says:

    Likewise, many MRAs complain that they too should have the right to be homemakers

    While I appreciate the link, you got several things wrong. One, I am not a men’s rights activist.

    Two, my post did not mention anything about men being homemakers. It was specifically about feminists falling for 4chan’s trick. The bloggers at 4chan set up the #INeedMasculismBecause hashtag to annoy feminists by posting sincere complaints about the way men are treated. Feminists responded not only by being thoroughly pissed off, but also by trolling the hashtag and therein engaging in the very sexism and bigotry 4chan tacitly accused them of.

    Three, I have not seen any men’s rights activists complain about not being homemakers. Their complaints revolve around the way men are treated, particularly when it comes to father’s rights, domestic and sexual violence support, criminal charges, and boys’ education. These are all valid issues that feminists ignored for decades, and only began to tangentially address once enough men complained about them.

    I understand that issues like preventing sexual and domestic violence against men and boys, preventing women from manipulative the family and criminal court systems, and addressing the greater risks of violence men face are not legitimate issues to most feminists. However, when you trivialize something you do not even take the time to understand in order to protect a sexist conspiracy theory like “The Patriarchy”, the only one who comes out looking bad is you.

  3. queeriodical says:

    Did I quote one of your tweets? If I did so and you feel it was not representative then I apologise and can amend it. However, if not, then you needn’t apply it to yourself – if it’s not about you, it’s not about you. That is to say if you don’t identify as an MRA and feel you have a more nuanced view of gender, then you needn’t feel it is about you personally. The phenomenon I describe however is real.

    I believe I said that gendered oppression harms everyone, but overall the dynamic is still one that favours men and attributes more desirable qualities to them – that is not to say it is in all instances directly beneficial to all men.

  4. queeriodical says:

    @Toy soldier – I linked to your post primarily as it contained examples of some men’s right’s grievances, not necessarily to suggest you were advocating them.
    Some MRAs argue they are stigmatised for doing homemaking duties:

    http://thisisfemaleprivilege.tumblr.com/post/27115035434/female-privilege-is-never-having-to-be-
    considered

    or it is just a skive off work
    http://manboobz.com/2012/03/16/tom-martins-anti-male-discrimination-case-against-the-london-school-of-economics-dismissed-he-responds-by-calling-his-critics-whores/comment-page-9/#comment-136490

    but yes, some anti-feminists make the more tradtiional patriarchal argument that it is naturally a woman’s place.

  5. Titfortat says:

    they would do far better to understand themselves in the context of patriarchal oppression, and work with feminists to overcome the unhealthy and unattainable codes of gendered behaviour that ultimately limit everyone.

    You may do well to limit the gendered terms if you want the majority of men to join your cause. If it is truly about gender equality and understanding oppressive forces I would suggest terms such as egalitarinand kyriarchy. to rplace the outdated ther ones you so readily use.

  6. Titfortat says:

    that should read. “egalitarian and kyriarchy to replace the outdated ones you so readily use.

  7. queeriodical says:

    I use the terms like patriarchy and feminism as they reflect the fundamental gendered dynamic that is a play; the femaleness and femininity is devalued and considered weaker, even if that does not always mean things are better for men. To use more neutral terms fails to address this. I do also use terms like kyriarchy (although this term also tend to recognise oppression of women as one of the forms of oppression) and egalitarianism, but as this piece is primarily about oppression based on gender, I won’t shy away from language that expressed this specifically.

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