Monday, February 05, 2007

More On the Anti-Feminist List of Complaints

Those of you who read my earlier post about Mired in MRA Land are probably eagerly awaiting the post in which I talk more about the substance of the anti-feminist complaints, expecting me to shed tears and to repent and to find a common ground to build a better society with those friendly folk. And you will not be disappointed! Just kidding... But you will get not just one post but two! This is the first one of the two.

What I want to do in this post is to look at some of the most common talking points on the MRA sites, points, which are presented as evidence that either patriarchy hurts men more than it hurts women (and that this makes patriarchy just fine) or that feminism hurts men so much that we must return to patriarchy or that being a man is a crappy thing to be and so women shouldn't aspire to have the same rights or that what women mistakenly see as extra rights for men are indeed just extra burdens or responsibilities. Often all these arguments are mixed together in one paragraph, and often essentialist arguments about women's inferiority dance polka with the argument that men are inherently more fragile.

It is a tangled weave I try to unravel here, so tangled that I found myself going around in circles, chasing my logic which ended up all dizzy and wanted to have a nap. But here are some of my semi-logical observations:

Some of the most common talking points on MRA sites are illogical or based on some odd view of how the world works. For example, it is very common on these sites to argue that feminism gave women choices, that women can choose to work or choose to stay at home, choose to divorce, choose to act like feminist women or choose to act like traditional (i.e. nonfeminist) women, whereas men have no choices at all.

Now why would this be the case? It doesn't make sense at all. I saw several people arguing that men have no choice but to work dangerous jobs (and possibly get killed young) because they have to support a woman who has chosen to stay at home. Yet if we use this "choice" framework, the decision to accept a dangerous job is every bit as much a choice as the decision to stay at home with children, say. Both have some negative and some positive consequences and neither is necessarily a "free" choice but constrained by money, other resources such as education, and the society's norms and expectations. And there are no laws which ban men from staying at home with their children, no laws which say that men can't initiate divorce or refuse to work dangerous jobs. What is it that looks to these men as lack of choice in their own lives? All I can think of is that perhaps the norms of patriarchy no longer work that well and that an unthinking acceptance of those norms might feel like not having any choice.

Another common fallacy on these sites is the argument that any attention or remedies intended to help women are by their very existence evidence of a bias against men. Thus, university Women's Studies Programs discriminate against men because there are no Men's Studies Programs and the Violence Against Women Act (WAVA) discriminates against men because it is about women. What is this based on?

I can think of two explanations. One is that these men really believe that there was no inequality between the sexes to begin with, no need to address any unfairness towards women, and that therefore all these extra programs are like giving more ice-cream to your siblings than to you. The other one is a zero-sum game view of life: If women get something it must be off the men's plates. Either way, some of these arguments look to me like someone demanding that healthy people should have the same hospital facilities as sick people do. Consider the case of the Women's Studies Programs. The traditional feminist answer to the question why there are no Men's Studies Programs at universities is that all the rest of the curriculum is one large Men's Study Program.

A third common mistake on the MRA agenda is to assume that various types of problems men might have are caused by feminism even when the evidence contradicts this or when there is no evidence on it at all. Examples are the problems boys have at school and the high U.S. divorce rate. Both of these are frequently attributed to feminism. This ignores a whole lot of evidence from countries which have hardly any feminism at all and still suffer from the very same problems. It is highly unlikely that all these other countries would just happen to have the same social trends but for totally different reasons. It is much more likely that the reasons are the same in all these countries, and if that is the case feminism can't play a large causative role.