The other evening I was hanging out with a group of friends, hopelessly hung-over and feeling at odds with the world. Towards the end of the night, I heard a friend (let’s call her Mary) say from across the room that she identified as “a masculist” – and my mood plummeted into unforeseen lows. It was in no way Mary’s fault that her admission immediately made me want to a) challenge her, and b) cry many tears of frustration and patriarchy-related despondency. At the time, I couldn’t articulate why such a benign statement could illicit in me such an emotional reaction. I mean, Mary is one of the strongest, most intelligent and most compassionate women I know. I respect her hugely, and count her amongst my very closest friends (bff4evs). Plus, I know that she and I have pretty much the same feminist world-view. Yet her masculist coming-out really shook me, and made me re-evaluate my own feminist credentials. Suddenly, my abstract hatred of the term “masculism” wasn’t good enough, and I realised that I needed to give this opinion of mine a rather extensive critique. (You guys, you gotsa be able to back up your opinions with facts, not just emotions.) Imma start at the beginning…
There is no standard definition of masculism, but the term loosely applies to a movement that advocates for the rights of men. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Alternatively, as www.thefreedictionary.com puts it, “an attempt to protect masculine traits and qualities against the assaults of militant feminism.” (Now, now, boys. Let’s not overreact.) The “Masculism” page on Wikipedia outlines the six main concerns of the masculist movement:
- Violence against men (including domestic violence.)
- Parenting (particularly in relation to child custody and adoption laws)
- Discrimination against men (biases in the justice system against men, etc.)
- Social concerns (higher suicide rates in men than women, shorter average lifespans than women)
- Education (more negative attention on boys than girls in the classroom)
- Employment (paternal leave vs. maternal leave, etc.)
As a liberal-minded feminist woman, I can’t even express how much support I have for all of the above! (Except for the freedictionary.com definition, but I mostly just included that for the lols.) I also think that most feminists are pretty on-board when it comes to gender equality and the fair treatment of men. I mean, that was kinda the point of feminism, right? Not to rise up from under the thumb of the patriarchy and proceed to oppress men and rule as vengeful matriarchal overlords. Nope, those suffragettes were pretty much just about equality. Feminism these days is, to a large extent, all about deconstructing the gender dichotomy that leads to the unequal treatment of people – and that includes men, women, trans, intersex, androgynous, and anyone in between. Because at the end of the day, gender roles limit not only women, but everyone. And that shit ain’t cool, ya know?
Many of the masculist-related websites I’ve been perusing seem much more concerned with ridiculing and rubbishing feminists, rather than actually advocating for men’s rights and equality (to take an extreme example, go have a looksee at this one: http://evilpenis.blogspot.com/. Their tagline? “F@cking some sense into feminists since 2011”. Charming.) Or there is this little gem, published by the Fatherhood Foundation of Australia: http://www.gendermatters.org.au/ (“21 Reasons Why Gender Matters”? More like, “21 Reasons Why Women Should Remain At Home ‘Cause What Else Are They Good At? Oh, And The Gays Are The Worst”.)
Now, I know that there are plenty of crackpot feminists out there, women (and men) who give feminism a very bad name. And of course, not all masculists are also misogynists. But the fact of the matter is that feminism arose out of an undeniable historical inequality, and masculism emerged in response to a shift in gender-balance. I think Electra put it well when she wrote “I am all for rights, but men’s rights groups still seem to have problems distinguishing between their rights and their unfair privileges.” I’m going to point out that men’s rights groups and masculists aren’t necessarily the same thing – but the sentiment remains the same.
Let’s talk some cold hard facts. Compared to men, women are on average less educated, paid less, and significantly less influential in the workplace (whether that workplace be a huge corporation, or the more “metaphysical” workplace of a working visual artist). Just pop on over to the Australian Government’s Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace website (http://www.eowa.gov.au), and you’ll see that if current earning patterns continue, the average 25 year old male would earn $2.4 million over the next 40 years while the average 25 year old female would earn $1.5 million. That’s a difference of almost $1 million in a lifetime! That is huge!
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t some pretty big changes that need to be made to benefit men. Men’s health, in particular their mental health, is something which must be afforded more public awareness and political support. Society teaches men to reject their emotions, to keep a stiff upper-lip, and to deny any element of “femininity” within them. Men must not be feminine, because to be feminine is to be weak. And as unjust as this is for men, it is also hugely problematic for women. Women = female = feminine = inferior. On more than one occasion, I’ve attended parties with a moustache painted on. It makes me feel more-than-a-little-bit sexy, and I have never once been ridiculed for looking too “mannish”. But if one of my male friends were to wear a full face of make-up in public, he would be laughed at. And what is the root of this difference in reactions? When I dress like a man, society may find it amusing, but ultimately presenting myself as masculine acts as a visual cue for seeing me as powerful. My male friend presenting himself as feminine? That’s seen as just plain ridiculous.
Things need to change for men. Things also need to change for women. Achieving equality for everyone means that things will need to change for all of us. But masculism is not the way to achieve this change. Come on, you guys. Let’s be a bit more imaginative in our terminology. Feminism began because women were hugely oppressed in a way that men never have been. And yet, the societal construction of gender roles limits men as much as it limits women. And I HATE that. It makes me angry and frustrated and sad. It also makes me passionate about creating change, for my dad, and my brother, and all of the men in my life that I love and respect. But I fear that as a movement masculism will confuse and complicate the message of equality: feminism and masculism will become two dichotomous movements that only reinforce the gender divide.
This is of course only my opinion. And perhaps it really is just a matter of semantics. Maybe we should practice people-ism, and keep gender out of the equation altogether. (But, actually, don’t do that.) My recent ruminations on the feminist vs. masculist problem certainly allowed me to back up my opinion with facts, but the jury is still out on whether or not I’ve come to any sort of concrete conclusion. Which is kind of great, actually. As feminists, we should never be completely comfortable in our opinions – we should be constantly thinking, talking, re-evaluating and striving for change. Maybe Mary has got it right. Or, perhaps masculism gaining momentum will have the roll-on effect of generating a little more mainstream dialogue about feminism. And you know what? If that IS the result, maybe it ain’t such a bad thing after all… I’m still not convinced, though.