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September 8, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Feminism and the Men’s Movement

Mens’ issues are complex. What is presented as a simple dichotomy, men vs. women, feminists vs. misogynists, PC vs anti-PC is not as clear cut as it may seem.

It is clear that we as a society need to take these seemingly disparate strands and work to resolve the seemingly connected and unconnected struggles of both, to provide a whole solution.

Sexism, racism, and homophobia all act as methods of social control and diversion, not in a centrally organised conspiracy but in a wider systemic structural context. It is no secret that, as collective groups, men benefit from sexism, white people from racism and heterosexuals from homophobia.

Yet is gender the fundamental, original divide in society? Not necessarily. I would argue that gender roles and inequalities are socially constructed. Historically men have not always occupied the top of the patriarchal pyramid. Most of the time, but not always. The historical development of private property has definitely shaped the rise and development of the patriarchy.

If gender is the key issue and not class, then where do Margaret Thatcher, Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley stand? How can you reconcile the female CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies exploiting the labour-power of Third World women who provide the surplus value that sustain women in the First World? The patriarchy might have existed before capitalism, but capitalism has accentuated patriarchal domination.

Sexism is used by the state to unload societal roles on women. The cost of childcare and caring for the elderly and the sick falls largely on women. The responsibility of maintaining the slowly disintegrating nuclear family relies heavily on women. Placatory gestures like subsidised childcare are implemented only to be taken away at the slightest hint of recession.

Gender plays a role within capitalism. But women in roles of power in capitalist society are just as capable of taking away from working class women as men in those same roles. Thatcher and Richardson are excellent examples, having implemented the anti-women neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

In a submission to an Australian government enquiry, the Institute of Men’s Studies stated that women have become “the ruling elite” and that “education must be freed from the feminist shackles”. It’s this misdirected anger and rage that tars the labels of “men’s group” and “men’s rights”. Why women, who fought and struggled for decades for the measly services and funding they receive, should be stripped of what is not much more than nothing, makes little sense. It is not feminists that men should be angry at, it is the state and the constricting ideology and frameworks that are provided for our existence that their anger should be directed at.

The men’s movement is a contradictory phenomenon, involving both the defence of men’s privilege and efforts to undo it. However the most unusual aspect of the men’s movement is its population by dominant and privileged groups. Michael Flood compares this to the ideas of white rights movements or heterosexual awareness groups.

As opposed to an analysis of the structural systems that bind them, reactionary men’s groups lash out and attack those they see as benefiting from positive discrimination. Using a ‘metoo!’ philosophy, they argue for a simplistic equal provision of service in all aspects of life,, without understanding the different requirements of different groups, or the strategies used by women to fight for improved health campaigns and access thirty years ago.

They argue for taking money from breast cancer research and putting it into prostate cancer research, as opposed to increasing both. They argue that the courts are stacked in favour against men, ignoring the statistical data available that discredits their arguments. A recent Canadian study looking into the issues of custody issues found that men in fathers’ rights groups did not generally want a larger role in the day-to-day caregiving, but rather a larger role in decision-making related to their children and ex-spouses’ lives.

As in the feminist movement, those in the progressive men’s movement differ on many issues, but come back to a central point of challenging the ‘normalcy’ of masculine emotions. These groups generally state that men must take responsibility for their own sexist behaviours and attitudes and work to change those of men in general. Both personal and social change is emphasised as being vital.

What are the issues facing men? Mental health issues, failure in the education system, drug addictions and suicide rates. Yet it is domestic violence that polarises and commands attention. In the Ministry of Social Development’s Taskforce for the action on violence within families – The First Report it states that between 2000 and 2004, 121 family violence-related murders were recorded in New Zealand by the police, while they recorded on average 60,000 domestic violence related callouts each year, the data can be called into doubt, reported vs. unreported violence etc. But deaths are generally reliably reported. Of these 121 deaths his included 56 women, 26 men and 39 children. 54 women were murdered by men and 3 men were murdered by women.

Yet men’s movements regularly claim that women are just as violent as men, that violence is gender equal or neutral, that husband battering is an unreported epidemic. There is a massive body of research stating that women are more often the victims of domestic violence. Men certainly are the victims of violence; they form the majority of victims of physical violence as recorded by the police. But the great majority of perpetrators are other men. It is much easier to blame “feminazis” and “PC gone mad”, than unrealistic societal expectations of male sexuality and identity that constrict and bind, or the conditions that create the acceptance of actual or implied violence as a regular part of society. Surveys of people’s attitudes towards coercion and violence show that statement’s like “it is okay to put pressure on a girl to have sex but not to physically force her” are found by a large majority of male respondents to be acceptable. What’s important to acknowledge is that physical violence is often only one part of a range of strategies which may include psychological abuse and threats, financial abuse and sexual abuse, all of which create a context in which the perpetrator feels entitled to control and exert power.

What is the relationship between men and feminism or men’s groups and feminism? If feminism has the aim of the elimination of oppression and exploitation, then that will benefit almost all men.

It’s important that we don’t treat “all men [as] enemies to be approached, if at all, with disdain, hostility and self-righteous zeal,” as Michael Flood puts it, in much the same way as members of the Black Panthers were challenged for their sexism, and the socialist movement was challenged on it’s lack of attention towards queer issues. We as men and feminists need to address wider society and stand up and challenge stereotypes and challenges from the reactionary men. Efforts to end violence against women must address men, as it is largely men who perpetuate this violence directly or indirectly.

“Women-only projects can mean that women still have to deal with unsympathetic men and patriarchal power relations, and can leave women with the sole responsibility for sexual health, family nutrition etc.”

It’s the last point that raises the ire and seems to be so difficult to bring up with many feminists and men’s rights misogynists. Because men do feel victimized. There has been a lack of challenging social material aimed at confronting prejudice and social norms.

Flood puts forward a basic premise for a men’s manifesto as a way of developing a progressive men’s movement, aligned with the ideals of the (generalised) feminist movement:

Assert a feminist-supportive men’s perspective. Take up men’s rights issues, but differently. Show that [reactionary] men’s rights strategies in fact are harmful to men themselves. Set up services.

Abortion law, contraception, child custody reform were not handed down by parliament, they were won on the streets in protests and rallies for decades. The fight worldwide continues to ebb and flow. What is needed now is the development of a progressive men’s movement to combat the established status of the fathers’ groups, because in reality it is these groups who currently offer self-help meetings, provide support for men undergoing separation, divorce and family law proceedings all the while turning confusion into anger and directing it at those who have some of the least power in the process.

We will be better able to respond to the men’s rights agendas if we have a proper idea of the experiences, needs and fears of the men who support them. An ongoing challenge is to firmly and clearly address men’s experiences of violence. We need to build men’s consciousness and we need to challenge the malignant (sometimes malicious) arguments and indoctrination that divide society on arbitrary gender lines and roles.


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  1. Tony Wallace says:

    The fundamental problem with feminism is Marxist analysis.

    Feminisim is not concerned with Justice, only with moving from a Patriarchy to a Matriarchy. There are many areas of systematic descrimination against men in our society. To find them one only needs to look at your nearest workplace EEO report.

    I once asked the writer of one such report, why there was no reference to the staff being 75% female, and what could be causing this obvious gender imbalance. I was told that “men are not an eeo target group”. So if I am Fijian my rights as a Fijian are protected, if I am a woman my rights as a women are protected. As for white men, the attitude is quite simply “go and get stuffed”.

    It is time that gender and racial issues are looked at as gender and racial issues.

    Tony Wallace

  2. hank scorpio says:

    um white guys have plenty of rights upheld in work place environments what the fuck are you talking about did you pick your opinions up out of the bin you bin man living in a bin

  3. hank scorpio says:

    “Assert a feminist-supportive men’s perspective”

    does cosgrove even speak fucking english

  4. Mike the Courier says:

    Fair cop. If a shelia wants ‘er own fuggin group, then onya son. If a bloke wants ta piss around with a bunch of woofters, then fuggin oath. Quite frankly, I just wanna sink piss and watch footy.

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