I had a conversation with a man about people he knows who are Men’s Rights Activists. I make fun of MRAs because many of them are masking their resentment of women asserting themselves – they believe that it is rejecting them and that is not fair for women to do. In its more adolescent form this can be out of sexual entitlement – a symptom of rape culture – but it’s also found in areas of education and careers where a man might believe he’s been shortchanged based on equity initiatives. I can empathize in personal situations when somebody reflects all the possible reasons they didn’t get a job they thought they should. Most of us have experienced that. To project it as a gender issue that is unjust to men, though, is ignoring everything in human history up until now. But let’s put these parts of a growing ideology to the side.
The aspect of men’s gender-based concerns that this conversation revolved around were things that don’t necessarily conflict with feminist principles. Family status and the outcomes of divorce and custody settlements were the specific issue being discussed – second hand and theoretically, that is, not personal to the man in this conversation. It’s true that gendered skews in these outcomes are based largely on principles of systemic patriarchy and a gender dichotomy that enforces inequality. Women should be concerned that cases of child custody aren’t being considered fairly, for the sake of the children involved and the parents as well. Women should also be concerned about the stigma of caring fatherhood – that parental leave taken by men to care for newborns is, while expressedly legal in Canada, implicitly discouraged, and that men who take on a stay-at-home or work-at-home father path are emasculated. Most feminists, and men concerned with gender injustices, can agree on that.
But the word “feminism” and associating it with women speaking up for themselves against the patriarchy is pushing men away from wanting to support it, according to this conversation. It intimidates men who think that feminists are inherently against them, instead of trying to change systemic norms and condoned behaviours that affect their safety and opportunities. That women speak out against the lip service and tokenism used to mask persisting inequalities can irritate those who think, on paper, the right to vote, go to school, own property, and hold jobs makes things even. Or men may think that “feminism” is only about women and can’t include them or their concerns. They may think that in order for things to be equal there needs to be an evenly weighted men’s rights movement – which shows just how little understanding there is of the problems at large.
Making blanket statements about men hurts men’s feelings. I’m not saying that in a sarcastic or condescending way…or at least I’m trying not to. For every blanket statement about your status group, whether gender or race or class or ability or what have you, the most constructive reaction is to let it sink in, and examine it in comparison to your own life and behaviour to see if it applies to you. If it doesn’t, or you think it doesn’t, try to see it through the eyes of the person saying it. Look at how other people behave in real life situations. Make a conscious effort not to act that way – even if you don’t tend to do it now, it may come up as a product of crowd behaviour or compounded pressure or complex scenarios. Critically examine, both in individual scenarios and public dialogue of larger events, the response to an oppressed group’s concerns – are those accused widely being excused? Brilliantly talented, promising athletes, boys will be boys – these are all common justifications for men who do bad things to not be held responsible. This is systemically damaging to the image and expectations of men, and it’s not feminism doing this. If a man is not one of those glorified alpha-males, and concerned that he’s disadvantaged because of his gender, it’s not women who are imposing that. It’s the same patriarchy that women are speaking up against. Feminism is not restricted to women. It’s to promote the value and dignity of anything not deemed “masculine” enough, and men will benefit from fighting that too.