Thursday, April 2, 2009

On "Real Men," Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about a key similarity between masculism and feminism. Namely, both models seek to eradicate gender stereotypes. Yet, the difference between feminist masculists and non-feminist ones is that, non-feminist men's rights activists deny and seek to preserve male privilege by maintaining the gender stereotypes that are beneficial to men.

While first decrying the harmful gender stereotype that says that the only real men are violent warriors, masculist writer Robert Franklin continues:

"If you want to denigrate the male half of the population, you don't admit that almost everything good in your life was invented, discovered, created or built by men."

Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, the problem with this statement is that it whitewashes history in two ways and, while doing so, perpetuates a stereotype about the inherent superiority of men. First, man's near-monopoly on Human Endeavour also, of course, includes the creation of almost everything bad in our lives including most major atrocities, wars, environmental destruction, and instances of mass murder.

Secondly, men have actually created many good things. But, in order for men to monopolize the field of Human Endeavour, it was necessary for them to restrict women to the home and erect No Girls Allowed signs on every door that mattered in the public sphere. That men, rather than women, have made "almost everything good" (and bad) in our lives is not due to the inherent superiority (or inferiority) of males, but rather it is due to the historical subjugation that many men (though not all!) throughout history have inflicted upon women beginning with, from a rather insignificant part of Adam's body, "God's" creation of a subservient help-mate for his default human being, Man.

For, not only have men in every monotheistic religion created a deity who looks remarkably like themselves, they have written biblical scripture ordaining that women are to be subservient, uneducated, and excluded from full participation in religion and society. They created legal systems that excluded women from full civic participation and marriage laws that treated women like chattel. They created great institutions of education, but denied women the opportunity to obtain degrees under the false claims that education would harm women, was unsuitable for their smaller brains, and/or would prevent women from menstruating and bearing children. And, when they invented sports, physicians, educators, and clergymen excluded women from participation because weakness was the "natural condition" of Woman and every ounce of her energy was needed for reproduction.

When you think about it, the entire arena of Human Endeavour in the public sphere has sort of been an enormous affirmative action program for men. So yeah, I suppose it's to be expected that "almost everything good" in our lives has been created by them.

I am genuinely curious as to whether Mr. Franklin, and other men who make similar boasts about their sex, has given all that much thought to why exactly it is that men have created so much. By not acknowledging this historical context, Franklin has created a glaring subtext in his argument. Namely, what goes unspoken is that men have created "almost everything good" in society because, obviously, men are naturally superior beings. That's another stereotype of men that has been and still is pretty prevalent. Yet, interestingly, it's a stereotype that Franklin doesn't seem willing to part with.

I sometimes wonder how ingrained male notions of superiority are to men and boys. I know that many masculists sincerely believe that men and boys are being severely wronged by feminism, society, and by liberal/feminist "indoctrination." Although they might never outright say it today, we sometimes catch glimpses of this enduring stereotype of inherent male superiority. Feminism has, I am sure, chipped away at this ideology and that's why I think so many men's rights activists have the strong aversion to feminism that they do. For, many anti-feminist men's rights activists loathe feminism even though feminists have been criticizing some of the harmful gender stereotypes, such as Man As Warrior, for a long time now.

Perhaps ignorant of the fact that, as Tarrant writes, "feminist women, transfolk, and genderqueers... have spearheaded these efforts [to eradicate stereotypes] for decades," non-feminist men's rights activists view feminism as a root, or at least contributor, to the plight of men and of these harmful stereotypes. That so many extremist, conservative, and anti-feminist MRAs are unaware of the fact that many feminists quite willingly concede that stereotypes of masculinity harm men is sad. Worse, it is entitled. These men, perhaps unwilling to recognize a woman or feminists' voice as valid or authoritative, close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and repeat the exact same "groundbreaking" argument that a feminist made way back in, like, 1976 as though he thought of it first. The same man who will reject a feminist argument because it's "subjective" and "biased" will accept it coming from a man, because men are "objective" and "neutral."

Yet, Tarrant does highlight men's groups and writers who are piggybacking off these ideas about stereotypes and addressing them in deeper and more productive ways than the unfortunate feminist-baiting that so often occurs in the masculist blogosphere. What is generally called "Men's Rights Activism" or "Masculism," like feminism, is not a monolith. It includes polarizing writers, shallow thinkers, blamers, extremists, moderates, and thoughtful people. Addressing the concerns of men is important work, and feminists should continue working in concert with men's rights groups and thinkers who do not compulsively vilify feminism and feminists. Eradicating gender stereotypes, as Tarrant ends, "can only be good- not just for men, but for everyone."

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