Men’s Rights March 2013 Internet Statement

General principles we believe are a forming, coalescing consensus

A working group formed in December of 2012 through a variety of men’s rights publications, forums, and Youtube channels. Over four dozen people from around the globe participated in making suggestions and giving general input. Despite the large number of people from diverse backgrounds, and the fact that almost none of the participants knew most of the others, its development was shockingly uncontentious, even on some of the more contentious points.

This is not a document anyone is expected to sign or pledge to. It is an effort to identify a general consensus.

This document is not released with the intention being the definitive statement of goals for all men’s advocates, but rather, a set of goals and ideas that we believe represent common sentiments within the movement. People will be free to agree with all of these, most of these, some of these, or only one of these; if they’ll work with us on any of them, then we’ll work with them on that. Furthermore, other groups are welcome to take these goals and adapt and change them for their own purposes.

The gender war is a destructive social construct. Viewing the other sex as an enemy to be fought, or an oppressor to be overthrown, does not benefit men or women. Only a select few will profit from the hostility and distrust this creates. The interests of both men and women are best served by ending the gender war, and to working together to alleviate the iniquities visited upon all human beings, regardless of sex.

Feminism is not necessarily what feminists say it is.

Many prominent individuals who self-identify as feminists espouse ideals of equality and equity, but often act against an ethic of equality under the law. For this reason, many men’s advocates have come to the conclusion that feminist activism is dependent on identifying women as victims and men as perpetrators of oppression. While those not solidly entrenched in the day to day gender struggle tend to think “feminism is about equality,” professionals at universities, in government, and in political action groups often act against legal equality and genuine equity through their decisions and actions–and do so in the name of feminism.

Furthermore, anyone genuinely working under the “feminism is about equality” mentality should be natural allies in the collective fight for men’s rights. But those feminists with actual power frequently endorse and exploit sexist ideas in order to promote their divisive ideology, and to raise money, and dismiss, marginalize, or outright mock men’s issues, occasionally even with violence.

For these reasons, self described feminists should not necessarily be considered de-facto experts on what constitutes gender equity. Men’s voices must be heard, even if women aren’t always comfortable with what they hear.

Traditionalism is a choice, not an obligation

No one can speak for all men’s advocates, but most try to be accurate, objective, and honest about masculinity and femininity. They recognize that men and women are different, but they don’t want to promote discrimination, stereotypes, or prejudices that would limit anyone’s ability to exercise their own ability and talent.

Chivalry, a concept in which men have a social obligation to put their interests below women’s, is common in many countries. Failure to adhere to this code can result in significant social backlash against men. We reject a code that ascribes greater value to one sex or the other. When men’s advocates attempt to describe differences between the sexes, they are not trying to prescribe them. Men’s human rights advocates look to the future, they don’t cling to the past, and they agree that your genitals should not determine your lifestyle or your rights. If you want to be a traditionalist, be one. If you don’t, that’s fine too.

Misandry is real, and pernicious

Most respected dictionaries now recognize that misandry – the hatred or contempt of male humans – is a real word. Some gender ideologues continue to insist that misandry does not and cannot exist, but MRAs, by and large, understand that misandry is real, and is being used to strip men and boys of basic human rights and dignity. Misandric messages invalidate boys and men by telling them that they are guilty by association to all the harmful acts committed by other men, for no other reason than that they are male, but ignoring the corresponding association to positive acts by other men, of discovery, invention, daring, bravery, sacrifice, loyalty, love, and kindness. Misandric messages also tend to ignore negative and harmful actions by women. In general, misandry tells men and boys that part of what defines who they are, their very identity as male, is something dangerous and shameful. These messages are culturally toxic and psychologically harmful to men and boys.

Men deserve the right to dignity, just as much as women. Men deserve the same right as women to not be associated with despicable actions simply because they were committed by members of their sex. Men’s rights advocates agree that misandry is real, and that it should not be tolerated any more than misogyny would be, and have taken on the responsibility for acknowledging, exposing, and opposing misandry. Because if they don’t do it, then who else will?

Strong, independent women are helpful, not helpless.

Most men’s human rights advocates love seeing strong, capable, and independent women as part of society. But they are disappointed to see the rise of idealized, infantilized, sheltered, and fearful women. Men’s human rights advocates understand that power and authority should come with responsibility and accountability.

Rewards come with risks: if you take credit then you should also accept blame. If you criticize, then you should also be able to accept criticism. Making excuses for bad behavior by women, or blaming it on men, is condescending. Women who want equality should speak out against such attitudes and behaviors. The only way people experience personal growth is through life experience and our present society stunts women’s growth by coddling them.

Men’s rights advocates object to feminism’s narrow focus on women’s problems and fears, and to feminism’s track record of treating human issues as divisive gender issues. Men’s advocates object to gynocentrism (focusing only on the female perspective) and female supremacism. We respect skill and maturity, regardless of whether the person is male or female.

General Men’s Rights Movement Goals

When it comes to men’s activism, some have already decided that their role will mostly be passive: become Men Going Their Own Way, by refusing to participate in marriage or even cohabitation with the opposite sex, or otherwise defining their own lives outside the dominant gender discourse, and nothing more. This is fine, as we are all free to make our own choices as to what role(s) we would like to play.

Others feel that “defeating feminism” is the only goal. Our view is that even without feminism, many of the problems we face would remain.

As in any movement there will be people with significant influence and authority even if this authority is informal. Who these people are will change constantly. As a result “We” can just mean “I.” There is nothing preventing you from deciding to care about one of these items, or three of them, or half of them, or all of them. The point is, they are goals not dogma.

Some of the goals for the men’s movement are (in no particular order):

*) We stand for all boys and men. Questions of race, creed, color, nationality or sexual orientation are completely irrelevant to us. This is non-negotiable: we are a movement for the needs, well-being and interests of all men and boys everywhere, seeking no more and no less than legal equality and/or genuine equity under the law.

*) We are a human rights movement, and as such concepts of universal human rights are a part of that movement. Addressing the needs of men and boys is not a zero-sum game. Our focus is on men and boys because we believe men and boys are in particular need of help at this time.

*) We have no interest in legally denying anyone the right to control their reproduction, however we seek equitable reproductive rights for all persons regardless of sex. As a movement we believe no one should be forced into parenthood by the state or another individual, and that sexual intercourse is not a consent to parenthood. As such, mothers seeking arbitration from the courts in order to collect child support from a man she names the father should be required to submit a written instrument of consent signed by him, in which he explicitly accepts responsibility for, as well as defines his rights to, his child/ren. This will allow him to positively establish paternity through a DNA test before signing and allow both mother and father to define the rights and responsibilities of both parties rather than allowing the state to do so. Furthermore, if a mother conceals a pregnancy and subsequent birth from a father and he learns of this afterward without being given the opportunity to negotiate parenthood with the mother then he should have redress to obtain paternal rights and responsibilities.

*) Development and availability of a male fertility control device, drug or method that is safe, affordable, effective and reversible should be a top priority.

*) Paternity testing should be a standard practice when a father is added to a birth certificate or otherwise formally (legally) recognized as the child’s father. Where there is a willfully false claim of paternity, prosecution should occur.

*) If a woman opts to give up a child for adoption, all reasonable efforts must be made to allow the father the option of being that child’s sole parent before the child can be given over to any adoption agency.

*) Women are frequently pedestalized, and men demonized, when it comes to criminal arrest, conviction, and sentencing. This is an injustice against men and infantilizes women. Laws and legal practices and customs which establish lighter or heavier sentences based on sex should be abolished.

*) Foster the emergence of a new cultural narrative where all men and women are encouraged to live their lives as they see fit, without preferential treatment, while also being expected to bear the responsibility for their personal choices.

*) Default physical and legal co-parenting must be the norm where both parents are competent, willing, and do not endanger the child’s physical or mental well being. We wish to promote a narrative of recognizing fair custody arrangements towards fathers as an important issue, both in terms of fair treatment of fathers, and as being in the best interest of all children’s healthy development and quality of life. In divorce or separation of non-married parents, daily contact with both parents, and living arrangements which strive to be as close as practical to 50/50 time with both parents, should be the norm.

*) If there is strong evidence that children shouldn’t be with one or both parents, regular review of the conditions for access and visitation should occur to recognize that circumstances can and do change; the child’s right to both parents must be protected unless one or both has given up the child for adoption (i.e. legal surrender).

*) False and malicious accusations of rape or other violence, when they can be distinguished from mistaken accusations, must be subject to strict penalty under law. Laws against lying under oath or wasting time (of the police or courts) must be enacted where there are no such laws in place, and/or enforced without gender bias where they do exist.

*) The presumption of innocence must be seen as a fundamental right for anyone accused of any crime and restored to anyone accused of domestic violence or any form of assault, sexual or otherwise. So-called “rape shield” laws must either be extended to cover the accused as well as the accuser, or abolished entirely.

*) Debtor’s prison has been abolished in most civilized nations except in one crucial area: men who are unable to pay support payments due to disability or other impoverishment. This practice must be abolished, and debts owed due to support must be treated like any other debt to be paid, and subject to reasonable negotiation and renegotiation when circumstances do not make payment of support practical. Throwing men in jail for being unable to pay not only violates their fundamental human rights, it often robs children of their fathers and leaves those fathers unable to work to pay the debts they owe. This is an abomination and must be ended.

*) We seek to promote social recognition that men can be victims and women can be sex offenders, and that statements which belittle or marginalize the experiences of male victims of sexual assault, including male victims of female sex predators, are likely based on a worldview that pedastalizes women and demonizes men. Such attitudes are hateful and toxic, and must be opposed.

*) Standards for what constitutes illegal violence – domestic, sexual, or otherwise – should not discriminate on account of sex or such things as size or weight. Violence is violence. Assault is assault. Sexual assault is sexual assault. The law must be neutral regarding sexual characteristics or physical traits. Zero tolerance policies which fail to differentiate between a heated argument and a crime must be abolished. Mandatory arrest policies must either be abolished or must treat both parties as potential co-criminals and both parties should be arrested. So-called “primary aggressor” policies which presuppose the existence of one “victim” and one “abuser” have been repeatedly shown to be wrong in most cases, and should be abolished as standing policy.

*) Mandatory restraining orders which isolate and intimidate couples who wish to communicate and cooperate with each other must be recognized as damaging, and the law must be made to recognize that such orders may damage career and reputations and as such should be expungeable if found to be fraudulently or frivolously obtained, or no longer needed.

*) Abuse of restraining orders by anyone seeking to use them as a weapon to deny access to children or gain an upper hand in divorce or custody disputes should not only be recognized, but subject to penalty under law.

*) Policies which allow alleged victims to be punished for refusing to cooperate with prosecution must be abolished.

*) Financial incentives for prosecution of any crime by the state must be abolished.

*) In divorce or separation of non-married parents, efforts should to be made to promote mediation and solutions that do not involve the court or other state agencies wherever possible.

*) Recognizing that marriage cannot be abolished by the state, because cohabiting persons will still have disputes over children and finances if they separate, “marriage” should be viewed as an enforceable contract. Couples wishing to marry should be allowed to negotiate what their marriage contracts involve to include issues such as child custody, any theoretical support, education, support payments in case of severance, and so on. Marriages are agreements between people, and contracts should spell out specifically what is and is not agreed to. In the absence of a formal contract, presumption of shared parenting must be enforced as noted above.

*) Any government funding towards health research and services, should such funding exist, should be allocated in a way that gives equal and fair consideration to the health needs of men, women, and children, recognising that while maternal health influences the health of both boys and girls in the future generations, so too the health needs of boys and men should be recognized as equally important to all of society. We may argue later whether or how much government should spend on public health measures; in the meantime, men and boys must be given equal consideration under the law when there is such funding.

*) Government-funded educational programs (such as scholarships), if they exist, should either do away with preferential treatment by sex, or, be expanded to include programs to encourage males to enter fields where they are under-represented and or continue their education as they see fit. One way or the other, the double standards in education must end.

*) Abolish medically unnecessary genital mutilation or surgery on infants and minors. If a person wishes to have their genitals altered, they may make this decision when they come of age.

*) There are documented and growing gender disparities in education with boys in particular lagging behind girls in multiple areas across much of the developed world. This must be addressed directly by looking at areas where boys as a group may have different educational needs from girls, and where teachers may be discriminating against boys consciously or unconsciously.

*) Conscription or registration for conscription (“selective service”) must either be abolished or be an equal requirement for both sexes. One or the other.

We are under no illusion that all of these items will be automatically accepted overnight by everyone in the world, nor even that every men’s advocate will necessarily agree with every word here. Nevertheless we believe it represents a roadmap to a better future, and hope others will join, in whole or in part, in helping make these things happen.


This document last revised 3/11/2013. It is now considered “final,” although others remain free to copy and use it to their own purposes. However, modified copies must be clearly marked as modified from this original. Further discussion and debate is not only allowed, it is encouraged!

The initiator and primary editor of this document was Dean Esmay, who is solely responsible for any errors, omissions, or oversights. Others who wish to be identified as having given suggestions, input, or other collaboration should contact the author and let him know if they want to be publicly acknowledged.

3/13/2013: minor typo fixed, “deciding care” changed to “deciding to care.”

A Google Doc version of this file is available to the general public here. Further input and discussion is encouraged.

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Grading Obama On Men’s and Boys’ Issues

The deplorable sexism of the Obama administration is one of the many reasons I will be shuddering as I reluctantly vote for Obama this year. This report card explains my reluctance very well:

(Subscribe to Men Are Good’s channel here.)

As disheartening as that is, however, there is no reason to believe that anything will be different under a theoretical Romney Administration. Sexist laws on domestic violence and sexual violence based on the man-hating, woman-infantalizing, and just plain wrong notion that violence and sexual assault are things men to do women, rather than something people do to each other, probably cause the most suffering. But there’s also:

    * The lack of reproductive freedom for men and boys

    * The debtor’s prisons now swelling with men who can’t (I didn’t say wouldn’t, I said can’t) pay their alimony and child support and can’t get it modified to something humane

    * Our widespread cultural acceptance of genital mutilation (warning: Not Safe For Work, but subscribe to Typhonblue’s channel here, she’s funny and thoughtful and incredibly well-informed)

    * Our lack of action by the law against that insidious form of child abuse called parental alienation (which, like most forms of child abuse, is more frequently committed by women than men)

    * The unconscionable arrest, prosecution, and sentencing discount for women at the expense of men in criminal matters

…and more. It is all driven by our widespread cultural tendency to treat women as perpetual victims (and, often, as perpetual children not responsible for their own choices). Programs and set-asides and special protections for women abound, all while underplaying, ignoring, or outright ridiculing the plight of males who are sick, poverty stricken, undereducated, unemployed, homeless, imprisoned, and the victims of violence–even though males are in the majority in all those areas of need and suffering in our nation. But it is our culture, where females are privileged over males in countless measurable and unmeasurable ways people will rarely acknowledge, that most needs changing. It starts with asking women, particularly white women, to learn how to check their privilege and modify their behavior accordingly.

It often appears as of women in America, especially middle class white women, are totally blind to their privileged status. This gynocentrism favoring white women in particular is what appears to be at the root of much of it, so neither Democrats nor Republicans are likely to change it. Change has to begin at the grass roots, by changing people’s attitudes, and by local action.

Those of us who advocate for men and boys have our work cut out for us in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Fortunately, we are a growing movement, and despite all the hate-based lies that we are racist, hate women, hate gay people, are violent, or are surly straight middle aged straight guys who are just “angry” because we’ve lost our cookies, the reality is that what we come in all races creeds colors nationalities sexes and sexual orientations, and what we care about most is marginalized and ignored men and boys, period. The claims to the contrary are rooted in ignorance, and ignorance is the root of all bigotry. So the fight for equal rights and equal responsibilities shall continue, through advocacy, political action, and refusing to be shamed into silence.

It starts, I think, with recognizing both the historical and modern-day reality of Female Privilege. Here’s my friend Karen, writing to a young man who, after arguing with man-hating bigots who claimed to be “feminists” on what she thinks the real lowdown is:

Letter to a young man on privilege-blindness.

She even better lays out some (hardly all) of the historical realities of Female Privilege here.

She simply states the truth, and the truth hurts for a lot of people: in this society, today, it is not men who are the privileged class. It is women. And in reality, females have been privileged in multiple ways for thousands of years; the feminism of the 1970s, whatever righteous claims it had, still started out with a flawed premise: that men as a class oppress women as a class, and have for thousands of years. Which is a hateful thing to say: hateful toward men, and demeaning toward women. And it’s also just plain not true. It was always a balance between privilege and responsibilities, perks and burdens, that both sexes always had to live with, and that we should no longer have to.

In recognizing this reality, and rejecting the false theory that we live in a “PatriarchY” (and the grossly insulting “Patriarchy hurts men too” thinking that goes with it), we can begin to hope for change, and hope to see men’s and boys’ issues receive greater prominence in the next election cycle, no matter who wins the election today.

In brighter news, we have November 19 to look forward to!

(Subscribe to Kristina Hansen’s delightful channel here.)

So guys, and those of you who care about guys, get out there and vote. Obama is no friend to men and boys, but neither is Romney. Make your choice, and otherwise, keep working to make this a better world.

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Liberal White Guilt: The Essence of Tyranny

“The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity”. -Jacob Burckhardt

One of the reasons the above Liberal White Guilt ad campaign, and other efforts like it, is so excruciatingly bad is that it denies the reality of the biggest group of poor people with bad educations, limited opportunity, and dependency on government benefits in the United States: poor whites, otherwise known as “white trash.” It also denies the complexity of the race issue, which anyone who’s been a white minority in a predominantly non-white neighborhood can tell you is never as simple as this. Recommended viewing on that: 8 Mile and American History X.

This thinking denies the reality that a person of color with an Ivy League education has infinitely more opportunity than “trailer trash” with a thick southern drawl who went through a lousy school system ever will–and that said person of color is probably less likely to have run-ins with the law for that matter, especially if she already lives in an upper middle class neighborhood where trailer trash don’t exist. In many parts of the country, just having the wrong accent–an accent that marks you as a “hick” or a “redneck”–will get you treated far worse than having the darkest skin in creation will. It denies the complex reality that these beautiful, wonderful little girls (who by the way have done absolutely nothing wrong) will have a much easier time in life than this little boy or this little boy ever will.

Which also, by the way, puts the lie to the claim that boys are auto-privileged over girls, another rather obscene bit of condescending Liberal bigotry.

All of this is part of why privileged white liberal John Scalzi’s recently much-tweeted-and-linked article on how being straight and white and male is the easiest difficulty setting in life is racist, sexist, demeaning, and ultimately hypocritical and elitist. Like almost all condescending elitist thought, it begins with what Jacob Burckhardt called the essence of tyranny: the denial of complexity. (Or, as my friend Peter recently put it, “the easiest difficulty setting in life is being John Scalzi.” That applies to pretty much everyone, male or female, of any race, who comes from privileged backgrounds like Scalzi who talk like this.)

Is there racism among poor people? Why yes there is. But they aren’t all racist and, more important, how meaningful is their racism when they have no power and no real voice anyway? Who joins groups like the skinheads? Poor people with nothing else in life, for the most part. Poor people who, being both poor and white, are generally the most despised, scapegoated group in America. Once again I recommend watching those movies I mention above to get a realistic flavor of what the world of White Trash really looks like–it’s a world I’ve spent much time in and can assure you is very realistically portrayed. Whereas practically everywhere else in our popular culture such people are regularly lampooned, degraded, and/or blamed for most of society’s ills.

It’s one of many reasons why condescending Liberal White Guilt is such an evil thing.

And that’s not even to ask who joins crazy racist organizations like the Nation of Islam: poor disenfranchised blacks who have no more opportunity in life than the poor white trash whose lives most closely resemble theirs. (Fair disclosure: Malcolm X is one of my personal heroes, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of the books that Methuselah’s Daughter is modeled after.)

the forgotten unprivilegedOver at The Root, Zaheer Ali has the courage to say what privileged white Liberals generally won’t: Our insistence on equating “poor” with “black” has undermined the success of anti-poverty programs. Ali’s needless potshots at certain politicians aside, his point should be taken by everyone. The mentality he identifies has done much damage. And this mentality doesn’t just hurt our discourse on poverty, it pollutes almost all our national discourse on race, on sex, on ethnicity, on Affirmative Action, and on other social policies. And this polluting mentality should be challenged wherever we see it.

Self-righteous liberals who talk like the people in this Liberal White Guilt ad campaign should be ashamed of themselves. Sadly, almost no one will be smart enough to tell them why. Conservatives will angrily fulminate and say stupid things, and liberals will say stupid self-righteous things in response, and almost everyone will fart around without identifying the real problems. Which is how most of our discourse on race and sex in this country goes.

(Thanks to Kiril Kundurazieff for the link.)

*Update*: I’m leaving this stuck at the top for a day or two at least. There will be further updates below as time permits, including possibly more Atlas Shruggery. (We want… a shruggery! Ni!)

*Update 2*: I’m being pilloried over here as saying “that white men are the oppressed, that women’s liberation and anti-racist groups are causing this oppression of the white man” and other assorted personal attacks. Guess I touched a nerve, eh?

*Update 3*: Bumped up again.

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Repelled by Liberals, Repelled by Conservatives

Last election cycle I voted mostly-Democrat–joylessly. I expect I will do the same this November, holding my nose and gagging as I vote Democrat again. While I grew up mostly voting Democrat, I switched to (sort of) Republican back in the 1990s because of how convincing I found many conservative arguments and thinkers, and out of a certain disgust and disillusion I had with American liberalism and with the Democratic party. In recent years, however, what’s become of the conservative movement has left me increasingly disturbed and alienated from them too. I’ve defaulted to a “vote for whoever repels me the least” mentality, which I suspect describes how most people vote anymore.

I can no longer consider myself to lean either Republican or Democrat, because–really, truly–both parties disgust me. But not in the “Democrats are nowhere near liberal enough for me” way, and not in the “Republicans are nowhere near conservative enough for me” way either.

I view liberalism and conservatism as both extremely important, vital voices that need to be heard and have much to offer. Which is why I view the current state of affairs in our politics with dismay. Perhaps it’s always been like this and I was just too blind to see it, but I don’t think so. What often passes for liberalism today still repels me. Yet what often passes for conservatism also now repels me.

In years past I wrote any number of essays on why Democrats and so-called “liberals” (often really just closed-minded reactionaries) angered and disappointed me. I’ve tried hard to give up on anger–it’s usually a futile emotion–but I haven’t really lost much of my disappointment with liberals. Maybe on a few things, but only in the sense that if you’ve gone ten years without changing your mind on anything it probably means you’ve been playing in the shallow end of the thinking pool for way too long. I still think Democrats have squandered much of the goodwill they once had among voting blocs that were once reliably Democratic, and have often betrayed the very people (society’s lower classes) that it’s pretty much their job to look after. And don’t even get me started again on their continued tendency toward Political Correctness and the appalling habit of seeing racism and sexism in everything.

But in recent years, the conservative movement has been disgusting me as well, with what appears to be an axiomatic, a priori assumption of “government is evil and/or incompetent,” an appalling reverence for wealth accumulation, and an apparently complete lack of any sense of responsibility or duty to community and country, with the pompous, self-indulgent (or self-hating) “work harder you lazy bum” mentality which denies that the rest of society, including the government that is an inseparable part of it, had anything to do with anyone’s hard work leading to their own (or anyone else’s) success.

Liberals and conservatives, you both drive me nuts, and you libertarians manage to annoy me with your easy “the market can fix everything” magic mentality too. None of this is exactly a great thing to say if you want to win friends and influence people, but it’s how I’ve come to feel: you’re all driving me nuts.

Still, I’ve written so much about why liberals annoy me, I would be remiss in not saying that I agree with almost everything E.J. Dionne says here. This part in particular really struck home with me:

In other words, until recently conservatives operated within America’s long consensus that accepted a market economy as well as a robust role for a government that served the common good. American politics is now roiled because this consensus is under the fiercest attack it has faced in more than 100 years.

For most of the 20th century, conservatives and progressives alternated in power, each trying to correct the mistakes of the other. Neither scared the wits out of the other (although campaign rhetoric sometimes suggested otherwise), and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward. It didn’t mean that politics was devoid of philosophical conflicts, of course. The clashes over McCarthyism, the civil rights revolution, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Great Inflation of the late 1970s remind us that our consensus went only so far. Conservatives challenged aspects of the New Deal-era worldview from the late 1960s on, dethroning a liberal triumphalism that long refused to take conservatism seriously. Over time, even progressives came to appreciate some essential instincts that conservatives brought to the debate.

Yeah, they did. I certainly did. Yet now it seems that conservatism has turned to a very ugly side. Not of racism (the cheap liberal answer to everything), but of making an enemy of our own democratically-elected government. To seeing our President and our elected officials of being incapable of doing anything that isn’t evil and/or dishonest. I have multiple self-declared conservative friends who can speak of the government as nothing but an enemy, and who can see no good of any government program other than perhaps the military. One of them recently said to me, in all seriousness, “Government is always the problem. Reagan proved it.”

Dude. That’s madness.

Anyway, read the whole thing and then come back here and tell me what you think Dionne gets wrong. Or what I get wrong. Or right. If you’re so inclined.

* This post will remain “sticky” at the top of this blog for a day or two. Look for other materials to appear beneath it. *

*Update: Post unstuck*

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Musings On The “F” Word

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” –Rebecca West

I have long been alternately amused and irritated by that famous quote. Why? Because I find myself relating to it in divided fashion:

For my part, I have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is either. But I do know that people call me anti-feminist, or a misogynist, whenever I question the logic of some self-proclaimed feminists–or express sentiments that differentiate me, as a man, from a doormat.

I began ruminating on this a few days ago upon reading an essay by the (thoughtful, rational, and decent) Willow Wilson entitled How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Feminists. There’s not a thing wrong with that essay, and I highly recommend reading it. Were I to give it a shorthand summary it amounts to, “Angry feminists may sometimes be over the top but there are some real evils in the world and they often serve a necessary function to combat that evil.” OK. I can dig it. (But seriously, read it yourself.)

On the other hand, I’ll be 46 this year, and if I’ve done my math right that means I’m about 16 years older than Willow. That doesn’t give me any special authority or make her viewpoint any less valid—indeed, I’m often wearied by Baby Boomers who obnoxiously tell me my own youth compared to them means I “just don’t understand” certain things that I think I understand very well, thank you very much. But it does mean I remember things she would never have experienced: how men, especially those of us who were boys in the 1970s and 1980s, were often castigated by self-proclaimed feminists for things we didn’t do and had no part of. Or how frequently normal boyish behavior was deemed wrong or evil–and by that I do not even mean things sexual, I mean guy stuff like enjoying professional wrestling, heavy metal music, tinkering with engines or electronics or computers instead of being concerned about the latest emotional goings-on around us, or not being very tidy.

A favorite cliche I remember from my youth that I daresay most men my age will remember: “you’re only messy because you were brought up to have your mother clean up for you and now you expect women to do it for you!” Um, no. First off, she didn’t clean up after me much. My stepfather was the neat freak. Second off, I’m just not a very tidy person thank you very much. I will consistently put up with a greater degree of household messiness than most women, and the proof has been that whenever I’ve lived with a woman who’s gone “on strike” and refused to “clean up after me,” I have obliviously gone on without even noticing. On the other hand, whenever I’m asked to clean something, I simply do so without (much) complaint, because my very male brain says “the female needs this cleaned, thus, I will clean it and she will be happy.” (Note to self: make sure to explore in a later essay just how automatically and unthinkingly most American men will do anything a woman asks just because she asked.)

I remember how frequently we were accused of attitudes we really didn’t think we had. How often we might get accused of misogyny or sexism for just uttering a thought or sentiment that was not deemed Politically Correct by many self-proclaimed feminists–Political Correctness itself being (in part) an invention of self-proclaimed feminists. Or how often we were subjected to double-standards of behavior by women in our age group, who simultaneously demanded utter equality when it suited them, but deference and chivalry when it was convenient. Or how often we experienced–and still experience!–gender discrimination in the workplace today.

I work in a field where women are given preferential hiring status, and fast-tracked for promotion because they are women. I don’t necessarily object to it–in fact I tend to prefer working for female managers over male ones–but I do note that this is a systemic bias that no one seems to care about. And that such systemic biases are common in today’s work world. Discrimination against men, either overt or subtle, is so innate to this culture that it’s either completely invisible to most people until you point it out, or, it’s often considered laudable. Indeed, in many fields, women make considerably more than men the same age do, often even when they work fewer hours. Instead of wondering if that isn’t evidence of at least some level of systemic bias against males, the usual take on that is to laud it as a great achievement.

And if feminism is supposed to be about equality for women in a world that oppresses them, what are we to make of the following facts–all of which I’ll be happy to verify with references if anyone really needs me to–which are all going on right now in modern-day America, circa 2012?

* The vast majority of High School dropouts are male.
* Fewer men now go to college than women, and are far more likely to drop out if they do go.
* Women are now by far the majority of college graduates, a trend that’s been increasing for years.
* Men are significantly more likely to be the victims of violent assault in their lifetimes than women.
* Men are the majority of the nation’s homicide victims.
* Men are as likely to be assaulted by intimate partners as women are, but are less likely to report it and more likely to be laughed at or accused of wrongdoing if they do.
* The vast majority of prison inmates are men.
* The vast majority of alcoholics and drug addicts are men.
* The overwhelming majority of the long-term homeless population is male.
* The overwhelming majority of victims of work-related injuries are male.
* The overwhelming majority of work-related deaths are male.
* The overwhelming majority of successful suicide attempts are male.

Anyone who has a son, or a brother, or a father whom she loves should find those facts sobering.

And by comparison, while we as a nation are preoccupied with the problem of “Violence Against Women,” as Patricia Pearson noted in her classic book When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence, “Women commit the majority of child homicides in the United States; more than 80 percent of neonaticides; an equal or greater share of severe physical child abuse; an equal rate of spousal assault; about a quarter of child sexual molestations; and a large proportion of elder abuse… The rate at which infants are murdered by women in the U.S. is higher than the rate at which women are murdered by men.” Those facts remain fundamentally unchanged, except for the fact that the (reported) rate of female-on-male violence has been on a steady rise for about 20 years. For her audacity in noticing things like this, Patricia Pearson wasn’t hailed by feminist political groups as a gender-role-busting warrior for equality, for giving women agency by holding them accountable for their actions, but instead was either ignored or attacked by much of the politically-active feminist community. (And if you don’t believe me, ask her.)

A good counterbalance to Willow’s essay, I think, is by the remarkable “Girl Writes What,” a blogger I recently stumbled upon whose work thrills me. She’s a bit over 40 so she remembers some of these things I’ve talking about very well, and can still see how some of it remains active in modern America. She’s by no means a conservative or a right-winger, but she’s still got beefs with modern feminism. To quote part of her Manifesto on Female Agency and Equality:

Under extremist modern feminism, there can be no female autonomy or agency because though we have freedom and opportunity, there is no corresponding expectation of self-sufficiency, accountability, or responsibility placed on women. And there can be no male autonomy or agency, because for men there is only self-sufficiency, accountability and responsibility, while freedom and opportunity is becoming a thing of the past.

If chivalry infantilized women, feminism does the exact same thing. Only instead of running to tell daddy/Sir Galahad about all those horrible brutes who are so very mean to us, we’re supposed to run to daddy government.

But I have news for modern feminism. Some of us just aren’t that interested in feeling like victims. Being victimized is something that happens to people, and is often completely outside our control. But we DO have a choice as to whether we see ourselves as victims, and choose to live our lives as victims, or not. Modern feminism wants me to feel like a default victim. And I am NOT a victim. Victims are passive. Victims are acted upon. Victims lack agency. That’s not the way I will ever choose to view myself, and it saddens me that so many women have been convinced to see themselves this way.

But I suggest reading the whole thing.

I heartily recommend reading her other blog essays. If you like having your preconceptions challenged, you’ll get plenty of that there.

Now one of the problems with Girl Writes What’s writings is her use of the term “feminism.” She offends some people when she uses it, because she writes about it critically. It points to the same problem in reverse with Willow’s article, or really, almost any article I’ve ever read or discussion I’ve ever had with anyone about feminism: nobody can tell you precisely what they mean by it. This leaves a lot of people in a whiplash condition. There are perfectly decent people who don’t hate women and want women to be free to live their lives as they wish who still say they are anti-feminist. But there are others who say, “If you respect women and want women to be free to live their lives as they wish, that makes you a feminist!” Then there will be those who read Girl Writes What, who is critical of feminism, who say “wait a minute, I’m a feminist and I don’t think those things she accuses feminists of!” And they get their feelings hurt.

To close this out where I began: I have never been able to figure out what feminism is, because it appears that no one can agree on what it is, let alone whether or not it is a good thing. If you can’t even agree on what a word means, you will usually get into tailchasing exercises where both parties argue fiercely with each other when it turns out they’re arguing as much or more about what that one word means than they are about the actual issues involved.

So me? I just won’t use the word “feminist” if I can avoid it. It’s a distraction: like the word “socialist,” in the modern English lexicon it has come to mean anything the speaker wants it to mean at the moment they say it, subject to revision at any given moment if their opinions change. I won’t even play with words like that anymore. If you want to even discuss feminism with me, I first ask that you tell me exactly what you mean by that word, and once you do we can discuss that. Hopefully in a mutually respectful way. Otherwise, frankly, I would rather use less emotionally charged terms like “gender equity” or “gender fairness” or “women’s issues” and “men’s issues” or, really, anything other than the damned “f” word that not only makes people angry, self-righteous, confused, or otherwise in a state that makes clear communication impossible.

What do I actually think about men and women? I think men are biologically, psychologically, spiritually, and pragmatically different from women, and vice-versa, although men and women have more in common than not, and no gender label perfectly describes anybody. I think neither men nor women are innately superior as human beings by dint of gender. I think that everybody should have a chance to do whatever they want with their lives, regardless of their sex, so long as they actually have that capability. I think that as much as possible, women and men should be treated equally under the law except in those rare areas where that’s impossible, and in those cases we should strive to make it as equitable as we can. Special treatment should always be avoided wherever possible.

There are those who would call all of that feminism. There are those who would call it the radical opposite of feminism. There are those who’d call it liberal. There are those who’d call it right-wing. And you know what? That’s why I eschew labels when I can. Because what do I call all of that? I call it “what I think.” And I’m open to hearing what you think, so long as you can avoid calling me names or making nasty allegations about my character or motives.

Peace out. 😉

(This item cross-posted to The Moderate Voice.)

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