Archive for March, 2009

Reverse Feminism

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Today I’d like to do a thought experiment and have some fun at the same time.

We’re all familiar with feminist rhetoric, it’s hard not to be, since it comes at us from feminists, the media and policy makers. The gender messages reaching us are so streamlined and consistent that it’s easy to simply accept the rhetoric as fact, or at least as mostly fact. Even men and women who are critical of feminism are likely influenced by these messages on a subconscious level.

What if we were to turn the tables on this feminist rhetoric, and use a similar language to describe the male gender role and the suffering of men? In other words, what would it sound like if we were to describe the experience of men and situation of men using a feminist style of language, to show how ludicrous and one-side most of the feminist ideology is?

I’m not saying that we should actually start implementing a reverse rhetoric, far from it! But I believe it could be a good thought experiment in order to demonstrate that the blame game and the claiming of victimhood can be done by men too, meaning that each gender has just as many disadvantages.

So what kind of statements would masculism make, if it was just as strong and just as pathological as mainstream feminism? Here’s a preliminary list:

  1. Women force men to work full-time by only marrying men who are providers, thereby limiting the choices of men.
  2. Women structurally oppress men by claiming the closest connection to the children.
  3. Women expect men to protect them physically, thereby subordinating the men (men’s lives are less worth).
  4. Women do not mind that their husbands have dangerous jobs while they are safe at home, caring for the children. This matriarchal power structure keeps men away from a loving environment, and keeps the ruling class (women) out of harms way.
  5. The power of the sisterhood represses any inquiry into why men live significantly shorter lives than women. The only acceptable explanation is biological differences, which in all other gender scenarios is a prohibited explanation according to the sisterhood.
  6. Breast cancer gets more funding than any other cancer, which removes resources from prostate cancer research.
  7. Men commit suicide far more often than women, which is yet another sign of men facing matriarchal structures that keep men trapped in impossible life conditions, and ultimately the only way out may be to take your own life.
  8. Women demand that men act tough and repress their emotions at all times, which is why men do not dare report domestic violence.
  9. 70 to 80 percent of the homeless are men, since our matriarchal society is reluctant to help a man who doesn’t perform, while women (as the ruling class) always have their intrinsic value intact.
  10. Men are always given the task of defending the country against aggressors, since the ruling class must be kept safe at all times.
  11. Women are not held responsible for the crimes the same way men are and receive shorter jail sentences. The matriarchy knows that men must be punished properly to stay subordinated, while women are always considered to be basically good and therefore less in need of punishment.
  12. Cutting off genital tissue from boys is condoned by society, in order to teach men from the start that they are expendable, and inferior to women. Developing countries who cut off genital tissue from girls are judged harshly.
  13. Boys do worse than girls in school since they feel tremendously unsafe and confused once they realize what the constricted and  dangerous male gender role demands of them in the future.

Could you add anything else to this list?

Men’s Reactions Towards Feminism

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Regardless of what many feminists might claim, feminism is one of the largest and most influential movements of our time. There are very few ideas that have gained as much influence and universal adoption as the idea that women are the oppressed gender and men are the privileged gender. The core of the feminist message is no longer considered to be ideology, it is considered to be the truth.

There are a couple of defining characteristics that shape feminism, and therefore also shape the public’s opinion of gender issues:

  • Feminism will not see or acknowledge that gender roles developed organically, as a functional fit to external circumstances.
  • Feminism will only deal with male privilege and female suffering, not female privilege and male suffering. A splendid example is talking about male privilege in the workplace, while forgetting female privilege in the home and male suffering in dangerous workplaces.

When the same message is repeated time and again without any serious rebuttals, which is how the feminist message is treated by the media and policy makers, you create new stereotypes or even caricatures of the sexes.

Women are portrayed as helpless victims with high morals who are desperately trying to fight for their rights, while men are portrayed as insensitive brutes with questionable morals who actively oppress women and who want to keep their privileges at all costs. Since these distorted images of men (and women) are broadcast to us all, whether we want to or not, there is a direct impact on men’s self-esteem and emotional health.

Men and Feminism

So how do men react to being told that they are oppressors and potential rapists? There are a number of possible scenarios, and it’s possible to go through several of these phases, one at a time:

  1. Experiencing guilt and shame. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when we are told that men are bad, men oppress women, men cause wars, men are violent and all men are potential rapists. Who wants to be an alleged oppressor? As a result many men experience conscious or unconscious guilt and shame whenever feminism or gender issues are talked about. Feminist shaming is especially toxic for boys growing up with feminism.
  2. Silence. This is a very common response. Men bow their heads, want to make amends and apply the standard male formula of working harder to achieve a certain goal. Men have been largely silent as more and more feminist institutions have been created and as feminism has increasingly influenced public policy.
  3. Surrender. Some men become feminists themselves, which allows them to despise other men and how they continue to “oppress women”. Feminist men usually give off an aura of being smug and ungrounded at the same time. They are smug since they think they know better than other men, and they are ungrounded because they are basically supporting the view that men are inferior to women. A huge payoff for male feminists is that you get to talk about women as victims, so as a male feminist you are actually still being the quintessential protector of women, in accordance with the gender roles and gender dynamics that have been around since the dawn of humanity!
  4. Cracking the code. Once you can see past feminism and understand how the male gender role truly works, then you’re on your way to reclaiming your power as a man. When you get a more accurate picture of the traditional male gender role you also begin to see how one-sided and limited feminism is, and that feminism has shamed several generations of men, especially those who grew up with it.
  5. Anger and contempt. These feelings are very understandable, once you’ve seen past the intellectual constructions of feminism. How can you not be angry at and feel contempt for a movement that more or less tells you that you are intrinsically bad, simply for being born a man? While these emotions can be needed for a while, they are not constructive in the long run, and we need to avoid becoming stuck in this place!
  6. Taking action. You don’t have to come a political activist, simply because you’ve realized that feminism only talks about half of the gender issues. If all you do is change your own outlook and stand up for your views when talking to others, then you’ve done something very important towards changing the future of the gender discourse.

As men, we run a serious risk of losing our personal power, unless we find a healthy way to deal with feminism. We do not want to collapse, and become feminists ourselves. Neither do we want to stay overly tense and rigid, by staying perpetually angry at feminism. The healthy way forward is one of standing up for our own views, without adding more bitterness and polarization to the ongoing gender dialogue.

Do We Need a Men’s Movement?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Regardless of what our personal opinion might be about gender issues, women’s rights and men’s rights, the one undeniable truth that remains is that feminism is an established movement, while there is no equivalent established movement advocating men’s rights.

If you believe, like I do, that the male and female gender roles are more or less equally constricted, then it might seem unavoidable to lobby for a masculist movement, in order to award men’s liberation the same political status as women’s liberation. So is this what I’m actually advocating?

Yes and no. It’s evident that we need a much greater focus on the situation of men and the male gender role than we currently have, however, we need to make sure that those issues are approached in the most constructive manner possible – and without turning an ambition for pragmatic reforms into an ideology or religion.

Before digging into the complex question of how to put men’s issues on the political agenda, let’s have a look at the male groups, institutions and support systems that we definitely need to create, or drastically increase in number:

Men’s groups

  • For men to access their true voices, without any women around to impress
  • To discuss fatherhood
  • For men to voice their pain, this includes personal pain as well as collective pain around the male gender role
  • For men to explore what it means to be a man in a postmodern world
  • To discuss how to be able to focus on one’s career while still being a father and husband

Male support groups

  • For victims of domestic violence
  • For sexual abuse survivors
  • For ex-cons. Since society is unable to decrease criminality, the least we can do is to offer support groups for those who are looking for a fresh start.

Men’s shelters

  • For the 70-80% of homeless who are men
  • For male victims of domestic violence who are currently turned away from women’s shelters

Men’s psychology

  • Do we need different therapeutic approaches for men? Is talking about your emotions the best way for men to develop psychologically?
  • Gender specific psychological research would benefit both sexes

Male bonding 

  • Research shows that men have fewer close friends than women
  • It’s important to reintroduce camaraderie between men, and to transcend homophobia. What’s wrong with a man comforting another man who’s lost his wife, child or friend?
  • Evolving male friendship to mean something more than only doing or watching sports together.

As far as I’m concerned, introducing these resources for men have little to do with politics, and far from all of them will depend on government grants for their existence. I’m also hard pressed to find any arguments against the creation or expansion of these resources, since they address real and pressing concerns among men.

Masculism vs Gender Liberation

But what about the actual political dimension of men’s rights? What is the best way forward there?

A masculist movement may be needed as a temporary measure, in order to put men’s issues on the political agenda, and to raise public awareness around men’s issues. At the moment, most people probably believe that there are no real problems with the male gender role, and that men are nothing but the privileged sex.

The very real risk of establishing a masculist movement is that it could fairly easily become polarized and bigoted the same way that feminism has. Creating a war between an increasingly unhealthy feminist movement, and a burgeoning masculist movement that is quickly becoming polarized, will serve no one.

However, we do need to map out how the male gender role is hurting men, and how feminism is adding insult to injury by making men feel guilty for problems that were created by humanity, and not at all by men alone. Trying to bypass this step, and trying to avoid facing these male issues, will lead to a backlash in the long run.

There is sometimes a tendency amongst men and women alike, to advocate a path for men that exclusively stresses that men need to evolve more, perform more, and so on. As important as it is for men to continue evolving and demand more of themselves, this cannot be done at the expense of society facing the male problems that have existed for thousands of years, and those that have been added more recently by feminism. Men cannot be denied this process, even though we need to keep the process clean and avoid villifying women.

The early work of putting men’s issues on the political agenda may therefore involve a masculist movement, but I’m a firm believer that the end goal needs to be a gender liberation movement that describes all gender issues accurately and doesn’t privilege the pain and experiences of either gender. Such a movement will inherently be balanced and able to resist becoming an ideology. 

Equality Need not Mean Sameness

Friday, March 20th, 2009

These days there’s a lot of confusion around what gender equality really means. Will we have reached gender equality when half of all CEOs are women? Or will we have reached gender equality when women and men are exactly the same except for their reproductive organs?

Unfortunately both of these criteria seem to be prevalent when judging whether the sexes are equal or not, and policy makers – at least in Sweden and many other countries – tend to think that the sexes will remain unequal until half the CEOs are women and both sexes behave in the exact same way. 

Since we haven’t reached that point, affirmative action for women is seen as more or less acceptable. However, these “sameness criteria” have nothing to do with authentic gender equality, and instead introduce an element of confusion when discussing this subject.

Assuming that equality means sameness is inherently problematic since if you want men and women to make exactly the same career choices, family choices and lifestyles choices, then you are basically trying to fit individuals into your own preconceived notion of reality.

A Better Definition

Equality between the sexes simply means that men and women have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. According to this definition we need to remove all legal discrimination as well as break down stereotypes that prevent people from leading the lives that they want. Everyone should have equal access to education, the labor market, government grants, and so on. If you believe in this definition of equality, then all kinds of affirmative action are rejected, since affirmative action is a form of discrimination.

However, achieving this kind of gender equality need not mean that men and women become the same!

Men and women may very well continue to make different choices when it comes to work, family and hobbies – while still being perfectly equal. In fact, it is irrelevant to gender equality whether men and women make the same choices, as long as each man and each woman is truly free to choose whatever path seems right to him or her.

By dropping the criterion of sameness, gender equality becomes much more achievable, and does not limit individual freedom. Gender equality needs to be about giving women and men more choices, not imposing new stereotypes of how each sex should behave. And claiming that men and women can and should become completely similar is nothing but another kind of stereotype.

My Personal Opinion

We all know that men and women make different lifestyle choices, and this is generally seen as a sign of cultural programming and gender stereotypes having their way with individuals who are out of touch with their true desires.

I agree that cultural programming influences the choices of men and women in a very real way, however, I disagree with the assertion that all gender differences are culturally constructed. Research has shown that biological differences between the sexes exist, and in my opinion it would be naive to assume that men and women would start making exactly the same choices, even in a society that is completely open minded.

But you know what? I don’t even care if you agree with me on the biological differences between the sexes. As long as you defend the notion that equality means equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities – while rejecting affirmative action and other forms of discrimination – then we are basically working towards the same goal.

However, I will say this: I cannot help but find it offensive that many branches of feminism claim that all gender differences are culturally constructed. By saying this they basically claim that most people are out of touch with what they really want out of life, and that people allow themselves to be shepherded in whatever direction that stereotypes dictate.

Do you personally feel like your own life is 100 percent controlled by stereotypes and cultural structures, or are you able to make choices that go against that which is expected of you?

Feminism Shames Young Boys

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Feminism is no longer considered to be just a theory. Most politicians in democratic countries around the world take feminist ideas to be facts, and have these ideas influence public policy in a very real way. In the US, UK and Sweden, feminist thinkers are advisors to the government and directly influence legislation and other decisions.

Feminism has even spread to schools, where boys now are shamed simply for being boys. Nobel prize winner and feminist Doris Lessing, described this phenomenon as early as 2001 in The Guardian:

“I was in a class of nine- and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men.

You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives.”

Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has also written about the same tendency; in her book The War Against Boys she exposes how feminist ideas and sloppy research have attacked boys in US schools and turned boyhood into a disease.

Development Matters

So why is this such a big issue? Can’t boys see the wider picture here, and understand that the teacher is trying to correct past wrongs? No, this is exactly what children of a certain age are unable to do.

Children aren’t born with the cognitive capacities of your average adult, and before the age of 11, most children are simply unable to perform abstract reasoning or understand nuances when having a discussion. Instead, children below this age generally see things in either-or scenarios, and divide the world into dichotomies of “good or bad”, “wanted or unwanted”, etc.

The cognitive development of children was described by famous Swiss scientist Jean Piaget, and the fact that children and human beings develop in stages has later been verified by Harvard researchers such as Susanne Cook-Greuter and Robert Kegan, and Theo Dawson who did her research at Berkeley.

The effect of teachers bringing feminism into the classroom, whether they are feminists themselves or simply instructed to do so, is that young boys hear the message: “Girls are good, boys are bad.” Due to their cognitive development, this is the natural interpretation of feminism for young boys (and girls). This creates a sense of shame at a very deep level, and could quite conceivably affect the self-esteem and healthy development of these young boys.

I personally consider it an outrage that young boys are shamed in the name of feminism. First of all I consider feminist ideas to be a very unbalanced take on gender issues, and therefore I don’t even recommend them for adults. However, imposing these ideas on young boys who cognitively cannot help but be shamed and deflated is dangerously close to child abuse.

Let’s have a passionate gender debate amongst adults, but leave children alone, and stop telling them that there’s something wrong with them simply because they were born male.

Generation X, Y and Z

Those of us who are men and around 45 years old or younger, quite probably grew up (or are currently growing up) with feminism around us in one way or other, at least in The West. Being raised with feminist ideas floating around in society,  in our schools and possibly in our own families, means that we have all experienced the shaming I describe above.

As long as we are children who are cognitively immature, we simply don’t have the capacity to argue against feminism or put up any effective psychological defenses, and hence the shaming takes place.

As sad as these dynamics are, I also believe that Generation X and Y will be the generations that change the gender discourse forever. We’ve seen first-hand how destructive and imbalanced feminism can be, and aided by men from previous generations and by women who are sick and tired of feminism, the time has come to speak up and have our voices be heard.