Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

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.

Healthy vs Unhealthy Feminism

Friday, March 6th, 2009

I sometimes hear the claim that feminism cannot be discussed without specifying what branch of feminism is being referred to. However, in some circumstances it is entirely reasonable to refer to feminism as a single entity, for example when discussing what the key assumptions of feminism are. After all, the reason we even have a movement called feminism, is that the various branches of feminism share at least a few basic premises.

I’ve written several blog posts where I disagree with some of the core premises of feminist thinking and analysis. I simply don’t agree with the opinion that men have structurally oppressed women, or that the female gender role is far worse than the male gender role.

However, when it comes to what feminism actually wants to do and implement, it’s no longer possible to refer to feminism as a single movement. Indeed, if we want to make life complicated, we can talk about any number of feminist branches: liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, Libertarian feminism, Eco-feminism and so on – since each of these ideologies propose different solutions to women’s situation.

But what it really comes down to as far as I’m concerned, is whether the proposed or implemented changes are constructive, and useful to society as a whole. Therefore, when discussing what feminism actually wants to do, I simply make a distinction between healthy feminism and unhealthy feminism, two terms that are pretty much self-explanatory.

Healthy Feminism

Healthy feminism fights for a host of important and highly constructive reforms, many of which have already been implemented in modern countries:

  • Legislation should always be gender neutral
  • Every adult citizen should be allowed to vote in elections
  • The labor market should be accessible for men and women alike
  • Women and men should have the same rights and responsibilities, not only the same rights
  • It’s important to put a financial value on child rearing, instead of only valuing work in the public sphere
  • Works actively with rape prevention and against domestic violence
  • Encourages women to “find their voice” and to live an authentic life
  • Acknowledges that there are issues with the male gender role too

Unhealthy Feminism

Unhealthy feminism lashes out and creates headlines fairly regularly, to the detriment of healthy feminism and other gender movements. The polarized views of unhealthy feminism unfortunately make for some good headlines in newspapers (“Girls Are Being Shortchanged in Schools”, etc).

Unhealthy feminism:

  • Tries to make a case for women being shortchanged in every situation, even in situations where the female gender role is obviously beneficial.
  • Fights for women’s rights, but not interested in the accompanying responsibilities
  • Perpetuates the view that women are weak and fragile victims, for example by claiming that women need affirmative action, and by claiming that only women are the victims of domestic violence.
  • Wants to keep the advantages of the female gender role while gaining the advantages of the male gender role. However, unhealthy feminism is not interested in sharing the advantages of the female gender role or sharing the burden of men. For example, unhealthy feminism will claim that women should have half of the top jobs in society, but not half of the dangerous jobs that men perform.
  • Uses feminism as a tool to avoid personal issues and problems. “If I can blame everything on me being a woman, then I don’t have to face my own issues or take responsibility for the mess in my own life.” Projects all the negative human qualities onto men, leaving women to be sweet and innocent creatures.
  • Makes women feel guilty for the choices they make, by labeling women who don’t work full-time as traitors

Conclusion

The work that healthy feminism has done, and is still doing, needs to be included in a Gender Liberation Movement Beyond Feminism. Indeed, without the work of healthy feminists we wouldn’t have the awareness of gender issues that we have nowadays.

On the other hand, unhealthy feminism is simply a pathology, that has no place in any gender movements of the future. I believe part of the reason that unhealthy feminism has arisen is because since the 60s, men have been too acquiescent and accommodating in relation to feminism, which has allowed a very vocal group of feminists too keep on demanding more and more reforms for women – whether any more reforms have actually been needed or not.

Why Feminism Came First

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Feminism is a well-established movement around the world, and particularly strong in the most developed parts. In many European and North American countries, feminism is present in the media, in politics, in schools and in legislation. So not only did feminism manage to arise back in the 18th century, but it’s also been hugely successful at spreading its message and implementing change.

However, the masculist movement is conspicuously absent, as is a gender liberation movement that cares about both sexes. Why is this? Why did feminism come first?

The mainstream explanation is of course that women were oppressed while men were not, and therefore the need for feminism was pressing and the need for masculism was non-existent. I believe that explanation to be both simplistic and incorrect, since it is obvious that men too had a constricted gender role and very little real freedom.

I can see five important reasons as to why feminism arose first, and why men’s voices have been more or less completely absent from the gender debate:

1. The Female Value Sphere

Due to the very different gender roles of men and women throughout history, men’s and women’s value spheres have evolved very differently. I won’t describe the male and female value sphere in any detail, but what’s interesting for our purposes is that the female value sphere includes focusing on rights, care, nurturing – and dare I say it: complaining. Women have always been responsible for making sure that enough resources are available to raise a baby, and to do that you need to focus on your rights and complain when your needs are not being met.

This means that while women may not have had any official positions in the public sphere at the time that feminism arose, they were used to complaining when they weren’t happy about their situation. And to start a movement that protests against a perceived injustice, you need to be ready to complain.

2. Having Time To Analyze

In the 18th century, when feminism arose, upper and middle class women were the only group in society that had time to analyze their own situation, especially the ones with grown-up children or or no children at all. So the wealth created by men in the public sphere allowed women to start thinking beyond survival, while men were still preoccupied with performing and bringing in resources.

Similarly, in the 1960s, when feminism exploded into mainstream consciousness, the driving force was a large group of middle class women who had been well educated and also had a lot of free time to think about their own situation.

Having the time to think about one’s own situation, is obviously a prerequisite for becoming dissatisfied and wanting to implement change.

3. The Male Value Sphere

The male value sphere arose from men’s roles and responsibilities in the public sphere, and is thus very different from the female value sphere. The male value sphere focuses on getting things done and not complaining, preferably while being silent. These characteristics were essential to be efficient in the public sphere, especially when many men had to work together.

However, this means that men simply don’t have the instinct to complain, or to speak up about a perceived injustice. Men tend to know their place in the male hierarchy, and if they’re not happy about their personal circumstances, the solution has always been to work harder or work smarter, while complaining is generally seen as “unmanly” and as something that will expose one’s weakness.

4. In-Depth Analysis

The limitations of the male gender role are more subtle and covert than the limitations of the female gender role – and are thus harder to spot, unless our analysis is both wide and deep. Men have traditionally had access to money, which is something very tangible, as opposed to the more intangible social connections and social capital that women have access to. Men’s power in the public sphere has been visible, while women’s power in the private sphere has been invisible.

The feminist way of framing things has also made it harder to spot the constrictions of the male gender role, by turning the spotlight away from the plight of men. We all know about men’s dominance of the public sphere, but not men’s expendability in the public and private sphere. Men working long days away from home is considered a privilege, and not a sad story that prevents you from spending time with your children and getting to know them.

Not only did feminism come first, but once the feminist rhetoric was it place, it became very hard to even think the thought that men may be struggling within an impossible gender role.

5. Male Change Is Scary

We are so used to men building civilization and building wealth, that the very thought of changing the male gender role scares a lot of people, or perhaps it scares culture as a whole. I believe this is why the male gender role is even more narrow than the female gender role (which research indicates), and why we have so many ways of keeping men “manly” and keeping men in their performing role.

Who will take care of us if men aren’t there to risk their lives to save us from a fire, or if men aren’t ready to devote their lives to their careers for the benefit of society? We all depend on men to feel safe, and to have the wheels of civilization keep on turning.

In popular culture women are often portrayed as being dissappointed that men take them for granted. However, as a culture we probably take male sacrifice and male expendability more for granted than anything else.

What Now?

The image that emerges is one of men that are focused on performing and working, while not being used to complaining or thinking about the role they have. Women however, have no trouble complaining, and once history gave them the time to think about their own situation there were obvious examples available of how they were being shortchanged.

Furthermore, changing the male gender role is plain scary, because male expendability and male sacrifice make people feel safe. All in all this made feminism come first, before any masculism or neutral gender liberation movement.

Most men still have to pause and reflect upon their own situation, in part due to the male value sphere, but especially as feminism and the media tell them that they have all the advantages. I dearly hope that this is changing now, and that men are waking up and starting to find their authentic voices. Not only will this be good for men, but I suspect women are longing to connect to men who have this kind of self-awareness, and who can stand up for their own rights.

Women’s Liberation vs Black Slavery

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It is quite common to compare feminism, or women’s liberation, to other major liberation movements. Sometime the comparisons focus on how women have a lot in common with people in the GLBT movement (GLBT = gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual), and at other times women are bundled together with immigrants. The argument that is usually put forward is that women have been oppressed, just like GLBT people and immigrants have been and are oppressed.

Perhaps the most common comparison is that of drawing parallels between feminism and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Just like black people have had to endure oppression, racism and slavery at the hands of white people – women are said to have been oppressed by men, and to therefore have a lot in common with African Americans. According to this view, black people in the US and women around the world, are simply two oppressed groups who have been and still are fighting for their freedom and rights.

I believe this kind of comparison to be deeply flawed, and it doesn’t hold up to a closer scrutiny. African Americans have certainly had to face slavery, oppression and all kinds of horrible acts that they could not defend themselves against. Even to this day, there remains a lot of prejudice, racism and discrimination that needs to be dealt with, in the US and around the world.

However, women’s history has not been shaped by men who actively oppressed women. Women’s (and men’s) history has been co-created by men and women, and has largely been determined by survival needs which made certain gender roles or behaviors more or less unavoidable. Patriarchy was not created by men, it was simply a functional fit to the historical circumstances – so that human beings could survive and start building more civilized societies.

To investigate this further, and check whether my assumption is correct, let’s travel back in time. Here is a list of some the major difficulties and oppressive structures that black slaves had to face, when slavery was still around:

1. Slaves do the heavy labor
2. Slaves do the dangerous labor
3. The lives of slaves are worth less than the lives of their owners
4. Slaves are only worth something to society if they perform
5. Slaves do not have a voice in the public sphere
6. Slaves cannot vote
7. Slaves are confined to the home
8. Slaves cannot earn a salary

As you can see, slave owners – being in complete control of their slaves and being free to oppress them as they saw fit – left all the unwanted responsibilities to the slaves while giving them none of the coveted benefits. If women are indeed oppressed by men within a patriarchy, then we would expect men to make similar choices: giving all the benefits to themselves while letting women take care of all the undesirable chores and responsibilities.

When we look at the above points (1-8) through a gender lens, who was given what task within a patriarchy? If men really did oppress and control women, then we would expect women to have a situation corresponding to that of the slaves in all or most cases.

1. Slaves do the heavy labor. In a patriarchy, it is the responsibility of men to do the heavy work. Some of you may object to the inclusion of this point, and say that of course men did the heavy labor; men are simply a whole lot stronger! However, that objection actually rhymes well with what I claimed above: that history has been co-created by men and women, and gender roles have been determined by survival needs and who could do certain tasks most efficiently.

2. Slaves do the dangerous labor. In a patriarchy men have to perform the dangerous work. In fact, women are discouraged to ever take part in any dangerous activities and the safety of women (and children) is often emphasized. The reason for this is that historically every society needed lots of children to prosper, and only women have wombs.

3. The lives of slaves are worth less than the lives of their owners. Similarly, men’s lives are worth less than women’s lives in a patriarchy. Men are expected to die for their country, die protecting their wife, or die performing a dangerous job.

4. Slaves are only worth something to society if they perform. Again, it is men who have a situation similar to the slaves. Unemployed men or men who hold down very low status jobs don’t get much respect from society, or from women for that matter.

5. Slaves do not have a voice in the public sphere. Clearly, this corresponds to women’s situation in a patriarchy. Women cannot work and are expected to stay home most of the time in a traditional patriarchal society.

6. Slaves cannot vote. Men were given this right before women, so women are the ones who most closely match the slaves in this case.

7. Slaves are confined to the home. As stated above, women tend to be confined to the home in a traditional patriarchal society.

8. Slaves cannot earn a salary. Women are the ones who don’t have access to the labor market in an old-fashioned patriarchy, so women’s situation is the one that resembles that of the slaves in this example.

The result of this simple thought experiment is very interesting. If men oppressed women the same way that white slave owners could oppress their black slaves, then we would expect women and blacks to end up in the same disadvantageous situations – at least most of the time. However, the analysis above indicates that the unwanted tasks and the withheld rights are distributed pretty equally between men and women, even in a traditional patriarchal society that supposedly benefits men.

A common feminist definition of patriarchy is: “Patriarchal refers to power relations in which women’s interests are subordinated to the interests of men” (this definition is taken from the book Introducing Feminism by Cathia Jenainati and Judy Groves). At one point in my life I believed this definition to be correct, but at this point I take it for what it is: misinformed ideology. Women have suffered terribly throughout history (as have men), but if women’s interests were truly subordinated to the interests of men within a patriarchy, then this thought experiment would have turned out very differently.

Feminism Personalizes the Impersonal

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Certain kinds of feminist rhetoric can be pretty tough to handle for men. If you’ve come into contact with any postmodern feminists, then you’ve probably heard the phrases:

  • “Men oppress women.”
  • “Patriarchy serves men, and the interests of men.”

As a man – especially as a young man or a boy – you’ll likely feel very bad about yourself when you come across these kinds of statements. You may even start to feel your self-esteem slipping away, not to mention the pride you take in being a man. You may start believing you owe women something and that you are intrinsically being oppressive simply because you have a male body, a male voice and a male identity. After all, the feminist statements above claim that men, in general, oppress women. So regardless of how good a person you are, the criterion for being an oppressor remains: if you are a man then you are an oppressor, an oppressor of women.

The impossibility of the situation is that you can’t escape being a man! You were born as a man and unless you are contemplating some pretty radical surgery – remain a man you will. Feminism thus instills a massive sense of shame in men who grow up with feminist parents or an education system that has been influenced by feminism. Even grown up men who learn about feminist ideas and aren’t presented with any plausible alternatives to the feminist worldview, will likely adopt the feminist claims as truth (either consciously or unconsciously). In my experience, even men who resist feminism on the surface unconsciously believe feminist theory to be largely correct, because they’ve never been presented with a coherent, alternative way of viewing gender relations.

One of the most crucial errors of feminism is that it personalizes the impersonal. Men don’t oppress women, they simply don’t. There has never been an empire that lasted more than a few hundred years, yet we are to believe that men have collectively managed to oppress women everywhere for thousands of years or even since the dawn of humanity? Clearly there is something that doesn’t add up here. For men to be able to oppress women everywhere at all times, men would have to be incredibly evil and cunning, while women would need to be incredibly meek and stupid – and neither of these descriptions are true of course.

A much more accurate way to phrase the feminist statements above would be:

  • “Men and women are both oppressed by their gender roles.”
  • “Patriarchy serves itself, and uses men and women as needed to have communities survive, thrive and evolve.”

So it’s not that feminism is entirely wrong, but it mistakenly assumes that men were responsible for a certain gender structure to arise, when in reality the gender roles for men and women have simply been a functional fit to historical circumstances. Men and women have been assigned the role they needed to have for humanity to survive, and for cultures to evolve and to become more complex and civilized. Therefore men have been responsible for all tasks that require physical strength, which for the most part has corresponded to being responsible for producing food and going to war. Women, on the other hand, have been the only ones who could give birth to and breast-feed children, which meant that women for the most part had to stay at home. None of this took place because men wanted to oppress women, it was simply the most sensible and beneficial choice available, and both sexes benefitted from having this arrangement.

This doesn’t mean that gender roles can’t become less constricted once industrialization and information technology have removed the need to be physically strong in order to work in the public sphere. Both sexes will benefit from having more freedom and choices in their lives, instead of being condemned to follow the only paths that were available in the past. However, there is no factual support for instilling a sense of guilt and shame in men for how things were organized in the past, like feminist theory does.

Men and women are equally responsible (or equally without responsibility) for how things were organized in the past. Certain structures and gender roles were needed to have our offspring survive, and to have culture move forward, and the sacrifice that men and women made to bring this about is something that we can all be proud of – instead of trying to make anyone feel ashamed or inadequate.

The basic premise of feminism, i.e. that women have been oppressed by men, is factually incorrect – and despite common belief there is no greater need for a feminist movement than a masculist movement. But why have either one? Instead of perpetuating the separation and misunderstanding between the sexes, why not join forces in a gender liberation movement? By caring about men and women alike, and releasing the constrictions of each gender role, who knows how far we can come?


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