Posts Tagged ‘male guilt’

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?