Posts Tagged ‘male silence’

Obama’s Council on Women and Girls

Monday, June 8th, 2009

US President Barack Obama recently said these words:

But at the same time, when women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make, when one in four women still experiences domestic violence in their lifetimes, when women are more than half of our population but just 17% of our Congress, when women are 49% of the workforce but only 3% of our fortune 500 CEOs, when these inequalities stubbornly persist in this country in this century then I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions and we need to take a hard look at where were falling short and who were leaving out and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation.

These are the standard statistics that feminists like to cite. Does that make Obama a feminist? I don’t know, but it is troubling that he uses the wage gap statistic that is profoundly misleading, and that he puts forward domestic violence as a woman’s issue instead of a human issue.

Obama’s words above were spoken as he was announcing the creation of the first ever White House Council on Women and Girls, to be headed by Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett made the following comment:

The council is going to examine all the programs at the federal level that touch on women and girls and we’re going to work to coordinate and make sure that each of those programs is doing everything that it could do to help support women and girls,

The US has a bunch of programs and organizations that support women and/or feminism, and now there’s a high profile council in place to coordinate all of them. As you probably know I’m not a big fan of feminism, but I have nothing against programs for women, who help women deal with female health issues or problems that are specific to the female gender role.

However,  what doesn’t get addressed in the media is the acute lack of programs for men, and funding for the few programs that exist. Men have several health issues and gender roles issues that could use some federal level funding (eg. prostate cancer, male disposability, male shelters for victims of domestic violence, homelessness, boys performing worse than girls in school).

So while it’s great that Obama wants to help girls and women, where is the Council on Men and Boys? Do men have to lose for women to win? I don’t believe that is the case, and I do hope that Obama discovers that men’s issues need attention too, and that supporting men is good for women – just like men benefit from the support women get.

Challenges for Men

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

What are the main challenges for men in modern and postmodern societies? In this post I’d like to outline what I believe to be important issues for men, at this point in time.

I believe that it’s crucial for us men to start defining our own issues and to find our own voice. Currently, the only political movement that discusses men’s issues is feminism, and that is very unsatisfactory in my opinion. Feminism is primarily a women’s liberation movement, and as such it does not authentically focus on men’s issues.

On a personal and political level alike, it is high time to put the spotlight on the challenges facing men, and it is our own responsibility as men to make that happen – we cannot expect anybody else to do it for us.

So let’s have a look at some important issues that need our attention:

  • The male gender role. As men, we are generally only valued when we perform. There’s nothing that society despises more than a man who doesn’t provide for his family, or a homeless man. The male gender role is also very constricted when it comes to everyday life. Men have a stricter dresscode than women, and men are also expected to adhere to a more narrow range of behaviors than women (for example: being more stiff, not touching other men, etc).
  • Fatherhood. The traditional father was a provider, and family courts still treat fathers in that way. How can we upgrade the role of the father to mean more than providing? I’m thinking that the father can be an important male role model, as well as give the children a sense of direction in life. And if we dare to think really big (sarcasm), then we may go as far as starting to care about the father’s emotional life. Just like we care about a mother’s right to be close to her children, we can start caring about a father’s right to be involved in his children’s lives, even after a divorce.
  • Male friendships. Men have smaller social networks and fewer friends than women. In my opinion an important reason for this is that men are culturally and biologically programmed to compete against each other in the workplace (and we are programmed to spend most of our time at work). If we can start valuing our lives outside of work, as well as let go of some of the competition at work, then it will probably be easier for men to start bonding.
  • Male political issues. As men we desperately need to find a language to describe our own experience. A major reason that feminism could emerge so early, is that women were able to find a language to articulate their own experience. Even though it may go against what’s expected of us, it’s important that we dare admit that the male gender role has real issues, and that we’re not happy with the status quo.
  • Emotional literacy. How can this be developed in men? Biologically speaking we may have a somewhat harder time to become emotionally literate, and culturally speaking we are certainly not encouraged to pursue emotional development. Nevertheless, we will never be masters of our own lives unless we become emotionally literate and able to hold our own in a relationship with a woman (or a man, if that’s our preference).
  • Romantic relationships. Many men still feel that they have to prove themselves to women, and that they should somehow feel lucky if a woman wants them. In my opinion, such a stance can only lead to bitterness and resentment in a man, since you are basically putting a low value on yourself and handing over all power to the woman. As men, we need to let go of the cultural programming that tells us that women are more pure and therefore better than us.

Any other issues that I’m forgetting about?

The Truth About Intimate Partner Violence

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

What do you think about when read or hear about intimate partner violence? A sobbing woman with visible bruises?

Physical violence is a horrible crime that can take many shapes or forms. One of the most tragic kinds of physical abuse is when violence takes place within the context of an intimate relationship between two adults. An intimate relationship is supposedly the place where one can feel safe and loved, and having that bond be hijacked by a slap, fist or baseball bat is a traumatic experience indeed.

Nowadays there is considerable awareness around partner violence, and the signs of this increased awareness abound in the public sphere. The number of shelters for battered women have increased drastically in many modern countries, policy makers pass specific laws to combat domestic violence against women and the media no longer refrains from reporting about the damage that men inflict on women in relationships.

On first glance, this may all seem to represent real progress, and in many ways it actually does. However, there is a major omission built into the burgeoning domestic violence industry, and that omission has to do with the image of the sobbing woman that many of us have been taught to believe is at the core of partner violence.

While it’s certainly true that domestic violence against women is a huge problem that deserves our attention, society remains unaware of the fact that violence against men – perpetrated by women – is a problem of equal proportions.

Statistics or Research?

When you look at the statistics of domestic violence, it is far from obvious that men are the victims to the same extent as women, since 80 to 90 percent of the reported victims are women. Statistics, however, are not the same thing as academic research.

Statistics can be seriously biased due to large amounts of people not wanting to report what has happened to them. In the case of violence in the home, men rarely report what has happened to them, since they know that they would likely be shamed, laughed at, and not believed when telling their story.

Thankfully, the issue of partner violence is one that has interested lots of researchers around the world, and they have produced large amounts of reproducible research that consistently tell us the same story:

  • Men and women instigate domestic violence in equal amounts, with a small tendency of women instigating the violence more often
  • Men and women hit each other with the same frequency
  • Women tend to get hurt more than men, due to the superior upper body strength of men. However, the most serious injuries are sustained by both sexes in equal amounts, or even with a majority of male victims, since women are more likely than men to use a weapon or a tool when assaulting their partner.
  • Same sex couples experience similar levels of partner violence as heterosexual couples

Examples of Research

As noted above, the amount of research done on partner violence around the world is impressive, and consistently shows us the same thing. Perhaps the most overwhelming proof of women assaulting their male partners to the same extent that men assault their female partners, is the annotated bibliography by Martin S. Fiebert.

Other research studies include:

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study performed on a cohort of more than 1000 subjects in New Zealand. Some of the key results of this this study can be seen online in this report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the study, about 27 percent of women and 34 percent of men reported having been physically abused by their partner. Furthermore, about 37 percent of women and 22 percent of men said they had perpetrated the violence.

What is especially interesting about this study is that the characteristics of the male and female perpetrators differ significantly. Male perpetrators had “extreme levels of polydrug abuse, antisocial personality disorder, dropping out of school, chronic unemployment, poor social support and violence against victims outside the family”. However, “these extreme social and personal problems were not found for Dunedin study female perpetrators.”

The researchers speculate that the reason that ordinary men do not dare hit women, while ordinary women do dare to hit their men, is that the women feel safe in the knowledge that the police will not believe a battered man, while the men know that laying your hand on a woman means that she could easily have the police arrest you.

Like many other studies, this one shows that women were more likely to get physically hurt than the men were.

The British Home Office Research Study 191 found that men and women perpetrate equal amounts of domestic violence. 4.2 percent of men and women had been victims of partner violence in the year preceding the study. The following risk factors for domestic violence were identified: marital separation, young children, financial pressures, drug/alcohol abuse, disability/ill health.

Straus and Gelles (1986) found no difference in spousal abuse prevalence among men and women, and no difference even when it comes to severe abuse. Just like many other researchers, they concluded that mutual violence occurs more frequently than either male or female violence alone. 

Conclusion

The available research, which is substantial and of high quality, makes it clear that gender is not a good predictor of partner violence; both genders hit each other with the same frequency. Women aren’t able to hurt their men to the same extent that they get hurt themselves (though some research contests this point), but this is certainly not from lack of trying.

Good predictors of domestic violence have consistently been shown to be mental illness, drug abuse, young children and poverty (i.e. psychosocial issues).

If we are ever to make progress in the difficult area that is partner violence, policy makers and the media need to start focus on the real causes, instead of buying into the feminist myth that partner violence is caused by some kind of male oppression.

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.

Financial and Social Capital

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

In the current gender debate, feminism often highlights how men tend to work more in the public sphere, and thereby earn more money. Men are said to be powerful since men are usually the primary or only breadwinner of the household, and therefore in control of the financial capital of the family.

While there is certainly some truth in this way of looking at things, feminism completely ignores the corresponding power that women have. Men may be in control of the financial capital, but women are completely dominant when it comes to social capital. So what do I mean by social capital?

Social Capital

In your average human family, the woman is the adult who forms close and loving relationships with the children, since she is the primary caretaker. The man’s relationship to the children very often goes through the mother, since he spends a lot of time away from home and also does not have the skills necessary to form these kinds of connections.

Women are also much more likely to have a circle of close friends; friendships that aren’t dependent on having the same hobby or the same job. All in all women are better at forming and maintaining nurturing relationships, as well as having the emotional self-awareness and ability to express emotions that are necessary within close relationships.

Women get to learn and practice these relationship skills within the traditional female gender role, while men do not get this practice within their gender role, so we need to acknowledge that women very often wield significant power through these close bonds to children and friends. Feminism often emphasizes how the female gender role disempowers women in various ways, while conveniently forgetting all the examples of how women are empowered by their role – and social capital is indeed one way that women are empowered.

What Happens After a Divorce?

In a traditional couple, the man thus has better access to financial capital, whereas the woman has better access to social capital. As long as the couple stays married, the man will share his financial resources with the woman, and she will share her social resources with him. This way a reasonable balance is achieved that benefits both partners.

But what happens after a divorce? Does each partner take his or her resources and leave, or are they obligated to share some of their resources with their partner?

In all modern countries that I know of, the financial resources are split evenly in case of divorce, and in some countries the man is also obligated to pay monthly alimony to support his previous wife. It’s safe to say that there is a real transfer of financial capital from the man to the woman, though the exact amount will depend on the laws of a certain country.

However, in no country that I know of is the woman obligated to share any of her social capital with the man! One could of course argue that it’s impossible to legislate anything about human relationships, but even culturally speaking, outside the legal arena, there is no moral agreement that financial resources should be matched by social capital.

If children are part of the equation, the scenario usually becomes even more unfair from the perspective of the man. Whenever there is a custody dispute, courts tend to favor the mother, since she is the primary caregiver. This leads to yet another example of the man having to pay money without getting any social capital back.

A man who pays child support without having regular access to his children, is giving up part of his income but not getting any social capital in return. The woman, on the other hand, gets to keep all of her social capital (her connections to her children), while still getting financial capital from her former husband.

What Happens When We Help Only Women?

As we just saw, most modern countries have laws that protect women after a divorce, whereas men have no safety net. What are the consequences of only caring for women?

The message that is sent to men is that men are only valued according to how they perform in the public sphere, i.e. how much money they can earn for themselves and their (ex-)family. When there are no legal or cultural codes that defend men’s rights to have access to the social capital created by the family before the divorce, we tell men that their role as father and loving parent is not valued or important.

During the past few decades women have been taught how to make a living in the public sphere, and cultural and legal changes have been made to accommodate this transition. If we want men to not only be silent providers without an emotional connection to their children and spouse, then we need to teach men how to form and maintain close, nurturing bonds. Furthermore, on a societal level we need to make the cultural – and perhaps legal – changes necessary to support men in navigating this transition.

For example, one legal change that would be perfectly plausible is to always connect child support to shared custody rights, unless it is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the father is unsuitable to be a parent.

I’m not saying that men will necessarily choose to stay home with their children to the extent that women do, or that women will choose to work as much outside the home as men do, since those choices rest with the individual. But what is clear to me is that overly polarized gender roles have become outdated, and when we transcend these outdated gender roles, we need to help both sexes, and understand where each sex is coming from.


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