Sophie Long writes about the issue of men’s rights and how they articulate themselves on social media.
There has been a recent upsurge in the number of disgruntled men taking to social media to loudly proclaim that they too suffer. They too suffer domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and a range of other injustices. They are determined to let the world (for that, read women) know that they suffer, and that they demand change.
And this in itself is a reasonable project. All violence should be revealed, rejected and transformed, so that no one, regardless of gender, endures such harm. For example, the fact that around 30% of women report they have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner is cause for global outrage and collective action.
Men’s Rights Activists however, have adopted a bizarre set of strategies to achieve what they proclaim is equality, but what appears to be the further denigration of women’s struggles and all that entails.
Much of the rhetoric produced by these groups- such as the Twitter handle ‘Men Have Rights Too’ centres upon highlighting individual cases of injustices against men – yet also – cases of what they feel are female transgressions. One story points to how a woman who ‘cried’ rape kept her job after the case against her male boss fell apart.
Another notes a male suicide, following “feminist pressure” to ban International Men’s Day from his university. The subtext of course being that women – and for that read feminism– is a collective plot designed to disempower, degrade and humiliate men.
A host of examples are offered by way of evidencing that, “the world, the law, and rights – favour women”. Paternity rights are often invoked as a means of illustrating just how oppressed men are when it comes to sharing the right to care for their children. Men argue that they suffer unfair court judgments and have to spend more time and money than women to ensure they can see their children. For this, women are to blame.
Seems logical, doesn’t it? A couple separate, the female party is granted full custody of the children, whilst the father has to struggle to see his children at all– it’s only right to blame women in this case. Maybe if you’ve been in a coma for most of your life – or never read a book – or just openly hate women – then this is a logical conclusion to reach.
Otherwise, this is a critically flawed apportion of blame. Why do women win custody more often? Because of the naturalised gender norms which assume women are natural caregivers. The same norms which mean that women in workplaces can be perceived as either warm or competent, but never both.
Women are raised to behave in certain ways – to take up less space, to talk more quietly, and to care for others. Similarly, men are expected to show less vulnerability, to have successful careers – and occasionally, as fads demand it – grow huge beards to win the admiration of other lumberjacks.
A brief glace at any of the gender studies literature would inform MRAs that gender equality will not come about by defeating the ‘other’ – women. But instead by destabilising the gender norms which demand that masculinity means strength, purchasing power, and an absence of weakness. And subsequently critiquing and troubling the assumptions that ‘femininity’ is a fixed set of qualities.
If men don’t have to be bearded, high-earning, Vulcans, and women don’t have to be well-groomed, empathetic mothers – who ‘loses’ in that scenario? Only those with an interest in perpetuating such fixed binaries.
Further to this, those in the positions of power, i.e. those able to radically reform the gender status quo – are mostly male. For paternity cases, we look to judges. How many judges on average are female? As of mid-2014, it was around 25% in England and Wales. Don’t blame women for unequal power structures.
MRAs have every right to highlight the real problems of unequal childcare disputes, male suicide and increasing health problems. Where they might re-divert their energies, however, are either towards transforming the norms which bolster this state of affairs- or towards the men with power who can meaningfully affect change. For this – and for everyone else who pursues equality – they are welcome to join the feminist movement.