Why Men Need Their Own Gender-Liberation Movement

(Originally posted by me at Mists Will Rise)

Amanda Marcotte argues in a post (found via the F-Word blog) that Progressive “Men’s Movements” Are Bound to Fail, giving reasons. I happen to disagree, although I think also that Marcotte’s points do provide a basis for understanding why so many do seem to lose the whole “progressive” element.

1) We cannot fight the gender construct and gender segregation by reinforcing it. A lot of men look at feminism and they see it’s mostly female and assume therefore it’s not for them. … Why do men need a separate movement to deconstruct patriarchy? Because being a feminist is too girly? Isn’t that exactly the kind of artificial gender construct we want to dismantle?

Well, be fair, a lot of feminists tell men directly that it’s not for them. Yes, it seems almost foundational these days to hear “feminism helps men, too”, but still, feminism as it currently is seems unable to hear the experienced realities of men in the same way that it hears and expresses the experienced realities of women. It presents helping men only as a by-product, and may as a result produce a sub-optimal balance. Men need their own movement because the challenges facing men in order to achieve “ending patriarchy and ending arbitrary, stifling gender norms” are not the same as those facing women, and articulating men’s challenges and their responses to them is something that cannot be done as part of feminism, although clearly there are a great many lessons to be learned from feminism in how to do this.

Feminism isn’t a “women’s movement”, though it’s often misunderstood at that.

Indeed. Often by very vocal feminists.

2) Leadership. I suspect one reason a lot of men want a separate men’s movement is that the feminist movement has mostly female leaders and will have mostly female leaders. But if you can’t accept female leadership, you’re not really interested in ending patriarchy, are you?

This may have a kernel of truth in it, but there is another reason: it is easier to be a follower if you feel your leaders will have your back, and if you feel your voice is heard by them. Feminists often do a bad job of making their male would-be allies feel heard. Why would men want to be part of a movement that makes them feel the way that patriarchy makes women feel? Men in general do need to learn the value of listening rather than talking, and of following rather than leading. To be clear, this isn’t “feminists need to be nicer to men” – you have your battles to fight, and men should not expect you to take time off the front line just to hold our hands and walk us through the baby steps. That’s not the point. The question is why men need their own movement, and the answer is so that we can find our own voices.

3) Policy. While it’s true that feminist work is often interpersonal with a side dose of self-help, most “men’s movement” types seem to think that’s all there is to it. So they think they can set up parallel structures where guys talk about their feelings and progress is made. But the truth is that if you don’t leaven that crap with policy discourse and organizing, you end up going up your own ass, which in turn leads to a form of discourse that ends up being way more about justifying your personal choices instead of pushing for change. This up-your-own-ass tendency is bad enough in feminism, with “I choose my choice!” feminists, but it’s kept in check by actual policy and social goals that we can use to measure progress: Reproductive rights, eliminating sexual and domestic violence, equal pay, power-sharing at home, gender-neutral Easy-Bake Ovens, whatever. That stuff is a steady reality check that keeps it all from devolving into everyone sitting around validating everyone’s feelings, no matter how anti-social or reactionary. Sarah Palin can claim she’s a “feminist” until she’s blue in the face, but measured up against our policy goals, she fails and can be kicked out of the club.

I think this is a really important critique, and perhaps is the crux of the frustration I have felt, as a MAAB cis-ish person (“man” for lack of a better shorthand term for where I am in gender identity), over attempts at forming progressive men’s movements. I want to see what the policy and social goals are for these movements. Marcotte argues that there can’t be any (see below), but I feel as though they simply haven’t been articulated clearly yet, and that the shared consciousness has not given rise to them. But they are there to be found and understood – the question is, what are the systemic and social challenges that repress and restrain men?

Any men’s movement will fail to have such a reality check, since current policies and social structures already benefit men over women. Male oppression tends to be the result of social restraints and policies that are designed to benefit some men over others, and that’s all. Men aren’t targeted as a class for oppression the way that women are, so organizing as a class leaves you with no way to set political goals.

I disagree with the language here: men are not benefited over women, they are just not oppressed to the same degree as women. Women are oppressed by men, but men are also oppressed by other men. In the oppression of men, men use women as props or tools, which is how come some men leap to the assumption that women are to blame (which they do by ignoring that women do not get to choose the roles that they are cast into in these male-scripted dramas).

4) The best way to end gender oppression of men is to push for women’s equality. The strict gender norms of masculinity are a direct result of trying to keep one sex in power over the other, and thus the best way to end them is to make them useless for that purpose. If you don’t believe that, look at the masculine subcultures like sports or video gaming, where men are carefully policed to make sure they’re “manly” enough and women are excluded through shunning and harassment. With video gaming and other geek cultures, the infiltration of the space by women and their demands that they be treated equally leads to an overall demasculinazation of the culture that, in turn, means men are less oppressed by strict gender policing.

This sounds really good at first, but it’s wrong. Even assuming equality means just that women are only oppressed in the same ways and to the same degree as men, that’s still oppression. Marcotte’s belief in the magical power of having women enter men’s spaces as equals to end the culture of policing masculinity simply doesn’t measure up to observed features. Here’s the thing: how many women wearing trousers are in the streets? How many men wearing skirts? (Kilts obviously muddy the issue somewhat – but why should men need to call it a kilt in order to wear it?) There’s also the fact that a lot of the time, women entering various spaces have a tendency to join in the policing of masculinity, even when they themselves are not particularly policed on gender. If we want to end gendered oppression, then we need to liberate gender or liberate people from gender (the former implies freeing gender from biological sex, resulting potentially in many genders; the latter implies doing away with gender as a concept entirely).

The reality is that creating parallel structures in a non-parallel society doesn’t make sense.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want a parallel to feminism – I want a progressive men’s movement that intersects with feminism, such that the point where the two lines intersect is gender liberation for all and the end of patriarchy. I think it’s extremely foolish to try to compare sexism with racism on this issue, as Marcotte does, because while all oppressions have common features, they are also all different and distinct from one another.

Men need to go about this the same way. Don’t like strict gender norms? Become a feminist. You don’t need another movement, because we already have one.

Your movement is not my movement. We can work together, and I think there’s a lot of cross-over, and shared goals, but we do not always have to walk the same roads, and you cannot always give the answers.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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