Men’s Rights Activism is Apparently a Thing


That’s right, internet. Apparently, some men feel that their rights are being trod upon, and they believe a men’s movement is required to end the discrimination against men.

Okay. I’m not really as sarcastic as all that about this. I do think there are definitely cases in which men get the short end of the stick, especially when it comes to things like divorce and custody battles. I also believe that male rape is more common than we think and that women can sometimes be very emotionally and physically abusive to their male partners. I also think that cultural expectations and definitions of masculinity are just as damaging as those of femininity, and it’s true that men’s cancers like testicular and prostate cancer aren’t as widely discussed as breast cancer (though men get breast cancer too).

But to claim that men are generally discriminated against enough to require a movement equal to feminism? I don’t think so.

Here I think we need to make a distinction between legal discrimination and social discrimination. Legal discrimination, to me, refers to things like women being charged more for health insurance because they’re women, or the pay gap, or birth control not being covered by insurance when erectile dysfunction medications are, or custody courts that favor the mother inherently, or divorce settlements that require unnecessary alimony. Social discrimination is where we get into ideas of what femininity and masculinity are, and where judgements are passed for adhering/not adhering to those ideas, etc.

I think the biggest so-called “men’s rights issue” comes from our cultural ideas of manliness. The problem is that while definitions of femininity are being adjusted to align more with what women actually are and what they actually want for themselves, the definition of masculinity has remained essentially the same: society wants a man to be a big, strong, clever-but-not-too-clever breadwinner who is more practical than emotional and who directs his life through his own sound judgement rather than through any kind of collaboration.

This model worked well with the old masculine-dictated femininity. However, feminism has carried us closer and closer to a feminine-dictated femininity that places men and women on equal footing. Equal is the operative word here, people. It’s about creating a society of partners, a society where leadership is based on merit rather than gender. It’s not about flipping it so that women are in power and men are begging for scraps. Frankly, it’s about ending discrimination against anyone. The rights of one should not be to infringe on the rights of another.

Rather than whining that the expansion of women’s rights has curtailed men’s rights or led to discrimination against men, I feel like men should be asking themselves what kind of people they want to be, rather than thinking about what society expects them to be. I mean, wouldn’t it be a relief to know that you don’t need to be the sole provider for a group of perhaps three or four people in this economy?

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6 thoughts on “Men’s Rights Activism is Apparently a Thing

  1. In the Spring of 1970 on the campus of Va Tech in what we called “Bleaksburg, VA,” three dominant social issues converged and hit the fan at the same time: protests over Viet Nam, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights. Not just the Tech campus — all across the nation. Sit-ins, riots in the downtown, snipers firing from dorm rooftops, bra-burnings — you name it. For me, a WASP and one of the targets of at least two out of the three, it was a dizzying time. I was around when Martin, Bobby and John were assassinated. I watched the live television coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald when he was shot by Jack Ruby.

    Growing up during that time was one of the most challenging periods — all previous expectations were burned, sat on, spat on, turned upside down. Probably not fast enough or complete enough for most.

    Did you know that returning Viet Nam vets were labelled “baby killers?” Did you know few, if any, were welcomed in home towns with parades and speeches?

    Forty-some years later much truly has changed. I know, not to the extent everyone would like. But, for a moment, try to understand why some men might bring the issue of Mens’ Rights up. If it’s whinning, I agree, kick ’em in the scrotum to put them back in order!

    But, just maybe there are a few who are still a bit bell rung, who haven’t quite entirely understood all of the ramifications, and who feel like deer in the headlights. Not me, of course! I’ve got it all together!

    Mutual respect comes from mutual effort at listening more than talking. You know, the two ears and one mouth metaphor. There are wounded all over these battlefields. If you are a paramedic, you don’t discern between the enemy and the “good guys/women [can’t use “gals” or “girls”]. You treat whom you find.

    This probably has nothing to do with what you wrote, but you got me thinking — and you’re to blame for that!

  2. My boyfriend gets annoyed at extreme feminism because he believes that most feminists are all about female power. That women are more powerful than men, and should be in more powerful positions, becaue we can do it better, so to speak.

    But he also talks about discrimination against men in custody battles, or men going to jail for reals on rape charges that weren’t rape, but the courts took the woman’s side.

    He and I both believe in equality as you say and I also believe it’ll be harder for women to become equal when a lot of the country thinks the idea of a female president is ridiculous.

    Also I think social equality can lead to legal equality and women are perpetrators of this divide as well. Why should a man pay for dinner on a date. Because it’s polite? Why isn’t it polite for a woman to pay for dinner on the first day? Girls will write off men who don’t offer, but then did they offer to pay instead. These little things make sure that the divide continues to exist. Just some random thoughts.

    1. I hear you. My ex was the same way. Society really needs to get over the idea that feminism is about how women are superior to men and understand that it’s really just about how men and women are equal.

      When it comes to divorce and custody battles–most kinds of legal cases, really–I desperately wish that courts would actually take things on a case-by-case basis; you know, how the law is supposed to work? When it comes to rape, though, for every case where a man is falsely accused there are ten where a rape victim is made to feel ashamed and guilty and the crime goes unpunished. I wish I had an actual figure handy, of course.

      You’re right that it’s incredibly difficult for overarching female equality right now without some kind of huge social shift (though hopefully one is looming with the next generation). On a community level I think we’re making great strides; on a national level, the fact that in the 2008 election political commentators still felt it was okay to sexualize Sarah Palin and masculinize Hillary Clinton is beyond reprehensible.

      My friend Ben and I talked briefly this afternoon about where dating falls in all of this gender rhetoric. Girls who won’t make the first move or offer to pay sometimes and then demand to be treated equally in the relationship get on my nerves. The way I handle it is this: if someone asks me out on a date, they should be prepared to cover the expenses. Likewise, if I ask someone out on a date, I will be prepared to cover all expenses. If the other person offers to split or pay, that’s another thing.

      It all comes down to personal agency, really. Don’t ask for something that you aren’t prepared to go and get for yourself if you need to, and that includes equality.

      And that is the end of this semi-coherent comment, haha.

  3. Great post – this is a really rich issue. I think I agree with you and my initial response is, huh?! Wouldn’t having a men’s rights movement with a women’s rights movement still going on mean we should just all join hands and work together on a human rights movement?

    1. Haha yeah, you’d think that would be the case. My guess is we still have a few years of stupidly butting heads before everyone figures it out.

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