On the big blogs, it's pretty near impossible, I think, to have a conversation about male privilege without someone like Burton (comment 23 in that feministe thread) coming along and derailing the discussion in some way. Part of the problem with a guy like Burton is that he's not interested in the actual discussion of privilege and oppression. His comments aren't intended as thoughtful analysis or even a result of unintentional misunderstanding- they're intended as a "Gotcha!" moment.
When someone is talking about male privilege or patriarchical institutions, pointing out that women don't register for the draft, or that abused men don't have the same access to domestic violence shelters that women do doesn't negate that. Pointing out that men die at higher rates from work accidents or criminal violence? Sorry, that doesn't prove anything either. See, the problem with the list that he's throwing up, and with many of the criticisms that MRA groups and antifeminists seem to have, is that a lot of those complaints and criticisms are about issues that are a direct result of men pushing public policies.
Take the draft. The fact that women don't register for select services is one of the things I see come up all the time. I'm not really sure why, given the complete and total lack of support for the draft, but it really bugs these types. They'll go on at great length about how unfair it is that men register for select services but women don't. And, if that were the end of the story, sure, that would be unfair. It would be unfair to expect any particular subgroup of our country to be solely responsible for the draft (even as we should recognize that the draft, when instituted, tends to fall on the shoulders of the poor... which isn't that different from voluntary service).
Of course, the story doesn't end there. You can't just look at the draft and pretend that it just happened that way. It's important to remember the context of these things. You can't point to the draft as some example of unfair privilege towards women when it wasn't women who pushed for the draft, and when there are plenty of women and women's groups that actively oppose any draft.
It's not the fault of women that men register for the draft, or that women don't serve in infantry units. Men made those rules, based largely on sexist notions about what women are and are not capable of. When feminists point out that the patriarchy hurts men, too? This is an example. Patriarchical thinking says that women can't hold their own in combat, and that they need to be protected, lest enemies capture them and do horrible things to them. Women are delicate and need to have the strength of a man to keep them safe. That's why women don't register for the draft. That's why women have been kept out of combat.
One of the reasons that this is so frustrating to me, as a guy, is that there are legitimate concerns to be raised about the lives and experiences of men in our country. There are things that happen that should probably be changed, and there are ways that the lives of men should be improved. But, those experiences and those issues get overlooked or ignored because men like Burton are too busy worrying about playing a Gotcha! card against feminists to actually take the time to give those issues the attention they deserve.
Going onto a site like feministe and complaining that men can't have access to women only domestic violence shelters doesn't prove that men have it worse than women- it proves that you're an insensitive asshole who hasn't taken the time to examine why it's important to create shelters that cater specifically to the type of victim seeking shelter. A woman seeking shelter from an abusive husband or boyfriend isn't going to find the safety and peace of mind she needs in a shelter full of men, and there's every reason to believe that a man being abused by his wife or girlfriend may want a shelter that caters to his needs, and can provide him the peace of mind and safety he needs.
I can't quite decide how much of this- if any- is a legitimate misunderstanding of what constitutes privilege, and how much of this is intentional intellectual dishonesty. The move here is from "men have privilege", which is true, to "men never experience negative or harmful consequences", which isn't.
Being a part of the privileged class does not mean that one never experiences harmful or negative treatment. It's possible to be a man in a patriarchical system, and still have people treat you unfairly sometimes. It's still possible to be a part of an advantaged class and find that there are times when you are at a disadvantage.
When we say that we live in a patriarchical system, we're not saying that every single member of the class "men" have a set number of advantages over every single member of the class "women". When we talk about men having unearned privileges, that doesn't mean that no woman has any of these privileges, or that every man has all of them.
Pointing out that I do not have the same advantages or opportunities that someone like Hillary Clinton has doesn't prove that we live in a society that favors women, because the comparison doesn't even make sense. It makes more sense to examine the advantages and disadvantages that face me and my sister, or Bill and Hillary Clinton, because we live in a world where sex is only one of a number of factors that create advantages: race/ethnicity, economic status, age, and education (to name just a few) are all factors that can influence your level of privilege.
And, yeah, like I said, I think that there really are things in our society that are harmful to men. I think that the under-reporting of, and general lack of understanding about or resources for men who are the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault is harmful. That's not feminism's fault, though. One of the main reasons that men under-report sexual assault is because of the culture of masculinity we live in. We're brought up to think that men can't be the victims of sexual assault. That a man is incapable of not wanting sex. And in cases of male on male sexual assault, there's the homophobic element complicating things, too.
Ultimately, there's nothing that prevents men who are concerned about these things from taking action, just like there's nothing that stops men who are legitimately concerned about father's rights from taking action, either. If a man is really concerned that he's being denied rights as a father- that custody should have gone to him, or that he's not getting the visitation rights he deserves, or something along those lines... do something about it.
Feminists didn't wait for men to back them up before they fought for their rights. They couldn't afford to. The fact that so many of these men use these issues as a way of trying to score points against feminists hurts their cause. It makes it seem like their interest in men's rights is less about the actual problems that men face, and more about winning arguments with feminists.
And, of course, some of this relates to Thin Black Duke's point- are the problems that men face institutional oppression, or are they more like fallout from the oppression that a patriarchical system reinforces?
See, I think that some of the problems that men face now- some of the things that people like Burton complain about and see as examples of female privilege over males- are a direct result of the flaws a patriarchical system. It's not that women have more power than men, it's that patriarchy is an inherently flawed system that sets standards that are harmful to everyone. It's a double edged sword. And as attitudes have changed and feminists have helped to break down some of the systems that have held women back and prevented them from reaching their full potential, some men are finding that, shock of shocks, there are some serious problems with the way things are.
One issue that MRAs have taken as a pet issue is the concern over child custody. And it's true that, in most cases, men do not get custody of children in a divorce. There are, of course, exceptions (and a man with a lot of money and good lawyers stands a good chance of getting custody, I think), but the courts tend to favor women over men when granting custody.
Well, it goes back to hundreds of years (or more) of sexist attitudes regarding the raising of children. It's not that feminists are trying to keep interested fathers from having custody over their children; it's the result a patriarchical system that works really hard to tell women that their primary purpose in life is to have and raise children. When you've institutionalized the idea that this is women's primary function in life, it shouldn't be a surprise when the courts recognize this in practice. One follows from the other: if women are viewed as the main source of child care and are treated as though they have some biological advantage over men when it comes to the care and raising of children, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the courts, when deciding the best interests of a child, tend to lean towards giving women custody.
I can hear the cry already: But why don't feminists fight against this!
I should think that the answer would be obvious, but the reality is that there are so many other issues that are more important to feminists, the fact that men might be at a disadvantage when it comes to child custody ranks really low on the list of priorities. Why should feminists spend the time and energy to fight that battle when there are so many issues today that directly harm women?
Not every fight is a feminist's responsibility. There are some fights that people need to take for themselves. The fight for more equitable child custody laws is a fight for fathers to wage. And, I'd imagine that they'd find more allies if they were doing so in a respectable fashion. With so many of them treating the issue like an ace up their sleeve in debates with feminists, it's no wonder that feminists aren't exactly lining up to help them.
If you use your issue as a weapon to try to beat us, don't expect us to come rushing to cheer for you.
And thinking about all of this, and reading those blogs has me thinking about my own experiences as a man who frequents feminist spaces. There are actually a few things that I think I want to talk about, regarding that, but it's hard to know where to begin or what to say.
As a guy who spends a great deal of time reading about, commenting on, and posting about feminist issues, I try to be really aware of what it means to have Male Privilege. I firmly believe that our culture- the very way that our society is structured- is harmful to women, and, as someone who strongly values fairness, I think that we have an obligation to work to end that. And while I also think that patriarchical systems hurt men, too, there's also the reality that part of fighting against sexism and part of being a feminist is the recognition that ending these oppressive structures means giving up unearned privileges.
And that's hard.
It's not always easy to step back and examine why I'm reacting the way I am. It's not easy to have someone accuse me of exhibiting male privilege- there are times when I want to say "But I'm on your side!" I want to do the right thing, and being told that I'm missing doesn't feel good, and it can make me feel defensive. I work to get past that and to examine my feelings and thoughts, and I often find that the other person is right. I think that I come out ahead for it, but it's not always easy or fun to discover some element of privilege that you weren't aware you had.
And the reality is that there are times when I don't think I'm wrong, and that can actually be worse.
It's not something that I talk about, and I've thought about talking about a number of times in the past, and I've always backed off, because... well, it's not a fun conversation, but if I'm going to be open and honest about my experiences as a man on feminist spaces, I think it's important to talk about it. Particularly if I want to make it clear to other men what they're in for and what they should expect.
There are times when I read a post or a comment on feminist blogs, and I simply can't participate in the conversation. It could be that I recognize that there's nothing I can add to the conversation, or it could be that the conversation is about a topic where my experiences as a man mean that I can't contribute in a meaningful way, but sometimes it's because I know that no matter what I say, it's going to create hostility, because sometimes the comments are coming from a place of deep frustration and hurt as a result of life experiences that I can only imagine.
So, yes, there are times when I simply have to shut up. Is that fair?
I don't know. Maybe it's not. Maybe I ought to be able to freely express my thoughts without fear of being unjustly attacked. Maybe I should be able to respectfully disagree with someone and expect to be treated with the same respect. Maybe.
But, honestly, I don't think so.
I think that it's my obligation as a male on a feminist space to recognize that one of the privileges that many men enjoy is the ability to have their voice respected over that of a woman. Another aspect that I try to keep in mind, and that I think is important is that many women are used to having their voices silenced, and that sometimes their anger and resentment is coming from a place that I'll never have to experience.
One of the ways that men can help deconstruct patriarchical systems is by having empathy for women's experiences, and by recognizing that sometimes it's important to shut up on women's spaces. In a world that consistently devalues the experiences of women, it's not so much to ask that women have a place where they're free to vent their frustrations.
Again, this isn't always easy.
And I'm still trying to find out how this fits into my other obligations, and my desire to improve myself and continue learning. While I've never really been made to feel unwelcome on sites like feministe, I do recognize that there are thin-ice areas. There are threads where I'm concerned that leaving comments might be seen as hostile or unwelcome, and I'm legitimately not sure how to deal with those feelings yet.
Since I'm on my space right now, I'm a little more comfortable, and I'm willing to share an area that I'm still working through, as it relates to the posts I linked earlier, as an example.
While I really enjoyed reading both the Thin Black Duke's post (on the Suzanne Pharr piece) and Dizzy's post, there are aspects of both that I'm not sure I agree with. Or, to put it bluntly, that I disagree with.
To take the minor case first, because my disagreement comes in the form of picking nits: I think that Pharr's article is amazing. It's a really important piece of writing. It's a really strong analysis of the interaction between power and oppression, and the different forms that can take. I'm still rereading it, because there's so much meat there. That being said, if I'm totally honest, I disagree with one of the early assertions in the piece.
My disagreement is a minor one, and it doesn't have an effect on any of the rest of the piece, but it's there, and I'm not sure how to get past it. I disagree with the writer's assertion that one must have the backing of institutional power in order to be a racist or a sexist. I agree that the concepts of "reverse" racism and sexism are silly, but my mind has trouble getting around the idea that racism is only possible if you are part of the dominant culture. Sexism is a form of bigotry and prejudice. Because we live in a society that consistently devalues the experiences of women, I think that it's more important to focus on the misogynist aspects of our society, but I don't see that it means that a woman who thinks that men are inferior to women isn't a sexist, too. It's not "reverse" sexism- it's sexism without a lot of a social support.
Even posting my feelings here, on my own blog, makes me uncomfortable.
Part of that comes from the knowledge that it'd be easy for some people to try to change my words and use them against me and the things I believe in. Part of it comes from not wanting to disagree with people I respect- when I respect and value someone's opinions and writings, I don't want to provide any potential ammunition, no matter who slight, to the people that I think are working against us. I don't want to provide ammunition to anti-feminists or racists over something small and insignificant. After all, my nitpick above is one of definition, not of substance. Given that I agree with the analysis, the simplist understanding of my disagreement is simply that we have different working definitions.
But, sometimes my disagreement lies with the analysis itself, and I think that makes it a lot more complicated. How can it not be? If I agree with what is being said, or if my stance is actually more hardline than the one being offered, things are easier (in a way). There's less chance of being misread and seen as a threat, for the most part. But, if I disagree, I have to be aware that my comments are coming from a guy, which carries a whole lot of associations and potential problems.
Which makes total sense. Look around at feminist blogs, and look at how often men will come onto them and feign some kind of interest in feminism, but with a whole list of caveats and exceptions. The sense of entitlement is often so thick you can taste it. There are a lot of men who are only interested in feminism if they get something out of it. And, quite frankly, you won't always get anything out of it, except the knowledge that you're working for what is right.
So, yeah, I think that I'm aware of the possible outcomes of disagreeing- there's the potential to be misread by people. There's the potential to have someone see my comments, and think that I'm justifying negative male behaviors, or that my reasoning is clouded by male privilege.
Which is really frustrating. The reality is that there's no good response to that.
Consider this comment from Ollie to Dizzy's post:
Perhaps, when choosing a handle, most dudes just don’t worry much about what it signifies to others? At least they don’t seem to worry much about whether they ‘give away’ their gender. This kind of man is either oblivious to a lot of gender issues, or is a jerk.
I've been thinking about that comment since I first saw it, and I still can't quite come up with a good response. This is a response to Dizzy's question "why do [men on feminist spaces] feel the need to make it clear from the get go that they're men?"
The problem, for me, is that I can't get to a place where I see using my own name as an undeserved privilege.
Is it a privilege?
As Ollie points out, I never had to really worry about "giving away" my
That being said, though, I disagree with the assertion that choosing to use a male name means that I'm oblivious or a jerk. The question of what name to use is a complicated one, and given that this post is already sort of ridiculously long I'm going to simplify my analysis, but I think that there's an important distinction between privilege and undeserved privilege.
The question is whether it ought to be a privilege to use your given name. If we agree that everyone should be able to use their given name, or, indeed, any name they want, online, then using the name I chose isn't an undeserved privilege. That there are people who are unable to do so makes my ability to do so a privilege, but the unfairness lies not with my ability to do so, but with their inability to do so.
So, when I read a comment like that, that the choice suggests that I'm either ignorant or a jerk, it's easy to want to react. Even knowing that their dialogue is more specifically about "men who come on to feminist blogs to argue about how men have rights too and how feminists are woefully misguided" doesn't really help alleviate that feeling of defensiveness and wanting to react.
And, yeah, I think that there are times when a woman can ask a question or say something on a feminist space that I, as a guy, can't. Hell, there are entire conversations that you couldn't pay me to get involved in. Because, whether I like it or not, I'm an outsider in feminist spaces. I'm a man living in a patriarchical world, and the fact that I'm trying to be an ally and trying to help doesn't change that fact, and it doesn't suddenly negate all of the baggage that comes with being a male in a predominantly female space.
That's only half of the story there, though. Because, while I think that there are some ways in which I'm held to a stricter or more restrictive code of behavior on feminist spaces, I also think that I'm rewarded far more for far less than women are. Specifically, there are a number of times where I've felt like my comments were received more warmly or with more enthusiasm than they deserved. In fact, it was a discussion over my feelings of discomfort over those kinds of comments that led to the name of this blog.
This is hard to discuss because I'm my own worst enemy in some ways. I'm far more critical and dismissive of my writing than most other people are, and so it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed by compliments. When people react strongly to my comments, I end up feeling both tremendously flattered, and ridiculously self conscious. It can be hard for me to know if my feelings of discomfort are coming from my own insecurities, or if they're legitimate reactions to people giving me undeserved praise.
But, there are times when it feels less ambiguous. Where I feel pretty certain that I'm getting praise for things that I'm saying that I wouldn't get if I weren't a guy.
And I know where that comes from, too, I think. At least, in part.
Given how often men come onto feminist sites just to attack and discourage, it can be, I imagine, refreshing to see a guy come on and show support. That sense of surprise probably makes it easier to react more positively than if the comment came from a woman. That is: if comment X is a well written feminist analysis of some topic, it's probably going to get a stronger level of praise coming from a man than a woman, because we're less used to seeing it come from a man.
I used to wonder if this was all in my head- if maybe it was just my personality coming through, and I was overreacting, but I've seen other feminists mention it as well, lately.
I think it's important to note that I don't mean these things as complaints- they're explanations of my feelings and thoughts as best as I can manage, and it's my hope that other men who frequent feminist blogs and who are having similar feelings might benefit from knowing that they're not alone in those feelings at times.
And if it sounds like I'm suggesting that it's complicated and difficult and confusing and whatever to be a guy on a feminist space... Well, I am. I have trouble explaining why I'd intentionally choose to be involved in something as complicated and confusing and just plain difficult as feminism, outside of "because it's right." And I recognize that "because it's right" doesn't win very many converts.
Anyway, as long as I'm being honest and open and all that, I'm feeling rather exhausted and drained now. So, no clever closing line from me. I'm throwing this out there and I'm going to collapse in a heap.