Gender Issues Impacted by Masculinists Tuesday, June 03, 2003 By Wendy McElroy
Gender issues are being rocked by masculinism -- sometimes called men's rights or the Men's Movement.
Advocates claim it is a last chance to restore sanity between the sexes and justice for families. Feminist foes accuse masculinists of wrongdoing that verges on criminal acts. High-profile clashes will almost certainly erupt between the two and public policy will change. But what is masculinism?
To understand a position, you need to explore the explanations offered by its mainstream supporters. Only afterward is it helpful to listen to its critiques and extreme exponents in order to gain perspective.
Father's rights activist Mark Toogood offers a prevalent definition: "1. A male-friendly framework for understanding social problems. 2. The belief that equality between the sexes requires the recognition and redress of prejudice and discrimination against men as well as women. 3. A complementary, not oppositional perspective to feminism."
The dominant theme of mainstream masculinism is the demand for a gender-neutral approach to social problems such as broken families, domestic violence and reproduction. For example, in approaching domestic violence it demands that the police, court system and social networks cease to pre-define victims as female and to recognize that men are often victims of domestic violence as well.
By contrast, feminist critics claim that masculinism promotes an exclusively male point of view at the expense of women. They point to extreme and angry expressions of masculinism as being representative of the entire movement. Then, based on material from this radical fringe, masculinism is called anti-woman.
In recent years, masculinists have focused on father's rights in custody, visitation and reasonable child support. They believe children need both parents and that divorced fathers should have rights as well as responsibilities. Given the high level of divorce in North America, these are non-trivial issues that deserve honest and vigorous dialogue.
The prospect of that dialogue occurring has been dealt a stunning blow by "School Success by Gender: A Catalyst for the Masculinist Discourse" -- a $75,000 tax-paid report requested by Status of Women Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government. The report has been called a declaration of war against men's rights activists both in Canada and the United States.
"Success by Gender" looks at a wide range of masculinist Web sites in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere -- from father's rights to anti-circumcision sites, from Promise Keepers to Men's Health Network. It finds, "these groups are largely composed of white, heterosexual, middle-class men who have not been successful in coping with the challenge to masculinity posed by feminism." Hundreds of sites and individuals are named and accused of creating hatred against women.
Among the report's recommendations: The establishment (at taxpayer expense) of an Internet monitoring organization to focus on men's hate speech against women; the publication, and dissemination, of a list that warns of "misogynist groups" -- that is, men's rights groups; and, an investigation into prosecuting such sites under section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code which addresses hate speech.
Ken Wiebe of BC (British Columbia) Fathers, one of the named sites, comments: "I have very little patience for feminists. ... But I have a wife, I have daughters. This notion that because we are opposed to the feminists' political agenda, that that somehow equates to a dislike of women, is just propaganda. That's some kind of smear campaign." The front page of BC Fathers proclaims, "Individuals have been named who may soon be targeted for legal, financial and legislative harassment intended to silence any dissent to the radical man-hating variety of feminism."
The attack upon masculinists is not unique to Canada. California NOW's much-touted Family Court Report 2002 aimed at making the California family court system even more mother-centered. Section 4 of CANOW's report was entitled "A Brief History of the Father's Rights Movement." It attacked men's groups for competing with feminists for federal funds and engaged in wholesale ad hominem attacks on prominent men's rights figures. It concluded that the "agenda" of father's rights groups was "to avoid child support, impoverish women, perpetuate a patriarchal suprastructure by which women and children are subjugated to property status."
Judging by the backlash, masculinists are having an impact. I know this personally because my Web site Ifeminists.com, which advances equal rights for men, has experienced a dramatic increase in harassment and hate mail from gender feminists in recent months. Every blast centers on men's rights.
The tension will only heighten. Men who claim the right to be an active part of their children's lives will not back down. Women who recognize the justice of those claims are not intimidated.
On May 24, the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) published an open "Memo to NOW" which spoke of "countless bright young women frustrated by rigid feminist propaganda of male hatred ..." With their funding doubled, IWF announced, "We're issuing fair warning: extreme feminists, get to your foxholes because IWF is on the attack."
The gender war has shifted toward direct confrontation. Men should take heart from that fact. As Gandhi once explained: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.
A few days ago someone I know called me a "hypocrite" because I like to dress attractively and can be openly sexual in my performance with the band, but claim to be a feminist. (This same person runs around in halter tops and miniskirts and does a zine largely comprised of collages from old porno mags, which is somehow okay. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.) I went livid and read her the riot act (or is that the riot-grrl act?) because
I don't like being insulted or having unfounded accusations hurled at me. Why are my philosphies and methods of expression being judged by someone who doesn't understand the feminist movement, it's many factions, or it's history, and once told me that before she enrolled in one women's studies class "I thought feminists weren't allowed to wear makeup before now." It's the year 2000, haven't we moved beyond this bullshit stereotyping yet? You know what I mean. The angry "women's libber" with the crew cut and khakis and the non existant libido, above all else. This asexual, curmudgeony creature has been trotted out since the days of women's suffrage, when editorial illustrators would create woodcuts of dour, cigar chomping "suffragettes" complete with facial stubble and warts. This fictitious person who's...I dunno, running around setting porn shops on fire or lobbying to have the male race banned, or whatever it is the patriarchal opposition is afraid of. Apparently since I'm wont to rail against rapists, anti-abortionists, stalkers, and the like, I'm supposed to look this way. And I'm supposed to never crack a dirty joke or flirt with a cute guy either. Trouble is, I just don't see what one has to do with the other. Or more precisely, I don't see what believing in equality has to do with compromising one's sexuality. So I decided to put my personal views on the topic up here and out into the open. Who knows, maybe I can be a beacon of light for some confused soul who thinks that demanding respect somehow means having to forfeit her favorite lipstick--ok NOW I'm being a smartass...
I believe two things are integral to human nature. The first one is sense of aesthetics. People like things that are visually appealing to them. Especially artistic types, who think about it extra. I like to wear cute clothes, glitter, weird jewelery and hair accessories--and I like the way this stuff looks on me. Human nature. We adorn ourselves, we adorn the places we live (even the most not-vain people I have met will decorate their houses with posters and tchochkes. While my personal style is not what's considered traditionally feminine,(I hate the color pink, mostly because I feel that growing up girl it's been crammed down my throat), it's always what I find visually stimulating. Pretty. My desire to put on a mini dress to me isn't that seperated from my drive to create art, or my appreciation of a beautiful flower garden. Visual orientation. Aesthetics. Mind you though, I'm not a slave to visual pleasure, and I also think that's an important factor. What I wear may be scanty to some, but it isn't constricting. I won't wear anything that slows or constricts my movement, makes it hard to run, or hard to throw a punch or a kick. My sidekick's just as good in a dress as it is in a pair of jeans. (Actually, my sidekick isn't as good as my front or roundhouse, but hell I'm working on it.) I have fun wearing makeup (the more unnatural looking the better) but don't feel like I need it to leave the house or to impress people. I've known women who feel that they can't go to the corner for a carton of milk without makeup on, and that's where I feel one becomes a Pink Slave. What do they think will happen? Who are they feeling judged by? Societal standards in general, I suppose, but the sooner anyone frees their mind from what the status quo thinks, the sooner they'll be on the track to seriously Getting Their Shit Together, or finding their True Will, or whatever you want to call it.
The other thing I feel is integral to human nature is Libido. Espousing a feminist philosophy does not involve having your genitals glued shut or the pleasure centers of your brain lobotomized. Just because I don't like having it forced on me against my will doesn't mean I don't like sex period. And having been raped as well as having had sex with lovers who I wanted to be with, I feel qualified in saying there is a WORLD of difference between the two! Duh.
I'm a sexual being. I get horny. (I also get days when I just want to veg in front of the TV with a good horror video, but who doesn't?) I'm a polyamorist at this point in my life, a sensualist who responds to different sensations of touch and new experiences, and I have my various fetishes, which I may go into later. It doesn't matter what they are, the point is that I'm aware of them and I've learned to enjoy them guilt free. I'll admit that it's taken some time to get to that point, to accept that I'm not really what I've always been told I'm supposed to be. I'll never be that Disney heroine who meets the right man and suddenly weds and settles down to squirt out kids. Ok, no biggie. I've met enough people in tired-and-true marriages and relationships who are absolutely miserable to suspect that I'm not the only person like me out there, but so many women are raised from childhood being told this is what they want. Don't believe me? Go into a toy store and take a walk down the garishly pink "Girl's" aisle.
Sometimes I feel like my sexuality is an electrically charged current crackling through my body, and it feels powerful! I believe every woman has the potential to feel this Sex Power, as opposed to being a sex object, they just have to learn how to find it. In their minds as well as their bodies. It's an energy blast from Aphrodite herself. When I'm acting bawdy or wiggling around, I'm not really wondering whether or not boys will notice or like it, I'm simply enjoying it myself! I think that's the crucial difference.
Hey, back in the day there were Goddesses of sexuality(among other things). Aphrodite, Astarte, Ishtar --apparently there was once a time and place for this concept of female sexuality. Now it's reviled--and feminism is supposed to help women to escape from the rigid little roles of what is acceptable femininity. Which is why I feel that sexiness is completely in keeping with feminism. Now, did I leave my knife in my black vinyl garter again?