Need for a Progressive Male Rights Movement
(The following views do not necessarily represent those of Scholardarity.)
The label “male rights movement” is not one that progressives usually embrace. This is understandable given the horrible online presence many who assume the label of “men’s rights” activists often manifest. This online presence mirrors the misandry of the types of radical feminism championed by Valerie Solanas, Mary Daly and Andrea Dworkin; misandry that almost undermined the ability of feminism to engage in progressive discourse. Fortunately, thinking feminists avoided the trap of extremism and achieved power in society. I believe that men’s rights activists can do the same and achieve winnable goals by engaging in progressive discourse and not reactionary solipsism. I propose the formation of a progressive form of men’s rights activism willing to challenge capitalism, militarism, and racism while not seeing feminism as an implacable enemy that it must diametrically oppose in all instances.
Those who believe that men are “privileged,” regardless of class, race or degree of power in society, will challenge the entire idea that there need be a men’s rights movement. I should start at the beginning. There is a lot of talk about sexism and the 2016 election. The first credible woman to have become President (sadly, Victoria Woodhull did not make it) had the election taken from her in a maneuver involving voter disenfranchisement and other questionable tactics. The candidate who won had a questionable relationship to women, to put it mildly. Trump as “sexist” forms a large part of the narrative against him, understandably so.
However, a closer look at the election of 2016 shows that we do not have a “pro-male” President by any means. When we look at Donald Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric, we find a great many references to “rapists,” “killers,” and “terrorists.” These are code words that do not refer to women. When we look at these words, they refer to males that society is told it must fear. In particular, they refer to males who are not “us.” Politicians like Trump who rail against THEM are not exploiting fear of women. When politicians exploited fear of Blacks in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, they were exploiting fear of Black men. Western politicians who exploit fears of terrorism resemble Middle Eastern despots who exploit fears of the infidel in one respect. Both are exploiting fears of rival male groups. Donald Trump exploited fear of foreign men as “criminals” and “rapists” who threaten White women. He has even set back the position of working men of his own base by attacking Unions. Please note that anti-union feeling among conservatives digs deep into misandry, allowing for a safe attack on the part of Trump against his own voting base while avoiding the critical gaze of those of his opponents who do not manifest sympathy for his working base. Conservative drill sergeants who berate men as “lazy” or capitalist employers who berate unionized male workers are not substantively less misandrist than Mary Daly or Valerie Solanas. Donald Trump cannot be said to be any more pro-male than he is pro-woman.
If we look back, we see that the feminist movement achieved victories for women by attempting to unify them across class and racial lines. There is no mistaking that it has achieved a profound social revolution in western societies. There are, however, many critiques of feminism from the Left that describe the often tone deaf approach that capitalist-friendly liberal feminism took toward working women. Left feminists often took up this critique of their liberal sisters and formed alternative movements within the movement.
I would humbly note that there is a similar tone deafness among many feminists and progressives toward working men who have fallen far behind their position they occupied decades ago. Working men are caught between conservative attacks on working people on the one side, and identity-politics based attacks on “privileged sections of the working class” on the other. I believe that working men and progressive males must form a caucus within the progressive movement that allows for some of the frustrations expressed by men’s rights activists over unequal custody law, decline of male enrollment in college, and unequal sentencing in Courts to be addressed in a way that does not feed misogyny. They can form a caucus within the men’s rights movement’s own blindness to race and class similar to that which Left feminism formed within feminism.
I must address the misogyny of online (and some offline) male rights activism head on. I do not deny that it exists. However, we have to remember that similar expressions emerged among radical feminists in decades past, and still lingers today. Feminism itself was split between liberal-capitalist, socialist, and lesbian-separatists factions. The last one often expressed unhelpful views that almost derailed feminism’s ability to achieve broad goals for women. The men’s movement is similarly divided between conservative-traditionalism, mgtow/separatism, and “brocialism” on the Left. The last one is a kind of humorous take on “anarchist feminism” or “socialist feminism.” Brocialism, humorously called, is a movement that acknowledges the problems working men, African Americans, and gay non-binary men have in capitalist society. While not denying sexism against women, it acknowledges unique challenges that men have faced in class society. It also seeks to avoid the trap of hostility and hatred that traditionalism and male separatists have fallen in to.
There are unique problems affecting men that must be discussed as problems that disproportionately affect men even as control of society has traditionally been patriarchal. Not least of these problems is the “hidden injury of class” that has affected male workers. Men are more easily divided by race, class and religion. Men are also most easily identified according to their racial, cultural or class identities. It is not only men who divide men this way. These divisions are structural and never questioned. It is never questioned that men must die in war, or even in movie fiction. The division between worthy and unworthy maleness is what allows extreme oppression of male groups even while other male groups wield power. It is not simply the case of “some men not enjoying the benefits of patriarchy.” It is actually a case of the patriarchy engaging in the demonization of male bodies. Hatred of Black men in the South was justified as necessary to social order by pro-slavery writers like George Fitzhugh or Thomas R. Dew. But it was also defended as necessary to “defend white women.” The notion that Black men threatened white women was widespread, not simply a Southern idea. An honest look at history also demands that we look at how some White Suffragists made use of racially coded appeals in their efforts to pass the nineteenth amendment at a time when Black men and immigrant men had increasing electoral strength. Today there are some radical feminists who call for “male control.” It should be remembered that similar calls for control of “dangerous” male bodies were made by reactionaries in the past.
Men suffer disproportionately in custody disputes. Men suffer longer prison sentences. Even college men have fallen behind in that fewer and fewer men attend college. There are programs to help women achieve in engineering. There are not similar outreach programs for men in teaching. The claim of “male privilege” among identitarian thinkers is becoming more shrill, and yet more tone deaf. It ignores race, class and many other factors. In critiquing this narrative, I also do not want to fall in to the simplistic “working class unity” narrative that some Marxists entertain. One cannot engage in politics in America and avoid issues of identity. The success of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements attest to this. If working men are to put aside differences of race and create a progressive movement around common maleness that avoids the temptation of reactionary politics then it must look to the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist movement for tactics that work. The idea of egalitarian discussion groups, championed by feminists, is one such tactic. Power must come from below. It is clear that conservative (and liberal) male leaders often favor their own class over the needs of working men. Men must look to each other and not to “Alpha” leaders.
I believe that a progressive male rights agenda that works is one that advocates for prison reform, or even possibly prison abolition. It must call for the restoration of voting rights for felons who have served their time. It must call for custody and child support reform, for family courts that do not view male parents as an enemy to be conquered. “Bro’s” who attend college must be supported in a culture in which they are increasingly a minority. The abolition of the sexist selective service requirement is a MUST. Affirmative action programs for men in nursing and teaching must be implemented if similar programs are to be implemented in engineering or business. (At least the issue should be discussed) Veterans must be given the care they need. Male workers must be understood as suffering unique psychological issues related to the hidden injury of class. There is no question that exploitation of female workers relates to sexist abuse that so many have suffered. But a similar acknowledgement must be made that male workers suffer the double burden of being defined negatively for their lack of success in capitalist society. “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps” has mostly been used as psychological warfare against unionizing male workers. Women face a pay gap but they have not traditionally expected to be the breadwinners in multiple parent families. A fair conversation about gender cannot be entertained until issues around male expectation are addressed.
Men have suffered as a result of every great revolution on this planet. The agricultural revolution destroyed the old egalitarianism of hunter-gatherer society. The industrial age gave birth to the factory system, destroying much of the independence of the craft system. Now, the computer age is making many male workers redundant. At every step of the way, many men responded by aligning with reactionary impulses, including the impulse to subjugate women. This is deeply regrettable. Reactionary political forces have exploited this tendency. It is understandable that progressives and feminists would fight that. Yet, those same progressives and feminists should at least aim for an empathetic understanding of the fact that male workers have never enjoyed the power that elite males have enjoyed, or the degree of empathy given to female workers. Male disposability is the unacknowledged bias that the military has always depended upon. Male invisibility is what many systems of political and religious repression depend upon as well. I believe that a truly progressive men’s rights movement is not the problem, but the solution to inequality and injustice. It is something that everyone should support, regardless of gender.
We must have an honest discussion about gender. Part of that discussion must be a recognition that includes the unique psychological needs of men. Indeed, it is true that the past 10,000 years have been dominated by deeply oppressive and unjust patriarchy civilizations. That having been said, many males have stood up to oppressors. Often their sacrifices have been heroic. They have thought of women and children first. If the situation had been reversed, and women had dominated, I believe we would not see women attacked as monolithic oppressors. We would see a discussion of all types of mitigating factors. We would see discussions of “heroic” Queens and “power girls of history.” Indeed, we do see such praise given now in our current world, often to women with “heroic” roles in the military or business (problematic issues are generally smoothed over). I believe that a discussion of patriarchy and its complexities is as necessary a conversation as a discussion of how “race” was socially constructed, or how imperialism managed to co-opt the working class. If progressives do not face issues of gender honestly, then reactionaries will continue to make inroads among young millennial white males, many of whom are disaffected with liberal and left politics. By no means do I want to attack feminism, or replace it with a disempowering narrative of male victimization. My goal is a broader conversation, one that fulfills a feminist promise to “free men from patriarchy also.” That promise was never fulfilled, even as western women are being freed from patriarchy. It is time for our liberation too.