Should Feminism Be "About Equality For Males?"

Cathy Young defends men's rights groups in Reason, and her article's subhead reads, "Feminism should be about equality for males, too." So should it?

Young takes aim at Kathryn Joyce's Double X article about men's rights groups, which we wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Young argues that these groups are not misogynistic, but that they are merely challenging "the conventional feminist view of domestic violence-as almost invariably involving female victims and male batterers." She argues in favor of sociologist Murray Straus's research into female-initiated violence — though she does acknowledge that women are twice as likely as men to get hurt in a domestic dispute, and three times as likely to fear their partners — and argues that feminists exaggerate the impact of abuse. Young writes,

Whatever minor successes men's groups may have achieved, the reality is that public policy on domestic violence in the U.S. is heavily dominated by feminist advocacy groups. For the most part, these groups embrace a rigid orthodoxy that treats domestic violence as male terrorism against women, rooted in patriarchal power and intended to enforce it. They also have a record of making grotesquely exaggerated, thoroughly debunked claims about an epidemic of violence against women-for instance, that battering causes more hospital visits by women every year than car accidents, muggings, and cancer combined.

According to Young, men's groups exist in response to real bias against men — she says, "federal assistance is denied to programs that offer joint counseling to couples in which there is domestic violence, and court-mandated treatment for violent men downplays drug and alcohol abuse (since it's all about the patriarchy)." And she winds up her piece by quoting philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards: "No feminist whose concern for women stems from a concern for justice in general can ever legitimately allow her only interest to be the advantage of women." Leaving aside domestic violence for a moment, this statement is actually a complicated one. On the one hand, no real feminist wants to be like the straw feminists Young and others set up — hateful harridans who use lies to further their own selfish ends. But on the other, shouldn't feminism be at least mostly about women's rights? Don't men have their own movement — that is, all of Western history?

It's easy to answer yes to these questions, and some of the time, I believe that answer. But I also think that feminism should set out to change all damaging gender stereotypes, including stereotypes about men. The patriarchy — obviously the only thing my simplistic feminist ass cares about — affects everybody, and though it often benefits men, it also fucks them up. And what's more, it fucks them up in ways that are bad for women. It tells them they need to be sexual aggressors, contributing to rape culture. It tells them they suck at child-rearing and emotional connection in general, which damages their relationships and sticks women with disproportionate familial burdens. And it tells them they need to be big and strong and ready to fight, which makes them both more likely to commit domestic violence and less likely to report it if it happens to them.

All these problems are worth fixing, and feminists — who are experienced at fighting gender stereotyping, and who care about many of the ills created by a rigid social view of masculinity — are well-equipped to help fix them. But we're not going to feel like it if people cast us as the enemy. I'm unlikely to reconsider my view of men's rights groups if writers like Young use them as a peg to insult the supposedly sorry "state of feminism" or to posit some powerful anti-male gynocracy that's promulgating lies about abuse. In fact, Young does such a crappy job of negotiating disputes between the sexes that I'd like to go around her and speak to dudes directly: Hi guys. I am a feminist. I am not an evil bitch who wants to beat you up and take your money. I am your sister, your daughter, your neighbor, your co-worker, and your friend. I support your right to have emotions, to be an involved dad, to feel physically and emotionally safe in your relationships, to hold any job you want regardless of whether it's "masculine," and, if you want, to marry another man. I get that life is hard for you too sometimes, and I want to help you. But only if you meet me halfway.

Note: The image above is a group of male college students marching in high heels to protest violence against women — a "men's group" we can get behind.

Men's Rights [Reason]

Related: "Men's Rights" Groups Have Become Frighteningly Effective [Double X]

Earlier: The Misguided Message Of Men's Rights Groups