MRM and Feminism: If the Goal is Equality, Why Can’t We Collaborate?

by | September 3, 2012
filed under Feminism

by Jasmine Peterson

I must confess that I have no idea how to talk to most Men’s Rights Activists. I really want to understand and empathize, so that I can communicate and work toward some common goal, but I often feel that this desire is very one-sided. So, before I go any further, I just want to clarify a few things. I am a feminist and I am concerned with equality for every human being.

I recognize that patriarchy is not only oppressive to women, but functions to oppress men as well. The term “patriarchy” is not some sort of imputation against all men, identifying them as oppressors of all women. Patriarchy is an institution; it functions at the cultural level and, while it does avail men with privilege, this does not mean that males are not also detrimentally impacted by patriarchy.

I do not want to get into some sort of pissing contest about who has more privilege and who is more oppressed. The thing is, patriarchy maintains power structures that are inhibiting to all but a very few, and it would be really great if we could all work together toward the common goal of equality and freedom for everyone.

A common accusation levied by MRAs against feminists (or feminism, more specifically, as The Counter-Feminist clarifies in his piece admonishing feminists in Vancouver is that feminism is concerned with the elevation of women and women alone, that feminism is anti-male. I can only believe that this is a continued and deliberate misconception about feminism that MRAs hold onto dearly to advance their own agenda.

Feminism is not anti-male. I am a feminist and I am as concerned with the manner in which patriarchal culture pigeonholes men into roles of masculinity that are detrimental to their physical and mental health as I am with the manner in which patriarchy and cultural discourses disadvantage any group of people – the ‘isms’: sexism, racism, ageism, classism, heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia, and so on.

What I have found with many MRA campaigns is that the implication is that men are maltreated by our cultural clime more than any other person. It turns into some sort of contest about who is more disadvantaged. At an Australian university, posters drawing attention to the website A Voice For Men contained the message “Domestic Violence: Women are half the problem”.

Of course, the posters were taken down, because the message that women are in some way responsible for their own domestic abuse is offensive and more of the same victim blaming that we tend to see so often at the cultural level.

Paul Elam, one of the listed authors of the website, claims that the posters do not blame women for anything, but I’m not sure how else to take it. In what way are women half the problem? Is the implication that women who are victims of domestic violence have somehow ‘asked for it’? Or is it suggesting that women are responsible for half the domestic violence cases?

In either case, it’s neither accurate, nor a productive contribution to the conversation about men’s or women’s rights. That doesn’t mean I think that there aren’t issues with how domestic violence against men is treated, or that men don’t also suffer domestic abuse. But in order to address these issues, we need to address the social and cultural discourses which contribute to them, rather than pointing fingers and laying blame. It’s just not productive.

The thing that I really would like to convey to MRAs, and anyone as concerned with men’s rights as I, as a feminist am, is that men’s and women’s rights are not mutually exclusive. To be concerned with inequalities women face does not mean that feminism does not concern itself with issues that men face. I would also like to counter the assumption that feminism assumes all men to be sexual predators, violent perpetrators, abusers, and that men are presumed guilty until proven otherwise, as Johntheother suggests in this YouTube film.

The problem with these assumptions is that they’re based on fallacies. Rape culture, for example, is not, as Johntheother asserts, a hate culture against men. Rape, no matter who the victim or the perpetrator is, is a violation of an individual’s basic rights. It is never okay. Identifying rape culture is not the same as pointing an accusatory finger at all men.

I would like to be able to work with MRAs, because I think that, if they could get past their anti-feminist sentiment, we could find common ground to work together. Our stated goal is the same: equality. But I’m not okay with being told that as a feminist I am therefore a misandrist, man-hating human being. I am not okay with the imputation that feminists hate men. I am not okay with the continued promulgation of inaccurate information and misconceptions about what feminism is and what it means.

I cannot convince any MRA that feminism isn’t out to get men, or that supporting women’s rights is also good for men. I cannot convince them that feminism is concerned with men’s rights, as well. I’ve tried to have these conversations, to clarify, to elucidate, but to no avail. And I suppose the converse is true – no MRA can convince me that feminism is about a hatred of men, that feminism is misandrous, or that in domestic violence women are “half the problem”.

All I can do is continue to actively work toward gender equality, and to concern myself with inequalities where they exist for both men and women. And I can hope that some MRAs will listen and work with me, converse with me, communicate effectively with me, with feminists, so that we can collaborate and become more effective.

As a woman, I don’t always see the inequality a male experiences, just as they might not see the privilege they are afforded. There have been a few MRAs with whom I’ve been able to have a dialogue with, and while I may not always agree with them, the thing is they provide me with a perspective I might not have otherwise been privy to. So the very least we can do is to listen to one another. We might learn something, and become better activists because of it.

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