Like many, if not most, of my liberal arts educated contemporaries, I spent most of my college years immersed in feminist theories and thoughts, all of which appeared to give me new tools to understand the world I was living in, and suggested concrete ways I might go about changing the parts of the world I didn’t much like. The first inkling that there might be something amiss with my new tools arose when I gave birth to my first child and became a stay-at-home-mother, dependent on my husband for economic security. It wasn’t so much the sneering contempt for my choice that clued me in. I met the ubiquitous “goodness! What do you do all the day?” comments with aplomb, I thought, answering, “the same thing the people you pay to care for your children do all day”. No, it was the frightened, anxious, concerned whispers that gave me my first insight into a culture that doesn’t like or respect men very much.
“But what if he abandons you and the children to starve in the streets? What if he decides to trade you in for a younger model? What will you do if he just disappears?”
The questions were serious. Everyone seemed to know someone who had suffered that fate. Everyone but me. The idea that my husband would just up and leave his children, his wife, his home, his friends, his family – everything we’ve built together over the years, struck me as preposterous. He would have to be a monster to do that! Is that what men are, at heart? Monsters? Just waiting for a chance to destroy the people they love? But what if he just left us in poverty? Took his income and delivered, begrudgingly, whatever the courts ordered and then partied happily with bikini-clad twenty-year olds and left us to struggle to buy food or heat our house or find the money to take our beloved pets to the vet? What if he did that? Again, he would have to be, maybe not a monster, but a seriously cruel, callous person. And he’s not. He’s the most loving, kind, thoughtful, intelligent and caring man I have ever met, which is obviously why I married him. “It happens!” insisted the voices! “All the time!”
But does it?
My own lived experience told me a very different story. Given that nearly 50% of marriages do fail, it was no surprise that marriages around us started to fall apart. But with one single exception, all of those marriages were terminated by the women. The only man I know who initiated his divorce did so only after the violence in his home escalated past shameful and slightly painful to life-threatening, and yes, it was his wife who was the violent domestic partner. It was only after she threw a stoneware dinner plate and cut open his head, nearly severing his carotid artery, that he left. Despite the encouragement of many friends, he refused to file charges against her. It was too humiliating. Besides, who would believe him?
I remember taking my young son to visit the kindergarten class he was supposed to join when the new school year started. He saw a friend from swimming lessons and was overjoyed and they ran towards each other and ended up in a rolling, laughing pile of little kid arms and legs on the floor. The teacher intervened immediately, patiently and kindly explaining that the classroom was strictly no-contact and that wrestling, even play-wrestling was not allowed while two little girls went skipping by, holding hands. I asked her, “if the classroom is strictly no contact, then why are the girls allowed to show affection for one another?” “Oh”, she said, “that’s different. They’re not violent and destructive.”
Violent and destructive.
Two little boys tussling on the floor, having a ball, delighting in each other’s physical company was violent and destructive. But two little girls holding hands and skipping was perfectly fine. Needless to say, he didn’t go to that kindergarten class. He didn’t go to any kindergarten class at all. I kept him home until the second grade, until his unbearable loneliness made me relent. I talk to him about the expectations at school and make sure he understands that they are unfair. School is designed for children who like to sit quietly, learn abstractly and listen carefully. See what I did there? Children. Not girls. Children. It just so happens that most of the children who fit the school’s criteria for “good students” happen to be girls. Not all, by any means. One of my son’s dearest friends is a lovely, bookish boy who much prefers reading and cuddling his kitten to shrieking through the alleyways with water guns, and that’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of girls who prefer to pull things apart to see how they work and put object in motion to understand their physics and jump and bounce and scream. And a whole lot of boys, too.
But they can’t do that. Those bouncy, energetic, tactile, physical children are given a medical diagnosis. Drugged. Stupefied. Pacified. And they are mostly, but not all, boys.
I look at newspapers and see headlines like “Is It The End of Men?” and “Are Men Obsolete?” and then I look out my windows at the men collecting my garbage, the men repairing the broken water main, the men fixing the fallen electrical wires, the men installing windows at the neighbours, the men pouring a driveway, putting on a new roof, framing a house, fitting solar panels, repairing a broken concrete sidewalk and I think “have you lost your minds?” And yes, all those jobs are almost always performed by men. Why? Well that’s an interesting conversation to have, but beginning it by asking “are men obsolete?” is not only insulting, it’s infuriating. I go through my life simply taking for granted that the lights will turn on when I flip a switch, the furnace will kick in when I adjust a thermostat, clean water will flow from my taps when I twist them and my smartphone will keep me up to date with any information I care to know. Do you? Those things are overwhelming provided by men. The food in the grocery stores is driven there mostly by men in refrigerated trucks designed, manufactured, maintained and repaired by mostly men. Why those occupations are dominated by men may be an interesting conversation, but to suggest that the men currently doing them are “obsolete” is deeply offensive.
I hear the word “patriarchy” and I want to laugh. What patriarchy? Are you sure you don’t mean oligarchy? There is absolutely a small class of individuals who exercise disproportionate power and control over the rest of us, but those individuals are more appropriately recognized by class, not gender. Rich women seem no more likely to concern themselves with the plight of poor women, or women of color, or women struggling for access to adequate food or medical care or shelter than rich men. Do you think Sheryl Sandberg pays her nanny a living wage with full benefits? Does Marissa Meyers? Does any rich woman?
But all I hear from feminists is “patriarchy”. Male power. Male privilege. Male influence. Male authority. Which males? Which men have this power and authority and privilege and influence? Is it black men, hispanic men, white men from poor backgrounds, all of whom are disproportionately incarcerated and denied educations that reflect their talents, understandings, and needs? Is it homeless men? Gay men? Transgender men? Illegal immigrant men? Middle-class men struggling to hang on to houses with mortgages that will never be paid? Is it the vast majority of men?
I don’t see feminism attempting to answer any of these questions, other than to say, “patriarchy”, as if that means something important. I find it highly ironic that the feminist dislike of victim-blaming does not extend to men. Patriarchy = the rule of men = problems for men, too = it’s your fault, since you’re a man. This is a laughably inadequate explanation. The real problem for both men and women alike is that there is an increasingly powerful upper class in our society that is brutally exploiting and profiting from the labor of the poor(er) majority. It’s far more comfortable to blame “patriarchy” when the reality is that the rich, both men and women alike, are the real problem.
The only place I have encountered any willingness to set aside a conspiracy of wide-spread, omnipresent male power that ruthlessly exploits female powerlessness is the Men’s Rights Movement. Once “patriarchy” is discarded as a viable explanation, a far more nuanced and complex analysis proceeds. I may not agree with every single thing ever written or uttered by self-identified MRA but since when is that a requirement of feeling part of a general movement? Does every self-identified feminist agree 100% with every word ever uttered by any feminist in history? Of course not.
Men are lacking some very, very basic rights. The right to an education that doesn’t require them to be stupefied with drugs to participate. The right to choose parenthood. The right to have their healthcare equally funded. The right to equal sentencing under the law. The right to parent their children when relationships fall apart. The right to be considered something other than “obsolete”. Do rich men have these rights? Of course they do. The rich always have all the rights they need. But most men aren’t rich. Neither are most women.
And as long as feminism is going to hold on to the “patriarchy” as an explanation for why so many men are suffering, rather than looking at the real economic, social, political and cultural reasons for that suffering I will continue to turn my back on it. What is the point engaging with a movement that thinks 50% of our human population just might be “obsolete”? I’m much more interested in engaging with a movement that begins with the assumption that men and boys are human beings, and human beings cannot be disposed of, like machinery that is no longer useful or worn down. I’m with the Men’s Rights Movement, and I’m quite comfortable here.