It’s a common misconception (seen from, e.g., Emma Watson, Maisie Williams, and the Geek Feminism wiki) that if you believe in gender equality then you must be a feminist. That’s like saying that if you believe in morality then you must be a Christian, or if you care about the working class then you must be a socialist. In reality, feminism doesn’t have a monopoly on gender equality; it’s just one approach (or more accurately, a group of related approaches), whose beliefs and actions are up for debate.
This page provides a critical look at certain feminist beliefs and actions that are inadequate or even harmful for achieving gender equality. The point is not that feminists are bad people or that nothing good has ever come from feminism, but I do hope to establish that people can believe in equality but not be a feminist, and shed light on why so many people make that choice. This is in FAQ format because it’s loosely based on interactions I’ve had with feminists. The four main topics covered are: privilege (sections 2 and 3), power (4 and 5), sexism (6 to 8), and men’s issues (9 and 10).
Feel free to share this document if it also captures why you aren’t a feminist.
Sections and Questions:
- Key Points (TL;DR)
- Doesn’t rejecting feminism mean rejecting gender equality?
- How can you reject feminism when not all feminists think the same things?
- What is your problem with feminism, then?
- Where did you get this impression of feminism from?
- So do you instead think that men are much worse off?
- Are you talking about everywhere in the world?
- Privilege: Overall Well-Being, Personal Choice, Biological Factors
- Women are much worse off, aren’t they? Look at politics and business.
- Aren’t things like life expectancy and going to jail just personal choice?
- What about biological factors? Including for life expectancy.
- Privilege: Violence, Reproductive Rights, & Harassment
- Aren’t violence and safety a major quality of life problem for women?
- What about other countries?
- But it’s other men committing the violence, isn’t it?
- Women are disadvantaged in terms of reproductive rights though, right?
- Don’t women face more harassment or mistreatment on the internet?
- Power: Political
- Even assuming no large difference in quality of life, isn’t a critical difference between the genders that men are in power and in control of the system?
- Do gender issues have to be caused by discrimination to matter?
- Regardless of the reasons, there are still more men than women in these positions of power. Don’t they use their power to benefit men as a group?
- Does this mean that the demographics of politicians don’t matter?
- Power: Financial & Family
- You’ve talked about political power. What about women’s lack of financial power due to the 23% wage gap?
- Even if it’s mostly not discrimination, it still leaves men with more financial power.
- What about power in the family? Being the breadwinner makes men the head of household and gives them authority in the family, right?
- You haven’t completely disproven all of the power differences in these last two sections.
- Sexism: Overview
- What about all the sexism (prejudice, negative attitudes, and stereotypes) women face? Don’t we look down on women and femininity?
- Don’t parents generally prefer sons to daughters?
- How is sexism against men more socially acceptable than sexism against women?
- You mentioned that men have stronger gender role expectations. Isn’t that a result of seeing femininity and women’s gender role as inferior?
- Don’t insults for both men and women involve comparing them to women?
- Sexism: Male Disposability & “Benevolent Sexism”
- What specific sexist attitudes towards men concern you?
- Isn’t “male disposability” (plus other things that are seemingly sexism against men) really just benevolent sexism against women?
- But sexism against men is different because it isn’t institutionalized, right?
- Most of the people in power in those institutions are men (e.g. judges), so how can they exhibit sexism against men?
- Sexism: Slut-Shaming, Sexualization, & Rape Culture
- What about sexual double standards, like slut-shaming?
- Women are more often sexualized than men, right?
- Wouldn’t women be more open about their interest if not for slut-shaming?
- Don’t the greater levels of sexualization of women cause us to enforce stricter standards on women covering up?
- What about rape culture? Don’t we downplay, excuse, or even accept the sexual assault of women?
- But women are still more likely to be sexually assaulted, right?
- Addressing & Explaining Men’s Issues
- Aren’t men’s issues addressed, just not under the label of men’s issues? Do men really need specific activism?
- What is the cause of these issues facing men that you talk about?
- If men’s issues are comparable to women’s issues in severity, why haven’t they gotten a movement yet? Why don’t people recognise their severity?
- Feminism, Men, & Men’s Issues
- So the problems come primarily from traditionalist gender roles. Feminists fight against those, so isn’t feminism the answer?
- Is it feminism’s job to address men’s issues? Can’t feminism be about women?
- How do some feminists oppose efforts to help men?
- How do some feminists reinforce aspects of gender traditionalism?
- How do some feminists apply a hyper-critical attitude towards men?
- Are there any other things some feminists do that harm men?
- Does intersectional feminism address your concerns?
(Length: ~10,900 words)
1. Key Points (TL;DR)
Here’s a short summary (but I recommend continuing for the arguments and sources).
- It’s a standard assumption within feminism that women are much worse off in our society, and that gender equality is primarily about helping women.
- This is commonly based on the fact that men are more common in the ruling class of society (politicians, executives, etc.). However, men are also more common in the underclass of society: homeless, incarcerated, early deaths, murder victims, etc.
- Women’s safety concerns (especially walking home at night) are often cited, but overall violence victimization is not higher for women.
- Actually, stranger violence in particular predominantly targets men.
- Reproductive rights are also often cited, but women’s options to avoid the responsibilities of parenthood are actually more robust than men’s.
- Women’s safety concerns (especially walking home at night) are often cited, but overall violence victimization is not higher for women.
- A common focus of feminism is power. “[T]he world of men is […] a world of power”, according to one feminist scholar. It’s true that most people in power are men, but we must be careful about wrongly generalizing the whole group.
- In politics, a regular man has the same power as a regular woman: one vote. Women who run for political office win just as often as men who run.
- Although politicians are mostly male, they still often end up doing things like prioritizing women’s health or safety.
- Financially, women don’t actually make ~20% less for the same work.
- In the family, some experimental evidence suggests that women were more dominant and got their way more in family disputes and decision making.
- In politics, a regular man has the same power as a regular woman: one vote. Women who run for political office win just as often as men who run.
- Another major focus of feminism is sexism. One prominent Canadian feminist politician has said that a “culture of misogyny” is “deeply-rooted in society”.
- Sexism against men tends to be more socially acceptable.
- Multiple studies suggest that women and femininity are seen more positively than men and masculinity.
- Research has found that people are more willing to sacrifice men’s lives and subject male strangers to pain.
- Evidence from adoption and sex-selection methods suggest a preference for daughters (in the West; it’s much different in e.g. China).
My intention is not to flip the narrative and say that men are much worse off, but there is a very strong case against the idea that women are much worse off. Both genders have issues; gender equality can’t be mostly about women. That’s why I’m not a feminist.
2.1 If feminism is about gender equality, doesn’t rejecting feminism mean rejecting gender equality?
In the United States, the Republican Party talks about job creation, growing the economy, and strengthening the middle class (here and here). If you believe in these things, must you support the Republicans? It might be awkward when you find out that the Democratic Party also talks about job creation, growing the economy, and strengthening the middle class (here) and so you must support the Democrats too.
There’s a lot more to a movement than just its broad ideals and goals, whether that’s gender equality or growing the economy. You also need to consider their world-view and their interpretation of those ideals and goals, as well as their actual policies and actions.
2.2 How can you reject feminism when not all feminists think the same things?
Not all conservatives, anarchists, socialists, or Christians think the same things either, but we accept that it’s possible to reject any of these movements. It might be because you disagree with ideas and actions representative of the majority of the movement, or because of ideas and actions that are not representative of the majority but that are still more common than you’re comfortable with.
Also, if the fact that not all feminists think the same things means you can’t reject feminism, doesn’t it also mean that you can’t support feminism either?
2.3 What is your problem with feminism, then?
I disagree with the basic assumption made by most feminists that women are much worse off in our system of gender than men are, and that achieving gender equality is mostly about addressing the well-being and treatment of women. I think that this female-centric view of gender equality neglects the issues and negative attitudes facing men, which must be addressed if we’re ever going to achieve anything resembling gender equality. This criticism takes up a majority of this FAQ (sections 2-8).
I also have concerns about actions and practices engaged in by some feminists that I consider actively harmful to equality (addressed in section 10).
2.4 Where did you get this impression of feminism from?
Feminism has plenty of internal disagreements, but usually about the nature of the system that has women much worse off, not whether women really are much worse off.
Kenneth Clatterbaugh, retired professor of philosophy at the University of Washington, writes that “[a]ll forms of feminism accept as fairly evident [that] the social arrangements among men and women favour men” (“Anti-Feminism” in the International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities).
Political philosopher Susan James writes in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy that feminism is “grounded on the belief that women are [unjustly] oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men” (although feminists have “many interpretations of women and their oppression”).
Michael Kaufman (feminist author and academic) in a 1999 article says that the “basic point of feminism” is the “obvious” fact that “almost all humans currently live in systems of patriarchal power which privilege men and stigmatize, penalize, and oppress women”. He does temper that by saying that men’s “power” causes them pain, but he’s clear that it’s overshadowed by what happens to women (e.g. “This is not to equate men’s pain with the systemic and systematic forms of women’s oppression.”).
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that “[t]he claim that women are systematically subordinated and that this subordination has a grievous impact on women’s lives is central to feminism”.
As for the actions and practices that actively harm gender equality, these are not as ubiquitous within feminism as the basic idea that women are much worse off. But they’re not hard to find, either; I’ll provide examples in section 10.
2.5 So do you instead think that men are much worse off?
Both genders have issues in specific areas, and I don’t think either one is much worse off at the moment. But if we continue to only address women’s issues then I do worry that men will increasingly fall behind.
2.6 Are you talking about everywhere in the world?
This page is about the present-day Western world. Women being much worse off is more plausible elsewhere, although there are especially severe problems for men outside the West as well. The group most consistently targeted for mass killings throughout history has been non-combatant men aged 15-55 due to being seen as a threat to the conquering force (according to genocide researcher Adam Jones in the opening essay to Gender and Genocide). This is a major issue for men in places that experience war and violence.
3. Privilege: Overview
3.1 Women are much worse off, aren’t they? Look at politics and business.
The most commonly-cited fact for why women are much worse off is that they’re less common in the visible and desirable positions of prestige and power in the “ruling class”: politicians, business executives, media moguls, etc.
This disparity is real, but men are also more common in the undesirable and out-of-sight positions of marginalization in the “underclass” of society. George Orwell writes in his 1933 book Down and Out in Paris and London that one might expect the sexes to be balanced among the destitute, but “one can almost say that below a certain level society is entirely male”. This remains the case to a large extent. Men are over-represented among the homeless, especially unsheltered homeless (click on the full reports here) and homeless deaths. The Toronto Homeless Memorial lists 212 “John Doe”s compared to just 39 “Jane Doe”s (up to June 2018). A study on homeless youth in Montreal found 22 boys and 4 girls who had died after two or more years on the streets.
It’s not just homelessness. Men are overwhelmingly the ones to die on the job; the male workplace fatalities in Canada in one year (2005) were more than double the female workplace fatalities in the whole 12 year period of 1993-2005 (“Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada, 1993-2005” by Andrew Sharpe and Jill Hardt for the Centre for the Study of Living Standards). Men are also a substantial majority of prisoners (96% in England & Wales in 2013; see “Prison Population Statistics” from the British House of Commons Library), and they’re at the bottom of a 4-5 year life expectancy gap.
Minority men are especially common in the marginalized underclass. The New York Times gives the shocking statistic of 1.5 million “missing” black men in the United States, who are out of public life through incarceration, early death, etc. (It’s related to both their gender and their race. If it was only race, black women would be doing just as badly.)
The OECD Better Life Index gives us a relatively comprehensive appraisal of well-being between genders, using various metrics. Men’s and women’s scores are essentially the same, with disparities in certain categories (accessed January 2017).
Put most simply, young men in areas of higher deprivation are the most likely victims of crime. Old ladies living in the same areas – among those who are most likely to fear crime – have a lower risk.
But assuming the Better Life Index isn’t wildly wrong, it’s probably safe to say that neither gender is much worse off.
Many arguments for women being much worse off simply ignore men’s issues. “On Female Privilege” from Feminist Law Professors picks free dinner as representative of women’s advantages and evidence for why “every important real privilege is reserved for men”, while leaving out women’s higher life expectancy, their lower likelihood of homelessness and incarceration, etc.
3.2 Aren’t things like life expectancy and going to jail just personal choice?
Personal choices obviously matter. It’s hard to end up in jail or addicted to drugs without making at least one bad choice, but there’s way more to these issues.
Before specifics, note that if we can dismiss such issues as just being a result of personal choice then we’d also have to dismiss many women’s issues, especially related to employment, as just being personal choice as well. At least if we’re being consistent, although we’re predisposed not to be. As many feminists point out (also here), as a trend men are seen as active (doers) and women as passive (people who have things done to them). A less explored implication of this is that men’s failures tend to be seen just as personal failures, while women’s failures are more often seen as victimization.
Now let’s look at some reasons for men’s higher rates of incarceration. Men receive longer sentences and are more likely to be sentenced in the first place than women are (with legally relevant factors controlled for, like type of crime, severity, and criminal history). It might be one of “the best established facts regarding criminal justice outcomes” (2006 study). Social factors like stereotypes and pressure to provide also push men into crime. Upbringing matters too—there’s evidence (and another study) that lacking a father affects a boy’s likelihood of delinquency more than a girl’s.
And then the life expectancy gap. An article in The Daily Caller talks about less government attention for men’s health that was made worse by Obamacare. Obama’s healthcare reform bill introduced 7 new offices, committees, and programs for women, with just one for men: the Office of Indian Men’s Health, which focuses just on one sub-type of men (see list of entities created by Obamacare here—the source is partisan but it includes specific page/section numbers in the legislation). A 2010 Harvard Men’s Health Watch article mentions, in addition to biological factors, various social and behavioral factors: more work stress and hostility, less social support, more risky behavior, drugs and alcohol, less concern for their own health (which can be learned), and less access to healthcare (noting that men are less likely to have “health insurance and a regular source of health care”—obviously a U.S. context).
3.3 What about biological factors? Including for life expectancy.
Biological factors play a role in different gender outcomes for men and women. A 2011 review article (link, excerpts) on testosterone, the male sex hormone, links it with high motivation, low fearfulness (but high threat vigilance), high stress resilience, and a drive to maintain a high social status (which includes power and influence). Other studies have found evidence linking it to increased risk-taking (2013 study, 2015 study).
Such effects are relevant for men’s successes and failures, but biological factors are simply not the whole story. Let’s assume that men are predisposed to crime, and we’ll never have an equal number of men and women in jail. We can still address the social factors (discrimination and upbringing/fatherlessness) that we know also affect outcomes, to make the disparity smaller. A similar line of thinking applies to many women’s issues.
Life expectancy is a good example that biological factors are not the whole story. A 2004 study compared the life expectancy for 11,000 Catholic nuns and monks (who live under “very nearly identical behavioral and environmental conditions”) in Germany between 1890 and 1995. The differences were minimal, and the study concluded that biological factors are behind no more than one year in life expectancy advantage for women.
In addition, many people believe that women’s natural disadvantages (like the fact that they’re the ones to get pregnant and that this can conflict with a career) should actively be counteracted and neutralized by policies and laws (e.g. government-mandated access to maternity leave and protection from hiring discrimination on the basis of pregnancy). If so, we should do the same for men’s issues.
4. Privilege: Violence, Reproductive Rights, & Harassment
4.1 Aren’t violence and safety a major quality of life problem for women?
We hear statements like “[v]iolent crime affects many people, especially women”, “women are disproportionately targeted for violence”, and “men experience much lower rates of violence”. Let’s fact-check with crime surveys from seven majority English-speaking developed countries, looking at experiences of violent crime in the past year.
(We’re interested in gender, not overall differences in violent crime rate between countries, which are confounded by differences in methodology and crime definitions.)
- United States: 1.2% of men and 1.1% of women.
- England & Wales: 3.2% of men and 1.9% of women.
- Canada, violent incidents per 100 people: 6.7 for men and 8.5 for women.
- Australia: 8.7% of men and 5.3% of women.
- Scotland: 3.4% of men and 2.3% of women.
- New Zealand: 10% of men and 10% of women (“violent interpersonal offence”).
- Ireland: 5% of men and 5% of women (any crime, not just violent) in the Republic of Ireland; 1.1% of men and 1.5% of women (just violent) in Northern Ireland.
From this we can conclude that, across majority English-speaking developed countries (chosen for focus because this blog is written in English), it does not appear that violence is a bigger problem for women, and certainly not a “much bigger” problem.
Crime surveys don’t even show the whole picture because they omit the worst kind of violence: murder (the victims obviously can’t respond), which disproportionately affects men. Men are approximately three times more likely than women to be murdered (USA 1976–1987, USA 2014, Canada 2004–2008).
Often women’s safety is especially emphasized in the context of strangers, but in Canada in 2008 men were the victims of 80% of all attacks by strangers, and in the United States in 2010 men were the victims of attacks by strangers twice as often (“Violent Victimization Committed by Strangers, 1993-2010”, page 2).
The widely-publicized police killings of black people recently have been held up as an example of white privilege and black disadvantage, but in this area it’s women, not men, who have the equivalent of white privilege. The Guardian has a database of police killings in the United States and in 2015, 1092 men were killed, compared to 53 women. Looking at just unarmed victims, it was 214 men and 14 women.
Additionally, men were 69% of all hate-crime victims in Canada in 2013, including 81% of victims of sexual-orientation-based hate crimes (Statistics Canada). In the U.S. in 2012, sexual-orientation-based hate crimes were 4.5× more likely to be motivated by anti-male homosexual bias than by anti-female homosexual bias (FBI).
4.2 What about other countries?
Wikipedia has a table of worldwide homicide victimization by gender (data mostly from around 2010), showing that four of five worldwide homicide victims are men.
For violence more broadly in developed countries that aren’t majority English-speaking:
- Germany: 159,000 attempted or completed violent offenses against men, and 68,000 against women, investigated by police in 2017. Total offenses numbered 604,475 against men and 404,035 against women.
And in developing countries:
- Brazil: “[V]ictims of robbery, theft, and physical aggression were more likely to be male than female”.
- “Crime and violence in Brazil: Systematic review of time trends, prevalence rates and risk factors” (Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2013)
- South Africa: On a crime survey (year 2016/2017), 0.78% of men and 0.66% of women were assaulted, 0.12% of men and 0.25% of women were sexually assaulted, and 0.91% of men and 0.52% of women were robbed outside of the home.
- “Victims of Crime Survey 2016/17” (P0341) from Statistics South Africa
More countries will be added here as I find sources.
4.3 But it’s other men committing the violence, isn’t it?
Usually, but that’s not a rebuttal to the existence of the problem. The victim and his family don’t receive solace from knowing that the perpetrator was the same gender.
Some racial minorities face higher rates of violence than white people. “But it’s other blacks/Aboriginals/etc. committing the violence!” doesn’t stop it from being a problem. Similarly, in Africa female genital mutilation is often perpetuated first and foremost by other women, but it’s still a concerning problem.
4.4 Women are disadvantaged in terms of reproductive rights though, right?
When it comes to the consequences of sex and controlling your future, would you rather be a woman or a man? Let’s look at each gender’s ability to avoid or opt-out of the consequences of sex. Before the act of sex, women have more options for birth control, as noted by Planned Parenthood. After the act, men don’t really have any options—while women have the morning after pill, abortion (though sometimes imperfect access to it), adoption, and safe haven laws. True, for women the stakes are higher (physical and medical, in addition to financial), but their options are clearly more robust.
Some dismiss men’s lack of options by pointing to the difference in men’s and women’s reproductive systems, saying that there isn’t an equivalent to abortion or adoption that we could give men. There actually are options, but let’s set that aside. Let’s say that where abortion is legal, we should think of it not an option that men “lack” but more as an option that just doesn’t apply to their situation because they can’t get pregnant. If we do so, wouldn’t it also apply the other way around? In places where abortion is illegal, we would see that not as a restriction that men don’t face but rather a restriction that just doesn’t apply to their situation because they can’t get pregnant.
Another issue of reproductive rights for men is paternity fraud, which happens at rates high enough to be concerning (2-4%) but generally isn’t taken very seriously (more).
4.5 Don’t women face more harassment or mistreatment on the internet?
A 2014 survey from Pew Research Center found that men are somewhat more likely to experience online harassment (44% to 37%) overall. Men were more likely to be called offensive names (32% to 22%), purposefully embarrassed (24% to 20%), and physically threatened (10% to 6%). Women were more likely to be stalked (9% to 6%) and sexually harassed (7% to 4%). On top of this, a 2018 study from researchers at the University of Sheffield found for British politicians that women were somewhat less likely than men to receive replies on Twitter that could be classified as “abusive”.
5. Power: Political
5.1 Even assuming no large difference in quality of life, isn’t a critical difference between the genders that men are in power and in control of the system?
The idea that men as a group “have power” is common among feminists. University of Michigan feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon wrote in her 1987 book on feminism and the law that “women/men is a distinction not just of difference, but of power and powerlessness”. Feminist author and academic Michael Kaufman says “[i]n a world dominated by men, the world of men is, by definition, a world of power”.
It’s not hard to see how this applied in the past: women were largely excluded from direct involvement in politics, their indirect involvement (voting) came later, and in their daily lives they were expected to obey their husband, who was considered head of household. But we don’t live in that system anymore.
First, women aren’t actually excluded from politics. Not just that they’re allowed to run, but when they do run, they have just as much chance of winning as a man. This has been found by “study after study”, according to a 2012 report from the Women & Politics Institute at American University (see also this 2008 report). Women are less likely to run because they’re more likely to have an aversion to aspects of campaigning (like fundraising and voter contact), less likely to be confident, competitive, and take risks, and less likely to be encouraged to run, among other factors.
Second, if we’re talking about the power of men and women as groups, we need to keep in mind that the vast majority of people exert political influence by voting. Here, each woman has the same power as each man: one vote. At the group level, due to differences in voter eligibility, demographics, and turnout, women are a small but significant majority of the voting population (enough to decide elections). I don’t care to use this to argue for “female power”, but it is evidence against “male power”.
5.2 Do gender issues have to be caused by discrimination to matter?
I’m not saying that the non-discriminatory factors behind women’s lower direct involvement in politics don’t matter. I could support efforts to address them by encouraging women to run, to take more risks, and to be able to better deal with the difficulties of campaigning, for example.
My point is that non-discriminatory factors don’t indicate powerlessness or a lack of access to power for the group to the same extent that discrimination does. The talk of powerlessness and discrimination might even be harmful—the 2012 report found that although women have the same chances of winning elections, the perception of bias is one factor discouraging them from running.
5.3 Regardless of the reasons, there are still more men than women in these positions of power. Don’t they use their power to benefit men as a group?
Having someone use power to benefit you isn’t the same as having power yourself. If it was, a benevolent dictatorship would count as a democracy.
This is still an important question though, so let’s take a look. One important counter-example is health. As mentioned, men die 4-5 years earlier on average. The 2010 Harvard Men’s Health Watch article that was previously cited calls men the “weaker sex”, medically, and says that 8 of the 10 leading causes of death affect men more. Despite this, the United States has an Office of Women’s Health but not an Office of Men’s Health. One New York Times piece says that “women’s health has been a national priority” but that “some politicians are reluctant to take men’s health on as a cause, for fear of alienating women”. This is all very unexpected from a government that prioritizes men. In addition, the United States has the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office on Violence Against Women, but nothing comparable for men and boys—even though men and boys face many serious issues, including higher rates of victimization for many types of violence.
A 2017 article in The Telegraph explains how, for some time, the main parties in the U.K. have specifically set out to address women’s issues and to appeal to female voters, with no comparable efforts for men’s issues:
[W]hen was the last time you heard any leading politician – male or female – call for urgent action on say, fathers’ post-separation relationships with their children, or the disproportionate number of male rough sleepers [unsheltered homeless]? Meanwhile, there’s an array of mechanisms and institutions specifically aimed at addressing issues faced by women and girls, from the Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee; to the Government Equalities Office; through to the Minister for Women herself.
In Canada, the government is undertaking an official inquiry into the issue of “missing and murdered Aboriginal women”. This is despite the fact that Aboriginal men are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to be murdered in Canada than Aboriginal women, and (according to data from the Northwest Territories and Ontario) four to five times more likely to go missing. This is also unexpected for a government that prioritizes men.
5.4 Does this mean that the demographics of politicians don’t matter?
No. I understand why, as a matter of principle, we might want to make sure the political class isn’t too “removed” from the general population in terms of demographics. Most democratic systems try to ensure regional representation, for example. I just think that the particular consequences of men’s current predominance in politics are generally overstated, in terms of giving power or advantage to men as a group.
6. Power: Financial & Family
6.1 You’ve talked about political power. What about women’s lack of financial power due to the 23% wage gap?
It’s an unfortunate misconception that women make 23% less for the same work. Barack Obama said it in 2012 (Politifact rated it “mostly false”), and the Social Justice Wiki says “all else being equal, women earn 77% of what men earn for the same work”.
Women’s median weekly earnings are 82% of men’s (3rd quarter, 2018, USA), but this is not for the same work, or even the same job. It ignores industry, occupation, experience, and overtime hours. A 2009 report for the U.S. Department of Labor controlled for such factors found an adjusted gap of 5-7%. The American Association of University Women also controlled for various factors and found a 7% gap one year after university, and a 12% gap 10 years after university (though the AAUW report has been criticized for using overly broad occupational categories). Management consulting firm Hay Group found a 1.6% gap when comparing “like for like”. And Harvard economist Claudia Goldin says that women receiving lower pay for equal work might happen in certain places, but by and large the overall earnings gap is not because of that. The European Commission says that discrimination “only explains a small part” of the earnings gap in Europe.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t any issues. Why do men and women have different occupational and career choices? Are there unjustifiable social pressures? And there’s still some level of “unexplained” wage difference. How much of this is wage discrimination, compared to other factors? Evidence suggests women are less likely to negotiate their salary (and not for no reason). Some research also suggests that women prioritize non-wage benefits like health insurance compared to wages more than men (this could also contribute to men’s health disadvantage explained earlier).
But the problem is clearly less severe than a lot of rhetoric would have you believe. This article used the 17% difference in average earnings between men and women in Europe to calculate “the date at which women effectively start working for free”, wrongly implying that women somehow get one fifth of their salary docked as a “gender tax”. See this 2017 ad from car-maker Audi that they unknowingly corrected themselves.
6.2 Even if it’s mostly not discrimination, it still leaves men with more financial power.
In The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell mentions that as a teenager he loved baby-sitting kids but when he started dating he had to pay for dates, so by necessity he switched to a job that paid more but he liked less: mowing lawns. Is that him having power? It depends how you think about it. He made more money and money is a form of power, but he had to earn it for someone else, and he had to give up the job he preferred.
It’s similar for adults. Is it power if a man makes a lot of money in an oil field, but is doing so to support his family, and he has to live away from them? One man:
“I’d rather be home every day and see my family,” he said. “But this economy nowadays, you got to do what you got to do.”
6.3 What about power in the family? Being the breadwinner makes men the head of household and gives them authority in the family, right?
The era of it being standard for men to be the authority and the head of household seems to be gone. A study at Iowa State University recorded 72 married couples during problem-solving discussions, finding that wives were more dominant (talking more and getting their way more) regardless of which partner initially raised the concern. And a 2008 Pew survey found that women more often make the household decisions they surveyed (weekend activities, household finances, and big purchases—the other question was about controlling the remote and no gender difference was found).
In addition, as a culture we’re more concerned and vigilant about men overstepping in relationships. A 2004 study (of psychologists!) found that a wide range of activities (42 of the 100 surveyed) are more likely to be seen as abusive if done by a man (just 1 was more likely to be seen as abusive if done by a woman). For example, for “monitored spouse to know where s/he was”, 66% of respondents said abusive if done by a man and 35% said abusive if done by a woman. Other differences were found in “made decisions about spouse’s appearance”, “would not let spouse go anywhere without him/her”, and “chose spouse’s friends”.
6.4 You haven’t completely disproven all of the power differences in these last two sections.
Right. My position isn’t that there are no areas where more power is held by men than women. It’s that the gender differences just aren’t sufficiently large, restrictive (i.e. discriminatory), or relevant for the average person to justify rhetoric like “the world of men is […] a world of power”. They might be valid issues for women, but they aren’t so large and fundamental that they overshadow all men’s issues and justify the belief that women are much worse off and that equality is mostly about helping women.
7. Sexism: Overview
7.1 What about all the sexism (prejudice, negative attitudes, and stereotypes) women face? Don’t we look down on women and femininity?
This is a common claim within feminism. Kathleen Wynne, former Premier of Ontario, says that a “culture of misogyny” is “deeply-rooted in our society”.
A survey from British polling firm YouGov found that femininity is seen a bit more positively than masculinity. For those aged 18-24, femininity was seen much more positively than masculinity (more). A 1991 study (also here) found that women are seen more positively than men on a variety of tests (including rating them on scales like good-bad and pleasant-unpleasant, and also writing down what they believed to be typical characteristics for the group). A 2004 study found that people associate more positive words with women than men. These results do not suggest that we look down on women and femininity.
Also, sexism against women is generally considered less socially acceptable than sexism against men. Furthermore, if we think of sexism not in terms of negative attitudes but in terms of gender roles and expectations, there’s research showing that men’s gender role expectations are enforced more harshly (2004 study looking at gender role transgressions, 2013 study looking at making mistakes in male and female dominated professions).
7.2 Don’t parents generally prefer sons to daughters?
That’s a well-known phenomena in China, but it’s probably not the case in the West.
The results of surveys are mixed. Gallup finds that men prefer boys while women don’t have a preference (2012, U.S.A), but it specifies “if you can only have one child”, which could affect the answer because of the son “carrying on the family name”. A 2012 study in Canada finds that men prefer boys and women prefer girls. Surveys from Sweden have found that preference for daughters has been increasing (2018 study).
But looking at people’s actions actually finds a preference for girls.
A 2014 study of adoption in the United States found a gender preference for girls, and a race preference against blacks (“Child-Adoption Matching: Preferences for Gender and Race” in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics—see also here).
And on sex-selection, from “How To Buy a Daughter” in Slate:
Many fertility doctors say that girls are the goal for 80 percent of gender selection patients. A study published in 2009 by the online journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online found Caucasian-Americans preferentially select females through [sex-selection technique] PGD 70 percent of the time. Those of Indian or Chinese descent largely chose boys.
Here’s the search data of “how to have a girl” vs. “how to have a boy” from Google:
7.3 How is sexism against men more socially acceptable than sexism against women?
In 2005, then-Harvard president Lawrence Summers suggested that one of the possible reasons for women’s low numbers in tenured position in science and engineering was a greater variation in men’s aptitude, which means more male geniuses but also more male idiots. Although this doesn’t paint one gender as better overall, it ignited a firestorm of controversy. The president of the National Organization for Women was one of many to call him sexist. Many media outlets characterized him as suggesting that women are innately inferior (one, two). The blow-back was widely seen as a reason for him resigning as Harvard president in 2006 and losing out on being Obama’s Treasury Secretary in 2009. When he was considered for the Chair of the Federal Reserve in 2013, women’s groups opposed him. He didn’t get the position.
Strikingly different is the situation of Melvin Konner, biological anthropologist at Emory University, who has argued in articles that men are biologically defective women. He claimed that “research” shows that women are superior in most ways that will count in the future, for reasons of culture, upbringing, and biology. Although this was far more negative than Summers’ remarks, to my knowledge there was no major backlash or controversy. His article was in fact published in the Wall Street Journal, the largest newspaper in the United States by circulation. Similarly, we can find articles like “Evidence of the Superiority of Female Doctors” in major publications.
See Althouse’s Rule: “If you do scientific research into the differences between men and women, you must portray whatever you find to be true of women as superior”.
7.4 You mentioned that men have stronger gender role expectations. Isn’t that a result of seeing femininity and women’s gender role as inferior?
The gender role leniency women enjoy today is a far cry from the past, when even wearing pants instead of dresses was forbidden or controversial for women. If this is a new phenomenon, it makes sense that its cause would be something that changed recently. But even the people who think we see femininity and women’s gender role as inferior don’t say that it’s a recent change. So what did change? What caused women’s current gender role leniency? The answer seems obvious: feminism. The presence of feminism coincided with women’s gender role leniency, and it has the stated goal of freeing women from their gender roles. Men haven’t had any comparable movement, and so they don’t enjoy the same gender role leniency that women do.
7.5 Don’t insults for both men and women involve comparing them to women?
Some insults involve femaleness, like “bitch” (historically a female dog) and “pussy” (referencing female genitalia). But some involve maleness, like “jackass” (historically a male donkey) and “dick” (referencing male genitalia). Of course these rely on gender stereotypes, with “pussy” meaning weak and “dick” meaning crude or unpleasant.
Maybe insults from femaleness are used more often or are seen as more strongly negative? That’s possible but we’d need evidence. And then we’d still have to have a discussion on whether it reflects present gender attitudes or historical ones.
8. Sexism: Male Disposability
8.1 What specific sexist attitudes towards men concern you?
There are many kinds of sexism against men to talk about, like assumptions often made about men who interact with children. The government of South Australia considered (but fortunately did not adopt) a policy of banning men from childcare, for example. But the most fundamental type of sexism against men is male disposability. It’s our society’s tendency to care less for the safety and well-being of men than women. There’s a lot of evidence for it, including psychological experiments showing that people are more willing to sacrifice men’s lives and subject male strangers to pain. Let that sink in for a moment! (Sources and more evidence here.)
8.2 Isn’t “male disposability” (plus other things that are seemingly sexism against men) really just benevolent sexism against women?
Wikipedia describes hostile sexism as “overtly negative evaluations and stereotypes about a gender” and benevolent sexism as “evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive […] but are actually damaging to people and gender equality more broadly”. Under this definition, benevolent sexism and hostile sexism are not mutually exclusive, and in fact they’re intimately connected. Male disposability is benevolent sexism against women, and it’s hostile sexism against men. Instances of hostile sexism against women (e.g. “men are better at this or that”) are hostile sexism against women but also benevolent sexism against men, because they “appear subjectively positive […] but are actually damaging to people and gender equality more broadly”.
But let’s assume that something can’t be both benevolent and hostile sexism, because that’s the implication when someone replies to talk of sexism against men with “but that’s juts benevolent sexism against women” as if it’s a counterargument. Let’s look at some arguments for why it’s better to think of these things as (benevolent) sexism against women.
One FinallyFeminism101 FAQ article explains that the idea that “female life is more precious [or valuable] so we need to keep them out of harm’s way” is actually sexism against women because it “puts them in a gilded cage” and reinforces the idea that women are weak. This line of thinking—seeing a sexist attitude harming men and identifying how it relates to women as the more important concern—seems arbitrary and agenda-driven. If you tell someone that their life is less precious or valuable than someone else’s, that’s an insult, not a compliment that will make them say “phew, I was worried you were going to put me in a gilded cage and imply that I’m weak”.
A different FinallyFeminism101 FAQ article accepts that some attitudes privilege women at first glance, but says that as long as it leads back to and reinforces a system where women are at the bottom then it still counts as (benevolent) sexism against women. The problem here is that it’s not actually clear that the system as a whole is that much worse for women, certainly in quality of life and to a lesser extent for power. But even if it was, it wouldn’t discount sexism against men as a useful or relevant concept. Asian Americans and Jewish Americans are doing much better than Black Americans in the American racial system, but we can still talk about anti-Asian racism and anti-Semitism. Only being able to recognize one type of sexism, or one type of racism, just lessens our ability to recognize and understand prejudice.
8.3 But sexism against men is different because it isn’t institutionalized, right?
The justice system is about as “institutional” as you can get, and men are discriminated against there (crime sentencing). And if we use a lighter definition of “institutional” that refers to things like media and cultural norms, we could find countless other examples. When news outlets single out the female victims of a disaster or incident, that’s probably male disposability and sexism against men.
8.4 Most of the people in power in those institutions are men (e.g. judges), so how can they exhibit sexism against men?
Feminists widely accept that women can internalize misogyny and sexist attitudes against their own gender (e.g. this article from EverydayFeminism). In a similar way, men can internalize misandry and sexist attitudes against their own gender.
9. Sexism: Slut-Shaming, Sexualization, & Rape Culture
9.1 What about sexual double standards, like slut-shaming?
Women have to worry about being considered a slut and looked down on for being promiscuous in a way that men generally don’t, but men’s sexuality is considered creepy, demeaning, disrespectful, predatory, and damaging in a way that women’s generally isn’t. Here’s one post from reddit’s /r/AskMen from a user who’s clearly internalized these negative messages about his sexuality.
“Alright, so I realized something the other day. I noticed that, whenever I’m attracted to a woman, I tend to dismiss my attraction as a bad thing. That she doesn’t want me to be attracted to her and that I was/am being creepy for talking to her and being interested in anything but a friendship. I’m not really sure when I started thinking this way, but it really bothers me because I’d like to not feel like a creep for just being interested a woman. So, any advice on how to get over this?”
“When i see a girl i find attractive i try not to look and actually feel shame for finding a woman attractive a lot of the time. I know that its ok for guys to find women attractive but i just feel strange and creepy. I think it comes from when i was younger if i looked at a woman my mom would scold me and my female famly member would say thats creepy.”
9.2 Women are more often sexualized than men, right?
Yes. It’s probably safe to say that fictional women are more likely to be portrayed with sex appeal, and real life women are more likely to get attention for their sex appeal, compared to their male counterparts. But keep in mind that (unless we’re coming from a sex-negative perspective) sexualization isn’t a bad thing—too much is, but too little also is. I have genuine sympathy for the women who are troubled because they worry whether they have anything to offer outside of sex appeal or who get too much unwanted attention. But I also have sympathy for the men who wonder whether they have any sex appeal at all, and who get no attention or have the attention they give consistently shot down. It’s not clear that they’re better off than the women.
9.3 Wouldn’t women be more open about their interest if not for slut-shaming?
Probably. If this is a good-faith suggestion then I’m on board. But if it’s an attempt to dismiss the frustrated men who feel unwanted by saying “well it’s actually just a problem for women (slut-shaming) that hurts you as a side-effect” then I disagree. We could use the same logic to dismiss slut-shaming, saying we only do that to women because we see men’s sexuality as demeaning and dehumanizing and we want to protect women from it. We’ll just go around in circles saying “your side has a problem? that’s actually my side’s problem that hurts you as a side-effect”.
9.4 Don’t the greater levels of sexualization of women cause us to enforce stricter standards on women covering up?
Among very religious people (especially outside the West) women do have stricter standards of covering up, but realistically in mainstream Western culture it’s the opposite. With everyday clothing or casual wear, women can, temperature-permitting, show more of their legs (short shorts), back, midriff (crop-tops), and even chest (deep v-necks) than what is considered normal or socially acceptable for men. The following outfits on a man would be seen as weird, extremely casual, or even creepy.
One major counter-example is that with swimwear, men can show their nipples but women can’t. This is true, but men’s swim shorts are generally less revealing (speedos for men are often considered lewd). At higher levels of formality where men are required to wear a suit (which covers everything except his hands and head), women often have the option to to show a lot more skin (legs, chest, back, and arms).
Of course, pressures to be less revealing for men and women seem to come from different thought processes. For women it’s more often about covering up to avoid distracting men or being seen as too sexual, while for men it’s more often about covering up because “no one wants to see that”. That’s a difference of more sexualization compared to less, but I don’t think the men’s position is enviable there.
9.5 What about rape culture? Don’t we downplay, excuse, or even accept the sexual assault of women?
Let’s say we don’t adequately condemn or address sexual assault against women. Can we really say that we do any better when it happens to men? Many people don’t believe that it’s even possible to rape a man. Many jurisdictions legally define rape as something that can only be done by a man to a woman (e.g. Georgia, Idaho, as of August 14, 2016).
9.6 But women are still more likely to be sexually assaulted, right?
Yes. It’s one type of violence that seems to affect women more (2.3-2.4× more, according to the Canadian and Australian crime surveys previously looked at), and that’s a valid issue for women. (Some other types of violence affect men more, and overall statistics on violence do not show violence to be more of a problem for women than men, as previously discussed.)
10. Addressing & Explaining Men’s Issues
10.1 Aren’t men’s issues addressed, just not under the label of men’s issues? Do men really need specific activism?
Since most homeless people and murder victims are men, generic efforts to address homelessness and murder help men. But that doesn’t address the gender disparity or the gender-specific factors. If you believe that women’s lower incomes are an issue, would you be satisfied by generic efforts to bolster the economy and raise incomes in general?
10.2 What is the cause of these issues facing men that you talk about?
Most of them have their roots in traditionalist gender roles, expectations, and attitudes, although there are certain factors that are more modern or “progressive” in nature that contribute as well (e.g. fatherlessness affecting delinquency, activism to help women that leaves men behind, etc.).
10.3 If men’s issues are comparable to women’s issues in severity, why haven’t they gotten a movement yet? Why don’t people recognise their severity?
The traditionalist system of gender does not deal well with the idea of men needing support. Men are expected to be strong, to not complain, and to deal with problems on their own. Men’s problems are more often seen as personal failings rather than victimhood, due to our gendered idea of agency. This discourages men from bringing attention to their issues (whether individual or group-wide issues), for fear of being seen as whiners, complainers, or weak. As one reddit user describes, “[v]oicing men’s problems and concerns is seen as a violation of the way that men are supposed to behave, and cuts men off from the status needed to enact any kind of change”.
For more detail, see this 2009 doctoral dissertation on the discourses and ideas that lead to the ignoring of men’s equality problems (§ 18.104.22.168). It talks about traditionalist ideas like chivalry (§ 7.4.5: “we must prioritize women’s comfort and lives over men’s”) and macho masculinity (§ 7.2.3: “men should not complain and be sissies”), as well as feminism (§ 7.3.34: “women are the disadvantaged and discriminated gender”).
11. Feminism, Men, & Men’s Issues
11.1 So the problems—both the issues themselves, and the lack of recognition of the issues—come primarily from the traditionalist system of gender. Feminists fight against that, so isn’t feminism the answer?
I’ve seen feminists who’ve challenged traditionalist attitudes for hurting men or who’ve engaged in activism on men’s issues more broadly. But looking at the overall feminist movement’s priorities, it’s very clear that women are first and men are a distant second. That’s completely expected given their belief that women are much worse off, but I disagree with them on that. I can’t accept feminism as “the answer” for men if I don’t think they properly acknowledge the scale and effect of men’s issues.
Consider the statement from feminist Jackie Blue (Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission as of 2016) that “[g]ender equality is about accepting that at birth, half of us are intrinsically discriminated and treated differently based on sex”. Obviously she means women. That approach to gender equality is not one that will fix men’s issues.
The post “What is Feminism?” on EverydayFeminism says that feminism is for men too, but the very first point it makes under that heading is about how men are expected to mistreat women (to “dominate, abuse, exploit, and silence [them] in order to maintain superiority”) and how most of them are troubled by treating women like this. That’s an example of “helping men” with women as the real priority.
Also, the problems for men don’t just come from gender traditionalism. Some aspects of feminism are a problem for men.
11.2 Is it feminism’s job to address men’s issues? Can’t feminism be about women?
If feminism is a movement for gender equality (especially the movement for gender equality), which it is very often promoted as, then yes, it absolutely is feminism’s job to address men’s issues.
Feminism doesn’t have to be that. It could instead be a movement for women, in which case it wouldn’t have to do anything for men. But feminism could no longer be promoted as “just another word for gender equality”, and there would be a clear need for a men’s movement to exist alongside (but outside of) feminism to help men.
It’s also important that the problem with feminism and men’s issues is deeper than just a lack of action. First, some feminists actively oppose or obstruct attempts to raise attention to (or address) men’s issues from outside of feminism. Second, many aspects of gender traditionalism that help women and harm men are tolerated or even embraced by a certain segment of feminists. And third, many feminists apply a hyper-critical attitude to men that borders on hostility and encourages antagonistic gender relations, making working together to achieve gender equality more difficult.
11.3 How do some feminists oppose efforts to help men?
A proposal at Simon Fraser University (near Vancouver) to open up a men’s centre on campus (to address issues like suicide, addiction, and negative stereotypes) was opposed by the existing women’s centre. Their alternative suggestion was a “male allies project” to “bring self-identified men together to talk about masculinity and its harmful effects”.
Author Warren Farrell went to give a talk on the boys’ crisis (boys dropping out of school and committing suicide at higher rates) at the University of Toronto, but he was opposed by protesters who “barricaded the doors, harassed attendees, pulled fire alarms, chanted curses at speakers and more”. Opposition included leaders in the student union.
Three students at Ryerson University (also in Toronto) tried to start a men’s issues club. They were blocked by the student union, which associated the idea with supposed “anti-women’s rights groups” and dismissed the idea of sexism against men as an “oppressive concept”. The union passed a motion saying it rejects “Groups, meetings events or initiatives [that] negate the need to centre women’s voices in the struggle for gender equity”.
Professor Janice Fiamengo tried to give a talk in Ottawa on men’s issues, only to be interrupted by students shouting, blasting horns, and pulling the fire alarm.
Christian Hoff Sommers (known for her conservative/individualist/libertarian perspective on gender issues) gave a talk at Oberlin College in Ohio. Activists hung up posters identifying the names of those who invited her as “supporters of rape culture”.
A student at Durham University in England was affected by the suicide of a close male friend, and so he tried to open up a “male human rights society” on campus. His proposal was rejected by the Societies Committee as “controversial”, and he was told he could only have a men’s group as a branch of the Feminist Society on campus.
Journalist Cathy Young spoke at Saint Paul University (part of the University of Ottawa) in September 2015, on the topics of campus gender politics, GamerGate, neglect of men’s issues, and focusing on women’s victimization (for sexual violence and cyber-bullying). Masked protesters called her “rape apologist scum” and pulled the fire alarm.
In 2015, the University of York announced its intention to observe International Men’s Day. A torrent of criticism ensued, including an open letter to the university claiming that such a day “does not combat inequality, but merely amplifies existing, structurally imposed, inequalities”. The university cancelled the plans and affirmed that “the main focus of gender equality work should continue to be on the inequalities faced by women”. In contrast, its observation of International Women’s day a few months earlier was a week long affair with more than 100 events.
11.4 How do some feminists reinforce aspects of gender traditionalism?
One of the biggest issues in feminism is “violence against women”. There are countless campaigns to end it or saying it’s “too common”, and feminist celebrity Emma Watson says “[i]t’s sad that we live in a society where women don’t feel safe”. But, as explained previously, women aren’t doing any worse in terms of violence victimization. In that context, the implication of this rhetoric is that women’s safety is more important than men’s. This clearly plays to traditionalist notions of chivalry that here help women.
(Women do feel less safe. From a 2011 article, “[w]omen fear crime at much higher levels than men, despite women being less likely to be crime victims”. But actual chance of victimization is more important than fear. Otherwise a middle class white person is worse off than a poor black person who’s probably less sheltered/fearful.)
Also, one frequently touted benefit of feminism for men is that it frees them from their gender roles like the stigma of crying. However, one go-to method for mocking or attacking men is to label them cry-babies, whiners, complainers, or man-children, labels that clearly have roots in shaming of male weakness and gender role non-compliance. This is evident in a common feminist “male tears” meme, which originated with the goal of making fun “of men who whine about how oppressed they are, how hard life is for them, while they still are privileged”. It’s been used by feminists Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Valenti (first picture), and Chelsea G. Summers (second picture).
MIT professor Scott Aaronson opened up on his blog about the psychological troubles he experienced after internalizing negative attitudes about male sexuality, which partly came from the portrayed connection between men and sexual assault in feminist literature and campaigns. He was clear he was still “97% on board” with feminism. Amanda Marcotte responded with an article called “MIT professor explains: The real oppression is having to learn to talk to women”, which included a “cry-baby” picture at the top. Another “cry-baby” attack comes from an article on the feminist gaming website The Mary Sue.
Another example of this general attitude is the #MasculinitySoFragile Twitter hashtag used to “call out and mock stereotypical male behaviors that align with the feminist concept of ‘toxic masculinity,’ which asserts that certain attributes of the Western machismo archetype can be self-detrimental to those who embrace them”. It’s like challenging beauty standards for women with #FemininitySoUgly; that doesn’t challenge those standards, it reinforces them.
Many feminist approaches to sexual assault and domestic violence reinforce gender traditionalism by downplaying or excluding anything outside of the “male perpetrator, female victim” paradigm. Mary P. Koss, an influential feminist voice on rape (and professor at the University of Arizona), says that it is “inappropriate” to say that men can be raped by women. She instead calls it “engaging in unwanted sexual intercourse with a woman” (“The Scope of Rape”, 1993, page 206). For domestic violence, the article “Beyond Duluth” by Johnna Rizza of the University of Montana School of Law describes the Duluth Model, an influential domestic violence prevention program in the United States that takes a “feminist psycho-educational approach” to the problem.
Practitioners using this model inform men that they most likely batter women to sustain a patriarchal society. The program promotes awareness of the vulnerability of women and children politically, economically, and socially.
According to Rizza, the Duluth Model is the most commonly state-mandated model of intervention, and the only statutorily acceptable treatment model in some states.
11.5 How do some feminists apply a hyper-critical attitude towards men?
In recent years, a certain segment of feminists has developed slew of terms aimed at being specifically critical of men’s thoughts/behaviour like “mansplaining”, “manspreading”, “male privilege”, “male entitlement”, “toxic masculinity”, “male narcissism”, “manslamming”, “manterrupting”, “manstanding”, “bropropriating”, and “check your privilege” (which is used to ask men to reflect on their biases, but not women). Women do not receive this same critical treatment (at least from feminists; there are places on the internet where people take a similar hyper-critical attitude to women with ideas like “female solipsism”, but they’re widely considered misogynists).
One example of the hyper-critical language and attitude is the Jezebel article on “male narcissism”. The response to the 2014 Isla Vista killings by Elliot Rodger provides many other examples, like a Feminist Current article on “male entitlement”, a Salon article on “toxic male entitlement”, and an AlterNet article on “Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome”. “Manterrupting”, “manstanding”, and “bropropriating” can be seen in the TIME article “How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’ in Meetings”. Could you imagine any of these outlets writing articles on “female narcissism”, “female entitlement”, “woman-nagging”, or women being “femotional”?
Author Warren Farrell provides interesting insight into this phenomenon from the decade of his life that he spent as a feminist (from his book The Myth of Male Power, introduction).
“[…] I wondered if the reason so many more women than men listened to me was because I had been listening to women but not listening to men. I reviewed some of the tapes from among the hundreds of women’s and men’s groups I had started. I heard myself. When women criticized men, I called it ‘insight,’ ‘assertiveness,’ ‘women’s liberation,’ ‘independence,’ or ‘high self-esteem.’ When men criticized women, I called it ‘sexism,’ ‘male chauvinism,’ ‘defensiveness,’ ‘rationalizing,’ and ‘backlash.’ I did it politely-but the men got the point. Soon the men were no longer expressing their feelings. Then I criticized the men for not expressing their feelings!”
11.6 Are there any other things some feminists do that harm men?
The 2007-08 financial crisis was much harder on male-dominated sectors like construction and manufacturing, and 80% of total job losses were men. Economist Mark Perry called the recession a “downturn” for women but a “catastrophe” for men. Obama’s stimulus plan focused on infrastructure to help the hardest hit sectors, but he was opposed by groups of feminist economists and feminist historians, and established women’s groups, for focusing too much on men. He relented and shifted some focus to the female-dominated (but already recession-resistant) fields of health and education in his proposal. (Source: “No Country for Burly Men”, archive)
Some feminists downplay the validity of men’s voices and perspectives compared to women’s. One feminist academic says that “women’s embodiment specifically affords them a different, privileged understanding of patriarchal systems”.
Low standards of evidence for sexual assault hearings (where men are more likely to be accused than women) on campus are widely supported by feminists.
11.7 Does intersectional feminism address your concerns?
Intersectionality (a term introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 paper) moves feminism in the direction of taking into account not just gender but also race, class, sexual orientation, etc. Primarily this means means building their theory and activism around a broader range of women (than just upper-class white women), especially black women and poor women. According to one article, intersectionality was “meant to help black women understand their experiences in a white supremacist patriarchal culture like the U.S.”. While moving beyond just upper-class white women is probably a good change for feminism, it doesn’t address my concerns about men and men’s issues.
I also see self-described intersectional perspectives talking about issues facing black men, gay men, etc. See this post on Daily Kos by a gay man writing from an intersectional perspective, saying that being gay means he lacks “some standard forms of male privilege”. Another post from the same site makes a similar point about race. Intersectionality in this sense doesn’t address my concerns either. It’s usually about men facing issues and disadvantages for being black or being gay that happen despite their “male privilege”. I’m interested in the issues and disadvantages that happen because of their gender itself, i.e. cases where it’s not “male privilege” but rather “male disadvantage”. The condition of black men in the justice system is a perfect example. They face a sentencing bias on account of their race, but this racial disadvantage doesn’t negate or counteract any sort of gender advantage. In fact, this disadvantage of being black adds onto the disadvantage of being male for sentencing, and they receive harsher sentencing than white men, black women, and especially white women.