Why Progressive “Men’s Movements” Are Bound to Fail

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 14:35 EDT
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Jill at Feministe reopens the ongoing Good Men Project battles with an excellent post and article about the reason that perpetuating rape myths is so very, very bad and not, contrary to GMP’s defensive posturing (when they aren’t fundraising on how excellent they are at pissing off feminists) about “dialogue”.  In sum, when we perpetuate the myth that rapists are just nice guys who are confused about consent, rapists realize they can rape, claim confusion, and escape justice. Which is why the self-defined rapists that GMP gave voice to did, in fact, claim confusion. Imagine!

But I don’t want to talk about that right now. What I want to talk about is the idea that there could be a useful, meaningful progressive men’s movement that doesn’t devolve into men sitting around pitying themselves about how they’re so oppressed by women, neatly turning them into a reactionary movement. I used to think yes, which is why I was enthusiastic about the idea of GMP before they revealed how much it’s actually about bundling the same  old defenses of male privilege in “complex” sheep’s clothing. I dearly want men to have conversations about masculinity and manhood, and the oppressive expectations patriarchy puts on men. I think that’s more important every day as we struggle with the way that these ideals of masculinity encourage violence and voting Republican.

I still think those conversations can happen. But not by men organizing a “men’s movement”. I know a lot of strong, effective male feminists who are actually doing good work at tearing at the patriarchy, and they shun the idea of a “men’s movement”, and I think they’re right to do so. This is why.

1) We cannot fight the gender construct and gender segregation by reinforcing it.  A lot of men look at feminism and they see it’s mostly female and assume therefore it’s not for them. But if you analyze that feeling, you’ll find a lot of the patriarchy-enforcers that keep men away from traditionally feminine occupations and behaviors in play. Why do men need a separate movement to deconstruct patriarchy? Because being a feminist is too girly? Isn’t that exactly the kind of artificial gender construct we want to dismantle? Feminism isn’t a “women’s movement”, though it’s often misunderstood at that. It’s about ending patriarchy and ending arbitrary, stifling gender norms. A separate men’s movement is bound to turn towards defending those norms, because without these artificial distinctions, a “men’s movement” doesn’t make sense.

2) Leadership. I suspect one reason a lot of men want a separate men’s movement is that the feminist movement has mostly female leaders and will have mostly female leaders. But if you can’t accept female leadership, you’re not really interested in ending patriarchy, are you?

3) Policy. While it’s true that feminist work is often interpersonal with a side dose of self-help, most “men’s movement” types seem to think that’s all there is to it. So they think they can set up parallel structures where guys talk about their feelings and progress is made. But the truth is that if you don’t leaven that crap with policy discourse and organizing, you end up going up your own ass, which in turn leads to a form of discourse that ends up being way more about justifying your personal choices instead of pushing for change. This up-your-own-ass tendency is bad enough in feminism, with “I choose my choice!” feminists, but it’s kept in check by actual policy and social goals that we can use to measure progress: Reproductive rights, eliminating sexual and domestic violence, equal pay, power-sharing at home, gender-neutral Easy-Bake Ovens, whatever. That stuff is a steady reality check that keeps it all from devolving into everyone sitting around validating everyone’s feelings, no matter how anti-social or reactionary. Sarah Palin can claim she’s a “feminist” until she’s blue in the face, but measured up against our policy goals, she fails and can be kicked out of the club.

Any men’s movement will fail to have such a reality check, since current policies and social structures already benefit men over women. Male oppression tends to be the result of social restraints and policies that are designed to benefit some men over others, and that’s all. Men aren’t targeted as a class for oppression the way that women are, so organizing as a class leaves you with no way to set political goals.

4) The best way to end gender oppression of men is to push for women’s equality. The strict gender norms of masculinity are a direct result of trying to keep one sex in power over the other, and thus the best way to end them is to make them useless for that purpose. If you don’t believe that, look at the masculine subcultures like sports or video gaming, where men are carefully policed to make sure they’re “manly” enough and women are excluded through shunning and harassment. With video gaming and other geek cultures, the infiltration of the space by women and their demands that they be treated equally leads to an overall demasculinazation of the culture that, in turn, means men are less oppressed by strict gender policing.

You can see how this works with male progressive organizations that haven’t drifted into reactionary horseshit, like Men Can Stop Rape. By organizing around the idea that women should be able to live lives free of rape or sexual abuse, they created a space where men can talk about oppressive gender norms without crawling up their own asses.

The reality is that creating parallel structures in a non-parallel society doesn’t make sense. There are constraints put on white people to maintain their “whiteness”, but we’d immediately see the dangers of white people organizing to discuss their whiteness, no matter how progressive their initial intentions. Well-meaning white people should work to end racism and achieve racial equality, with an eye towards knowing that “white” as a construct will collapse by virtue of those goals being achieved. Also, doing that makes you seem like a narcissist who wants to make every conversation about yourself. Men need to go about this the same way. Don’t like strict gender norms? Become a feminist. You don’t need another movement, because we already have one.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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