Who's responsible for facilitating discussion on men's issues?

One of the points that I agree with when it comes to Men’s Rights Activists is that men’s issues need to be addressed, too. I have addressed them on some occasions — especially when they intersect women’s issues — but overall I leave it to the (pro-)feminist men to handle, as they are the ones with the first-hand experiences.

Where I differ with the aforementioned MRA’s is where it comes to recognition of institutionalized power structures. From what I can tell, MRA’s as a group don’t acknowledge that there is a power structure in place that overall privileges some groups. Personally I think it’s rather too bad, as it is part of what prevents them from working (at least with male) feminists, but anyway that’s not really here or there.

People, especially ones who experience privilege, in general don’t acknowledge that there is institutionalized power structures. And that, I think, is what leads to instances such as what happened to Ariel and her fellow performers below.

In The Penis Monologues Ariel talks about something that happened during a production of The Vagina Memoirs, which consisted of women going up there and telling their real stories of everything from sexual assault to discussing their queer identities [emphasis mine]:

We had a dialogue afterward the show, and someone in the audience made a comparison to reverse racism and asked why we weren’t including men’s voices in such performances. […]

The director of the upcoming men’s show was in the audience, and spoke out. But I was surprised no more men spoke up, especially white men (the men’s show director is a person of color) when the man in the audience compared what we were doing to reverse racism. The Memoirs cast had just made ourselves extremely vulnerable… [a]ll things that we shared in hopes that other women wouldn’t feel so isolated and alone, and yet the men in the audience didn’t inspired enough to step out of his box and explain that no, there is no such thing as reverse sexism. …Why didn’t anyone step up and say that?

[From The Penis Monologues by Ariel Wetzel]

There are two examples of privilege in Ariel’s story. The first is that at least one man in the audience felt that it was appropriate to not only bring up the issue of men, but to do it in a way that accused the people putting on the play of not only being bigots, but having the power to back up that bigotry.

Whether or not a similar play addressing men’s issues is a good idea isn’t the point here. The point is that the forum and the style in which this issue was brought up was inappropriate.

Women get so few chances in which to share our stories with each other, to find out that we aren’t alone in our experiences, and to have venues in which to publicly tell our stories. The fact that women are beginning to organize and bring these things to their communities is nothing short of amazing.

If women can do this in the face of all the pressure from institutionalized sexism, then what’s stopping men from doing the same? Why is it women’s responsibility to make sure that men feel included by a presentation that, by its very name, is supposed to be about women reaching out to women?

And that’s the first expression of privilege: Privilege is feeling entitled to always be included, no matter what.

Instead of seeing the production and thinking, “Hmm, that was really inspiring. How great would it be if there was a companion production for men? I should talk to the producer after the show!” the man in the audience unthinkingly shifted the responsibility, and created blame for not having preemptively accommodated him, onto the entire cast of the production, choosing to “shame” them in the most public way — through the Q&A session.

He never questioned the appropriateness of his comment, or in bringing up that kind of argument in a production aimed at creating common bonds between the people of a marginalized group. He never thought that he didn’t need to be included in this kind of production and, in any case, it wasn’t the group’s responsibility to do so.

Privileged groups are so used to seeing ourselves represented, that it’s hard to step back and allow the non-privileged groups to create their own representation that traditional media venues deny them.

The second expression of privilege falls on the rest of the men in the audience, excluding the one who spoke up. Where were the other men to express disapproval over the first man’s inappropriate framing of the issue? Where was all that homosociality that is so easy to use when reinforcing the status quo? Out of all the men in the audience, only one man spoke up. One.

Privilege is seeing something wrong happening, but not having to do anything because it doesn’t directly affect you.

Here’s the thing, men who are and/or want to be (pro-)feminist. Men like the one above? Aren’t going to listen to women. If they can sit through a play about women’s experiences, marketed towards a women audience, and then come up with a “reverse sexism” charge… no matter what we say, no matter how we say it, they ain’t listening.

That’s where you come in. Call them on their crap. You see a man harassing a woman? If you can, try to stop it. Your friend is being ignored or condescended by a friend/acquaintance/whatever? Tell them to knock it off because it’s sexist/racist/etc. If men stand by and do nothing while other men continue to perpetuate oppression, then it just sends the message that these things are okay. And if you don’t think they are, then you need to speak up and say so. And, by the way, if you’re a woman who is any combination of straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, middle-class or above… you need to speak up, too.

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13 thoughts on “Who's responsible for facilitating discussion on men's issues?

  1. Why is it women’s responsibility to make sure that men feel included by a presentation that, by its very name, is supposed to be about women reaching out to women?

    Amen. It’s so funny, because that’s the question I just posed to my just-friends-friend who has similar issues with feminism. In a nutshell I told him that while yes, feminism acknowledges that patriarchy hurts men too, it is not our job as feminists to address that. Feminists would no more presume to speak for men than they would allow men to speak for them; if men want to speak up against sexism that hurts them and against patriarchy that constrains and confines them, we will be your allies, your supporters, your friends, but we will not lead that movement for you. It’s yours, after all.

    The craziest thing, to me at least, is that if feminism did take it upon themselves to do for men and masculinities what it is trying to do for women and feminities, men would accuse us of being man-hating, castrating bitches … oh wait.

  2. Great post Andrea! You’ve helped me to form a stronger prepared response for what I should say next time I encounter privilege in this way–as I no doubht will, unfortunately.

    And to privileged people: calling someone out in their privilege isn’t really putting yourself out there all that much. While I’ve been called a bitch, yelled at, and cut off for sticking up for my gender, people usually admire me when I speak out against racism because I’m white.

  3. Thank you for this post. I’m on board with everything you have said, and think that the more men learn to encourage other men to understand feminist issues, the better.

    I will point out that there are some complexities involved in men calling bullshit on other men (just as there are complexities involved in women calling out men, and in women calling out other women, etc.); that is, men need to more often discuss ways of doing this that aren’t reinforcing traditional gender roles. For instance, if I had stood up at the gathering you’re talking about and told the guy who claimed reverse-sexism to sit down and shut the f*ck up, that’s a bullying tactic that men sometimes use on other men to–in part–reinforce traditional gender roles through bullying. (Even more complex are the times when bullying is sort of the last resort, and must also considered useful.)

    To be clear, I’m on board with everything you’ve said; I think there are other conversations men (and women) need to have around this stuff, however, in order for this sort of speaking up to be the most effective and the least harmful.

    (On a more personal note, one of my woman friends has asked me to *not* speak up in this way when I’m around her, because it makes her feel like she can’t stand up for herself, among other reasons. Which is just one more layer of complexity that men (and women) need to address.)

  4. “Priviledge is feeling entitiled to always being included, no matter what.”

    Carve that on a rock and praise jesus.

    If the women’s rights movement was about obtaining equality, then what exactly is the men’s right movement by default except taking away rights from women? What “rights” are they missing? The right to control women’s reproductive choices? The right to fuck without responsibility? The right to automatically control any children they may have? Never mind that a man’s part of childbirth takes 5 minutes but a woman’s is 9 months, let’s not forget to worship the almighty penis.

    Seriously, look at any mra website which gets into specifics. Notice how most of them don’t list what they want. Why? Cause they don’t want to make their misogny obvious? So what do most of the mra sites consist of? Oh, crap about everything wrong in the entire world is women’s fault, crap about how laws should be strengthened to promote the family. What does that mean exactly, besides making it harder for a woman to divorce a jerk?

    God knows I’m not about to say that men are without issues, but why on earth is it mommy’s responsibility to kiss all their boo-boos better?

    I would feel better about the mra’s if they were intellectually honest about the imbalance of equality women are still dealing with, and the residual problems caused by same. But they refuse to acknowledge this. Instead they like to pretend that we are all perfectly equal and always have been, and what on earth is up with those screeching feminists anyway?

    Mra’s remind me of spoiled little boys, mad that their toys were taken away.

    Disclaimer: real men are wonderful and I have no problem with them. Oh, and apparently I’m A Very Bad Person because I Point Out Things mra’s Don’t Like to Hear.

  5. Shannon: I know you (and, really, most feminists on the internet) have had some really terrible experiences, but it’s better not to stereotype all MRA’s. Don’t forget that feminist sites tend to attract some of the nasty ones and it’s very likely that some of the ones who aren’t speaking up do honestly have good intentions.

    One of the things that drove me crazy about the few MRA’s I had contact with is how they stubbornly stuck to their idea of what feminists are, even in the face of several examples like myself who, you know, weren’t like that at all. Because of that, I don’t want to make the same mistake with them.

    I do think that the lack of acknowledgment of an overall power structure that privileges some groups over others does contribute to the abundance of assholes who think it’s good to troll feminist sites, fetishize non-American women, and call women they don’t like “Ameri-skanks”. But I also think that there are probably some men who have been hurt by things such as compulsory gender roles who have found MRA groups appealing because they purport to be fighting against the results of certain compulsory gender roles (although they obviously frame the issue differently).

    I definitely have a zero-tolerance policy for MRA trolls. But I also haven’t gotten many (if any) of them here. I know that at least one MRA occasionally reads this blog, but the only time he commented was to contribute his opinion when I was changing my blockquote style and asked for advice. That, at least, says that he is considerate enough to not come onto my space with privilege guns blazing and demand that he be heard. I’m inclined to hope that he might even think about what I say and realize that feminists aren’t the demons we’re so often made out to be.

    Personally, while I completely understand how you feel (and suspect that you’ve run into more than your fair share of the troll-types), I’m also not comfortable with having straight up MRA bashing on this site. Critiquing the movement’s methodology, and even railing against the specific troll-types, is fine, but please avoid sweeping generalizations about all people who ID as MRA in the future.

  6. tekanji

    I think I am the MRA that you’re refering to. I have actually made a few comments here and there. My last post was on the Gender inclusive gaming thread.

  7. Beste: Oh, you’re right! That’ll teach me to be so bad with names…

    But, yeah, if you don’t mind me using you as a case in point, the little conversation you and I have had has been all positive. I obviously can’t speak for where you stand on feminists, feminism, and the way that our two belief systems interact, but it’s clear that you aren’t anything like the trolls that frequent some feminist sites and yet you are just as clearly an MRA. Ergo, if you exist others like you most likely also exist and I, for one, don’t want to be the type of person who shuts down a potentially useful dialog because I can’t/don’t want to change my image of your group.

  8. you know, i was one of those guys who would say “why not include men’s voices” since i feel that men’s gender roles are oppressive to men, but your argument made total sense to me. i get it now. instead of me saying that men’s voices should be included, a rational response would be to say that the vagina monologues are an awesome idea and men should do something similar.

    seriously, thank you for the clarification for my own thinking. this is a really great post and it totally makes sense.

  9. Thanks, redvis. It’s really good to know that my series is actually helping people to clarify and refine their opinions and not just preaching to the choir, as it were 🙂

  10. “Privilege is feeling entitled to always be included, no matter what.”

    I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact, I have heard plenty of similar statements from various feminists, generally along the line of “you men think this is all about YOU. Well it’s not all about you. It just isn’t! Get over it!”

    Of course, I find that statement intellectually fallacious: In fact, it IS about men to SOME extent at least – although I’m sure it is about other things as well. Point taken. 🙂

    But as for “not being included” – fine! I will remember not to ask to be included – not that I need much reminding on that score.

    But I can assure you that what the counter-feminist center undertakes in terms of future projects will in no way depend upon “inclusion” within feminist culture or feminist discourse, nor upon mirror-equivalent mimicry of same.

    So, write me down as one who does not request inclusion.

    Cheers! 🙂

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