Looking at the Men's Rights movement

I’ve been mucking around a bit in the online world of the Men’s Rights Advocates (MRAs), who are, depending on who you believe, either (from the Wikipedia entry, which seems to have been written by the MRAs):

a loose coalition of groups dedicated to “the promotion of male equality” and the “rights to equal treament in custody battles, rights, and freedoms in society ? frequently concerned with family law, paternity fraud, and domestic violence”

or (from a pro-feminist men’s website which sees the MRAs as a stalking horse for the same old, same old anti-woman conservative politics):

A bunch of men “typically in their forties and fifties, often divorced or separated, and nearly always heterosexual. In both general men’s rights groups and fathers’ rights groups, participants often are very angry, bitter and hurting (with good reason, they would say), and they often have gone through deeply painful marriage breakups and custody battles. ? Some men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups have links to conservative Christian organisations and support a traditional patriarchal family as the only real and natural form of family, while others have more flexible visions of family and gender relations. But most share the common enemy of feminism, as well as gay and lesbian politics and other progressive movements and ideals.”

The MRAs are, at the least, on the conservative side of the gender/sexuality/sexism front in the culture wars, but they’re more interesting than the typical conservative anti-feminist types because their pain—their sense of being victimized—seems authentic rather than ginned up (it really does seem as if many of them are veterans of brutal divorce/custody battle, and particularly of such battles where they’ve been accused, by their ex-wives, of being abusive or neglectful).

This often manifests itself, interestingly, in objections to popular culture that overlap pretty significantly with ours here at MAID, suggesting a commonality of sorts.

The blog of MRA muckety-muck Glenn Sacks, for instance, touches repeatedly on the ways that advertising infantilizes men, and although his tone betrays an anger toward women and feminism that you wouldn’t find on our blog, it’s interesting that his targets are ones that we would be happy to take down as well (though from a different angle). About this recent Pizza Hut ad, for instance, he writes:

In this Pizza Hut ad, mom and the kids are horrified that dad is going to make dinner, because, of course, he can’t cook and only hip, smart mommy knows how to take care of the kids and run things.

The commercial is supposed to be funny, and I suppose it would be if it weren’t the thousandth time I’ve seen the "dad as idiot" theme. Chris, the reader who sent this to me, asks, "Why are men always the butt of the joke?" and that’s about how I feel, too.

In the picture, the mother, who’s assigned the standard role of "yes kids, we know dad’s a fool but don’t say anything," is shocked–shocked!–that hubby came up with a good dinner. A good dinner he bought at Pizza Hut, of course.

I find the ad moronic and offensive as well. The difference, of course, is that I don’t see that the cumulative effect of such advertising is, as Sacks seems to see it, to privilege America’s women over its men.

Hip, smart mommy isn’t the winner any more than doofus dad is. The only winner is Pizza Hut, and a voracious capitalism that exploits sexual anxiety, insecurity and hostility to sell us stuff. That Pizza Hut (and Everybody Loves Raymond, and every Will Ferrell movie, and a million commercials) tells the women how superior they are to their husbands is scant, and phyrric, consolation for still being expected to do most of the work around the house and for having husbands whose simmering resentment and insecurity are being stoked at the same time that they’re being told that it’s okay, basically, to be a doofus.

That Sacks and his allies don’t see this isn’t surprising. It’s too abstract an analysis for people who are so immersed in their anger that nothing but concrete object for it (i.e. women) will do. They need a bad guy (gal, that is), or a team of villains (feminists), to blame, not an incredibly complex system that generates an immense amount of wealth and a certain kind of freedom to do what one chooses but that also obliterates tradition, erodes a sense of common purpose, commodifies everything, and subordinates family to wealth accumulation.

To go back to that Ellen Willis passage I quoted the other day, “for men who have no sense that their society could be different and better, the rise of women and the erosion of male power are an unmitigated grief. A crisis of masculinity happens when men are told it’s the end of history at the very moment they realize that history has passed them by.”

That said, I think there are some issues that Sacks et al raise that, although I believe they mis-diagnose the problem, are issues worth raising, and their pain is worth looking at. That it often emerges through a lens of thinly veiled misogyny is terrible, but not the end of the story.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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