Right away, “men’s rights” sounds like a ridiculous notion. We think of it in comparison to women’s rights and the women’s rights movement, something absolutely necessary in the history of the United States, and still necessary today. We’ve needed women’s rights, from the early part of the century and before when women couldn’t vote, through the middle of the century when women were paid little and sexual harassment was accepted. There’s been a certain disadvantage to being a woman in society; the flip side is that there’s been a certain advantage to being a man. Only the most extreme of individuals will say these facts are firm 100% of the time – of course women have advantages in some areas, and of course men have disadvantages in some areas – but it is clear that life as a man is, on average, easier than life as a woman.
I agree with what I’ve said. That isn’t all simply a recounting of a narrative or a statement of a worldview I’m preparing to attack. I affirm that it is an advantage, on average, to be a man. Indeed, even with my gender and sex identity wiped from my memory, if I could be reincarnated and given the choice to be a man or a woman, I don’t imagine a scenario where I would choose to be a woman. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with being a woman, though. It’s simply to affirm the advantage that comes with being a man. (Just the same, if I had a choice between being, say, 5 feet or 6 feet, I would always choose 6 feet. That doesn’t mean 5 foot tall people are bad.)
So, again, I affirm men, on average, have an advantage in life over women.
Sadly, the reason I have had to affirm my belief about the male advantage in society is that I’m also going to say something which will automatically cause a certain part of society to ignore absolutely everything I have to say on anything ever again: I sympathize with men’s rights activists (MRA’s).
Of course, I have to qualify this like crazy because the men’s rights movement (MRM) is so often vilified. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center went idiot hunting last year. What they found was a handful of barely popular fringe websites that were antagonistic towards women, spewing a lot of misogyny and sexism. Coupled with these sites were two of the more popular outlets for men’s rights: A Voice for Men and r/mensrights, a subreddit on the popular site reddit.com. I would lump probably 80% of what A Voice for Men posts with the idiots. The r/mensrights subreddit, however, is a different story.
Since becoming a reddit addict earlier this year, I’ve taken to subscribing to a lot of different subreddits. (Think of reddit has a message board and subreddits as forums. It’s not quite like that, but the idea is basically the same.) I like to make it a point to occasionally subscribe to subreddits that don’t reflect my views. I figure I’ll either learn something or find something funny. The latter reason is why I initially subscribed to r/Christianity and r/mensrights. I soon unsubscribed to r/Christianity because it was so boring, but I stuck around r/mensrights. Men have a big advantage in life, so it was sure to be hilarious, right?
As it turns out, there are a lot of important issues raised in r/mensrights that had never crossed my radar. For instance, it never crossed my mind to consider how much of a discount women get on their prison sentences versus men for the same crime. (It’s something like 60% overall, and only a few crimes net women harsher sentences than men.) As anyone who reads FTSOS knows, I’m no fan of the U.S. criminal justice system. I think it’s utter garbage, an institution set up to keep people locked up for petty crimes while private prisons (which should make everyone say “What in the fuck?”) make loads of money. So my reaction to women’s decreased sentences isn’t that they should be raised to those given to men, but I think it’s obvious men and women should be treated equally under the law.
And there are other issues. Go find any article about a male teacher accused of one form or another of sexual assault on a female student. The headline will never say he “had sex with” her. No, it will rightly say he assaulted/raped her. But read an article where the teacher is female and the student is male, and well, she had sex with him. He’s a guy. He must have wanted it, right?
Now, recall when I said I couldn’t imagine choosing to be a woman anymore than I would choose to be 5 feet tall. I’m assuming a clean slate, an equal chance to have my life turn out great as I have for it to turn out awful. But change the details and ask me if I’d rather be a man or a woman standing in divorce/family/criminal court? The answer is obvious: a woman all the way. Even beyond the criminal ‘justice’ system, it is never an advantage to be a man. Women are almost always given custody of children by default. Divorce settlements decidedly favor women (even when the woman is capable of making her own living based upon the skills she has obtained during marriage).
But now I have to get back to the qualifying, less I be accused of embracing everything to do with men’s rights. I greatly dislike when people in r/mensrights use intentionally sexist terms like “bitch”, “harpie”, “shriek”, and so forth. I’m all about using language freely and openly, but it’s obvious the intention by some of the people in that subreddit is to demean women. Fuck that bullshit. And fuck the commenters who genuinely do seem to hold a grudge against all women. I don’t support that.
So, let me be clear: I have a sympathy towards the men’s rights movement insofar as it points out issues where men are treated unfairly and do have a disadvantage. I think it’s wrong that our various courts are obviously (and insanely) biased against men. I think it’s wrong that the sexual assault of young boys is treated as something those boys wanted, provided to perpetrator was a woman. (Notice the lack of headlines declaring “Priest accused of having sex with altar boy.”) I’m very much a utilitarian, but I also very much see the value in egalitarianism. This isn’t always expressed by MRA’s, but it is the underlying theme I’ve seen. That is where my sympathy lies. (The utter lack of egalitarianism in 3rd wave feminism disgusts me.)
But let me be extra clear: My sympathy towards men’s rights does not mean one can possibly conclude my favor or disfavor regarding any given issue. I may think it’s wrong that a man walking with his son in the English countryside was assumed to be a pedophile (the same would not happen to a mother), but that doesn’t mean I have a significant issue with the massive funding disparity between breast cancer research and prostate cancer research – a look into the data shows that it makes sense for the most part. (I do, however, have an issue with the lack of funding lung cancer research receives as compared with breast cancer research.)
So here’s the big conclusion. The MRM raises some valid points that I think deserve far more attention than they currently get. Moreover, I am on board with the egalitarian approach of the movement (an approach, incidentally, which characterizes much of 1st and 2nd wave feminism). I also agree with the idea held by many MRA’s that sexism is not defined by a power asymmetry, but by discrimination on the basis of sex. Aside from being the dictionary definition of sexism, I reject the idea that a given group being in power translates to the individual members of that group automatically having greater power. That is, Congress being composed of mostly white men does not mean that every white man has more power than everyone else. Thus, sexism can and does occur independently of a group’s collective power. But does that mean I embrace everything espoused by anyone claiming the label of “MRA”? Of course not. I’m not a frequent poster on reddit, but most of what I’ve posted in r/mensrights has been dissent. The movement doesn’t have a cohesive philosophy, so it has some serious holes. (Feminism also doesn’t have a cohesive philosophy – forget about claiming it is a philosophy – but as a political movement (and that’s exactly what it is), it is far more coherent than the MRM.) But just as feminist writers opened my eyes to sexism I once did not see, the MRM has made me aware of unfair treatment of one of the sexes.