I abhor men’s rights activists. This is mainly because they do not campaign for the rights of men, but against the rights and expansion of the societal presence and role of women.
MRAs are bad and they should feel bad. Most of their arguments about custody battles or circumcision or “false” rape accusations can easily be discredited. J.F. Sargent on Cracked hit the nail on the head: The big reason the MRA movement is so popular is insecurity, taking the malice that so much of the male population today is filled with and redirecting it toward a certain subject, just like other hate groups do, enough so that the Southern Poverty Law Center even considers MRAs to be one.
The reason they can do that is the vast yawning void in male identity today, which is being filled with a haphazard reactionary mess from the kinds of horrid people who were the nadir of “old” masculinity. The laughably unironic idolization of Tyler Durden and the adoption of the old-fashioned “rugged” fedora, with approximately the style of a drunk chimpanzee, says about as much. There’s been documentaries as well, from the “Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity,” by Jackson Katz, to the upcoming “The Mask We Live In,” which talk about how the messed-up things men do happen because they want to be seen as “real men.” It highlights how our culture’s perceptions of masculinity makes it so that most violent crime is committed by men and how sexual aggression is shown as the only effective avenue for being sufficiently masculine: getting laid.
Mainline feminism has failed to address these issues of male identity as adequately as I’d like, but it’s understandable why. After all, as the famous Louis C.K. routine says, if women courting men is like women courting half-bear, half-lions, you would not be concerned much for the welfare of the bear-lion as for the woman. But filling in this gap is crucial to creating a more egalitarian culture.
There have been attempts at fixing the male identity before, like the Good Men Project, which aims to be the sort of project I speak of. But then again, one of its writers, Hugo Schwyzer endorsed rape culture by saying that women owed sex to their drug dealers and a quick Tumblr search on him shows that he’s kind of a scumbag anyway, given how poorly he’s treated so many of the women he’s known and yet still parades himself about as a “feminist.” “The Price Is Right” “whammy” music would be appropriate right about now.
There are few cultural role models for boys that fall between the hyper-masculine macho men and the sensitive, intellectual men that are constructed as the only acceptable binary. I think we need a movement to advocate for that healthy space: a men’s movement that is distinct from feminism but allied with it and rooted in feminist theory.
Part of this is to avoid the self-congratulation that’s so prevalent amongst male feminist-allies that the term “feminist cookie” has been adopted for it. To quote the United Kingdom’s National Union of Students women’s officer Kelley Temple, “Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need [to] take the space they have in society and make it feminist.”
If we want to make the world better for women, we need to make better men— men whose identity doesn’t depend on hosing women. As an example, most cat-calling isn’t even about sex, but about “male bonding,” and it’s unfathomably messed up that we feel the need to hurt women to belong. We need a better version of male interaction, one that doesn’t involve ganging up on women.
And we shouldn’t just work for white straight cis men, but also for men of color, gay men, bisexual men and transgender men. We need to make a new male culture that doesn’t marginalize them, that doesn’t force them to be somebody who they don’t want to be, that doesn’t treat them as a “threat” or a jokey sideline to “real” masculinity.
We need men with more platonic female friends, who prove that you can be friends with a woman without sex coming into play, who prove that the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” dichotomy is bullshit and show that, at our core, men and women are more similar than they are different.
Because, if we don’t, there are always the MRAs at the fringes to fill that void, licking their lips like wolves at the door.
Tom Johnson is a film & television production junior. Follow him on Twitter @tbok1992