I want to give Hugo Schwyzer a quick shout out for resigning from The Good Men Project. It's a good article and Hugo explains a lot of the problems with Tom Matlack's behavior, both in his original article and in the ensuing twitter battle afterwards.
I'll address their arguments in two parts: firstly the substantive parts, and then the strawman dictionary argument.
But this is really beside the point. And that is, OR-sexism collapses the entire system of kyriarchy down to a single oversimplified notion: That all men always have the social leverage to enforce or exploit their prejudices, and that no women ever do. But this is simply not the case. In the kyriarchy, different groups experience power advantages in different ways, in different contexts, and at different times. There is no one Group With All The Power, and no Ultimately Victimized Group. It doesn’t work that way, and frankly, the Oppression Olympics hurt everyone and help no one.
Firstly, they clearly mistake my argument. Simply put, what we call "sexism" is a term that is used to describe the manifestations of a large system that privileges men (and certain types of men). While I certainly agree that men can be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, that's not sexism the same way the above-mentioned sexism is sexism.
And this is an important point: the discrimination against women and discrimination against men are not the same types of discrimination. Their overall cause, our cultural system, is the same, but their manifestations are starkly different, bringing the issues to light is very different, and solving the issues is different. I think it's very important within feminist circles to be very clear in the terms we use, because using the same language to describe problems that have very different approaches to solving them is confusing.
I've talked a lot about how I believe a "problem" of feminism is that it is extremely ineffective at reaching "mainstream men." As in, your white, middle class, cisgendered men. Feminism casts issues from a feminine perspective, generally, because by using shared and common experiences, you can best reach your target audience. As a male feminist, attempting to reach a male audience, I (and people in our movement) need to use our shared and common experiences, which are necessarily different in many respects than women's experiences, in order to reach men. This necessitates a fundamentally different approach.
As I said within the context of talking to men about sexual assault: "talking to an oppressor is different than talking to the oppressed." That's not to say that men are not victims of the system we live in, and that many men do feel (rightly so) as if the system disadvantages them. Our system privileges certain men who perform masculinity a certain way. All "acceptable" masculinities have limitations, and men are no less victims to this than women are. However, they are not victims of the same things in the same way.
One of the reasons I sometimes cross-post, and I enjoy reading, Manboobz, is that David Futrelle's shining of a light on the MRAs also shines a light on a lot of underlying feelings and anger that men have at the system in which we live. While I tend to think that most of their ways to address or process their anger is misguided, it's there, and it's something we, as a feminists, have to find ways to address.
A second part of their argument, which I can't simply let slip by, is their reliance on the dictionary. Doctormindbeam writes, adding a dictionary definition at the end:
To begin, a linguistic pet peeve: words mean shit. You can’t simply redefine them to suit your needs. They have meanings, and they’re there for a reason. Namely, so that we can all fucking understand each other. In particular, “sexism:”
This is a pet peeve of mine. Dictionaries are great things. If you don't know what a word means, they can give you some pretty solid general definitions of words. But they're generally pretty poor at giving exact, specific, and academic meanings to words. Quite topical that this has happened this week, as this was brought up in the legal context by Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court Correspondent for the New York Times. He wrote in the context of Supreme Court Justices using dictionary definitions as evidence of the meaning of Constitutional phrases. Jesse Sheidlower, Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary is quoted in the piece as saying: "I think that it’s probably wrong, in almost all situations, to use a dictionary in the courtroom[.] Dictionary definitions are written with a lot of things in mind, but rigorously circumscribing the exact meanings and connotations of terms is not usually one of them.”
This equally applies in an academic setting or in other settings where we ascribe very specific meanings that represent complex ideas and theories to single words. If we moved out of the realm of the feminism, for instance, and sought out a definition of "communism," I'd suspect we'd find as many definitions as we have dictionaries, and more than a few people who have been willing to fight and die over those definitions. Recourse to a dictionary is a strawman argument that obscures actual differences in ideas and theories.
I'd also note, for the record, that the definition used is from wikipedia, and it has a warning at the top: "The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page. (January 2011)"
A few days ago, a man I know leveled an allegation at a woman of "reverse sexism." It was within the context of him alleged that referring to men as "guys" or "boys" was derogatory, infantilizing, and thus, "reverse sexism."
I feel like talking about sexism, and "reverse sexism" deserves a post of its own. Let me begin by saying that generally speaking, there is no such thing as "reverse sexism." There just isn't. When one uses the word "sexism," you're not just referring to say, a derogatory term for a woman (e.g. "slut"), but rather, sexism exists at a macro level. It describes a system that privileges men (and specific kinds of men) over and at the expense of women (all women generally, while privileging some women over others). A remark or action that we call "sexist" is sexist because it exists within that larger context. If you call me, a man, some slur, let's say "bastard," that's not "reverse sexism" or anything of the sort, because it's not a manifestation of a larger system that is working against me based on my sex.
And of course, as has often been noted, the worst slurs against men are ones that attack their masculinity, and thus their privilege within that system. Calling a man a woman (not a man), or gay (not a man within the traditional system) are the worst things you can usually call a man and aren't "reverse sexism."
Talking about examples probably best illustrates this: I've seen some men point out that since "the feminists" say that terms such as "gals," "ladies," "chick," because they are frequently infantilizing, dismissive and such, then similar terms "boys," and "guys," must also be similarly infantilizing and dismissive towards men. This is wrong. The terms described above for women are dismissive and infantilizing depending on their context and within the heteronormative patriarchy, which is where we after all live. The terms for men are not derogatory, and if we examine them specifically, we'll find out that they're actually privileged terms. Think of colloquialisms for each term. To be described as "one of the guys," is a good thing. It means fitting in. Men are almost automatically "one of the guys;" women are not. Same with the term "boy." (Discarding the racial use of the term for now.) I think of the phrase "boys will be boys" as a means to excuse behavior in (grown) men that would be unacceptable in women.
In fact, I can't really think of many terms for men that are derogatory and based on their sex. "Dick" comes to mind. All the others I can think of either are A) terms that reduce their masculinity by associating them with a woman (e.g. pussy), B) terms that relate them to women (e.g. motherfucker), or C) terms that are sex-neutral (e.g. asshole).
Now, I don't doubt some commenters might take issue with my description that the larger system isn't biased against men. A fairly typical MRA argument points to alimony, divorce law, custody, and things of that nature. Although addressing those points could very well be posts of their own, I would merely point out that those laws are structured in ways that "favor" women in order to redress the systemic imbalance that exists in the system. So rather than pushing a scale against men, it attempts to equalize. (Let me editorialize a bit about the scale metaphor, and just state that I strongly dislike metaphors describing women and men in some sort of "war" or having "sides.")
So next time you hear someone make an accusation of "reverse sexism," just remember, it simply doesn't exist.
Moving Towards Positive Images of Masculinities
One of the great obstacles in front of male feminists is moving from a negative understand of masculinity to positive visions. We have a pretty good sense of what we don't like about masculinity: the violence, the homophobia, the bravado, the low expectations of parenting, the lack of expectations of communications, etc., etc.
But we don't have well-defined positive visions of masculinity. I mean, there's a few things most people can agree to put their finger on as something positive: male visions of being an involved parent is one I can think of. A sincere and good fatherhood is certainly a positive vision of masculinity (for those who want to choose fatherhood).
Part of this, I think is that many developing feminist men have deep misgivings about their own sexuality. It's difficult, or at least it was difficult for me, doing even a small amount of anti-violence work, not to internalize some of the negative attitudes towards male sexuality. After all, so much of male sexuality is violent and brutal, and that's a big part of what once is exposed to doing anti-sexual violence work. And hearing that, I suspect that a lot of men experience some self-loathing and question or fear their own sexuality.
(As an aside, some men interpret an attack from feminist women on male sexuality as an attack on them personally and all men, and rather than developing a shame or misgivings about their own sexuality, channel those feelings as anger against "man-hating" feminists. I merely point it out to demonstrate how I think different people respond differently to these things.)
While internalized misgivings and shame about male sexuality is problematic in and of itself, what's most problematic is that most men (feminist or not) don't have the tools to resolve and work through issues. Men are socialized not to talk about their feelings or sexuality with other men. So that means we either unload on women, who really shouldn't have to deal with nascent male feminists (or developed male feminists) working through their issues with them, or we suppress these unhealthy feelings.
Really the solution to all of this is to talk about these kinds of issues with other men. It sucks. And it's hard. We really don't have a vocabulary of self-expression for emotional issues, having been socialized that it's "unmanly" to talk about our or others' feelings. We have to develop one that we can use with each other. Part of that is developing safe spaces where we can discuss these issues. Though one might glibly reply that all spaces are safe spaces for men, it's intellectually dishonest to pretend to that those spaces are safe spaces for feminist men to discuss feminism. The world, while not as hostile to men who choose to express feminism as it is to women (who choose to express feminism or who simply try to exist), certainly is hostile to these kinds of discussions from anyone, men or women.
So men, we need to try to create safe spaces. I hope that this blog can serve as one, but I'd like to ask, what are other men using as safe spaces? Do you have other men you can talk to about these issues? Please let us know in the comments!