A perspective on gender equality: neither feminist nor red pill

We need a more comprehensive perspective on gender that isn’t biased against particular genders.

© Dave DuBay

I began writing about men’s issues a few years ago because I wondered why mass shooters are almost always male.

In one article for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald I wrote that social pressure to be a “real man” can push some men and boys—especially if they feel insecure—toward violence. And the hazing men experience in all-male groups and frequent lack of deep male friendships can lead to social isolation.

The “real man” trope also creates problems for women. The chivalric notion that men must protect women can lead some men to feel like they’re entitled to control women, which can result in domestic violence. On top of that, increased gender equality can feel like a loss of status for some men, resulting in what sociologist Michael Kimmel calls “aggrieved entitlement.”

But a deeper problem is that we scold men instead of taking men’s issues seriously. Over three-quarters of suicides are male, but when gender is mentioned the focus is usually on women and girls. Females attempt suicide more than males, but a cry for help shows they believe someone might listen. Males commit suicide more often because they don’t think anyone will listen.

I pointed to our culture’s zero-sum approach to gender as part of the problem—talking about men’s issues means excluding women, except when moralizing at men about “toxic masculinity.” Instead, I wrote that “one way to encourage men to be more empathetic is to be more empathetic toward men.”

I’ve also pointed out that masculinity is multifaceted. I wrote two pieces saying we don’t need to redefine masculinity because positive masculinity has always existed.

In the second piece I questioned the agenda of redefining masculinity. I accused academia of having an anti-masculinity bias. Some academics even call for the abolition of men as a social category. But even mainstream academia finds little good in masculinity. I noted that,

The Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory has some positive descriptions of masculinity, but mostly negatives concerning things men to do other people. According to the Inventory, masculinity is about violence, dominance, being a playboy, having power over women, disdain for homosexuals, emotional control, self–reliance, winning, pursuit of status, making work primary, and risk taking.

The Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory also describes femininity in positive and negative terms. The negatives, however, are the effects of masculinity on women and girls. Femininity is about self as mother, being relational and connected, being silent and dependent, being married, looking young and thin, being ornamental, pleasant, relying on and deferring to men, and being virginal while also being sexy.

In contrast, I quoted Dr. Martin Seager’s nuanced statement that it’s not gender that’s toxic, but “gender influences the way and the pattern that damaged people (of either gender) follow when responding to their damage.”

And I quoted writer Rick Belden who observed that healthy masculinity is often defined as how men treat women. But how would we respond to someone saying that healthy femininity is about how women treat men? Belden concludes that we’d do well to shift our thinking: healthy masculinity starts with how well a man treats himself.

Instead of redefining masculinity I said we should focus on a man’s self-determination to be the man he wants to be so long as he respects the equal rights of others.

Though I had written several pieces for the Good Men Project, they decided not to publish this piece. GMP is a male feminist website, and I realized that feminism is too narrow.

In retrospect, I’m surprised I got away with as much as I did at the Good Men Project. I wrote that men are not second class citizens, but a group need not be oppressed for us to take their concerns seriously. Our failure to sometimes even acknowledge male victims of domestic violence is one example.

Part of the problem, I wrote in another GMP article, is that research shows that society has significant bias for women over men. This bias often manifests as a lack of empathy for men. For example, feminists tell men to show their vulnerability but also mock men with hashtags such as #masculinitysofragile.

In yet another article for for GMP I wrote that telling men to show their vulnerability is problematic when there’s little support offered when men do. I noted that the international concern for the girls Boko Haram kidnapped was matched with silence about the boys they’ve killed or kidnapped.

And I pointed to a Department of Justice study which found that a significant number of boys in juvenile detention are sexually abused—almost entirely by female staff—but the media and sexual assault prevention activists have largely ignored them. A bigger problem than acknowledging male vulnerability is talking about female perpetrators.

In this same piece I questioned

the popular belief that men arranged society to privilege men at women’s expense. But this doesn’t account for the reality that throughout history the common man was used as a beast of burden and as cannon fodder. Or that even today when most world leaders are men, the bottom of society — the chronically homeless, victims of violence, prisoners, combat deaths, etc. — is overwhelmingly male.

Concluding that,

Rather than privileging men over women, patriarchy is more accurately a small group of powerful men exploiting both women and men. An important distinction is that while men have had greater opportunity for power and status, this power and status is not automatic or guaranteed. Instead, it must be earned with correspondingly higher risk. Failed men are disdained while successful men are lauded and rewarded.

On my personal blog I have rejected the claim that believing in gender equality means one must be a feminist. I think feminism is about left-wing women’s self-interest. Mostly that means equality, but not always. But because feminism is a movement of women and for women, a male feminist must take his talking points from women. Otherwise he’s “mansplaining” women’s issues to women. But this limits a male feminist’s ability to speak authentically about gender from his own perspective.

Despite my criticisms of feminist misandry, though, I also think the men’s rights movement is the wrong approach. I’ve criticized the MRM for its right-wing identity politics. While noting that MRAs are angry because they feel dehumanized, I concluded that both the MRM and feminism are focused on self-interest to the point of diminishing the concerns of the opposite sex.

I also criticized MGTOW—male separatists, or “men going their own way”—for playing the victim, promoting misogynistic stereotypes about women, and not really going their own way if they’re still preoccupied with women.

MRAs seem to blame feminism for almost every difficulty men face. But feminists didn’t create the modern world (though they have contributed greatly to it). However, we do need a more comprehensive perspective on gender that isn’t biased against particular genders and which takes the concerns of all genders seriously.

The perspective I’ve been promoting hasn’t yet accomplished that. I’ve been writing almost entirely about men and boys in an attempt to articulate a male perspective on gender that takes men’s issues seriously without portraying men as victims, which doesn’t promote sexism against women, and which promotes equality.

I do this because I believe that the well being of men and boys matters to society as a whole. For Arc Digital I wrote that men’s roles are changing in unexpected ways, including record numbers of men dropping out of the workforce. The job market has changed greatly, but expectations of men’s earning power—which relates directly to men’s ability to find love—haven’t changed. So young men are increasingly dropping out. Further, Warren Farrell and John Gray recently wrote The Boy Crisis about boys falling behind on several measures in 63 developed countries, and the role that father deprivation plays.

Our first concern should be to promote men’s well being. And that directly supports concerns about the impact of men and masculinity on society at large, including decreasing violence and supporting economic growth.

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The Red Pill: A controversial documentary about the men’s rights movement

The latest documentary by sometime feminist Cassie Jaye has caused no small amount of controversy. More so than previous documentaries such as Daddy I Do, where she criticizes purity balls and father’s attempts to protect their daughter’s virginity. Or The Right to Love, which supports the fight for marriage equality.

The Red Pill looks at the men’s right movement, challenging what we think we know about gender issues. 

Tough questions

The film is controversial because of its positive portrayal of the men’s rights movement. Jaye gives A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam a sympathetic hearing without challenging him on his ranting online persona. Also unquestioned is men’s rights activists (MRAs) failure to take women’s issues seriously while demonizing feminists and blaming them for problems men face. And left unexamined is the claim that society is gynocentric.

But Jaye does ask feminists tough questions. They avoid the issue of paternity fraud and stand firm in their opposition to a legal presumption of shared parenting. On the issue of father’s rights Katherine Spillar from the Feminist Majority Foundation says a man’s choice happens before he has sex. Another feminist in the film says men have a responsibility not to put themselves in these situations. Which would be misogyny if someone said that about women. 

Later in the film feminist Michael Kimmel denies that domestic violence against men is a serious issue despite a Centers for Disease Control report (tables 4.7 and 4.8) showing that 5.066 million men have been pushed or slapped by an intimate partner in the past 12 months compared to 4.322 million women. Even with severe domestic violence the CDC found more male victims than most people would expect – 2.266 million men and 3.163 million women in the past 12 months.

Men and gender: It’s complicated

Since the advent of second wave feminism a half century ago men have struggled to proactively discuss gender issues. Today the Internet is the primary medium for MRAs to vent their concerns and anger, often anonymously. And anti-feminism is their focus.

Meanwhile, male feminists advocate men checking their privilege and acknowledging their collective guilt as oppressors. But feminism is a female perspective on gender where men’s issues are usually discussed in terms of how masculinity affects women. It’s difficult for men to speak genuinely about men’s lived experiences when taking their cues from women.

It’s a complex situation without a clear solution.

A movement is born

The central text of the men’s rights movement is The Myth of Male Power, written in 1993 by former male feminist Warren Farrell. His key point that the male role requires men to devalue their lives in the service of others sparked a movement even if it didn’t become mainstream.

Male disposability garners such little concern that few people have even heard of it. But MRAs present several statistics backed by United States government reports, including men being 93% of workplace deaths, almost four in five suicides, and 98% of combat deaths. They note that Boko Haram kidnapping girls generated an outpouring of international concern while the boys they burned alive were ignored.

Male disposability isn’t just about death. High divorce rates have decreased father involvement in children’s lives, reducing men’s value to a child support check. Yet research shows the essential role of fathers in children’s lives – boys especially. And boys are falling far behind girls in school, but little is being done about it.

Anger

MRAs are angry because they feel dehumanized. But feminists feel dehumanized by MRAs. Jaye shows footage of a feminist protest against Farrell without giving the context for why feminists labeled him a rape apologist. In The Myth of Male Power Farrell writes, “before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting.” MRAs respond that this quote must be understood in its larger context. Though Farrell was not advocating rape, flippant comments about rape are always cringeworthy.

Where do we go from here?

Both feminists and MRAs seem passionate about equality and sensitive to gender bias while at other times being anti-equality and promoting gender bias. But this isn’t as inconsistent as it seems. Both feminism and the MRM are primarily about self-interest.

In the end Jaye concludes that she supports gender equality but is neither a feminist nor a men’s rights activist. But she’s not sure what direction that might go in. Despite my criticisms of the documentary, I agree with Jaye’s conclusion.

The Painted Porch

Stoicism is valuable.

Stoicism has a bad reputation. I’ve criticized it in the past. But my misunderstandings were based on the colloquial sense of stoic in contrast to Stoicism as a philosophy.

And Stoicism’s IMG_0307core idea is a good one: you can’t control anything except yourself, so don’t sweat the rest.

The problem with suppressed passions is that they come back to bite us in the ass. Besides, emotional detachment isn’t self-control. It’s cheating, like painting the exterior of your house without renovating the interior. It looks good until you peek inside.

But Stoicism isn’t about emotional detachment. It’s about how to deal with intense emotions. Don’t lose your cool. Think clearly. Keep a level head.

Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Perhaps the closest modern equivalent is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – solution based psychotherapy focused on becoming more aware of how our thinking influences emotions and behavior. After all, emotions happen. We can’t stop that. But we can control our reactions. Marcus’s claim that, “very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking,” is CBT in a nutshell.

Or as Zeno of Citium put it, “Man conquers the world by conquering himself.” Zeno taught from a painted porch (stoa in ancient Greek) in the third century B.C. The serenity prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous is taken directly from Stoicism – change the things you can, accept the things you can’t change, and be smart enough to know the difference.


You can do what you want as long as you don’t fuck with other people and you own your shit.


Stoicism is about:

        • Doing what you want as long as you don’t fuck with other people and you own your shit.
  • Being honest with yourself about how you feel even when it’s uncomfortable. But don’t suck others into your psychodramas. Instead, you should advocate for your needs in a calm, matter of fact way that takes personal responsibility rather than blaming others.
  • Cooperation being your first move. Don’t retaliate if someone fails to reciprocate, but instead keep that person at a distance or simply walk away. Even self-defense should be limited to whatever is minimally necessary to contain the situation.
    • Not playing into someone’s self-pity or enabling others by trying to save them from their self-destructive behaviors. Instead, put the ball in their court by asking them what outcome they want and how they plan to achieve that.
  • Non-aggressively confronting someone who crosses your boundaries and holding them accountable. This means not telling other people what to do. And if someone tries to impose themselves on you, making it clear that it’s your choice to make, and you don’t accept their demand.
  • Non-aggressive communication means approaching with empathy and keeping defensiveness in check. Speaking in the first person and taking responsibility (“My understanding is…” or “What I want to see happen is…”). It means not making it personal. Refraining from accusations, judgements, or psychoanalyzing others, and instead asking someone to further explain their viewpoint.

 

Mother Wound: Am I a Traitor?

A topic I’d rather avoid came to the forefront recently via the myriad connections of the world wide web. Be Brave Campaign (to which I’ve previously contributed) highlighted a Huffington Post article by Rick Belden, a sometime contributor to insideMAN (a blog I’ve also contributed to). It’s almost like a conspiracy theory (if your imagination is vibrant enough).

Men and the Mother Wound” discusses a matter that Rick Belden frames this way: “I know my Father Wound well. It hurts but does not scare me. My Mother Wound terrifies me. It feels like a pit from which there is no return.”

Because I write with my real name I’m reticent to say anything too personal. Suffice it to say that Belden’s words are important. Before going on I think it’s important to say that no one can emerge from childhood without both a father wound and a mother wound because no one is perfect. Perfect parents don’t exist. And I’m not a parent, so I’m not about to pass judgment on people whose life experiences as parents are something I cannot truly understand.

That said, I want to add that I feel lucky that I don’t have a significant father wound. My dad has an enormous father wound, and he made the choice not to replicate that with me. He succeeded. I don’t know whether my sisters would say the same thing or not. But I do know my relationship with my dad is unique.

Before going on, I want to say something about how wounds happen in the first place. Simplistically, I’d say that we wound others from our own woundedness, and from the narrow perspective and lack of awareness our wounds engender.

What I mean is that very few people wound others maliciously (but those who do are psychopaths). I try to bear this in mind when someone does something hurtful. Rather than ascribe malicious intent the first course of action should be to try to understand this person better. Easier said than done, no?

Why is it so hard for men to talk about mother wound? Belden states that, “Most sons have been trained and are expected to be protective of their mother and her feelings at all costs.” He elaborates that as a child he was taught “that women (especially mothers) are inherently virtuous, self-sacrificing, and morally infallible, making a tough slog through the dark feminine underworld.”

But that stands in contrast to the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s “Mother.” This song is from The Wall, the uber-metaphor for men. “Mother” ends with the line, “Mother, did it have to be so high?” I suggest you listen to the song to get a full sense of what Roger Waters is communicating.

Belden is also concerned about the larger implications of mother wound:

It often seems that we are inundated with an apparently infinite stream of stories about misogyny, abuse, and violence inflicted on women by men, accompanied by similarly unending commentary as to the causes. But the one factor I almost never see included in these discussions is this: Many of these men are being driven, at least in part, by the powerful, unconscious emotional energy of an unresolved Mother Wound. Until we’re ready as a culture to explore and address the causes and implications of that, I don’t think we’re going to get too far in addressing the more dramatically problematic and damaging behaviors some men exhibit with women.

I could quote Belden’s entire piece, but I’ll take a shortcut and just recommend that you read his piece. But before I sign off for today, I want to second Belden’s statement that:

Any man who is consciously, actively working on his Mother Wound deserves support, understanding, and patience. By confronting one of our culture’s most powerful and deeply entrenched taboos, he is charting a necessary and critically important new route through largely unexplored territory for other men and doing some of the bravest, most critical work in the arena of modern masculinity.

 

Book Review: The Way of the Superior Man

Carrying around a book with a title like this might lead people to think I’m a narcissist. So I leave the book at home.

The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida has some good points, and some significant problems. It’s billed as a spiritual guide, but I found its spirituality to be over the top. Then again, I’m an atheist, so take that for what it’s worth.

Deida sets the standards for manhood quite high, to the point where keeping up could feel like you’re putting on a show. He also promotes simplistic stereotypes. It’s not as bad as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but it’s not much better. The worst example is chapter 28, which informs us that “each woman has a ‘temperature.'” Deida explains that, “In general, blonde, light-skinned, Japanese, and Chinese women are cooler. Dark skinned, brunette, redheaded, Korean, and Polynesian women are hotter.”

But Deida’s book does have some important insights. These insights also can apply to how women should treat men, though Deida is writing for men.

These include:

  • Don’t analyze your woman: She wants to feel loved, not picked apart.
  • Don’t tell a woman that she needs to fix her emotional problems: It’s her prerogative to make that decision on her own. Nor does a woman need a man to fix her problems for her. Instead, he should do everything he can to support her while she takes responsibility for her own issues. But if she chooses not to address her issues, and if these issues make a good relationship impossible, then he should leave her.
  • Stay with her intensity – to a point: When someone gets really emotional it’s easy to either sucked into the psychodrama or to withdraw from it (“We can talk about this when you’re not acting so crazy”). But Deida writes that, like “surfing ocean waves, mastery involves blending with your woman’s powerful energy and feeling the rise and fall of the moment.” And a man can do this “by standing your ground and loving so strongly that only love prevails.”
  • Don’t force her to make decisions: To do this is to abandon your responsibility and accountability.

Who Should Pay For Dinner?

A post recently appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. And again. And again.

It’s gone viral.

My first reaction was that a mother making her 6 year old boy take her on dates that the boy pays for – so he can learn how to be a gentleman – is reminiscent of dads taking their daughters to father/daughter proms to teach the girls how to be ladylike. But that’s not what I want to focus on.

For context, the original post is below. (The picture is of her 6 year old son taking money out of his wallet, but in the screenshot I cut most it because I don’t want to post a picture of a child without the parent’s permission.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.56.35 AM

There’s a flip side of this coin. One could ask if she’s also teaching her son that a gentleman doesn’t associate with a woman who isn’t ladylike, and being ladylike includes a woman showing proper deference toward a man.

I’m not advocating that. Teaching children manners and respect can be done just as easily in an egalitarian context.

As such I disagree with the way she equates traditional gender roles with respect. Don Draper from Mad Men has impeccable manners and always picks up the check. But he doesn’t treat women with respect. Alan Alda might split the check with his date, or take turns paying, but he also treats women as equals.

This leads headlong into the debate about who should pay for a date. One way to avoid the issue is saying that the person who asks for the date should pay. But we’re still firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles because men are required to ask for dates while it’s merely optional for women. That is, both asking for and paying for dates are traditionalist expectations women have of men.

This is where we need to inject some honesty:

Most of us want equality when it’s to our advantage but may argue that it’s not really about equality when equality isn’t to our advantage. This is true whether the issue is paying for dinner or doing the dishes. It comes down to self-interest.

But from the perspective of dating, equality, and who picks up the check I want to offer a solution based on game theory. I don’t mean game in the sense of pick-up artists. I’m talking about the “study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”

In a nutshell, the most effective strategy is to start by cooperating, but don’t just give away the store. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate, however, then walk away (but don’t seek revenge).

For a man, a cooperative move on the first date means picking up the check when it arrives and being prepared to pay for the whole thing.

At that point a woman could do a few different things. She could reciprocate his cooperation by offering to pay half, and if she does then he should accept. Or she could reciprocate by picking up the tab (or at least half of it) on the next date. The ball is in her court at that point, so on this second date he should wait to see what she does instead of taking the check right away.

But because she might not reciprocate, he should still be prepared to pay for the entire second date. If that happens he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but he will need to decide if he’s okay with this one-sided dynamic, or whether he wants to end things. If he chooses to go forward then he should acknowledge that that’s his choice.

The Commitment Phobia Myth

It’s been almost six years since my divorce, but only recently have I prioritized my romantic future. I’m not alone in taking it slow. I know other men who got divorced in their 30s or 40s but didn’t remarry until over a decade later.

We’re told that men are afraid of commitment, but there’s not much evidence to back this up. Women and men first marry around the same age, and men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce.

One of the men who remarried a while back after being single for fifteen years told me that as a middle aged man with one divorce under his belt, he had very specific ideas about what he wanted in a life partner. And it was mostly about emotional health, particularly how conflict is handled. He dated several women before remarrying, but was very selective about whom he would commit to.

In my view he was taking commitment very seriously, though many of the women he dated before he met his wife might have thought he was commitment phobic.

Part of the problem is that there may be an assumption that because men tend to be less selective about whom they’ll have sex with, men also must be less selective about whom they’ll marry. If a woman wants a commitment, but he’s being more selective, then she might feel like he wasn’t taking things seriously.

And as we reach middle age the dynamics of dating shift. For one, divorced men are often cautious because they know the emotional and financial price they could pay. In divorce it’s more often the man who loses his home and his children.

As well, in Dataclysm OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder uses dating site analytics to show that a woman’s desirability peaks in her 20s, where it’s extremely high; but it declines thereafter, becoming steep after 40. A man’s desirability, however, is more moderate until it peaks around age 40.

In other words, young women typically have more choices than men of any age. By middle age, however, men who date women their own age can afford to be more selective.

But in the long run it’s the quality of the relationship matters most. Every man who stays married will one day be married to an older woman.

Besides, many women over 40 are only interested in dating but not relationships. They seem overrepresented online, that strange world where serious relationship seekers are typically disappointed by the plethora of men looking for hookups, and the large number of women who think someone better might email her tomorrow.

My philosophy is that it can’t hurt to have an online presence, and free sites are best because online dating really isn’t worth paying for. With online dating there’s a larger number of single women in one place, but it’s better to meet someone in the real world because in-person interactions have fewer incentives for either party to be shallow.

Though a cliché, it really is true that my number one relationship pattern is me, and your number one relationship pattern is you. That’s why men who blame women for their relationship failures are seen as immature and possibly misogynist.

Yet, it often goes unchallenged when a woman blames men for her relationship failures. Putting women on a pedestal, however, is passive-aggressive sexism because it treats women as unable to take adult responsibility for themselves. It’s also unfair to men because being blameless is necessary for women to stay on the pedestal, and being blameless means finding someone to blame.

Taking it as far as playing the damsel in distress is even more problematic because the knight in shining armor won’t be her hero for long. In the end he cannot solve her problems for her, and having thus failed he becomes the new villain. Then the cycle repeats.

Dating often feels like a guarded activity where I’m hopeful but on the lookout for red flags. Women usually avoid men who have negative attitudes toward women, but it’s just as important for men to avoid women who have a negative attitude toward men. Other common red flags include people who blame others and who won’t acknowledge their contributions to past relationship failures, people who try to change (i.e. control) others, and people around whom you feel like you must walk on eggshells.

But in the end, emotionally healthy people attract other emotionally healthy people. So one’s own emotional health is the necessary starting point.