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

redpillThe 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.

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“The Fall” and the pedestal

Telegraph Pass Phoenix, Arizona
Telegraph Pass
Phoenix, Arizona

Gillian Anderson’s The Fall keeps generating controversy. Political columnist Cathy Young calls the TV show “fauxminist,” disagreeing with some who call it the most feminist show on TV.

Almost every male character being bad or useless is a tradition of films with female heroes such as Thelma & Louise and Maleficent. But Young notes that even some feminists have wondered if The Fall is misandrist (man hating).

Alyssa Rosenberg writes in the Washington Post that The Fall suggests “all men are capable of terrible things. That’s the sort of sentiment that anti-feminists accuse feminists of using to smear innocent men, and that most U.S. feminists would aggressively deny believing.”

That it’s almost exclusively men who abuse and sexually exploit others is unquestioned. But is that true?

Society puts women on a pedestal. Traditionally, God is a man and Satan is a man. But as former feminist Warren Farrell notes, feminists say God could be a woman but Satan is a man. My take is that that men’s rights activists think God is a man and Satan is a feminist.

Or maybe both God and Satan can be either male or female.

The media, however, often ignore stories that challenge the notion that women are angels and men are devils. The Justice Department found that a significant number of boys in juvenile detention are sexually abused by staff. But it didn’t make headlines. Does the fact that 95% of the perpetrators are women (despite women being a minority of the staff) have anything to do with burying the story?

The Department of Health and Human Services found that a slight majority of child abusers are women. The Centers for Disease Control found that men are almost as likely as women to be emotionally abused by an intimate partner (Tables 4.9 & 4.10). And while 1 in 4 women have experienced severe domestic violence, so have 1 in 7 men  – making men about a third of the victims. And despite an almost exclusive focus on teen girls as victims of dating violence, it turns out that boys are almost as likely to be experience dating violence.

The CDC also found that 1.27 million women have been raped by an intimate partner (Table 2.1) while the figure for men is almost non-existent. But that’s because  a woman forcing a man to have sex isn’t considered rape. However, 1.267 million men have been “made to penetrate” (Table 2.2), and 79.2% of the perpetrators are women (page 24).

None of this means we should vilify women. But we shouldn’t vilify men either. Almost every human being, man or woman, has the potential to be violent in certain circumstances – particularly with their significant other. But acknowledging this means departing from the view of gender dynamics that dominates academia and pop culture today.

Something’s Missing From the 2016 Democratic Platform

It’s great to see strong support for women’s rights in the Democracy Party’s platform. Similar support for men’s issues is essential to achieve gender equality.

By Dave DuBay. Read more at the Good Men Project

2016’s most important men’s book

Philip Zimbardo & Nikita Coulombe step outside the box and offer real solutions.

Philip Zimbardo’s 2011 TED Talk “The demise of guys” became a short IMG_0481
ebook
by the same title. And with coauthor Nikita Coulombe it’s now a full length book called Man Interrupted.

Zimbardo is best known for the Stanford prison experiment where he found that social situations have a far greater effect on behavior than most of us think.

In Man Interrupted, Zimbardo & Coulombe look at challenges facing young men today, and how societal changes contribute to this.


Notice that these are symptoms, not causes. 


The book has three parts: symptoms, causes, and solutions. Symptoms include excessive porn and video game use, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, and opting out of the workforce. Notice that these are symptoms, not causes.

The causes are absent dads, failing schools, environmental changes, technology enabling arousal addiction, and entitlement versus reality.

Let’s dig a little deeper before I get to their solutions. First, they note that human behavior is complex, and simple explanations won’t do – especially pejorative explanations.

How does a young man contend with female dominated schools that are biased against boys, environmental factors that reduce testosterone levels, a culture that recognizes women’s needs while ignoring men’s needs, and a poor job market? And what if he has no father or male mentor to guide him?

We can judge the easy escape of violent video games and readily available pornography (which fails to depict real sexuality). Or we can try to empathize and support him.


Boys need men – especially fathers – as mentors.


“Knowing that they’re needed motivates [men], and they want respect from…other men.” But Zimbardo & Coulombe emphasize that “respect needs to come from doing pro-social things that make life better…not…from out-drinking their buddies or doing some stupid shit.” But to accomplish this boys need men – especially fathers – as mentors.

Instead, society is alienating young men by devaluing fathers, with a political atmosphere that puts women on a pedestal while ignoring or even mocking men’s concerns, and mass media portraying men as buffoons while also encouraging male entitlement.

Referencing Erik Erikson‘s psycho-social development theory, they note that Western society’s distorted ideals often short-circuit the adolescent task of balancing the ideal self with reality. Anger and entitlement rise when we fail “to come to terms with the fact that we are no more special than anyone else.”

For grown men this discrepancy can be heartbreaking. Often a father’s value is more about finances than love. But compared to mothers, twice as many fathers wish they could spend more time with their children.


“Men’s friendships are based on what abilities they bring to the group – remembering that their life is devalued but their skillsets are not.”


How do we address this? Zimbardo & Coulombe advocate going beyond society’s female-centric conversations, which alienate men. We need to treat father’s rights as equal to mother’s rights. We also need to dispel the myth that mothers or other men can serve as replacements for fathers. We need to make fatherhood a priority.

We also need to acknowledge that men as a group have more power than women, but this power comes with tradeoffs. They quote a soldier’s description of the male gender role: “Men’s friendships among peers in competitive atmospheres are based on what abilities they bring to the group; remembering that their life is devalued but their skillsets are not. Showing concern means that you question their ability.”

That almost four out of five suicides are men and boys – an issue which first appears when puberty begins – should be a wakeup call that something’s wrong. But instead there’s societal indifference.


To “harness the power of young men, society is going to have to care about its young men.”


With a nod to men’s writer Warren Farrell, Zimbardo & Coulombe conclude that true power is about control over your life “and having access to fulfilling personal experiences.” But the traditional male role – earning money for others and dying sooner – doesn’t meet that definition. They warn that “if society wants to harness the constructive power of its young men, society is going to have to care about its young men.”

Now to the solutions. They promote political support for a White House Council on Boys and Men, noting that there’s already one for girls and women. Male mentorship programs are important. There’s also a government Office of Women’s Health, but not for men.

They detail extensive school reforms to help boys succeed. They encourage physical activity rather than medication for ADHD (and learning to dance is a great way to do this).

Boys need better sex education, including discussions about peer pressure, consent, boundaries, and the difference between porn and reality.

Men need to teach boys respect for women through actions as well as words. Boys need to know that it’s not okay to call women sluts or hos, but boys also need to learn to avoid the princess (the entitled woman).

Finally, we need to pressure the media to portray men in a more positive and multifaceted light. Zimbardo & Coulombe advocate a “reverse Bechdel Test” with mature and responsible fathers, honest hard-working men, women valuing men before they becomes heroes, and men who resolve conflicts in creative non-violent ways.

Are women the future of men?

Gender equality is an uncharted course. Men must create a new compass. Women can’t do it for us.

IMG_0525The mainstream media is paying more attention to men’s issues. Jack Myers writes in Time.com that discouraged, angry young men are the “lean out” generation. More women than men are graduating from college, and women are holding more positions of authority. A young man today cannot support a family on his income alone. And among 20-somethings her income might be higher than his.

Masculinity today is at a transition point because the significant shift in women’s status has changed the male role by proxy. Men must walk a tightrope of accepting women’s equality while also living up to men’s and women’s expectations of traditional masculinity.


We need a “new narrative.”


Something’s gotta give. Today’s increasing gender equality is uncharted territory, and men need to create a new compass.

I agree wholeheartedly with Myers that we need a “new narrative that welcomes young men into a truly gender-equal society,” and which avoids “the trap of believing that the future of men is an ‘either, or’ confrontation with the women’s movement.”

He advocates for important changes our culture needs to make:

  • Support paternity leave and value stay-at-home dads (and I’d include promoting equal custody after divorce).
  • Encourage men to enter traditionally feminine careers such as nursing and social work (and, I’d add, encourage women to equally value men who make non-traditional career choices).
  • Advocate for media and entertainment to portray men as “responsible, competent and caring husbands, sons and fathers, instead of idiots and/or misogynists.”
  • Do something about boys falling behind in school.
  • Foster better relationships by opening women’s support programs to men.

Myers adds that we must “no longer accept the outdated mantra that ‘men will be men, and boys will be boys.’” And he calls for zero tolerance of sexism and misogyny. Not only is the “boys will boys” mantra too often used as an excuse for harmful behavior, it also devalues boys and men by setting low expectations.

However, zero tolerance moralism can create defiance. To avoid that, we must get to the root of men’s sexism through compassionate, non-violent communication.

But I don’t advocate Myer’s statement that “the future of men is women.” I think men must resolve men’s issues.


The future of men is men.


The future of men is men – older men mentoring a new generation of young men while also advocating for social change.

Feminism examines gender issues from women’s perspectives, so a male feminist can’t define gender issues or solutions without mansplaining. It also leaves little room for a man to disagree with particular feminist opinions. But this constrains his ability to speak authentically about the male experience.

The men’s rights movement, however, is anti-feminist. I’m not anti-feminist, so my attempts to discuss gender issues and equality from a male point of view place me outside of both feminism and the MRM – which I see as a false dichotomy anyway.

What do young men need? Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe write in Man Interrupted that “knowing that they’re needed motives” men, and what men want most is respect – especially from other men. “But that meaningful respect needs to come from doing pro-social things,” not destructive things like being good at dominating others, drinking, or taking unnecessary risks.

A boy needs a man to guide his energy toward mastery of a pro-social skill.

Are men second class citizens? No, but that’s the wrong question.

Men are not second class citizens, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take men’s issues seriously. Addressing both women’s and men’s issues is not a zero sum game. Continue reading Dave DuBay’s article on the Good Men Project.

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Click the image to watch Australia’s Weekend Sunrise video.

Can you believe in gender equality but not be a feminist?

If you believe in gender equality then you’re a feminist. If you doubt that then look feminism up in the dictionary. It’s a popular argument that’s difficult to disagree with without being labeled anti-equality.

But does it follow that if you’re not a feminist then you’re anti-equality? It reminds me of the question, “How can you be moral if you don’t believe in God?” The black or white dichotomy such questions create is problematic.

Another problem is the attempt to define other people’s labels for them. A better questions is, “What do you call yourself?” And, “What’s your perspective on equality?” These questions are open ended and don’t push an agenda.

Feminism advocates for gender equality from a female point of view. This matters because the Seneca Falls Convention was held 168 years ago, but recorded human history stretches back 10,000 years. But men seem inconsistent in finding their voice about gender equality.

Feminism has changed men’s roles because women’s roles can’t change without shifting men’s place in society. But that change happens to men – we don’t have a choice. And that feeling of having no choice is one reason why men’s rights activists are angry with feminism. Feminists sometimes respond by saying that men need to understand that men benefit from feminism too. And while that’s generally true, the patronizing tone doesn’t help.

The men’s rights movement isn’t the answer, though. Their rightwing talking points fail to support women’s issues. Men’s rights activists even claim that feminism isn’t really about equality.

IMG_0497

Beehive Mountain, Acadia National Park

So is being a male feminist the answer? I agree with blogger Ally Fogg that feminism is a movement of women, by women, and for women. Men can’t define the issues or offer solutions. Men can’t even takes sides in disagreements within feminism without it being mansplaining. As a result, a male feminist must take his cues from women. This means avoiding certain issues and having his statements scrutinized for ideological purity, all of which constrain his ability to speak authentically about the male experience.

Fogg also points out that feminism is mainly concerned with issues men cause, not issues men face. And of course, issues that men face are for men to describe.

A return to the pre-feminist past is neither desirable nor realistic. Instead, I write in an attempt to develop a male perspective on gender equality and gender issues without the constraints of male feminism, but also without the anti-feminist and rightwing perspective of the men’s rights movement. This is a male viewpoint that runs parallel to much of feminist thought but which is also free to disagree with feminism at certain points.

Final thought: while I don’t expect people to agree with me (I’m simply defining my personal viewpoint), I also reject the moralistic judgments people sometimes make because I’m not choosing the labels they think I should choose. It is each person’s prerogative to choose their own labels and to define their own perspectives, and the attitude that someone must call themselves this or that disrespects that individual’s choice.