Feminism and incivility

Incivility is the order of the day. And this incivility finds its roots in moralistic self-righteousness, which leads to a sense of urgency where any means are justified. Such people don’t even realize they’ve abandoned their values. That’s one reason why President Donald Trump’s supporters are willing to excuse anything he does.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, Arizona. © Dave DuBay

But this phenomenon is not limited to the right. Decades ago second wave feminist and sometime Ms. magazine editor Robin Morgan said, “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”

Her sense of entitlement is noteworthy. Hatred is not excusable because someone is oppressed. Hatred is self-betrayal of what you say you stand for. And the claim that sweeping and derogatory generalizations about a group of people is not hate if you lack power is a paper thin rationalization.

Feminists today take to Twitter with hashtags like #menaretrash, #maletears, and #masculinitysofragile. They say they’re being ironic, but as I noted earlier this is a passive-aggressive excuse for dehumanizing half the human race.

Yes, there are feminists who oppose sexism in all forms, just as there are conservatives who are true to their beliefs. Double standards, however, are too often the case.

Progressives were outraged when Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” But the truth is that he was repeating a feminist meme that said men instead of refugees (and M&Ms instead of skittles). Where was the progressive outrage then?

Worse, Lena Dunham recently called for the extinction of straight white men – a comment that rightly would be labeled fascist had it targeted any other group.

What is feminism?

Conservative columnist George Will left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump. And some feminists have left feminism to pursue more balanced gender equality instead. That’s integrity.

Feminism is about women’s self-interest. Usually this means promoting equality, but sometimes it means being anti-equality. For example, the National Organization for Women opposes shared parenting after divorce (but NOW has since deleted the link).

Feminists often don’t see this as a double standard because many of them believe that men arranged society to privilege men at women’s expense. But like most conspiracy theories this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Throughout most of history men have not been privileged. Ancient kingdoms and empires were tyrannies run by small groups of men. The common man – the overwhelming majority of the male population – was a beast of burden and cannon fodder. The common man did gain rights before women, but the gap between universal male suffrage and universal female suffrage is less than a century.

We’ve yet to have a movement with a comprehensive focus on gender issues. And there won’t be anytime soon.


Jane Fonda & Lilly Tomlin Talk About Female Friendships

…but that’s not what I want to write about. I typically find one or two things that catch my attention, which I use a springboard. Besides, I’m a man and I write about men. And anything I’d have to say about women’s friendships would be like a blurry black-and-white photo while Fonda & Tomlin’s talk is in color and in focus.

If you want to learn about women’s friendships then watch the YouTube video, which I highly recommend. For my tangential thoughts, keep on reading. Or do both.

At one point in the video the host, Pat Mitchell, says that men always seem a bit mystified when the topic of women’s friendships comes up. She asks Jane Fonda about the difference between women’s and men’s friendships.

Fonda says there’s a big difference. That might be a controversial statement in some circles. But in my experience it’s true.

I don’t see men forming close bonds with the same frequency as women. And I personally struggle with getting emotionally close to other men. I find it easier to tell women how I feel. My emotional connection with my closest male friend involves laughing as we do imitations of people we know (in real life or from TV).

At the men’s group I joined a few months ago I’m constantly being asked: You told us what happened, but how do you feel about it? It’s second nature for me to list the facts, as if my life were no different from a geological survey. But the other men there lay their emotional cards on the table. It’s a matter of respect for them that I do the same. But I go blank when trying to open up with them. And they have feelings about the way I hold back from them.

Yet, when Fonda says that women need to have empathy for men because men don’t have the deep friendships women have, the mostly female audience laughs derisively.

Both Fonda and Tomlin seem surprised at that response. I’m not. There are a thousand subsets of feminism, and in my post about male stoicism I noted that feminism has at times encouraged and opposed open emotional expression from men.

A lot of women have been hurt by men, and the need for men to be more empathetic – especially toward women – is a prominent feminist theme. No wonder it took some audience members by surprise when Fonda expressed her view that men need more empathy from women.

But feminists who laugh at the notion of empathy for men are promoting rather than opposing patriarchal values (though probably not intentionally).

When we talk about gender issues we usually mean women’s issues. But we’re not discussing gender issues if we’re focused only on one gender. That’s why Fonda’s comment is important, and why the audience’s response was off key.

Later, Fonda says that “men are born every bit as relational as women are.” What changes? Her perspective is that patriarchal culture teaches boys that to need a relationship is girly. And being girly is absurd because emotional connection is a type of weakness.

Feminists seek to turn that notion on its head. And Fonda clarifies that women’s greater relational skills don’t make women better than men, it’s just that women don’t have to prove their masculinity.

Empathy is about recognizing another person’s shared humanity. As such, anyone who scoffs at empathy for this or that person or group is failing to recognize their shared humanity. And any group or movement that fails to challenge the lack of empathy within its ranks will find its ability to do good compromised one misstep at a time.

The problem is that traditional values such as “suck it up and be a man” means no empathy for men, and that’s taught by showing no empathy for boys. In the parlance of our times, “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” But when you show no empathy toward someone that person’s capacity for self-empathy is impaired, and so it’s harder for them to learn how to be empathetic toward others.

But feminism isn’t known for its empathy toward men. The feminist meme “I bathe in male tears” truly is ironic as feminists claim, but the irony is feminist promotion of patriarchal values. But as Jane Fonda shows, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this apparent misandry represents the entire feminist movement.

Final thought. People often ask why we should even talk about men’s issues since men are not oppressed. But I think the oppression question is unhelpful. It’s not that oppression isn’t a serious issue, it’s just that social justice sometimes seems like a one trick pony. If oppression is the only lens to view things through then men must either pretend to be oppressed or have men’s issues ignored. Yet, any social norm that prevents people from reaching their potential is an issue, and because we’re all in this together we can only succeed if we look at the big picture.

Identity Crisis: Are You Wanted When You’re Not Necessary?

Everyone needs a positive identity to thrive as a person. And identity isn’t just individual: we all belong to groups based on gender, race, religion, and so on. You might view your identity a certain way, but you’ll find yourself in the position of feeling misunderstood if society views the identity of your group differently. Or affirmed if social attitudes shift. Society’s shift from seeing gays and lesbians as deviants to average citizens is one example.

The problem with men, according to Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young, is that today’s world leaves

men unable to make even one contribution to society, as men, which is distinctive, necessary and can therefore be publicly valued—that is, unable to establish a healthy collective identity specifically as men. The result of this emptiness is a growing tendency to give up either by dropping out of school and or by committing suicide. Ideological feminists have thrown down the gauntlet, on the other hand, by ascribing to men a highly negative collective identity. The result of this misandry is an increasing number of men who believe that even a negative collective identity is better than no collective identity at all.

Misandry is hatred of men. That society promotes hatred toward men is a dramatic claim that contradicts the current cultural narrative. I agree that misandry can exist on an individual level. Regarding society in general, however, I would rather make the more cautious claim that contempt for men (which is milder than hatred) is socially acceptable in a way that contempt for women is not.

For example, in a recent Huffington Post article about photos exploring “a version of masculinity that is more expansive, and more vulnerable, than the kind often represented in mainstream culture,” a reader commented, “As pointed out in the splendid documentary THE MASK YOU LIVE IN, ‘masculinity’ is nothing more than rejection and repudiation of that which is considered feminine.”

I’ve seen The Mask You Live In. I’m not sure the filmmakers would make the absolutist claim that masculinity is “nothing more” than a rejection of the feminine, which implies that masculinity has no positive aspects of its own. But this is a common notion in progressive circles. And this line of thinking can easily lead to the belief that to be a man (i.e. being masculine) is to be a hollow shell.

In the past, both women and men had essential roles that for the most part were biologically driven. Before modern machines most men did physical labor. With their greater upper body strength, men were far more adept at this than most women, especially considering that women in the past were pregnant far more often than women today. Thus it was men who built the pyramids, cathedrals, and roads; who did the heaviest farm labor; and who provided physical protection from natural disasters and warring neighbors.

In the modern era we no longer need men to be beasts of burden. And most men are glad about that.

But what unique role do men play today?

Women’s unique role has always been the creation of life. And that’s still true today. But what about women who can’t have children, don’t want to have children, or who do have children but don’t want motherhood to define their identities as women?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow described our hierarchy of needs. The basic idea is that you must take care of essential physical needs such as food, shelter, and safety before you can worry about psychological needs such as love, esteem, and self-actualization.

Self-help books fly off the shelves because people in modern American society are so obsessed with finding their true selves, and this quest is a direct indication of how dramatically the average economic standing has risen compared to past generations.

Today, a positive identity is based on social roles rather than the physical roles associated with basic survival needs. Even if a woman defines her identity in terms of motherhood, being a mother is still something more than that. It’s about the kind of mother she is.

But a key point that Nathanson and Young make is that identity can’t just be individual. Identity exists in a social context, so in addition to being distinctive, this group identity must also be necessary and publicly valued. Even if an individual woman doesn’t want to have children, the fact remains that women collectively are essential to the continuation of the human species, and this is publicly recognized and valued. Just think about how big Mother’s Day is compared to Father’s Day.

Men’s negative collective identity is based on the fact that human violence (especially war) is overwhelmingly a male endeavor. The problem is the attitude that all men are to blame. In fact, the world’s violence is perpetrated by a minority of men, and men are also the majority of the world’s victims of violence. Most men go to war without choice. Sharing certain anatomical features with the one exploiting you doesn’t mean you’re to blame for being exploited.

Still, the claim that human beings would be better off if men were reduced to ten percent of the population doesn’t generate the outrage we’d find if this were said about other groups.

But now that scientists can create artificial sperm, I wonder if it could soon be possible for two women to have a biological child. Certainly this would be a great opportunity for lesbian couples. Of course, because there would be no Y chromosome in the mix, any offspring would be female. That, combined with the possibility of sex selective abortion (which in Western cultures would likely favor females), could theoretically tip the sex ratio in women’s favor over several generations. Though this scenario is quite unlikely.

But what if science could also make women unnecessary? The artificial womb (a machine that gestates a fetus) could be a reality sometime this century. That men might be able to have children without needing a woman, just as women today can become pregnant through a sperm bank, raises any number of questions about what societal shifts might occur.

One shift, though, would be that women might no longer have a distinctive, necessary, and publicly valued contribution to society. Perhaps this is why some have called artificial wombs misogynist (though they don’t carry this to its logical conclusion by calling sperm banks misandrist). Other critics try to distract from progressive’s anxiety with fevered speculations of how the right wing might react.

It would put women and men, however, in the equal position of having to forge an identity not from biology, but from something culturally constructed. As such, I doubt artificial wombs (if they even happen) will be as much of a threat to women’s identities as some might fear. Feminism has already made headway toward women’s identities not being narrowly defined by motherhood, and artificial wombs would help complete this process.

Men are the first to face the identity crisis of how to be socially valued even if they’re not biologically necessary because machines that replace brawn were easier to invent than gestation machines. And men, unlike women, have not benefited from seeing it coming.

I wish I had a straightforward answer for the male identity crisis, but I don’t. It’ll have to work itself out organically.