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.

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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.

Grandma & Rita. Also, Nurse Jackie: Another Mixed Up Not Quite Movie Review

I don’t really write movie reviews. I’ll say I liked a movie without saying exactly why, then I’ll point to something about the movie that made me think, and I’ll go off on a tangent. So bear with me. Oh, and spoilers everywhere.

Grandma stars Lily Tomlin as grandma, aka Elle Reid. I’ve loved Lily Tomlin since I was a little kid. In the 1970s she would guest star on Sesame Street as a character my sisters and I called the retarded girl. I know, not a nice thing to say. And not something I’d say today as an adult and a social worker.

Tomlin sat in a giant rocking chair, dressed like a child. It was a skit she had done since the early ’70s on Laugh-In. As a five year old watching Sesame Street I thought she really was a child, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. My mother claimed that Tomlin wasn’t small. Instead, the chair was big. But Jean Piaget told us almost a century ago that little kids don’t get stuff like that. Hence a child’s conclusion that Tomlin had special challenges.

Lately she’s played Frankie in the Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, which is about two women whose husbands divorce them for each other. It’s an ingenious and hilarious look at gay marriage.

But I digress.

In Grandma, Tomlin’s granddaughter Sage is pregnant and has decided to have an abortion. The film doesn’t hem and haw over a choice that’s she’s already made, nor does it debate the issue. The problem is finding enough money to pay for the abortion. Bravo.

Grandma is really about women mending relationships. There’s grandma’s grief over the death of her long time partner and fear of committing to the new woman in her life. And there’s grandma’s broken relationship with her daughter while Sage deals with similar mother-daughter issues.

But in the tradition of feminist films such as Thelma & Louise and Maleficent, every man in Grandma is either an asshole or is useless.

Sage’s boyfriend is an irresponsible kid with a beard that looks like an armpit on your face (I laughed out loud at that line). When grandma tells the boy that he is responsible for half the cost of the abortion, he threatens her with a hockey stick. So she grabs it and slams him in the nuts.

Later, grandma finds her ex-husband (played by Sam Elliott), and he manages to extort a kiss from her in exchange for loaning her the money. But then he tries to extort sex. And once he finds out what the money is for, he adamantly refuses because grandma aborted their child 50 years ago without even telling him she was pregnant.

The only (presumably) decent man in the film is married to a woman with a women’s studies degree, but she won’t let him speak.

Still, I enjoyed the film Grandma (and Themla & Louise and Maleficent), and I recommend seeing it.

But Grace De Rond, writing for the Good Men Project, asks “Why Is America the Home of Male Bashing?” She married a man from the Netherlands, and she writes about questions he had when he first experienced American culture first hand. “Why was Papa Berenstain clumsy and over-reactive? And why was he portrayed as a poor husband and dad?” I would add, why is every TV dad a variation of Homer Simpson?

De Rond observes that “This stereotyping of males was new to him because his country doesn’t have a male bashing culture.”

The Danish TV show Rita (which Netflix said I’d like because I watched a Swedish film) illustrates De Rond’s point.

It’s a great show about a nonconformist teacher who really cares about her students, but whose personal life is a bit dysfunctional. Rita’s ex-husband is a narcissist who isn’t involved in the lives of his kids. He left Denmark for London long ago.

Rita is flawed too, however. Yes, she cares about her students. But she’s unable to maintain adult relationships. The headmaster, Rasmus, is a kind man who’s looking for a relationship. But Rita just can’t maintain it, even though Rasmus is great with her kids, one of whom is her gay teenage son.

Rasmus ends up leaving Rita for a woman who’s serious about wanting a relationship. Meanwhile, there are plenty of cads hitting on Rita.

Finally, though Rita’s heterosexual son is a somewhat irresponsible young man, upon becoming a father he does a 180 and become a devoted husband and father.

Rita’s fellow teacher is a young woman who grows personally and professionally as the show goes on. She also struggles with a boyfriend who might not be up to the task of fatherhood, but he eventually comes around too.

My point is that Hollywood has long featured women in push up bras and low IQs, and feminist themed films turn the tables on that. But from what I’ve seen of Scandinavian film and TV, there’s far less gender stereotyping and more character complexity. No wonder De Rond’s husband looked at American culture and was like, seriously?

But there’s hope. The American cable TV show Nurse Jackie features a Rita-like lead character who goes the extra mile for her patients, but who totally fucks up her personal life because of drug addiction. But she tries her hardest to turn her life around.

Her husband (and then ex-husband) is not perfect either. But he is a devoted dad who provides his daughters with some stability. The show has other positive male characters as well.

One of the most interesting characters, however, is Zoey. In the first season she’s nurse fresh out of school, a callow and naive girl. But her character develops bit by bit, and suddenly you realize she’s become a professional and in-charge woman who fills the professional void Jackie has left behind.

Is There A Right to Become a Parent?

What do you do when one person’s rights conflict with someone else’s rights? You might see my alleged right as a sense of entitlement.

Your right to free speech conflicts with my right not to be offended. Your religious rights conflict with my right to marry the person I love. Your right to become a parent conflicts with my right to not become a parent without my consent.

I’ve written about boundaries on several occasions. The basic idea is that there is no right to impose yourself on others, even when the situation is heartbreaking. An op-ed piece in the New York Times asserts that a husband who agreed to have children has, upon divorce, an obligation to pay for his ex-wife’s fertility services. Calling it “alimony for your eggs,” the op-ed notes that “Her ex may have many years left to start a new family of his own, but by the time she meets a new partner, it may be too late.”

That a woman has a right to change her mind is accepted (though it took much effort to change society’s mind). Does a man also have a right to change his mind? Does a woman deserve compensation for delaying pregnancy? Or is it her choice for which she is responsible?

These are complex questions that vary for each couple and individual. Sometime a woman puts off pregnancy because she doesn’t want to have kids or doesn’t feel ready yet, because she can’t find a suitable partner, because her partner says he isn’t ready, because of her career ambitions, and so on.

Dr. Mimi C. Lee has no other chance to have children, except by using frozen embryos created with her ex-husband. He agreed to become a father when they were married, but upon divorce he withdrew his consent. But Lee is a cancer survivor in her mid-40s. That he could end her dream of motherhood seems hugely unfair.

But let’s reverse the gender roles. Sofia Vergara (from TV’s Modern Family) found herself in a legal dispute with her ex Nick Loeb, who wants to use embryos they created. Vergara wouldn’t have to be pregnant against her will – Loeb would use a surrogate. Still, a woman possibly becoming a parent against her will, even if she isn’t required to become pregnant, puts the debate in a different light.

But it shouldn’t. The issue comes down to consent. If a woman is already pregnant then it’s her body, and it’s her choice. If she wants to have the baby, but he doesn’t, then it’s an impasse and someone’s will must prevail. No one has the right to force something on her physically that she doesn’t consent to. So the man is out of luck, even if that means paying 18 years of child support.

Embryos, however, are in test tubes. Not implanting them in the woman’s body isn’t about what is being done to her. It’s about what’s not being done to her. And half the genetic material is his. The condition of pregnancy does not yet exist, and she has no right to force him into parenthood against his consent – even if he previously consented but now withdraws his consent.

The tragedy is that this might end any opportunity for some women to become a mothers. But no one, woman or man, is entitled to create a pregnancy (even with a surrogate) when the other potential parent has denied or withdrawn consent.