Women owe men nothing. Men owe women nothing.

Not even respect.

© Dave DuBay

Many of us were taught as children that no one owes us anything. It’s meant to curb any sense of entitlement we may be developing.

From this it follows that we don’t anyone anything. But this assertion is sometimes seen as impudent. And that can lead to a situation where we feel obligated to others while lacking the right to set boundaries.

Epictetus was a former slave turned philosopher. He counsels us to know what belongs to us and what does not belong to us. Other people and other things are not ours. But our deliberate choices do belong to us.

Further, there are two aspects to not touching things that aren’t ours. One is not taking something that belongs to someone else. The other is refusing to accept things that we don’t want.

For example, let’s say you don’t like a choice I’ve made. And let’s say you criticize that choice using judgmental language. My choice doesn’t belong to you, and your judgement doesn’t belong to me. I can neutralize your judgement, not by striking back at you, but simply by pointing out what belongs to whom and making clear that I reject your judgement.

That is, I can refuse to touch something that doesn’t belong to me. And I can drive the point home by noting that your opinion on the matter is irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because your judgement only impacts my choice if I allow it to. If I choose to disregard your judgement then your judgment become moot.

Easier said than done, of course.

And nowhere are these boundaries more problematic than with gender roles. The sexual assault scandal has brought many men’s attitude of entitlement toward women’s bodies into painful focus.

Yes, women can say no. But a culture that supports this is necessary to make it feel like a more viable choice for women. A popular meme along these lines is:

Women don’t owe men anything.

That’s an important message to teach girls and boys from the youngest age. But it’s incomplete unless taught in conjunction with what logically follows:

Men don’t owe women anything.

The basic notion is that not owing or being owed applies regardless of our demographic profile.

There is no equality if something is not given freely.

But don’t we owe each other respect?

No.

Good manners and politeness are one thing. They smooth social interactions and are generally in our self-interest. And if we choose to be impolite then we have no right to complain if our rudeness is reciprocated.

But respect is a about holding someone in high esteem, and no one is entitled to our esteem. Nor can we say that lack of respect is disrespect. Respect and disrespect are two separate issues. That is, not respecting someone is about what’s being withheld (esteem) while disrespecting someone is about what’s being given (contempt).

And just as we don’t owe anyone respect, we don’t owe anyone disrespect. Even if someone is disrespectful toward me I don’t owe them disrespect in return. In other words, I am not entitled to revenge.

Finally, it’s often said that respect must be earned. I disagree.

Why would I want your respect?

If I don’t hold you in esteem then why should your respect be important to me?

Even if I do hold you in esteem why should I think you owe me the same in return?

Why should I jump through hoops to please you and thereby gain your respect? If you want that from me then you’re being manipulative, but your manipulation does not belong to me.

In fact, your respect will never belong to me because you can revoke it at any time, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

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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.

The future of men, according to Jack Myers

Jack Myers has written a book about The Future of Men. And – spoiler alert! – the future of men is women.

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Lincolnville, Maine

Myers writes that male dominance is giving way to female dominance, and men must recognize and respect this. But I question whether one gender must be dominant – isn’t challenging the notion of dominance what equality is all about?

Myers makes his progressive viewpoint clear in the first line of his book, where he declares that, “The male gender as a whole is afflicted by an inborn sense of power and dominance over women that has existed since the caveman.”

He goes on to describe the “shrinking number of heterosexual men who are emotionally functional,” writing that “women view men as helpless and hopeless.”

In contrast, “A woman’s power is in her intuition, experience, common sense, and her inherent desire to collaborate rather than fight. When women say ‘I understand’ they mostly do (unlike men, who are often clueless but won’t admit it).”

Myers supports this view of gender with several quotes from Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men,” which was published in the Atlantic in June 2010 and later turned into a book.

His gender essentialism is clear. He follows up his assertions about men’s “inborn” and women’s “inherent” characteristics by stating that, “It’s a genetic reality that men are a confused gender.” This, Myers tells us, is backed up by geneticist Bryan Sykes, who says that the Y chromosome is a genetic wasteland.

What’s a man to do?

Myers believes men have much to learn from women. In his chapter on how men can adapt to the new world he advises men to learn to multitask, admit mistakes and tell the truth, learn to ask for help, pay attention to details, show concern for coworkers, think about other people’s feelings, and use more words to communicate.

The progressive narrative of “men bad, women good” sells. After all, promoting derogatory stereotypes is only politically incorrect when it’s directed at certain groups.

And putting women on a pedestal is only considered sexist in specific circumstances. Portraying women as naive or saying women are too delicate to do dangerous jobs like firefighting is sexist. But saying women are smarter, more honest, and more competent than men is not sexist.

Despite Myers’ pandering to feminism, I’m doubtful that most feminists will be impressed. I’m guessing they’ll see right through it.

My op-ed in the Portland Press Herald

Healthy masculinity and femininity reflect our shared humanity by Dave DuBay.

When yet another mass shooting or sexual assault makes headlines, we talk about the role of guns, religion and alcohol. Perhaps because most men aren’t violent, what we don’t talk about is the fact that most violence is committed by men. It’s an uncomfortable conversation…Read more.

Is IMDB a conspiracy against men?

I have a theory: there’s a conspiracy against men on IMDB because women give higher ratings to shows like Sex in the City compared to Breaking Bad.

I know this sounds nuts. And it is. But hear me out.

The latest viral story comes from fivethirtyeight.com, a site that does statistical analysis of all sorts of things. Walt Hickey’s research finds that (surprise!) men give higher ratings to male themed shows and women give higher ratings to female themed shows. But overall women’s shows get lower ratings (though not bad ratings), and this proves that men are deliberately sabotaging women’s shows.

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The media, ever eager to show just how powerless women are, picked up the story with Elle, the Huffington Post, and Salon adding their two cents. The media’s frequent illustrations of how women are oppressed over subtle things strikes me as sexist, even though it’s presented as speaking out against sexism. The constant media theme of men bad/women good empowers neither women nor men. 

Blogger Cathy Young pointed out that the reason women’s shows have lower IMDB averages is that 70% of people rating programs are men. Because the male:female ratio is 2.3:1 rather than 1:1, ratings have a male bias. But this doesn’t prove that men deliberately have it out for women. 

The real question (which fivethirtyeight fails to address) is why men are twice as likely as women to post a rating on IMDB. To get to the root of the issue, IMDB could ask women and men why they do or don’t post ratings. There may be something about the site itself that needs to be adjusted to balance out the male:female ratio.

Why have we been so slow to develop birth control for men?

The birth control pill just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The pill’s impact on women’s health, reproductive choices, and thus society in general has been enormous. And under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) insurers must cover the pill as well as other forms of contraception such as diaphrams, sponges, IUDs, Plan B, and sterilization (having her “tubes tied”).

Insurance doesn’t typically cover men’s reproductive health, however, and vasectomies are unaffordable for low income men (though Vermont just added vasectomies to the list of contraption that insurers must cover). The only other male contraception – condoms – can be bought over the counter and are relatively affordable. But condoms are also a real bummer.

Why do men have so few birth control options? A huge part of the reason is the cultural attitude that birth control is a woman’s responsibility. Obamacare, by covering female but not male contraception, seems to reflect this attitude.

Related to that is a greater focus overall on women’s health. Though the federal government has had an Office of Women’s Health since 1991, there is no government program for men’s health despite the fact that men (on average) die years sooner than women. For instance, about 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point while 14% of men will develop prostate cancer, but prostate cancer receives the least amount of funding of any other cancer while breast cancer gets the most funding. The men who run Congress could increase prostate cancer funding, but men are not taught to focus on their health (a social norm that is slowly beginning to change).

But there’s hope on the horizon. Earlier this year the WebMD men’s health newsletter ran an article about male contraception. They identified additional reasons why men don’t have more birth control options. Scientifically it’s a tougher nut to crack (sorry, couldn’t resist a bad joke). Early hormonal treatments failed miserably. And pharmaceuticals, despite making money hand over fist, are reticent to push products not knowing if men will go for it.

But the company developing Vasalgel says it has 31,000 men on their waitlist. Vasalgel is sometimes referred to as a temporary vasectomy. A gel is injected into the vas deferens, blocking sperm’s pathway to the outside world. A later injection can dissolve the gel.

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Other forms of male contraception being studied are retinoic Acid pill, H2-Gamendazole, nestorone gel, and testosterone gel, each of which in different ways decrease sperm production, possibly enough to prevent pregnancy. And EP007, which is non-hormonal and stops sperm from swimming.

Will greater reproductive choices for men transform society the way the pill did for women? I doubt it. Only women can get pregnant, so the female pill had a much bigger impact on women’s lives than a male pill will have on men’s lives. But it will change the conversation. Men’s lack of options will no longer be an excuse. And many women don’t like the pill’s side effects, so male birth control will provide other options, thus increasing women’s choices as well as men’s.

Moreover, I hope that the conversation about male contraception isn’t narrowly focused on men’s responsibilities to women. Instead, I want to see a larger discussion about men’s health, including the establishment of a government Office of Men’s Health and equal funding for male specific cancers.