I am privileged in society due to my gender. I can have loads of sex and no one will think of me as “slutty” or say that I am degrading myself. I do not have to worry so much about being attacked when I walk down a street alone. If I am attacked, I will likely not be asked about what I was wearing or whether I was drunk – whether, in other words, I was “asking for it”. There is less pressure on me to look a certain way, and my body is generally not scrutinised excessively. When I leave college and get a job, I will probably earn more money than an equally qualified woman, and will not have to decide between advancing in my career, or giving it up to raise a child.
The benefits I get from being a man are pretty great – so great in fact, that I wonder if it’s almost too good to be true. Surely there are loads of ways in which I am also negatively impacted by my gender.
According to the website of Men’s Human Rights Ireland, this is indeed the case. As a man, I am apparently systematically undervalued by society – which brings very real harms. I am less likely to get custody of my child if my wife and I get divorced. I am likely to be outperformed by my female peers in all academic environments. If I am the victim of domestic abuse, I am less likely to report it to the authorities. Worst of all, I am five times more likely to commit suicide than a woman is.
A cursory glance at these facts could have me on my high horse. I could easily think, “Wow, I guess I am oppressed too, just like a woman! Feminism is an unfair movement because it privileges women when in fact, men are equally oppressed!” It is my opinion that such cursory glances are how men’s rights groups become popular – after all, it is true that male victims of abuse are less likely to come forward, and suicide is more prevalent among men – surely the logical response is to feel aggrieved. However, an analysis of the causes of these issues reveals that what these angry men need is, lo and behold, feminism.
From a young age, society tells boys and girls how it is appropriate for them to act. Girls should be inoffensive, polite, and pliable. Boys should be tough and unemotional. These gender roles are reinforced from childhood through adolescence, and their effects on adult men and women are visible in how we still expect them to behave. Women are seen as more caring and in tune with their feelings then men – for men it is more important to be “strong”.
It has long been the goal of feminism to dismantle these gender roles and, in doing so, free women from the societal spaces to which they have traditionally been assigned. However, if gender roles were to disappear overnight, many of the concerns of the men’s rights movement would similarly vanish.
It is an emasculating thing for a man to admit to being vulnerable – especially when it has been caused by a woman.
If women were no longer conditioned to be the “loving” gender, there would be no expectation for them to be the primary caregiver to their children. So, with the father now having an equal say in the raising of a child, it is feasible that, in the case of a divorce, he has a much better chance of retaining custody of the child – he is no longer playing “second fiddle” to the mother.
We tell girls to be quiet and attentive from a young age – it’s no wonder they do well in academic settings. Conversely, we tell boys that a “real man” gets his satisfaction outside the classroom – from athletic achievement or the pursuit of women. Added to this is the fact that teaching is a “nurturing” profession, one that society says women are better suited to. As such, about 80% of primary school and 65% of secondary school teachers in Ireland are women, giving boys fewer male role models to look up to at school. Removing gender roles would make it easier for boys to apply themselves academically, which would surely lessen the academic gap that so irks men’s rights supporters.
According to Men’s Human Rights Ireland, men are just as likely to suffer domestic abuse as women, but are much less likely to report it. Personally, I doubt that men suffer as much abuse as women, but it does seem possible that they could be stigmatised if they report it when it does happen. Men are afraid to be seen as weak. It is an emasculating thing for a man to admit to being vulnerable – especially when it has been caused by a woman, who belongs to a class of people society tells him he is stronger than. If the “men are strong, women are weak” dichotomy was removed – as per the goals of feminism – it is likely that, for starters, less violence would be perpetrated by men on women, but also that men, when they are the victims of violence, could talk about it more easily. Men’s rights groups could rest easy.
Men’s rights groups are, rightly, vilified by many as being anti-feminist, blaming women for the problems faced by men. What they miss when they do this is that generally, the problems faced by men are not caused by women. Rather, they are caused by societal expectations of gender that affect both women and men (although the negative effects on women are obviously much worse). Instead of trying to incite hatred against feminism, these groups should come to terms with the fact that the feminist movement has solutions for the problems they are trying to solve. If the welfare of men and boys, rather than the vilification of women, is their real aim, they should proudly declare themselves feminist. Given that it is very unlikely that this will happen – I spent a few hours on their websites and found that their anti-women attitudes are very entrenched – it seems that the feminist movement should continue to label these groups for what they are – hate groups.
Illustration: Naoise Dolan