Jackson Doughart: The problem with men’s rights advocacy

Geoffrey wrote yesterday about the men’s rights advocacy movement, which seeks to offset the misandric overtones of feminism’s contemporary wave. Given that I agree about these problems, my initial impression is to support any such counter-action. But there is nevertheless a fundamental problem, in my view, with the men’s rights mantra.

Namely, men’s rights advocacy is not so much a response to feminism but an appropriation of feminism—its posture as well as its modus operandi—to advance the interest of a population identified through its sex in opposition to the other. Accordingly, it adopts all of the disagreeable characteristics of feminist activism, including the rhetoric of victimhood and the claim of disadvantage at the hand of entrenched prejudice. And so men’s rights advocacy does not really challenge feminism but remake feminism for its own purposes.

I think this bears analogy to philo-Semitism, which in at least some of its manifestations becomes a minor-key variant of anti-Semitism. Saying that Jews are great because they’re good with money and are efficient at political action and lobbying isn’t exactly Judophobic, but it seems to assume or assimilate the very stereotypes that are the province of anti-Semitism. And so too does men’s rights activism internalize the misperceptions of its feminist adversary: i.e. a disposition that at once denies the natural distinctions between the sexes, thereby calling for gender-blindness and equality where it is impossible, while also touting sex as a primary source of political division when it is not so.

This is not to say that the men’s rights people don’t have a point. I know both Janice Fiamengo and Barbara Kay, who earnestly involve themselves in the movement and whose view of “gender politics” I share, with they—being women—having the bona fides to challenge in print feminism’s innate misandry. The way in which family-law courts discriminate systemically against men is an important subject, and if a liberation-style movement serves to push back against the status quo, it should be credited.

But that doesn’t jettison the trouble with liberationism in the first place, which in my view marries the worst forms of identity politics with the worst forms of political thought and ideology. (Quite often, too, it attends the most overwrought and self-aggrandizing of prose.) “As a male”—to use the calling card of identity-politic pronouncements—I don’t find myself in the least represented by these people. What is needed is a better review, deconstruction, and attack on feminism, not a mere re-appropriation of its methods for a good cause.

The Hustings