What can we learn from Elliot Rodger?

By now most of you have probably read or heard about the Isla Vista shooting on Friday night. For anyone who hasn’t, here are the salient points: at around 9:30pm on Friday night, a shooter in a black BMW drove through the suburb of Isla Vista near the University of California in Santa Barbara, firing randomly at passers-by. He killed six people and wounded seven more, one critically, before crashing his car and being found dead with a single gunshot wound to the head (it’s still undeclared whether he shot himself or was hit by police fire). Though it’s not been officially confirmed, it’s basically common knowledge by now that the shooter was Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old son of Hollywood director Peter Rodger and a student UCSB. Prior to the shootings, Elliot Rodger had uploaded several videos to Youtube, in which he talks about the pain of still being a virgin, how girls always reject him and how they and their boyfriends “ruin his life”. He even uploaded one final video shortly before the mass shooting, in which he specifically states that he plans to commit the drive-by murders of random people in Isla Vista to punish humanity (especially women) for the life of loneliness they have apparently inflicted upon him.

After hearing about this shooting – yet another mass shooting at a place of learning – I hit up Youtube and watched every last one of Rodger’s videos to try and glean some understanding of the thought process that might have led to this tragedy. I found the videos scary and disgusting, but also incredibly interesting in a sick sort of way. Because the more I watched the more I found myself drawing parallels between Rodger’s own words, and some of the things I read all too often on websites like ROK, MGTOW or SSM. It seems to me that Rodger’s videos, and the tragedy itself, highlight some of the most dangerous and destructive aspects of contemporary gender relations and modern masculinity.

As always, I’ll make this disclaimer before I start so everybody keeps their hair on: I’m not in any way saying that Elliot Rodger or his actions represent the dominant attitudes present in modern masculinity. I don’t even think he’s representative of most MRAs, PUAs, manospherians, red pill guys or any other subset of men the Men’s Rights Movement you care to name. In some ways he wasn’t even an ‘average’ guy; his father was famous and wealthy, he lived a life of considerable privilege, and he had reportedly been treated for Asperger’s Syndrome by a number of therapists. Watching his videos, he frequently refers to himself as “beautiful” and “magnificent” – speech patterns hardly representative of the average modern male. So before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, no I am not trying to say that all men or most MRAs contribute to the problems that I’m about to discuss. All I wish to point out is that there are some aspects of modern masculinity which can be extremely damaging, and that some men believe in and manifest these behaviours and attitudes with negative consequences. And I believe that in spite (or perhaps because) of his unusual personality and extreme behaviour, Elliot Rodger embodies many of the most corrosive aspects of contemporary masculinity.

The Invisible Men – Straight, White and Angry

Of all the mass shootings that have occurred in the last 30 years, 61 out of 62 were perpetrated by men. What’s more, 90% of the mass murders in that time committed in schools and universities were the actions of young, white men. Michael Moore posted on his own Facebook page today a statement, including the comment that, “Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males.” The correlation between race, gender and these acts of mass slaughter is such a rich and disturbing topic that Michael Kimmel devotes an entire chapter to it in his book Angry White Men. He highlights not only the overwhelming presence of straight white males amongst the ranks of America’s mass murderers, but also the fact that such incidents are never discussed in terms of race or gender – precisely because the perpetrators are white males. I didn’t buy this idea at first, until Kimmel raised an interesting hypothetical in which all these shootings had been committed by women of colour from poor families. To quote:

“Can you picture the national debate, the headlines, the hand-wringing? There is no double we’d be having a national debate about inner-city poor black girls. The entire focus would be on race, class, and gender…We’d hear some pundits proclaim some putative natural tendency among blacks toward violence. Someone would likely even blame feminism for causing girls to become violent in a vain imitation of boys. Yet the obvious fact that virtually all the rampage shooters were middle-class white boys barely broke a ripple in the torrent of public discussion.”

And now, once again, we have a mass shooting at a place of education committed by a young, angry white man. And once again public discussion, although in its early stages, has failed to address the overwhelming links of race and gender which unite nearly every mass shooter in recent U.S. history. As so often before, attention has been focused on the personal circumstances of the shooter; conditions such as family history, mental instability, their status within the school environment, all draw far more coverage. In Rodger’s case, the Youtube videos he posted prior to the atrocity are such a media goldmine that his attitude to sex and women has been given far more coverage than it otherwise would have. Yet still, little to no link has been made in the mainstream media between Rodger’s actions – and even his extreme Youtube rants – and his race or gender. And that link should be made, because his ravings echo not only the sentiment expressed by other young, white, male mass shooters in the lead-up to their own murder-suicides; but also the some of the feelings that crop up all too frequently in the particularly anti-feminist and anti-women realms of the manosphere, which in my experience are overwhelmingly dominated by white males. Of course Rodger’s personal life and mental health are influential factors in this scenario; but when the media continues to focus on these shooters as individuals, they neglect what could arguably be called their duty – to identify a dangerous trend in society and thereby open up new avenues for society to address that negative pattern. Until we acknowledge that the perpetrators of mass shootings are almost exclusively young, angry white men, we will continue to miss the opportunity to tackle the issues of race and gender that contribute to such tragedies.

Legitimising Male Violence

Why are these atrocities almost solely the purview of angry white men? Whilst there are many plausible explanations, Kimmel advances his own theory of “aggrieved entitlement” to explain the phenomenon. Essentially, aggrieved entitlement means that you have a right to something, and that right is being denied, and that this is a fundamental injustice. In the context of school shootings, Kimmel states that perpetrators are usually “deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning…”. The concept of systematically demeaning treatment certainly unifies the shooters in question: almost all of them were tormented as ‘nerds’, ‘loners’, ‘geeks’, ‘fags’ or ‘rejects’. All reported feeling or genuinely being humiliated on an almost daily basis by their peers, and many stated that when they reported this abuse to the school system, nothing was done to protect them. But extreme bullying is not limited solely to young white men – so why is it that only people of this demographic commit mass shootings? Once again, Kimmel has a very plausible theory, suggesting that for many young men, humiliation is synonymous with a loss of masculinity.

“Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone, and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man…From a very early age, boys learn that violence is not only an acceptable form of conflict resolution, but one that is admired….[there is] a sense that using violence against others, making others hurt as you hurt, is fully justified.”

Like his predecessors, Elliot Rodger clearly felt that he was being denied his rights by being rejected by women and the “popular kids” at his college. And like them, he too decided that it was his right to use violence to assert himself as “the true alpha male” and punish his peers for the “injustice” they had inflicted upon him. Now obviously, not every boy who is bullied or socially awkward is a mass murderer waiting to crack; Kimmel takes pains to point out that a certain level of mental and/or neurological instability is also required for the perpetrator to reach the point where they literally go out and murder innocent people and think that’s OK. But having read this particular work, it’s impossible not to be struck by the links between Rodger’s own words and the concept of “aggrieved entitlement” and the right that some men feel to combat humiliation with violence. It’s chilling to watch his final video entitled ‘Retribution’, to hear him talk calmly about how he’s going to pump bullets into his classmates and how they’ve brought it on themselves by rejecting him.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this particular aspect of the tragedy is the fact that the legitimacy of male violence is so often enacted in private, rather than public, arenas. I in no way wish to diminish the sadness of what happened on Friday night; six innocent people were randomly slaughtered and that is an absolute tragedy. The fact remains, however, that more than 10 times as many women die every year in Australia as a result of intimate partner violence. Statistics for how many men die every year as a result of male-on-male violence are much harder to come by. But the unifying factor, whether the victim is male or female, is that men who are faced with conflict or humiliation, real or perceived, legitimately feel they are entitled – indeed, obliged – to use violence to restore their manhood and sense of self. Whilst this behaviour is reinforced in many ways across our society, sections of the manosphere can be particularly bad about encouraging men to use violence to settle disputes, either with women or with other men. I truly cannot count the number of comments and articles I’ve read advocating the virtues of physical violence as a means to hone and assert one’s masculinity; or even better, the occasional necessity of using physical violence against a female partner when she “steps out of line” by criticising or emasculating her man. Violence is a natural part of growing up for children of both genders; but to repeatedly reinforce to male children alone that the use of violence is their right and their duty, their first course of action when faced with humiliation, creates a disturbing imbalance which manifests itself in both mass murders and everyday tragedies.

The Dark Side of Game

In the less-than-48 hours since this shooting took place, PUAs and advocates of game have already come to the fore to offer a predictable lament: “If only he’d learned game, this never would have happened!” One particularly noxious ‘dating coach’ agency actually posted an advert on Rodger’s Youtube videos claiming that the reason game exists is to prevent such tragedies from happening. Leaving aside the extraordinary oversimplification of ‘This young man with a diagnosed neurological condition and clear social anxiety/awkwardness would totally never have killed everyone if he got his dick wet’, the fact is that Rodger’s actually did seem to know about game. He reportedly subscribed to a number of PUA websites, but also to an anti-PUA website called PUAHate, where he posted comments about how game was a lie because it clearly wasn’t working for him.

Now I mostly think game is a load of misogynistic rubbish, but there is one aspect of it which I genuinely admire: it recognises that traditional notions about how men should attract women are outdated and often unsuccessful. The qualities and resources which men have traditionally been taught to cultivate in order to attract a long-term female partner (or even a one-night-stand) have become somewhat irrelevant, largely because young women in particular have little need of them. Teaching young men that being having a steady income and being ‘nice’ will win them the affection of a worthy woman is silly; most young women are reasonably financially independent, and will normally eschew ‘niceness’ over a partner whom they feel meets their emotional, intellectual or sexual needs at the time. Although PUAs usually address this issue in sphincter-clenchingly sexist terms, they do at least offer a bit of useful advice to young men looking to have more success with women; dress well, get in shape, make yourself interesting to talk to, and you’ll probably have more success than if you’re a pudgy accounting student who opens car doors. I’m putting in the most callous terms for the sake of brevity, so any advocates of game, please accept my apologies for the simplistic summary.

The issue in this case is that, in his own mind at least, Rodger actually embodied many of the qualities which PUAs encourage men to cultivate in order to increase their success with women. He actually lists these qualities himself in one of his videos: he has a BMW, wears $300 sunglasses, dresses well, is “the ultimate gentleman”, describes himself as “magnificent” and “sophisticated”, has travelled a lot and believes this makes him “interesting”. He says that he puts a lot of effort into cultivating his attractiveness, and that he therefore “deserves girls”. However, anyone with two brain cells to rub together who watches Rodger’s videos will quite clearly see that he was extremely socially awkward and would probably struggle to talk to women in a ‘normal’ manner, let alone appeal to them sexually.

But here’s the problem – Rodger genuinely believed that he was successfully doing all the things he needed to do to attract women. This is what I mean by the ‘dark side’ of game; ultimately, unless you’re having your behaviour regularly monitored by sources you trust, you have no impartial way of judging whether or not you’re applying its concepts successfully. Advocates of game might argue that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so to speak – that a man’s success with women is the standard by which he judges the effectiveness of his own game. But what happens when we get men like Elliot Rodger? Men who believe that they’re doing all the right things and still being rejected, and therefore develop an overwhelming sense of injustice and depravation? The dark side of game is that so much of it is based upon a man’s perception of himself; if he sees himself as ticking all the right boxes yet still has no success, what is he to think? Where is he to turn, when PUAs so insistently tell him that applying these concepts will absolutely increase his chances with women, because after all they are really just animals governed by emotional and sexual impulses. No doubt many more people will say “If only Elliot Rodger had learned game” – but the fact is, he did learn game and it didn’t fucking work, because no amount of game can get you past the fact of having Asperger’s Syndrome and a deeply unrealistic, unsubstantiated perception of your own attractiveness. Game can be dangerous in cases like this when it’s subscribed to by people who don’t listen to anyone’s opinion but their own. They think they’re doing all the right things and still being rejected, and this can give rise to the embittering idea that the fault lies not with you, but with the world for not seeing you as you truly deserve to be seen. Elliot Rodger was, unfortunately, a living embodiment of that sense of embittered injustice.

Male Entitlement to Women’s Lives

For me, this is the most important aspect of the whole thing because it is the one I see most clearly manifested in Rodger’s pre-rampage videos. In every single one of them, he talks about girls; how he desires them, is rejected by them, how they walk around with their beautiful blonde hair, how they don’t see how “magnificent” and “beautiful” he is, how he “deserves” affection from girls and just wants them to see how “worthy” he is. This is indicative of a seriously dangerous idea which sadly pervades innumerable aspects of our society, not just the manosphere; the idea that men have a right to be surrounded by women who behave in the way that those men want them to.

This comes back to the “aggrieved entitlement” concept discussed in Kimmel’s book. Rodger’s rantings express not only the desire to be seen as attractive by women, but a conviction that the fact this wasn’t happening was an “injustice” and a “crime”. Such language clearly suggests that he not only wanted the attention of women, he felt he had an absolute right to it and that the absence of female attention violated that right. Whether or not he was genuinely attractive to those women doesn’t seem to be in question; he thinks he’s ticked all the boxes for what the perfect boyfriend should look like, and women are therefore obligated to desire him. It’s not his fault for failing to attract them, it’s their fault for not feeling that desire for him. To be fair, his hatred is not only directed at women – he expresses astonishing vitriol for the “obnoxious” and “worthless” men around him, who he claims have “ruined his life” by having success with women and “enjoying life more than him.” But still the theme continues – he is entitled to female affection, and the fact that their affection is being directed towards other men and not him is just another blow of injustice.

Such a perspective is toxic for two reasons. Firstly, because it represents an incredibly flawed understanding of relationships, one which is unfortunately still sold to many young men today. It basically implies that relationships are about fulfilling criteria; if you do all the right things that men are meant to do, then you are entitled to a woman who does all the things that women are meant to do. Which may have been fine back in the day, but in our modern climate of relative luxury we have a lot more leeway for tricky things like personal preferences and genuine attraction. All the box-ticking in the world won’t mean diddly-squat if your prospective mate meets someone with whom they feel a genuine connection (even that connection is mostly genital-related). Yet still we teach young people, especially boys, that female affection is essentially a right that they earn by fulfilling the criteria of what it means to be a man. So when they feel they’ve done all the right things but their efforts remain unrewarded by womanly caresses, they don’t see it as an unfortunate twist of fate that they haven’t made a connection with anyone yet. They see it as a fundamental injustice, a slight on their masculinity and their rights – and it’s almost hard to blame them when society teaches them little else.

But the other and more disturbing reason is that this concept of male entitlement to women is applied not only in a sexual context, but throughout almost every aspects of women’s lives. By no means is it applied by all men – personally, I’ve seen it most commonly crop up in manosphere articles. Sometimes it is explicit; the writer will lament how there are no good virgins to marry anymore, how all women are sluts, how Americunts are so fat, how feminism is making women tyrants in the workplace, how older unmarried women need to stop harassing men with their unattractive existence. In other instances it is more subtle – nothing more than a pervasive sense that the author views that current state of affairs not only as undesirable, but as a fundamental perversion of how things ought to be. But the overwhelming theme is this; that men (read: straight white men) have a right to live in a world in which women look and behave in ways which are pleasing to them, and that when real life fails to live up to this dream it is an injustice and a crime.

Of course, just about everyone thinks the world would be a better place if it conformed more to their personal ideas of what is right and good. But there is a very important difference between saying “Things should be different because it would probably be better”, and “Things should be different because it is my right to live in a world that conforms to my idea of what is good.” It’s that sense of personal entitlement that’s the kicker – and honestly, it’s something I’ve seen expressed almost exclusively by (predominantly white) manospherians. Some of them (not all, but some) seem to feel that they are entitled to arbitrate not only women’s sexuality, but every aspect of their behaviour, in order to make it more pleasing to them personally. Elliot Rodger embodied this – he did not just want sex, or he could have gone to a prostitute. He wanted every aspect of these girls’ behaviour to conform to his ideal; they had to “adore” him, to see him for how he truly was, to willingly shower him with love and sex and affection and validate him as “worthy”. And, crucially, Rodger perceived that behaviour not merely as something he desire, but as something to which he was fundamentally entitled.

In case I’ve offended anyone, I’d like to apologise again if my writing about this particular subject has seemed callous or insensitive. It’s been an unusually long article and in trying to minimise words I might have expressed things more bluntly than usual – and since this might be a sensitive issue, I’m sorry if that’s upset anybody. It would be wonderful if society could actually learn something from yet another tragedy like this, but sadly I doubt it. Crucial factors in this case such as gun control and treatment of mental illness will probably remain relatively unreformed. Tenuous links are already being made between Rodger’s actions and the views of some MRAs, resulting in the demonisation of the entire MRM – a judgement that I  think is unfair. Yes, this entire article is dedicated to drawing lines between Rodger’s beliefs and the behaviours and ideas of some manospherians – but as I stated before, I honestly think these views do not represent the entirety of the MRM. Just like feminism, this movement has some factions which are more extreme than others, and includes supporters whose beliefs may be the result of personal bitterness or a genuine hatred for the opposite sex. But like feminism, the Men’s Rights Movement also contains many people who desire genuine equality between all sexes, and to tar them all with the same brush would be a mistake. In fact, MRM initiatives such as increasing mental health awareness for men and boys directly tackle some of the key issues at play in this atrocity. I cannot pretend to have any pity for Elliot Rodger despite his unhappiness, and though it’s a cliche my heart honestly goes out to the families of those people he murdered. Rodger’s actions seem to embody some of the very worst aspects of masculinity and gender relations, but it can only be hoped that we can learn from what he did and try to shape masculinity into a more positive and supportive force for other men and boys.

The Monkeysphere, Galileo and No True Scotsman

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t done any posting for a couple of months now. (Though I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest if you hadn’t noticed because hopefully I’m not that important/arrogant). I’ve recently resumed my love-hate relationship with trawling through the cesspit that is gender politics on the Internet, and I must say the hiatus from writing has led to me gazing upon this quagmire with fresh eyes. It’s raised a lot of new and exciting questions in my tiny woman’s brain, but the one that keeps cropping up again and again is “How are people this fucking stupid?”

OK, perhaps that’s a little unfair. Far be it from me to arbitrate what is and is not a stupid opinion. A better way of putting it would be “How do so many people manage to convince themselves of the rightness of their own perspectives in the face of overwhelming opinions and evidence to the contrary?” You know the type of thing I mean. People who still think that climate change is a leftist conspiracy; or that white people are actually biologically superior to people of other races; or that women are incapable of rational thought; or that the only men who are ‘real’ men are those who pop bottles, fuck models and hate the gayz. Some people manage to maintain these beliefs in spite of the fact that the vast majority of popular opinion – and quite often a wealth of scientific proof – suggests that those beliefs are batshit crazy at worst, and worthy of rethinking at best.

Now I’m a big fan in believing in your own convictions, of not having your values and opinions dictated to you by your peers or by what’s popular. But if I was repeatedly hit with the message that my opinion on something was wrong, I would at least take the time to evaluate their criticisms and my own beliefs. I might not change them in the end, but I wouldn’t clap my hands to my ears and run away screaming about how everyone else is a big fat liar with cooties – which is basically the equivalent of what many people on the Interwebs seem to do. But strangely enough, there is method in the madness; or rather, there’s a few clearly identifiable phenomena which can help explain how these people are able to maintain that their beliefs are not only right, but also rational.

The Monkeysphere

Ever heard the quote “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic”? Well, I stole it from this awesome Cracked article, which does a great job of explaining how much of the shittiness of human behaviour can be put down to something called the Monkeysphere. If you can’t be bothered reading the article (I mean, it is two whole pages), the basic idea is that humans have a finite number of people whom the can actually think of as ‘people’ – real people with emotions and needs and personalities and valid thoughts. For most of us, that number is about 150; everyone outside of that is kind of a blur, they don’t rate as real human beings to us. This is why we grieve for months when a relative dies, but often don’t shed a tear when we hear of the deaths of hundreds of strangers – the relative is ‘real’, the strangers don’t truly exist for us. It’s not a question of being an asshole, it’s just that our evolved monkey brains literally cannot cope with caring about the lives and thoughts of more than 150 other human beings.

There is, however, a distinctly asshole-ish dimension to the Monkeysphere. Because the fact is, the 150 people you care about as real people are also the 150 human beings whose opinions you’re likely to listen to. Now in the ye olde days, the 150 people in your Monkeysphere were most likely to be your family and the people who lived close to you. Even if you lived in a very homogenous community, you probably had a reasonable diversity of perspectives. And if you started doing or saying something that almost everyone else told you was stupid, then you would probably listen to them because you valued their opinions as the constituents of your Monkeysphere. You didn’t have the capacity to easily reach out to other perspectives that reinforced your own, so you were more likely to listen to opinions that contradicted your views because you literally had no other option.

And then, there was the Internet. With the touch of a button, people around the world are able to connect instantaneously, share ideas and feel like they’re part of a like-minded community. For the most part this is great, but sometimes it’s kind of really awful. Why? Because it means you can easily cultivate a Monkeysphere filled entirely with people who agree with your views. Imagine that you are the only one in your circle of friends and workmates who thinks the Jewish Conspiracy is a real thing. Rather than listening to the people physically around you who contradict your opinion, you can dive head-first into the Internet and you are dead set certain to find at least a few other people who share your ideas. The more like-minded people you find, the easier it is for you to replace the members of your Monkeysphere who don’t agree with you with new people who accept your views. This doesn’t mean that you turn into a sociopath who doesn’t care about friends and family. It just means that when it comes to a particular issue, you stop thinking about people who disagree with you as real people. Their opinions are less worthwhile, their perspectives less real, because you are surrounded by an online community of people who constantly reinforce that your own view is the right one. To quote this radsauce article by another brilliant Cracked writer, Soren Bowie…

“Their online communities have acted as breeding grounds of misinformation, turning the private suspicions of a few idiots into full-blown beliefs. They aren’t communities so much as they are just wads of people all perpetuating each other’s unhealthy mentalities.”

See, it’s fine to discuss an issue with people who share your opinions. But if the views of those who agree with you are literally the only opinions you listen to, then we have a problem. You don’t get any diversity of viewpoints, and more importantly you don’t get any alternative information. It breeds the tendency to ignore or distrust ideas and evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and that process is made infinitely easier when you have a whole online community of people reinforcing that your suspicion is valid and your beliefs are righteous. However, completely writing off alternative viewpoints is not a simple matter of refusing to read comments by people you don’t like. There are a couple of commonly (and often unconsciously) employed tactics that people use to ‘legitimately’ disregard the opinions of others.

The Galileo Complex

“While Galileo was a rebel, not all rebels are Galileo.” - Norman Levitt

This is probably one of the greatest quotes of all time, and it perfectly sums up one of the most face-palmy, cringeworthy behaviours on the Internet. When an individual holds one view and the majority of society holds another, most rational people would take that as a sign that perhaps their own ideas could be at least partially wrong. But some people appear to have what I like to call the ‘Galileo Complex’ – they think that society telling them they’re wrong is irrefutable proof that they are, in fact, right. The logic behind this is that various famous people (most notably Galileo Galilei) have held beliefs that have utterly contradicted the status quo, and that such people have often been punished and ostracised for maintaining their convictions in the face of societal opposition. But in the end, of course, they were proved right – they were men (and women, but strangely enough women are usually omitted from this rationale) who were ahead of their time, visionaries who could see the truth that others were too blind and obedient to notice.

There are a few problems with this one. The first is that, assuredly, there have been men and women throughout history who have been trailblazers of thought and innovation, and who have suffered as a result. And yes, sometimes the ideas and beliefs of these people have fostered widespread social change that has ultimately had positive consequences – think Martin Luther King Jr., Eddie Mabo, Emmeline Pankhurst and, of course, Galileo. But for the hundreds of people throughout history who have stood against the majority and been proved right, there are millions who did the same and were proved wrong. Medical history alone is littered with individuals who believed they had found a ‘miracle cure’ for various illnesses. A great recent example is the controversy over the supposed links between vaccines and autism; individuals such as former surgeon Andrew Wakefield and self-styled “mother warrior” Jenny McCarthy (vomit) continue to insist that vaccinating children can cause autism, despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence to support this and a wealth of studies to contradict it. They and others insist the lack of evidence is a combination of stubbornness and conspiracy from the medical-industrial complex, and in doing so have caused considerable harm to countless children who have since succumbed to illnesses that could easily have been prevented by vaccination. If everyone is telling you you’re wrong, then there is of course a slim chance that you’re actually right – but it’s far, far more likely that you are not. And interpreting widespread opposition as proof that you are definitely right is just too fucking stupid for words.

The flip-side of this, of course, is that if what is unpopular is good, then everything that is popular must be bad. Any belief that is held by the majority of people must be wrong, either because everyone else has been brainwashed or because anyone who doesn’t think like you is just stupid. This is particularly prevalent in certain parts of the manosphere; there’s reams of comments from guys lamenting how every aspect of modern culture is totally rubbish, and how things were so much better “in my father’s day”. Apparently there are scores of men out there wanking themselves into a coma over their own refusal to be ‘brainwashed’ by mainstream culture. There is, of course, absolute validity in the desire not to conform, especially for the sheer sake of conforming. But it’s rather different to act like anyone who does conform to what’s widely socially acceptable in any way, only does so because they’re too stupid to know any better. Just because lots of people like something, that doesn’t preclude that something from also being good and valid. And banging on about how everyone else is just “too mainstream” to deal with your radical beliefs makes you sound like the kind of gloomy teenager who jacks off to ‘Catcher in the Rye’.

Another problem is that some people with a Galileo Complex don’t really seem to understand the concept of innovation. See, the thing about a lot of these trailblazing individuals was that the ideas the fought and sometimes died for, were new. They were different, they raised concepts that had been previously unheard of (such as racial equality); or else those that had been lost centuries ago (such as democracy). The novelty of their ideas made them frightening, but society inexorably changes and (for the most part) moves forward – and this is why these people were ultimately vindicated. They were genuine visionaries, it just took a while for everyone else to catch up. But most people using this rationale today are the complete opposite – their ideas are not new at all. Nor are they so ancient that they have been lost and forgotten. For the most part, they are the beliefs of 40, 60 or even 100 years ago – beliefs in racial superiority, in the ‘rightful place’ of men and women, in government and ethnic conspiracies that have been around for decades. Their only claim to rebelliousness lies in their flat refusal to let go of these ideas. I’m no fan of progress for its own sake, but I also don’t believe in the maxim of “We should keep doing this thing because it’s the thing we used to do before.” Their beliefs are rejected not because they’re new and frightening, but because they’re tired and outdated. They often claim that the masses aren’t ready for the truth they see, but the fact is that society left their ideas behind a long time ago.

But perhaps my biggest problem with this is the sheer arrogance of it. How far up your own arse do you have to be to think that you, and perhaps a select few other special individuals, can see through the matrix when nobody else can? That only you and your compatriots can see the lies and manipulations that all the other sheep are subjected to, and that you alone have the solution? Self-belief is a great thing, but one of the smartest things anyone can do is realise that they’re not any smarter or wiser than most other people on the planet. If you’re sufficiently conceited to refer to yourself as distinct from “the masses”, you’re officially a colossal fucking asshole.

No True Scotsman

Ah, the last and in many ways the greatest. The ‘No True Scotsman’ technique is a logical fallacy, in which one constantly shifts the goalpoasts for what constitutes a ‘true’ or ‘pure’ example and thereby avoids having to deal with the flaws in their own argument. The original example is as follows:

“No Scotsman likes sugar on his porridge.”

“I’m a Scotsman, and I like sugar on my porridge.”

“No true Scotsman likes sugar on his porridge!”

It’s the ultimate way of getting out of the fact that your own logic has just been proven totally wrong by a real-life example. Often it’s not done in quite such a direct way. Perhaps my favourite example is one I see often on ROK; some bloke will put up something about how men don’t like women with short hair or tattoos. Then a woman will post up that she has short hair and/or tattoos, and also has a male partner. The man (or often numerous men) will respond that her boyfriend must be a ‘beta’, or secretly gay, or pussy-whipped, or that he has some other sort of ‘un-masculine’ flaw that makes her own example invalid. Her partner is not a ‘true’ man, so the argument stands in spite of blatant evidence of its inaccuracy.

But you see this sort of shit all the time. Real men like curves. Real women have curves. Real men open doors. Real gay/lesbian people can’t be bisexual. Real women want children. Real men love sports. Real women want careers. Real men don’t eat quiche. On a larger scale, it makes the validity of a person’s opinion and their relevance to the discussion conditional on fulfilling the criteria for what is ‘true’. Criteria which are set entirely by the person who made the original assertion, and are frequently backed up by the fact that most other people in their aforementioned Monkeysphere probably hold similar prejudices about what makes someone ‘real’ and valid. In this way, people are able to dismiss the perspectives not only of individuals but of whole groups that they have never met, solely on the basis that they don’t meet their utterly arbitrary standards for what is ‘true’. And what if someone pops up in your own little online Monkeysphere who disagrees with your views? Even better! You can just come up with a completely random reason why they’re not a ‘real’ man, a ‘true’ feminist’, a genuine believer in whatever the hell you’re all supposed to be fighting for. You can make your Monkeysphere even more exclusive and insular, whilst keeping up the pretence of rational discourse and clear-headed evaluation of opinions that differ from your own.

Why Does It Matter?

At this point you may be saying “Well, that’s great but…we knew there were stupid people on the Internet. What’s the big deal?” But the point is, you see, that these people are not necessarily stupid people at all. And it is, in fact, both arrogant and dangerous to assume that people who manage to maintain such controversial beliefs in spite of societal disapproval are unintelligent. We don’t just fall out of our mother’s vaginas full of opinions – our views are formed throughout our lives by teachings and experiences. Even the most seemingly ludicrous idea has a certain logic behind it, and while that logic might not make it sensible it is important to understand why people think the way they do. It’s arrogant to assume that people who have beliefs that you think are ridiculous are automatically ridiculous people. And it’s dangerous, because in making that assumption you write them off as being incapable of empathising with you or wanting to understand your own ideas. A huge part of what makes any movement successful is its willingness to be inclusive, and to reach out to people who might otherwise have greeted it with apathy or aggression. I really think this is a crucial part of achieving gender equality, because there are still many people in the world who don’t believe that gender equality, or breaking down traditional gender roles, are good ideas. By understanding why and how they form and maintain such beliefs, hopefully we can do a better job of addressing them and try to dismantle their opposition through discussion, rather than dismissal.

But this stuff is also really important for understanding our own failings, regardless of what we believe in. Which of us has not waved aside another person’s views because we considered them ridiculous? And how is that any different to some bloke who rails against women in the armed forces because it seems ridiculous to him? How many of us associate primarily with friends who share our social and political views? And how often to we avoid discussions with people we know to be critical of our own ideas? It’s not enough to understand these phenomena and recognise them in people whose opinions we dislike. We also have to recognise them in ourselves, and in those who support the same ideals as we do. Of course its frustrating, and we don’t all have to be saints and extend the olive branch to every bigoted douchecanoe on the Internet. But we do have to be aware of our own behaviour, as individuals, and make sure we’re not mirroring that which we criticise in others. Humans may be a diverse bunch, but nobody likes a hypocrite.

Is Feminism Really About Choice?

A few years ago I somehow ended up watching a movie called ‘Mona Lisa Smile’. I’m not quite sure why because even back then I thought the title sounded stupid, and also it has Kirsten Dunst in it and she reminds of one of those wet-wipes that people keep in the glove boxes of their cars. Anyway! The basic plot of the movie is that this super-liberated feminist teacher goes to some school in the 1950s and teaches some young women about art and culture or whatever, and then she helps some of them get all liberated by teaching them about how they can go to college and don’t have to be housewives and all that. Not a totally awful concept, but I personally found the film to be almost completely unremarkable.

There is, however, one particular scene that sticks with me to this day. One of the young women (played by Julia Stiles) is super smart and the teacher constantly encourages her to go to med school or something equally competitive, and it looks like she’s going to do it. Then all of a sudden she comes back from a weekend away with her boyfriend, and it turns out they spontaneously got married and she’s decided she’s not going to college after all. Unsurprisingly the teacher gets all shitty and disappointed, but what was interesting to me was that Julia Stiles’ character gets shitty right back. She basically points out that her decision to marry and not go to college doesn’t actually diminish her abilities or her worth as a person – in fact she literally says “This doesn’t make me any less smart.” I’ve never forgotten that line, and it seems particularly relevant to what I want to discuss in this post.

Let’s start with a scenario you’re probably all familiar with; a female public figure who’s famous for something other than her appearance (sports, politics, academia, business, whatever) does something like an interview about how motherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to her, or a sexy photo shoot, or decides to retire from public life to raise a family. A couple of recent examples would be Michelle Obama’s speech at the State of the Union address, and the female Russian Olympic athletes who posed for a series of lingerie photos as part of the promotion for the Sochi winter games. In both these cases, as in so many others, there has been a lot of controversy and backlash from the feminist sphere, particularly from pop feminist sources. They’ve railed against Michelle Obama’s statement that her role as a mother is the most important thing to her, in spite of her incredible education and career and the power she wields as First Lady. They’ve lamented that these Russian female athletes have been ‘reduced’ to mere sexual objects, rather than being honoured and respected for their abilities as sportswomen. Isn’t it terrible, they say, that a woman in the public eye still needs to squeeze herself into traditional feminine roles like wife, mother and sex symbol in order to be accepted and worthy of praise? Well, yes. That would be terrible. But it seems to me as though that’s not really what’s happening here.

See, there’s a difference between a woman being ‘reduced’ to a housewife or sex symbol, and a woman choosing to embrace those roles as part of her overall existence. If a woman is portrayed in such a way that all her other achievements and abilities are trumped by this one particular aspect of her existence then yes, she is ‘reduced’. But not all portrayals of women as sexy or domestic or maternal do this, and a crucial part of making the distinction is understanding the importance of choice. The crux of the matter is whether or not the woman in question is choosing to be portrayed in this way. If she’s being forced or pressured into embracing a traditional manifestation of femininity then yes, I would say that is reductive and oppressive. But if she’s choosing of her own free will to be shown in such a light, then personally I don’t see how that’s oppressive or even unfair.

Many feminist sources would and do argue that women cannot always be conscious about the decisions they’re making in these matters. The pressure our society puts on women to behave and appear in a certain way is so great, that a woman may believe that she’s choosing to be shown in a particular light but in fact she’s doing no such thing. In order to be successful, to gain popularity and sponsorship and general acceptance, a woman in the public eye must show a willingness to conform to traditional female gender roles. On some levels I agree with this; there’s certainly a lot of social stigma about ‘unfeminine’ women in positions of power (just look at the kind of gender-obsessed bullshit directed at Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton). But at the same time, I think there are also many instances where the women in question have genuinely made the choice to publicly embrace traditional female roles of their own free will. And all too often, pop feminism and mass media indulge in the knee-jerk reaction of assuming that any depiction of a high-profile woman in a traditionally feminine light is an example of patriarchal oppression.

Whilst there are unarguably examples of famous and successful women being pressured into ‘acting femme’, there are also plenty of instances where that is probably not the case. So how do we figure out whether we’re looking at oppression or an exercise in free will? Personally, I think the best indicator lies in whether or not the woman had anything to lose by not choosing to ‘act femme’. After all, if coming across as sexy or maternal is really so abhorrent to high-profile women, surely they would not agree to do so unless it was seriously to their detriment to refuse. Would they have lost votes, sponsorship, money, popularity, employment opportunities? If not – well then, I’d say its pretty unlikely they were coerced into speaking or acting as they did. Michelle Obama is a great example here, because although many people lament the pressures she must have felt to make a statement about how much she loves motherhood, she had absolutely nothing to lose by not doing so. She’s already First Lady, she can’t be un-First-Ladied if enough people don’t like her. And it’s not as though she had to shore up support for her husband’s political career, because Obama’s already served two terms and he can’t be re-elected anyway. And clearly Michelle Obama was not in a position of financial need – so what did she have to gain by announcing to the world that being a mother to her two daughters has been her proudest achievement? Nothing. She simply decided to publicly share that out of all her academic, political and personal achievements, raising her daughters was the thing that she most valued. And making that announcement in no way diminishes the importance or value of her other achievements, because funnily enough, it’s actually entirely possible for a woman to enjoy both traditionally feminine and non-traditional aspects of her own existence.

A similar argument could be made in the case of the female Russian olympic athletes who appeared in a recently released lingerie photo shoot. Now I recognise that Russia has some pretty dreadful shit going on in terms of the rights of women, LGBTQ people and in fact anyone who isn’t Vladimir Putin himself. However, the arguments made against this photo shoot by most pop feminist sources did not focus on Russia’s appalling human rights record or its strongly anti-feminist religious culture. No, the main problem seemed to be that these were elite athletes, talented and empowered women who deserved respect, and that showing them as scantily-clad pin-ups diminished their achievements and disrespected them as professionals. My question is – how? How does showing a woman in a conventional sexually attractive light make her less athletic, less intelligent, less deserving of respect? No, these photographs did not focus on the athletic abilities of the women they portrayed – but that was not their goal. It’s not like the photographers lied to the women and said that they really wanted to depict their athletic prowess, but then somehow tricked them into wearing suspenders and portrayed them as mindless sex-dolls. The photographs were specifically designed to be sexy and sexualised because hey, sex sells – and if the athletes who posed for these photos are happy to use their sexuality to increase publicity for the Sochi Olympics, why shouldn’t they? I’m not saying that these images don’t portray these women in a purely aesthetic and sexualised way, because they absolutely do. I’m saying that such a depiction is not necessarily reductive, because appearing in a sexualised light is only demeaning if you find it to be so. These women are still elite sportspeople, and they will still be recognised and respected for their athletic achievements. Why shouldn’t a woman be proud to be a world-class athlete, and also to be celebrated as a sex symbol? The two things are not mutually exclusive, and embracing the latter doesn’t erase the worth of the former. 

And this is where the Julia Stiles thing comes in – the idea that embracing and enjoying traditional gender roles deprives a woman of her independence, her intelligence, her achievements and her credibility. That a capable female who chooses not to dedicate herself primarily to the ‘empowering’ pursuit of externally recognised success, who instead or even also decides to follow more traditional female roles, is somehow wasting their potential and diminishing their worth. That in order to be a true feminist, everything you do in life must be geared towards improving the rights of women and breaking down traditional gender roles – and that anything less is a betrayal and a failure of the ideals you believe in.

Pardon my French, but fuck that noise.

I absolutely consider myself a feminist, as well as an MRA. One of the dearest goals of my life is to somehow contribute to dismantling traditional gender roles and increasing equality for people of all genders. If I leave a legacy to the world, I would like that to be it. But while I believe passionately in the ideology of gender equality, I don’t want it to be the defining factor in everything that I do. And it’s not because I’m a ‘fake’ feminist or I’m giving in to the pressures of the patriarchal apparatus. It’s because I’m a real fucking person, and my needs and wants cannot be encompassed by just one ideology. Right now, I’m basically a housewife; I very happily cook and clean while my fiance is the one who brings home the bacon. If all goes to plan, I’ll be married at the age of 22 and I’d like to have kids in my mid-20s. And you know what? None of that makes me any less smart. It doesn’t stop me from pursuing a double-major at university; it doesn’t prevent me from writing these appallingly long but hopefully intelligent blog posts; it doesn’t diminish my desire to have a career that somehow furthers the cause of gender equality amongst many other social justice issues. But I will not spend my one life becoming a standard-bearer for feminism or any other ideology. If other people want to follow that path then more power to them, but it doesn’t give them a blank cheque to write off the life choices of people who don’t share their goals.

So I utterly reject the idea that a woman, that anyone, has to choose between either totally embracing or utterly rejecting all traditional gender roles. Not only is it something I find personally insulting, but more importantly it’s one of the biggest ways that modern feminism shoots itself in the foot. I’ve heard it said more times than I can count that feminism is about choice - increasing freedom and choices for everyone, but especially for women. But how can that be reconciled with the knee-jerk and vitriolic way in which so many so-called feminists demean those women who decide to embrace rather than reject some aspects of traditional femininity? After all, is that not their choice to make? Many critics of feminism have pointed out – quite rightly – that the movement cannot truly support freedom of choice for women if it acts like some women are making the ‘wrong’ choices for themselves. It comes across as a case of “We want you to have freedom of choice – as long as you choose what we think is right.”

As I said, some feminist sources counter this argument by saying that women choosing traditional gender roles are being subtly forced into making that decision, caving into the innumerable pressures and discriminations that women face in our society. Call me crazy, but isn’t a little inconsistent to follow an ideology that believes in the equal intelligence and abilities of women, and then effectively imply that some women are too ignorant to make their own choices without being manipulated by external force? Because that’s basically what it means – women who don’t reject traditional gender roles are too stupid to know what’s good for them or to understand the reasons for their own choices. More than that; it says that only women who reject traditional femininity are capable of seeing the lies and manipulations to which other women are falling victim. They alone can see the truth, they alone have not been fooled. Because what woman in their right mind would voluntarily embrace traditional female gender roles? Honestly, it’s not remotely difficult to understand why anyone, male or female, would be reluctant to support feminism if this is the kind of message the movement is sending out.

Despite all my criticisms, I believe that feminism is a wonderful movement which has achieved much and can still offer a great deal to the world. But that’s why I get so pissed off with stuff like this – there’s so much potential, and I honestly think that breaking down traditional gender roles through feminism and other movements will improve the lives of the vast majority of people. Ideally it can increase equality and tolerance, and offer more freedom and more choices to everyone, not just women. But people who support feminism have to truly embrace these goals, and really understand what such an ideal means. It does not mean getting rid of all traditionally masculine or feminine roles. It does not mean shaming and discriminating against people who voluntarily adopt the traditional roles and behaviours associated with their gender. It does not mean replacing a patriarchal system which oppresses people by forcing them into traditional gender roles, with a feminist system that oppresses them by refusing to let them embrace those roles if they want to. It does not mean telling other people how to live and what their values should be. It simply means that whatever choices a person makes, in whatever aspect of their life, should not be restricted by societal expectations about gender. A woman can be respected whether she’s a housewife or a Senator; a man can be respected whether he’s a stockbroker or a stay-at-home dad; and LGBTQ people can be respected and treated with dignity whether they identify as male, female, both or nothing at all. If feminism is really about choice and gender equality, then its supporters must respect all decisions equally and not denigrate those that they don’t personally agree with. I, for one, want the freedom to make my own life choices irrespective of my gender – not a mantra that tells me what those choices should look like.

The Latest Failure of Feminism

Last week I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t write any more articles for Parodoxy until I finished my uni assignments. Well, that failed, because today I came across an issue that made me so furious that my precious $1 Dollar Tree wine glasses were under serious threat of being exterminated. So I flexed my fingers and put on my Ranting Pants, and here I am to discuss a recent and, I think, rather serious failure of Western feminism.

There’s been some controversy recently about a series of ‘male studies’ courses potentially being offered by the University of South Australia. It should be noted that there’s a difference between ‘male studies’ and the ‘men’s studies’ courses that are already offered at numerous universities. This excellent article on JudgyBitch does a great job of explaining it; but essentially the difference is that ‘men’s studies’ arose primarily of a feminist analysis of gender, whilst ‘male studies’ focuses more on masculinity and the lives of boys and men, and does not necessarily examine these subjects through a feminist paradigm. The university reportedly considered offering courses on a variety of subjects focusing on issues such as men’s health, the psychological treatment of men, and gender discrimination. Many of these courses would be available online and had no required prerequisites. The biggest source of controversy lay in the identities of some of the proposed lecturers, such as self-termed “anti-feminist lawyer” Roy Den Hollander and academic Miles Groth. Both have written articles for websites such as A Voice For Men which are considered anti-feminist and have sometimes been described as hate groups. National Union of Students president Deana Taylor claimed that courses like these created “a dangerous platform for anti-women views”. Since the origin of the debate in January this year, the university has since confirmed that it will not be offering these courses and has issued public statements saying that they do not endorse the comments or opinions of the proposed lecturers.

Now let me start by saying that I’m not sorry that this particular set of courses did not run, because I don’t think the proposed lecturers were really the best people for the job. While I have no beef whatsoever with an individual being anti-feminist, I think it’s a little unwise to teach a course in male studies that is staffed and designed entirely by people with strong links to some of the more hardline anti-feminist material in the manosphere. On top of which, that Roy Den Hollander bloke isn’t actually an academic, he’s a lawyer. One of the best tutors I ever had was a lawyer, but she was also easily the most biased and partisan person who ever taught me. I’m not saying lawyers shouldn’t teach; I’m saying that when you’re tackling a relatively new field of study from an already controversial perspective, it’s probably a good idea to make sure it’s taught by people who are relatively moderate, unbiased, and not surrounded by quite so much controversy.

That said, if a course in male studies was offered at my university, I’d sign up for it in a heartbeat. It’s an incredibly fascinating field of study that has very rarely been addressed from a non-feminist perspective in the academic world, and it probably wouldn’t be all that difficult to make sure that the course provided a more balanced perspective. Sure, the proposed lecturers in this case weren’t great choices; but what about someone like Warren Farrell, who spent years as a famous feminist activist and still supports feminism, but is now an incredibly prominent figure in the Men’s Rights Movement? Or alternatively, ensure that students are taught by two or three different lecturers with a variety of perspectives – combine a Men’s Rights Activist with a male feminist like Michael Kimmel, who’s done such brilliant and extensive work on the way that gender and masculinity affect the lives of men and boys. Just because the execution in this particular case was far from perfect, that doesn’t mean that the idea of male studies – addressing issues of gender and masculinity from a non-feminist or even an anti-feminist perspective – is not a good idea or that it can’t be done well.

Predictably, however, many mainstream sources are portraying this as some kind of victory for women, feminism and equality. I find this a) troubling and b) a crock of shit. NUS president Deanna Taylor’s comments that this course constituted a platform for “anti-women” views is at best misguided, and at worst hysterical. While the course could potentially be construed as anti-feminist, that’s quite different to being anti-women. And quite frankly, what’s wrong with being anti-feminist? Opposing feminism is not the same thing as opposing women or their existence, or even their equality. Feminism is merely one of many ideologies existing in this world; I happen to think it’s a good ideology, but I also recognise that it has its flaws and that it often fails to live up to its purported goal of increasing freedom and equality for everyone, not just for women. Many of the people I’ve encountered who identify as anti-feminist do so because they believe that feminism frequently promotes the rights of women (especially middle-class white women like myself) at the expense of men. You know what? That’s a legitimate perspective. I don’t entirely agree with it, but I can absolutely see that it’s based upon a legitimate concern. Being anti-feminist doesn’t make one a sexist, and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad person.

Furthermore, the course outline doesn’t actually mention feminism at all; it merely addresses issues of gender, masculinity and men’s health from a non-feminist perspective. Again, what the hell is wrong with that? Apparently I missed the memo informing us all that we’re only ever allowed to talk about issues of gender through a feminist paradigm. Don’t get me wrong, I think feminism has created an absolutely crucial framework that allows us to analyse issues of gender and how they affect almost every aspect of our lives. But gender politics is no longer a fledgling field of discussion, and I for one don’t see the harm in tackling some of the issues in the gender debate from a non-feminist standpoint. Hell, even addressing this stuff from an anti-feminist standpoint could provide a whole new range of ideas and perspectives, and might even help those who support feminism to better understand some of the areas in which feminism is failing to truly improve the quality of life for everyone. When we address an issue from only one perspective, our understanding becomes stagnant and our actions can’t possibly meet the needs of an incredibly diverse world. Yes, a course like this might contradict and challenge some of the tenets and practices of Western feminism. But why shouldn’t they be challenged? Feminism is not an absolute truth, it’s merely one way of looking at the world, and critique or even criticism is a vital part of the evolution of any ideology. Successfully opposing a course like this is not a victory for feminism; it’s a failure, a missed opportunity to broaden understanding and increase the effectiveness of the whole movement.

While I’ve ranted a lot so far, this issue in and of itself is not what prompted me to don the Ranting Pants. No, what pissed me off was this particular article from the Australian publication Daily Life. It’s an opinion piece written by Alex McKinnon about the male studies courses controversy, which essentially characterises anyone who might be remotely interested in a course like this as a sweaty, Fedora-wearing creep whose interest in the MRM stems from their complete lack of success with women and subsequent hatred of the entire sex. I don’t know who Alex McKinnon is; I don’t know if they’re a man or a woman, and in fact I really don’t care. But whoever they are, fuck them.

Fuck their shallow, poorly-researched understanding of the reasons why people get involved with Men’s Rights Activism. Sure, there’s probably a great many men out there whose anti-feminist or pro-MRM views have been shaped by their personal relationships (or lack thereof). But there are also thousands, even millions of males who are interested in MRA for other reasons – and even if their interest is the result of personal issues, so what? Are people now only allowed to be interested in an issue if they have absolutely no personal stake in the debate or its outcomes?

Also, fuck their narrow-minded grasp of the of the issues tackled by the MRM and the reasons that a course like this might exist in the first place. Contrary to this asshole’s poorly constructed personal opinion, the MRM actually deals with a number of topics outside of girls, gaming and “heavy breathing on public transport”. Issues such as domestic violence, suicide, alcoholism, depression, child custody, divorce laws, unequal prison sentencing, workplace safety and male-victim rape are all part of the Men’s Rights discourse. Naturally, some sources tackle these issues from a more hardline or anti-feminist standpoint than others; and of course there are some people out there who identify as MRAs who clearly have serious problems with women, not just with feminism. But you get extremists in every ideological field, including feminism; it doesn’t mean that nothing and no-one associated with the movement has any legitimacy. Many of the topics addressed by the MRM are really important issues that are also heavily discussed in feminist discourse; approaching them from a variety of perspectives would give both groups a much better understanding of how to actually improve the problems we’re all facing.

But finally, I’d like to save my biggest fattest fuck-you for Alex McKinnon’s downright insulting assumptions about the type of people who’d be interested in studying men’s rights. How superficial, how narrow-minded and smug do you have to be to stereotype anyone who cares about this viewpoint as a bunch of bitter long-haired basement-dwelling porn-addicts. How is that any better than the manospherians who rant about how all feminist are fat and ugly and can’t get laid? You don’t improve the standard of a debate by sinking to the same lows as the people who disagree with you. So yeah, I’m pissed off that this douchecanoe ‘journalist’ has lowered the whole tone of this discussion by making offensive assumptions about a group of people they don’t even know, and who they clearly haven’t even tried to understand. Because guess what – I’d also be incredibly interested in studying a course like this, and I’m fairly sure I’m not male, living in a basement, playing WoW or wearing a Fedora. So fuck that article, its shamefully uninformed architect, and all the pathetic and cruel tropes it wheels out in the hope of scoring a few cheap laughs. Journalism at its lowest.

Or so I thought. But the more I looked into this issue, it began to emerge that the kind of stereotypes that the aforementioned rag of an article bought into were cropping up in quite a few other pieces. Take this month-or-so old article from the Sydney Morning Herald: the top right-hand corner of the page featured the following image.

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Honestly, I think this is sick. Not only does it mock and de-legitimise male studies and the MRM as nothing more than a forum for overprivileged men to get together and complain about the non-problems they all face. The last two points also ridicule and deride the difficulties that many men face in opening up about their emotions or traumatic experiences they may have suffered – and I’m not a scientist, but I’d say that probably has a fair bit to do with the increased rates of suicide, substance abuse and depression experienced by men and boys. HOW THE FUCK IS THIS FUNNY? I realise that this writer and perhaps many others thinks that being an MRA consists of drinking cheap beer and talking about cars and sports and tits and power tools. But quite frankly, that assumption reveals far more about their own ignorance than it does about the MRM. Naturally, everyone is entitled to their opinion – but if you’re going to write for one of Australia’s best known media publications, it probably behooves you as a journalist to do at least a modicum of research into any given area before you decide to take the piss out of it.

Perhaps the funniest and indeed saddest thing about this whole scenario and the way its been represented in mainstream media is that it proves beyond a doubt that the need for a male studies course does, in fact, exist. One of the biggest talking points for the MRM is the way in which feminism utterly dominates mainstream academic and popular discourse about gender issues. As the architect of the now-notorious proposed male studies course, Professor Gary Misan stated that “It’s very difficult for anybody who has opposing views to get a word in. As soon as somebody mentions anything they perceive as being anti-feminist they’re pilloried and in some cases almost persecuted.” What have the university, the National Union of Students and almost all the watching media sources done, if not prove to the world that Misan’s concerns are justified? I certainly don’t agree with all the guy’s views, but I think he’s spot on about this. Everything about the way this issue has been approached and represented indicates that the underlying problem was not so much with the proposed lecturers, but with the very idea of studying issues of gender in a way which does not support or even discuss feminism. The parties in question have entirely overlooked the capacity for a course like this to investigate fascinating topics such as the origin and development of the Men’s Liberation and Men’s Rights movement, masculinity in psychology, racialised masculinities and discrimination, and a history of masculinity itself and its various manifestations. It seems that in this discourse, ‘not supporting feminism’ means the same thing as ‘being anti-feminist’, and ‘anti-feminist’ equates to ‘anti-women’.  The more feminists and feminism insist that only pro-feminist perspectives are worthy of respect and discussion, the more the need for alternative viewpoints will increase and be recognised.

It’s high time feminists, and indeed all of society, stopped behaving as though anything that remotely challenges or contradicts the values of feminism is threatening and oppressive. Feminism is not an absolute truth; it is a human-made ideology, and just like Marxism and capitalism and every other ideology it must be constantly questioned, critiqued and re-evaluated. A belief system that cannot stand up to debate and scrutiny is not a system worth following. And feminism is well up to the challenge; it is no longer a burgeoning and marginalised movement, but the dominant voice in contemporary Western gender politics. It’s a time-tested perspective with a lot of support, so it’s a little ridiculous to act as though the slightest degree of criticism is a danger to the movement and everyone it purports to represent.

None of this is designed to be an attack on women, or on the seriousness of the discrimination suffered by so many females in our society. I don’t for one second believe that we’ve ‘arrived’ at some kind of egalitarian utopia, where women no longer suffer injustice and inequality. All I’m saying is that it’s not a zero-sum game; women are not the only group to experience discrimination, and acknowledging that men, LGBTQ people and many other demographics also suffer injustice in no way diminishes the problems still faced by so many women. All it does is say that they are not alone, and that looking at different sources and perspectives on social inequality may help produce more effective solutions. Our understanding of gender has come so far, and we’re beginning to understand that it isn’t and has probably never been a simple matter of men oppressing and women being oppressed. And as our knowledge increases, so our opinions should evolve. Achieving gender equality is a complex process, and we have to learn to embrace a complex array of perspectives – however controversial they may be – if we want to get anywhere near a solution.

Gaslighting: The Art of Being an Asshole

Anyone ever heard the term ‘gaslighting’?

For anybody who hasn’t, the term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Boyer wants to have his wife (Bergman) committed to a mental asylum so he can get his hands on her jewellery – so to convince her that she’s mad, he toys with the gaslights in their house to make them flicker. Then whenever she mentions the flickering lights, he pretends that he can’t see anything, thereby convincing her that she’s going insane.

The term’s been used by mental health professionals and in rather less academic discourse for quite some time. I promise I’ll explain what it means very shortly, but first I want to discuss how ‘gaslighting’ is portrayed in two different sources. The first is this ROK article by 2wycked, which is basically a takedown of this other article written about gaslighting by Yashar Ali – and in my humble opinion, both articles are somewhat off the mark. Let’s start with the ROK article, because it’s about a million times worse than the other one. In this post the author claims that ‘gaslighting’ is basically a term made up by feminists and their beta white knights to lash out at males who challenge a woman’s view of herself.  Apparently, women’s self-perceptions “are shaky and not based out of reality, so they need endless amounts of therapeutic messages that bolster their weak identities”; and when a man presents a woman with an unflattering comment about herself or her behaviour, she cannot deal with it. So what does she do? She accuses him of gaslighting, of portraying her as the one at fault when she is in fact no such thing. The writer further claims that whenever women are faced with unpalatable truths about themselves or women as a whole, they resort to accusing men of misogyny and sexism to deflect focus from their own faults – this, apparently, is another form of gaslighting. According to this article, if a woman accuses you of gaslighting (apparently men don’t make such accusations) then you are probably not doing anything wrong – you are merely rupturing her fragile and narcissistic self-identity. My main issue with this article is not the ridiculous generalisations it makes about both men and women (although those are quite profoundly stupid); it’s that the author seems to completely misunderstand what ‘gaslighting’ actually means. Ali’s article is considerably less inaccurate, as he seems to have a very good grasp of what ‘gaslighting’ involves and the ways in which it is commonly manifested. The one big problem I have with his interpretation is that Ali portrays gaslighting as something that happens almost exclusively to women, and that women alone are the primary victims of a social system which traditionally undervalues ‘feminine’ traits like empathy and expressing emotion.

Both articles are interesting in their own way, but as I said they’re both a little off target. The first article is fundamentally wrong because ‘gaslighting’ is not about someone calling you an asshole as a way of defending themselves against the unpleasant truths you reveal about their personality. To put it simply, gaslighting occurs when you say or do something which could be reasonably assumed to produce a negative reaction in another person, but when they do react accordingly you question their emotional response, making them doubt the validity of their own feelings and opinions. The essence is that the person who behaved rudely or inconsiderately is actually at fault, but by invalidating the emotional reaction of the person they have hurt they deflect blame from themselves. For instance, if your partner shows up half an hour late for a dinner date without  apologising or letting you know beforehand, and then accuses you of overreacting when you complain about it, that would be gaslighting. If your friend criticises your appearance, and responds to you being offended by saying something like “I was just joking – you’re so sensitive!’, that would be gaslighting. See what I mean? Basically, gaslighting involves one person acting like an asshole, and then telling the person that they upset with their asshole behaviour that they are in fact the asshole for having an inappropriate or extreme reaction.

Gaslighting is most commonly viewed as something that is done by men to women. According to Ali, gaslighting stems largely from the fact that “we are conditioned to believe….that what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate”.  The idea is that our culture stereotypes women as being emotional, crazy, oversensitive and irrational, and that therefore it’s much easier to undermine their opinions and emotions. While I do agree that stereotypes like this exist and that they play a crucial role in the phenomenon of gaslighting, I dispute the idea that women are overwhelmingly the targets of gaslighting. It’s very easy to gaslight a woman by playing into the idea that women are unstable and overemotional, so their opinions and emotions are less likely to be rational and valid. But it’s also very easy to gaslight men and especially boys, by playing into the idea that any display of emotion or vulnerability is unmanly, and so if they’re expressing hurt feelings then they’re just being ‘pussies’.

To make it a bit clearer I’ll use a personal example, one of which I’m not particularly proud. In high school I had a male friend who I used to tease quite frequently about his appearance. He used to be chubby, but he hit the gym and the protein shakes something hardcore and ended up being super buff. So if I wasn’t paying him out for being fat, I was criticising him for being what I saw as ridiculously muscly. And when he told me I was being mean or unfair, guess what I’d say?

“You’re just being a pussy.”

“I was just kidding, why are you so oversensitive?” 

“Don’t be such a girl!

See what I mean? I was being cruel and insensitive, but I made him feel like he was the one at fault by telling him that his emotional reactions were inappropriate – and more specifically, that they were inappropriate for a male. Looking back on it, I realise that it’s something that was actually quite common for me and a number of my friends; we were always much less hesitant about insulting our male peers than we were about insulting female friends. For myself, I know made cracks about my guy friends that I would never in a million years have made at the expense of my girlfriends. It was almost like we all had this unspoken assumption that the feelings of boys were somehow ‘less’ than the feelings of girls – less sensitive, less fragile, less vulnerable. Men weren’t meant to get hurt as easily as women, and so when they did get hurt, we effectively criticised them for not being masculine enough to remain unaffected by our cruelty.

The point of this is not that gaslighting actually affects men more than women, because I don’t think it does. In fact, I believe that women are still more likely to be the victims of gaslighting than men, since our society stereotypes men as being stoic and rational and therefore their emotions are more likely to be taken seriously. But this very advantage is also commonly and easily turned against males; instead of accepting their emotions as reasonable and valid, we can denigrate them as effeminate and excessive, thereby undermining both their sense of masculinity and their emotional response. The gaslighting of males is a little more complex than gaslighting females. To gaslight a woman, you essentially have to invalidate her emotions by invoking the stereotype of the emotional, crazy female. To gaslight a man, you create invalidation by claiming that he is failing to live up to the stereotype – to be stoic, rational, unemotional, manly. If he was a ‘real’ man’, he wouldn’t have been upset in the first place. This is just one among many reasons why I detest traditional gender roles and stereotypes; whether you are or are not meeting the criteria for how members of your sex ‘typically’ behave, you’re still managing to do something wrong. Clap for society, everyone.

It’s important to note that gaslighting is often not intentional. Deflecting blame from ourselves by instead criticising the reaction we have produced in others is a very common behaviour, and it’s not always an act of conscious manipulation. Nobody wants to think badly of themselves if they can help it, and attack is the best form of defence and all that. But whether you’re doing it because you don’t want to face up to acting like an asshole, or simply because you’re an odious manipulative weasel, gaslighting is a pretty shitty thing to do. It took me quite a few years after leaving high school to realise what an absolute douchecanoe I’d been at times, and how I’d compounded what was basically unnecessarily cruel behaviour by undermining the completely valid emotional reactions of the people I’d hurt.

So how do we avoid gaslighting others? Well unfortunately, the key is self-awareness. And I say ‘unfortunately’ because self-awareness is something that almost everyone finds uncomfortable and which almost nobody is naturally good at. For myself, I found that it was much easier not to gaslight people when I bothered to stop for half a second and think about how what I said or did might affect another person. Part of that was probably just growing out of being a bratty teenager, but it does also take a degree of conscious effort to empathise with others (and I still screw up plenty). It sounds kind of obvious, but if we want to avoid needlessly hurting the feelings of others then we have to be able to imagine what those feelings might be like, preferably before the damage is done. And part of that involves facing up to the unwelcome possibility that we might be in the wrong.

While I don’t think this is really a ‘gender issue’ I do think that gender plays an important role, because part of increasing our capacity for empathy is getting rid of the idea that males and females have different feelings. It means letting go of the stereotype that women are naturally wired to feel too much, and men are inherently built to feel too little. Yes, sometimes people overreact, but I very much doubt it’s a direct result of the type of genitals they were born with. To some extent I do believe that our gender can affect how we perceive the world, but I’m not saying we renounce the idea that males and females are in any way different from one another. I’m saying that when we try to avoid gaslighting by practising self-awareness and empathy, we must filter out our prejudices about the emotional differences between men and women. Because prejudice and stereotypes are fundamentally dehumanising, and it’s impossible to truly empathise with someone if you view them as less human than yourself.

Dear Roosh

Dear Roosh,

I’m a long-time reader of your most notorious publication, Return of Kings. Every day I patiently check through its articles for insights into the minds of those who, on the surface, most fervently disagree with my own views and, in some cases, my very existence. I never engage with commenters or authors, since it seems commenting on a website that specifically forbids the input of women would be rather futile for me. But today, dearest Roosh, I was at last inspired to respond to an article written by none other than your illustrious self – ‘The Time Is Right For Traditional Gender Roles To Return’. Why, you might ask? Well, because in this article you very nobly take time to inform readers of the seriousness of your commitment to the ideals of ROK. You solemnly swear that you are not a ‘troll’ website, as many infer, but that you and all your contributors truly believe in the ideals on which this forum is based. With that in mind, I felt it was incumbent upon me to shelve my natural feminine aversion to logic, and point out just a few of the flaws in this particular contribution to the ROK archives. After all accuracy is crucial, is it not?

Let’s start at the very beginning, which I hear is a very good place to start. You begin your piece with a list of “simple examples” of how traditional sex roles allow each gender to maximise their natural strengths and weaknesses. I assume that the conclusion we’re meant to draw is that by forsaking traditional sex roles, we’re forcing both men and women into jobs and behaviours to which they are not suited. But, alas, I do believe you’ve erred. For instance…

Which sex, thanks to a stronger nurturing component, makes for better nurses and caretakers? Which sex, thanks to a superior analytical faculty, makes for better engineers and programmers?

No offence, but you could’ve picked better examples. The fact is that nursing and care-taking professions are still female-dominated, whilst industries like engineering and programming are still very much dominated by men. But forget the details, let’s look at the core argument – that because of the inherent, evolutionary abilities of each gender, men and women are better suited to particular and often different professions. Well Roosh, getting rid of traditional gender roles doesn’t deny that. What it does deny is that any man or woman should be restricted only to taking on those jobs dictated by the so-called natural abilities shared by the majority of their gender. Nobody’s saying that all nurses should be men or all engineers should be women because that would somehow make society more equal. All that gender equality advocates are saying is that if an individual demonstrates a certain aptitude for a particular task or career, they should be allowed to follow that path regardless of their gender. Perhaps natural ability dictates that most nurses should be women and most engineers should be men – but when there are exceptions, it’d be pretty stupid to tell them that they can’t do something they’re good at, just because most people who are good at it have different genitals to them.

Which sex, thanks to its predisposition for accumulating power and resources, makes for better nation builders, state leaders, and executives?

I’m guessing the answer is ‘men’, right? Unfortunately this one’s a little off the mark as well. I won’t argue that men are more in the habit of accumulating power than women, but as for resources I can’t really agree. You later argue that women are naturally better homemakers – but surely a critical aspect of homemaking throughout the centuries has been accumulating and successfully managing resources to ensure survival? In an increasingly overpopulated world with limited natural resources, surely the ability to distribute and conserve those resources strategically is more important than the drive to go out and take someone else’s resources? If we’re going by your logic, women should be just as good if not better at this task than men. Which leads to my next point – politics is no longer about aggressive nation building. Developed nations are called that for a reason – they’re already built. As I said, the world has a finite amount of resources and constant aggressive expansion is not a sustainable political format. Maybe you’re right and men are naturally better at accumulating power and resources; but in this day and age, that’s not the only thing we need from our leaders and politicians. We also need diplomacy, tact, an awareness of our place in the world, and the ability to see the viewpoints of others and build strong relationships with other nations. Even if we accept that a person’s gender is what determines their abilities, there’s no reason why women and men should not be equally good at these tasks since they’re hardly gender specific. No nation can function healthily in the world unless its leaders have a variety of skills and perspectives – maybe having a government comprised entirely of heterosexual white men isn’t a super-great way to achieve that?

Which sex, thanks to a more innate ability at nesting and maintaining the hearth, makes for better home caretakers?

I won’t bore you with this one, because it pretty much fall under the same umbrella as your first two arguments. Yes, women have a long evolutionary tradition of creating and maintaining hearth and home, and the majority of stay-at-home parents and partners are still women. But as I said before, there are exceptions to the rule on both sides – women who have no domestic or maternal urges at all, and men who would much rather stay at home with their kids than slave away in an office. A reversion to traditional gender roles would mean that such people would be viewed as unnatural, and would almost certainly be discouraged from pursuing the paths which most appealed to them and their abilities. In fact, you only need to look at how few men are encouraged to work part-time to see that the stigma around being a ‘house-husband’ or ‘stay-at-home dad’ is still very real. Most homemakers are still women, and most full-time workers are still men. Would going back to the bad old days when pursuing any other option was almost impossible really make our lives better?

Which sex, due to its greater desensitization to fear, is better suited to take large risks?

Alas, Roosh, I think you’ll find that this predisposition to risk-taking is something of a double-edged sword. I won’t deny that it’s true; males are typically less risk-averse than females, especially when they’re younger. Many people argue that this makes them better at jobs like military service, firefighting, mining and police work. But the dark side of courage is stupidity, and being willing to take a risk (especially a large one) is not always the best option. Just look at the GFC – my understanding is that it was caused, among other things, by the people in charge of the stock market taking enormous risks with other people’s money which really, really didn’t pay off. So while males in general may be better suited to risk-taking behaviour, that’s not a reason to exclude all women from high-risk professions. As I keep reiterating, there are always exceptions to the rule; if a woman can prove that she’s just as capable of meeting the criteria for a job as a man, then why not employ her? When traditional gender roles are the dominant influence in the work force, people’s career paths are based more on social stigma about appropriate roles for each gender, rather than on the abilities of the individual in question. Encouraging the influence of traditional sex roles in the workplace will just lead to greater restriction for both genders.

Which sex, due to having a minuscule fluid contribution to the breeding process, is better suited at having a larger number of sexual partners?

You know what? I actually have no beef with this. I wouldn’t say that males were “better suited” to having multiple sexual partners than females, but I also don’t think a single man should have to hold off sex out of some kind of moral imperative. As long as it’s safe and consensual, and nobody’s being unnecessarily hurt or deceived, I’m happy for a dude to marinate his nether rod in as many different squish-mittens as he likes.

Which sex, due to having to risk its life through a 9-month gestation period, is better suited to monogamy?

I’m afraid this is perhaps your greatest logical fallacy. Sure, historically speaking it’s definitely been safer and more sensible for women to be monogamous. Being pregnant was difficult, giving birth was life-threatening, and having a child out of wedlock was pretty much catastrophic. I don’t think this was some kind of evil patriarchal conspiracy; it was quite practical, even if the double standard was pretty unfair. But unfortunately the crux of your argument is also its downfall, because science! Since I doubt you live in a cave, I can only assume you’re aware that we now have things like condoms, the pill, implants, and in more extreme cases abortion and the morning after pill. Anyone with half a brain, male or female, can and should use measures like these especially when having casual sex (and they should probably use condoms anyway, because sharing chlamydia isn’t really a fun first-date activity.) If the sole reason that women shouldn’t have lots of sex is because of the risk of pregnancy, then surely the advent of birth control completely negates the need for female monogamy. In a country like the U.S., where access to birth control measures is relatively widespread and affordable, there’s no practical reason why a female should not be allowed to have just as many sexual partners as a male. Add to that the enormous decline in maternal mortality in the last 100 years, and I’m afraid there’s really no scientific basis for this argument. Sorry, but it just ain’t logical. If you still don’t think that women should be allowed to have as many sexual partners as men because of your personal values or preferences, that’s fine. You’re perfectly entitled to think that way, and to encourage others to share your viewpoint. But please, don’t try to dress up your personal opinions as science. It’s dishonest to your readers, and it makes you look stupid.

Well Roosh, I’m afraid we’re nearing the end of this humble offering of mine. But before I say goodbye, I do have a few final points. First up, I do kind of get where you’re coming from. No, honestly! Quite often mainstream feminism is characterised by a ‘women can do anything men can do’ attitude which I quite sincerely find silly and annoying. Most women cannot do some of the things that most men can do, and no amount of rhetoric is going to change that. Likewise, there are some things most women can do that no man can do (but ovulation isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds). So I understand how you might think that scrapping traditional gender roles means that we’ll start stupidly shoe-horning people into professions and roles that they neither enjoy or succeed at, all in the name of equality. But as I said so many times, that’s not the case – and people who think that it should be, feminist or not, are idiots. The thing is, what you fear is basically what happens if traditional gender roles make a comeback. When society has been dominated by these norms, people have been forced to do and be things that do not come naturally to them. Many aspects of their lives, sometimes all of them, are moulded around a factor over which they had no choice or influence – their gender. A person’s career, sexuality, appearance, home life, hobbies and behaviour were all restricted by what society deemed acceptable to a person of that gender, even when conforming to such standards seriously compromised the health and happiness of the individual. Breaking away from these norms resulted in varying degrees of punishment, from public shaming and ostracism and sometimes even to death. We’re never going to live in a world where everyone is always happy and fulfilled and nobody ever has to make sacrifices. But shouldn’t we at least try to shape a society where a person is able to make their life choices based on their character and abilities, and not on what type of genitals they were born with?

Also, the hashtag. I have a serious problem with the hashtag. At the end of your post you encourage readers to comment on ROK or on Twitter using #BackToTheKitchen. My problem is not that it offends me, because it’s too ridiculous even to do that. My problem is that whether you realise it or not, you’ve effectively shot yourself in the foot. In this very piece you specifically state that ROK is not a troll website. Can you not understand that when you write an article about traditional gender roles featuring ‘#BackToTheKitchen’, it takes absolutely no imagination at all to picture ROK as a big fat joke? If your idea of traditional gender roles week does indeed go viral, all anyone’s going to remember about it is that stupid hashtag. The only people who will actually listen to your arguments are the people who already agreed with your ideas anyway. To everyone else, this sort of rubbish makes you look like a snotty teenager drawing dicks on the other kids’ lunch boxes because he thinks it makes him look clever. You claim that the aim of ROK is to provide answers to men struggling with their masculinity – surely they deserve a better response than self-sabotaging childishness?

And finally, just how far are you planning to go with this whole reviving traditional gender roles business? Because you see, these roles have meant different things at different times. You can’t just say “We need to go back to the way things were!” and hope that everyone will just magically agree on a new set of standards for social attitudes to gender. But more importantly, reviving traditional gender roles in the U.S. would not just affect gender politics at home. For better or worse, America’s biggest export is its culture, and the way Americans approach gender and equality can have a profound impact on the attitudes of other countries. In your article you imply that the traditional sex roles prevailing in regions like the Middle East are a positive thing: but I wonder if you’d still feel that way if you’d had the chance to speak to the 15-year-old Yemeni girl who was burned to death by her own father last year for daring to contact her fiance before their marriage. Or perhaps to any of the LGBTQ people who live in one of the 38 African countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence punishable by fines, imprisonment and even execution. Or maybe even to the men in this article who, having been raped by other men as part of wartime terror tactics, find themselves rejected by their wives, families and communities if they speak out about this trauma; they are viewed as emasculated failures, unable to live up to the traditional masculine ideals of dominance, aggression, protectiveness and strength. To you, Roosh, restoring traditional gender roles may mean having a pleasant, attractive wife to mix you a drink when you get home from work. But to many others in this world it can mean the difference between life and death, freedom and imprisonment, sanity and madness.

Well, that’s about it. Hopefully my humble feminine perspective has provided a little something to think about. And while I totally respect your right to whatever opinions you hold, I do wish that for your own sake and for that of your followers, you’d accept that traditional gender roles are not going to make a comeback anytime soon. Society can be pretty screwed up, but it doesn’t generally take a deliberate step backwards unless something super terrible happens, like the Roman empire collapsing or everyone getting killed by Africanised bees or whatever. Hoping and wishing that we can go back to the Mad Men era might make for pleasant daydreams, but it probably won’t do much to improve the lot of men in our society, or anywhere else in the world.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get #BackToTheKitchen.

Is the Pope Catholic? Apparently.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m here to stick up for the Pope’s views on abortion. Trust me, you can’t be more surprised than I am, so please hear me out.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article by Jezebel writer Lindy West titled Cool’ Pope Decries Abortion, Reminds Us Why Popes Are Not So Cool. It basically says that we all thought Pope Francis was doing super well at being cool and caring about oppressed groups in society, but since he came out and said that abortion is a symptom of a “throwaway culture”, he’s obviously not such a cool dude after all. Now I’m not personally a fan of Lindy West; I think she sometimes confuses gender equality with self-entitlement, and I usually find the subjects of her articles pretty boring and the style of her writing kind of irritating. So I didn’t pay this piece very much attention.

But yesterday, I came across another article on the exact same subject written by British feminist blogger Laurie Penny. She is, in my opinion, an excellent writer and her understanding of feminism is one that I mostly agree with. Her article pretty much says the same thing as West’s; that for a while we were able to cherish the belief that the new Pope was progressive, but since he pointed out in one speech that he doesn’t support abortion, that dream has come crashing down.

Now, I support abortion. I don’t like it – I don’t think anyone likes abortion – but I believe all women should have access to safe abortions if they so desire. It’s not a decision I believe any woman would take lightly, and so I don’t think that making access to termination procedures easier will make the decision itself any easier. I’m not a Catholic, and I believe the right of a living, breathing, conscious woman to decide what happens to her body is, yes, more important than the right of a fetus to be born because some people in the world believe that its life has already begun. We apparently live in a secular society, and our laws should not be made on the basis of religious beliefs. Laws should be made in the interest of public health and safety, and it’s a well-documented fact that unsafe and botched abortions have serious health repercussions for the women who suffer them. Penny states in her article that unsafe abortions result in the deaths of around 47,000 women each year; even if it’s a tenth of that number, it’s too much. I have no desire to tell others what to think about abortion, but my personal view is that laws inhibiting access to safe termination procedures unnecessarily endanger the health of an unacceptably large section of society. Whether you think abortion is morally right or wrong, this is primarily a public health issue; women who cannot access safe abortions are at risk, and the job of any government is to make life as safe and high-quality as possible for its citizens.

Having got that out of the way, I disagree with the articles written by West and Penny for several reasons.

First off, he’s the Pope. What the hell did anyone expect him to say? Even though both West and Penny point out that supposedly no-one should be surprised by his stance on abortion, they’re apparently surprised enough to write articles about it. If it’s not news to them, why are they making it news to others? The Pope is not just a figurehead, he’s also a human being who has presumably believed in the Catholic faith all his life. Is he supposed to publicly contradict one of the most fundamental tenets of his faith, that life begins at conception? I’m not saying that he’s right – I’m saying that it’s silly to act like him having that viewpoint at all is some kind of disappointment, or somehow newsworthy.

Secondly, what he said wasn’t even particularly anti-abortion. The exact quote is as follows:

“Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary.’ For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day…” 

That’s it. That’s all. Now I realise that some people could easily find it offensive that a woman making the difficult decision to have an abortion could be likened to throwing away food or plastic cutlery. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the comment was designed to trivialise abortion, or to imply that the women who bear children should be dispensable but their unborn babies should not. As far as I can tell, all he’s saying is that our culture as a whole does not place the value that it should on human life, and that abortion can be interpreted as one example of that. I don’t agree with that interpretation, but as far as comments about abortion go I also don’t think it’s particularly offensive. He’s didn’t say that abortion is a sin, or that women who have them will go to hell, or that Catholics around the globe should renew their efforts to combat abortion wherever they can. He didn’t even say that abortion is bad; rather, he’s saying that it’s sad. And y’know what? I agree. Abortion is sad. It’s not a happy thing, even if it is sometimes a necessary one. I understand why people would find the Pope’s view offensive, but I also think it’s a bit of an overreaction to start talking about what a dick the guy must be. He’s the leader of the Catholic world, and he made one passing mention of being anti-abortion, in one sentence, in one speech. He’s also specifically stated that the Catholic church focuses too much on homosexuality and abortion, so I don’t think we all need to flap ourselves into outraged disappointment because of this one rather fleeting anti-abortion statement.

But the biggest problem for me is in the overall message of both articles: that because the Pope expressed an anti-abortion viewpoint, he can no longer be considered “cool” or “progressive”. In fact, Penny goes even further, and suggests that all the apparently nice stuff he’s done is really just a calculated attempt at “re-branding” the papacy and the Catholic faith to give it a wider appeal. I’m sorry, but what the shit? Since when is whether or not someone supports abortion the deciding factor in whether or not they can be considered progressive? Since when are all the other good things a person has done negated, just because they don’t believe a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body trumps the right of a child to be born? Penny claims that abortion is a simple issue – either you believe a woman has a right to abortion or she doesn’t – but I don’t agree. Even as someone who is not religious, I still sometimes struggle with the idea that a fetus, however lacking in consciousness, will never get to experience the world I see. While I firmly believe in a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion, I completely understand why for many people this is not a simple question of a woman’s right to choose.

And I completely and utterly reject the idea that a person’s goodness or progressiveness is intrinsically linked to their opinion on this one issue. It goes to the heart of one of the things I like least about feminism; those feminists who believe that unless someone agrees with feminism as they understand it, they basically can’t be a good person. There are many groups in the world who are oppressed and disenfranchised for a variety of reasons; feminism and women’s rights is not the be-all-and-end-all of equality. Gender politics are complex and overlap with many other issues, religion being one of them – if a person cannot easily choose between feminist ideology and a religious ideology, does that make them a bad human being? Not in my world. And as for Pope Francis, I have a lot of respect for most of the opinions he’s voiced and the actions he’s taken since he came to office. While I’m not religious, I think he’s doing a pretty good job of representing the humility, compassion and kindness that I consider to be the best parts of any religion. He may not support abortion, but he has shown an impressive level of compassion and tolerance for other marginalised groups; the poor, the disabled, LGBTQ people. I don’t agree with his stance on abortion, but I also don’t for one second believe that it undoes his better acts or makes his more tolerant statements a pack of lies.

While I’m firmly ensconced on my Ranting Podium, I might as well bring up the thing that most frustrates me about the attitude of many feminists to the abortion debate. It can be summed up in the title of Penny’s article: ‘The Pope’s beliefs about abortion will become relevant the day the Pope becomes pregnant‘. I am so sick and bloody tired of people who identify as feminists saying that men have no right to an opinion about abortion. Look, on the one hand, I get it: the battle for women’s reproductive rights is a hard-fought and ongoing campaign, and I understand that for some feminists, the idea that men have a relevant say in this issue is too close to the bad old days when men had the only say in this issue. Getting abortion legalised at all has been incredibly difficult, and I too have no desire to live in a society where women have to resort to dangerous back-alley procedures to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

That said, the idea that someone having a penis removes their right to an opinion on this or any issue is horse shit. Since when do you have to be personally affected by an issue in order to be ‘permitted’ a relevant opinion? Are white people not allowed to have a view on discrimination against minorities? Should straight people not express opinions about LGBTQ rights? What about infertile women – they can’t get pregnant either, should their opinions about abortion also be irrelevant? Somehow this gets even more annoying and hypocritical when it reaches a personal level. If a woman gets pregnant, she has the only deciding opinion in whether or not she terminates that pregnancy – fair enough, it’s her body. But if she decides to keep it, then the father of that child is expected to provide at least financial support for that child, even if he had no desire whatsoever for the mother to go through with the pregnancy. To be quite honest I can’t think of a reasonable way to change this system to make it fairer, but the point is that men as well as women are affected by pregnancy and abortion. While I strongly believe that a woman – a person – is the only individual who can ultimately decide what happens to their own bodies, I don’t think it’s fair to insist that abortion has nothing to do with men and that they have no right to an opinion about it. And you know what? I’ve never seen a feminist tell a man that his opinion about abortion is irrelevant when he’s expressed support for legalised abortion. Never.

But the biggest problem, for me, is that denying men the right to an opinion simply because they’re men is absolutely sexist – no less sexist than the men on RoK who insist that women have no right to talk about masculinity because they are not men. Stuff like this is part of what makes it so hard to convince others of what I have always believed, that feminism is about liberating both genders and making them equal, not just increasing the rights and freedoms of women. You cannot claim to support gender equality one minute, and in the next turn around and tell half the world’s population that their opinion on an issue is irrelevant specifically because they are men and cannot get pregnant. I’ve always believed that the whole point of feminism, of gender equality, is that the way we live our lives should not be defined by our gender. Our opinions, our jobs, our relationships, our appearances, our behaviour – we get to decide these things based on who we are as people, not based on what the rest of society says is acceptable for people with the same genitals as us. But crap like this makes me seriously question that belief. I will always support the rights of women, but I will always show equal support for the rights of men, and I will never support a system that makes someone’s gender the determining factor in how they live their lives.

Apocalypse When?

In my last post, I discussed some of the common flaws shared by pop feminism and the manosphere, hoping to illustrate that these groups and the causes they support are not as dissimilar as they might appear. Today, however, I want to look at a phenomenon that seems to occur solely in the manosphere: an apparent obsession with social collapse. As before, I’d like to point out that this isn’t something that occurs throughout the men’s rights movement, but rather seems to be solely confined to easy-access, opinion based media about men’s rights (i.e. the aforementioned manosphere). Also I do apologise if this comes across as a biased criticism – I would have loved to compare this phenomenon in both the manosphere and in pop feminism, but since I can’t find any evidence of its existence in the latter that wasn’t really an option. Anyway, let’s roll.

Many writers and commenters in the manosphere seem to think that feminism and the ‘feminisation’ of Western society (especially the U.S.) is leading us towards some kind of societal apocalypse. I can’t find any universal consensus on what exactly it is about feminism that’s inviting such doom. In fact I’ve seen people blame pretty much everything: single mothers, divorce, abortion, contraception, the loss of the traditional family unit, destruction of traditional gender roles, female promiscuity, anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action, a lack of respect for traditional masculinity, and the apparent overall ‘pussy-whipping’ of society. However, one thing that is almost always agreed upon is that feminists are foolishly upsetting the natural order, and that their self-important meddling is fostering a social collapse that will teach both the architects and victims of the feminism a well-deserved lesson.

Now I realise that when something you don’t like is happening around you and it’s out of your control, it’s not uncommon to view it as a crisis. I also get that for most humans who are feeling angry or aggrieved, the idea of their so-called enemies receiving comeuppance through their own folly is a tempting vision. So yes, in some ways I can understand why some people believe that feminism will soon bring the society is has so distorted crashing down upon its own head. But there’s nothing to stop an idea from being both tempting and ridiculous, and this one is definitely both.

For starters, nobody seems able to agree on exactly how this crisis will start. This is hardly surprising given the great diversity and loosely organised nature of the manosphere; it’s not like there’s some kind of central hive that will one day send out the signal that it’s time to rise up. No-one really seems too bothered by this, however – they just know that one day the call will come, and when it does they will answer. While social upheaval is hardly a meticulously planned process, it’s a little difficult to give credence to a revolution that doesn’t know how or why it’s going to start, or who is going to start it. It’s rather similar to those ultra-conservatives in America who insist on hoarding guns in preparation for the day when they’ll have to rise up against a corrupt government; they have no idea how, when or why they’ll have to fight back, but by golly they’ll be ready when the call goes out!

But let’s for one moment entertain the possibility that somehow, someone manages to successfully get the anti-feminist revolutionary ball rolling. What then? Who will be the driving force behind this armageddon, and what exactly will they be doing? Once again, nobody seems to be super keen on specifics. In my experience, discussions consist almost solely of people insisting that “One day they’ll be sorry!” in an astonishing variety of ways. Occasionally I’ve comes across someone with a slightly more concrete idea of what the incoming apocalypse looks like – I’d say overall the scenarios fall into three main categories. And while these visions of social armageddon are certainly interesting, it’s also not difficult to think up some very basic reasons why they wouldn’t be very successful. For instance…

Apocalypse 1 – The Rampage: The ‘beta’ males of American society, so long held hostage by meaningless jobs and sexless, emasculating relationships, will rise up in a tidal wave of rage and go on a general spree of looting/violence/rape/all of the above. The feminist puppet masters and their dupes will be frightened into submission when they see how powerless they are in the face of widespread male anger.

This little gem came from a commenter on Return of Kings a few weeks ago. The most obvious problem with this one  is that the idea of every man who’s unhappy with his job or his relationship (or lack thereof) spontaneously uniting and going on a pillaging excursion is, frankly, rather stupid. A very generous estimate would be a few hundred thousand people at most. Which leaves absolutely everyone else in society to oppose this revolution at a personal level. Even if we accept the thoroughly inaccurate idea that females would be incapable of defending themselves at all, that still leaves millions of men who would probably rather help protect their wives, children, mothers, sisters and friends from harm than join some kind of senseless riot. Add to that a federal government which has the world’s largest and most powerful military, and the chances of this particular scenario coming off successfully are looking pretty slim.

Apocalypse 2 – The Exodus: The ‘alpha’ males of society, recognising that there’s no reason for them to buy into the conventional goals of wives, families and mundane job security, will distance themselves as much as possible from mainstream society. They will forgo relationships, not earn more than they need to survive, possibly even move overseas to more ‘traditional’ environments. Once society is deprived of its most successful and valuable members, it will slowly collapse and/or ‘naturally’ gravitate back towards traditional gender roles.

This is quite a common one, a slightly more extreme version of the MGTOW philosophy. While it’s decidedly less batty than the first scenario, it’s probably still not gonna fly. In the first place, I doubt that men would opt out of society in significant enough numbers to make this a social crisis. While there are certainly issues of inequality which affect most men, those who feel aggrieved enough to totally opt out of society fall into the minority (albeit a very vocal one). Even if men did decide to eschew marriage and long-term relationships with women, would they be willing to give up their ties to their families? What if they have children that they value more than their own needs, as many fathers do – should they still only earn what they need to survive? And while I’m sure many of us have fantasised about moving overseas and starting a whole new life, how many of us – male or female – would be willing to say goodbye to all our family and friends just so we could teach society a lesson? The biggest problem with this idea is that it requires men to behave as though they are both selfish and lonely; to value their own agency more than they value other people, and to be content with avoiding all close relationships except those with other like-minded men. Some men may be willing to make that choice, but I’d bet my life that most would not. And aside from that, how arrogant does a person have to be to think that if ‘alpha males’ like them suddenly withdraw themselves from society, everyone else will just slump to the ground like dead bumblebees? This is not ‘Atlas Shrugged’, and these men are not an army of gender-conscious John Galts – if they opted out of mainstream society, then society would just continue without them because nobody is that damn important. There are only a handful of people in this world who are wealthy and powerful enough that their withdrawal from society would cause a problem; and frankly, they’re doing so well under the current system that they have no reason to distance themselves from it. Everyone else is replaceable as far as society is concerned, including self-nominated ‘alpha’ males – and even if they weren’t, there simply aren’t enough of them to make their exodus even a nuisance, let alone an armageddon.

Apocalypse 3 – Bankruptcy: The single mothers who depend on welfare will eventually become such a drain on the U.S. economy that it will collapse, forcing a social restructure featuring – you guessed it – traditional gender roles.

I can’t tell if this is the most or least insane idea of them all. Now I understand nothing about the economy so I won’t try to dismantle this from a financial viewpoint. But even I realise that it’s not as simple as ‘This group of people is living off money they haven’t earned so everything is going to be bad”. Judging by its incomprehensible nature I can only assume that the economy is a very complex thing, and so the actions of one not-very-powerful group of people hardly seem likely to bring the whole thing crashing down. On one level, this scenario is nothing more than a rather sad attempt to villify single mothers (apparently just calling them immoral is so last season). But on another level it’s one of the less ludicrous scenarios I’ve come across, because there’s no doubt at all that wealth distribution in America is absolutely fucked. It’s pretty screwy the world over, actually – as this recent report by Oxfam demonstrates, a ridiculously small number of people control a hideously large proportion of the world’s wealth, and the amount of income they receive has increased steadily in the last 30 years. So my point is not that an economic collapse isn’t going to happen (GFC anyone? No?) The point is that if/when it does happen, it’s not going to be because single mothers are on welfare. That’s why I think this idea is so stupid – how can anyone look at all the  economic bullshit happening in America today, and reach the conclusion that people on welfare are the problem? What about stagnant wages? Or the fact that the average worker in America needs to work for over a month to earn what a CEO earns in one hour? (Also seriously click on that last link because it’s one of the best and scariest short videos you’ll ever see.) The economic problems of America are genuine, but blaming a relatively poor and non-influential group just harms everyone except those who are already benefitting unfairly from a broken system. Surely these very real and serious concerns pose far more of a threat to social stability than any amount of welfare-dependent single mothers ever could.

As fun as it is to pick apart a nonsensical vision of social doom, these apocalyptic scenarios make me rather sad. Not because they’re going to happen, but because some people seem to want them to happen so badly. They’d rather see Western society collapse than continue the way that it’s going – and in many ways it’s not even going that badly! We have comforts, advantages and resources that our ancestors – and indeed many people in developing countries – could only dream of. People of colour and ethnic minorities are arguably closer to equality and better protected from discrimination than they have ever been. LGBTQ people are being increasingly accepted and are freer to express their love and identities than ever before. Medicine makes our lives longer, and technology makes them easier – we have no fear of famine or disease, wild animals or conquest by our neighbours. Naturally there are problems, but in case nobody’s noticed there are always problems! In the past century alone we’ve survived two World Wars, the Spanish Influenza, the Holocaust or Shoah, an escalating nuclear conflict, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, 9/11 and the War on Terror, the legalisation of gay marriage, the end of state-sanctioned racial discrimination, plus God only knows how many natural disasters – and this is just a fraction of what people throughout the world have suffered in recent history. Humans survive. Societies survive. We may not keep calm but we do carry on, it’s what we’ve always done, and changing gender roles are not going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Discrimination and injustice affects men as well as women, but dreaming of armageddon and a return to the good old days doesn’t help anyone. The more a person sits around hoping that one day they’ll be proved right in their negativity, the less they’re doing to actually make life better for anyone else, let alone themselves. We’re lucky enough that our degenerate, doomed, feminised Western allows us the freedom to vote, to protest, to agitate and start petitions, to form non-governmental agencies, to create online communities of like-minded people actually trying to change something about the world, rather than just tear it down. Surely investing energy into any of these avenues would be better and more helpful. If you don’t think legislation changes anything then make it personal; join a community or mentoring program like Mentoring to Manhood that provides guidance for boys and young men, or help out with a support group for men affected by divorce, depression or substance abuse. Hell, just go out with a friend who’s having a hard time and actually talk to him – the single most destructive thing about traditional masculinity is that it discourages men from showing vulnerability. I hate saying it because sincerity gives me a rash, but you really do have to be the change you want to see in the world.

When you feel powerless and disenfranchised, it’s understandable to want to smash the whole thing to pieces and start all over again in a society that’s better and fairer to you. But the crash isn’t coming, at least not in the way or for the reasons that these members of the manosphere imagine. And I may be stretching a point here, but it’s my belief that traditional gender roles won’t be making a comeback anytime soon. As one-time feminist and now MRA Warren Farrell points out in his book The Myth of Male Power, traditional gender roles are an anachronism in modern society. They evolved out of the need to protect the human species – but our species is no longer under threat, and the roles the once defined each gender have become dysfunctional. Which is not to say that we all have to give up our sense of masculinity or femininity, because we don’t if we don’t want to. It just means that if we don’t want to define ourselves and our behaviours by what has traditionally been considered ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, we don’t have to do that either. And we should not have others impose such behaviours and definitions upon us when there is no need for them. Our society has evolved to the point where most people no longer need to spend their lives trying to ensure basic survival; it’s about time our expectations and definitions of gender moved on too.

Seven Things I Hate About You

After sifting through pop feminism and manosphere dialogues for quite some time, one thing is abundantly clear: each ‘side’ thinks the other is the worst scum-filled boil ever to burst on the ass of humanity.

Now before anyone screams at me, let me make it clear that pop feminism does not cover all feminism, and the manosphere does not encompass all Men’s Rights activism. This admittedly old but excellent piece by Emily Gould gives a pretty good idea of what constitutes pop feminism and why it can be problematic. Discerning what falls into the ‘manosphere’ category is a bit easier, as such material often explicitly describes itself as part of said manosphere. Both fields are basically the easy-access, non-academic, online branches of these respective movements. They are websites like Jezebel and Return of Kings, not to mention innumerable individual bloggers, who bring an opinion-based approach to analysing contemporary gender issues.

Both pop feminism and the manosphere can be extraordinarily hate-filled places, and each is extremely good at finding flaws in the other. One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that quite often the accuser is doing the very same thing as the accused – they just can’t see it. And it seems to me that both sides are guilty of doing a number of things that effectively shoot their own causes right in the foot. So I’ve drawn up a little list, of the seven things that people engaged in pop feminism and the manosphere both do that are self-defeating and/or just downright silly. As I said, this is not an analysis of either the overall feminist movement or the overall men’s rights movement; both are diverse causes and both have their good and bad aspects. This is a comparison of just two fairly similar branches of these respective movements, though some of the issues in this list could definitely be applied to other aspects of both the feminist and the men’s rights movements. OK, here we go…

Seven Things I Hate About You

(1) Conspiracy Theories. Individuals on both sides of the pond have a tendency to whack on the tin-foil hat with alarming alacrity. Often when faced with someone of the opposite gender disagreeing with or criticising them, the man or women in question will start waxing lyrical (or ludicrous) about the patriarchal or feminist apparatus which pervades society and seeks to oppress their Interweb-voice. I’ve seen the terms ‘misogyny’ and ‘misandry’ bandied about so often I think they’re imprinted on my eyeballs. Now, as I pointed out in my previous post, there is no feminist/misandrist conspiracy to systematically oppress the men of the Western world. And whilst patriarchy is undoubtedly still a powerful force in society, it is by no means a conspiracy – it’s a collection of traditions built up by the heterosexual white men who have historically controlled our society. It’s a tragically discriminatory system, but it is maintained more out of an unwillingness to break with tradition rather than an active desire to oppress. A person’s comments or behaviour may be insulting, but that does not automatically constitute misogyny or misandry. There’s a marked difference between someone offending you, and you being the victim of systematic gender-based oppression.

(2) Focusing Too Much on Women. It doesn’t surprise me that pop feminism focuses a lot on women. It does surprise me to see how much of the manosphere is also dedicated to discussing women – how to attract them, why to avoid them, what sort of women are best, and above all how feminism is ruining them. In the former case, this is problematic because it reinforces the idea that feminism is a women’s rights movement, as opposed to a gender equality movement (which seeks to increase rights and liberties for everyone). In the manosphere it’s an issue for two reasons. Firstly, discussing the modern woman as a problem detracts attention from other much more tangible issues affecting men such as depression, substance abuse, inequitable divorce laws and unemployment. And secondly, targeting feminism and Western women as the cause of such problems removes the impetus to tackle other (and more realistic) causes of these problems, such as economic changes or outdated laws. When we focus on women as either the heroes or the villains of the gender rights discourse, we diminish both the rights and responsibilities of men. Most critically of all, it limits the capacity of either movement to support and accept the diverse range of male identities that are emerging in our society as traditional gender norms are increasingly broken down.

(3) Childishness. OK, I get that this is the Internet, and it’s not exactly a bastion of rational discourse. But when even the people writing the articles are coming off as infantile, it can get a little exasperating. Fortunately there are not many actual writers guilty of this, and it’s mostly relegated to the comments section. But it does seem that some of the guys at ROK can’t write a single article about women without referring to them as “sluts”, “whores”, “bitches” or my personal favourite, the “Americunt”. (Apparently it’s also really funny to always write “Jizzabel” instead of “Jezebel” – maybe I’m just a humourless feminist?) Pop feminism is often not as directly abusive, but I do find that in many of the articles I read on sites like Jezebel, any analysis ends up being overwhelmed by mockery and a ‘look how much I don’t care about your opinion’ vibe. Quite frankly, some of it just feels like bad writing. And in the comments it’s tragic how easily people fall back into the “You obviously need a fuck”, “You have a tiny dick/loose vagina”, “HAR HAR GOOD ONE TROLL” retorts. I mean, really? Again, I realise that people get mad on the Interwebs; but the speed at which these discussions snowball into a virtual cage full of screaming monkeys throwing their own poo at each other is really just depressing. As for the writers themselves, it does kind of seem like being deliberately insulting or inflammatory is a really quick way to get people not to listen to you. Even if your insults aren’t directed at them, a person who comes off as unable to contain their own anger or disdain towards others is far less likely to be considered rational, and this kind of writing sadly obscures the message of some otherwise very thought-provoking articles.

(4) Sex as a Weapon. This one relates far more to individual commenters than anything else. Apparently there are plenty of people out there who think that threatening other people with sexual violence and/or genital mutilation is a totally acceptable thing to do on the Internet. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen someone threaten to stalk/rape/mutilate/castrate someone for daring to voice an opinion which differs from their own. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people. I get that it’s natural to want to lash out at others when they make you angry, but this is not the schoolyard and you don’t have the excuse of ‘the heat of the moment’ to justify you saying something like that. You’re typing for shit’s sake, you can take 2 minutes to think up a retort that doesn’t involve raping someone or cutting off their genitals. Making threats of sexual violence doesn’t help anybody, all it does is encourage the frankly hideous idea that sex is a weapon that men and women can use against each other to punish and assert their dominance.

(5) Coincidence Doesn’t Exist. Time and again, I come across the idea that anytime a man or woman does anything bad, it’s because they have a penis or a vagina. Actually that’s a little unfair – sometimes they also did the bad thing because they are feminists or anti-feminists. Point is, both pop feminism and the manosphere seem to stare blankly past the idea that the reason a person does something bad might be linked more to their personality than to their gender or gender-related beliefs. Gender studies has given us the framework to view almost any issue through the prism of gender, and this is a great social tool. But just because we can do this, that doesn’t always mean that we should. And ascribing someone’s behaviour to their gender or beliefs about gender is fundamentally destructive to gender equality. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that someone’s gender is the single most important thing about them. People don’t act shitty or get angry at other people because of their gender identity; they do it because they got divorced, or they had a rough day, or they’re getting paid less than their male coworkers, or they had a very traditional upbringing, or they’re a rape survivor, or maybe they’re just a natural asshole, or because of any of these fucking complexities that make up a real human being. We’re never going to get one step closer to gender equality if we keep behaving as though the type of genitals you’re born with is the deciding factor in the way you think, act, and live your life.

(6) Common Ground, Common Goals. This is probably the thing that disappoints me the most. Neither pop feminism nor the manosphere is particularly good at seeking out ways they can cooperate with one another. It’s not surprising that they can’t see much good in each other, but that doesn’t stop either group from seeking out other sources and areas of the feminist and men’s rights movements with which they might have more in common. There is so much focus on differences and division, on all the things that those who disagree with their views are doing to make the world a worse place for everyone but them. As though the widespread suffering of other human beings would be the life goal of anyone who didn’t belong in prison. They really do seem to think that MRA’s want women to suffer, and feminists want men to suffer. Could it not just be that both movements are trying to encourage changes that they genuinely think would benefit all of society, not just themselves? And could it be that gender equality does not deprive either men or women of their fundamental human rights? I understand that patriarchy and feminism can’t really coexist peacefully; but I believe men’s rights and feminism can work together for a common goal. After all, each movement fundamentally asks that one gender should not be more oppressed than the other. But until that becomes a widespread part of both feminism and men’s rights discourses the two movements are more likely to clash than to cooperate.

(7) Rise of the Robots. Most of all, there seems to be a real reluctance to see the people on the other side of the debate as real people. They’re often represented as some kind of sinister monolith, rather than as a collection of diverse human beings partially united by their belief in feminism or men’s rights. And there are so few attempts to understand why others think the way they do about gender, why they disagree with one another. It’s enough to know that they hold that belief, and that it contradicts and therefore threatens your own. People don’t just wake up one day believing in something, they have experiences and struggles and learning that leads them to the opinions they have. I’ve personally found that by unpacking the motives of others, I discover I actually have ideas in common with people I would never have imagined agreeing with. It’s not enough to know what someone thinks; we must also understand why they think it, because that is the true reason behind their ideas and actions, and that is what we must address if we ever want to work with each other rather than against each other. Not just for gender equality, but for anything.

Well, there you have it. As a final point, I’d just like to clarify that I’m not trying to trash any of the sites I mention: I think blogs like Jezebel, Return of Kings, and the blogs of individuals have a lot to offer to the struggle for gender equality. Pop feminism and the manosphere both contain some very insightful and thought-provoking work, and they’re a really important resource if we want to make gender equality more than an academic concept. It’s just that after reading this stuff for quite a while I can’t help but notice a lot of people in glass houses throwing stones. I’m hoping that highlighting some of the problems that both groups share will help people see that these causes are not so different from each other, and that they certainly don’t need to be diametrically opposed to one another.

The Myth of Misandry

The term ‘misandry’ often strikes me as a kind of urban myth in the world of gender politics. Its origins are real, and the lessons it can teach us are certainly relevant – but it has been so distorted by time and hysteria that it’s become monstrous, to the point where we often don’t understand what it is or where it came from. A bit like a vampire, or Cory Bernardi.

Let’s start with the bare bones. Misandry is defined as the hatred or dislike of men or boys, characterised by discrimination, denigration, sexual objectification, and/or violence against males. It is often considered a feminist reaction against misogyny, the dislike or hatred of girls and women also manifested through discrimination, violence and sexual objectification. And in the strictest technical sense yes, misogyny and misandry are natural opposites. But the practical manifestation of misandry in our society is rather different, and the portrayal of misogyny and misandry as equal and opposite reactions to one another is pretty inaccurate. And *drum roll* here’s why….

(1) Misandry is not institutionalised.

First off, let me say this – I do believe misandry exists. I believe that there are people out there who really do hate men simply because they are men, who treat men as emotionally stunted sexual objects and as generally lesser beings. But people who truly hate men just for being men are very much in the minority. They are individuals, and sometimes small groups. They are neither a widely accepted part of mainstream Western culture, nor the invisible but powerful architects of a feminist apparatus to systematically oppress men throughout society. Such an apparatus doesn’t exist, and people who hate men just for being men are emphatically not feminists. Misandry is sporadic, not institutionalised.

On the other hand, there’s a wealth of evidence to support the idea that misogyny is institutionalised, both in our own societies and throughout other cultures in history. Factors such as the continued exclusion of women from all or most political and economic power; the double-standards which still persist regarding male and female sexual activity; the extraordinary prevalence of violence committed by men against women; and the prejudice which still exists against women in innumerable sectors of the work force, are just a fraction of the evidence supporting the existence of widespread and systematic discrimination against women. Almost every aspect of our culture – sport, religion, politics, media, sexuality, body image, work, violence, military service, finance, parenting – has either heavily excluded women, or else placed them under legally and culturally imposed restrictions which do not apply to men. I don’t for a second think that this is some kind of male conspiracy; it is simply the way our society has evolved, dominated largely by heterosexual ‘masculine’ white men who are simply building on the ideas of those who came before them. They rarely intend to be harmful or discriminatory, they just think that that’s the way things should be because that’s how they’ve always been.

But don’t take my word for it! There’s plenty of people far better qualified than me who have studied this field. Sociologist Michael Kimmel recently published a book called ‘Angry White Men’ which I seriously recommend everyone should read. Analysing contemporary American masculinity, he states that “…it is truly ridiculous to argue that feminists have managed to infiltrate America’s political and cultural capitals to such an extent that they now have the political capacity to institutionalise misandry.” Marc A. Ouellette, author of the ‘International Encyclopaedia of Men and Masculinities’ argues that misogyny and misandry are not comparable because “misandry lacks the systemic, transhistoric, institutionalized, and legislated antipathy of misogyny.” Just one more! Noted anthropologist David Gilmore claims that misandry and misogyny differ because misandry “…has never been ratified into public, culturally recognized and approved institutions (…) As a cultural institution, misogyny therefore seems to stand alone as a gender-based phobia, unreciprocated.”

Misandry does not permeate culturally approved aspects of our society; and it is not enforced through legislation, institutions and widespread beliefs. It is simply (and sadly) the hatred of men by individuals, and as a cultural phenomenon it’s neither equivalent nor comparable to misogyny.

(2) Misandry is not about hating men.

Well, it is and it isn’t. As I said before, misandry as the hatred of men just for being men does unfortunately exist, though it is neither widespread nor institutionalised. For the sake of clarity, let’s call this ‘Personal Misandry’ But it also exists as another form, one which is far more widespread and is in some ways the opposite of hating men. Let’s call this one ‘Cultural Misandry’.  David Gilmore writes that in this sense, misandry refers “not to the hatred of men as men, but to the hatred of men’s traditional male role, the obnoxious manly pose, a culture of machismo; that is, to an adopted sexual ideology.”

Now I think this is critically important for two reasons. The first is that it provides a vital distinction between misogyny and misandry as cultural phenomena. According to Gilmore, “misogyny…targets women no matter what they believe or do,” simply because they are women; but cultural misandry does not indiscriminately target men simply for being men, regardless of their actions or values. The second reason is that cultural misandry is the hatred of an idea, not of people. It is about hating not men, but the Man Box that I mentioned in my previous post – that list of restrictive ‘traditional’ male behaviours that supposedly characterise a real man. In one sense, cultural misandry may be said to encourage acceptance of men, rather than hatred. One could argue that theoretically, rejecting traditional masculinity sends the message that not conforming to this stereotype is perfectly OK. All those men who don’t fit into that stupid little Man Box – and let’s face it, there’s a lot of them – are still real men, good men, worthy of respect and love and the same rights as everyone else. It rejects the gender stereotype, but welcomes the human being.

Sadly, there can be a real gap between theory and reality. Somewhere between hating the idea of traditional masculinity and encouraging alternative masculinity, misandry (and sometimes feminism) gets pretty lost. The negative is not balanced by a positive; there is too much focus on rejecting ‘macho’ masculinity, and not enough on highlighting the alternatives and how they’re equally valid. So I can understand why some men might feel that widespread hatred of macho culture is in fact a widespread hatred of men – they’re told that their traditional gender role is bad and oppressive, but not what sort of roles they should adopt instead. They might feel like their identity has nowhere to go, so I do get why some men fall back on angrily embracing the Man Box. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be critical of the Man Box, because we should; but paying more attention to a problem than to a solution can sometimes just create even more problems. It is neither fair nor wise to reject traditional masculinity without putting just as much energy into increasing awareness and support of alternative identities for males.

(3) The illusion of misandry in popular culture.

Once again, there is an aspect of reality to this section that is far outweighed by the myth. Let’s tackle reality first; I believe that our mainstream media is sometimes guilty of true misandry in the form of objectifying men. For example, a few days ago one of my female Facebook friends put up this picture…

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Now I get that this is meant to be a joke. And yeah, I personally think it’s quite funny. But at the same time, it also severely pisses me off because I know that if it was 12 bikini clad stereotypically beautiful women in this picture, instead of 12 shirtless stereotypically handsome guys, there’d be plenty of people who’d call out this picture as sexist. And to my complete annoyance, I’d probably be one of them. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting images like these, but what I see is a pretty glaring double standard. And don’t even get me started on some of the bilge that gets published about men (and women) in magazines like Cosmo. Some of you will probably think I’m making a big deal out of nothing over this, but I just don’t think it’s OK to treat sexualised pictures of women with outrage, but sexualised pictures of men with humour. Quite apart from the fact that double standards are the quickest way to look stupid, I think this reinforces the idea that women’s sexuality can be exploited, but men’s sexuality cannot (which is just ridiculous).

Alas, many of those who proclaim the scourge of feminism in mainstream media have spectacularly missed these  instances of what could be considered misandry, and instead charged enthusiastically toward a far more ubiquitous and much less relevant target. This is one of the biggest talking-points for critics of misandry – media that stereotypes and makes fun of men. In a (highly selective) analysis of films from the 1990s, academics Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young claim that misandry has infiltrated American media to the point where “there is nothing about men as such that is good or even acceptable.” They analyse a number of  films such as ‘Thelma and Louise’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (the fuck?) in an attempt to prove that misandry in media mocks, blames and dehumanises men on an epic scale. A slightly less ludicrous example might be seen in American sit-coms – ‘Two-and-a-Half Men’, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, ‘Home Improvement’, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘King of Queens’ – all of which include stereotypes of men as workplace bunglers, henpecked husbands, and heartless womanisers. Men in these shows are often the dupes, the butt of every joke, outsmarted by their wives, children, and gargoyle-esque mothers-in-law.

It’s quite understandable why someone might interpret these texts as hateful or mocking of men, but they’re really no such thing. In Angry White Men, Kimmel points out that these shows don’t actually make fun of men at all – they make fun of patriarchy. They mock “…the inflated sense of entitlement, the arrogant bluster, and the silly prerogatives that any illegitimate form of power would confer on the powerful.” Think about it – in these shows, how often is the man being the butt of a joke the result of him trying to tell someone else what to do, to assert authority over others? These shows are not mocking men for being men, they’re mocking the outdated idea that men are somehow entitled to more power and respect than people who are not men.

To put it another way, let’s look at an Italian theatre form called Commedia dell’Arte, which is often considered the basis of the modern sit-com formula. These performances were characterised by masked actors playing recognisable stock characters in familiar settings, and was highly popular throughout Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Two of the most famous stock characters from this form are Pantalone (a stupid, miserly and lecherous merchant) and Il Dottore (a quack doctor with a colossal ego). The thing uniting these two stock characters is that they both hold positions of power in society to which they are not legitimately entitled – Pantalone because he is stupid and petty, Dottore because he is arrogant and ignorant. Their position is a facade, masking the fact that their supposed authority far outweighs their ability. What Commedia dell’Arte mocked was not doctors or merchants, but the social system which gave power to people based on superficial factors, when they had done nothing to really earn it.

It is exactly the same in these modern sit-coms. It’s not men that are being mocked; it is the idea that being a man somehow gives you authority over others. It’s all those stupid cliches about ‘real’ masculinity – being aggressive, dominant, virile, athletic, unemotional – that they are making fun of. And let’s not forget that these stereotyped men are surrounded by other stock characters; wise-cracking kids, loving but domineering wives, and intolerable in-laws, each as ridiculous as the next. To select the male stereotype from this wealth of one-dimensional characters and claim that it’s evidence of misandry is to completely ignore the context, and to misunderstand the text itself. Yes, denigrating and mocking men would be misandry. But mocking an already stereotyped version of masculinity is not misandry. And I find it very interesting that the supposed humiliation of men through mockery raises far greater outcry than the objectification of men in sexualised images. If critics really do have a bone to pick with misandry in media, it might be more useful to focus on sexual objectification of men rather than on mockery of patriarchy.

Fact or Fiction?

I truly hope that nobody reading this gets the idea that I don’t think misandry is a real problem. And I understand why people sometimes think that feminism is a misandrist movement, because some people who identify as feminists are quite absurdly vitriolic against men.  I’m genuinely sorry for those men who have been dismissed, insulted or hated simply because they are men. Individual victims of misandry are deserving of the same sensitivity and support as individual victims of misogyny. What I’m trying to say in this repulsively long post is that as a social phenomenon, misandry is not the equal and opposite reaction to misogyny. It does not occur on the same scale as misogyny as it is not incorporated into our social, cultural and political institutions in the same way. Also many people and cultural products accused of hating men are in fact hating traditional masculinity, the patriarchal definition of man’s rightful behaviours and social position. To claim that our society is now imbued with a kind of ‘reverse sexism’ against men is just one of many factors which distorts the issue of gender rights. It makes this problem about deciding which gender is more oppressed and trying to combat that oppression, rather than working towards greater benefits for all people regardless of their gender identity.

Is misandry real? Absolutely. But the myth of institutionalised, popularised man-hating has consumed and obscured the true manifestations of misandry in our culture. And the more we dismantle such myths, the more effectively we can combat the real ‘evils’ of gender discrimination – for men, for women, for everyone.