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.
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.