Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's About Power

I've been catching up on feminist blogs, including a piece that Amanda Marcotte wrote for The Good Men Project called "The Solution to MRA Problems? More Feminism". The article is pretty much exactly what I think whenever I read anything by an anti-feminist "men's rights activist". Some of whom turn up in the comments to that very article. One individual who calls themselves thehermit wrote,
Equality would probably help everybody, the basic problem is, that feminism never was equality. Not at all.
Do they want 50% women in the congress? Of course. 50% of directors of big companies? Sure. 50% of homelesses? 50% of workplace deaths? …….
Oh wait, they only want half of the GOOD things.
This common MRA complaint actually is directly addressed by Marcotte in her article. But I want to talk about it here too. 

The answer to all of thehermit's questions is YES. 

In the "Western World" men have higher rates of workplace deaths because they are typically hired for more dangerous types of jobs like mining and factory work. Women were initially employed in these sectors. But then came union organization. Women were deliberately pushed out of these jobs by male workers because a) doing so lowered competition in the job market, and b) men could then justify demands for higher wages by saying that they had to support their wives.* Women were legislatively barred from many such occupations. Today, women might only face social barriers to working in the industrial sector, but those barriers - including social expectations, the prejudice of employers, and the prospect of being one of the few women in the workplace and as result having to deal with casual and overt sexism and possibly harassment every day - are significant. Feminists have backed employment and human rights regulations that whittle down these barriers somewhat. Feminists also pushed for women to be able to join the armed services, and to serve on the front lines. I think it's pretty obvious that feminists want employment equity in dangerous jobs as well as high-ranking positions. To suggest otherwise is just facetious and counter-factual. 

Moreover, I think it's fair to say that in general, feminists don't want anyone to be homeless or to die as a result of their job. 

But there's another, broader point I want to make. 

There are a number of complaints that MRAs use to try to establish that men as a group are worse off than women in our society. The higher rate of workplace deaths among men - which is the result of men dominating sectors where you can get a well-paying union job without investing in higher education. The higher rate of men serving in the armed forces and dying in combat - when in the "West" armed service is an incident of full citizenship. Higher rates of suicide among men - as a result of greater pressure to succeed in the workplace. Men more frequently being the victims of violent crimes - which glosses over the fact that men are are even more frequently the perpetrators of violent crimes - and can be attributed to an array of social factors from the requirement that men use aggression to establish their masculinity, to the fact that men have more freedom to move through the public sphere.

The fact is that most of the things that MRAs complain about are the result of having social/structural power - having access to more sectors of employment, being recognized as a full citizen and person, having high expectations, being in leadership positions, being encouraged to develop and use their physical strength, etc. The fact that there are downsides to one's social position does not mean that those in less privileged positions are conspiring against you. Nor does putting up with those downsides mean that you have earned your privilege and that you deserve it more than anyone else. 

An illustrative analogy: If you've seen The King's Speech, then you know that George VI faced some challenges in life. He had stresses and responsibilities that were unique to his position, that in fact likely shortened his life considerably. But the fact that his social position contributed to his early death at 52 does not mean that he was less privileged than a factory worker of that period who lived to 92. He was still the freaking king. Nor does the fact that he performed well as king mean that he deserved to be king more than a factory worker - his position was still an accident of birth. 

The point: Everyone has to deal with the shit that comes along with their position in society. Having to deal with shit is not the same thing as being a member of a marginalized group. 

MRAs talk about the downsides and upsides of gendered social positions. When they hear that women are expected to do more unpaid labour in the home, they find an upside to it - you get to spend more time with your kids! - and then turn the focus on the downsides of being the primary earner in a family - more stress and less family time! But every social position has downsides and upsides if you look for them. What matters is the relative power between social positions. Having to do more unpaid labour at home often results in one having lower earning capacity, and hence being financially dependent - that is, having less power. It results in one's activities being restricted to the private sphere, having less of a public presence, and hence having less of a political voice - that is, having less power. 

Equalizing power means equally sharing the burdens that go along with that power, as well as the burdens of powerlessness. So, yeah, feminists want that.

*Sources: here, and Honeyman, Katrina and Jordon Goodman (1991) "Women's work, gender conflict, and la­bour markets in Europe, 1500-1900." Economic History Review 44 (4), 608-28.


  1. PS: The few MRA complaints that this does not apply to are the ones where they label the effects of racial and class inequality as gender inequality.

    So yeah, pretty much none of what they say is sensible.

  2. Well said. Especially this:

    "The point: Everyone has to deal with the shit that comes along with their position in society. Having to deal with shit is not the same thing as being a member of a marginalized group."


  3. Great post! Thank you so much! Patriarchal gender roles are not about who's happier, safer, or more comfortable. They're about who's in control or, as you said, who's more powerful.

  4. Hear, hear! Awesome post- you've put your finger on a thing that I couldn't work out, that always bothered me about MRAs. I mean, aside from the obvious (often violent) misogyny and all that. Thank you.


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