Last weekend, A Voice For Men, an online male activism site which was mentioned in the 2012 Southern Poverty Law Center intelligence report about misogynistic sites, hosted the first ever International Conference on Men’s Issues. Yep. Activists of all genders gathered to talk about the oppression of males in our society.
I’m honestly not sure how to react to this. I spend all day every day blogging about the oppression that women face on a day-to-day basis, and yet there are enough people who think of women as the oppressors that they populated a conference. I feel like I’m a little bit in shock. I mean, I know that one of the tenets of privilege is that you really don’t see it because you’re so accustomed to it, but really? I simply don’t understand.
On Friday, conservative columnist Barbara Kay gave a presentation entitled “Misandry in the Media” at the conference. Kay, who was one of 5 female presenters (15 people presented in total), stated that “ordinary people know the vast majority of women crying “rape” on campus are actually expressing buyer’s remorse from alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky consent on both sides.” She paused, waiting for the appreciative laughter of the audience to die down. “It’s true. It’s their get-out-of-guilt-free card.”
I’m sorry, what? I don’t know when rapists became “ordinary people,” but I can only be glad that Kay’s crowd is not the group that I’m hanging out with.
Other topics for discussion included the lack of resources for male victims of rape and domestic violence, the ways in which women’s social privileges ‘rig the game,’ and the female bias in divorce and custody suits.
Yes, there is sometimes the expectation that guys hold the door open for women, or that they cover the bill at dates, but those traditions are antiquated relics of the paternalistic perception of women as incapable and childlike. I’m all for equal-opportunity door-holding and going Dutch on dates, and if it’s something that these guys feel strongly about, then they should find someone like-minded (there are plenty of women out there).
But what about the discussion of male rape? The incidence of male rape is unfortunately high (as is the incidence of all rape). It is not more common than the rape of women. It is not even equally common. Of course it should still be addressed. And people are working on getting the word out.
The reason that male rape is so under-discussed, as well as the reason that women are often favored in custody battles, is that the social construction of gender formulates guys as powerful, breadwinners, etc., and women as nurturing and weak. The presence of those archetypes in our society overwhelmingly favors men, but can be problematic for them in some cases.
Over the course of the 15 presentations, speakers used a woman’s access to her husband’s bank account proof of female privilege, but conveniently forgot that earning a substantial income was next to impossible for women. They noted that divorced men often have to pay alimony to their exes, who go on to live ‘lives of luxury,’ but neglected to note that the census reported the poverty rate of custodial mothers at 31.8 percent, compared with 16.2 percent for custodial fathers.
The point is that, yes, men too suffer from social constructs. Yes, women have been known to do bad things to men. But nothing, nothing about that suggests the systematic oppression of men. I think Marilyn Frye described it best in her piece, “Oppression”:
“The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped.
“Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would gave trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.
“It is now possible to grasp one of the reasons why oppression can be hard to see and recognize: one can study the elements of an oppressive structure with great care and some good will without seeing the structure as a whole, and hence without seeing or being able to understand that one is looking at a cage and that there are people there who are caged, whose motion and mobility are restricted, whose lives are shaped and reduced.”
Male “oppression” is a couple of wires, at most. True oppression is an omnipresent, densely woven cage. Neither of them is pleasant. But I know which I’d pick.
Images courtesy of washingtonpost.com and avoiceformen.com