By Adam Johnson
I believe in recognizing and realizing the equality of women and men. According to some, that would make me a feminist. And yet, it is important to differentiate theory from reality. In theory, feminism is about equal rights. In reality, however, a decidedly different picture emerges – a picture wherein the notion of equal rights for men is often ignored or even mocked by the modern feminist movement.
I never understood the feminist rejection of men’s rights activists. The fundamental goal of the men’s rights movement is to ameliorate discrimination against men in society, a goal surely in line with the theoretical definition of feminism. And men’s rights is not an arbitrary movement: while women are surely worse off than men in many facets of society, there are definite areas in which men are disadvantaged compared to their female counterparts.
Prominent examples abound. Take the criminal justice system, for instance: for the same crime, controlling for criminal history and other background factors, men receive sentences that are 63 percent longer than women’s, according to a 2012 University of Michigan Law School study. And while females are often portrayed as harmed by America’s education system, the data tell a different story. According to a 2008 multinational study, American girls outperform boys in reading more than boys outperform girls in math. And in some Nordic countries, girls outperform boys in reading and math. This gender gap is present in the university setting, too. While the absence of females in certain college majors is well publicized, women earn 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the US overall.
Either females are intrinsically more intelligent than males, or males are being discriminated against in the education systems of these developed countries. Decades ago, the opposite was the case, and feminists placed blame on the system and cried foul on any suggestion of innate differences in intelligence. Is it so wrong for men’s rights activists to call attention to the inequalities emerging today?
And I have yet to mention a significant area of concern for many in the men’s rights movement: family policy and law. One such issue is child custody laws, which men’s rights activists accuse of favoring mothers. Another is alimony: only in 1979 did the Supreme Court declare it unconstitutional for a state to have a law that required husbands, but not wives, to pay alimony upon divorce.
Flash forward to now, and although women increasingly bear the burden of financial support in divorce cases, the vast majority of divorce cases still involve the male having to give alimony to the female. This disparity becomes a problem when we consider the fact that current divorce law is derived from centuries-old notions and customs and that, until recently, little attention has been focused on reform.
Given these and other inequalities, some bloggers have adopted use of the term “female privilege.” This term is a clear reference to the widely-acknowledged concept of “male privilege,” or the unearned advantages given to men on the basis of their sex. While I believe in male privilege, including female privilege in our discourse surrounding gender issues is necessary to complete the picture. Indeed, the two concepts are highly interrelated; one oft-cited example of male privilege is that a male can shirk his fatherly duties without being derided by society, yet the sexism behind this privilege also accounts for males being discriminated against in child custody cases.
Some feminist bloggers criticize the notion of female privilege because the female “privileges” are rooted in sexism – the fact that females are excluded from the military draft, for instance, is on account of women being deemed incapable of the demands of war. Yet if we apply the same logic to the male privilege checklist, we see that many of the “privileges” listed are rooted in sexist assumptions of men being less nurturing and warm than women.
Other feminists criticize the notion of female privilege because, as one blogger put it, the “status quo for men is one which grants them status and power in both the public and private spheres, whereas the status quo for women is one which limits their power to the much smaller, and more specific, domestic sphere.” Yet this argument takes a decidedly middle to upper class perspective. While competitiveness – one status quo trait for males – may be of benefit to an educated male climbing the career ladder, it is harmful in a context where people must compete, say, to sell drugs.
Even if we focus on the middle-class male, it is useful to examine just how much power the status quo grants him. Take the example of a married couple that has their first child. The status quo drives the female towards the domestic sphere to raise the child. Since she now works less, if at all, the husband must work more to maintain their previous financial standing. Throw in the additional financial burden of the child, and the male must work even more. The status quo thus forces him into working longer hours at a job that he may not enjoy but remains in due to its high pay. Is that power? On paper, perhaps it is. But in reality, the status quo forces males (and females, I should add) to forfeit control over their lives in order to fulfill their traditional gender roles.
What I hope to convey with this piece is that we must draw more attention to how males are harmed by the system if we are to realize a society where men and women have equal status, rights and privileges. We must critically reflect on how sexist assumptions regarding the traits and “proper roles” of males and females serve to negatively affect both sexes, albeit in different ways. We must realize the fact that the same traits that lead to a high status male in one context can lead to jail or death in another. There are many nuanced discussions to be had, and the feminists who ignore or reject interests of men are doing a disservice to their proposed cause.
What pertinent issue do you want to see Adam tackle next? Email him at [email protected].