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This morning I ran across a story about a protest against a “men’s issues” speaker at U of T on the weekend. I thought, “well, shit, there’s a lot of legitimate reasons for men to discuss men’s issues, what’s the problem?” Then I saw the speaker was Warren Farrell, and the reasons for protest were much more clear: Warren Farrell is a lot less about “men’s issues” and a lot more about “anti-feminism”. In fact, I really wish he was still calling himself an advocate of “men’s rights” because as a pro-feminist male and a social justice activist, I’m kind of pissed that he’s co-opting the term “men’s issues.”

There are lots of issues which men face in our modern world; it’s a tenet of third-wave feminism that the patriarchy is harmful to men as well as women (and it really, really is.) Warren Farrell and his followers are taking the wrong tack: Men’s issues are not being caused by feminism; they’re being caused by the same patriarchy which victimizes women. Feminism focusses its efforts on how patriarchy effects women… and what’s wrong with that? What I’m looking for is a men’s movement which does not attack the gains that feminism is making in our society, and yet addresses the real issues that men are forced to deal with… especially that of the healthy male gender role — what is it, and how do we fulfill it?

Male privilege is a highly visible problem in our culture, and one which needs addressing. But men along with the advantages of male privilege, the patriarchy gives us a whole raft of male “gender roles” which are complete self-destructive bullshit: a man “needs to be in charge of every situation”; a man “never shows his feelings”; a man “fights to protect what is his”; etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam. We as men need to analyze these assumptions and messages and reject the ones which don’t empower us… but we also need to reject the messages which serve to disempower others, especially women. A man, therefore, doesn’t need to be in charge and shouldn’t simply assume that he is. A man can have feelings and express them. Men shouldn’t default to the use of violence, or be possessive of women. Men need to understand that the patriarchy has allowed us to own everything except our own feelings.

That being said, we also need to deconstruct the “sensitive male” stereotype which is the only real alternative currently presented to us. One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that “sensitive male” is usually a front adopted by men because they think it’s what women want… while it’s better than the hyper-macho “get in the kitchen, bitch” attitude that it replaces, it’s still not good for men to define themselves solely through what others want or expect of them.

In a lot of ways, that’s the core of the problem facing men (especially young men) in our society. They are forced to define themselves through one of two polar opposites because that’s what’s expected of them, and both the “tough guy” and the “sensitive guy” are filtered through the expectations of others. Men need, fundamentally, to stop basing our behaviour on the expectations of others, especially the expectations (or at least the perceived expectations) of other men. We need to take responsibility for our own masculinity and gender role.

Of course, I’ve always had a having a frustrating time finding internet resources on men’s issues that actually represent my position. There’s a lot on masculism, which I find to be primarily a reactionary criticism of feminism — that is, a re-entrenchment of male privilege by dressing it up with the words “I’m not against feminism but…” Likewise the term men’s liberation may have the right tone, but it pisses me off that it’s viewed as a single “stream” within the larger “masculism movement.” I certainly can’t advocate the “men’s rights” position à la Warren Farrell, which pushes for re-entrenchment of traditional male gender roles and the negation of feminism in Western society.

And now, hoo-bloody-ray, Farrell seems to representing himself as being the face of the whole “men’s issues” movement, rather than the spokesperson for a single back-asswards faction within it.

Sigh.

Why is it so hard to find a philosophy and/or community within the gender equality movement which says:
“1 — I am a man fully in support of my sisters and their struggle,
2– I acknowledge my own complicity in patriarchy and I am not interested in making excuses about it, and
3 — I am deeply concerned about the impact of patriarchy on myself and my brothers and want to heal those wounds?

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