Are There Issues for Men’s Rights Activists?

“I don’t like the way men are portrayed in that movie,” said my boyfriend when I asked if he wanted to see 50 Shades of Grey this weekend. His response surprised me for two reasons. 1) He has read all the Twilight books, seen all the movies and enjoyed them all. I think he enjoyed them more than I did. 2) When was the last time you heard a man complain about how they are portrayed in media? It’s been a rarity in my life, for sure. In a way, I like that this was his response and that he was offended by the idea that the most desirable men are aloof and sex obsessed.

Chpater TK - Are There Issues for Men's Rights Activists?

Now, full disclosure, I have never read the books. I have spoken with many who have and it doesn’t make me want to read them. Frankly, I only wanted to see the movie out of curiosity and I have no problem not seeing it at all. That’s not what this post is about, anyway.

Men’s Rights Activists (or MRAs) often pop up in opposition to feminism. The common arguments I hear have to do with women falsely accusing men of rape and men going to jail for hitting a woman who hit him first. Both of those issues are extremely serious, but not nearly as common as women being raped for real or women being beaten. A better argument, an argument I more commonly hear from the side of feminism, is that people – regardless of gender – should simply not rape other people. People – regardless of gender – should not beat other people unless it is in self defense. People – regardless of gender – should not falsely accuse another of a crime they did not commit. We do all these issues a disservice by assuming they are only about one gender against

That isn’t to say I don’t see a place where MRAs can take hold. Certainly there are issues that are male-specific worth fighting for. You know what’s way more common than men being falsely accused of rape? People assuming men are animals and treating them accordingly. People assuming a man who cries or expresses feminine-like emotions is less of a man. These issues, lead to problems. They make it harder to diagnose certain mental health issues in men, such as depression, because certain signs of depression (holding emotions in and letting them build up to a boiling point) are also things we associate with masculinity. A man isn’t supposed to show emotion, we say. Don’t cry; be a man. As if crying could somehow make anyone less like the gender they are.

This sex obsessed thing is another issue entirely and I’ve often wondered why men aren’t more offended when people claim they are animals who “only want one thing.” Just as a woman is more than her sexual organs, so is a man more than his sexual desires. The funny thing is, nude images of men are not typically objectified, at least not by heterosexual women. These images are more likely to be associated with homosexuality, which comes with a stereotype of someone being less of a man. A woman who is seen as sex obsessed would be regarded as a slut. And, since there is no gender below a woman, said slut is usually seen as less than a human being. As a supporter of gender equality, I see a problem on both sides.

Now, is it okay to look at a person and admire them for how their physical body looks? Is it okay to be turned on by that and want (or have) sex with them? Of course! But that can be done without reducing a full human being, complete with a personality, emotions and feelings, to a sex object. Is it okay to be turned on by a person who looks at you with lustful eyes and takes the lead in instigating sexual acts? Same same answer. Sure, that’s okay as long as it comes with the whole package. I don’t think men want to be seen as little more than vibrators anymore than women want to be seen as blowup dolls.

Whether you agree with my boyfriend is, however, not the point. What i mean to say here is that there are legitimate things for MRAs to fight against. Men should be seen as people, not sex obsessed animals. Men should be allowed to express their emotions and seek out treatment if necessary. To the more violent crimes, men should not be afraid to tell authorities they are being physically or mentally abused by another, be that other a man, woman or life partner. These causes could move into others, such as prostate cancer. There are so many real issues that are specific to men. I welcome someone to confront them.

With that conclusion, I must point out one more thing. None of this here is meant to say that the stereotypes and abuse women face are any less than they are. Women often face more violent and more deadly abuse then men. Laws are passed to regulate women’s bodies far more than men’s bodies. Personally, I think there is still a lot more to be done in terms of women’s equality to me. It’s also important, however, to see where stereotypes negatively affect men. One problem may be arguably worse than the other, but they are still both problems.

Have you ever heard of Men’s Rights Activists? Do you think there are legitimate issues they can help solve? If feminism is about gender equality, shouldn’t it support the equality of men to women just as much as women to men? Does it?


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34 thoughts on “Are There Issues for Men’s Rights Activists?”

  1. I agree completely. Preconceived ideas about gender harm men and women equally. It’s unfair to assume that a woman who likes sex is a slut. It’s also unfair to assume that a man who wears make-up or shows his emotions more easily must be gay. I guess feminism is called feminism because, historically, women have had fewer rights, both political and social, in society than men. But perhaps a better, less misleading term might be simply “gender equality”?

      1. Yeah, that is true. Gay men in the media often portray ‘feminine’ stereotypes, but in reality this does not reflect the diversity amongst gay men in terms of personality.

    1. To me, feminism is just the belief that men and women are equal. I have seen feminism discuss some of the issues I brought up here and while that’s great, I rarely see men discuss them openly.

      It’s frustrating when people say that women have ‘won’ or that women now have more rights than men. Excuse me, but it’s not the victory of women that prevents a man from crying or wearing a dress. What’s at fault there are the same society pressures and assumptions that held women back for centuries. I think it’s important to discuss them so that men can see feminism isn’t just about women anymore. It’s about all of us, being equal and free to express who we are regardless of our gender.

  2. My husband is a part of a daddy group and some of the issues they talk about are quite interesting. Why are men on television always portrayed as the dumb jock who is always wrong and always needs to be taught a lesson?

    1. This happens a lot in the UK too. And this stereotype can be negative for women too as it can portray them as being naggy, boring and without a sense of humour, compared to their irresponsible but more fun- loving husbands.

    2. That’s a very good question. I’ve also hear that question asked with the “doofus dad.” Why is the man always portrayed as the awkward guy who’s not smart and can’t help with the kids at home? Why is the man always the one doing wrong and needing a lesson? These are good stereotypes to question and, honestly, I don’t have an answer. I don’t think the problem is that those characters exist. The problem is that we don’t have a more diverse concept of dads or jocks on TV. There is not one kind of dad in the world, so why should there be on TV?

  3. We need to take the entire ‘sex’ issue out of sexism and rights. Should a board room be made up of 30% females, no. It should be made up of the right people, the best people for that job and it shouldn’t matter if they have boobs, willies or three heads!!! To appoint a man or woman to a position they are not suitable is insulting.
    Likewise being insulted that someone holds a door open. It is a nice thing to do, not implying I am not strong enough to open my own door.
    We have gotten too carried away! Everyone should be treated equal, end of!!

    1. I 100% agree but I also understand why affirmative action was originally put in place. There does need to be a balance and we do need a way to make sure people are not discriminating based on gender,race, etc. Right now, I think we do a poor job of this. I mean, if a person dosen’t say “I’m not hiring you because you’re a woman,” how can you really know? And, as you say, the best most qualified people should not be left in the dust just because they are not a woman.

      As for the door opening thing, I actually open the door for people quite often. It just seems like the polite thing to do when you know someone is following you out the door. But you know what’s crazy uncomfortable? When I hold the door open for someone and they literally take the door from me and insist I go first. Usually it’s older men who do this and it always leads to this awkward dance. It’s not like one of us can out-polite the other one.

      If we really want to be equal, we need to start talking about people as people and not as their genders. We are not one against the other. We are only people who deserve dignity.

      1. I agree but the minute you are ensuring people aren’t been discriminated based on race or sex you are opening the whole ‘can of worms’. I know why it has to be done and I have first hand experience of being held back because a was a woman, but while we go out of our way to make sure it sin’t happening, we are highlighting the ‘differences’ and so almost highlighting the problem.

  4. I’m going to politely play devil’s advocate here: When you mention images of male nudity and objectification, some thoughts came to mind. 1) These are objectified by women and this is rarely seen as a problem (not that it should be btw, just noticing suggestions of sexism are typically over female images and the male gaze). 2) I would say men are more often objectified through status; they are reduced to a utility, how he can serve and provide for those around him. An interesting statement might be that “men want to be seen as more than wallets”.

    You mentioned domestic violence. I think the numbers go as expected: women are just as aggressive, more likely to initiate and wield a weapon. Men do the most damage and are usually the aggressor in prolonged instances. Societal resources for male victims is probably the “mra” issue (really it’s just a human issue, right?) I most identify with. We just don’t really have them on the scale that women do. And what are in theory, non-gendered resources (hotlines, police) don’t necessarily operate as such. http://wordpress.clarku.edu/dhines/files/2012/01/Douglas-Hines-2011-helpseeking-experiences-of-male-victims.pdf

    Changing tunes, abruptly! I think the media portrayals of men (and women for that matter) in question are harmless; well, not as harmful as we think. Do they create expectations, perhaps even pressures? Sure. Do they cripple us in a deterministic manner? Not that I can see, or that anyone has been able to demonstrate.

    Consider the recent history of the argument:
    “Media cause violence!” Really? Because the consumption is trending up while violence is on sharp decline.
    “Media causes sexism and misogyny!” Really? Because violence against women, including rape, is on sharp decline. Not to mention the generations in question (millenials and z’s) are more accepting of alternative lifestyles.

    So while I agree it’s important to discuss media portrayals, it’s imperative to maintain an open market of free ideas for the art and artist; never resort to censorship even of ideas and portrayals we find offensive.

    Good post. Pleasant to find one open to other’s perspectives!

    1. You make many good points here. I’m just here to start a discussion. I mean, obviously I have an opinion, but my main goal here is simply to stimulate discussion. My notes on male nudity were based on a handful of studies I’ve seen (full disclosure, I’m too lazy to look for them right now) where women were shown pictures of attractive nude men and attractive men in traditional gender roles (in a suit, as a fireman, etc.) Most women were turned off by the image of the nude man because they associated him with homosexuality and were turned on by the men in suites, This would support your argument that men are seen as more of a utility. When we combine male and female stereotypes, we get a beautiful women, valued and used for her sexual appeal and men who make lots of money and fund their shopping sprees. I don’t think that describes a healthy relationship at all.

      When it comes to media, I don’t really think of it so much as making people think differently as much as it acts as a mirror. It’s reflecting our culture back at us, reinforcing ideas both good and bad. I think that’s why people call for more diversity, because they don’t see their culture reflected in that mirror.

  5. There are a lot of aspects to modern feminism that are about much more than gender equality. Many modern feminists want to turn men into women. No, not physically, but in other ways. Modern feminists see that “how men are” is what is problem with our society and think that men have to be changed. So, maybe feminism was once about gender inequality. It’s about so much more now. And it’s kind of getting offensive.

    1. I know there are extremist out there, and let’s be honest, there’s no such thing as a good extremist, at least none that I’ve seen. But I don’t see a lot of signs that feminism is trying to change men or saying that how men are is the problem. I guess that depends on how you define that, though.

      1. I agree … extremists of any stripe are a problem. Regarding whether feminism is trying to change men or saying that men are the problem … there are a lot of women who claim to be feminists who aren’t just interested in gender equality. They have twisted it into something more … I don’t have the evidence readily available for you, but it is something I’m seeing all too frequently. In posts from fellow bloggers who claim to be feminists, in news reports about “what women want,” and in comments from people in my corner of the world. I’ll say what I always say … I wish for a day when we aren’t feminists or Christians, homosexuals or atheists. I wish for a day when we are just human beings. And, yes, I’m an idealist living in a fantasy world. 😉

  6. I think there are issues that impact on men that need to be addressed. I do think the media tend to portray men in stereotypical ways (my husband gets very irritated by the “stupid father” trope in kids’ cartoons) but on a deeper level there are issues such as custody arrangements almost always defaulting to favoring the mother and inadequate paternity leave that policy could have a hand in changing rather than it just being about shifts in societal attitudes. Furthermore it strikes me that these issues fundamentally boil down to Equality rather than men’s rights or women’s rights. For me, that parity of experience between genders is what my Feminism is all about.

    1. It’s all about gender equality in the end. Custody battles is not one I have seen a lot of studies on. I’ve only seen one that claimed the men had the upper hand when they fought for full custody but that most men did not do so. That’s just one study though and I’m not sure how much I can assume off of that.

      I do know that child support is one that gets to me. It’s one thing if it was an agreement of a divorce, but I don’t like that a person has to pay child support just because their DNA made a baby. I mean, a couple who is married, has children and then has the misfortune of one of the parents dying dosen’t get child support from the state.

      In the end, I think this all just supports the argument that we have to stop talking about gender as if there are two separate races. There is just gender equality. We should all be free to live life the way we want without being hindered by our gender.

  7. What’s interesting to me is that so many of the most eloquent and outspoken MRAs tend to be women, like Karen Straughan, Elizabeth Fogharty (Liz F), or Rachael Edwards. Ironically, the points they make aren’t all that different from feminists like Camille Paglia. I’m not an MRA myself, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for those women.

    1. I think it takes a very big person to see beyond their own problems to those of others. It’s one thing to know something is cause you and your gender problem and another thing entirely to see how that same thing causes different problems for others.

  8. I think it’s funny that we always think of it as MRA vs. feminists, but don’t they all want the same thing? People want to be seen as people, with feelings and weaknesses and strengths, and not socially constrained by their age, sex, or sexuality. I always thought of 50 Shades of Grey as demeaning to women, but I can see how it’s degrading to men too, depicting them as beings driven only by sex and violence. Great post!

    1. It is funny in a way. I rarely see people who claim to be MRA saying things that aren’t offensive. A long time ago, when I first started this blog, someone commented on a post I wrote about rape and ranted on with offensive language for so long that I felt compelled to delete the comment. He was basically saying that all these women being raped are just women who feel guilty after having sex and are putting innocent men in jail. Now, don’t get me wrong, falsely accusing any person of any crime is despicable and wrong, but there’s no way that many women are falsely accusing men. If anything, I think the problem is that we automatically assume the man is at fault. Men can be raped. Hell, men can be raped by women. Does it happen as often? The numbers say no, but those men deserve just as much help as women raped. We’ve got to stop looking at these issues as men vs. women. We all deserve to be equal.

  9. We live in a patriarchal system, where men get more power. Even if they suffer from it, they get more power. To be aware of mechanism of patriarchy is very confronting, to do it as a man and to speak about it, is ‘against the men code’ (socially constructed). I truly believe men can make a differenc if they also speak up about ‘the man box’ they are in. but society sees tis as ‘being a loser’ because ‘you show a vulnurable side’, which is ‘not manly’.

    1. Clearly some men are willing to talk about the box they are in. Perhaps it’s more common in younger generations. Maybe we’ll see more men confront the issue as older ideas fade away.

  10. I feel that while these are serious issues, we have so much more work to do when it comes to equality in other areas that it’s hard for me to stand up and fight this particular battle. I’d really rather be on slightly more equal footing with women before I start complaining about how bad I’ve got it as a man. I mean, the way things are now, it’s very, very easy to laugh at these issues and see them as trivial, even though they aren’t, though I think that part of that is due to internet culture and the creepy anti-feminism thing thats been going around lately. When I see someone complaining about these issues, it’s generally not in an open discussion looking for solutions; far more often it’s in the form of a knee-jerk response to a feminist-tinted news article or something similar. I see these points made in more of an “anti-feminist” light than a “pro-equality” light most of the time.

    Again, that’s not to trivialize these issues, as they are very real problems. I just think we have to progress other parts of our culture (namely the treatment of women) before we’re all able to really sit down and talk about this stuff.

    1. I just think it’s important to recognize them all. I think the same pressure that tells men it’s not masculine to cry is responsible for telling women they are the weaker sex because of their emotions. That’s kind of why I wrote this. Women can’t gain their equality without convincing men they are equal. Maybe, if more men see how patriarchy negatively effects them, they will be more likely to support gender equality overall.

  11. I have a very similar opinion about men’s rights. There is a need for men to stand up for their rights and social justices, and their are organizations and individuals out there doing real work for those causes. The bad part about it is that the loudest voices in the MRA online are probably not the best representatives. The same could be said about feminism too.

  12. Reblogged this on scribbley and commented:
    Being a feminist means you care about gender equality, which I think many people forget. Which means you care that men’s health is put at risk because it’s viewed as “feminine” to cry or express emotion. This is a really important read for anyone who cares about other people.

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