Before I start on this post, nothing I say here is intended to be a slight on people fighting for equality from the perspective of other genders or sexes. I intend this as an acknowledgement of the many ways that men are disadvantaged by the same societal mores that disadvantage women in other, additionally serious (and in many instances more serious) ways. I am a feminist as well as an egalitarian, and I approach these issues with those ideals as my starting point. This is in no way an attempt at drawing a false equivalency between the issues the various genders and sexes encounter.
The patriarchal society we find ourselves in today is a significantly eroded one, where the patriarchy finds itself under attack from almost every angle, but it remains a patriarchy still. Thanks to the monumental efforts of the feminist and civil rights movements, not to mention the recent secular pushback against religious authoritarianism and its adherents’ less than progressive ideals about women’s role in society, what was once a society that prided itself on its white male hegemony is now a more pluralistic one, though far from egalitarian. This patriarchy still exists, and societal pressure for men and women to conform to specific gender roles still has the very inertial effect on forestalling progressive change.
And while these gender roles have many powerful side-effects with regards to women and their sexual self-determination, men are not wholly insulated from the splash damage. In fact, I strongly believe that these gender roles are largely responsible for all of the gender related issues that all sexes and genders experience today.
As you might be aware, comments on my last Problem with Privilege post got overrun by a commenter who was less interested in the specifics of Watson’s story or the fallout from it, than he was in changing the subject to every way that men are disadvantaged by society. In amongst the dross of “women have it so good”, he actually made some decent points that can be backed up with real statistics, but it takes an iron constitution to dig through all the anti-feminist bile to pull out the truth. The man has been fighting feminists for 20 years so I fully expect that most of this bile comes from simple hatred. I have too many interests in my life, and too many varieties of woo to beat on, to devote so large a chunk of it to one specific topic, but I have to admire his dedication to the cause he claims in that thread, twisted though it might be.
So, I’ve taken it upon myself to attempt to sift through what he’s posted and pull out the relevant bits about how societal gender roles disadvantage men. I’ll be referring to more resources than just his comment thread though, because I’ve talked about the disadvantages of being a man in the past. Interestingly, so has Greta Christina, making her on this topic a sex-flipped version of myself, where I often talk about the disadvantages of being a woman despite being a man. I disclaimer my discussion of the disadvantages of being a man with the caveat that I don’t believe these disadvantages taken in aggregate bring the sexes to any manner of parity in our society. But I’m not planning on putting them on a scale anyway, because I strongly feel the best way to overturn both sexes’ disadvantages is to attack the structure that caused both in the first place.
Our patriarchal, patrilineal Western society, if you trace it historically, sprang from other patriarchal and patrilineal societies throughout the ages. Most of the issues we see today in gender disparity have spanned much of the globe through colonialism, imperialism, through every way that humanity spreads its tendrils to gain control over every foothold this planet allows us. So when I talk about the Western patriarchal society, I fully understand that other societies have identical or near identical problems, and that these problems can trace their origins to the same place. But I can only speak from local experience, so if I miss any unique situations that temper or modify this society’s mores or issues, feel free to bring them up in the comments.
With the importation to the New World of the patriarchal society, ideals of gender came with it. Men were soldiers, explorers, farmers, breadwinners; strong, fearless, and brave, an idealized Superman. Women were men’s support structure, creating textiles, tending the home, providing meals, and raising children — the idealized Madonna. Only men could be landowners, only men could vote, and only men could be politicians and make decisions that affected the course of society. This patriarchy eroded significantly through women’s suffrage, but the idea that some jobs are men’s jobs and some jobs are women’s jobs lingers. Men obtain employment more frequently in dangerous jobs than do women, even today, and they are injured proportionally.
Men are also the primary source for Canada’s standing army, with women comprising roughly 15% of all military personnel. They only comprise 2% of combat positions, though. It is therefore no surprise that the number of men killed in active duty far outstrips the number of women, even if the addition of women to active duty is relatively new — Canada only opened all military positions to all sexes in 1989. Well, all positions except submarines, which were only opened to women in 2000. (Something about “going down”, I expect.)
So men being the brave, the strong, the bold, also by extension became the cannon fodder. On sinking ships, the cry of “women and children first” was intended in part to maximize the number of people saved due to women and children being smaller and requiring fewer resources, and in part to preserve our species by ensuring the commodity of women’s collective uteri and child-rearing skills are not lost. The same gender roles that require from men stoicism in the face of death assumes that women are frail and weak and must be protected from the same danger. This misguided gender chivalry has likely resulted in untold numbers of male deaths through the ages. We are, thankfully, slowly growing more progressive in this respect, but women still do not choose to join the military or give up their lives to save a man, because the warrior job and the chivalrous duty is enculturated in men and women alike to belong primarily to men.
On the topic of child-rearing, after a divorce, historically women got the children and men got child support payments. Once a man has a child, he is assumed responsible for life for the resources to bring the child up, but absolved of any direction of that child’s upbringing — because his role is breadwinner, not child-rearer. It is a relatively modern phenomenon that men want significantly more to do with their children than being the disciplinarian or aloof breadwinner, who is in absentia much of the day and interested only in the newspaper and his pipe, or carrying out the belt-whipping prescribed by the mother, when he gets home. Incidentally, the isolation of the father from the family is also a relatively modern (e.g. post-industrial revolution) convention, where it was very much based on class in Victorian times. Even today, despite this trend toward more progressive child-rearing equality, single fathers are relatively rare because in most divorces, the vast majority of settlements end with child custody being given to the mother, and even in those that go to court, the mother is granted sole custody the vast majority of the time.
To men who are enculturated to believe that their gender role does not involve child-rearing, this is fine. To progressive men who want a hand in raising their children, this is horrific. In most cases, they will have little or no ability to direct the upbringing of their biological offspring, and no recourse to, say, make their financial support contingent on the child’s upbringing being negotiated mutually between their and the mother’s wishes. (This is probably a good thing, in that deadbeats would use how the child is reared as an excuse to not pay.) And women paying spousal or child support is quite rare, though it does happen in cases where the man gets custody and the woman makes more than the man. The facts that women rarely make more than men and that men rarely get custody work in concert to make the situation so exceedingly rare. And by rare, I mean between 0 and 4% of spousal/child support involves a woman payor.
In cases where the man does get custody of the children, as with my own family, the father still quite often has to pay the mother an exorbitant amount of money despite any potentially criminal or morally questionable activity that happened in the process. Infidelity (even repeated) does not nullify your right to alimony, no matter how unpalatable that fact might be to some or most people.
And even on the topic of rape, where women are victims a marked majority of the time, men do not comprise a small proportion by any measure, at roughly 10% of all victims. Those men that are raped are grossly unlikely to speak up. Underreporting is a major problem with both sexes. If a man is raped by a man, their stories are dismissed as covering for their latent homosexuality. If they’re raped by women, people scoff — how could a man possibly be forced into penetrating a woman if he’s not aroused? These of course discount the possibility of obtaining consent under false pretenses, or circumventing consent by the use of drugs or alcohol on the person, or any manner of coercion that does not involve violent assault. And men refuse to report primarily because the gender role of being strong, brave, and fearless, entails never losing control. Rape is about control, far moreso than sex. If a man is raped, he has lost control, and admitting such is tantamount to emasculating him.
Men also have the edge on women with regards to being victims of violent crime, though barely so.
This is without breaking out the types of violence. We already know that the vast majority of reported rapes and domestic violence happen to women, though domestic violence against men is likely also underreported. A Statistics Canada report puts actual rates of domestic violence at near parity, with women experiencing very slightly more (7% vs 8% of the population, counting both physical and psychological abuse). The severity of the physical abuse differs greatly though:
In the 1999 GSS findings, abused men were more likely than abused women to report having had something thrown at them or having been slapped, kicked, bitten or hit. In the 1987 Canadian survey, similar proportions of women and men reported inflicting both minor and severe physical abuse on their partners. According to the 1999 GSS, however, abused women were more likely than abused men to report experiencing severe forms of violence, such as being beaten, sexually assaulted, choked, or threatened by a gun or knife or having had such a weapon used against them during the previous five years.
(See the original for footnotes.)
It has been suggested that dividing domestic violence shelters up into ones that serve men and ones that serve women is a form of “sex segregation”. This I think co-opts the civil rights movement’s struggle to end segregation between black- and white-only services, where the problem was so pervasive they had white-only and black-only water fountains. The comparison between segregation of domestic violence shelters and segregation of all public services is akin to comparing apples and main-sequence yellow dwarf stars. Yes, the former is a potential issue, but they aren’t comparable. Accordingly, I will not use the term “segregation” to describe this division of labor, especially where it is for purely pragmatic reasons like respecting the battered person’s potential fear triggers being around a member of the opposite sex — a function of the post-traumatic stress disorder they likely have from oftentimes years of abuse. I’d like to touch on this topic briefly here, though it merits its own post at some point in the future as it’s a complicated topic without an easy answer.
There are major disadvantages to our current approach, especially as concerns specific cases like young boys being disallowed from seeing their mothers in a battered woman’s shelter, where many US state laws explicitly prevent males over the age of 12 from being present. There are also disadvantages in that homosexuals must avail themselves of existing services, and are not spared those potential triggers — if you’ve grown accustomed to being beaten by men, and must take shelter with other men, unless you can somehow isolate the victim, they are forced to live through the triggering. Additionally, homosexuals are not spared the potential situations where their abusers may lie to gain access to the shelter and thus to their victim.
If there was a way to build a unisex domestic violence shelter that was somehow impregnable by abusers, that could still protect the victims suffering those sorts of PTSD reactions from members of their partner’s sex, it would be a great boon on society to service all genders and sexes equally and provide the support structures that we all need in those situations. I don’t see it as particularly feasible at the moment, especially where existing shelters already can’t handle same-sex abuse adequately, so separate domestic violence shelters for heterosexual and homosexual men and women seems unfortunately the best way to handle the situation at the moment. Some more leniency with regard to self-direction by the victim of who can and cannot see them, perhaps with special visitation rooms so these victims’ children don’t make other victims feel unsafe, would be wonderful. It’s a complicated situation though, and not one that can be solved solely through allowing equal and unfettered access to every domestic violence shelter, which would of course cause all manner of abuse of the system and completely erode any safety provided. More to the point, the people complaining that these domestic violence shelters don’t cater to all victims are not pushing to open shelters that cater to the grossly under-supported classes of domestic violence victims. They are, in fact, more often interested in stopping feminism than in working to better men’s lot in those situations where men are at a disadvantage.
I’m certain there are any number more disadvantages men face in society, and again, I’m certain that they all stem from the self-same patriarchy and societally enforced gender roles that disadvantage women and the various LGBTQ communities. Many of these disadvantages would evaporate of their own accord if gender roles simply did not exist the way they do, but they are so entrenched now that it is an uphill battle.
Being an egalitarian, as I claim to be, involves recognizing the ways that society has enforced certain conventions that disadvantage all genders and sexes, while being a feminist involves recognizing that women have to contend with the vast majority of these disadvantages. These two labels are wholly compatible, and I wear them both proudly. An acknowledgement that we all have privilege over one another in some way is not an admission that these privileges are equal, or that they balance out. Sure, women have never had to “deal with mange”, e.g. the problems listed here, no matter how serious these problems actually are, but when you control the AC, you have the ability to control how these situations play out.
I strongly suspect there’s a reason men have not done more to overturn the patriarchy and the gender roles that give them priority access to politics, money, influence, and justice, despite all these injustices I’ve listed herein. And I suspect that reason is that the people in power recognize that male privilege outweighs female privilege in toto.