Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Here we go again...

If you recall a while back I talked a bit about how critics (namely women and feminists) had already decided that a recently formed group with a focus on men was sexism, misogynistic, and anti-woman. You know the ones that say its not a zero sum were declaring that devoting a little time to helping men in and of itself is a detriment to women.

Well it seems the same thing is happening at Manchester University.
Manchester University has created the first official MENS Society – Masculinity Exploring Networking and Support – despite outrage from critics who claim the existence of such a group undermines women's ability to speak out for equality.
How exactly does men speaking up for themselves undermine women's ability to speak out for equality? Is this men's group actively trying to silence women's groups? Are they attacking women's advocates? Are they trying to speak on behalf of women? Apparently the very act of men speaking for themselves harms women.

If you look at some of the commentary from critics and detractors on this their criticisms undermine their very own messages about equality. Well that is if they think that part of equality is that everyone should have a fair voice. But let's take a look shall we.
Given that men already dominate political and economic life, British society didn't need "much more celebration of masculinity," claimed one critic.
This type knee-jerk reaction is very common among those who have a an anti-male stance on gender relations. Well not anti-male so much as anti-anything that might help the men. The backbone of the argument that men dominate the political and economic arena is assumption that men are a monolithic entity and all of them practice the same masculinity. Therefore since they are all the same and are all at the top there is no need for them to need anymore space. You see how that does not make much sense when you think about it? To presume that all members of any one class are already at the top and none need space is to lump them all together. To conclude that the interests of all the members of that one class are being addressed by those at the top is to assume that they all have the same interests.

I thought the point of equality was for everyone to have a fair voice. Yet some see fit to dictate for other people who already has a fair voice. "We are for equality for all people...but only certain people get to have a say."

Then you have some commentary that seems to answer its own question.
Olivia Bailey, NUS national women's officer, said: "Discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent, so what exactly will a men's society do? To suggest that men need a specific space to be 'men' is ludicrous, when everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces."
So we have a woman that apparently knows what the real deal on discrimination against men is all about. Mind you this is going on in the UK so what the men over there are dealing with may be a bit different that what men here in the US are dealing with but I'll bet there is a lot in common. Being expected to act, dress, perform, etc. in a certain way in order to be considered a "real man". Child custody. Being silenced when victimized. Assumptions based on appearance. Paternal leave. Birth Control. Oh and people like Olivia here speaking on your experiences despite not being a part of your gender and even if they were their own life experience does not magically nullify the experience of the men that have been wronged in those ways (so please spare me the effort of pulling out a male feminist whose life and reality does not match mine in an effort to "prove" my experiences didn't happen or that they happen so rarely that no effort needs to go into addressing them).

Funny thing is by her asking that question and basically telling men they have no issues that need to be addressed she actually justifies their existence. I guess according to her the only issues men have to deal with is the oppression they impose on women.

And then you have those that just assume the worst of any activity in an effort to shut down anything that they think is a threat.
Caitriona Rylance, chair of Manchester Communist Students, said that while the society now claimed to be about "self-betterment" it's original aims were "Top Gear shows, gadget fairs, beer-drinking marathons and Iron Man competitions".
So what exactly is wrong with those activities in and of themselves? Nothing. I wouldn't dare question a women's group on campus having a beauty day with spas, massages, and shopping. Why? Because in and of themselves such activities are harmless. Yes they are typically associated with a specific gender but does that mean its a bad thing for that gender to indulge in that activity? So what if a woman wants to go to a club to check guys out. BFD if an man goes out to a bar to get a drink and talk to women. Does that suddenly mean they are against the cause? Yes there are things that can go wrong with those activities but that's a problem with those people that take it too far or "go there" not the activity.

If those critics were really interested in equality as they say they are wouldn't they take the time to give them a chance and see if this group is one they want to work with instead of treating it like a threat their eternal victim-hood status?

Kat Wall, the Oxford University's student union vice president for women hopes that he would work with the women's campaign to "facilitate a discussion forum on the issue of masculinity". I wonder if she is going to make the first move or does she have a timer counting down waiting for the time to complain that they aren't trying to work with women if he doesn't make the first move in time.

Just as what happened before with the group at the University of Chicago people are rushing to judgment on a group and basing that judgment solely on the who and not the what (kinda like people who decide whether or not something is sexist solely on the who instead of the what). If those men's groups do act out of line and start doing the things these people are accused of then yes by all means lay into them (which of course they will do with the "See we were right all along!" angle). I just wonder if these critics will be as vocal if groups like this actually do some good and shut down their prejudging statements.

I have to say that this is bit of a tell of the real intentions of some who call themselves advocates, activists, and so on for women. Last I checked the point of activism is to raise the level of consciousness and quality of life of everyone to a fair playing field. But from the words of some of these critics it is apparent that some actually have the goal of elevating some and hold others back (perhaps even the occasional effort to push them further down). Instead of listening to the voices of this subset just assume they are the same as the ones at the top. Instead of asking what concerns they have just assume they have no legitimate concerns because of their gender. Instead of waiting to see what they do just assume the worst from get go. The only people undermining the ability of women to speak out for equality are these women who seem to have a one sided sense of equality.

Other articles about this at the Guardian:
Jennie Agg questions why feminists and women's groups seem to be putting so much energy into shutting groups like this down.
Ben Wild, one of the founding members of the UKs first university MENS society, responds to the criticisms of such groups.