Over its recent life, the Men’s Human Rights Movement has been repeatedly slammed as misogynistic. There is a widely held belief that the MHRM is a regressive movement, that it wants to undo the advances in status and rights made for women over the past two centuries. On the surface, this is simple anti-men’s rights propaganda, characterizing the movement and its activists as backwards and dangerous. The problem runs deeper, however. Just as the MHRM is not a mere backlash against feminism, accusations of misogyny come from more than mere feminist defensiveness.
It is a common misconception that people’s rights amount to a zero-sum game. This was seen during the civil rights era and during the short-lived resistance to early feminism: people often assume that to give increased rights to one group means restricting the rights of another. The situation is slightly different with the MHRM, however. The blowback against men’s rights comes not only from fear of the more men’s rights = less women’s rights equation but also from the flat refutation of men’s rights as a valid issue.
When women suffer, it is a women’s rights issue. When people suffer, it is a human rights issue. When men suffer, it is patriarchal privilege.
Thus comes the label of misogyny: men have no lack of rights, so the only way to “improve” their relative social standing is to reduce women’s rights. Male reproductive rights? Restrict abortion or give men control over it. Improve education for men? Since they’re privileged already that must mean reducing female educational opportunity. These misconceptions can be argued against with a right-minded non-feminist, citing such documented forms of male suffering as health, suicide, and family breakdown, but even then certain assumptions shine through that illuminate some of society’s more deeply ingrained beliefs about men.
One such belief is the immutability of men’s social status. With the denial of men’s rights issues comes the belief that men, as a group, cannot undergo a change in social status. The status of classes can change, the status of the poor can change, the status of women can change, but never has it been thought that the status of men, as a distinct group, can or should be changed. Only as part of a larger class are men affected by social reform or degradation.
Police violence against African-Americans is often condemned, but no one wants to point out that it is African-American men who are uniquely affected. We should be asking why African-American women aren’t targeted so much, and then look for a way to keep their male kin just as safe.
How then could men’s rights ever be a valid issue of social concern? Even the liberal-minded struggle with this: convince them that men really do suffer from social ills and they still have a hard time seeing how it can be improved. The patriarchy made it so, after all, so if men wanted it to be different, it would. They hold the power and are responsible for their position. The illusion of male hyperagency robs men of the power to make their lives better.
Worse, this makes men’s suffering indistinguishable from their class-based suffering. To some thinkers, the only way to improve the lot of lower-class men is to improve the lot of all lower-class people. That is an admirable goal, no doubt, but will not itself solve uniquely male problems. Maybe it is just our history of female hypergamy, but women tend to be seen as mobile within their classes much more so than men. In effect, men simply are as they are and nothing can change that—a terrible form of misandry that diminishes male suffering in every sphere of life.
Point this out to a class-conscious person and they come to a troubling conclusion: if men’s class status can’t be changed, and their status within their class can’t be changed, the only way to improve their lot, relatively speaking, is to reduce the status of women.
Call it “Equality of Suffering”: the idea that the MHRM will remove gender inequality by removing women’s protection from the suffering that men experience. Many of the assumptions are the same as the more conventional reactions to men’s rights: Men lack reproductive rights? MRAs must want to take away women’s access to birth control and abortion. Boys doing poorly in school? MRAs will just undo the advances that have helped girls excel.
These people fear that MRAs would reduce society to some dark dystopia where all individuals, men and women, slink their way through equally miserable lives: if everyone can’t have, for example, protection from domestic violence, no one should, not even women. That is just a smokescreen, though. What they fear is real equality. They are coming from a deep-set cultural mythos of gynocentrism. Combined with the aforementioned zero-sum assumption, there is no room left in their thinking for real consideration of men’s rights. Any improvement to men’s rights would mean a loss of women’s rights, which gynocentrism strictly prohibits.
The Men’s Human Rights Movement is fighting for equality, but only in the positive sense. Despite claims to the contrary, MRAs are not bitter neckbeards bent on robbing women of all their rights. We see ways in which women are given aid and support and want only to bring the same caring to men.
We want to give men all the parental rights women already enjoy, not take anything away from anyone. We want to reform education so boys and girls reach their full potential. No MRA wants to see women’s suicide rate match men’s; we want to bring men’s suicide down, to the level of women, and then keep bringing both even lower. The same with workplace injuries and death: don’t make female-dominated jobs more dangerous; create enough compassion for men that we won’t overlook their dangerous working conditions any longer.
This isn’t a fight anyone has to lose. Achieving equality is never easy, and it means changes in lifestyle for everyone involved. That doesn’t mean anyone’s lifestyle has to worsen, though. Men’s Rights Activists will bring greater sympathy to men and un-infantilize women to become more responsible members of society.
What we want is for everyone to be cared for, listened to, and respected.
Not Equality of Suffering. Equality of Compassion.