It is hard to take men’s rights activists seriously.
That is not to say that men’s issues aren’t real, especially those around mental health, depression and suicide. It is also fair to say that gender stereotypes don’t always favour men in the way the more extreme feminist narratives would have you believe, or that men are not subject to unrealistic body image issues. Increased discussion of some of these issues, especially mental health, in recent years has been a positive development in Australian society.
But here is the crux for me. Even taking into account the issues I accepted in the previous paragraph and others, there is still no way to make an argument that men’s rights are not sufficiently addressed. Biology and society still make life a lot easier for me than if I was female. I started writing down all the ways that I feel I am advantaged and realised the list was going to be far too long so I am going to leave that assertion as self-evident. If anyone disagrees, they are welcome to leave me a comment or send an email and I will give you a detailed answer; but for now I will just say that if you are white male and feeling like you are disadvantaged due to positive discrimination, have a think about all the advantages you already enjoy.
Are the previous two paragraphs contradictory then? I don’t think so. As long as people try to be mature and less adversarial in our discussion of gender politics. I want to hear from advocacy groups about societal issues that many men have difficulty with, along with some suggested solutions. What I don’t want is for these issues to be raised as cheap political points to argue with feminist critiques of ongoing sexual inequality in modern society. In the same way, I would like to see feminist commentators use more restrained and balanced language in describing women’s issues. Not that a lot of their points aren’t valid, but the often-simplistic approach can alienate members of their audience of either gender. In the same way that conscientious racists grow as pushback from excessive focus on race, often men’s rights groups garner support as a reaction to hyperbolic claims by feminists and the media frenzy that sometimes comes with it. In fact I think if it wasn’t for the more radical feminist commentators, we would probably see men’s rights movements lose a lot of support.
The ridiculous recent overreaction to Chris Gayle’s admittedly inappropriate interview was an example of this. Opinions varied as to whether it was sexist at all, but to some commentators, Chris Gayle became the posterboy for the misogynistic patriarchy with a few words. And as a result, it stirred up a backlash (from both sexes) about excessive political correctness, and journalists not being able to take a joke.
Without doubt, Australian society has still got some work to moving closer towards sexual equality in a number of areas and reducing violence and harassment towards both genders, but this does not need to be an adversarial process it needs to be respectful and consultative. Lastly, and this is an important fact that I teach my students when they are ten, the world is not perfectly fair. It probably never will be. If you want to get hung up on fairness, talk to an asylum seeker stuck on Manus Island or someone from any one of the dozens of other countries that would give anything to live a life like yours. Regardless of your gender or anything else, something will happen in your life that doesn’t seem fair and you are going to have to learn to deal with it. Of course we will strive for a society that is as fair and egalitarian as possible, but this is only our aspirational goal. You will need to negotiate a reality that is slightly less than that. Don’t use that as a knee jerk objection to initiatives that promote greater equality. Just deal with it.