We need male feminists, not masculinists

3 May

Wonklifebalance read the article about David Benatar’s book ‘The Second Sexism’ on the BBC news website with a sinking feeling.  Access to at least part of its Conclusions on-line has done nothing to lift the initial dismay.  He seems to be arguing that males’ poor performance in education, and that they are now a minority amongst undergraduates, is evidence of discrimination; and that feminist professors who have benefited from privilege in society have no place in denying such claims.  Furthermore, male conscription to arms/war is discriminatory against men, as is the low rate of custody of children granted to men post-divorce.  Apparently women in developed countries are no longer oppressed and the fact that they are not prominent in positions of power is not an outcome of exclusion or discrimination – of what then?

From what is available to read on-line, it would appear that Benatar’s argument is that as women are freely engaged in relatively privileged professions such as teaching, accountancy and the law they cannot therefore claim any form of occupational discrimination – has he noticed who the majority of school heads, partners in law firms, CFOs are?  It is frankly bizarre to argue that because women can enter professions it means that they have achieved equality with men.  Apparently women’s lack of top positions has to be seen alongside the fact that the majority of incarcerated people are men: how men come to be imprisoned in large numbers is an outcome of all sorts of social processes, and last time I looked there was a principle of equality before the law.

In terms of custody of children post-divorce, child welfare is the paramount concern.  It is arguable that post-divorce arrangements do not reflect an increasing role of fathers in their children’s lives – but why might this be the case? Could it be in part because of years of stereotyping around gender roles in parenting? And if so, these attitudes must be seen as discriminating against women – pushing them more than men into undervalued caring roles and inhibiting both their professional advancement, and a more gender-equal distribution of unpaid work. In Nordic countries where more parental leave is shared between men and women, shared residence after separation is also more common.

That women in their 20s now earn at least the same as men is a start; when the same is true for women in their 30s and 40s it will be even more meaningful in terms of sex equality.  So wouldn’t it make more sense all round for men to unite with women in feminism rather than claiming ‘masculinist’ rights in societies where they already dominate? When it comes to creating equality, neither sex can do it alone. If male activists want their emotions taken more seriously they need to involve women in that conversation. Claiming that men’s sufferings in today’s society are equivalent to women’s continuing struggle for equal access to resources, power and a voice, is not going to bring equality any nearer.  In fact the point of such an argument might be to push it further away – no guessing who suffers most then….

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