Self-Interested Feminism

Recently, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the UN pleading for men to get more involved in the cause of feminism:

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

There has been some pushback to this idea. Many people feel that men should support feminism out of a sense of altruism. Anne Thériault had this to say at Feminspire:

Rape culture is something that men should care about not because it might affect them, but because it affects anyone at all. Men should care about women’s safety, full stop, without having the concept somehow relate back to them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

I find altruism of that variety unreliable at best, illusory at worst. Either way, I feel that the most ethical things to do is often to prioritize our own well-being over that of others. There is nothing unethical about trying to make ourselves happy, so long as we are not doing disproportionate harm. Nobody has to be a hero. We are not morally required to work to change society, even if we acknowledge that society is unjust.

As much as I’d like to claim otherwise, I’m not a feminist because I care deeply about all of my fellow humans. I’m a feminist out of self-interest. I’m a feminist because my personal goals align with the goals of the feminist movement. And I think that most men, if they rationally examined the situation, would agree. Patriarchy, rape culture, and male privilege suck for everyone.

I. The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

This is not actually my most important reason, but it is a reason. This point has been so well documented that it’s nearly self-evident. Here is Katie McDonough at Salon:

Women and girls make up the majority of victims of sexual violence, but a culture that straight up says that teenage boys can’t be raped makes it almost impossible for male survivors to come forward. Destructive ideas about sexual male entitlement are at the heart of rape culture and the reason that so many women and girls are victimized in their lifetimes, but they also feed into this idea that men always want sex, which makes men who have been victims of rape question whether or not what happened to them even counts as a crime. It took a really, really long time for this to even become a crime. These same norms also encourage men to have really warped relationships to desire and sexual satisfaction. This stuff hurts women the most because of the violence it engenders, but it hurts men, too.

The ridiculousness of rape culture is to the point where we actually have articles with titles like “Can Boys Be ‘Coerced’ Into Sex?” Spoiler: they can. Here is Charlie Glickman:

One of the primary reasons that boys and men gay bash and bully queers is that they need to perform masculinity in order to show the world that they’re in the Box. And since very few guys can always be in the Box for their entire lives, the trick is to act like you are in order to cover for any lapses. In effect, the performance of masculinity requires constant vigilance to make sure that nobody sees any missteps. Since the logic of the box is an either/or, you’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

"a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform"

“a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform”

Glickman’s article, which I encourage you to read, discusses how masculinity is a performance that men must keep up at all times, or else they’re not real men. This form of toxic masculinity proclaims that men are violent, unemotional, and aggressive, or else they are weak and womanly.

Men’s Rights Activists, though deeply confused about the causes, also tend to notice the ways in which patriarchy hurts men. What they tend not to realize is that these things that they label as “female privilege” are actually benevolent sexism, stem from exactly the same places as women’s oppression, and that reverse sexism is really just a necessary result of ordinary sexism.

Concerns like those noted above have been a problem for me as far back as I can remember. One of my most vivid memories of elementary school is the experience of being terrified to tell my best friend that he was my best friend, because that would be “gay” or something. I never told him, and throughout my young childhood, I was always insecure about how much he liked me because I was too afraid to talk about it with him.

Patriarchy harms men in general, and me personally. I struggle against the need to perform my masculinity daily, and feminism is the only movement that supports me at all in that struggle.

II. Patriarchy Makes People Awful

In Part I, I reviewed several of the ways that patriarchy hurts men. Many of those same forces encourage men to be terrible people. The need to perform masculinity encourages men to be aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. This naturally hurts men who don’t conform to their prescribed gender role, but it also hurts everyone else, who are forced to deal with a bunch of men who either are, or who are pretending to be, aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. The fact that most men effectively perform masculinity is the primary reason why I dislike most men, and have trouble forming male friendships. Would you like someone who fits the above description of masculinity? I wouldn’t.

Patriarchy also teaches women to behave in ways that I don’t like. Harriet J from Fugitivus has a good list of the problematic ways in which patriarchy encourages women to behave:

  • it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
  • it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
  • it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
  • it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
  • it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
  • it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
  • it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
  • it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

The result of all this conditioning means that women are overwhelmingly encouraged to resort to Guess Culture, subtlety, and indirect communication. I hate that style of (non) communication, and I hate that our patriarchal culture punishes women who communicate directly. In our efforts to move toward Ask Culture and encouraging direct communication, patriarchy is our enemy.

III. Feminism Means Better Sex

Just today, Miri Mogilevsky posted about how feminism can make you better in bed. The whole post is great, but here is a relevant quote:

Of course, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But if you do want to do it, you should never have to feel guilty or abnormal just because your desires don’t conform to gender roles. Sex is a lot more fun when you don’t have to measure yourself against invisible, constantly-shifting standards like “Real Man” or “Real Woman.”

I also favor sexual promiscuity, and think that people should be having all the sex they want to have without fear of stigma or judgment. Patriarchy opposes this goal, and feminism supports it:

In a time when nonheterosexuality is close to losing the status of ‘alternative,’ transgender people have scored Medicare coverage for gender-confirming surgeries, Fifty Shades of Grey has made it clear that kinky desires are as mainstream as it gets, and open relationships are more visible than ever, there is one sexual lifestyle that remains imbued with stigma: unbridled promiscuity. Accepting promiscuity—having lots of (mostly) casual sex with lots of different people—as a valid lifestyle choice is perhaps the final frontier in creating a sex-positive, open-minded, sexually tolerant society.

Dan Fincke, of Camels with Hammers, also argues in favor of what he calls the Sexual Utopia:

By sexual utopians I mean anyone who wants us to get as close as is reasonable to a world of maximal guilt free sexual pleasure with no irrational hang ups or needlessly burdensome restrictions. People who dream of the day when we can indulge more freely in positive sexual experiences, unencumbered by arbitrary moralisms. Nudity is natural and good. It’s aesthetically pleasurable and not even always sexually. We should celebrate the beauty of the human form rather than hide it. Everyone should love and have sex with whomever consensually wants to have sex with them. Alternative sexual orientations and genders should be celebrated, not merely tolerated. Kink that doesn’t harm anyone shouldn’t be seen as immoral. Whatever floats your boat so long as no one gets hurt. People should be able to negotiate the terms of their own relationships rather than have adultery defined in some absolute way that forbids any sexual openness among committed people. Friendships can incorporate a dimension of sexual enjoyment apart from romantic commitments. Even entire friendships can be all about two people’s enjoyment of having sex with each other if that’s what they enjoy. Young people should be empowered to make wise sexual choices instead of repressed with abstinence-only fear-mongering. And there should be no stigmas about making or consuming porn or engaging in prostitution or patronizing a prostitute, etc., so long as everyone involved is treated respectfully and is kept healthy. And, of course, if you’re asexual or a celibate or abstinent or a strict lifelong monogamist, etc., then that’s okay too!

How do we get there? Feminism:

Only in a culture where women aren’t punished for sexuality, aren’t commodified and treated like objects to be traded, and don’t see men trying to sexually exploit them around every corner will they be empowered to choose sexual utopia. But so long as rapes are excused and so long as sexual exploitation of their images is dismissed as irrelevant (and only theft is acknowledged as a real harm) and so long as their feelings about sex are going to be disregarded in moral calculations involving them, they have every right to become protective and restrictive. Women will and should only expose themselves to more risks of sexual openness when men prove more responsible not to regularly exploit them, dismiss their feelings, and blame them for all the consequences.

Smashing the patriarchy, dismantling rape culture, and doing away with male privilege are the only ways that I can think of to encourage people to feel safe having the sex that they want to have. And when people are having the sex they want to have (and not the sex they don’t want to have) that makes sex better for everyone except people who want to have sex that doesn’t involve enthusiastic consent, and I do not think the desires of such people should be taken into account.

IV. Male Privilege Is Not Worth The Cost

Mia McKenzie, of Black Girl Dangerous, feels that telling men to be feminists out of self-interest is disingenuous, because it ignores the ways that men actually benefit from a patriarchal culture. Her list of benefits:

1 out of every 5 American women has reported experiencing rape in her lifetime. For American men, it’s 1 in 71.

White (cis-gender) American women earn 78% of what their white male counterparts earn. Black (cis-gender) American women earn 89% of what their Black male counterparts earn and 64% of what their white male counterparts earn. Latina (cis-gender) women earn 89% of what their Latino male counterparts earn and 53% of what their white male counterparts earn.

Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.

Of course, the gender pay gap exists everywhere in the world, including the UK. And so does rape.

For starters, the only arguably zero-sum benefit listed is the one about CEO’s, and I certainly wouldn’t be upset if we had more gender balance in our CEO’s. I’m not planning on being a Fortune 500 CEO, so increasing equality in that sense wouldn’t harm me in any way that I can see. The gender pay gap is not zero-sum at all. Equal pay doesn’t require that men’s pay be reduced, it requires that women’s pay be increased. The assumption that monetary gains for women would come out of men’s paychecks doesn’t seem obvious to me, especially when corporate profits are rising at the same time wages are falling. While there might be some balancing effects by which employers pay men less in order to pay women more, there are plenty of other sources for that money to come from, most notably from corporate profits.

Statistics about rape are definitely not zero-sum. The fact that one in five women has been raped is not an advantage to non-rapist men in any way! There is definitely no need to increase men being raped in order to decrease women being raped. If suddenly, only one in 71 women experienced rape in their lifetimes, I think most men would be happy about the reduced numbers. Certainly, being a man means that I experience the privilege of being much less likely to be raped (or cat-called, or harassed, etc.), but that’s not a benefit I lose by dismantling the patriarchy.

Sometimes, I do receive benefits that come at the expense of women. When I’m applying for a job or a promotion (or elected office), I’m favored over female competitors. When I want to make my voice heard, it’s easier for me to do so over competing female voices. Patriarchy makes it easier for me to convince women to do what I want. I probably got more attention from teachers as a child than my female classmates. But I would gladly give up those advantages in exchange for the advantages of an egalitarian society that I’ve outlined above. Most other manifestations of male privilege can be equalized by expanding male privilege to women, not by denying it to men.

V. Conclusion

The feminist movement, as it currently exists, has some serious issues. Those issues may be serious enough for reasonable people to abandon the movement altogether. It is not my intention to argue here that people should all go out and donate to mainstream feminist nonprofits or read mainstream feminist writings (thought I can’t say those are bad ideas). My intention is simply to argue that a more egalitarian society will help all genders, including men, and that creating a more egalitarian society is the explicit goal of the feminist movement. Reasonable people can disagree on tactics, but I feel that the majority of men should be able to agree that the patriarchy should be smashed, rape culture dismantled, and male privilege be destroyed where necessary and expanded, where possible, to include all genders. These are the goals of feminism, and I feel that men have compelling, self-interested reasons to support them.

Advertisements

6 responses to “Self-Interested Feminism

  1. There’s a lot to unpack here, and I won’t be able to get to it all without writing a comment far longer than the post. So let me start at your conclusion:

    My intention is simply to argue that a more egalitarian society will help all genders, including men,

    I totally agree. (It’s always good to start from a position of agreement).

    and that creating a more egalitarian society is the explicit goal of the feminist movement.

    I’m not that interested in what feminism claims its goal is. What concerns me is what feminism actually does. And what it actually does, far too often is to create a less egalitarian society, to the detriment of men.

    Reasonable people can disagree on tactics,

    The disagreement far more fundamental than “tactics”. It’s about the core norms and practices of the movement.

    but I feel that the majority of men should be able to agree that the patriarchy should be smashed

    I agree that we should oppose and work to change the gender system.

    As an initial matter, I’m not keen on smashing social systems. Violent revolutions, however laudable the goals, have a better record for generating massive human misery than they do of creating social utopias. I prefer to work toward incremental change. I suspect however, that what I’m objecting to here is your rhetoric, and there is little if any substantial disagreement.

    The word “patriarchy” is theory-laden, and I disagree with much of that theory. I offer the term “gender-system” as less theory-laden alternative. By “gender-system” I mean the aggregate of all gendered assumptions, norms and practices prevalent throughout society.

    rape culture dismantled,

    Please define the term. That’s a serious request by the way, and not me trying to fillibuster. I’m familiar with the various ways that feminists use the phrase, but, as with “patriarchy I find it difficult to infer a coherent meaning.

    In order to achieve gender equality, male-victim-erasure culture also needs to be dismantled, by which I mean the tendency in both mainstream and feminist discourse to erase and marginalise male victims, while centering female ones.

    and male privilege be destroyed where necessary and expanded, where possible, to include all genders.

    Female privilege must also be destroyed where necessary and expanded, where possible to include all genders. As a first step, the existence of female privilege should be acknowledged, which brings me to this:

    What [MRA’s] tend not to realize is that these things that they label as “female privilege” are actually benevolent sexism, stem from exactly the same places as women’s oppression, and that reverse sexism is really just a necessary result of ordinary sexism.

    I agree that there is no such thing as reverse sexism. There is only sexism. Sexism benefits some men and harms some women some of the time in some circumstances. Sexism also harms the same or other men and benefits the same or other women at other times or in other circumstances. I also agree that all sexism comes from the same place, namely the gender system. However to call the ostensible benefits to men “privilege” while calling the benefits to women something else lacks any intellectual justification that I can discern. All it does is remove those systemic benefits to women from the privilege discourse, allowing feminists to frame gender as something which benefits men, and thereby justifying continued and extended preferential treatment of women, which is itself a characteristic of the very same gender system which feminists purport to have “smashing” as their goal.

    Female privilege is a thing. Calling it something else doesn’t make it go away.

    There’s an awful lot more I could say, but this comment is too long already.

  2. Female privilege is not a thing, unless you’re using the word “privilege” in a way that is vastly different from the way the majority of the people using the term “male privilege” use it. If you just mean “women have certain advantages in some contexts,” then yes, that’s a “privilege” of being a woman. However, if you’re talking about the way the social justice community uses the term privilege, i.e. “the benefits and advantages held by a group in power, or in a majority, that arise because of the oppression and suppression of minority groups,” then no, female privilege does not exist, as women, though a slight majority, are not a “group in power.” The power differential, at least in the United States, is still well on the side of men. “The patriarchy” simply refers to the power structure that favors men over women. Calling it a “gender system” obscures the fact that the current system is set up to give men disproportionate power over women.

    That’s why it’s important to understand that the disadvantages that men face in society are a direct result of sexism against women. Men are supposed to be strong because women are supposed to be weak. Men are supposed to earn lots of money because women are supposed to be housewives. Men have trouble getting custody because women are supposed to be “naturally” more suited for child rearing. Women are the sexual gatekeepers because they are the ones who suffer and are blamed for negative sexual experiences. That’s not “female privilege.” That’s a natural and probable result of sexism against women.

    The only other part of your comment that concerns me is when you say “[w]hat concerns me is what feminism actually does. And what it actually does, far too often is to create a less egalitarian society, to the detriment of men.” I see no evidence of this, and I’m wondering if you have any you’d like to share.

  3. Pingback: Altruism and the Patriarchy | Living Within Reason

  4. Pingback: Ethics Are Important | Living Within Reason

  5. Pingback: Ethics and Philosophy: Well-Being is The Only Thing That Matters | Living Within Reason

  6. Pingback: Ethics and Philosophy: A Defense of Egoism | Living Within Reason

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s