The internet has made everybody audible. And, as a result, anybody can become a victim of a pitchfork-wielding mob, if you happen to say something online that the mob wants silenced. Nowhere has this reality been clearer than in the backlash against nascent feminism on Twitter.
This is the opening premise of a new Vox article on the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), which is the most quotable thing I’ve ever read. (That is not necessarily a compliment.)
The author, Emmett Rensin, ventures into Chicago suburbia to talk to ‘Max’ - a young mid-20's man who views himself as a Men’s Rights Activist. We are taken into his world and explore his views on feminism, religion, and the world as he perceives it. I found the whole experience very painful, for two reasons:
First, I am no defender of the “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRA), who often take serious issues - such as paternal rights and domestic violence against men - and use them as a jumping-off point to threaten women online or to justify sites like this as good for the movement.
Max is no villain, but rather an immature guy who is defined more by his struggle to discover his beliefs than by any particular belief he holds at the time: Max is an MRA, but kinda not (he prefers to think of himself as a ‘humanist’). Max agrees with the MRM philosophy, but not with the radicals. Max tweets mean things at feminists, but does not condone threats or violence. Max is wishy-washy and says silly things a lot. Max isn't likeable. He's a one-note caricature. And it's a long article...
The other problem with the article comes down to the author's narration; his narrow view of gender issues makes the article painfully ironic. Rensin gives the allusion of trying to get to the heart of what motivates men like Max to engage with the MRM, but quite obviously wants to make sure we hate Max. After all, Max lives in a ethnically homogenous area:
When I met him, Max lived in the River North neighbourhood of Chicago. River North is — at 70 percent white in a city where the white population is 32 percent and declining — one of the few places one can live in the Chicago where it is still possible to avoid even a vague awareness of the city's racial and cultural dynamics.
And he is privileged:
Max is remarkably unassuming in appearance, handsome enough and normally tall; equally imaginable in board shorts and a snapback as he is in the sort of graduation suit one wears to a first post-collegiate interview downtown.
And he is disconnected from reality:
For all his derision toward the "professional victimhood" of feminists, there's something a little less than sarcastic in Max's own sense of oppression. Hard-pressed as the social justice left is to admit any advantage, the West these last decades has seen the rhetorical value of victimized stance. The irresistible cudgel of "I am oppressed and this is my experience and you cannot speak to it because you do not know" is valid enough, of course, especially in those cases where ordinary enculturation does not provide natural empathy toward some suspect class. But it is a seductive cudgel, too, especially alluring when it can be claimed without any of the lived experience that makes marginalization a lonely-making sort of suffering. American Christians are "persecuted" now; men are the ones being "squelched" by feminism; white Americans are the victims of "reverse racism." The "victim card" is a child of the ‘70s, and 40 years out who wouldn't use it, no matter how disconnected from reality?
It’s this last paragraph that really gets me - "professional victimhood". A spot-on observation from Rensin, that stops short one step too soon.
It is indeed ridiculous to push the idea that men are oppressed in western society. While grievances over the role of the father, forced-masculinity and male-targeted abuse are all important and legitimate discussion points, they are part of a much wider discussion about how gender roles are dictated in society and don't add up to conclude that men's rights are the most vulnerable and abused rights in 2015.
But are women oppressed? Just as the author questions whether men are really being "squelched" by feminists or whether American Christians are really being "persecuted" by atheists or non-believers, isn't it also time to ask whether women should still be able to claim professional victimhood in the western world?
I'd say they can, when it comes to violence - particularly domestic abuse and rape. But that isn't what 'professional feminists' are talking about. They seem much more concerned with the gender pay gap (which doesn't actually exist for young women working in the UK) and iconic t-shirts (which are...iconic) than they are with issues that actually harm and oppress women. Too often, feminists are relying on victimhood to promote their policies, making little-to-no effort to address the real, forced victimhood created through violence.
It's hard to embrace modern feminism when it's leaders are defining it as pro-victimisation. Many men and women want nothing to do with that.
As our least-favourite caricature notes:
My mom says she's a feminist. And I guess in the way my mom means it, I still am. But she doesn't know how it is now. For her, feminism means ‘everybody is equal', but if you said that now, these social justice warriors on Tumblr would call you a sexist and garbage and tell you to die. But I didn't realize that at first. I thought feminist meant ‘women should be able to vote and have jobs', which I'm obviously cool with.
I'm cool with that too, Max. I'm cool with that too.