Originally posted on January 25, 2013
The Atlantic’s Stephanie Fairyington, who is also the co-founder and editor of The Slant, wrote a piece about Mel Feit, the founder of the National Center for Men. The piece is somewhat balanced. While Fairyington did not skewer Feit in their article as many feminists writing about the men’s rights movement would do, she does try to score several points by presenting a skewed view of the movement and citing anti-MRAs like Amanada Marcotte.
According to her piece, Fairyington first profiled Feit for Elle magazine in 2007 and 2010 regarding Feit’s support for “Roe v. Wade for Men.” This was a legal petition to allow men who did not want to become fathers to severe their parental rights. The petition was roundly mocked and failed.
Feit invited Fairyington to the 25th anniversary dinner for NCM. AS Fairyington described:
I arrive at the gathering at 4 p.m. on December 17 to a group of about ten men, casually dressed, imbibing tea and coffee and chatting around a long wooden table. My entrance is met with restrained courtesy—and a perceptible cloud of suspicion. Why, they must wonder, would I, a lesbian feminist, want to break bread at their masculinist table? As cautiously as I tread their terrain and as much as I disagree with most of their politics, I believe that some of their views are in the interest of feminism.
She later went on to state:
As a feminist, it’s hard not to wince at some of the assertions Mel and his fellow MRAs make. For one thing, they continually err in thinking that feminism’s ongoing quest to remedy the injustices and imbalance of power between the sexes are meant to disempower them. And they often draw pat conclusions from skewed observations.
Take Charles, for example. He thinks it’s a “trick” of feminism that “if there are more women than men in a profession, women are blazing the way; but if there are more men than women in a given field, men are oppressors.” How’s that for reductionism?! Then there’s Roy. He recalls an incident from the 1970s that made him realize that “something is going wrong” in this country: A relative returned from the war, and on his first day back in the job force, he asked a woman on a date and was fired for sexual harassment. Narratives like these—and they abound in the men’s movement—lack historical context and philosophical nuance and seem chillingly misogynistic.
These sort of anecdotes pepper the article, and that is why I find semi-balanced. Fairyington allows that Feit may have a point on some issues, like the draft, but that seems to stem from her belief that he is difference than the “typical” men’s rights activist. As she stated in the article, “Unlike most MRAs, Mel’s a liberal democrat who supports a woman’s right to choose and equal rights for LGBT people.”
While I do not follow most men’s rights blogs, from what I have read, there is little to suggest what political spectrum most activists side with, what political party they belong to, or necessarily what their position on abortion is (if the latter should even matter).
Fairyington argued that men’s rights activists “seem blind to the vast power differential that has historically positioned men above women—and continues to in much of the world, including in our own country. They also seem unfamiliar with the innumerable ways men have deployed their greater power to enslave, exploit, demean, limit, and hurt women. That’s not to say that some women don’t manipulate or abuse the laws and policies that are meant to protect them, but those women are the exception, not the rule.” Yet she seems equally blind to that herself.
Take Charles’ complaint: whenever women outnumber men, this is taken as a sign of progress. At a 2012 commencement speech, President Obama stated, “In fact, more women as a whole now graduate from college than men. This is a great accomplishment—not just for one sport or one college or even just for women but for America. And this is what Title IX is all about.”
How is that great? The reason more women graduate than men is because fewer men enter college and fewer men finish their degree. The reason that happens is because of gender biases against men that prompt them to lose interest or give up. Again, how is that great? How does it benefit our country if there are a third more women in college than men, and significant number of those college men drop out?Better yet, what is the “historical context and philosophical nuance” that makes men dropping out of school acceptable? What makes it “chillingly misogynistic” to point out that since the ratification of Title IX men have done worse in all levels of education compared to women?
Where is the sexism in Roy stating that he was fired for sexual harassment after asking a female co-worker on a date? We do not have any context about how Roy approached the woman, but let us assume he did the usual fare for the 1970s. Other than asking out a woman who was not interested in him, what did Roy do wrong? Where is the “chillingly misogyny” in pointing out that there is something off about firing a person for the one-time offense of asking someone out?
The historical context in Charles’ situation is simply that people feel that women have been oppressed, and so anytime women are in the majority people justify it with the philosophical nuance that it makes up for that oppression, even if their majority results from or in the direct discrimination against men. In Roy’s case, it is simply that some women were harassed, and so the attitude is that any sexual interest in women by men at work is harassment. The reverse does not apply, and most people, including feminists, balk at the notion that women can sexually harass men, let alone that women should face any legal course if a man complains.
Fairyington did concede one point:
But I wonder if feminism’s assumption that being male necessarily situates men at an advantage makes it harder for feminism to address the struggles unique to men. By diminishing male-specific challenges, feminists fail to recognize that women’s progress hinges on understanding that antiquated standards of masculinity hurt both sexes and are linked to men’s unstable relationship with the family.
However, that view fails to note feminism’s impact on how society treats men. After 40 years of feminism at the forefront of culture, no feminist can claim that feminism plays no role in the current state of our culture. Many of the negative responses in the comments on the article are tried and true feminist talking points. They are routinely seen in feminist spaces whenever men’s rights are mentioned.
As much as Fairyington and other feminists want to avoid it, the simple truth is that feminism has had a negative impact on how we view and treat men, and that in turn created or worsened things for some men in some areas.
This is not to say that every complaint is valid. It is only to say that starting from the position that men’s rights activists are extremists with few valid concerns while feminists are rationalists with only valid concerns gets us nowhere. We must take these issues seriously, and we must also stop defining groups by their most extreme wings. It takes no effort to find some loony comment from feminists, which are more likely to appear in print or on TV in reputable media outlets than anything men’s rights activists say, and skewer it. The better analysis is that of the mainstream, the middle of the group, and the same is true of the men’s rights movement.
As we see with Mel Feit, who is the mainstream of the men’s rights movement, some of his points are valid, some are out there, but clearly the man is genuinely concerned and not a raving lunatic (much to Amanda Marcotte’s dissatisfaction).
It is great that Fairyington did not paint Feit as such on personal level, but it is unfortunate that she kind of painted his views as such.