One of the major issues between feminists and non-feminists is the feminist perspective. Feminists tend to view things through their ideological worldview, resulting in a limited understanding of social problems. This results in conflict with non-feminists because those people do not view the world the same way, and feminists tend not to be inclined to consider the other side’s positions.
This dynamic is particularly apparent when it comes to men’s issues. As John Anderson asked, “Why is it when something affects women it’s viewed as a societal issue requiring societal solutions, but when something negatively affects men it’s viewed as a personal failure requiring each individual man to correct his behaviour?”
HeatherN of The Good Men Project offered an answer:
In the fifth episode of the new Starz series Da Vinci’s Demons, we find out out that da Vinci’s love interest, Lucrezia, is being forced to spy on the Renaissance man. She very explicitly states that she is not acting of her own free will, and that she has no choice but to follow her orders. It so happens that the person to whom she says this is also under very explicit orders regarding what he’s supposed to do to da Vinci. However, he disregards his orders and decides on his own course of action.
There are many other examples of this type of scenario, particularly in our entertainment and media. A woman is forced into a situation in which she has no choice but to do what she’s told, while a man is forced in a very similar situation but entertains more freedom of choice. Think of just about every arranged marriage depicted on television, ever. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s patriarchy which denies women’s agency and decision making abilities. Patriarchal systems assume women are docile and unable to do things for themselves and therefore they are more susceptible to outside influence. Patriarchal systems place pressure on men to always be in control of their lives and assume that when something negative happens to a man, it’s his fault. That is all part of patriarchy.
When Archy mentioned the depiction of marriage on the Game of Thrones, Heather offered this explanation:
It’s kind of funny because I was going to use the Game of Thrones wedding as an example…it just would have made the thing too long. But so yeah, let’s look at Game of Thrones…when Robb Stark is ordered to enter an arranged marriage with one of the Frey women, he has his choice of which woman he will marry. On top of that, he’s shown to posses enough free will to actually back out of that agreement and marry the woman he actually loves. Then, when he orders his cousin to marry one of the Frey women instead, his cousin takes a good deal of persuading in order for him to agree. Actually, the big thing that finally convinces his cousin to agree to marry a Frey woman is that Robb brings up how his cousin had disobeyed orders before…thus exerting his free will.
What’s interesting about this, from a feminist perspective, is that the consequences of all these men exerting their free will is that the patriarchal system ends up crushing them. Robb’s cousin decides to charge ahead and not wait for Robb, ruining Robb’s military strategy…and the consequence is that he’ll be forced into marrying a Frey woman. Robb himself refuses to enter into an arranged marriage, and the consequence is…well…the Red Wedding.
Firstly, Edmure Tully is Robb’s uncle, not his cousin. Secondly, the show features numerous instances of men who have no choice.
Let us stick with House Stark, starting with Ned Stark. When he is ordered by Robert to become the King’s Hand, Ned has no choice but to take the job as a result of his loyalty to Robert and the potential military fallout the north could suffer if he refuses.
We move on to Theon Greyjoy. He is a hostage willingly given up by his father Balon after a failed coup. Theon has absolutely no choice in the matter, either as a child or an adult. Even when Robb Stark, Ned’s son, sends Theon to the Iron Islands to get Balon to help in the war against the Lannisters, Theon acts on what he thinks Balon expects of him, resulting his Theon’s downfall. He never really gets to make a decision on his own, and it gets much worse for him when he is captured and tortured later in the story.
Then there is Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard son. He has no station whatsoever, even though Ned treats him as he does his other children. Jon appears to choose to join the Night’s Watch, but he is essentially conned into doing it by his uncle’s lies about what the Watch actually is. He cannot even choose to leave the Night’s Watch. Anyone who does will be executed if caught.
As for Robb, he is stuck because the Lannisters have his sisters and have killed his father. As the heir to Winterfell he must get his sisters back and avenge his father’s death. However, by virtue of being the son of a man named a traitor, doing anything other than swearing allegiance to King Joffrey will cause war in the north. Yet the Lannisters will kill the Starks anyway because they are too strong to be left on their own. In other words, no matter what he does Robb must fight. He has absolutely no real choice.
However, since Heather focused on marriage, let us look three other examples from this season: Margaery marrying Joffrey, Tyrion marrying Sansa, and Loras marrying Cersei.
Margaery Tyrell’s marriage to Joffrey Baratheon is purely a political move, one she chooses to engage in. Margaery and her grandmother Olenna Redwyne set the whole thing up. They initially tried for King Robert by trying to get rid of Queen Cersei Lannister by spreading rumors about the actual father of her children. When Robert died, they moved on to Robert’s brother Renly. When he died, they moved to Joffrey. Despite their position as women, both Margaery and Olenna choose to act on their own behalf regardless of the risk, and Olenna in particular is quite adept at manipulating people.
Margaery’s brother, however, is not so lucky. He is forced to wed Cersei in an effort by Tywin Lannister, Cersei’s father, and Olenna to protect their political interests and keep the Seven Kingdoms united. That Loras is rumored to be gay and Cersei rumored to bed with her twin brother Jamie (both true) does not help matters for the pair. Likewise, Tywin’s son Tyrion is forced to marry Sansa Stark. Sansa was originally meant to wed Joffrey, but was dropped for Margaery. Sansa is hopelessly naive to the point that she makes no real decisions on her own. However, Tyrion is far more manipulative, yet even he is stuck without a choice in this matter.
The reason I went through that long explanation is because Heather’s position is that “men’s agency is recognized…men might be punished for it by a patriarchal system, but they can exert free will. Women, on the other hand, aren’t shown to have any agency at all.” Yet that is clearly untrue. Cersei, Magaery, Catelyn Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen all defy their social stations, doing what they want using various means, often the same means as men. Arya Stark acts the same way. The only female main character who seems to lack agency is Sansa Stark. All the other prominent women in the show and the books are more than capable of expressing and acting on their own wishes.
When confronted with this glaring error, Heather equivocates:
And, as I said, that is when one views it through a feminist lens (I think the exact words I used were, “from a feminist perspective.”) Right so, war and jockeying for power within a patriarchal system are what kills Robb.
Therein lies the problem. By using a feminist lens, one can miss obvious points that disprove the very argument one wants to make. It is not the patriarchal system that kills Robb. It is actually Robb’s war against the Lannisters and his breaking of his word. Blaming the patriarchal system for Robb’s death is like blaming democracy for slavery. Just because slavery existed in democracies does not mean the democracy caused it.
The other obvious issue is that Heather relies on a fictional example rather than a real one. There is no logical reason for this. She could just as easily use a hypothetical if she could not find a real-world analogy. However, perhaps the reason she relies on the fictional example is because it is easier to twist to fit her argument.
If one looks at arranged marriages, one constantly hears about how bad the girls and women have it. Yet are not boys and men also forced to marry someone they might not want to? Are they not also oppressed by this? One could argue that men are more affected by this since they often hold the burden of maintaining the family name, legacy, and lineage. Rejecting a marriage could ruin their entire family. Imagine the pressure it puts on men and boys who love another person or cannot stand their betrothed.
Heather does not acknowledge that at all, and ends up essentially dodging John’s question. The closest she comes to answering it is this:
I also feel it necessary to point out that the trend of assuming men’s issues are all about individual failing is a dying one within feminist circles. “Toxic masculinity” and “hegemonic masculinity” are two phrases that are often used to talk about the social pressures which affect men’s lives. There are other, more specific examples, but the point is that feminism and gender studies completely recognize that society affects men.
While feminists have adopted new catch phrases like “toxic masculinity” and “hegemonic masculinity”, feminists like Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, and Michael Flood still lay all men’s issues on the individual failing of men, including issues like sexual and domestic violence against men and boys. These are not the result of things outside of men and boys’ control. Instead, they are direct results of “The Patriarchy,” a system men and boys, according to feminists, benefit from and contribute to. In other words, these bad things are men’s own fault, albeit an “ironic” result of their oppression of women, and men — and only men — have a responsibility to change them.
That may seem like feminists are acknowledging the broader social pressures that affect men, yet they dodges the issues entirely by pointing to a politically-driven conspiracy theory that conveniently ignores that many of the social pressures men face come from women and usually have nothing to do with “patriarchal oppression of women.” However, that may be hard to see when looking through the pinhole worldview that is feminism.