Ashley Thomson asks “Can feminist men open up a useful dialogue with men’s rights activists?”
No. One cannot have an open dialogue if one side does all the talking. This is the fundamental issue with any dialogue between feminists and men’s rights activists. Both sides disagree with each other, but only one side is willing to listen to what the other says. The other side only wants its views accepted without question. Any dissent, no matter how slight or justified, is taken as closed-mindedness and sexism. This is particular true for many feminist men. They tend to take feminist ideals and theories more seriously than feminist women, often out of a need to prove they are not faking their support. The result is that they are less likely than their female counterparts to accept any non-feminist perspectives, especially any men’s rights position.
Thomson demonstrates the inherent problem with the dialogue between the two camps at the beginning of the article:
How can men help?
Just looking at that question, your gut reaction might be that we must be past the point where this is a valid line of inquiry. Let them figure it out. Let them be allies. Or better yet, turncoats. Do what the people with common sense say already. In any case, if a man wants to be woke, he can do the legwork. The internet exists.
How does one have an open dialogue if one’s position is that one should not have to explain one’s views? How does that work? Why should anyone interested in your ideology “do the legwork” to educate themselves about your views? These are your views. Who better to explain them than you?
As for feminist men, Thomson offers the typical feminist refrain:
It tends to be agreed, though, that the best direction in which feminist men can direct their energies is within themselves, and at other men. They can locate and nix their own misogyny, advocate for change in their workplaces, call out sexism where they see it – do any of the myriad things that women have had to do by default.
Self-hatred is never a good place to begin a conversation, let alone a conversion. Neither is demanding submission to said self-hatred. One can already see how this attitude would prevent any dialogue between feminist men and men’s rights activists. The former appears to view men as inherently evil while the latter does not.
Of course, it gets much worse when dealing with men. Thomson notes that men are more likely to listen to other men:
And in this men have one ironic, unfortunate advantage: other men are more likely to follow the advice and example of men than women, including when it comes to emotional vulnerability, progressive workplace reform, and so on.
How horrific. It would make more sense for men to listen to those who do not share their experiences than those who do.
Digs at men like the one above do not foster dialogue. They only put people on the defensive. They demonstrate an inherent bias by the speaker toward any idea that does not conform to their worldview. Thomson shows this in his response to an article submitted to his website. The article featured phrases like “fighting to end women’s violence against men” and “genuine masculinity”.
Like any objective person, Thomson read the article, found he disagreed with it, yet decided to publish it as it was an aspect of some men’s position on masculinity.
Actually, he did the opposite:
Huh, I thought, a men’s rights activist.
For a moment I was proud. Homer was designed to reach men like this. The submission had a calculated, hardened misogyny, though, so I politely rejected it.
And I loved the author’s response: “Your bigotry, hate speech and sexism is disgusting.”
I had a second’s regret. I was sorry that I hadn’t tried to engage him. If I’d just reached out, what might have come of it?
Aside from a long-winded argument? Nothing.
That Thomson’s immediate response was to reject the article, which judging by his tone was likely done in a snarky, not polite, manner, is the problem. I do not agree with Thomson’s views, yet it is important to allow him to express them as they are and then discuss them. By refusing to publish the article and then declaring it sexism, despite no one other than Thomson and the author knowing the content of the article, Thomson creates an atmosphere of distrust.
On one hand, he feeds into other feminists’ confirmation bias by implying that men’s rights activists are harbor some “calculated, hardened misogyny”. On the other hand, he feeds into men’s rights activists’ assumptions that feminists simply hate men and cannot handle criticism. No dialogue will come from that mindset.
The recent release of the documentary The Red Pill caused Thomson’s desire for a dialogue:
The Red Pill bills itself as an intrepid yet open-minded foray by a self-proclaimed feminist, Cassie Jaye, into the world of men’s rights activism, where men fight to draw attention to the ways society disprivileges men – more, they argue, than women.
The appeal is that maybe – maybe – there’s common ground here, or even just misunderstandings that could be resolved, if only we’d listen to each other.
Although protests against the screening faced opposition from some feminists, the view that the dialogue the film opens up is a useful one is hard to defend.
Thomson never justifies that statement, and again, statements like the one above stop any dialogue from beginning. It is again an admission that Thomson is unwilling to challenge his own views about society and men’s issues. It is ironic because this is precisely the same situation the film’s director Cassie Jaye found herself in. As she interviewed men’s rights activists, she doubled down on her feminist positions. Criticism of one’s strongly held views can have that affect. That does not mean, however, that they should not be challenged.
Likewise, it does not mean that one’s views are the only views that should be considered. Thomson wholly rejects the view David Williams, the founder of Men’s Rights Melbourne, presents. Williams argues that society harbors an unfair negativity toward men. Thomson dismisses it without any consideration, stating further about the men’s rigths movement:
MRA beliefs proceed from the idea that society now perceives men solely as people who use, depend on and abuse women, and that this is feminists’ fault. MRAs miss that, among feminists, new schools of thought are picking apart masculinities and men’s lived experiences at a rate of knots.
No, they are not. Feminist-leaning men’s spaces merely peddle the same feminist theories in a so-called “male friendly” way. They do not examine whether the theory itself is biased or without value. Instead, they apply it to men’s problems without examining the nature of the problems on their own merits. As Thomson demonstrates:
That’s where a site like Homer comes in. It might be able to reach out to men in ways women often can’t (or shouldn’t have to). For this to work, though, it requires that those men wedded to “genuine” masculinities find a place in the conversation, meaning we need to avoid both alienating them and validating their regressive beliefs.
Who decides which beliefs are “regressive”? Who decides which masculinity is “genuine”? How do you have a conversation with someone when your attitude toward them is this:
Even feminist men, though, should only reach so far. MRAs make claims that they respect women, that they just want a place for men and boys in gender discourses. They have a responsibility to prove this – to display solidarity when feminists advocate (as they very often do) for the improvement of boys’ and men’s well-being. Too often the discourse is little more than abuse.
Before men’s rights activists bend over backwards to disprove the above straw man argument, perhaps Thomson and other feminists should first prove that feminists engage in any activism to actually improve boys’ and men’s well-being. Too often the feminist discourse is little more than abuse, from notions like “teach men not to rape” to pushing the idea that male rape victims benefit from and cause their own abuse via “rape culture”.
Jaye’s documentary is a perfect example of how feminists react to any discussion of men’s issues. Throughout the film-making process, feminists opposed Jaye’s efforts. In the film, she shows feminists downplaying domestic violence against men. Those happened unprompted. Jaye did not trick anyone into making the statements or attacking efforts to help abused men. The feminists did it on their own.
These are the people who men’s rights activists should have an open dialogue with? People who view them as rapists, racists, homophobic, misogynist who lie about men’s problems? Why would any men’s rights activist want to talk with feminists if this the attitude they would face?
Likewise, why would they want to work with feminists when this is the apparent desired feminist outcome:
Yet many of the gripes men have about their role in society are addressed through feminism. Men as a group may lose power as women gain equality, but we also gain freedom – and there is power in that, too.
If the feminist goal is to disempower men and men’s rights activists think men are already disempowered, why would men’s rights activists follow that plan given that it would only further disempower men in their view?
This is what happens when a person is not really interested in a dialogue and only wants others to shut up and listen to them speak. Thomson admits as much in his conclusion:
When it comes to opening up difficult conversation, however, someone always has to go first. I’m trying – and I’d like to invite men who identify as feminist – and MRAs too – to join in, respectfully.
No, Thomson is not trying, nor does he want men’s rights activists to join in, respectfully or otherwise. What he wants is full agreement, and if he cannot get that, then he does not want any criticism of feminism. What Thomson did on his site is what occurs in most feminist-leaning men’s spaces: shut out dissension.
Of course, this ends up shutting out most non-feminist men, who are ironically the men feminists claim they want to reach. It also prevents any critical analysis of the feminist views being peddled in those spaces. In the rare instances the criticism is not deleted or heavily moderated, the conversation is often shut down by locking the comments or issuing numerous warnings to prevent anyone from poking too many holes into an already fragile framework.
No “dialogue” happens in these spaces. Instead, the best one gets are platitudes and lots of feminist back-patting. An actual open dialogue would mean allowing in the “misogynist” articles and discussing the opinions presented in those pieces. As a group, men can decide the merits of those ideas, whether they are valid or bigoted, and whether they address issues men collectively face or whether it is just someone renting.
That cannot happen, however, if one starts from the position that feminism is right and men’s rights activism is wrong because “reasons”.