Post-Industrial Capitalism And The Men’s Rights Movement
I call bullshit on the stigma and the culture and values behind it that rewards making above everything else. – Debbie Chachra, “Why I Am Not A Maker”, Atlantic, January 23, 2015
A few years later Ursula did marry a fellow IBM executive, while Farrell, who would not remarry for two decades, came out swinging against feminism. By 1988 he had collected his evolving views into his book Why Men Are the Way They Are, depicting a world where women—particularly female executives—wield vast influence. Even those women who are less successful have “enormous sexual leverage over men” and “can use the power to get external rewards,” he wrote. Men, on the other hand, have been reduced to “success objects,” judged solely by their status and earning potential. – Mariah Blake, “Mad Men: Inside The Men’s Rights Movement – And The Army Of Misogynists And Trolls It Spawned,” Mother Jones, February 2015
Since Lisa and I got married, a constant struggle for me has been the matter of my identity outside my relationship to her as “preacher’s husband”. I’ve been over this well-worn ground so much, fluctuating back and forth, that I doubt there isn’t an aspect of it that I haven’t considered. With the exception of the five years I spent working at Starved Rock Lodge at an Illinois State Park, in which I found a job and group of fellow-employees I was proud to call friends, the question of who am I? has been a troubling one. And it will continue to be so, I think, until I’m gone. Not because I don’t have an identity of my own, or at least one with which I’m comfortable. Rather, social and cultural expectations are hard and persistent: A man’s worth qua man is determined by occupation, income, and interests. “Success” is determined for men by their power, influence, and ability to converse about things like sports, hunting, cars, and whatnot. I have no power. I have no influence. I enjoy sports, but haven’t been able to enjoy them televised because made the decision not to have cable or satellite. I don’t hunt and have no interest in it. I love cars – my daughters often chuckle at the way I react when I see either a contemporary sports car or a classic sports or muscle car – but beyond being able to give make, model, and year (a trick I learned from my Dad), I’m not mechanically inclined at all. Indeed, my wife jokes that I can’t tell the different between a socket wrench and a pipe wrench.
Furthermore, I have no interest in hobbies that involve making things. Part of the macho persona of NCIS‘s Leroy Jethro Gibbs is his facility with making things, particularly boats, by hand (how he gets them out of his basement is a running joke on the show). A man builds things. He makes things. I haven’t made anything other than these constant writings of mine in my entire life. I’ve never earned more than $25,000 a year in any job I’ve had. I am not now, nor have I ever really been, a hot prospect man-wise. All that determines what it means to be “a man” just don’t describe me.
For the most part, however, I’ve come to term with these realities. I’ve led a good life, met a good woman, am raising two wonderful daughters, and do what I enjoy even without remuneration. I know I am not now nor ever will be “a success”. The reason I’m OK with that is understanding that all of that, all those male identifiers from being “a maker” through being “a success” to being an attractive potential husband and life-partner with a woman are, by and large, fictions. That last, in particular, is interesting because so many men, including male biologists, insist it isn’t cultural or social at all but rather rooted in evolution: Women will seek out men as potential breeding partners who exhibit qualities, including success and strength, they want in their children. The lack of empirical evidence for this – consider all the couples you know; consider all the mismatches, whether from one side or the other – seems not to impact the theory at all.
The two articles quoted above, linked by two different individuals this morning, offer different angles and aspects on one and the same problem: How contemporary post-industrial capitalism not only distorts our sense of gender identity, but actively seeks to displace responsibility for the failure of many men to live up to the ideal not upon the socio-economic structure, but upon women, especially feminists, who are seen as demeaning men, wielding a strength and power particularly through their ability to turn down men for sexual relations, leaving men frustrated and increasingly powerless. That the legal system seems to favor women, whether it’s divorce or rape or domestic abuse allegations, only adds to the frustrations men feel; increasingly unemployable as “makers”, they cannot even maintain their dignity in the face of women succeeding where they cannot. This is a marvelous stewpot filled with rage and violence the Men’s Rights Movement is only too happy to fill.
The article in Mother Jones features Warren Farrell, whose book The Myth of Male Power I read when it came out 20 years ago. A mishmash of the airing of male frustration, of accusations of female manipulation both of individual men and the larger social and legal systems to grant them special privileges men do not enjoy, and the very real expression of powerlessness in the face of the changing nature of the economy, I wondered how such a book could see print. The only thing I really remember about the book is coming away from it feeling that the author was aiming at the wrong target. Indeed, his book seemed much less a call for a “Men’s Rights Movement”, which it seems to have spawned, than it seemed a need to redouble efforts to connect men with socially and politically radical feminist movements that were as concerned about the deformations of social and gender relations wrought by late capitalism as they were about sexual and domestic violence.
The result, however, was yet another victory in a divide-and-conquer strategy. Feminism continues to be further marginalized, even as particular incidents, from gang rapes of youth through ongoing pay disparities, continue to be hot-button topics that, at the very least draw sympathy without any general effort at change. Men, rather than joining with women in demanding pay equality for all, insist that the pay-gap is not nearly important as the very real power women wield, whether that’s legally in divorce or accusations of violence and abuse, or the social-sexual power women hold through their ability to say, “No”. Far too many men, for whatever concatenations of reasons, have gone to the other extreme, such as the following quoted in Mother Jones:
A Voice for Men’s founder, Paul Elam, who is a friend and protégé of Farrell’s, has justified violence against women and written that some of them “walk through life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH—PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.”
Rather than enjoying the teasing coquette, it seems the Men’s Rights Movement sees such persons as manipulative teases, drawing men in only to deny them at the last minute. The fact that many women might delay sexual relations with men for any number of reasons; that some men aren’t good partners for some women, again for any number of reasons; these and a myriad of other things simply roll off the bulk of the Men’s Rights Advocates, who see women as manipulative, sexually aggressive, and on the prowl for the equivalent of the “trophy husband” – a man who can increase her status without necessarily threatening it in any way.
It would be far better if both feminists and Men’s Rights Advocates could see how much they have in common; it would be a far better, far more interesting set of circumstances if gender and sexuality weren’t dividing lines, but rather ways of uniting men and women frustrated by our current post-Industrial capitalist society that strips wages from the most important work in our society, reserving large pay for professional athletes, who produce nothing at all but are entertainers; or investment bankers, a group once viewed as social and economic parasites precisely because they create nothing at all, except wealth out of whole-cloth. Men and women too often circle one another in mutual hostility, a subsumed, seething anger creating tensions even in the best interpersonal relationships, all too often bursting forth in violence.
This is, I know, a pipe dream. The division by gender continues, even as both men and women fight together over the every-shrinking pool of success and resources available to those willing to compromise enough to make it in terms set for them. The rage of the Men’s Rights Movement, on display for months over the whole “Gamergate” nonsense, if nothing else, attests to how far we have to go to get through the seething rage far too many men carry with them toward women, who are not at all the authors of their discontent. That would be those who define for us what it means to be a real man and a success, an attractive potential mate for a woman, then deny most men any possibility of achieving any of those markers. That isn’t women’s fault; I do so wish more men understood that.