|In an article in one of Australia's largest circulation newspapers, social commentator Bettina Arndt recently asked the question “Why aren't men an effective political force?” She pointed out that when the government called for submissions on changes to the Family Law Act, women's groups produced carefully argued, weighty tomes arguing for a better deal for women, while men's response was mostly limited to individual letters telling their personal stories, with little political context. While the men's stories were indeed moving and evoked sympathy, they did not have much effect on the outcome of the enquiry.
One of the reasons that women are so much better organised is that they have had many years head-start on men. Starting with “consciousness-raising groups” in individual homes, they gained strength and credibility over decades, and are now a significant political force. All politicians are now conscious of “the women's vote” so much so that taxpayers fund the Office of the Status of Women to the tune of $6 million a year. With funding available for women's groups but not for men, it is no wonder their submissions are much more “professional”.
I believe the men's movement today is still at the “consciousness raising” stage. Men are only just starting to realise that they are not doing so well out of the prevailing gender arrangements. Most men are still emotionally isolated from other men, so the common feeling that something seems to be missing from our lives remains an individual doubt rather than a shared experience. In the same way that women started sharing their dissatisfaction with being inflexibly cast in the role of mother and homemaker, with little prospect of engaging fully in other areas of life, men are only now being given permission to admit to each other that they too feel that part of their humanity is being denied.
This awakening is gathering momentum. More and more men are realising that the role of distant father or walking wallet is not what they really want. Men are sharing their “mid-life crisis” with other men, stopping to re-evaluate their lives, and speaking out with “hell no, I'm not going back there”. Hopefully more young men will be brought up with the idea that “boys can do anything” including being a home-maker or child-rearer if that's what they want. Men are meeting in men's groups, both physical ones and “virtual” ones such as on the Internet, to talk about their fears, frustrations and aspirations for something more spiritually satisfying.
Talk and Action
Many men share Bettina Arndt's frustration that the men's movement seems to be stuck in the “navel gazing” phase. Others are worried about men's activists who rail against injustice to men with great ferocity and little introspection. I believe the answer lies in balance between these two extremes.
I know some men believe our first priority should be to stop the feminist juggernaut which they perceive as being the cause of most of our woes. While I agree with the need to challenge some of the theories and actions of the more extreme feminists, I believe our energies should largely be directed to developing an disseminating a body of masculist theory and understanding to complement feminist theory. That requires us to look at both our inner lives and the outer world.
In the same way that feminism has provided a lens through which just about everything from physics to home decorating is now scrutinised, masculism is about understanding the world from the perspective of male experience. So far, there is precious little masculist thought. Some academics have studied and written about masculinity, which is limited to describing how men behave and why they behave that way. This is the complement to the study of femininity, which is an insignificantly small part of feminism.
We don't have to look too hard to see examples of issues which have been co-opted by feminism as “women's issues” and which are crying out for a masculist interpretation.
Perhaps the most urgent area is family law, an area which has been revolutionised over recent years, almost exclusively in response to calls from women's groups for a better deal. On the question of property distribution, for example, feminists argue that a woman who “sacrificed her career” by staying at home with the children so that her husband could go to work should be compensated for her loss. In some cases this may be an accurate assessment, but a masculist analysis would also be open to the possibility that the man has sacrificed his relationship with his children by going to work so that the mother could stay at home with the children.
Another example I heard recently was in the context of a discussion over industrial law reform. A feminist spokeswoman claimed that part-time work is “a women's issue” because women make up the vast majority of part time workers. This claim went unchallenged in that debate because, surprise surprise, there was no “masculist” on the panel. Sometime in the future when masculism has become mainstream, it will be second nature to voice the alternate view that part-time work is a men's issue, since men are denied opportunities to work part-time, an option that should be available to men who do not want their work to be their life.
No one interpretation, feminist or masculist, is sufficient on its own. The important thing is that there are many ways of looking at the same facts and to look only through the feminist lens is to deny a large chunk of reality.
As the feminists discovered, if we are to achieve true “equal opportunity” in society, we need to work at both the personal level and the political level. And there is a big overlap between the personal and the political. It is important that we keep reminding politicians that men also vote, and we must impress upon them that the old stereotype, that men don't care about the “warm fuzzy” issues, just isn't good enough any more.
At the same time we need to act on a personal level. First and foremost we need to “walk the talk” in our families and our communities. We need to lead by example. We can show our boys that you can be a man, be loving and caring, and be strong and powerful all at once. We can show our girls that the popular image of men as violent, emotionally-distant machines is not valid. We can raise our boys to value relationships, fatherhood and childcare as highly as work and money, and ensure that our girls don't measure up men by their earning power.
So we have a long haul ahead of us. I think the immediate obstacle we must confront is the isolation between men. Since time immemorial women have been saying “I wish he'd say what's on his mind”. When we do finally speak up, watch out! Because we will bring about social changes just as significant as the women's movement has. Once we have both halves of the human race working towards a better life for all we will finally be able to move beyond the present impasse of gender warfare.
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