Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pedagogical Dilemmas: Are the "Men's Rights" and "White Rights" Movements Born of the Same Fetid Waters?

Until several months ago, I was unaware that such a thing as the "men's rights" movement existed. The idea that men needed their "rights" protected struck me as a joke, nothing more than silly satire.

Why do the powerful and the in-group need to celebrate and protect their "rights?" Moreover, "rights" are a given and taken for state of being "naturally" granted to men, white people, "citizens", and heterosexuals in the United States during this political moment.

Rights simply "are"--for lack of a better phrase. They only need to be "defended" when the empowered feel challenged or threatened.

I would greatly appreciate your advice.

I have a very nice and intellectually curious student in one of my classes. Youth should be the luxury to hold unfashionable and politically incorrect thoughts and ideas. He has embraced that dictum. He is also a very vocal advocate for "men's rights".

I would not disabuse him of that privilege; however, I have no interest in entertaining opinions which are not substantiated by empirical reality, the facts as we know them, or the standing priors that should be foregrounded in our truth-seeking.

He is also part of a generation that has access to amazing amounts of information, at little to no cost, and with great ease. This generation of young folks are also a product of a media and news environment which elevates foolishness to the level of fact, and is drunk on a logic that "both sides do it". Consequently, our public discourse is a yelling match where mere opinions are made into truths.

As I have highlighted many times, the American people do not understand that politics is professional wrestling. They are marks who believe that the charade is real.

Our smart and curious student is also African-American. He is not a "mark" per se; he is just young and enthusiastic. Nor is the student in question fully possessed by the cult of "black men are an endangered species" meme that still has purchase in some intellectual, religious, and social activist communities.

He has offered up some vocal defense of "men's rights" during class.

Here is a condensed version of our conversations.
Him: Men are oppressed.
Me: Can you define oppression? Men control every major social, political, cultural, and economic institution in the country and quite likely the world.
Him: Patriarchy is a myth and a way of discounting how men are oppressed.
Me: Again. Define patriarchy and oppression. Your life chances are not for the most part negatively impacted by being a man. Moreover, to the degree there may be social consequences which are "negative" for being a man as mediated through norms of "masculinity" in this society, your suffering under institutions as a man in this society, are institutions run and controlled by other men.
Him: What of poor men?
Me: Sure, class and intersectionality matter. We are interested in systems of power.
Him: Men fight wars and don't get their kids in paternity suits. Plus the courts are biased against men in child support cases.
Me: Rich men send other men to fight wars. Men have controlled and structured the norms of domesticity and child-rearing in this society. Men run the courts.
Him: But, men are raped too! And abused by women!
Me: Huh. The first is the exception that proves the rule. What do the FBI stats on domestic violence and gender tell us? Globally, are you suggesting that violence against men by women is comparable, at all, to violence by men against women?
Him: Misandry is real. Men don't have a space to talk about our rights. We are oppressed too.
Me. Smiling. You identify as a man of color, right? You are African-American?
Him: Yes.
Me: What about "white rights?" By your logic are white people "oppressed" in the United States? There are white supremacists who want to fight for "white rights" and would make parallel arguments to your own, using much of the same basic logic.
Him: I never thought about it that way.
Me: You are really bright. Don't waste your time on foolish pursuits such as "men's rights". Go to the library, talk to a reference librarian, and put together a good, solid, reading list on the topics you are curious about.
Some questions for the readers of We Are Respectable Negroes.

Do you think I was fair in comparing "men's rights" to "white rights?"

And how are you all, especially teachers and others who interact with young people, dealing with how the Internet has provided an overwhelming amount of information--most of it poorly sourced and vetted--for your students?

Thinking more broadly, what bizarre ideas and opinions (at least to your eyes and priors) have been given life and nurtured by the Internet and social media?


Bryan Ortez said...

That's an interesting debate and an interesting phenomenon as well.

I have to admit that I am not very well versed in gender studies and feminist arguments, though I do consider myself to be aware of many of the issues that are brought about by feminist circles.

I focus on race, perhaps to a fault.

As to the first question, were you fair in comparing 'men's rights' to 'white rights,' yes I think it is a fair argument to make. These 'counter movements' seem to pivot on a point of not acknowledging the historic drive to build anti-racist and feminist coalitions. They also often rest on making the other group look bad in various ways, portraying women as abusers, black people as criminals or welfare recipients.

That's not to say that these are not also social phenomena, but they shouldn't be phenomena used to describe a group.

Now, 'mens rights' groups may persist that men are constantly portrayed as criminals and deviants... This is true, however there are also many other portrayals of men in media which give them so many opportunities for redemption that these criminal deviant acts can be seen more as an exception rather than a rule.

I would be hesitant about these 'men's rights' groups.

There is the instance of a few of these white rights groups evolving into a real menace. One began as a white history month group. It changed to a white student union. Then they formed all white patrols to protect the campus from black criminals. Then this organization changed its name to Traditionalist Youth Network or they merged or something.


They paint themselves as inclusive, not racist, other stuff, on their page you can see one of their demonstrations with the tradyouth symbol and then a flag with a swastika in the background. one of their articles was titled 'How organized hate saved my life'

They get links to other white rights groups that declare how they are not racist, but harbor members and push information that is clearly very racist.

j.ottopohl said...

Gender and race intersect in important ways, but they are not the same thing. Their are differences in the two categories as well as movements for gender equality and racial equality. So I think there are also differences in the backlash movements. There are I think there are some issues of interest to men like testicular cancer that don't have any "White" parallels.

grumpy rumblings said...

Race and gender aren't the same thing and intersectionality is important.

BUT... "Men's rights" and "White rights" are pretty much the same thing. F*ck them, peace out.

We're enjoying yoisthisracist.com .

Black Sci-Fi said...

Rational and rationalization should be required course study in high school and college. There should be more emphasis on learning "HOW" to support an idea rather than supporting an idea because it "FEELS" right, to you.
We are in the age of the specialist. Education is now learning how to take a test, not how to think about anything beyond the specific subject you're studying. Perhaps Snowden is a perfect example of leaning a trade without having a humanities background to temper his judgement and therein his actions. His supporters remind me of those misinformed souls who shouted: "Give us Barabas".....But, I digress........
Your student may "NEED" to be a part of "SOMETHING" that will draw attention to his inability to find common ground with the women he desires. Many youth want to be a part of something unique. He's calling out for attention like so many others who wern't lucky enough to have you for a teacher that appeals to the logical mind they are trying to develop. Keep on doing what you're doing. You may have saved the world from another bombing or mass shooting.
Raging hormones can lead our youth to embrace rationalization rather than face the real cause (male role models, sexual tension, peer pressure, etc) of their frustrations. Example: "He joined the on-campus Nazi Youth Party because he's tired of seeing all the pretty white girls hanging out with the black jocks."
I'm trying to imagine the type of woman that would date your student if he was honest about his feelings. I keep drawing a blank which leads me to guess that he is only compounding his problems by being irrational about his expectations. That irrational line of thinking may start close to home.

chauncey devega said...

He is good people. Enthusiastic and with good energy. Just not very critical--yet. We need to teach logic, civics, and humanistic philosophy at all levels. Standardized testing and low standards have gutted those curricula. Best to make passive sheep and consumers.

chauncey devega said...

That is mighty efficient. What would you have said to this student?

chauncey devega said...

Yes. But what of this in-group grievance mongering about not having power--which really means that they have all the power and are desperate to keep it.

chauncey devega said...

Like the Tea Party GOP i.e. your last graph.

I like this. "These 'counter movements' seem to pivot on a point of not acknowledging the historic drive to build anti-racist and feminist coalitions. They also often rest on making the other group look bad in various ways, portraying women as abusers, black people as criminals or welfare recipients."


grumpy rumblings said...

Given that I'm a woman, he wouldn't have listened to me. Usually I only have to deal with racist white guys. I think you handled it perfectly.

Bryan Ortez said...

I was scoping out the American White History Month page the other day. They constantly berate black criminality. Then some link came up showing mugshots of predominantly white men http://themetapicture.com/police-mugshots-in-the-1920s/

These people who so berate criminals every single day were fawning, men and women, over how tough and awesome these men looked in their mugshots.

The hypocrisy, the lunacy...

The Sanity Inspector said...

I caution people that no one is in charge of the internet, that they have to exercise due skepticism of the information there. Some is reliable, some is the digital equivalent of something tucked under your windshield wiper. Just because it's on a screen doesn't make it true. Even this far into the Digital Age, many people are still awed by computers and the words on their screen.

As for "rights", We teach our children their rights, sure--but we don't call them that. We teach them that they are duties. You have a duty to go to a good school, a duty to earn a good living, a duty to freely associate with your peers of any race, a duty to speak out when something's wrong, etc.

chauncey devega said...

How do you think they would have responded to you?

JW said...

As a historian and currently working/training as a librarian in Special Collections, I do have a suggestion for your student's reading list. It's written by a man and thus might get through to him more effectively. It also takes several arguments about male and female roles and determines how true they are. The title is War and Gender by Joshua S. Goldstein (2001). It's quite long (I assume this is an undergraduate student?) so he may want to read the introduction and conclusions rather than the entire book.

JW said...

As for comparing MRA's to "white rights" defenders, I think the comparison is absolutely acceptable, as both are making an argument that, in the context of that society, it is actually the group with the preferred categorization that is under oppression. In this case, "whiteness" and "maleness" are both the standards that are preferred, and thus most exclusively defended. Even men have their maleness questioned from a very early age, as in "be a man", "man up", "don't be a pussy", "get the sand out of your vagina" and others in the long list that degrade femininity by comparing the failure of masculinity as "feminine" by default, as if that made any sense without the aspect of privileging maleness.

Miles_Ellison said...

This seems very similar to the "arguments" about the lack of a White History Month or a White Entertainment Network. This kind of argumentation illustrates a lack of real intellectual examination. Your student may potentially be smart, but he's certainly not curious. That is not encouraged in schools today. Intellectual curiosity has been long since sacrificed at the altar of profitability for the Educational Testing Service.

chauncey devega said...

I have been struggling with that. He is really hungry for knowledge. I am worried, that like many, he will just go after self-validating information. I hope I pushed him in the right direction. How would you have helped me?

chauncey devega said...

I think that I will be reading that volume. Any other suggestions?

chauncey devega said...

"As for "rights", we teach our children their rights, sure--but we don't call them that. We teach them that they are duties. You have a duty to go to a good school, a duty to earn a good living, a duty to freely associate with your peers of any race, a duty to speak out when something's wrong, etc."

Can you clarify this a bit?

Grumpyrumblings said...

Scalzi's lowest difficulty setting post.

Bryan Ortez said...

Another fella left our group in flames. It was pretty humorous.

He decried "You have accomplished your goal....to get rid of another who disagrees with your liberal, socialist, and racist views."

This came after he shared a video about how the Morrill Tarriff was the cause for Southern secession and we had an extensive conversation about the causes for fighting during the Southern secession movement as well as the underlying idea of the United States Constitution.
Here is his little piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LU9I0KxWi4

He told me I was a know-it-all... I don't know.. He didn't like that I pointed out there wasn't any fighting until the Confederate military fired on Fort Sumter, a federal property of the United States government. I told him that the Constitution does not permit disunion and that if this were to happen, there will be repercussions to be faced by the US military.

jemand2 said...

This is more UK focused, but I appreciated it: http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2013/10/17/a-personal-manifesto-for-men-and-boys/

The blog in general too. It *is* true that in our culture, certain men are very disadvantaged, partly due to gender performance requirements of patriarchy, but it is also true that feminism as a movement has generally focused on the subjects which affect white women's lives the most.

I think maybe reading how this social justice advocate takes a critical view to modern society *particularly* with respect to the issues which affect poor and minority men, but without reifying the second class status of women within the larger elite power structures, would be a helpful contrast to what he had otherwise found. And perhaps still speak to the issues he felt in his own experience which drew him towards things discussing men's rights in the first place.

OlderThanDirt said...

One thing I read recently was that people perceive a discussion as evenly divided between men and women when men speak 70% of the time. I say people because both the women and the men had this perception. A conversation (classroom? I can't remember) that is evenly divided is perceived as women dominating. These MRAs feel that the progress that women have made, as incomplete as it is, is evidence of women's total dominance. Women are not robbing them if they no longer win every single time in every single circumstance, but that's what they seem to think.

I think you handled it well, and I also think that only a man could get the student to see things differently.

JW said...

Cynthia Enloe's Maneuvers was another book that left a big impression on me, along with A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous.

dezn_98 said...

So.. I have actually had this conversation multiple times with different people who ask me what I think of the idea of "men's rights." I always answer them with, that while I agree men should right for equality and against sexism against men (I do not like using the work misandry too much MRA BS around that word).. I say that any movement towards equality that advocates men's rights over women's rights will always have sexist implications. I actually think that your comparison is spot on, though I only used it myself like once.

In my experience, an understanding of privilege is essential to understanding why such movements, ones that fight for the rights of the privileged and not the oppressed, are doomed to fail when measured by equality. So I always try to teach them about privilege, often through racism, then through sexism, as I am a male POC. Once they understand the nature of privilege, the pieces almost fall into place of why one should not concentrate on the "plight" of the privileged peoples.

In the end I always tell them that if they want to fight against gendered norms that put men in unfair positions then they need to advocate for feminism. Then I inform them that feminists themselves are quite famous for advocating for ending unfair discrimination not only against women but men too. I tell them that through feminism, they can break sexist gendered norms, and through that they then can break themselves free of the prison of "masculinity" that other men hold each other too. Once you understand that feminism seeks to break the prison of these sexist norms we as a society hold over women, is logically follows that men as well should not be kept in a box of what is supposed to me "masculine."

I have convinced many sexist men this way. I find that when men embrace feminism, they can break free of all gendered traditions that hold back males and females. I think that only by fighting for the oppressed, the ones lower on the unjust social hierarchy, can all of us be set on equal footing. Fighting only centered on the rights of the rich and powerful is a great way to get rights for the rich and powerful while leaving the rest of us in the gutter. But when you fight for the poor and oppressed, somehow someway, the rich and powerful always get a piece of the action anyway.

As far as the internet spreading misinformation... I always just ask my students to check their sources. I always just ask them where they got their information from and when I express skepticism (I sometimes to it harshly or sarcastically depending on the information) to the validity of the source, I find that they themselves that to do the rest of the work on that end and question the validity of the sources themselves as well.

sam enderby said...

That's why you're the teacher and I'm barely a good reader. Its these damn prescriptions they keep screwing up anyway I would have tried to draw the kid out more -was it more than just a semantical ploy or where exactly did he come up with this- After much patient prodding and talking and questioning until he was back on his heels and reeling with the proper discourse to pursue I would then have beaten him senseless with my dog-eared copy of Billy Budd.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I'll try, it's admittedly rather inchoate in my mind. It's a way of hopefully sharpening & focusing their motivation as they mature. Presenting achievement and good cititzenship as a requirement rather than an option ("If I ever feel like doing that, well I've gotta right to!") will send them further in life, we hope. And if it turns out that the Left is correct after all--the game is fixed, work is a con, the rich got there by wafting along on a magic carpet of unearned privilege--well at least they will be schooled in resourcefulness and determination, to make the best of whatever their lot turns out to be. They only have one life, and no one else is going to live it for them. Our 30th President's advice is still among the best a parent can teach a child.

Miles_Ellison said...

You did about as much as could be done. It comes down to curiosity. People have to want to know how the world works. That quest usually results in the jettisoning of retrograde ideas like men's rights.