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Is the Men’s Movement a real movement?

By Cobus Fourie

In 1993, the 4 Non Blondes had a huge international hit with their song titled ‘What’s up?’ Linda Perry, the vocalist and songwriter, sings in the first phrase: ‘I realised quickly when I knew I should that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man for whatever that means…” The song’s chorus furthers asks the pivotal question: what’s going on? The question is obviously rhetorical but moreover a statement of discontent.

Linda Perry became a songwriter mostly after her band split up and she was the person behind Christina Aguilera’s hit song ‘Beautiful’ which in its music video had the theme of self-acceptance and portrayed a gay couple kissing and a transvestite. The conclusion is obvious – acceptance of the fringe, acceptance of the ‘other’.

I fear that in terms of acceptance we are starting to take one giant leap backwards. And by ‘we’ I mean the so-called men’s movement.

There seems to be a phenomenon rearing its evil head. All around the world men lead by other self-appointed preachers and moral leaders are revolting against feminism and claiming back their god ordained place in society as head of the house et cetera all under the auspices of religious dogma. They call this the so-called men’s movement.

This resurgence and revolt against feminism is proliferating at a rapid speed and I fear that in terms of human rights we will be back in the dark Middle Ages.

The patriarchy thinks in terms of binary oppositions or dichotomies depending on which nomenclature you prefer: Male versus female or the ‘one’ versus the ‘other’.

I was always flabbergasted when heterosexual people always wanted to know the butch and femme in homosexual relationships. It is just a manifestation of the obsession with dichotomies and the patriarchy’s utter disregard for equality and the notion of the subservience of the female. Certain heterosexuals and of course the patriarchy, par excellence, continue to impose these constructs upon everyone else to simplify their lives. This is also known as good old-fashioned stereotyping.

As James Dobson was quoted in the New York Times: “tolerance and its first cousin diversity is almost always code for homosexual advocacy.” It seems the patriarchy has a huge gripe with tolerance and diversity. It just doesn’t quite fit into their strict dichotomies.

Now more about James Dobson: he is the founder of the Focus on the Family Foundation and has been spitting out conservative drivel since 1977. Note that James Dobson is no reverend/priest/minister or religious scholar but a psychologist with a very clear ulterior motive. Note also that the Focus on the Family Foundation produces ready-to-play radio programmes, an almost prêt-à-porter of the broadcast industry. Also note that the vast majority of South African community radio stations naively broadcast these conservative drivel much to the astonishment of the progressive community. Our nation is built on tolerance and diversity; our coat of arms says ‘unity in
diversity’ after all. Now why do these radio stations propagate division?

James Dobson also went on the most illogical tirade about the innocent and very likable cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. He was widely quoted that said character was a product of the pink agenda (inferring gay mafia connotations) and maintains that SpongeBob SquarePants will pollute the minds of the young and feed them pro-homosexual messages.

The feminists and the LGBT community have a common enemy in the patriarchy and its utter disregard for the rights of the ‘other’, this ‘other’ being everyone except the heterosexual, cisgender male. I did a simple Google search on ‘the evils of the patriarchy’ and to my astonishment most results lead to websites that proclaim the evil of feminism and the foundation of their dislike is ‘the bible tells us so’. Ever since the advent of the modern constitutional democracy, there has been the vital and clear separation between church and state. Otherwise, politically we would be back in the Middle Ages.

The problem with the patriarchy is that it is the basis of many cultures and it is sanctioned by religious texts hence it still being in practice today. The patriarchy imposes its strict dichotomies on everyone else thus subverting the rights of everyone but the heterosexual, cisgender male. The patriarchy also has no tolerance for equality and firmly believes in the subservience of the ‘other’ (historically the female). The patriarchy regards women and the LGBT community as lesser persons and would not very much like to grant them equal rights.

Rosemarie Putnam Tong, author of Feminist Thought, writes the following: “Simone de Beauvoir provided an ontological-existential explanation for women’s oppression. In The Second Sex, one of the key theoretical texts of the twentieth century feminism, she argued that woman is oppressed by virtue of her otherness. Woman is the other because she is not-man.” Tong also states: “They claim woman’s otherness enables individual women to stand back and criticise the norms, values, and practices that the dominant male culture (patriarchy) seeks to impose on everyone, particularly those who live on its periphery”

Amelia Jones, author of Feminism, Incorporated. Reading “postfeminism” in an antifeminism age, has the following to say: “The recent resuscitation of this patriarchal fantasy by the right – under the guise of ‘family values’ – is a symptom of the massive anxiety of the patriarchal system, a reaction formation against the threatening incursion of women into the work force and, more recently, the political arena.” Jones continues: “With the cultural authority of anglo masculinity becoming increasingly bankrupt as gay, feminist, and non-white cultures insistently articulate counter-identities to this imaginary norm, the patriarchal commodity system urgently seeks to reinforce predictable stereotypes of femininity… The properly postfeminist woman shores up the crumbling infrastructure of conservative American ideology during a time of economic crisis and confirms the ‘rightness’ of Republicanism, with its moralizing intervention in personal relations and the destruction of the civil rights of women, lesbians, gays, blacks, and others.”

Jones then explores the heart of this topic: “The other side of the postfeminist coin is the so-called ‘men’s movement.’ Inspired by Robert Bly’s book Iron John (1990) the men’s movement appropriates and perverts the rhetoric of feminism to urge the contemporary American male to ‘find a voice of [his] own’ as a ‘Wild Man.’ Bly laments the feminization of the American male at the hands of his female caretakers, and calls for the extirpation of this spineless femininity through primitivist histrionics and rituals of male bonding. The “Wild Man” immerses himself in mother nature and beats the appropriated drums of his ‘primitive’ brothers with big sticks to prove to himself that … his ability to dominate is intact. As with the frantic declarations of the supposed death of the feminist subject, the fact that masculinity (again, aggressively heterosexual and almost exclusively anglo and upper middle-class) needs to be shored up proves again how intense is the threat the vast numbers of working women of all sexual, racial, and class identities currently pose to the patriarchal system (not to mention the threat posed by the increasingly powerful identity politics of the non-heterosexual male).”

Just as these excerpts explain the situation in the USA, so these notions have shown up here in South Africa as well. Think of those “Man Camp conferences”. It is sad, immensely frightening, and utterly detrimental to the egalitarian society we want to build here.

Lastly, now I want to ask that anthem of a question that Linda Perry asked about seventeen years ago: what’s going on?

References:

Jones, A. (Ed). 2003. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Routledge
Tong, R. P. 1998. Feminist Thought. A more comprehensive introduction. Westview Press

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11 thoughts on “Is the Men’s Movement a real movement?”

  1. Really? You really think men reclaiming a gender identity will revert us back to the Middle Ages? I doubt you really believe that. You seem to be under the impression that men wanting to have their own post modern masculinity will result in old guard patriarchy. This of course, is ill informed. Ring the alarm all you want, men are back, and it would be nice if we could sit down and enjoy being men without being immediately villafied. After all, I love being a man, and I am a huge Ally and always will be.

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  2. I think there is definitely a move towards ‘male pride’ — a sentiment of wanting to reclaim good old fashioned masculinity. And I think that stems from the fact that the meaning of being a man in South African society has been eroded. Whereas in the past it was about being the bread winner and having authority over women, in the current climate many man are finding these values difficult to live up to.
    As such many men are seeking new ways to be a man, but others are intent on resuscitating old forms of masculinity – and deriding women and ‘putting them back in their place’ is one way of achieving this.

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  3. I think this article is not referring to a general men’s pride but rather a right-wing backlash. Consider the narratives and gender roles prototypical patriarchal organisations like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council (FRC), the Family Policy Institute, the National Organization for Marriage et al. are propagating. Does anyone know that the FRC has been recently named an official hate group in the US by the venerable SPLC?

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  4. Poor Spongebob. I can think of really bad cartoon characters (think cow and chicken and the obvious connotations of beastiality), but how they link Spongebob to homosexuality is beyond me.

    Really interesting post and I think Jesse is right – this about right-wing backlashes to liberalism. Its not just about men and women though, its also about men and men and the dichotomies of the “real” man and the feminine man. I don’t think this about men not being allowed to be men (as the first commentator suggests); its about men sticking to these preconceived ideas of what it means to be a man; ideas which are perpetuated in a patriarchal society which is stagnating at the hands of conservatives. We require change, progress and debates like these to show men that its okay that humans are no longer acting in a way that was considered the norm. We mustn’t be afraid of change, we should enbrace it, rides its waves and find out places in this new playground. This is an exciting time to live in!

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  5. Claire, I couldn’t have stated the point better. Brilliantly put and very true. I wish there were more progressives like you out there.

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  6. You’re all wrong .
    The Men’s Movement has nothing to do with any sort of insecurity , reclamation of masculinity (although that would be something of a spin-off of the movement) or any of the other tired cliches thrown about so liberally about men who are dissatisfied with the current situation .

    Frankly , it’s about things like not putting men in jail when they call the police asking for help in restraining their wives from slapping them around . Right now , men go to jail even when they’re the ones being beaten .

    It’s about giving boys and young men the same opportunities as girls and young women are provided with on a daily basis in the educational sphere .

    It’s about dialing back the outright and overt disrespect for men so prevalent in the media . It’s about getting access to our children . It’s about getting a little recognition for all that we sacrifice instead of being dismissed and treated as disposable when we complain .

    The current aim of the counter men’s rights movement is to paint such organizations as misogynistic and patriarchal . Men don’t want any privileges or special rights . In fact , they don’t really want anything new at all . What they want is to have their rights acknowledged . That means bringing back things like the concept of innocent until proven guilty which , in the realm of gender , has gone by the wayside .

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    1. Chris, you are definitely speaking of another “men’s movement” than the one I referred to in my article.

      I am not all opposed to equality. Equality goes all ways and is in my mind a reciprocal process. I am not all opposed to men getting custody of their children providing their is no legal (and sufficient) reason to withhold custody.

      Speaking of custody (which relates to parental obligation): I have seen an appalling trend of young men impregnating women and then disappearing off the face of the earth, never to contribute anything to the child’s upbringing, let alone maintenance. That is a blow to the perception of men in general and has to be addressed.

      Decent men ought to distance themselves from the chauvinists, misogynists, patriarchists, demagogues etc to the betterment of men in general. If you are referring to such a concept I support you fully.

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  7. I just want to say that I am 100% male and l enforce my democratic rights in home and workplace. I fight against oppression of men and women .i believe in equal rights, there is no male or female god.

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