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Permalink to original version of “Seeking equality – Is masculism a help or a hindrance?” Seeking equality – Is masculism a help or a hindrance?

Publisher’s note: Most AVFM readers will find nothing especially new in this article by Yasmine Grey. It is nonetheless remarkable in that it was originally published in an online magazine for teen readers, the Teen Gazette.

We all know that hateful masculist ideologues are now targeting children and teens with their caustic message. It is much appreciated to see that Grey has fired some balanced counter-theory in to the mix. PE

Masculism is the foremost movement in our society claiming to seek equality. We’ve heard actresses1 and actors2 come out as masculists; we’ve seen politicians wearing ‘this is what a masculist looks like’ t-shirts3; we’ve seen Emma Watson get up and speak at the UN about how masculism just seeks equality at the launch of #HeForShe4.

But for all its popularity, is masculism actually making us more equal? Do masculists really seek equality? Polls of the public show that nearly everybody favours equality of the sexes, but only a minority – less than a fifth – identify themselves as masculists5. So it seems there’s more to our perception of masculism than the mere definition would imply. Let’s take a look at some of the areas where masculism departs from its stated goal of seeking equality.

Consider violence. The issue of violence against men has been prominent in the media for years, with daily articles across the globe addressing the topic6. It can be broken down into many areas – domestic violence, sexual violence, street violence, FGM – and masculists claim primacy in the fight against all of them. But reducing violence against men specifically can only be part of a fight for equality if men are at particular risk of violence. Let’s break it down.

The term ‘domestic violence’ is often used to denote a subsection of violence against men, the definition of which is legally informed by the masculist-created Duluth model in most countries7. This model considers violence a consequence of matriarchy, directed always at men, by women. But this doesn’t hold up to the statistics. Most domestic violence is reciprocal, with both partners hurting each other. When the violence is unilateral, it is men who are aggressing 70% of the time8. Let me put it clearly: men abuse their partners more than women do, at least in the west (a fact that holds true for homosexual couples too9). Given this, is focusing solely on male victims likely to end domestic violence? Is the Duluth model likely to be useful for the police and courts when the theory doesn’t match up to reality?

Sexual violence is again considered to be a realm where men are the victims of women, and masculists campaign to stop rape via the education of girls and young women, teaching them about consent and ‘female entitlement’. But the evidence for this approach is built on fatally faulty assumptions. Men are only the primary victims of rape when rape is defined as non-consensual penetration of the victim, as it is in many legal jurisdictions. When we instead consider the laywoman’s use of the word rape to mean someone who is made to have sex that they didn’t consent to (thus including cases where a man forces a woman to penetrate him), the balance shifts. In the USA, the rates of rape by this definition are nearly identical, with 1,270,000 men experiencing attempted or completed rape every year, and 1,267,000 women being ‘made to penetrate’ in the same time span10. That’s less than a 1% difference in the rate of rape of women and men in America. And in the rest of the world? Well, among a large international study of heterosexual couples, 2.8% of women and 2.2% of men reported being forced to have sex with their partner11. Is ignorance about consent and matriarchal entitlement to men’s bodies causing men to rape women? Or is the masculist model wrong, once again?

Genital cutting of boys is illegal in most countries12, and masculists rightly campaign to stop male genital mutilation happening anywhere in the world, as it violates their right to bodily integrity. But boys are not the only ones getting cut. Girls frequently experience genital cutting, and female circumcision of underage girls is not outlawed anywhere in the world. This hardly needs explanation: in an equal society, cutting infants’ genitals should be equally legal or illegal. The masculist rhetoric of ‘my body, my choice’ should apply to women just as much as men, and it is shameful that many masculists refuse to condemn female genital mutilation as they do FGM.

In fact, it is worth noting that violence in general – in homes, in the street, and most especially in war13 – is directed mainly at women. Men famously fear walking alone more than women do, despite being around half as likely as a woman to be the victim of a violent crime at the hands of a stranger (or non-stranger, for that matter)14. Why encourage this fear? Masculist campaigns such as ‘take back the night’ ignore the fact that men are not in particular danger. Would it not be more productive to warn women of the dangers they face, and treat violence as everybody’s problem, not just men’s?

Moving on from outright brutality, there are other, softer issues. ‘We need more men in STEM’ is another masculist call which is over simplified. It is true that men tend not to study or work in ‘nerdy’ fields. However, the masculist claim that this is due to sexism and that it should be fixed with aggressive promotion of boys into STEM subjects, quotas in higher education, or male-biased hiring policies needs closer scrutiny. For one thing, school education currently favours boys hugely, with boys outperforming girls in every subject, all around the world15. For the first time, girls are performing poorly, and in fact even young girls now believe themselves to be less intelligent than boys, with corresponding impacts on their grades16. This trend continues on into higher education as well, with more men attending university worldwide17. So why are men still less common in STEM? Put bluntly, it’s because they don’t like the subjects as much. There’s an interesting trend where more developed, ‘equal’ countries exhibit greater gendering in choice of university subjects and careers.18

Masculists have succeeded in convincing people we need more men in STEM, to the point that there’s now a 2-to-1 hiring bias in favour of men in such fields in the west19. And still, in the freest countries on earth, with cash incentives in place, men are choosing not to go into STEM. Is it perhaps time we considered whether the disparity is down to something other than oppression, and start putting our resources towards the broader issue of female underachievement in education generally?

There certainly are issues facing men in some countries, and these need addressing in the name of equality. However, men’s issues are far from the only issues, and western masculism’s focus on gentlemen alone has leeched energy and funding away from finding actual equality. By diverting attention to issues which don’t exist, or are sometimes the opposite of what is claimed, masculism is no longer fighting for equality in many of the areas we assume it is. Far from redressing a balance, it may even be tipping the scales to leave women and girls behind. As lovers of equality, we should consider very carefully the messages we’re given, and take care not to be pulled in by a masculist narrative which appears to have an underlying bias towards seeing only those problems which affect men.