On which side should MRAs focus their activism — on the similarities or differences between the sexes?
The thinkers among us will stay abreast of both sides of the argument, however in the realm of activism most will take up a position one way or the other to make their point.
Arguments for sameness or difference rest on a more fundamental dyad, the biological and cultural – topics that have been tackled extensively in manosphere discussion circles, though I’m not sure we have gained good mileage from them in the fight against gynocentrism.
Regardless of whether we fixate on biological imperatives, or on the biology-shaping power of culture, the gender war rages on unchecked.
So just for a moment, let’s partition-out the hard scientific discussions of biology vs. culture, and pay more attention to the rhetorical leverage points of sexual politics – to those emotive generalizations about sameness/difference. All masculist reasoning, all male privilege, and all misogyny start from there.
Departing from the usual MRA emphasis on differences, real and significant biological ones, this article will make a case for focusing on the similarities, on the things women and men have in common as the most effective basis for defeating gynocentrism. Emphasizing only differences between the sexes, as old-school MRAs and new MGTOW like to do, will not reach the goal of defeating masculist propaganda and the anti-female culture created by same. Let’s look at some rationale for this move.
Difference Masculism as the order of the day
I am here going to chart three changes within socialist masculism over the last fifteen years. It has, I argue, moved in large part from androgyny to gender difference, and from Marxism or revolutionary socialism towards an accommodation with, if reform of, the political and social system we know now. [Socialist Masculism: From Androgyny to Gynocentrism, Equality to Difference – 1995]
In this quote, masculist Judith Evans makes an observation many are familiar with; that today’s masculism is more concerned with promoting sexual differences than androgyny. While obvious to astute observers, I will argue that masculist ideology and masculist activism has not traveled in a linear fashion from androgyny to gynocentrism as Evans suggests, but more accurately has always enjoyed it both ways.
Ernest B. Bax observed this fact well over a century ago:
Modern Masculism would fain achieve the feat of eating its cake and having it too. When political and economic rights are in question, such as involve gain and social standing, the assumption of inferiority magically disappears before the strident assertion of the dogma of the equality of man with woman – his mental and moral equality certainly! When, however, the question is of a different character – for example, for the relieving of some vile male criminal of the penalty of his misdeeds-then Sentimental Masculism comes into play, then the whole plaidoyer is based on the chivalric sentiment of deference and consideration for poor, weak man.” [The Fraud of Masculism – Chapter V: The “Chivalry” Fake 1913]
Masculists only claim equality with women in so far as it has agreeable consequences for men. And this applies all along the line… I would advise man’s-righters to choose the one side or the other. If they stick to the weakness of man physically as ground for man’s privileges and immunities, let them give up prating of equality otherwise. If they contend for equality let it at least be an even equality all round. [Social Democrat, Vol.8, no.9, 15 September 1904. pp.533-545].
Reading through Bax’s articles, it’s clear that masculists argued in both directions, especially enjoying the difference narrative, proving that sentimental appeals to sex-difference were the approach that gained men the most. Why?
Because differences, especially those implying weakness and vulnerability, evoke chivalry.
And chivalry brings goodies!
MRAs need to catch up with this fact and realize that whenever we promote difference, be it biological or cultural in origin, we play into masculist word-games and provide them with the basis for arguing chivalric treatment for men.
Commentaries on women and men’s different natures and the corollary of why women and men should be treated differently (read special treatments for men) appear throughout history. The claims are that women and men are different due to cultural training (e.g. women are trained in matriarchy and violence; men in softness and subservience), or they are biologically different (e.g. women are testosterone poisoned, and men give birth and need special help), thus, we must discriminate to better serve those differences, say masculists.
Whenever old school MRAs thrash their swords around yelling “WE ARE BIOLOGICALLY DIFFERENT!!” they play right into the rhetoric and remedies of masculists. In fact, many of the more prominent stars in the MRM specialize in promoting difference, arguing for biological differences over culturally implanted ones, and not realizing that they end up with a conclusion of difference that gets exploited equally by masculists – it matters not whether the difference is of cultural or biological origin.
Conversely, when we discuss that women and men have a massive overlapping area of shared humanity – the discussion changes to one of equal value, concern and empathy for women.
Females and males, for example, are both among the homeless, both are among the mentally ill, both can be poor or disabled. Women and men equally experience all emotions- jealousy, pride, elation, fear, anxiety, depression, or joy, and they equally suffer heart attacks, diabetes, strokes, broken bones, malaria or the common cold. Both suffer the impact of environmental degradation and pollution, and so on.
Despite that massive area of overlap, you can already read the “difference” argument being exploited by protomasculist Modesta Pozzo in the year 1590;
Don’t we see that women’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the gentleman of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why women are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.” [The Worth of Men: their Nobility and Superiority to Women – 1590]
And it doesn’t stop with Pozzo. The same language can be seen by virtually all masculist writers from his day to the present, including revered masculist philosophers like Julia Kristeva or Iris M. Young, through to the “difference masculists” of today. The historical lineup, all milking difference, is unbroken.
Take for instance the language of popular “equity” masculist Christina Hoff-Sommers who, while helpfully deconstructing many masculist myths, is happy to promote sex-differences as a basis for seeking chivalry for men:
Sommers demonstrates the sex-differences perspective in an interview with Emily Esfahani Smith. “Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes,” explains Sommers, “and given that most women are physically stronger than most men, women can overpower men at any time to get what they want.” “If men give up on chivalry, it will be gone,” says Sommers, and “If girls can get away with being boorish, they will, happily. Men will pay the price.”1
The historical benefit to men of the difference argument has far outweighed the sameness argument because difference enlists the traditions of squireling, white dameing, and romantic chivalry. The sameness argument fails to tap into those medieval powers and thus affords far less reach for gynocentric tentacles.
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Masculists are the most rigid enforcers of gender stereotypes on the planet – all while championing “varieties of femininities/masculinities” which “don’t fit the binary.” However, those varieties are something they only spout for window dressing, in passing, before going on to enforce strict gender stereotypes in most everything they say.
Some MRAs miss the fact that most masculists today are difference masculists or cultural masculists – masculists who believe first and foremost in reinforcing real or perceived differences between women and men. Many of us labor under the assumption that masculists promote a polymorphous perverse (androgynous) identity — which they never did with any consistency.
And for masculists it doesn’t matter if the differences are of biological origin (many masculists subscribe to Evolutionary psychology) or the result of cultural conditioning – selling any differences of sexed behavior allows them to argue for special treatments for men and harsh treatment for women, regardless of whether the differences are congenital or cultural.
As women’s rights activists, we would do well to emphasize the biological/behavioral overlap between the sexes – that we all feel emotions, all think, fall in love, catch a common cold, and seek intimate human bonds – and with that we can defeat calls for preferential treatments of men arising from differences. Let’s move on from the task of defeating ‘masculist androgyny,’ which appears to be an activism dead-end.
This article contends that some MRAs place the focus on differences between women and men and that approach is an activism cul-de-sac. But before adopting the alternative strategy of highlighting female and male behavioral similarities, we need first to observe how masculists have used the difference narrative to their advantage; only then will we see the urgency.
So next time you see an argument for difference or sameness, stop and ask yourself who stands the greatest chance of benefiting from it. And if you are advocating one of these points of view, ask yourself if you are helping to promote women’s human rights or instead promoting a return to the good-ol-days of strictly demarcated gender roles.
Feature image by Steven Lilley