Your school becomes a University of laziness, as your prison is a University of crime.
I woke up in a daze;
Bare, naked, bones exposed.
You picked me up,
Taught me how to find beauty in despair.
note: this is the longest post I have ever written! Seriously, it’s gargantuan. Prepare yourselves!
Hi everyone! I decided to make this post today because of a certain person who keeps leaving comments on the blog. The person identifies as “Isaac”, and we’ve been going back and forth in the comments of this post, about whether or not it’s misandry to say things like ‘men should stop raping women’, or to insinuate that men as a group (instead of individual male rapists) need to start changing their behaviour in order for violence against women to stop. Isaac obviously believes that it IS misandry, and I obviously do not. Anyways, he posted another four or five comments over the last couple days and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to show my readers the kind of rhetoric commonly used by Men’s Right’s Activists, and how Feminists and most other normal people might respond to it. So thanks Isaac, for providing the readers of my blog this fantastic learning opportunity.
What I want to do now is go through some of the claims that he makes in these last comments and offer responses to them. The theme of this post is basically ‘patriarchy sucks and hurts men too, no matter how much MRA people try and deny it’. Let’s begin!
1. “Females have more privilege than men”.
The first comment Isaac makes is that women have more privilege than men, and links me to a youtube video by Karen Straughan, in which she goes about trying to prove this very point. Hilariously, Karen was prompted to make this video after being interviewed for this Macleans article by my friend Mika - talk about a small world! In the beginning of the video Karen says that she does not believe women have been historically oppressed. This is a big statement, and since the video is a half hour long I figured that she must have a huge number of examples proving why this isn’t so. Instead she has three, the fist one being women’s economic responsibility in Islam. She says that under Islamic law, men bear full financial responsibility to provide for their households and women are not obligated to work outside the home. But if they do, they have the right to keep their wages, and not spend a single penny of that income on family upkeep. Karen (and Isaac) believe this is a fantastic example of women having more privilege than men. What they don’t understand is that this system is based on patriarchy, which feminists *want* to dismantle. That’s right! The very same patriarchy which sooo many MRA activists say ‘doesn’t even exist’ is actively discriminating against men too! HOW IRONIC. A system like this, wherein the male partner is fully responsible for supporting the household financially and the woman has no financial responsibility, is based on patriarchal values which deem men to be natural breadwinners, more suited (because of their maleness) to bearing that burden: men are the “qawwâmûn” - the ‘protectors and maintainers’ of women. It is exactly this type of gender stereotyping which feminism seeks to deconstruct and call attention to.
It is also important to remember that despite this law, working mothers will make less money than their husbands in many muslim countries. This is because although women have a religious right to work, it is not a right without limitations. A woman may work, but not if that work “causes her to neglect her important role as a mother and wife”. Depending on how culturally important that obligation is, it can seriously impinge on a woman’s ability to make money. In places like Egypt, women have many fewer opportunities in the private sector because this cultural expectation of women putting their role in the family first is very strong, causing men to be seen as more reliable employees long term. As well, despite the fact that women are not obligated by law to spend their wages on their family, they ARE expected to take care of the family and home, whether they work jobs or not: this is of course an example of the ‘second shift’ which many mothers living in non-muslim countries also experience. But women in muslim countries have also faced other limitations on working: it is stipulated that the work women do ought to suited to the ‘nature’ of women: medicine, nursing, teaching, sewing, etc (in Afghanistan, the most popular job for women is tailoring from home). It should also be done in a place that is only for women with no mixing between women and non-mahram men (blood relations), and the work should not lead to women travelling without a mahram. On top of this, many women in Muslim countries face the same wage discrimination as western women. In Afghanistan, women make up 30% of the agricultural field, but are often paid up to three times less than their male counterparts.
Just to be clear: I’m not offering these examples to argue that muslim countries (or Islam) is somehow inherently more patriarchal than western countries or christianity, or that all Muslim countries are the same. There are many different types of Islam and many different ways that it is lived and taken up depending on location. In places like Egypt, affluent women can find well paying jobs in the private sector. But most women in the workforce occupy low wage positions and 47% of rural women are still illiterate. There have been no female judges and women occupy only 8 of 454 seats in the Egyptian parliament. But then you look at a country like Kuwait, where the workforce is 50% women and women are able to occupy positions such as judges, police officers, royal guards, special forces officers, and immigration officers. In Saudi Arabia, women are still denied the vote, participation in government positions and also the right to drive. But in Afghanistan, despite the fact that many women are unemployed, illiterate, or work low wage jobs, women have also started to become members of the security forces as well as entrepreneurs and a large number of women have been elected to the National Assembly. So clearly (as in every country and across every religion) there are contradictions and cultural differences, positives and negatives. What I *am* trying to show here is that women in Muslim countries DO face significant barriers to work that men do not face, and that women are similarly burdened by the patriarchy but in different ways than men, and much more extreme ways than men. In her video, Karen speaks about these working mothers as if they’re a very flippant and selfish group, potentially watching their husbands break their backs trying to support the family while they happily go out and make wages for themselves to spend on personal items. She says that under the law, a working mother could let her baby starve and her husband would take the blame. As I’ve hopefully shown here, this is an incredibly incomplete picture of reality: women face significant gendered barriers to work and well-paying work that men do not face, meaning that this imagined figure of a Muslim mother who makes enough money to significantly help out with family finances but chooses not to is just that: an imagined figure.
So let’s sum up what we’ve learned here: This system, where men are mandated to pay for families and women are not, is based on patriarchal values which keep men and women in narrowly defined and stereotypical gender boxes: men = protector, women = needs protecting. At the same time, cultural and religious expectations that working women should put their familial obligations before employment, that they should be employed in only certain jobs meant for women, and the realities of large numbers of uneducated and illiterate women and wage discrimination, make it harder for women to get the same opportunities as men and make as much money. Now - people like Isaac are probably still thinking, “Who cares - men have to provide and women don’t! it’s still an example of men being discriminated against more than women! How will feminists respond to that!!!”. Very easily in fact. We can liken it to a very similar example that MRA types use all the time to ‘prove’ that women have more privilege than men: alimony payments. As with the Muslim wage law example, they don’t realize that feminists do not want men to overwhelmingly pay alimony payments. As a feminist, I’m not in favour of any system predicated on patriarchal values, *even* those which seemingly ‘benefit’ women as an end result. You know why? Because a system which ‘benefits’ women by believing they are intrinsically in need of male protection and maintenance does more damage than good. As Jezebel’s Lindy West has pointed out, these systems which force men to carry much higher financial burdens (Islamic wage laws and alimony expectations alike) have been “set up to combat the fact that women have been historically expected to prioritize domestic duties over professional goals, thus minimizing their earning potential. The assumption that wives should make babies instead of money is part of patriarchy”.
Karen’s second example is about China. She says that ‘men are more burdened because they are financially responsible for their parents, while unmarried women are actually supposed to be provided for by their parents, regardless of age’. Now, I spent some time researching filial obligations in China, and didn’t find anything that said only men have to provide for their elderly family. In fact, in July of this year a court in East China’s Jiangsu Province “made the country’s first verdict (of a new revision of an elderly rights law that demands family members to visit and care for their aged parents and provide financial support) that forced a daughter to visit her elderly mother more frequently…and also provide for her mother financially”. In none of the literature on these laws did it stipulate that only men were to bear the burden of this financial and filial responsibility. But I looked a little further and found that men do have financial obligations that women don’t have when it comes to marriage: it is the male’s responsibility to provide a ‘bride price’ for his fiancee. In this NPR article, the groom forked over almost 11,000 dollars (68,888 yuan) for his wife. The article points out that “most young men getting married in China today are expected to fork out [such funds], often providing an apartment, sometimes a car and a betrothal gift, too”. Clearly, this MUST be an example of women having more privileges than men, right?? Yeahhhhhhh no - what we’ve got here is just another example of men being forced into the provider role because of the patriarchy. Isaac might be thinking to himself, “if only those greedy Chinese women thought to contribute, so men didn’t have to take on the burden by themselves”. But do Chinese men want wives like that? Evidence, perhaps surprisingly to MRAers, points to no:
In a recent nationwide survey about marital status, over 500 thousand females in Beijing are “girls who are left behind”, a popular Chinese phrase refer to women who are over twenty eight years old but still finding it hard to get married. Among these single ladies, more than 75% are white-collar women with good educational backgrounds and social resources, who are often called “3High-women”(high level of education, high income, and high IQ). If You Are the One [a popular Chinese dating show] also reflects this phenomenon: most ladies on the stage are well-born. Some of them are managers of local companies or restaurants, while others may have experiences of studying abroad or PhD degrees from well-known universities. According to China Daily, more than 50% of men surveyed claimed that they don’t want to marry “3High-women, for “they are too independent and very successful in careers.” “If I had lower monthly income than my wife, I would feel ashamed”, said one of male interviewees. Marrying “3High women” makes men feel stressed and intimidated, showing that the traditional patriarchal value that men should be stronger and more successful than women still plays a role in Chinese society.
The men and women in this example are bound by patriarchal values which enforce the same gender stereotypes as we saw in the Islamic wage law example. Women are aware that the more they earn and learn, the less attractive they will seem to potential husbands. And potential husbands might complain that they have to spend money on the bride price, but at the same time 500,000 women are being “left behind” in a country with 117 men for every 100 women, because they have been too successful in their careers!! The patriarchy enforces male dominance because it rewards men who seek and obtain power, while punishing women for exercising agency and seeking power. If the system was less based on patriarchal values, the subservience and domesticity of women would be less highly prized, in turn meaning that the onus on men to solely provide financially would ALSO be lower.
So the next time feminists talk about women making less for working the same jobs as men, or about studies which prove that the same resume will be hired much more often if it has a male name at the top, or about how having to work a ‘second shift’ of housework at home after a long day at work negatively impacts a working mother’s ability to focus on her paying job and rise in the ranks, GET ON BOARD - because guess what? Those very things are the reasons why men are expected to pay alimony, and solely provide for their families. Because it is expected that women should be caregivers, not wage earners. Feminists do not deny that patriarchal systems like these create burdens unique to men - we completely acknowledge this while at the same time understanding that this patriarchal system hurts women (by saying they ought to put family before work) as *well* as men (by forcing them to do the opposite). IMPORTANTLY, it must be noted here that while both men and women are burdened by the patriarchy, men at least occupy the higher position in the patriarchl social hierarchy, and thus are privy to privileges and benefits that women do NOT have access to. I’ll state this again: while both men and women are burdened by the patriarchy, women suffer MORE and are MORE oppressed than men, because masculinity is positioned *above* and *better than* femininity. While both men and women are oppressed by the patriarchy, the patriarchy allows men to oppress women. The patriarchy has allowed men to own women, beat women, and rape women, mostly without consequence, throughout history and into the present day. The patriarchy mandates that men must be tough, that fear and emotional vulnerability are signs of weakness, and that to be feminine is to have your masculinity destroyed. The patriarchy hurts everyone, but it allows men dominance over women. It perpetrates hatred and disgust towards women, and traditionally feminine attributes. While I understand and am of course sympathetic to the unique burdens that men face because of the patriarchy, men and women are not equally oppressed. So as a feminist, I’m primarily concerned with ending BOTH of these kinds of oppression that the patriarchy fosters: the more general oppression that effects both sexes, and the targeted oppression of men against women.
But most MRActivists deny the fact that men have oppressed women or that women are oppressed. They deny the very existence of patriarchy! They don’t understand that by pretending that women’s oppression doesn’t exist, they are denying the very thing that causes their own oppression. Guess what, fellas? You can’t have one without the other. You can’t pretend one exists, and not the other. They don’t understand that in working to dismantle the patriarchy so that women are no longer oppressed by it, feminists are working to end the oppression that men face because of it as well. YOU’RE WELCOME.
As an aside, let’s realize here that these so-called examples of women benefitting more than men (which is really an example of how the patriarchy hurts both women AND men) is not evidence that women on the whole are not systematically more disenfranchised than men, and it’s DEFINITELY not evidence that women haven’t been more discriminated against throughout history. I have no idea how any sane person could say to themselves ‘well, here’s two examples where men have more burdens than men (examples which, it turns out, don’t even support their claims) - clearly, women have never been more discriminated against throughout history!!’ I mean, it just isn’t logical in any sense. Women have *literally* been the property of men throughout much of human history, with no ability to get an education or hold a job, choose their spouse, deny him her marital duties, hold property, or be in control of her own finances’. Women are actively discriminated against in the job market, make less than men, and face much higher rates of gendered violence at the hands of men. I mean, let’s look back at China, as Karen brought it up initially. Even if men WERE forced to financially provide for elder relatives and women were not, would that really be as much discrimination as the centuries of discrimination women have faced? Confucianism was incredibly patriarchal: women were literally second class citizens or ‘non-entities’. Many women were not even given names; they were referred to by their father’s last name, or their husbands, after they were married. Women had no legal rights, and under the teachings of Confucius it was believed that women’s obedience to men was one of three pillars of society. Confucius believed that the most obedient women would be illiterate women, so generations after generations of women never learned to read or write and had no formal schooling. On top of this, women’s feet were bound for centuries starting from a young age in order to keep them restricted to the home.
By Katharine Cukier, The Gazette
"We are not naive. We all understand that the Muslim woman’s head covering, the hijab, is the particular target of the Parti Québécois’s action, and it is this particular piece of cloth that has been generating a panic for a number of years. For many, the head scarf has become the pre-eminent sign of female submissiveness. And even if these devout women claim it is their choice to follow the dress code of piety, we are convinced that there is some bullying bearded father or brother forcing them to do it. And, well, we just don’t like it."