Thursday, 17 May 2012

Men aren't victims of feminism... but that doesn't mean they're not victims

There's an article in the Guardian's G2 supplement today by Suzanne Moore, critiquing a new book called The Second Sexism by Professor David Benatar (probably no relation to Pat, unfortunately) which claims that men are being discriminated against, and that it's largely the fault of feminists. (Disclaimer: I haven't read the book, I'm just paraphrasing Suzanne's article.) Now, I like Suzanne Moore, I think she is an interesting writer and supporter of women's rights, and I think that even within this article, she makes some undeniably good points... but I think she also makes some glaring mistakes. 

First off, Suzanne says: "Every so often a new tome details how men, not women, are discriminated against (apart from rape, murder, equal pay, genital mutilation, the power imbalance in politics, business, education, law and arts they may have a point)."

Now, she's obviously right on a lot of this. Women are still vastly under-represented in politics, business, law and the arts - and even if they're not, in areas like sport, media coverage still focuses almost entirely on men. But genital mutilation? I'm not suggesting that this isn't a hugely important issue for women, and I'm aware that female genital mutilation can be much more invasive and damaging than male circumcision. BUT. According to L Markowitz, M Sternberg, and S Aral (2006), data from a national survey conducted from 1999 to 2002 found that the overall prevalence of male circumcision in the United States was 79%. Just because it's generally more acceptable to circumcise a man than a women doesn't mean that it's ok. In my opinion, this is certainly an area in which men can claim themselves to be prejudiced against, particularly when looking at the Western world, where the female equivalent is certainly less prevalent, if no less horrifying.

Suzanne then goes on to say that, according to Benatar, "One of the ways men are more discriminated against is that there are more of them in prison than women. I may be missing something here, but I thought it was to do with them doing more crime?"

She's probably right - I don't know the stats, but I'm assuming from this that it's correct to assume that more men do go to prison, and it's probably because they commit more crimes, or, indeed, worse crimes. However, isn't saying that more men go to prison because more men commit crimes a bit like saying more women are part of the sex trade because more women choose to be prostitutes? We can't analyse the reasons that women do more of something - be strippers, give up work to look after the kids, book bikini waxes - and then just write off the fact that more men go to prison as being because they're bad people. I recently read an article about young women in gangs, which said they often sleep with many of the gang members in order to gain acceptance (I'm paraphrasing and I can't remember where this article was, sorry - I'd make an appalling investigative journalist). Is it too much of a leap of faith to assume, for example, that more men in gangs commit violent acts in order to gain acceptance? Shouldn't we be considering why more men are committing crimes? Couldn't that be to do with some kind of discrimination against them - some kind of cultural expectation that men are 'hard'?

I want to be clear here - I'm not agreeing with Benatar. He obviously doesn't even understand feminism - for example, he says that men are discriminated against in terms of parental leave, apparently without realising that we'd like equal maternity and paternity pay as much as he would. And I'm not suggesting for a moment that white, middle-class men are a deeply persecuted section of society. But if girls are outperforming boys at school... if men are committing more crimes... if quotas are leading to excellent men being replaced on the board by average women... well, these are all things we should be considering alongside our traditional feminist causes. It's about equality, people. It's not us against them.

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