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Gender issues impacted by masculinists

By Wendy McElroy
web posted June 9, 2003

Gender issues are being rocked by masculinism -- sometimes called men's rights or the Men's Movement.

Advocates claim it is a last chance to restore sanity between the sexes and justice for families. Feminist foes accuse masculinists of wrongdoing that verges on criminal acts. High-profile clashes will almost certainly erupt between the two and public policy will change. But what is masculinism?

To understand a position, you need to explore the explanations offered by its mainstream supporters. Only afterward is it helpful to listen to its critiques and extreme exponents in order to gain perspective.

Father's rights activist Mark Toogood offers a prevalent definition: "1. A male-friendly framework for understanding social problems. 2. The belief that equality between the sexes requires the recognition and redress of prejudice and discrimination against men as well as women. 3. A complementary, not oppositional perspective to feminism."

The dominant theme of mainstream masculinism is the demand for a gender-neutral approach to social problems such as broken families, domestic violence and reproduction. For example, in approaching domestic violence it demands that the police, court system and social networks cease to pre-define victims as female and to recognize that men are often victims of domestic violence as well.

By contrast, feminist critics claim that masculinism promotes an exclusively male point of view at the expense of women. They point to extreme and angry expressions of masculinism as being representative of the entire movement. Then, based on material from this radical fringe, masculinism is called anti-woman.

In recent years, masculinists have focused on father's rights in custody, visitation and reasonable child support. They believe children need both parents and that divorced fathers should have rights as well as responsibilities. Given the high level of divorce in North America, these are non-trivial issues that deserve honest and vigorous dialogue.

The prospect of that dialogue occurring has been dealt a stunning blow by "School Success by Gender: A Catalyst for the Masculinist Discourse" -- a $75,000 tax-paid report requested by Status of Women Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government. The report has been called a declaration of war against men's rights activists both in Canada and the United States.

"Success by Gender" looks at a wide range of masculinist Web sites in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere -- from father's rights to anti-circumcision sites, from Promise Keepers to Men's Health Network. It finds, "these groups are largely composed of white, heterosexual, middle-class men who have not been successful in coping with the challenge to masculinity posed by feminism." Hundreds of sites and individuals are named and accused of creating hatred against women.

Among the report's recommendations: The establishment (at taxpayer expense) of an Internet monitoring organization to focus on men's hate speech against women; the publication, and dissemination, of a list that warns of "misogynist groups" -- that is, men's rights groups; and, an investigation into prosecuting such sites under section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code which addresses hate speech.

Ken Wiebe of BC (British Columbia) Fathers, one of the named sites, comments: "I have very little patience for feminists. ... But I have a wife, I have daughters. This notion that because we are opposed to the feminists' political agenda, that that somehow equates to a dislike of women, is just propaganda. That's some kind of smear campaign." The front page of BC Fathers proclaims, "Individuals have been named who may soon be targeted for legal, financial and legislative harassment intended to silence any dissent to the radical man-hating variety of feminism."

The attack upon masculinists is not unique to Canada. California NOW's much-touted Family Court Report 2002 aimed at making the California family court system even more mother-centered. Section 4 of CANOW's report was entitled "A Brief History of the Father's Rights Movement." It attacked men's groups for competing with feminists for federal funds and engaged in wholesale ad hominem attacks on prominent men's rights figures. It concluded that the "agenda" of father's rights groups was "to avoid child support, impoverish women, perpetuate a patriarchal suprastructure by which women and children are subjugated to property status."

Judging by the backlash, masculinists are having an impact. I know this personally because my Web site Ifeminists.com, which advances equal rights for men, has experienced a dramatic increase in harassment and hate mail from gender feminists in recent months. Every blast centers on men's rights.

The tension will only heighten. Men who claim the right to be an active part of their children's lives will not back down. Women who recognize the justice of those claims are not intimidated.

On May 24, the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) published an open "Memo to NOW" which spoke of "countless bright young women frustrated by rigid feminist propaganda of male hatred ..."  With their funding doubled, IWF announced, "We're issuing fair warning: extreme feminists, get to your foxholes because IWF is on the attack."

The gender war has shifted toward direct confrontation. Men should take heart from that fact. As Gandhi once explained: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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