But in general, I understand the phrase “male-bashing” to mean not literal bashing1, but “unfair criticism of men, rooted in prejudice against men.”
Well, unfairness and prejudice — how could I defend that? Really, I can’t. I don’t believe that anyone should be judged or treated differently based on what’s between their legs.2 There have been times when I’ve encountered outright anti-male bigotry on feminist boards, both directly and indirectly (such as women who agreed with a man in argument having their positions dismissed as “male-coddling,” which is sexist against both sexes).
That’s prejudiced, and it sucks. No doubt about that, at least in my (male) mind. On the occasions I encounter stuff like that, sometimes I object, and sometimes I roll my eyes and mutter under my breathe about picking battles.
But I still think that male-bashing — or, rather, the intellectual space for male-bashing — is necessary.
Mainly because what male-bashing is, is contested territory. If a feminist scholar says that rape is extreme behavior, but part of the spectrum of normal male behavior, is that male-bashing? That’s pretty clearly what Christina Hoff Sommers insinuated when, seeking to discredit Mary Koss’ rape prevalence research, she wrote (emphasis Sommers’):
In 1982, Mary Koss, then a professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio, published an article on rape in which she expressed the orthodox gender feminist view that “rape represents an extreme behavior but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior within the culture” (my emphasis). Some well-placed feminist activists were impressed by her.
So is Koss’ statement anti-male? Apparently Sommers thinks so, but I don’t know why. Koss isn’t saying all men are rapists; she’s not saying that for men to rape is normal; she’s saying that there is a continuum of male sexual behavior, and rape is an extreme on that continuum.3 You might disagree with that, but should the very thought be off-bounds for those of us who want to avoid being bigoted against any sex? I don’t think so.
Similarly, I’ve more than once seen critics of feminism suggest that being critical of masculinity is anti-male. From my perspective, nothing in this world is more harmful to men than cultural norms of masculinity, and nothing more profoundly anti-male than the idea that the ideals of “masculinity” should not be criticized or changed (or, preferably, done away with). Every person who is against challenging the idea of masculinity, is in favor of boys being beaten and bullied in schoolyards; is in favor of men going off to stupid wars where they can be shot and blown up, mainly by other men also trying to be masculine; etc, etc. But for other people, my entire line of thinking is somehow “anti-male.”
Historically, the idea that women needed the vote — (“What are you saying, that men don’t vote in the best interests of their families?”) — was once considered anti-male. I’ve more than once been told that thinking that men and women should be equally represented in government, was anti-male and sexist, because I was claiming that male politicians can’t represent women. (I do think an individual male politician can represent women. I’m not sure a governing body that’s 85% male can adequately represent a population that’s 51% female). I’ve also been told, again and again, that my belief that children of lesbian couples turn out fine without a father is anti-male (never mind that I’d say the same thing about motherless children of gay male couples).
The intellectual freedom to be anti-male is necessary, because today’s common sense was yesterday’s anti-male screed, and today’s screed tomorrow’s common sense. It would be bad for both women and men if all of feminism’s good ideas were dropped because they were labeled anti-male.
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There’s another reason, which I believe but am having difficulty articulating: I think that when fighting an entrenched, unjust system, radical ideas are valuable as a “shock to the system.” (Credit to Mandolin, who discussed this with me in IM a while ago, for influencing my thinking on this.) There is a value in fiery rhetoric; there is a value in saying “fuck all that shit.”
- Of course, some men are literally bashed, but this is usually called “violence” or “abuse,” not bashing. [↩]
- I can think of a few very narrow exceptions to this, in cases that either have to do with genuine physical differences, such as having urinals in men’s restrooms but not women’s, or that are intended to mitigate the effects of already-existing sexism, such as affirmative action. [↩]
- In context, Koss’ paper (published in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology) argued that a spectrum approach is a more useful way of categorizing “sexual aggression/sexual victimization” than a typological approach, which says a “subject is either a rapist, a rape victim, or a control subject. Recently, several writers have suggested that a dimensional view of rape be adopted. In this framework, rape represents an extreme behavior but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior within the culture.” [↩]