4 January, 2007

Are Men Oppressed? Part 1 – Double Standards

Posted in Feminist Criticism, Feminist Issues, Gender Issues at 4:56 am by HughRistik

I’ve always been confused the notion of “oppression” ever since I started hearing the term. When I was growing up and getting bullied, I was hearing how girls have all the problems. It seemed that just about anything bad that happened to women could be considered “oppression,” no matter how minor. Men were never said to be “oppressed” no matter what bad things happened to them.

Feminism is responsible for propagating the notion that women are oppressed, and that men are not oppressed (or are the “oppressors” of women). I’ve always wondered what criteria feminists used to determine that women were oppressed and that men were not, even to a lesser degree.

What has bothered me about many feminists’ discussion of oppression is that they never define the term, or do so in an incredibly jargon-filled and ambiguous manner. They aren’t sure exactly what oppression is, but they know that it’s what men do to women!

Yet when feminists can’t state their criteria for oppression simply and clearly, and when they take it for granted that women are oppressed and men are not, then I become suspicious that they are being self-serving.

Other feminists, like Marilyn Frye, do clearly describe what they mean by “oppression,” but still deny that men can be oppressed:

The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction.

Only someone full of ideological conviction or empty of empathy could believe that this description characterizes women’s experiences, but never men’s.

In feminist discourse about oppression, there is a double standard. Some feminists can’t really define oppression, which makes me think that they define it self-servingly, in which case the double standard is built into their definition and it become tautological that men cannot be oppressed. When feminists can define oppression, and it sounds like their definition should indicate that men can be oppressed, they nevertheless argue that men are not. These feminists may have a reasonable standard for oppression; they just refuse to apply it fairly.

Yet some crazy brave feminists do argue that men can be oppressed. We will move on to them in Part 2…

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16 Comments

  1. Daran said,

    Opression is just the flipside of Privilege, for which I analyse the corresponding disconnect here.

  2. toysoldier said,

    The terms ‘oppression,’ ‘privilege,’ and ‘the patriarchy’ tend to be interchangeable, and all suffer from the same lack of clear definition or one-sided use. The problem with the term(s) may stem from the problem of the initial premise, i.e. it is something men systematically do to women. The term is not used necessarily to define or clarity that statement; rather it is used to justify that weak position. If one applied the term evenly, then the notion that only males cause social oppression falls apart, which is why one will often see even among feminists who do ‘concede’ that males can be oppressed do so with the caveat that women are oppressed ‘more’ or ‘worse.’

  3. curiousgyrl said,

    the idea of privledge doesnt work that well–it leaves out rights. Some things men or white people or whatever have that others dont arent privledges, they are things everyone should have while the reverse is also true. losing the priveldge talk and talking about rights may be old shcool but makes this mroe clear to me–ie men should have the right to respect for being active parents and should have the right to emotionally fulfilling relationships and the right to avoid conscription. Everyone has the right to bodily autonomy. Privledge talk feeds into false scarcity and zero-sum type analysis which I dont support. Oppression, to me, is denial of rights.

  4. NYMOM said,

    “Oppression” would mean, I think anyway, institutional oppression…ie., as in what blacks suffered in this society prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

    Now I’m sure there exists situations where some random black person could do something cruel to a random white one, but that doesn’t mean that the white person was being oppressed.

    I believe it must have some linkage to laws and actual pubic policies, ie., as in no black person allowed to live in certain areas or work in some jobs enforced by law.

    Of course, most whites won’t live in a predominantly black area because they would feel threatened. Does this translate into oppression however? No, I don’t think so. Since it’s a free choice.

    That’s why women (as women) could be said to have suffered oppression and men (as men) not have suffered it.

    “…men should have the right to respect for being active parents…”

    AND as long as that doesn’t trample on the rights of women, who are the ones making 99.9% of the investment in bearing children, then fine.

    Otherwise it’s more oppression of women and I, for one, would never stand for any policies or laws that would attempt to override womens’ stronger claims in this area.

  5. HughRistik said,

    I agree with Daran and Toysoldier that the feminist discourse around oppression, like discourse around privilege and patriarchy, is often just another way of saying that “women are universal victims and everything is men’s fault.”

    I also agree with curiousgyrl that even though the “privilege” discourse is bogus, it might be possible to rescue a coherent notion of “oppression” from feminism in a way that avoids a zero-sum type of analysis (if that is what she is suggesting). I am going to be discussing this in my next post in the series.

    curiousgyrl said:

    men should have the right to respect for being active parents and should have the right to emotionally fulfilling relationships and the right to avoid conscription.

    I agree with your sentiment, with one minor quibble:

    I don’t think men have the right to relationships. I don’t think anybody is entitled to have someone behave positively towards them in that way. What men have is the right to not be psychologically damaged in a way that inhibits or destroys their relational cabilities. The distinction is between a positive right and a negative right. People don’t have a right to happiness; they have a right to the pursuit of happiness. I think this is probably what you meant in the first place, though.

  6. HughRistik said,

    NYMOM said:

    Now I’m sure there exists situations where some random black person could do something cruel to a random white one, but that doesn’t mean that the white person was being oppressed.

    True. But who says that the situation between men and women is analogous to the situation between blacks and whites? This is something you need to demonstrate, not assume from the start.

  7. Daran said,

    I agree with curiousgyrl’s criticism. However I tend to accept the language in practice. It’s hard simultaneously to critique “privilege” as a framing, while at the same time, critique the notion that men are universally privileged even under that framing. I think the latter critique is more important, so that’s where I direct my efforts

    So defining ‘privilege’ to mean rights enjoyed by one group in general, but not the other, there are some huge female privileges, including the most fundamental of all – the right to life.

    Because the big legal loophole in the right to life as a fundamental human right, is that it doesn’t apply to combatants, who may be lawfully killed, and there is no universal human right to be a non-combatant. The closest is the right to consciously object, which is a conditional right to non-combatancy, provided you express a particular opinion. None of the other accepted universal human rights has such a requirement, and of course, it’s often violated.

    But the non-combatancy female privilege, (i.e., right denied to men) is broader than this. Even as a child I was denied the right to be a non-combatant. I was told that I had to fight the bullies. If I didn’t, or couldn’t then I just got what was coming to me.

    Similarly the male disposability disprivilege is broader than non-combatancy, Society is quicker to throw men away in prison, and to apply the death penalty. Men do the most dangerous types of work, and men dispose of themselves by committing suicide in much higher numbers than women. Nobody seems to regard this as much of a problem.

    So these really are two distinct but overlapping female privileges. Visibility is a third. To explain visibility, I need you to understand the concept of primary, secondary and tertiary historical sources. Excuse me if I’m talking down to you.

    A primary historical source is physical evidence, a contempraneous news report, or an eyewitness account of the events or circumstances. A secondary source is one which draws on primary sources. A tertiary source draws on secondary sources. Obviously there are further levels of indirection but they’re generally just called tertiary.

    In fact it’s rarely that simple, many sources cite a mixture of primary, secondary, tertiary, and other hybrid sources.

    Another way to look at this, is that primary sources are often anecdotal. Secondary sources often paint a picture. Tertiary sources often tell a story.

    By visibility, I mean that certain elements that are present in the picture painted by the most authorative secondary sources that are missing from the tertiary sources. For example consider genocide. The picture painted by the best secondary sources is a complex one. Pay close attention to the word “always”, “often”, “sometimes”, etc., in the following, which represents my current understanding of the subject (I.e., I might be wrong):

    There is always widespread sporadic and systematic murder of men. There is always sporadic and sometimes systematic murder of women, but it is rarely as widespread, as massive, or as systematic as the murder of men. Sometimes victims are tortured first. Sometimes they are just executed as quickly as possible. Sometimes there is a determined attempt to annihilate entire adult male populations in specific places, such as the entire adult male population of a town. If this happens, elite men and women (i.e., those who were in power, and those capable of replacing them) are eliminated first. Then the women and children, and ften older men are expelled. The remaining men are anihilated. Rarely, there is a determined attempt to annihilate the entire ethnic group – a total holocaust. If this happens, the men are annihilated first.

    Rape tends to follow a similar pattern, except that the sexes are reversed, and it’s usually (but not always) less widespread and systematic than the killing, sometimes greatly so. Some of the victims are male, though male sexual victimisation is generally incidental, i.e., they are not imprisoned for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sometimes there is sexual mutilation. Where there is systematic mass rape of females, those of childbearing age are most likely to be targetted. Sometimes there is forced prostitution. These women are often treated badly, sometimes tortured, and sometimes murdered after they have been used to give pleasure. Sometimes there is forced pregancy. These women are usually given better physical treatment. Sometimes some women are forcibly prostituted by men from their own ethnic group, but their treatment is generally better, which creates a situation where the prostituted women are dependent upon the men abusing them for protection from worse treatment by the other ethnic group.

    Mass rape, however, never occurs except against the backdrop of massive male slaughter, nor does it happen in places where there is a male population capable of resistance, and on that subject, the worse the threat, the more women and children are active in the resistance effort, usually in support (non-frontline) roles but sometimes as frontline combatants. Sometimes women are perpetrators of warcrimes. Sometimes men on the aggressor side actively protect victim-population women from rape by their fellow soldiers. (‘Aggressor-heros’, for the sake of brevity.)

    Usually both ethnic groups play both aggressor and victim roles, at different times and in different places, but they are not “equally bad”.

    These facts have some simple policy implications. 1. Protect victim-population men. 2. Do not separate the male and female populations, and do not allow the aggressor to do so. This is a 180 degree reversal of actual UN policy, which is to preferentially protect women and children, in some cases selectively evacuate them, in others cooperating with the aggressor in their forcible expulsion. Why?

    Because the massive male slaughter recorded in these secondary sources sits there like an elephant in the living room. There is no discussion of the phenomenon, and no conclusions drawn. The very same reports declare women to “vulnerable” without any expanation as to why this is so, and recommend that they be given special protection. Then when you get to the tertiary sources which draw on these secondary sources, the female perpetrators, the aggressor-heros, and the male rape victims disappear. The male murder victims are desexed. The female victims centred. Only the perpetrators are recognisably male.

    This is what I mean by “visibility”. I’m not saying that feminism is the cause of this gender-norm, but feminists are by far and away the worst offenders. They both benefit from, and sustain it. Indeed you could define “visibility privilege” as “the privilege of being so blissfully unaware of the extent of male oppression that you can declare them to be universally privileged.”

    “Service privilege” follows on from this. Because women’s needs are more visible, government is quicker to respond to them than to men’s.

    The final privilege is “accessibility”. Even if you want to help men, you just can’t reach them. I’ve done a lot of voluntary work in my time, and most of the beneficiaries have been women. In part, that has been because of unconscious bias on my part, but now that I’ve become aware of these issues, I still find it difficult to reach needy men.

    Edited.

  8. curiousgyrl said,

    Daran;

    we can thank birth control for the recent advent of women’s statistically greater enjoyment of the human right to life, at least in this culture. Phew!

    Hugh: quibble granted and that was what I was suggesting. My keyboard is crap and my ability to proof is worse. Sorry about that.

  9. NYMOM said,

    “True. But who says that the situation between men and women is analogous to the situation between blacks and whites? This is something you need to demonstrate, not assume from the start.”

    Well there were laws and public policies on the books stopping women from doing whatever they wished, even if they were qualified.

    For instance, Columbia University until the 1980s did not allow women to attend their undergraduate school…that’s why Barnard was created. It was the ‘sister’ school to Columbia College…it still exists as a separare entity today because after Columbia went coed, Barnard chose to remain an indepedent women’s college, as they had already established their own identity.

    Vassar has the same history, a sister college, created so women could attend college even if they weren’t allowed to enroll in the main campus…

    Women didn’t get the vote until 1920…

    Women were not allowed to join the bar as lawyers for quite a while or go to medical school…

    Now clearly women’s situation was not as bad as black people’s situation, that’s I’ll admit…but there were some similarities.

    AND my main point was that I believe the definition of oppression, which was being discussed, has to involved some sort of institutional oppression…as in laws and public policies being enforced.

    Otherwise there is no def. of oppression it’s just whatever you do wrong to someone and I think we can all agree that is too broad to call oppression.

  10. NYMOM said,

    “I don’t think men have the right to relationships. I don’t think anybody is entitled to have someone behave positively towards them in that way. What men have is the right to not be psychologically damaged in a way that inhibits or destroys their relational cabilities. The distinction is between a positive right and a negative right. People don’t have a right to happiness; they have a right to the pursuit of happiness. I think this is probably what you meant in the first place, though.”

    No. I think you read her right the first time. I’ve noticed a tendency for men to try to legislate everything through law, if they can’t get their way through other means.

    This business of trying to give yourselves court ordered rights over mothers and children is a perfect example of this tendency.

    There are more universal laws then the ones men have created, which have already decided these issues, but men don’t like the outcome so they continue trying to change the verdict, so to speak…

    So that’s exactly what curiousgirl was talking about…men bringing women and children into courts created by men to favor men and enforcing these ‘laws’ they’ve made up.

  11. NYMOM said,

    “Because the big legal loophole in the right to life as a fundamental human right, is that it doesn’t apply to combatants, who may be lawfully killed, and there is no universal human right to be a non-combatant. The closest is the right to consciously object, which is a conditional right to non-combatancy, provided you express a particular opinion. None of the other accepted universal human rights has such a requirement, and of course, it’s often violated.

    But the non-combatancy female privilege, (i.e., right denied to men) is broader than this.”

    This privilege or right to be a non-combantant as you call it isn’t based on laws put together by men in a smoke-filled room somewhere, although it would probably be comforting to think it was…

    It’s part of our evolutionary heritage on this planet which has been around longer then us and if we wind up not destroying the planet, probably will be around long after.

    Neither you, or the UN or a courtroom somewhere can decide whether or not other men will view you as a threat and proceed accordingly…

    “1. Protect victim-population men. 2. Do not separate the male and female populations, and do not allow the aggressor to do so. This is a 180 degree reversal of actual UN policy, which is to preferentially protect women and children, in some cases selectively evacuate them, in others cooperating with the aggressor in their forcible expulsion.”

    The UN comes in after fighting has been halted. They have no policy on selectively evacuating…They set up camps, generally in neighborhooding states for survivors and guess what even neighboring states won’t let a lot of refugee males into their countries as they’ll consider them a threat eventually as well.

  12. Daran said,

    we can thank birth control for the recent advent of women’s statistically greater enjoyment of the human right to life, at least in this culture. Phew!

    Yes, and maternal mortality is still a huge problem thoughout the third world. here are the shocking figures.

    But is this a competition? I’ll see your maternal mortality and raise you forced labour. Then you can bid female infanticide, and I could maybe trump that with conscription. Seems all a bit Odious to me.

    A more interesting question is, how does MM fit into the larger picture? I don’t see MM itself as a universal privilege system – it’s not a significant problem in the developed world for example nor does it appear to have knock–on effects that reach beyond the communities if affects. It’s a consequence of, and a contributor toward, the grinding poverty of those communities. It doesn’t appear to be deliberately inflicted upon the women, more a result of the neglect of the healthcare needs of those communities combined with the biological fact that it is women, not men who bear the babies.

    Nor is it a violation of the right to life, which doesn’t literally mean what it says. Your RtL isn’t violated when you die of a natural cause. Your RtL is violated when someone kills you, which is what overwhelming happens to men, and which can be legally done to soldiers.

    But this is a very superficial analysis based on me knowing next to nothing about the phenomenon. If you know more, by all means tell me about it.

  13. Daran said,

    Because the big legal loophole in the right to life as a fundamental human right, is that it doesn’t apply to combatants, who may be lawfully killed, and there is no universal human right to be a non-combatant. The closest is the right to consciously object, which is a conditional right to non-combatancy, provided you express a particular opinion. None of the other accepted universal human rights has such a requirement, and of course, it’s often violated.

    But the non-combatancy female privilege, (i.e., right denied to men) is broader than this.

    This privilege or right to be a non-combantant as you call it isn’t based on laws put together by men in a smoke-filled room somewhere, although it would probably be comforting to think it was…

    Um, no it wouldn’t. If it was just laws made by men, then all you would need to do is change the law.

    Non-combatancy privilege arises from our attitudes, that men are expected to fight, and women arent, and its then reflected in the discriminatory laws such as draft registration which are still in force today

    The same is true for disposability privilege. Did you know that forced labour is still legal under international law today, but only for

    i) Conscripts (mostly men)
    ii) Prisoners (mostly men)
    iii) Men.

    That’s right, If a country decides to subject its male population to forced labour, it can do so, under international law which explicitely protects women but not men. What kind of labour are we talking about? The kind that gets you killed.

    It’s part of our evolutionary heritage on this planet which has been around longer then us and if we wind up not destroying the planet, probably will be around long after.

    Whatever the effect of evolutionary heritage, social policy can affect it, either favourably or unfavourably. Curiousgryl reminded me about maternal mortaility, which is still a huge problem in the third world. It used to be in the West too, but instead of saying “it’s part of our evolutionary heritage” that MM affects women and not men, we implimented social healthcare policies which changed it.

    Look at these charts for how the rate of intimate partner murder has fallen over the years (for men) and remained the same (for women). Which of the following do you think is most likely to be the explanation for this:

    a) Women have evolved to be less violent, but men haven’t
    b) Changes in the social environment has changed the behaviour of women but not men.

    I want to get away from the finger-pointing at men agenda you seem to share with feminists. I want to change the culture so that we talk about how to solve these problems, instead of blaming entire classes of people for them based on the shape of their genitals.

    Neither you, or the UN or a courtroom somewhere can decide whether or not other men will view you as a threat and proceed accordingly…

    Yes they can. A courtroom is going to decide whether the marines who gunned down three families in their homes and a cab full of students in Haditha last year were justified.

    The media can decide whether to report those killings dishonestly as a massacre of women and children, or honestly as a massacre of men in which a small number of women and children were caught.

    The UN can decide whether or not to fulfil it’s mandate to protect civilians.

    “1. Protect victim-population men. 2. Do not separate the male and female populations, and do not allow the aggressor to do so. This is a 180 degree reversal of actual UN policy, which is to preferentially protect women and children, in some cases selectively evacuate them, in others cooperating with the aggressor in their forcible expulsion.”

    The UN comes in after fighting has been halted.

    NO IT DOESN’T. The UN declared Srebrenica to be a safe area, and promised to protect the Bosniac people there in return for them disarming. When the town looked as though it might be overrun in 1993, the UN evacuated some of the women and children, but excluded men from that evacuation. When the final assault came in 1995, the UN RAN AWAY, AND ABANDONED THOSE IT HAD DISARMED AND PROMISED TO PROTECT.

    Find out what you’re talking about before spouting such nonsense.

    They have no policy on selectively evacuating…They set up camps, generally in neighborhooding states for survivors and guess what even neighboring states won’t let a lot of refugee males into their countries as they’ll consider them a threat eventually as well.

    The UN is a complex institution with many separate organisations. The UNHCR is charged with the task of protecting internally displaced people as well as refugees (i.e. those who cross into another country). They do what they can, but as a matter of policy they prioritise children, old people and women. So who isn’t prioritised for protection? Precisely those most likely to be attacked!

  14. NYMOM said,

    “Non-combatancy privilege arises from our attitudes, that men are expected to fight, and women arent, and its then reflected in the discriminatory laws such as draft registration which are still in force today.”

    It’s not from attitude, it’s from recognition that the male, in every species as well as our own, is the larger, stronger and more aggressive of the two of us and thus, likely to be a bigger threat at some point in the future.

    “…its then reflected in the discriminatory laws such as draft registration which are still in force today…”

    Actually many gender neutralized proponents, men as well as women, have tried to change this many times and were unable to. As they came up against the reality, which is that studies done under Les Aspin in the late 80s-early 90s showed that even the best women with special forces training were barely able to hold their own against the average man with no special training, they couldn’t overcome these average men but could fight him off for some limited period without sustaining critical injury to themselves…
    Actually these ‘best women’ weren’t able to even overcome the below-average man which the armed forces is generally trying to screen out…

    That’s when women were banned from front line combat and all the special forces such as Navy Seals, Green Berets, etc., They were banned because they are not just a threat to themselves but to the soldiers in their units when they are under fire. Just as in fire and police depts. across the country the lowering of standards to admit women has resulted in civilians in more jeopardy.

    Most Airforce positions are open to women because those can be done by anyone, but even that’s unfair to men to give these valuable and sort after positions away to women. As why should women take up a valuable space in the armed forces, where they get the same pay and benefits in peacetime (which is most of the time) as men do, but women take little of the risk as men even in wartime because they can’t…

    That’s why I pointed out to you how often men like yourself are a tool for the gender neutralized feminists of the world.

    Google R. Cort Kirtwood, who actually served on the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. I had an article on my blog as well about this in May of 2005 showing how Kim Gandy of NOW had totally distorted the reasons for women being kept out of combat…she lied about it to the media and painted it as men trying to keep women from higher pay and promotions.

    That’s an example of a gender neutralized feminist misusing the facts to push the gender neutral agenda…

    “Did you know that forced labour is still legal under international law today, but only for:

    ii) Prisoners (mostly men)”

    Well here is where you are on to something and there are many many groups fighting this abuse of prisoners…

    “Look at these charts for how the rate of intimate partner murder has fallen over the years (for men) and remained the same (for women). Which of the following do you think is most likely to be the explanation for this:

    a) Women have evolved to be less violent, but men haven’t
    b) Changes in the social environment has changed the behaviour of women but not men.”

    I’d say both of these are the case.

    I don’t think it was ever 50/50 men and women killing each other. I believe it was always more men then women…many claimed that with the new forencsic sciences more women would start being arrested, but guess what: it’s been more men arrested then women…which I think common sense would have told us would be the case if we had used it. Thus, the figure being reported now are probably the most honest that they’ve ever been…

    “I want to get away from the finger-pointing at men agenda you seem to share with feminists. I want to change the culture so that we talk about how to solve these problems, instead of blaming entire classes of people for them based on the shape of their genitals.”

    Well I’d like to do that as well, but how can we if you insist on blaming age old behaviors of men and women on feminism…

    “Yes they can. A courtroom is going to decide whether the marines who gunned down three families in their homes and a cab full of students in Haditha last year were justified.”

    That’s in the US forces…you think that the hundreds of other atrocities that go on between the Suni and the Shites are noticed and arrests made???? In most of the rest of the world that’s not even noticed during wars.

    “The UN declared Srebrenica to be a safe area,”

    Which goes to my point.

    The UN or another country doesn’t decide when a war ends or what area is safe…it’s up to the combatants in that conflict…You are trying to legislate things that can’t be legislated.

    “The UNHCR is charged with the task of protecting internally displaced people as well as refugees (i.e. those who cross into another country). They do what they can, but as a matter of policy they prioritise children, old people and women. So who isn’t prioritised for protection? Precisely those most likely to be attacked!”

    Well then that can be changed so it’s a doable task…

    The other things you’ve tried to lump into it however cannot be.

  15. NYMOM said,

    “A more interesting question is, how does MM fit into the larger picture? I don’t see MM itself as a universal privilege system – it’s not a significant problem in the developed world for example nor does it appear to have knock–on effects that reach beyond the communities if affects. It’s a consequence of, and a contributor toward, the grinding poverty of those communities. It doesn’t appear to be deliberately inflicted upon the women, more a result of the neglect of the healthcare needs of those communities combined with the biological fact that it is women, not men who bear the babies.

    Nor is it a violation of the right to life, which doesn’t literally mean what it says. Your RtL isn’t violated when you die of a natural cause. Your RtL is violated when someone kills you, which is what overwhelming happens to men, and which can be legally done to soldiers.”

    This is a good example that you noticed of how gender neutralized feminists try to play both ends against the middle…as I say.

    They continuously support gender-neutralized laws attempting to disadvantage women who are the only ones to bear children claiming it’s no big deal, YET they’ll jump on this fact in a minute to prove just the opposite when it’s to their own advantage.

    That was a good example you caught.

    I guarantee you she’ll be back soon with a whole slew of statistics proving what a burden childbearing is for women…then she’ll be sprouting just the opposite somewhere else if someone mentioned childbearing as grounds for women to get exemptions from military service, for instance…or not be allowed to be ‘working’ in firehouses or policestations when they are pregnant…as they become a burden on their fellow officers and civilians they are supposed to be protecting…

  16. […] is a repost of an article originally posted at DaRain Man. Comments older than Wednesdau 10 January 2007 were originally posted there. See this post for […]


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