Men's Movement: Kooks or Voice of the Oppressed?
The men's rights movement (or, as it is sometimes called, just the "men's movement") is a strange and somewhat tragic mosaic of men (and a few women) with about as widely different views of exactly what it is they're fighting for as the feminist women's movement. The movement runs the full gamut from new age freaks running around naked in the woods beating drums, through the mythopoetic movement which analyzes old myths and legends in search of understanding of what it means to be a man based on C.G. Jung's psychology, through male victims of domestic abuse, fathers who lost custody cases and found the judicial system discriminating, political activists campaigning against anti-male discrimination, to far-right wing Christian types who want women back to the kitchen. Like feminism (the women's movement), it spans all the way from reasonable thinkers and activists who point towards some very real and ignored social problems, to that special breed of kook you'll find in every movement that purports to be the voice of the oppressed, the kook who consistently harms his cause much more than he helps it when he regurgitates his paranoid rantings into the ether. I expect to be burned at the stake for even saying so, but I sympathize with the men's movement and a lot of the work they're doing. For personal reasons better left unnoded, I even find it necessary. I don't, however, believe that the media and political system are in the pockets of some strange international Gaia-worshipping feminist conspiracy from the Eighth plane of Hell.
Are men oppressed?
The claim seems hard to believe at first sight. In the not-too-distant past, women weren't allowed to vote, couldn't find employment except at a few very low-status jobs, and a woman's status in society was largely determined by two things: Who her father was, and who she ended up getting married to. I don't think any reasonable individual would disagree that A) things have improved since then, and B) that's a good thing. Women still face problems in today's society, and while there are female CEOs, top politicians, soldiers and computer programmers, there are also women who bump their heads into the so-called glass ceiling. Formally they can rise as high as they want within corporations and community, but some realize that there's a limit to this freedom. The top of society is still highly male-dominated.
Here's the kicker: The bottom of society is also highly male-dominated. While men much more frequently than women become modern-day slave drivers, they also have an equally higher tendency of becoming the slaves. Warren Farrell coined the term glass cellar to describe the phenomenon: Of the 25 American professions rated by the Jobs Rated Almanac as the worst possible professions (those typically labelled as the Death Professions because of their alarmingly high rates of lethal work accidents), 24 of them have 85% or more male workers. In the United States, a full 93% of all work-related deaths claim male victims, and approximately similar statistics can be found throughout the world. I hate speaking in numbers (I tend to get wary towards those who do so), but other interesting statistics that point towards a possible oppression of men includes the fact that roughly 80% of all successful suicides are committed by men, and that men live an average of 5 years less than women throughout the Western world. Other aspects of life at the absolute bottom rungs of society, gang violence, murder and serious drug or alcohol problems tend to hit men harder than women too (according to the FBI's Victim Characteristics, 76% of American murder victims in 2000 were male). Except for Israel, every single country on the planet that has mandatory military duty extends this only to males.
If these statistics had belonged to any other social group than males, everyone would be screaming about foul oppression and instating affirmative action* and making expensive analyses to figure out the problem, but this reaction is conspicuously absent -- except for the men's movement, and very few will bother listening to them. First, it appears that it is considered to be nothing short of political suicide to publicly speak of these issues let alone try to alleviate them. For several decades, feminists have had a de facto monopoly on gender issues, and any good Western citizen knows about the discrimination and oppression suffered by women. For women, this can instill the pride that comes from belonging to an oppressed group that rose up and took control of its own life. For men, all it has to offer is shame -- even men who never had an active part of oppression of women are "oppressors", their maleness itself is what defines them as oppressors (see potential rapist, all men are evil and apparently I am a potential rapist for a lot of interesting thoughts about this matter). Shame is a horrible feeling. It paralyzes the mind, destroys the will, and leaves you as a frustrated shadow, incapable of speaking out when you perceive that injustice is being done towards you. Since shame is the feeling that what you are is wrong, inferior or evil, your emotions have decided in advance that you probably asked for it. Collective shame is even worse (Hitler's political success can largely be attributed to German post-WWI collective shame), and several psychologists are even speaking of a specific variant of it, called "male shame". It is the feeling that maleness itself is something to be ashamed of, and it is only reinforced when you hear rabid radical feminists spewing their venom in public and nobody daring to stand up against them. It teaches you that you are undeserving. And when a woman spews some rampantly misandrist bile, it means she's liberated, while a man saying similar things about women is a male chauvinist pig.
*) Just for the record, I'm not against affirmative action, it can be necessary in some situations.
Something is horribly wrong with male socialization. Boys are told that they should be soft, polite and speak out their emotions, but in the schoolyard they learn stoicism the hard way. Fewer and fewer boys have a father to provide guidance (and, no offense, but a mother is as useless as a male role model as a father is as a female role model), and the media are more than happy to provide alternative male role models -- these days they come standard with poker face and heavy machinegun. There are increasing scary reports of schools being "anti-boy", and that behaviour that would have been considered normal for boys a decade ago have now turned out to be treatable with Ritalin. Many boys grow up in a life where all authority figures are female (schools and the like tend to be highly female-dominated) and many will eventually either rebel by becoming dominating pigs, or becoming walking doormats that automatically accept any order and any amount of abuse coming from a woman. By the time they're old enough for higher education, many will have decided in frustration that their lot in life is that of the unskilled labourer. Witness the significant drop in the percentage of males in institutions of higher education (with a few exceptions, like some science and engineering-based educations, the canonical example being computer science -- at the university I used to attend we called the CS institute the Monks' Monastery, but I digress) throughout most of the Western world.
Why is this going on?
Feminism, as a whole, has been remarkably successful in redefining the women's roles of old, and making the world a good deal more accomodating for women who take control over their own lives instead of being dictated some rigid and stupid gender role. I like to call the archaic woman stereotype the Forced Nurturer: She stayed at home tending to the house and the children while the man was out working, because home was the only place she had. She could get no work outside, because that place was largely a man's world. She had to accept this role, there wasn't really a lot of choice.
The picture of that age's men as evil tyrants is not necessarily true, however. The majority of men in the 1800's were not fat cats who came home from the office to be waited on by their servile wives before beating her up for the hell of it. Disposable Heroes, most of them were workers of various kinds, typically the coal miners, factory slaves and construction personnel who provided the blood sacrifice industrialization demanded. They died of miners' lung, various grim industry accidents, or when they were shipped off to fight in some bloody war they had nothing to do with. In ages long gone by, the socialization of men as disposable heroes and women as forced nurturers made sense; if the women of paleolithic tribes went out to hunt and do war against marauding cannibal tribes and get themselves killed, humanity would never have invented the steam engine, the Internet and rock n'roll. We'd have faced extinction right then and there, because men have this little childbirth-related deficiency. Virtually every society that exists to this day has survived by socializing men to consider themselves expendable. Why else do they march off to war, or take jobs that are likely to get them killed for pittance wages?
Today's world is different, though. Our risk of facing extinction relates mainly to our likelihood of wiping ourselves out. We no longer need forced nurturers and disposable heroes, humanity has transformed the world into one where it is theoretically possible to have a society of free individuals instead.
So, is there a need for a Men's Movement?
I think the underlying problem that has caused the formation of the movement is that women have more or less successfully broken out of their archaic role, while men have yet to do so. Add to that the shame inflicted on men as a whole (mainly, in my opinion, by feminist radicals who are not necessarily representative of the feminist movement as a whole), and being male isn't necessarily the paradise some feminists make it out to be (and, with all due respect, how would they know?). In my opinion, this is a critical problem in need of solving, because I believe that in this matter, nobody is free before all is free. With women largely having liberated themselves from their old roles and men still stuck in their archaic ones, everyone wins if the male half of society manages to pull itself out of this outdated swamp. The school of feminism that stresses freedom and equality seems to agree, whereas the school of feminism that is mostly intent on making men suffer, predictably, disagrees. I think the latter is a minority, but I'm not a feminist, I wouldn't know.
The largest and most embarrassing error the men's movement committed was that part of it (fortunately with quite vocal exceptions, including most of the "leaders" of the movement) pointed to women as the enemy and oppressor (like the feminists, in their day, pointed to all men). This is silly for two reasons: The whole discussion quickly degenerates into a "who-is-most-oppressed" competition, and besides, modern advanced civilizations are perfectly capable of oppressing both sexes. Women don't get the highest-paid jobs, men take jobs that kill them. Women are expected to both do professional work and tend to children if they have any, men get forced into military duty. The oppressor is not one sex, but the sexless social mechanisms that have been oppressing us all for millennia (these mechanisms are perpetuated by both sexes, although the people in political power are predominantly male).
The problem with the movement is the same problem that faces modern feminists: Men's movements and women's movements are really a stupid way to go about fixing this problem. What we need is an anti-sexist movement that doesn't have the implicit agenda of advancing one sex over the other.