Thursday, June 22, 2006

Feminism is not a conspiracy, or how to avoid becoming one of them.

Captain Zarmband commented on yesterday's post and I started to write an answer, then couldn't stop...

It is possible to argue that the laws we have now grew out of those that were originally drafted to suit men back in days when societal roles were more tightly defined for both genders. Men were supposed to go out to work and fight, women to stay home and raise kids. Divorce was rare and scandalous and in Victorian times, a wronged husband & father could easily have taken the kids, if his circumstances allowed for it. Back then, women had no political clout at all, except through their men, to the point that a divorced and disenfranchised mother was not even forced to pay child support because everyone knew she couldn't.

As divorce became easier, less of a stigma and more frequent, reasoning on what to do with children of divorce slowly became conflated with the reasoning on what to do with orphans, abandoned and abused children who were common in certain "job lots" as a result of two world wars. A primary caregiver assumption was a natural course to take and child support inevitably followed. However, society has also changed, demanding more domestic service from men and more workplace service from women, and divorce has now become positively mundane.

The modern family and its failures simply don't match the scenario envisaged by the people who wrote the laws, men and (a few) women. The point that women have dominant political power is true, I think, insofar as women have always dominated the domestic scene because that is where, socially speaking, they came from. I find it difficult to accept that this was a conscious, unified plan with universal reach. People, men and women, just aren't that smart.

Nevertheless, what we have ended up with is a significant advantage for one side in the family courts - while the advantaged side is strictly speaking the custodial parent, because of the primary caregiver presumption, "tender years" doctrine, and necessarily incomplete transition to total gender equality, that is statistically most likely to be the mother. Incidentally, if the mother loses custody, she is, if anything, often worse off than a disenfranchised father. But mothers by and large are now well mobilized by the successes of feminism and will not give up their default advantages without a fight, just as men didn't give up their advantage to women's suffrage without a fight.

We must also remember that the laws concerned were written very largely by men. These were men with certain prejudices of their own with regard to who should look after the kids - older men, men from the previous generation whose own children had long grown up and moved out. Anthropologically speaking, too, the consequence of keeping other men "in their place" suited them, whether they were aware of it or not - they were upper class, alpha males, interested in seeing the survival and reproductive success of their own offspring, who would have been less likely to divorce in the first place. They willingingly yielded power in this arena to women because it was in their own best interest to do so, it preserved their own power and social mores to the cost of the common man of the next generation.

At the same time, feminism, in an increasingly stable and affluent society that could afford it, gathered steam. They learned to call the process of the previous paragraph, "the patriarchy" making the same mistake as is so tempting for us now to make of feminism, assuming it to be a conscious force designed to oppress. "The patriarchy" is/was real however, again, not as a cynical conspiracy, but as a default set of behaviors with socially evolved success for some period of time. Feminism also makes the mistake of arguing as if "the patriarchy" was consituted of all men, that all men were willing, knowing participants without acknowledging those men who were also oppressed by it and agreed with them, wanting change. These men, and I was one of them, naively assumed that treating women more fairly in the workplace would be reciprocated in the home.

The result is a system that contains new abuses of men while incorporating a significant residual of the past abuses of women, and no-one is happy. In the family courts, men have been caught with their metaphorical pants down and our generation and our children are paying for it. In the workplace, women have made great strides, but often still do not find equal opportunity without sometimes ridiculous legislation (e.g. affirmitive action, a.k.a. positive discrminiation) which carries its own potential for abuse.

Why do I say all this? One, because I believe it to be true and two, because a good understanding of the situation shows the way to change things. I do believe that honest fathers and men have been wrongly disempowered and there are unjust laws on the books which allow for and sometimes encourage their abuse. Feminism has had us focus on injustice against women so much that we have become blind to injustice against men and as in any evolving ecology, where there is no constraint, the ecology will go. This is a fancy way of saying "power corrupts".

In our modern, democratic age, power is exercised by individuals at all levels of society. We have powerful groups, yes, but they are not conscious forces in their own right, their power derives from the consensus of the individuals who make up the group. This can look like a conspiracy, but it isn't. A conspiracy implies that some people, or even just one person, with some form of near totalitarian power decided something like "if we do this, we'll get that, but people won't like 'that' so we'll tell them we want something else they will like but which will also get us 'that'" and then went out and did it. People just aren't that predictable.

Yes, feminism has a few cranks who claim things like all men are rapists and all fathers are abusive, but they are on the fringes, they do not wield feminism's power, they do not sit in some female equivalent of the smoke filled room (teacups and pink wallpaper?) plotting how to enslave men. They merely irrationally express some of feminism's driving pain and frustrations and can motivate the group by appealing to its prejudices, by hate mongering. They are not the Hitlers of this world, they are the Lord Haw Haws, even their own side knows they are ridiculous. Does feminism have a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Mussulini, or a Saddam Hussein?

To argue that feminism is some sort of totalitarian conspiracy is, paradoxically, to give it some power and to fuel the war. The honest, individual feminist (and I only vaguely mean Wendy McElroy's variety) knows that they are not part of some malignant plan to oppress and control, they believe that they are trying to do the opposite. To accuse them of this is to alienate them, to get their backs up, put them on the defensive and as everyone knows, a good defense is a strong offense. They know they are not part of a conspiracy and to accuse them of such makes us look ridiculous in their eyes, it makes us look like cranks. That and a threat. If we claim a feminist conspiracy of them, they are entitled to claim an MRA/FRA conspiracy of us, of which they can convince themselves to be afraid and call others to their threatened sides.

Do we want to look like cranks? Do we want to look like the male equivalent of Trish Wilson - that paragon of feminine mystique and feminist motherhood and not very closet patriphobe who writes pornography and long tracts defaming good fathers? Would a man who wrote pornography and essays defaming good mothers be called anything other than a misogynist? Allow me to digress a little because I can't resist including a quote I found attributed to her and dating back to 2002. The whole thing is here, but I extract: "Now, for the reason why women gain custody of children, it is crucial for children to form strong social bonds with mothers or mother figures for normal social development, whereas males are neccesary to the point of the sperm hitting the egg." What a charmer, but she's half right. The first stated belief is why women gain custody, but it is a self-serving distortion of the truth. The latter half is merely hate speech.

For this reason and others, the intelligent common woman has become more unimpressed with radical feminism, not wanting to be associated with the cranks. We should encourage this, help them to see what is going on. We should show reason, not prejudice and emotion. It is sometimes impossibly hard and anger and vitriol seems like the only possible response. The personal provocation is sometimes intense to the point of insanity, but we must not become insane, or we become like the cranks of feminism or worse (e.g. Darren Mack). If we do that, another paradox, their cranks win!

Wouldn't we be better off going to them, wherever possible, wherever they will listen and saying "We're not cranks, we've been hurt. We love our children, we want them to live in a better world, will you help us build it for them"?

(Cap'n, I realize I have written far more than an answer to your comment, I do not mean to imply anything more about your own position than you have actually written.)

Postscriptum: after writing this, I found an editorial by Wendy McElroy about Darren Mack which wierdly parallels some of my arguments. She finishes with "Fortunately, unlike NOW who champions murdering moms, the fathers' rights movement sees danger in dads who kill. Danger and genuine sadness." This is how the fathers' rights movement is going to win.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No comments:

Blog Archive