I was listening to All Things Considered the other day, when all of a sudden I heard the phrase “men’s rights.”* You can bet my ears perked up. Apparently there is a movement out there of men upset by certain unfairnesses in the world, in which men happen to get the short end of the stick. The factors cited in the story included the fact that boys and men commit suicide more often than girls or women, dropout rates are higher for boys and men in high school and college, and custody disputes are by and large decided in the mom’s favor.
Of course I started thinking about these issues. These are all facts; they are all not good. Do they need a movement?
Yes, yes they do. Suicide is a mental health issue. This needs a movement. Mental health care in this country is atrocious; men & women have different mental health care needs because they are biologically different. There are many diseases that affect men and women differently, and sexism, “reverse” or not, doesn’t have anything to do with that.**
I don’t know what to make of the different dropout rates. It may be, again, different biology, or, to tie in with the points made below, doing well in school may now be seen in some quarters as effeminate and therefore to be avoided.
This is the one that gave me the “well, duh” moment: Women are awarded custody in most cases, even if the man fights for it, even if he is a perfectly fit parent, because… wait for it… children are a woman’s responsibility. In this society, they get the burden– and the custody. This is how sexism hurts men and boys.
I was thinking along this theme earlier this summer as well. Jacob has some pink Crocs, hand-me-downs from his cousin. I’m so glad no one has told him that pink is a “girl” color. As my friend Halee says, colors are for everyone. He also thinks it’s super fun to twirl a big ol’ circle skirt. Of course it is! He’s a kid! But when he goes to school, sooner or later, I’m positive someone will point out to him which things are for boys, and which are for girls. This is another way sexism hurts men and boys. Being told, “you can’t do that, that’s for girls!” is just as bad for boys as the reverse is for girls, and it springs from the same source. This is NOT “reverse sexism.” This is the same sexism, the anti-feminine sexism, that says: Masculine = good, Feminine = bad. Most of the time, this directly hurts women and girls. Some of the time, it directly hurts men and boys! The correct response to “You’re so girly” is not “No, I’m not!” but “Who cares?” WHY THE HELL IS BEING GIRLY A BAD THING? If a girl is boyish, she’s cute and edgy. If a boy is girlish, he’s a deviant, and in need of counseling.*** We’ve done a mostly decent job so far of making sure girls and women have the freedom to express their “masculinity” (if you’ll pardon the word), but that’s the easy part. If being masculine is good, then when women want to “emulate” men, that’s allowed. Go ahead and wear pants! Work outside the home! Be a leader! Name your daughters Sam and Alex! BUT! Since femininity is still bad, it’s ok for women, since they are just girls, after all, but not really ok for men, because they should be better than that. “REAL MEN don’t (fill in the blank).” And don’t name your boys Jody or Ashley.
When “masculine” and “feminine” traits, mannerisms, behaviors, jobs, and roles are TRULY equal, we will have conquered sexism. I won’t have to worry that either of my baby parrots will get teased for exhibiting behavior that doesn’t “match” their sex.
Raising children is burdensome. Most of this burden falls on women, historically as well as presently. Raising children can also be joyful and fulfilling! Many fathers know this, and really want (and deserve!) their fair share of burdensome, fulfilling child-rearing. The man who is upset that he didn’t get joint custody of his kids, even though he is just as good a parent as their mom, HAS a movement.
It’s called feminism.
*To be fair, the man being interviewed didn’t like this phrase, and compared it to the phrase “kings’ rights.”
**Sexism has affected medical research in various ways, of course, but the diseases themselves are unaffected by social constraints.
***William can have his doll, but only if he proves he’s good at boy things too.