They Only Call It War When We Fight Back

By now, most of you will have heard of Robert Fisher, the NH state rep who was recently discovered to be a promoter of some reprehensible ideas about women. You probably already know that he founded a website called Red Pill[i] which had about 200,000 followers and framed itself as a platform for men’s rights.

Bypassing the tempting subjects such as how women are boring except for sex, which is why men put up with them, or how to manipulate them into having that sex, I want to talk here about a principle underlying another quote you’ve probably seen—“Rape isn’t an absolute bad, because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot. I think he’d say it’s quite good, really.”—and another you may not have noticed about how oppressed men are, because masculinity is the victim of the “feminine imperative”.

Fisher is, as one smart friend put it, a walking colostomy bag, but outrage over his egregiousness masks three more important points. The first is that he is not new and he is not alone; The Men’s Rights Movement has been around since the second wave of feminism in the early 70s, and is all over the internet. Fisher is just the one we saw scurrying away when an investigative journalist flipped over the rock.  The second important point to notice is his premise that men have a simple right to take what they want from women, whose experience is not of interest. This is the foundation of Rape Culture and directly linked to why women get tired of being told to smile by strangers. The third point, and the reason I sat down to write today, is that loss of privilege is sometimes experienced as oppression even though it is not.

I find it easy to believe that Fisher and his kind sincerely believe that their rights are being taken from them. It is the pattern that we see in any dynamic in which power is being readjusted in a more equitable direction, including gender, racial identity, class politics, and patterns of colonialization. When we are granted something taken from someone else under cover of social sanction, we assume it is ours. Restoration of appropriate balance then feels like someone took OUR toys.

Reparations, anyone?

I actually do agree that current gender arrangements have costs to men. The burden of being the assumed breadwinner, of not being allowed healthy emotional expression, and the assumption that the mother is always the preferred custodial parent erode men’s experiences in ways I’d like to see changed. However … I do not agree that one of these costs is that men are now an oppressed class because women no longer want our appeal and usefulness to men to be the most important thing about us.

That right to have and control our own humanity I go on about? It still holds true. If someone taking theirs back makes you feel ripped off, that’s kind of not their problem.

[i]The source of this name is explained about halfway through this illuminating article. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/01/warren-farrell-mens-rights-movement-feminism-misogyny-troll

Many Forms of Power

A few years ago I asked a biologist how she liked her work. She told me it was sad, because her field had the task of “monitoring the decline.” I’ve been thinking about that phrase lately, as we collectively witness the decline of support for so many things that support healthy biological and human communities.

Each day seems to bring with it threat of some new unacceptable loss: Laws that protect bear cubs on public land and their moms while they hibernate; Unexploited federal lands; Federal funding for the arts (including Big Bird!); Legal help for people without a lot of money; Computers for people without a lot of money; Decent public education; Clean water; Clean air; Thoughtful community policing; Affordable, comprehensive health care; Policy informed by data and compassion. If you’re still reading my work after the first few weeks, you probably have your own I didn’t get to here. If you are still reading my work, you are likely keenly aware of the disruption, pain, and death that will come to the least protected of us through these changes.

And all this is hard to hold.

And the power of the forces we are resisting is located in important places, primarily the legislative and budgetary processes of the federal and most state governments. Since they are the ones with the legal ability to collect and spend our money (and to legally shoot and imprison people), they do require attention and response. I am loving the response I’m seeing in the grassroots efforts to find and run candidates who support healthy communities, the resistance at town meetings, and the flood (too small a word) of calls and letters to our elected representatives.

And…

They do not have all the power, not even all the power we sometimes assume they do. When I hear on the news that their proposed budgets would cut arts, legal services, food to poor families, health care to a whole lot of us, and programs to help cops see Black people as humans rather than criminals, then I remember that “would” is conditional, not definite. Then I remember that if we are irritating enough we might mitigate some of the damage.

I also remember that we have the power of the legal system, imperfect as it is; that journalists have the power to name truth no matter how much the Bully Pulpit tries to live up to its name; and that we, collectively, have the power to be decent to each other, to protect each other, and care for the community of life of which we are part.

Yes, there are awful forces moving against things that I love, but it is not naïve to notice that there is also a vibrant network nurturing, supporting, and defending these beloved lives, places, ideas, and values. The magazine that feeds me best for remembering these good works is Yes Magazine. I’ve linked here to their 20th anniversary issue, which lists 50 inspiring ideas to make the places we live more sustainable and inclusive, but it’s pretty much always great.

I’m not sure yet if we’re monitoring the decline or witnessing a birth of something we need to become. I am sure which one I’m going to try to make happen.

 

(This post is dedicated to Louise Spencer, who is one of the most effective and humble change agents I’ve met in a long time. I am grateful to have found my way into the vibrant network she helps to create without even really noticing how powerful she is.)