Are men oppressed? NO! (not as a gender, at least)

Paul.Benedek at Paul.Benedek at
Wed Dec 22 17:02:23 MST 1999

Here are 3 recent articles relevant to the discussion on the "men's movement". More
can be found at, which includes an archive of back issues
of Green Left Weekly, and a search engine.


Can the men's movement be pro-feminist?
By Sue Boland

"Pro-feminism's natural home lies elsewhere, not in the men's movement", responded
men's movement participant John Mack to a 1998 article by Michael Flood which had
identified pro-feminism as a section of the men's movement. Flood was a founding
member of a pro-feminist men's group Men Against Sexual Assault (MASA) and a founding
editor of XY magazine.

Mack continued: "Pro-feminism must necessarily start from the proposition that men
have more power, privilege, etc than women ... While the rest of us [men] may disagree
on whether men are more oppressed than women, or equally so, few can accept that the
male role is empowering."

Mack's views are shared by many men's movement groups, particularly the "men's rights"
strand of the men's movement. Flood identifies men's rights groups as an openly
anti-feminist current within the men's movement. The other strands he identifies are
"men's liberation, mythopoetic and pro-feminist". ("Mythopoetic" appears to be a
misspelling of mythopoeic which has become generally used in the men's movement.)

Most men's rights groups claim that they are not anti-woman but just want equality
with women, implying that women have won "special privileges".

An example is the Men's Rights Agency, which lists as one of its aims: "To promote
equal rights and a level playing field for all men. We acknowledge the right of all
women to equality, but overreaction is causing an imbalance leading to discrimination
against men."

Claims by men's rights groups that they just want equality echo One Nation's false
claim that it just wants equality for whites and is "anti-racist".

Resentment of gains
The men's movement began in the 1970s. However, only since the late 1980s has it
become better organised.

By the 1980s, women had more control over whether or not to have children and whether
or not to get married. There were fewer overt discriminatory barriers to jobs. It was
easier to leave violent or unhappy marriages because of the existence of refuges,
domestic violence orders through the courts, the sole parents pension and a more
equitable distribution of marital property after divorce.

However, many men resented the economic independence that enabled women to desert
unhappy relationships. They resented particularly that women were entitled to property
after divorce, even if they had not previously worked.

This simmering resentment was exacerbated when the federal Labor government introduced
compulsory child support payments in 1988. Under this scheme, child maintenance
payments were directly deducted from the wages of non-custodial parents by the Child
Support Agency.

The increased prominence of the anti-feminist men's rights groups coincided with the
implementation of neo-liberal policies worldwide and an accompanying ideological
campaign to convince people that poverty and unemployment were not the fault of the
system. Rather, you could escape poverty only by changing yourself.

This individualism led to a huge expansion in the personal growth and self-help
industry, which preys on the insecurities of men and women. The emphasis on personal
growth and therapy gave new life to the men's liberation and mythopoeic strands of the
men's movement.

The men's liberationists argue that men and women are both constricted by gender
roles, and that men, like women, are, to one degree or another, oppressed.

The mythopoeic strand emphasises the need for men to reclaim their "true" masculinity
in order to become whole men again. Mythopoeic thinking is based on psychoanalysis,
particularly the work of Carl Jung and Robert Bly. Bly, according to Flood, sees
feminism as "a mixed blessing: while a positive force for women, it has held back men
and made some men `soft'".

Individual focus
Men's liberation was initially close to feminism, but a large part of the movement
later shifted from criticising traditional forms of masculinity, to attempting to
restore a masculinity which is thought to have been lost in recent social change.

This shift partly resulted from the general rightward shift in politics in the
advanced capitalist countries in the 1980s, but it also reflected the inadequacy of an
approach focused on individual, rather than social, change.

Men's movement activist, Bob Pease, writing in the spring 1996 edition of XY magazine,
says, "A key premise of the trend towards personal and spiritual growth in the men's
movement is that men will only change their behaviour by acknowledging and dealing
with their own pain and abuse and healing themselves. It is claimed that the only way
for men to eliminate sexist behaviour is to reclaim their pride as men.

"However, will a men's movement motivated only by male self-interest, encourage men to
overcome their restrictive masculinity? ... There is little (if any) mention in the
mythopoeic and therapeutic books about men's social power or men's violent and abusive

"In recent times, I have not shared the optimism of those who continue to see the
present men's movement as representing a progressive change in gender relations
because I believe that it overemphasises men's emotion and pain ... Men's personal
growth will not automatically lead to personal and political actions in support of
gender equality."

He points out that some of the men's liberationists of the 1970s, such as Warren
Farrell and Herb Goldberg, became prominent men's rights activists in the 1980s and

While it is true that the traditional gender roles of class society distort the
development and human potential of both men and women, these gender roles are a result
of the oppression of women and the need of the capitalist system to retain the family

To the extent that men's mental and physical health is stunted and impaired, this is
mostly a result of the fact that masculinity, in a class-divided society, is based on
the oppression of women by men. Being trained to treat women as inferior necessarily
distorts men's ability to form relationships with others.

Further, because they see the root of all men's problems in their masculinity, they
don't identify the real cause of the problems facing men. They assume that most men's
feelings of powerlessness are connected to their gender, rather than to their class.

They miss the fact that all working-class men and women suffer from feelings of
powerlessness -- because it is the capitalists and the government which have the power
to determine whether men and women can get jobs and earn enough to survive. The only
way to overcome that sense of powerlessness is to engage in a collective struggle for
jobs and decent living standards.

For pro-feminist activists in the men's movement, the contradictions inherent in the
movement are becoming apparent. Some, such as Pease and Flood, are no longer confident
that the movement can be a force for progressive change.

Speaking at the Relating to Men Forum in Perth in 1998, Flood said: "The men's
movement is ... unusual in that it represents a movement by members of a dominant or
privileged group. It is more typical for people on the subordinate or oppressed side
of a set of power relations to generate social movements ... the parallel would be to
have a `whites' movement' or a `heterosexuals movement'. Under the men's movement
umbrella there are contradictory impulses: the defence of men's privilege, and
attempts to undo it."

In "State of the movement" (XY, spring 1996), Flood notes, "Many men in the men's
movement itself would reject the idea that men are privileged or dominant in society,
and some will go so far as to say that women are the new oppressors.

"In fact there is a whites' movement, a network of white supremacist and neo-Nazi
groups ... it is wholly dedicated to the protection and extension of its members'
privilege and power ...

"This comparison makes clearer the point that there is ... a potential for the
movement to turn towards the defence of men's privilege and position. ... this
conservative potential has already been realised among some men's groups in

He continues, "I've long believed that it is possible and indeed essential for men to
act together to dismantle gender injustice ... The question is, is a `men's movement'
the way to do this? ... I am far less sure now that the answer is yes."

Flood describes the men's movement as "an unusual one as far as social movements go.
It has had an often therapeutic focus, an emphasis on personal growth and healing,
while other movements focus instead or as well on social change."

It is not surprising, then, that the section of the men's movement which is focused on
campaigning for political change rather than personal growth, the men's rights groups,
is the section that is becoming the most influential and vocal -- and it's campaigning
on a reactionary, anti-woman platform.

While other sections of the men's movement may not always be explicitly anti-feminist,
their theory that men are oppressed by their gender, just as women are, serves to
reinforce the men's rights agenda. The only difference is that the men's rights groups
claim that the "oppression" of men is a result of the women's liberation agenda.

Unfortunately, the separatist feminism of large sections of the women's liberation
movement has helped to reinforce the idea that the only way in which pro-feminist men
could support the struggle for women's liberation was by organising separately and
focusing on consciousness raising in order for each individual man to expunge sexism.

A far better strategy would have been for the women's liberation movement to mobilise
men in support of women's rights, alongside women, as the Aboriginal rights movement
did in its struggle.

That would have undercut the false idea that men are oppressed by masculinity rather
than by the capitalist economic system, which is based on the powerlessness of the

The `irritant' of affirmative action
A bill has been introduced into parliament to amend the 1986 affirmative action act
after a government-ordered review of the legislation resulted in a report called
Unfinished Business.

The gist of the recommendations, most of which have been incorporated into the new
bill, is summed up by the government's response to the Unfinished Business report.
"The government agrees that the objects of the legislation should emphasise merit,
replace the old union consultation requirement with a general statement of support for
consultation and emphasise a facilitative rather than a punitive approach to

Peter Reith bemoaned the problems he was having with the Senate debate around the
government-initiated bill, and seemed not to understand the opposition to some aspects
of it. On November 30 at the "Celebrating Best Practice" luncheon during the Women in
the Workplace -- Opportunities for Business in the New Millennium seminar in
Melbourne, he described the proposal to reduce the reporting requirements of business
in relation to affirmative action procedures and policies as "removing an irritant".

Under one of his legislative proposals, if a company makes progress in implementing
affirmative action strategies, its reporting requirements to the Affirmative Action
Agency will be waived. While Reith maintains that reporting can be enforced again at
the AAA director's discretion, how and when any future breaches of the affirmative
action principles will be brought to the director's attention without any reporting
requirements is not easily explained. Presumably the idea is that this will happen
when complaints against the company flow again. So much for pro-active measures, but
at least managers are a little less irritated overall.

The new AAA director, Fiona Krautil, was effusively praised by Reith in his November
30 address. She showed a startling naivety about the real opportunities women have in
the work force when, in the AAA annual report to parliament on October 20 she called
for "`women to vote with their feet' and target the `women-friendly' organisations
that provide the best opportunities and avoid those with a poor equal employment
opportunity record".

Yes, Fiona, so many women in Australia can afford to pick and choose their employer.
Don't worry about the unemployment figures and the increase in job insecurity; it's a
veritable labour-favoured marketplace out there for most women.

Another of the recommendations made by the business-dominated team appointed by the
government to review the legislation in 1998 was to change the name of the act from
Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act to Equal Opportunity for Women in
the Workplace Act. The review committee, chaired by the former director of employee
relations for McDonald's Australia Ltd, Deanne Bevan, explained that the new name
would "incorporate the terms `women' and `workplace' and reflect the act's commitment
to fairness and merit".

Unless their eyes and ears are painted on, I can offer no explanation of their failure
to notice that the affirmative action act's full name already contains the term
"women", but I suspect that the addition of the new word "workplace" has less
relevance than the junking of the words that Reith and Co. find to be the real
irritants in the title of the law, and of the agency, now to be called the Equal
Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.

The review team recommended the name change "in order to distinguish Australian
affirmative action from the United States' former system of quotas and preferential
treatment". For those of you who thought that affirmative action was a system of
quotas and preferential treatment, this may be a surprise. Those who have been
following closely what the Coalition government has done to the modest legislative
gains forced by the women's liberation movement of the '60s and '70s may not be so
taken aback.

Under the current act, changes by the Liberal government to affirmative action
reporting requirements have already watered down legislation that, while welcome, was
not that potent to begin with. The proposed bill, if adopted by parliament later this
month, will be a setback for women's rights in a context of harsh economic rationalist
policy and an anti-feminist ideological climate.

For so long as systematic barriers to women's full and equal participation in paid
work exist, affirmative action remains a vital step on the path to equality. Without
it, unfair hiring and firing practices, lack of promotion opportunities and limited
access to non-traditional work will mean that women's participation in many areas of
work will likely decline.

By Margaret Allum

Men's group opposes hiring women
By Nikki Ulasowski

HOBART -- A Tasmanian men's rights group has sought to prevent a public bus operator
from instituting affirmative action measures to hire more female staff.

With only 19% of its work force of 330 bus drivers women, public bus operator Metro is
planning a recruitment drive to increase the proportion to 50%. Metro hopes the move
will help arrest the decline in passenger numbers (4% in the past year).

Arguing that women drivers are more understanding towards children and the elderly
(80% of passengers), Metro sought an exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act to
enable it to advertise specifically for women bus drivers. The exemption was granted
on the basis of providing equal opportunity for women to become bus drivers, and
because of the "special needs" of passengers.

The men's rights group MATE (Men Acting Towards Equality) has challenged the
exemption, which it has labelled "discriminatory against men", and claimed that Metro
want to employ only women drivers, taking the jobs of "unemployed family men".

International Women's Day collective member Kamala Emanuel told Green Left Weekly that
she defended the advertisements, which will facilitate women's equal access to what is
still a male-dominated industry. But she rejected any suggestion that women were
innately more understanding towards children and the elderly than men, labelling such
an argument an obstacle to women's equality.

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