Editors: Sillymod, Oneiorosgrip
When a lot of people first encounter the Men’s Rights subreddit, they are shocked to find vocal opposition to feminism. For the longest time, “feminist” was synonymous with “egalitarian”, and to people still operating with this (slightly outdated) mindset the obvious conclusion is that all of those antifeminists must be anti-egalitarian. But “feminism” and “egalitarianism” aren’t quite as synonymous as many seem to believe.
Generally, the term “feminism” is used to broadly describe the feminist movement, and the fundamental ideology of this group. The movement itself is huge, with all sorts of different conflicting factions. You might have ideological conflicts between Postmodern Feminism and Liberal Feminism, or Gender Feminism and Equity Feminism, but there is still one constant set of beliefs permeating every form of feminism. That set of beliefs is what distinguishes feminism from simple egalitarianism. And disagreement with that set of beliefs is why MRAs like myself are considered “antifeminists”.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy spells it out pretty clearly:
[...] a Liberal approach [...] might define feminism (rather simplistically here) in terms of two claims:
(Normative) Men and women are entitled to equal rights and respect.
(Descriptive) Women are currently disadvantaged with respect to rights and respect, compared with men […in such and such respects and due to such and such conditions…].
The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (James, 2000), makes it even plainer:
Feminism is grounded on the belief that women are oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men, and that their oppression is in some way illegitimate or unjustified.
And the Oxford English Dictionary’s entry on Feminism glosses over it:
the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
Do you see what I’m getting at yet? To truly be a feminist, you need to not only believe in equality between the sexes, but that women are oppressed and men are privileged – that the fight for equality is necessarily a fight to remove this disparity. Some feminists might attempt to remove that disparity by raising women up to the perceived level of men, while others might attempt to bring men down to the perceived level of women (or some combination of the two), but all are operating from the perspective that men are privileged and women are oppressed. To understand why an egalitarian might be an antifeminist, and to understand why many feminists oppose the MRM, you need to first understand that this women = oppressed / men = privileged belief is not just excruciatingly common amongst those in the feminist movement, but a fundamental part of the very core of the ideology “feminism”.
Egalitarianism, on the other hand, is just a vague belief in equality. It doesn’t specify where one would like to see equality, let alone which type of equality one supports. In relation to feminism/the MRM, it’s generally used to mean “gender-egalitarianism”, which would be the belief that men and women should be equal to one another (again, in an unspecified way). As I’ve explained above, feminism is centered on a belief in equality. Because of that, it can be viewed as a subtype of gender-egalitarianism. But because it involves additional beliefs beyond “women and men should be equal”, it is not the only form of gender-egalitarianism. Disagreeing with or opposing the application of those additional beliefs might make one an antifeminist, but it does not make one an anti-egalitarian.
“Patriarchy” is a fairly important feminist concept. It encapsulates the essence of feminism quite well, though it has many different definitions. A very liberal definition of “patriarchy” would be a society which privileges men above women (though, definitions run the gamut from the extremely vague “society which is oppressive to women” to the traditional definition of “a society which is ruled by fathers”). In such a society, feminism and egalitarianism are functionally indistinguishable from one another, as striving for equality necessarily means increasing the status of women and/or reducing the status of men. But as a society makes itself more equal, a schism appears…distinguishing the two terms from one another.
Many within the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), myself included, believe that most (if not all) post-industrial Western nations have become equal enough that “patriarchy” can no longer accurately describe our society. We look around us and we see that women have the same basic opportunities as men (along with some extra opportunities), and we see a lot of men struggling in many areas where they lack the same opportunities as women. We read the feminist arguments insisting we live in a “patriarchy”, and we see glaring problems in them…leaving us unconvinced. “Patriarchy” might be an apt description of places like Saudi Arabia, but it doesn’t really describe New York or Toronto in 2013. When we attempt to address the instances in which we feel men and boys are struggling, we are met with strong opposition from feminists. This is not the sort of rational discourse befitting opposition in a civilized society, but demonization, slander, threats of violence, and other attempts to silence our discussions which should have been left behind generations ago.
Because we disagree with a central tenet of feminism, we are labeled “antifeminist” and viewed as the inhuman scum of the earth. Well, when you have a pejorative hurled at you regularly, you’ll tend to look into it. And many of us have come to the conclusion that yes, we are antifeminists. But that doesn’t mean we oppose equality, hate women, or anything like that. Antifeminism, as defined by the editors at Wikipedia, is simply “opposition to feminism in some or all of its forms”. By that liberal definition, the disagreement I outlined above would make one an “antifeminist”. One could still technically be “pro-feminist” in places like Saudi Arabia, while opposing feminism in places like Toronto.
Many within the feminist movement, like Michael Kimmel in his 2004 essay entitled “Antifeminism”, would proffer a more persuasive definition of the term, labeling it as “opposition to women’s equality”. But that doesn’t really make much etymological sense. Surely some antifeminists are opposed to women’s equality, but as the defining feature, it seems more fitting as a definition for “anti-egalitarianism”. Feminism is more than simple belief in equality…it’s belief that we live in “patriarchy”. Disagreeing with that, or “opposing” it, would also be “antifeminist” as well…without opposing “women’s equality”. In the absence of any other competing definitions, I choose the definition which seems most reasonable to me…and that’s the Wikipedia definition.
I am an MRA. I believe that men and women should be equal. And I am an antifeminist.