One of the many failings of the Men’s Rights Movement — and “failing” really isn’t a strong enough word for it — is the way in which it ignores or denies real problems faced by boys and men that don’t fit into its grand conspiracy theory in which all the ills faced by men are caused by evil women or by men corrupted and seduced, personally and/or politically, by said evil women.
One of these problems, and it’s a big one, is the “fag bashing” that’s rampant among boys of high school and college age. The atmosphere of abuse has a tragic effect on gay teenagers, as the recent rash of suicides illustrates all too poignantly. And it also has an enormous effect on boys who aren’t gay but who have their masculinity challenged constantly by other boys.
While the MRM is obsessed with the notion of the smug, castrating (Western) woman, the entitled “princess” who looks down on decent, ordinary “beta” males and Nice Guys in favor of jerky, aggressive alpha males, it pays virtually no attention to the daily nightmares inflicted on boys by other boys (and men by other men) by “fag bashing.”
Again, take the recent gay teen suicides. While they have inspired magazine cover stories and ongoing discussion on feminist blogs, the only MRA blog of any prominence that even mentioned any of the suicides, to the best of my knowledge, was the False Rape Society, which essentially used the suicide of Tyler Clementi as an excuse to bash feminism, as I pointed out in a recent post, and (as cat pointed out in a comment here) to turn the story of “brutality against a gay kid” into one “about how hard it is to be hetero.”
While MRAs hate it if anyone calls them “fags” or otherwise criticizes their masculinity, they routinely deride any men they don’t like as a “manginas,” and various other terms to suggest they are not “real men.” A few MRAs, like the folks at the blog No Ma’am, bash gays and lesbians quite openly; they’ve also, you may recall, labeled me a “poof” (among other things)
One of the smartest takes I’ve seen on the phenomenon of anti-gay bullying comes from male feminist blogger Hugo Schwyzer. In a recent post on “homosociality and homophobia,” he puts the recent suicides in a broader context. Drawing on the research of sociologist C.J. Pascoe, Schwyzer describes the ways in which “fag discourse” permeates American high school:
The discourse manifests itself in the almost incorrigible way in which young men label each other “fags” while seeking to avoid having that label applied to them. According to this discourse, fear of being called out publicly as a “fag” is the primary driving force behind what Pascoe cleverly calls the display of “compulsive heterosexuality.” … Pascoe notes that among young men desperate to establish their masculine bona fides with their peers, what we see in American high schools amounts to compulsive, almost frantic efforts by young men to prove their manhood.
Anyone who has worked with adolescent boys knows how much anxiety many of them feel about their own masculinity. It’s not news to say that our sons, like their fathers before them, often have to endure or participate in physical or at least verbal violence that we tragically and falsely believe is necessary to transition into manhood. … The real stigma in being labeled a “fag” doesn’t lie in the association with homosexuality, but with being seen as feminine.
There’s no easy solution for a problem that is so pervasive, but Schwyzer argues that “perhaps the best way to “inoculate against cruelty”is … to encourage strong non-sexual relationships between boys and girls at every age.” Going back to a review he wrote of Michael Kimmel’s book Guyland, a study of teen boys and young men, Schwyzer notes that
boys who have close female friends are much less likely to exhibit the worst and most destructive tendencies of the Guy Code. After all, the “guy code” is wrapped up in the notion that approval from other men … is the most precious commodity a young man can pursue. Even heterosexual conquest is, ultimately, a means of gaining approval from the guys. Young men who have friends of both sexes are less likely to be held hostage to solely masculine approval; they can receive non-sexual validation from their female friends — and that validation is less likely to be connected to the brutal “sturdy oak” ethos of the Guy Code.
And they are less likely to participate in the relentless onslaught of cruelty towards their gay and lesbian peers.
These are lessons that the Men’s Rights Movement — or whatever rises up to supplant it — will have to learn if it wants to be a movement that really benefits boys and men, straight and gay alike, instead of indulging regressive, self-defeating and often dangerous fantasies of manhood that demonize “fags” and women alike.