A discussion with a friend the other day got me thinking about the men’s movement, feminism, and even race. Men’s rights movements tend to operate under something of a victim mentality: many (see Reddit for examples) believe that men actually have fewer rights than women, and that women actively promote the superiority of XX over XY. I’ve addressed this strange mindset before, concluding that these men’s rights advocates misunderstand the project of mainstream feminism, and that the victim mindset is actually hurting their cause by making them appear unstable, blame-oriented, and unable to grapple with the ideal of a positive identity for men.
Obviously, though, the emotion behind men’s rights movements springs from somewhere. Often, the primary emotion seems to be resentment – advocates write at length about injustices in the legal system, perceived discrimination in the workplace, and social expectations that cause undue pressure on modern men. They see themselves as lacking control over their own lives, so anger at the situation boils over into anger toward women, toward feminist men, and so on. In others, similar resentment at working-life difficulties becomes anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-liberal sentiment. The important thing is having an out-group on whom these frustrated workers and family men can place the blame for their struggles.
Everyone struggles. We all experience setbacks. But it occurred to me that perhaps the reason why antifeminists and anti-immigrant activists in particular identify with their setbacks is because they themselves constitute and out-group, and the temptation to establish an out-group of their own is extremely strong.
Let me explain: in any privileged group, there will be those with a disproportionately small amount of power. There are wealthy people who are left out of “wealthy society”. There are police who aren’t invited to police luncheons (or who feel uncomfortable going, because they wouldn’t know who to sit with, or whatever). And the same is true, on a greater scale, of men and white people.
Many men are told that they have the ability to get better jobs than minorities, yet hold low-wage jobs. There are whites who are told that their skin color grants them advantages, and yet they have never lived in a nice neighborhood or been accepted to a prestigious college. There are businessmen who are told that they are greedy, yet have struggled to pay the bills or seen their best deals fall through. Many of these people – who were told that they are the successful ones – don’t feel like they have been granted any of the prestige, privilege, or success that they feel blamed for.
Many of these folks are simply ill-equipped to see the privilege they do have. Others have had legitimately difficult lives, and it must be difficult for them to hear that their group has achieved outsize successes. They feel, in short, outside the group.
Obviously, we see mostly white male faces at the top business and government positions. But many white males are light years removed from such halls of power. They don’t merely resent their female and/or dark-skinned counterparts for being successful, they resent their own group for leaving them out of the party. But it’s much harder to place the blame on those you identify with, so the resentment goes elsewhere.
Of course, there are women left out of the feminism movement’s successes. Many of them end up on MRA Reddit pages or publically repudiating feminism. There are black kids left out and called “oreos” by their peers, who come to identify with white values or other cultural groups. Any group will have members who feel like they’re outside the party, looking in. Perhaps the solution is to help make everyone feel comfortable in their positive identities, so that they don’t go looking for an “other” to blame for their perfectly human setbacks.