journalistically appropriate skeptical questions
First of All, What Are These So-called Male Gender Issues?
Journalists Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame took Deep Throat’s advice to “follow the money” in their search for government corruption. In reporting on gender issues we do well to “follow the stereotypes.”
The stereotypes that served to disadvantage women in business, government and academia are that women “can't do math,” “cry too much,” “don’t understand logic,” etc. Fortunately, these stereotypes are largely vanquished, thanks in large part to the good work of feminism.
Yet today we have multiple stereotypes operating heavily against men. “Men are violent,” “men have no feelings,” “men are selfish and cruel,” “men don’t care about their kids,” “all men think about is sex,” etc. These sexist memes lead directly to men being disadvantaged in matters of family, parenting, work/life balance, criminal justice, service sector employment, mental health, life satisfaction and general social concern for their happiness and well-being.
To the extent that the nation needs happy, healthy positively motivated men and boys, the nation suffers as a result.
Are You Saying Women Are Sexist?
The most curious sexism of all is the belief that only one sex is sexist and only one sex is disadvantaged by sexism. Yes, of course women, like men, and girls too, like boys, are sometimes sexist.
But it is not just women and girls who are sometimes sexist toward boys and men. Organizations, agencies and institutions in both the private and public sectors also have yet to acknowledge and address their implicit biases against males. Journalism is among them.
Are You MRAs — Men’s Rights Activists?
We are activists, yes, and advocates, but Men’s Rights, while important, are only a part of what we are about. We are about men's social health and happiness — and rights clearly play a part. But we are mostly about opportunities to give and get all the love we can, to live fuller, richer, happier and more socially integrated and productive lives. If you must assign a label, you can call us masculists. We are the essential and loyal counterpart of feminists, loyal to the goal of equality, fairness and respect between the sexes that feminism promised but has so far failed to deliver.
But, since advocating for men to have rights respected and protected is nothing to be ashamed of, you can call us MRAs if you want — as long as you recognize that your impulse to do so may be prompted by these hallmarks of poor journalism:
Looking for lazy, easy ways to dispatch the topic;
Planning to draw (upon) a caricature rather than actually write a report;
Pigeon-holing the topic, cramming it into a narrow slot, thus amputating much of what the story should be about;
Harnessing negative connotations to ridicule something new and, to some people, threatening — much as the term “bra-burner” was used in early reports of feminism.
MRAs? Okay. If you insist.
Another label to which we would not strenuously object is Social Justice Warriors, though the connotations of that phrase don’t typically conjure concern for boys or men. Better might be Social Justice Pacifists who will fight if we have to.
Are You Just Another Identity-Politics Group?
We understand the divisiveness of identity politics. But we believe there is such a thing as too little common identity and it is quite evident in the case of men, the ones who are expected to soldier on, never complain, and pretend everything is “just great” for fear of appearing weak, dishonorable and self-involved. But CtrJMGI is concerned about something different, primarily about men’s ability to contribute to the national good. At least as much as the nation needs women participating fully and equally in business, academia and government, it needs men participating fully and equally in families, parenting and social relationships.
Men and boys are human. Recognition, empathy, compassion and fairness are essential to keeping them engaged toward beneficial outcomes. For fifty years the nation has participated in an unrelenting celebration of women and girls. Too often that has crossed the line into the opposite for men and boys. These days when we see discouragement and despair among boys and men we are reminded of the wry witticism, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
We are reminded also of what airline flight attendants tell us about what to do in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure. “Be sure to put on your own mask before helping others.” Sometimes it’s not selfish for people to make sure they get a modicum of what they need especially when they feel a greater need to be good for others.
“When I started [my research], I was prepared to rediscover the old saw that conventional femininity is nurturing and passive and that masculinity is self-serving, egotistical, and uncaring. But I did not find this. One of my findings here is that manhood ideologies always include a criterion of selfless generosity, even to the point of sacrifice. Again and again we find that ‘real’ men are those who give more than they take; they serve others.”
Anthropologist David D. Gilmore.
Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. p. 229.
Isn’t This Just the Old Complaint About the “Liberal Media”?
True enough, liberals don’t generally appreciate what the men’s movement is about. The women’s movement has developed an aura of progress and advancement — even when it’s about preserving, in ironically conservative fashion, women’s prerogatives and advantages and denying the need to more equitably share them with men.
But conservatives don’t regard the men’s movement with any great favor, either, except insofar as they see it opposing the excesses of feminism. Conservatives embrace the notion of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency. They idea that men, of all people, are asking for help and redress simply rubs them the wrong way. Moreover, conservatives are much enamored of the Motherhood-and-apple-pie ideal, so any suggestion that women ever do anything selfish or unjust is simply not an idea they are eager to indulge.
What’s the Problem? I Don’t Hear Men Complaining.
Yes, in this world of squeaking wheels getting greased, male machinery rumbles dutifully, stoicially on. But you can hear the sound of trouble if you don’t expect to hear it in words. Look at disengagement from the workplace, educational underachievement, the search for family and father figures in gangs. Listen to suicide, substance abuse, alcoholism, incarceration and mental illness. Men are hardly encouraged to voice their problems. They know that few people really want to know and think about their lot. The muzzling taunt, after all, is “Man up!” It’s directed at boys too, whose tone of voice is often called “acting out.”
But Isn’t All This Talk of “Men’s Gender Issues”
Like Talking About “White People’s Race Issues”?
There are traditional advantages to being male and there are traditional advantages to being female. More on that below. There are no traditional advantages to being Black, at least not in America. The men who are most adversely affected by Male Gender Issues are the ones who, because of racism, have had the least access to the traditional advantages of being male. In fact, much of what progressive people identify as racism against Black men is actually a combination of racism and sexism. The statement made in the following video which attributes differences between men and women of the same race to racism rather than sexism is typical of the nation’s blindness to the existence of sexism against men and how it is especially toxic to Black men.
Rhode Island Public Television
November 8, 2005
Are You Journalists? What Do You Know About Journalism?
We are not journalists in the strictest sense, but our director has worked as an author and freelancer for magazines and newspapers. We understand a bit about the mounting pressures you are under from publishers, advertisers, editors and readers. We respect journalism and the important job you do. We value you as the facilitators of public discourse. But we think you need some help doing a better job on gender issues and that’s what we’re here to provide.
Are You Saying Journalism Is Biased?
Not just biased. Afraid, too. We'll get to that in a few paragraphs.
As for bias, we think TV journalist Bernard Goldberg, winner of twelve Emmys and two duPonts, said it best. In 1992, for an article in Quill, he told CtrJMGI director Jack Kammer,
“When it comes to gender issues, journalists generally have suspended all their usual skepticism… We accept at face value whatever women’s groups say. Why? Because women have sold themselves to us as an oppressed group and any oppressed group gets a free ride in the press… I don’t blame feminists for telling us half-truths and sometimes even complete fabrications. I do blame my colleagues in the press for forgetting their skepticism.”
You Don’t Think Women Are Oppressed?
Without quibbling over whether “oppression” is the right way to think about what sometimes goes on between the sexes, we think men and women sometimes exert unjust power over each other in different domains. That’s where the new perspective comes in.
Here is the perspective that Goldberg was talking about, the grand, overarching, widely accepted notion that men oppress women. The imposing male pyramid with dollar signs at the top oppresses the tiny, negligible, lowly, pink symbol of women’s humble domain. Men have all the power. And power, as journalist’s well know, corrupts. The dollar sign represents political and economic power; by extension it could be said to represent the average man’s greater physical strength over the average woman.
For many, that’s the end of the story, all there is to say. Women are the oppressed, Men are the oppressors.
But this is where the story of gender equality gets interesting again. It is men who are at the top of one power structure, but it is women who are at the center of another. And the average woman derives far more power and influence from the center of hers than the average man derives from the top of his.
The New Perspective
Let’s look at the male-female dynamic from the new perspective that CtrJMGI recommends. Let’s look at it from above.
Here we see that the vaunted male power structure is rather two dimensional — in some ways a facade without much depth or stability. And we notice that the horizontally unassuming female structure in fact enjoys formidable power and control over valuable and important things. The red heart represents love, relationships, family, emotional safety, physical well-being, and freedom of expression of both positive and negative emotions, plus the privilege of deep and abiding public concern for women’s and girls’ needs and problems, including the new demand that we always must “believe the woman” even at the loss of due process for men. By extension the heart could be said to represent women’s authority over the rules of morality, etiquette and appropriate behavior — including the decree that no man should ever hit a woman, no matter that she might be hitting him.
“Looking at how easy it is for women to treat men in cruel ways is oddly liberating.”
Fire With Fire: The New Female Power
and How It Will Change the 21st Century
New York: Random House, 1993. p. 215.
Women Have Enough Power to Intimidate Journalists
The second thing the new perspective helps us see is that Journalism is not only biased on gender issues as Goldberg points out; it is intimidated as well. Women constitute a powerful political and social force and many journalists — even some courageous ones — are afraid of displeasing them. Consider this confession from Sam Donaldson, the legendary ABC reporter, who chronicled his fearlessness and audacity in his 1987 autobiography Hold On, Mr. President (p. 220):
“Because of me, no one gets a free ride.
“All right, one time I gave a free ride: I failed to ask a single challenging, provocative question of leaders of feminist organizations on a program about the New Bedford rape case, the one in which a woman was assaulted on a pool table in a bar while other customers allegedly cheered the assailants on… So on this particular Brinkley program, I didn't demand that our female guests defend their assumptions about the case, as I should have. I’ll challenge presidents any day, but taking on half the world is asking too much.”
The New Bedford rape case on which Donaldson abdicated his journalistic duties was a 1983 story that spun out of control because no journalist asked the tough questions. Media were complicit in breathless feminist denunciations of American maleness for spawning a mob of drunken men cheering on the gang rape of a woman on a barroom pool table. It took a year before Time, March 5, 1984 reported that prosecutors had “substantially revised original reports that numerous bar patrons witnessed and even encouraged the rape with whoops and cheers. They say that aside from the six defendants and the victim, only three people were in the bar, and that the bartender and a customer sought to call the police, but were prevented from doing so by one of the six.”
Has women’s political and social power decreased over the last three decades? Has journalism’s resolve to hold feminism accountable increased? It seems clear the answers are No in both cases. Today, for example, zealous assertions that we live in a “rape culture” go largely unchallenged. What journalist has the temerity to risk being branded a misogynist, a woman-hater, or someone who “just doesn’t get it” by asking the “offensive” questions journalists should be asking as facilitators of public discourse?
The Duke Lacrosse and UVA/Rolling Stone journalistic disasters are merely the newest, lowest-hanging fruit on the poisonous trees in the unkempt garden we are afraid to weed and prune as a matter of professional routine.
The Bottom Line
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
In this era of Inclusiveness and Diversity and Respecting All Points of View and Valuing Partnerships and Honoring Stakeholders, it really is quite astonishing how thoroughly men's experiences, points of view and opinions on what Gender Equality should look like have been excluded, dishonored and disrespected — in fact demonized to justify what should have been a negotiation but has in fact so far been a shakedown.
Making sure men did not have a seat at the table assured women that they would have to put nothing on the table, that no one would be in a position to challenge their insistence that the flow of privileges and advantages between the sexes would be unilateral, entirely from us to them.
Journalism was complicit in, essential to, that strategy.
Women are not totally afflicted. Men are not completely comfortable. If journalism will do its duty and report courageously and responsibly on our efforts to achieve a place at the table, we will engage in a long overdue discussion with women about what truly healthy and fair relationships and interactions between the sexes look like.
And all of us — women, men, children, the nation as a whole — will benefit from that new perspective.