Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say, Second Edition. By David Shackleton. Ottawa: Little Nightingale Press, 2018. 310 pages. Canadian $15.
Daughters of Feminism: Women Supporting Men’s Equality. By David Shackleton. Ottawa: Take2Now, 2018. 278 pages. Canadian $20.
Review by J. Steven Svoboda
David Shackleton, former editor and publisher of Everyman magazine (for which I was the largest contributor in volume except for David himself) and author of The Hand that Rocks the World: An Inquiry into Truth, Power, and Gender, has written a pair of very interesting books, one a collection of contributions by men harmed by violation of men’s right to gender equality, the other an anthology of real life stories of women who support men’s rights. While the latter book contains a number of contributions by female activists (Cassie Jaye, Karen Straughan, Bettina Arndt, and Janice Fiamengo, among others) the former book for understandable reasons mostly includes contributions whose authors are not identified. As far as I know, only David Shackleton and Tom Golden could be described as men’s rights activists.
Both books are quite interesting. Both contain twenty-odd chapters, each relating to a different man or woman, and each book is divided into three sections. The sections of the men’s book are titled,“The Personal is the Political,” “Men Relating to Women,” and “Men in Feminist Institutions.” The sections of the women’s book are titled, “Finding Empathy for Men,” “The Search for Real Equality,” and “Anti-Feminism.” I’m not sure the tripartite divisions are all that helpful but the books are to be rejoiced at and honored. We don’t have anything else I can think of that is quite like either book and writing each of them was no doubt a thankless task.
Naturally, as with all books containing contributions from a number of different individuals, the effectiveness and power of the chapters of both books varies. Well-known professor Janice Fiamengo introduces the men’s book with a heartfelt contribution empathizing with men’s plight in this day of runaway feminism. Fiamengo feels keenly for boys who grow up learning that female lives matter more, that masculinity is something for which one needs to be apologetic, and that boys supposedly don’t need respect nor encouragement.
Immigrant Pat Kambhampati leads off chapter one of Sons of Feminism with a powerful chapter connecting his two identities, as an immigrant and as a male. He learned early that in any boy-girl fight, “the girl was always believed.” Later, he relates, “I would ask about violence against men, men’s reproductive rights, men’s right to parent their children after divorce, the objectification of men. All these questions were met with mockery and hostility… Nothing mattered more than the feelings of women, especially of straight white women.”
The next author, identified only as Krish, writes of absorbing the feminist view that “men are defective females.” He notes that nearly all inventors are male and asks what led his father to commit suicide. Pointedly, Krish writes, “I have yet to see a suicide attempt by a man with a good sex life.” The third writer, who calls himself Allen, feels he was essentially used by his ex-wife to father three strong, healthy children, “and then discarded as an unnecessary utility once the kids were past early childhood.” Sadly the kids’ mother has succeeded in ending all contact between the three children and their father, harming all three of them greatly.
A pseudonymous author stands on a bridge contemplating suicide, explaining that after dutifully leaving work early to take an active role in raising his children, he found himself at the mother’s mercy in terms of future contact with the kids. “You are like an uncle—Uncle Dad.”
Seth McDonough asks some very pointed questions, such as why we don’t simply address all incidents of domestic violence victimization and sexual assault, regardless of the genders of the perpetrator and victim, and “let the gender percentages fall where they may?” He asks why there is a Canadian “Status of Women” department but no department on “Status of Men.”
A contributor identified as Paul of New Zealand throws in a choice bon mot regarding feminist theory: “The great assumption of patriarchal theory is that every law or policy automatically benefits men as part of its structure; that men somehow occupy a place in society where there are no hardships, no struggle, no discomfort, no pain, no injustice.”
It is chilling to read the anonymous contribution of a thirty-year-old man who has never been on a date because as a result of his first attempt at platonic friendship with a female, he “ended up falsely accused of some nebulous misconduct, tortured for months with a string of lies that came to a decisive conclusion when I was attacked by campus police and both literally and figuratively kicked out of school.” The man was actually taking women’s studies courses (!) and reports, “Much of it was astonishingly distorted, as if established social scientists were reporting back from some fantasy world where women lived as perpetual victims.”
Another anonymous contributor demolished a couple stones in my personal shoes, namely, Michael Kimmel the feminist academic, and the terms “manspreading” and “mansplaining.” The author believes, rightly in my view, that “the best example of toxic masculinity [a concept that Kimmel has taken a lead among male academics in spreading] is none other than Michael Kimmel himself.” Another point too good to avoid repeating: “I seriously doubt that any Women’s or Gender Studies student would be taught the fact that tens of thousands of women in Nazi Germany were full participants in the murder and brutality of the Holocaust…”
An astronomer notes how male astronomers now effectively must be in the top 10% of male applicants to have a chance at employment given all the affirmative action campaigns. Later he aptly analogizes the current idea “that my astronomy discoveries are more valuable if they contribute to diversity and other leftist causes” to past attempts to use science to promote a certain ideology such as Naziism and Soviet Communism.
Matt Ryan calls for awareness of sexual exploitation as a problem that is the flip side of sexual harassment. An example of sexual exploitation is Ryan’s friend’s female co-worker who “shortly after arriving in each new position… began a sexual relationship with the most powerful (and willing) man around, and shortly after that she would receive a promotion.” Ryan notes that “the current focus on sexual harassment leaves the false impression that only men engage in inappropriate behavior related to sexuality in the office.” Ryan also rightly decries the expansion of the term to encompass a man without workplace power asking a female co-worker for a date.
Mal Maguire contributes a disheartening chapter testifying to “an almost psychopathic disregard for male people in pain” as witnessed by the almost perfect absence of resources for male victims of domestic violence.
Filmmaker Cassie Jaye, director of the “Red Pill” film, leads off the women’s book with an awesome, transformative, powerful piece about her own journey from committed feminist to supporter of men’s rights. Jaye writes of her growing realization over a period of a few months of the many “human rights issues that uniquely or disproportionately affect men. Paternity fraud uniquely affects men. The United States Selective Service in the case of a draft still uniquely affects men. Workplace deaths disproportionately affect men. War deaths: overwhelming men. Suicide: overwhelmingly men. Sentencing disparity, life expectancy, child custody, child support, false rape allegations, criminal court bias, misandry, failure to launch, boys falling behind in education, homelessness, veterans issues, infant male genital mutilation, pregnancy entrapment [bless her for this terminology], lack of parental choice once a child is conceived, lack of resources (and compassion) for male victims of domestic violence… so many issues that are heartbreaking…”
Jaye then had to address “malicious, slanderous, libelous, defamatory statements that were made about me” in almost every interview she had about the film. As she says, “we have to stop expecting to be offended” and listen to each other “because we are all in this together. Once we do that we can finally heal from the inside out. But it starts with listening.”
Next comes Kathryn Hogan’s beautiful, inspiring story of a day on a train with a belligerent, dangerous man, when every other man coordinated their joint defense of every woman onboard. “I saw the other men on the train. I watched… as the other men all made silent eye contact with each other and exchanged subtle gestures, communicating with strangers they’d never met before, coordinating together… I watched as each man physically put his body between the Dangerous guy and every woman on the train.” Hogan concludes, “Gender is a love story. It always has been. It’s just that, right now, we are in the crisis phase of this love story….In a word, we have the opportunity to be heroes for each other.”
The pseudonymous Gemma Kinsey explodes a couple myths, writing that “I still love it when people notice me. I feel powerful when I walk down the street and get catcalled.” Later she talks about working in erotic massage and how sweetly all her clients treated her. “This was a whole new level of sexual power that blew my mind. They were paying to be there, paying for me to touch them and give them a pleasurable experience, yet none of them felt entitled to my body.” Then she realized that it went beyond even sexual power to a kind of “moral power” she had over her clients: “These men wanted my approval and validation….I felt extremely valuable as a woman and I started asking myself, ‘When did we stop seeing men as people? When did we stop caring about them?’”
Barbara Kay illuminates another side to “patriarchy,” writing about her father, who worked hard to provide Kay’s homemaker mother with luxuries and free time. Kay’s answer to feminist arguments is “that if every woman in the world were growing up in the ‘patriarchy’ represented by my family, it would be a glorious day for most of the world’s women.” Kay points out that the emperor has no clothes, in this case, “the black and white world painted by feminists—a world in which men frolicked in the sun while women suffered and sighed in the gloom—is false.” Kay sensibly concludes, “There are many routes to happiness and self-esteem for both sexes, and equality of value need not always translate into equality of function.”
Even more to the point, Kay tells a story of a highly qualified woman competing against two men for a prestigious post in 1972, who was told that one of the men was being hired because they were supporting a family and she was not. The woman in the story took a volunteer political job that eventually led her to great success. “Smart, ambitious people tend to find an alternate route around a road block to their general destination.”
The pseudonymous Elizabeth Jack hits a home run with her piece’s title alone: “Equality Only When It’s Convenient.”
Sandy Rawson gives us an important pushback against #MeToo: “OK, so what’s the whole story here? Did someone discover a tool that could get them what they wanted? Who, at the time of the incident, believed they were just having fun putting out for the sense of power it gave in the moment, only to bring it up years later because they can, and under a guise of innocence destroy a man?”
Many other worthwhile issues come up in other contributions: The rare mother who allows her son to take an interest in more girly things like wearing a skirt. How people talk about male survivors of the Marc Lapine massacre as cowardly but don’t speak of the female survivors that way. A father who was stripped of his children in part for lacking the same “stereotypical male interests” for which men are so often criticized. The trivialization of the worst forms of rape by equating all forms of it, including “rapes” that would not have satisfied that term’s definition in previous decades.
Welcome honesty from Andrea Mrozek: “There were other moments when I was obviously getting promoted precisely because I was a woman. I was offered—wait for it—my own radio show within weeks of starting as a reporter at a news magazine…. We don’t often talk about the ways in which being a woman works to her advantage, though this has to be the case at least part of the time for some of us, as it was for me.”
Let’s end with two images. Mrozek writes that addressing only women’s suffering sexual violence without addressing men’s is “like a person standing in front of a starving child in Africa with a plate of food saying, ‘I wonder if the people in Europe are hungry.’” And Jasmin Newman says: “The only thing preventing female empowerment and social and economic equality is the persistent, illogical belief that we do not already have it.” Don’t miss these superlative books!