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Tuesday, March 23, 1999A journal of their own
Canada's only men's movement magazine argues it's not really a man's world
Q. How many men's rights activists does it take to change a light bulb?
Dave Chan, National Post / Publisher David Shackleton says he is asking for nothing more than "gender justice and equality."
A. Real men aren't afraid of the dark.
-- letter to the editor, Everyman
Feminism has long maintained that, from the cradle onward, society pushes little girls in particular directions, pressuring them to conform to preordained notions of what it means to be "feminine."
Not only are boys subjected to similar pressures, but sociologists have observed that our approach to males is actually more rigid. Both mothers and fathers patrol their sons' gender boundaries more ferociously than they do their daughters'. For example, parents are more comfortable with a tomboy daughter than with a son who likes to dress up in high heels and wear makeup.
The damage that sex-role stereotyping does to little girls wasn't recognized by society until the women's movement forced the issue on to the public agenda. David Shackleton, the editor and publisher of Everyman: A Men's Journal, believes the harm inflicted on little boys will continue until the men's movement becomes influential enough to raise a similar ruckus. A former engineer who now works nearly full time on the journal, Shackleton says he is asking for nothing more than "gender justice and equality."
Launched in 1992, Everyman is Canada's only men's movement magazine. Published every two months, it has a subscription base of 500, and features writers from as far afield as New Zealand and Germany. A labour of love, the publication has long depended on financial donations for its survival. Many of the most generous donors are women who apparently agree with the statement on the masthead: "We believe our society includes entrenched, often unconscious sexism against both men and women, but that only the sexism against women has so far been generally recognized."
While feminism has promulgated -- and many intelligent people have accepted -- the idea of an evil patriarchy deliberately designed to benefit men at the expense of women, Everyman insists matters are more complicated than this. For one thing, cold, hard numbers indicate that men are actually the disadvantaged sex in many respects.
But Fred Hayward, a California men's rights activist interviewed in a recent issue of Everyman, says this idea is so novel he was once kicked off the Oprah Winfrey show for daring to suggest it. Piqued that Winfrey's introduction suggested that men have nothing to complain about, Hayward responded, "You know, the black population in prison is eight times as high proportionately as the rest of the population. Why do you think that is?"
When Winfrey attributed this fact to serious social problems within the black community, Hayward replied, "Men are 24 times as likely to be in prison as the rest of the population. Isn't that an even bigger symptom" of male malaise? "They cut right to a commercial and asked me to leave," continues Hayward. "The producer said to me, 'I'm sorry, this isn't going the way we planned.' So they made me leave. They had a chef standing by -- I guess for just such emergencies -- and they did chicken recipes for the rest of the show."
But the high rate of violence is just one of many signs that all is not well with the masculine half of the population. Males are also overrepresented among alcoholics and the homeless. They suffer from more learning disabilities and behavioural problems and drop out of school more frequently than their female counterparts. As various editions of Everyman point out, if this were really a world designed for men's benefit, would men account for three out of four workplace injuries and 96% of workplace deaths? If the medical establishment were really preoccupied with male health, would the average man be dying six years younger than the average woman? If it were true that men as a group encounter few significant obstacles, would they really be committing suicide four times as often as women?
"The problem with men," says Warren Farrell, another American men's rights activist interviewed in Everyman, "is that we have learned to call things power that any other group would call powerlessness." Noting that, historically, armies have consisted of the poor and the expendable rather than the powerful, Farrell points out that it's only males who are still required by law to register for the draft in the United States. In his opinion, men have shorter lifespans because they spend so much of their time "earning money that somebody else spends" (men may earn more, but most consumer dollars are dispersed by women).
Prior to feminism, says Farrell, neither gender had a particularly easy time of it: "Both sexes had roles. Rather than raise children, men's role was to raise money. When you have a role, you have an obligation, not power. Power is the ability to control your own life."
Indeed, many of the men whose voices are heard in Everyman feel confused, silenced, and impotent. Within the pages of the magazine, they talk about a male reality far removed from feminist notions of ubiquitous patriarchal privilege.
"I cried myself to sleep that night," writes one man, remembering an incident that took place when he was 12, "because I had let myself get drunk and [sexually] assaulted and I knew that I would never be able to tell anyone."
"Like many males who have been in relationships with violence-prone women," writes another, "I thought I was an exception to the rule. Like most males who experience women's violence, I did not report her behaviour to anyone, officially or unofficially."
Writes another: "I often feel trapped in my work. On the one hand I'm fearful that because of downsizing and cutbacks I might not look as valuable to my boss as someone who works longer and harder than I do. On the other hand, I'm fearful about working long hours because if I don't put enough time and energy into my home life, I may screw up there. It's like being in a vise."
Explaining why he feels men agree to perform the dirty, dangerous occupations that claim so many lives, one writer argues that men aren't considered attractive by women unless they conform to the traditional male role of breadwinner. "Without money, there's no love, and without proper education for a high-paying job in a safe environment, hazardous work is the only kind that pays."
Some Everyman writers report that the average man would appreciate being praised occasionally "for things [for which] we're not usually credited: fathering ability or sensitivity and yes, our bodies." In the words of another author, most men feel "that our bodies might be attractive when encased in a Porsche, but are not objects of desire in and of themselves."
Not surprisingly, again and again the pages of Everyman tell how betrayed some men feel by feminism -- a movement that claimed to be concerned about inequality but which has studiously ignored inequalities that favour women. Thus, women have demanded equal pay but not equal risk in the workplace. They have demanded the right to work outside the home, but have generally been unwilling to financially support stay-at-home husbands.
"As an adolescent, I bought into feminist ideology; women were oppressed, men were oppressors," writes one man. "I believed this philosophy until I married and had a child. I tried to avoid the stereotypical roles my parents had led. I wanted to be involved with my daughter . . . My plans fell apart shortly after my child was born. After supporting my wife to get a university degree (so she could have a fulfilling career), I was informed that I would continue to be the sole breadwinner for the next 15 years while she had more children. In addition, I was expected to share equally in her self-assigned role as housewife and mother."
Chivalry remains such a powerful force in our society that often our first instinct is to react with suspicion and hostility when men criticize women in the public arena. But the male voices appearing in Everyman are not sexist ones trying to turn back the clock. They merely believe fairness should be a two-way street.
Writes one man: "I want a badge that says, 'I don't hate women even though I think that men are people too.' "
- Everyman can be contacted at email@example.com, or 613-832-2284.
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