Irish Times

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Radical feminists know my view of men is true

OPINION/ John Waters
Irish Times

One of the singular things about writing for The Irish Times, I find, is that whenever I write anything even mildly challenging to the prevailing D'Olier Street wisdom, I find myself confronted by a phalanx of respondents seeking to represent me as the opposite of themselves.

Invariably, they are self-styled liberals, pluralists, feminists and so forth, and I, by definition, am the antithesis. Because they are convinced of their rightness about everything, anything that challenges their views is reactionary and wrong.

The most recent occasion of this experience has been my attempt to put forward some perspectives on the changing relationships between the genders. Although I have explored many aspects, general and specific, of the changing balance of power between men and women, I have yet to encounter a single voice of opposition prepared to engage with what I have actually written or said.

For several years now I have been writing about the frightening increase in male suicides, the discrimination against fathers in the family courts, the depiction of adult, straight, white males in media advertising and the neglect of men's health. Not once in that time has anyone responded with a coherent refutation of the facts I have outlined.

Invariably, the responses have been personalised attacks on my character or motivations. Often, critics have sought to engage with me on the basis of positions which I had not advanced at all, but which, clearly, they would like me to have adopted, so as to make my arguments easier to knock down. A frequent tactic is to represent what I have written as an attack on women, which is a bit like saying that it is an attack on Galway to suggest that Roscommon needs better roads.

In response to one article I wrote about men and suicide, a male correspondent, in a letter to the editor, wrote that I was ignoring the damaging effect of male suicides on female survivors, and therefore being irresponsible. It did not seem to occur to him that, in his utter indifference to the plight of the boys and men who had died, he was making my point far more graphically than I. Another man wrote that "we don't need people who tell us to defend our outdated and indefensible privileges".

I have never suggested that men should move to defend their privileges. In my view, the privileges of men, where they have existed at all, have been poisoned chalices. The "dominance" of the male in politics, economics and work has come with a heavy price tag. Not only has it alienated men from the core meaning of their existence, which resides in the role of fatherhood, but it has set them up as the scapegoats of a deeply spiteful backlash which refuses to acknowledge that such "dominance" occurred out of the prevailing circumstances in a world where the nature of work suggested that men were, all other things being equal, the more appropriate breadwinners.

In large part, of course, the refusal to engage with the substance of my arguments arises because the points I have made have been irrefutable, the mere articulation of the everyday experience of people in the real world. My only attack has been on society and its dangerously skewed thinking, of which attempts to smear me as a "misogynist" are typical. (Isn't it remarkable that such accusations issue forth, without irony, from the adherents of an ideology which for 30 years has been creating gender rancour by demonising men?)

I find it interesting, too, that the most vociferous voices against me in this argument are male. Most intelligent women, even radical feminists, know that what I say is true.

I would imagine that most sensible women find the present culture of the sanctified female and the demonised male offensive; not because it oppresses them but because it patronises them mercilessly and denies their truth as much as it denies that of their men.

Most men, too, know in their hearts that our gender faces serious problems which are not being acknowledged. Some who live with these realities on a daily basis shrug their shoulders and say: "What's new?" But others, precisely because they recognise in this argument the substance of a fear which has long been within themselves, must shout me down in order to suppress that voice inside.

Because the culture tells them so, they believe that their personal redemption resides in further self-flagellation. Most of these men are well-educated, genuinely privileged people. For them, in their individual lives, survival for the moment resides in repeating the lie, in pretending that everything is as the culture describes it.

Why rock the boat when it's much easier to say what they think women want to hear? People who insist on describing reality as it is represent a serious threat to their sexual, political, emotional and economic security.

Usually, the men who push themselves to the fore in attacking those who seek more balance in gender matters are academic hacks whose careers have flourished because of a strict adherence to orthodoxy. (I find it ironic, too, that people who seek to lecture me about my alleged "privileges" almost invariably do so from behind university degrees and addresses; the irony arising from the fact that, my alleged manly dominance notwithstanding, a university education is a privilege which I have never enjoyed. But then again, perhaps this just goes to explain my lack of enlightenment.)

Just as their personal lives are dominated by the belief that women must be flattered and uncritically appeased, experience tells these honorary sisters that they will not fail to prosper if they continue to say the right things. These men see, as I do, the writing on the wall, but believe that the system which has favoured them thus far can bury the truth for another few years, long enough for them to negotiate the greasy pole.

Their present objective is to create a bogus, castrated "men's movement" which would have men crawling around on their hands and knees, apologising for existing. This would result in the frustration of an engagement with these issues for another generation.

John Waters can be contacted at jwaters@irish-times.ie