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In MRA-land, women have never been oppressed, but men have been “disenfranchised” by having power over them

Somehow, we doubt that MRAs would appreciate this kind of "protection" for themselves.

Somehow, we doubt that MRAs would appreciate this kind of “protection” for themselves and their fellow men.

One classic bad argument against feminism is the disingenuous claim that “we don’t need it any more.” In the bad old days, proponents of this argument would concede, women may have faced some pesky little obstacles, but now that they can vote, and own property, and briefly work as the executive editor of The New York Times, there’s just no need for feminism any more. Problem solved!

But these days the great minds of the Men’s Rights movement have moved beyond this bad argument to a worse one: feminism was never really necessary in the first place, because women have never been oppressed.

The other day a Redditor by the name of cefarix earned himself a couple of dozen upvotes by posting a version of this argument to the Men’s Rights Subreddit.

I often see feminists make the claim that women have been oppressed for thousands of years. What evidence is there to back up this claim?

Personally, I don’t think this could be the case. Men and women are both integral parts of human society, and the social bonds between close relatives of either gender are stronger than bonds with members of the same gender but unrelated. So it seems to me the idea that men would oppress their own close female relatives and women would just roll over and accept this oppression from their fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, etc, for thousands of years across all/most cultures across all of humanity – and not have that society disintegrate over the course of a couple generations – is ridiculous.

This is so packed with such sheer and obvious wrongness that it’s tempting to just point and laugh and move on. But I’ve seen variations on this argument presented seriously by assorted MRAs again and again so I think it’s worth dealing with in some detail.

Before we even get to the facts of the case, let’s deal with the form of his argument: He’s arguing that history cannot have happened the way feminists say it happened because he doesn’t think that could be the case.

Trouble is, you can’t simply decide what did or did not happen in history based on what makes sense to you. History is history. It’s not a thread on Reddit. You can’t downvote historical facts out of existence the way, say, Men’s Rights Redditors downvote those pointing out facts they don’t like.

Cefarix follows this with an assertion that’s become rather common amongst MRAs: men can’t have oppressed women because no man is going to oppress his wife or his daughter or his mother, and besides, they wouldn’t have put up with it and it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

It seems to me that if the core of your argument is the notion that men would never harm members of their own family then you’ve pretty much lost the argument before it’s even begun. Husbands batter wives, fathers abuse children, boyfriends rape their girlfriends, and so on and so on; all this is not only possible, but it happens quite regularly. And only quite recently, historically speaking, has any of this been regarded as a serious social problem worthy of public discussion.

And so the idea that men might “oppress their own close female relatives” is hardly beyond the pale.

Of course. history isn’t about what could have happened; it’s about what did happen. But the evidence that the oppression of women did happen — and is still happening — is everywhere. Indeed, it takes a certain willful blindness not to see it.

History, of course, is a complicated thing, and the ways in which women have been oppressed have been many and varied over the years. Nor, of course, has the oppression of women been the only form of oppression in history, which is not only, as Marx would have it, a story of “class warfare” but also of ethnic warfare, racial oppression, and many other forms of oppression, some of which are only now beginning to be fully understood.

So if cefarix is genuinely interested in evidence, let me make some suggestions for places to start.

For a history of patriarchy that looks in detail at how it developed, whose interests it served, and the various complicated ways it was intertwined with class and other oppressions, a good place to start would be Gerda Lerner’s classic The Creation of Patriarchy, and her followup volume The Creation of Feminist Consciousness. Here’s an interview in which she goes over some of the points she makes in these books.

To understand some of the hatred of women that has been baked into Western culture from the beginning, I’d suggest taking a look at Jack Holland’s highly readable Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. Meanwhile, David D. Gilmore’s Misogyny: The Male Malady offers an anthropological take on the same subject.

Alas, after going through his commenting history, I’m not sure that cefarix will be open to changing his mind on any of this, given how wedded he seems to be to a number of other rather appalling opinions — like his contention that homosexuality is a “disease” and his belief that “the whole age of consent thing is a modern Western aberration from what is considered normal for our species.”

Of course, if you look at the discussion inspired by cefarix’ post on Reddit, you’ll see that most of the Men’s Rights Redditors posting there don’t seem much interested in looking at facts that challenge their beliefs either. Most of those dissenters who pointed out the various ways women have been oppressed throughout history found their comments downvoted and dismissed.

Consider this amazing exchange — and notice which of the two comments is the one with net downvotes.

Little_maroon_alien -2 points 1 day ago* (1|3)  Women weren't allowed to own property or request divorces in most countries until the last 80 years. That is pretty oppressive. China didn't allow divorce or land ownership until the 1950s. Women in the U.S. only got to start owning property in the mid to late 1800s if their husband was temporarily unavailable (they couldn't "control it" though). Women coulldn't request a divorce in Great Britain until 1857, two years before women were allowed to teach in Denmark (wayy before Austria allowed it) or attend college in Russia (but not Sweden, Japan, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, etc) and 10 years before New Zealand women could own property in their name.  In 1865 Italy allowed married women to become the legal guardian of her children and their property if abandoned by her husband. How progressive!  How is this not both oppressive and possible? It was very widespread for a very long time.      permalink     save     parent     give gold  [–]tactsweater 1 point 1 day ago (2|1)  Are cats oppressed? They can't own property, or decide who they get to live with.  None of what you're describing is oppression. Sorry.  Throughout most of human history, we had a couple of hard truths that needed to be faced. The strength of a society is largely based on its population, and women can increase that population, while men can't. This meant that if a society needs to lose one or the other, they're going to send the man off to die nearly every time.  Another hard truth throughout most of human history is that overt power makes you a target. Leadership meant assassination attempts. Property ownership meant you had something to lose. Since the cost to society was greater if a woman died, men were forced into taking those roles just as much as women were forced out of them.  Maximum protection comes with a cost of freedom, and that doesn't at all imply oppression.

That last bit, about men being “forced” into having power, is quite something. But I’m still stuck on the whole cat thing. I mean, I like cats and all, but cats are not people, and it really wouldn’t be appropriate for me to lock a woman in my apartment, feed her on the floor out of a can, and make her poop in a box, even though my cats seem quite content with this arrangement for themselves.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of the comments that won upvotes.

Someone named goodfoobar suggesting that men have always been the slaves of women, because women live longer:

goodfoobar 3 points 1 day ago (3|0)  A woman made the claim of thousands of years of slavery to me a few months ago. Did not have a good response at the time. I have a response today.  Slave masters have a better quality of life than slaves. Life expectancy is a good measure for quality of life. Over most of history the average female life expectancy is longer (historical exception during child bearing years) than the average male life expectancy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy#Gender_differences[1]

And our old friend TyphonBlue. who turns not only history but logic itself on its head by arguing that men are “disenfranchised” by … having power over women.

typhonblue 5 points 1 day ago (5|0)  When you expect a group of people to be in a position of power because of human psychology (look up moral typecasting) you remove their ability to command compassion from others.  The expectation that men assume leadership positions was, in itself, disenfranchisement of men.  When we put a crown on a man's head we no longer care as much if his head gets cut off.

Yep. The most badly oppressed creatures in history are the ones wearing crowns on their heads.

I’m really not quite sure how Typhon manages to avoid injuring herself with all of her twists of logic.

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Posted on May 16, 2014, in antifeminism, apex fallacy, citation needed, entitled babies, gender swap, grandiosity, homophobia, imaginary backwards land, imaginary oppression, kitties, mansplaining, men who should not ever be with women ever, misogyny, MRA, oppressed men, patriarchy, patronizing as heck, pedophiles oh sorry ephebophiles, pig ignorance, playing the victim, reddit, that's completely wrong, TyphonBlue and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 154 Comments.

  1. All kitties are onna brinka starvation all the time. Well known fact.

    Just look at this empty bowl that Maddie had to have refilled lately.

  2. gillyrosebee

    Poor Maddie. You can clearly see a patch of bowl, therefore she is indeed on the very edge of immediate starvation!

  3. That’s it! Famine strikes the land all the time in this house. Look at how starved she is. She’s so weak with hunger she’s just c’lapsed.

    BTW is that the eater-of-rubber-bands in your gravatar, or one of the other kitties?

  4. gillyrosebee

    Yep, that’s my Adora!

  5. I enjoyed Ghost Map quite a bit, but the first chapter or so took FOREVER to get through, because the descriptions of ‘sanitation’ during the period are horrifying beyond words.

  6. Kathleen,

    Anyone who has ever hated their job can read that book and feel better. Can anything be worse than collecting night soil or sifting through sewage with your hands for valuables?

    I think the 19th century might be the worst time period to have lived in, maybe it would be OK in the country if you weren’t a slave. Only the black death years can compete.

  7. weirwood: Yeah, I’ve long been convinced that cities in the late 19th century were hell. London, especially, sounds awful.

  8. I haven’t read it yet, but my friends won’t shut up about “Code Name Verity”, which is a teen book about a female WWII pilot whose plane goes down behind enemy lines.

    It was excellent but I complained all the way through it. (It’s one of those books where they tell you right at the beginning who’s going to die.)

  9. @Tracy I’ve heard about that book but haven’t got it yet. Will have to check it out.

  10. Urban fantasy stuff: has anyone here read the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire? I’m rather fond of them.

    I also like most of Neil Gaiman’s work

  11. Urban fantasy stuff: has anyone here read the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire? I’m rather fond of them.

    I love the October Daye series, though I though I had trouble with the first book (still working on why…)

    I also love the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, in part because it manages to avoid the ‘strong woman because of rape’ trope. I get really tired of that being the standard background for strong female characters.

    Historical fiction recommendations – normally I don’t go for historical anything, but I really enjoyed the Delphic Women series by Kerry Greenwood.

    Most recently I tried to read as many of the Nebula nominees as I could, and I can’t recommend Ancillary Justice enough! (and woohoo, it won!)

  12. (Boggles at cat comment)

    I was reading some ancient history this morning. Solon of Athens passed a law preventing a man from selling his daughter or sister, ‘unless he finds she is no longer a virgin’. I guess no need for feminism in those days then, Solon had it covered…

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