Tag Archives: Tawana Brawley

I came across this Atlantic article, The Lonely Existence of Mel Feit, Men’s-Rights Advocate, via Skepchick. Stephanie Fairyington describes her first meeting with a group from the National Center for Men:

My entrance is met with restrained courtesy—and a perceptible cloud of suspicion. Why, they must wonder, would I, a lesbian feminist, want to break bread at their masculinist table? As cautiously as I tread their terrain and as much as I disagree with most of their politics, I believe that some of their views are in the interest of feminism.

A feminist like the writer, I, too, have some sympathy with the arguments put forth by  men’s rights groups. Perhaps I don’t have the instinctive negative reaction that some feminists do towards the men’s rights groups because I was first exposed to it at sixteen by an economics professor who was also vocally a feminist himself. Consequently, it was first presented to me in the context of a more general search for just and equitable treatment for both sexes. Many feminists have long maintained that gender equality would be beneficial for most men as well. Fairyington quotes Amanda Marcotte as saying, “There is already a movement for people of both genders who want to end stifling gender roles: It’s called feminism.” However, feminists, who have often been highly sensitive to the language we use and the implied meaning of words, should be able to see that, while feminism may imply a more liberating role for men, the word itself does not explicitly include them.

But I wonder if feminism’s assumption that being male necessarily situates men at an advantage makes it harder for feminism to address the struggles unique to men. By diminishing male-specific challenges, feminists fail to recognize that women’s progress hinges on understanding that antiquated standards of masculinity hurt both sexes and are linked to men’s unstable relationship with the family.

Although I’m highly aware of the fact that feminism addresses ways in which women are put at a disadvantage, there’s a tendency to ignore the implied corollary, that men therefore benefit from advantages. This dovetails somewhat into my discomfort with the use of the word privilege. (Although, let me be clear I have no problem with the concept.) Is the lack of a disadvantage necessarily an advantage?

A parking lot in a blizzard in New York City late at night.In the mid-eighties, I moved to New York City, the place I had wanted to be ever since I was a small child. At the time, the city was wracked by racial tension. It’s something that no longer seems to exist in the public imagination, sandwiched between the radical movements of the sixties and New York’s rehabilitation as a playground for the rich. New York just past its nadir, the city called “ungovernable” during Ed Koch‘s tenure as mayor, is vividly remembered by those who lived there, a period dramatically rendered by Tom Wolfe in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Robert David Jaffee summarized some of the incidents from that period. (h/t swilliamsjd )

New York City endured a spate of hate crimes in the 1980s, beginning with the case of Michael Stewart, the subway graffiti artist, who by most accounts died from asphyxiation after the police got him in a chokehold. Many other incidents followed, from the shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly black woman, suffering from health problems, who was killed by police in her Bronx apartment after she allegedly brandished a knife; to subway gunman Bernard Goetz’s clash with a group of black teens; to the rape and beating of a Central Park jogger; to Howard Beach, where several African-Americans, whose car had broken down, wandered into a white neighborhood before one was beaten senseless and another chased to his death on the Belt Parkway; to the Tawana Brawley hoax, in which a young black woman claimed that white men spread feces over her and raped her, though no evidence of penetration existed, and she had made up a similar story not long before. (links mine – fojap)

I remember well, all those incidents. At the time, I was living with a man who read the tabloids, The Post, The Daily News and Newsday. I read The Times. Between the two of us, our apartment was filled with newspapers. Shortly after leaving him, I remember clearly reading about the Crown Heights Riots and feeling conflicted.

The riots began on August 19, 1991, after the child of Guyanese immigrants was accidentally struck and killed by an automobile in the motorcade of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The riot unleashed simmering tensions of the Crown Heights’ black community against the Orthodox Jewish community. In its wake, several Jews were seriously injured; one Orthodox Jewish man, Yankel Rosenbaum, was killed; and a non-Jewish man, allegedly mistaken by rioters for a Jew, was killed by a group of African-American men. (Wikipedia: Crown Heights riot)

The local papers and conversations at work or among friends were filled with opinions. One theme seemed to come up again and again: Who had suffered more throughout history, African-Americans or Jews. I was neither African-American nor Jewish, yet I was a New Yorker. Something inside me rebelled at the thought that suffering should be compared in this way.  It stuck me as a perversion of a leftist vision of the world that puts so much emphasis on the oppressed and oppressors. Previously, I had heard conservatives sneer about “victimization.” I should be clear that I don’t accept their disdain of discussing oppression or injustice. The relief of injustice is a moral imperative. However, the Crown Heights Riot was the final incident that caused me to distance myself from a leftist perception of events. With two sets of victims, two sets of oppressors, the left had, at that time, nothing to offer to make sense of what was happening.

It would be another year before the word “kyriarchy” would be coined.

Returning to men’s rights, several of the men in the group Fairyington met, although it should be noted not Mel Feit himself, believe that feminists are their opponents. It would be nice if there was a men’s movement that did not have so many members who see themselves as in opposition to the women’s movement.