It would be easy — given the feminist insistence that, deep down, men are all misogynists and rapists — to fight back by saying that women are just completely irrational and hysterical. When one side frames the situation as a competition, the other feels it has to win. But the conversation about men and women isn’t actually about whether men are better than women (or vice versa), it’s about how men are different from women (and vice versa). Different, but equally valuable.
Modern feminism teaches that men are oppressors who will do anything to hold onto their power. An article in The Washington Post calls misogyny a “preexisting condition” in the world and asserts that most men don’t even recognize a woman’s “humanity.” “Women shouldn’t trust the men who call themselves allies,” the article proclaims. While this kind of accusation is obviously ridiculous, there’s something else about it that isn’t as obvious: it’s a trap.
By saying women are better than men, feminists set up a situation in which men feel they have to say something along the lines of “Nuh-uh, men are better than women!” (Maybe they’ll even stick out their tongues for good measure.) The men’s right’s movement is a good example of this. In response to women’s assertions that they are oppressed and held back by men, men’s rights activists claim that it’s actually men who are oppressed and discriminated against by women. You’re not the victim, this line of defense goes, we are!
This us-versus-them mentality works pretty well for the feminists. It allows them to hold all things masculine — positive or negative — up as part of the problem, and to offer up all things feminine — positive or negative — as the only solution. But, while we can see the fallacy in that line of thinking, somehow many of us miss the irony inherent in responding with exactly the same line of attack.
When feminists say things like, “even a good man . . . has within him the potential for violence and harm because these behaviors are normalized through patriarchy,” (Everyday Feminism), men’s rights activists respond by saying things like, “women fundamentally lack the capacity to appreciate the sacrifices men make to facilitate women’s reality,” (Rollo Tomassi). Both of these statements are ridiculous because both of them operate within a rubric of “who’s better?” But that’s exactly the problem: neither men nor women are better, they are simply different.
Men can use their inherent traits — like physical strength, decisiveness, and propensity for risk-taking — for good or for ill. Women can use their inherent traits — like emotionality, a nurturing impulse, and an ability to multi-task — for good or for ill. But the traits themselves are neither good nor bad — they simply are. It’s when we try to categorize the traits themselves as positive or negative that we run into trouble.
A man can use his superior physical strength to overpower and assault a woman, or he can use it to protect her from harm. A woman can use her connection to her emotions as an excuse to fly off the handle at any given moment, or she can use it to empathize with her children and teach them productive ways to interact with the world. Men as a group — or women as a group — aren’t positive or negative in and of themselves. Setting the debate up that way is a recipe for each side to say insane things that only make matters worse.
Men aren’t better than women. Women aren’t better than men. That isn’t even the conversation we ought to be having. Neither group should be trying to hold onto some imaginary superiority over the other. Instead, we ought to be working tirelessly to hold onto the truth. That we are different. And different is the way we are meant to be.