Quite a bit has been written recently about the resignation of Tom Matlack, the founder of the website The Good Men Project, which happened in the wake of this post he wrote in response to a New York Times article last week. While the commentary about this has been mostly about how wrong-headed it was to crawl into bed with feminists of any type to begin with in connection with anything concerning the lives of men — which is a valid enough critique — nevertheless there is something that Mr. Matlack’s approach shares in common with some of his critics, which undermines them both. And this is a dedication to the concept of equalitarianism.
For example, although there has been a long running disagreement between Matlack and Paul Elam, because while they have strikingly different views on feminism and so on, one can also see quite a few commonalities between them simply being expressed in a different idiom. Both are concerned about men being “straitjacketed” by traditional gender norms, for example. Matlack was always more femininizing in his approach, talking about men being “good” by embracing emotionalism, intimacy and so on rather than beer and football — in other words, stop being so different from women, dammit, and soften up, “embrace the range of life as a man” and so on. Paul’s place has gone on a more left/libertarian bent in the past year or so, with the emphasis on “men’s (human) rights”, which is also in a sense trying to align itself with what the “purest equality” goals of feminism would have been, while generally viewing feminism, as it is in practice, as being hopelessly biased against men (which of course, it is, but there is a more fundamental reason for that which is precisely based on its equalitarian foundations and the ideology which underpins them). Both of them, in other words, are trying, in admittedly different ways, to “finish properly what feminism started” by “liberating men” or “recognizing men’s (human) rights” or “expanding/updating the definition of masculinity” or what have you. This is basically trying to complete, as men, the “unfinished business of feminism”.
This is doomed to be a failure no matter how it is approached. One main reason is that equalitarianism is based on a utopian falsehood at its core. Namely, that equalitarianism can never really be achieved, because people are fundamentally unequal in a huge number of ways, which means that it is an endless crusade, the perfection of which remains more or less elusive and equidistant regardless of how diligently it is pursued. Eventually, in the pursuit of this, it is recognized that stricter measures much be taken against those who are “more equal than others”, which results in doubling down and precisely the kind of anti-male misandry that we see in the culture. This leads to the second reason, which is this — any ideology of equalitarianism identifies some groups who are more equal (the privileged) and others who are less equal (the oppressed). Again, the reason for this is that inequalities can never really be eradicated, so there is, in effect, always a privileged group that needs to be ground down, and an oppressed group that needs to be lifted up. As we know, in the contemporary narrative in the context of men/women, men are the privileged and women are the oppressed. As much as we may rationally point out that this is not the case, either historically or presently, nevertheless because for various reasons men still strongly dominate the corner offices, the boardrooms, the legislatures and state houses and so on, men are going to be seen, objectively, as being the privileged group — and this is so regardless of how the non-apex men are faring. If anything, the issues of the non-apex men are apt to be blamed primarily on such men themselves than any institutional or social biases, precisely because men still dominate at the apex, which is taken to be an indication of the lack of any systemic anti-male bias. This is why we see the current “end of men” hand–wringing in the media focused on why men are failing themselves, rather than any structural or institutional biases that could be the root of this — because apex men are still dominant at the apex.
Apex men will likely *continue* to be dominant at the apex for a few reasons. One is that traits tend to be unequally distributed as between the sexes, with wider distribution among men at the tails of the trait curve as compared with women, meaning that there are more ambitious men than there are ambitious women (and also more very unambitious men than there are very unambitious women). The same holds true for drive, intelligence, ruthlessness — all of the traits needed to land the corner office, the boardroom seat, the Senate and so on. There are some women who have these traits, too, obviously, but there will always be more men who have them. A second, and related, reason is that even as among women who have some of these apex traits, a disproportionate number of them will opt to scale back in order to have children (the kind of decision that Sheryl Sandberg hates, but which is nevertheless common enough) — which also tends to depress even further the women at the apex, by choice (not by discrimination). As a result of both of these reasons (and some smaller ones), men will continue to dominate at the highly visible apex, which means that any ideology of equalitarianism will continue to note this and identify men as the privileged sex, even if men below the apex are flailing and failing, because, again, these issues with the latter will be blamed on the men who are flailing and failing themselves, rather than structural bias, with the high visibility success of the apex men being offered as “Exhibit A”.
This is not going to change, folks. Equalitarianism cannot but help to support feminism, eventually, because women will never really be equal to men at the apex in a way that is satisfying for egalitarian utopianism. And many/most people care more about the highly visible apex power positions than they do about the much less visible middle areas, when it comes to determining who is “privileged” and who is “oppressed”, and, again, will blame any issues faced by the middle on the guys themselves, precisely because the apex guys are still dominant at the apex. There is no way around this. Any ideology of equalitarianism — be it “men’s human rights” or “feminism lite/redefining masculinity” — will eventually lead to feminism, because as long as men dominate the apex, it will be taken as evidence that “the business of feminism is far from done”, and that, to the extent there is inequality that remains to be dealt with, it is inequality in favor of men, and not the reverse.
The only way this dynamic could possibly change is if women actually do achieve parity in these apex power positions. This could happen by force of legislation — i.e., the way Sweden is trying to do it by mandating board slots, for example. But it won’t happen short of force. And it’s more likely that this kind of force will happen than that any ideology based on equalitatrianism will result in anything other than oppressing average, every-day men even more than is the case today. And, frankly, even if that were to happen, it would be very unlikely to change the narrative — the narrative will simply be that “men, when faced with fair competition,were beaten by women, and proved themselves lesser and inferior — not because of systemic bias, but precisely because their crutch of systemic bias in favor of them was removed once and for all, revealing their inferiority, which means that their treatment as inferiors is justified by their abilities and achievements unaided by structural biases in their favor, rather than their previous achievements which — quite obviously, given their current failure to compete effectively — were based on structural and social bias in their favor”. (Yes, I realize there are counterarguments to this narrative, but they are beside the point — the point is that the dominant narrative has a way to easily incorporate this situation without blinking a lash.)
Ultimately, the pursuit of equalitarianism — whether of the hard “men’s (human) rights” variety or of the soft “redefining masculinity to take into account contemporary empowered women” variety — is doomed to fail from even the stated goals of each of these variants. The answer lies elsewhere. And likely not in “traditional” traditionalism, either, but something else. Something that builds on that, but is more realist in orientation. But more on that in another post.
NOTE: This post is based on a comment I made at PMAFT’s blog earlier today, edited, adapted and expanded for use here.