Published: November 27, 2012 - 8:49AM
I edited the student paper when I was at university. It was, for the most part, a pretty swell job – even if we were (and we calculated this) getting paid roughly 12 cents an hour for our efforts. There were, of course, plenty of irritating things about it, but none more so than when we’d put out the yearly women’s edition.
To be absolutely clear, there was nothing annoying about the edition itself; if anything, it was a welcome week off for us while we handed our office over to the Women’s Collective. The annoying thing was the inevitable stack of letters we’d find when we got back to the office, all written by men, all with more or less the same content.
"Why isn’t there a men’s edition?", they would all collectively wah. "If it’s really about equality, then why not give an edition to both genders?" There was always that edge to it, that suspicion that this wasn’t about promoting women’s issues at all, but about censoring men. It also carried this vague sense, never really articulated that while they couldn’t quite so as far as saying they were being persecuted, they were most certainly being short-changed. Interestingly, nowhere in these letters was any indication of what they wanted to do with the edition, or why they wanted it, beyond a seething sense of entitlement. I didn’t like what these guys had to say.
I thought about those guys when I read this article by Adam Blanch. It was posted on Women’s Agenda last Monday and it created a minor shitstorm on social media, and with good reason. It’s a wilfully provocative, completely hyperbolic piece of sub-telegraph rubbish, designed to elicit precisely the response it received, and does nothing to further the conversation about gender or anything else.
The piece is broken up into five different parts – in that way its like the Fast and The Furious franchise, or if you prefer, a bullshit-cake that has been broken up into five different parts. Each of these parts addresses a different group and tells them, with what I can only assume is a straight face, 'what men want'.
Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this in theory. Men are not prohibited from telling people what they want. In fact, this willingness to not be coy about what we want is just one of the reasons why we have owned, throughout history, most of the things. So no one is saying that suddenly the needs of men are irrelevant and to be ignored. I mean, that’s just such a tediously obvious point, that in order to put that argument forward you’d have to posses the kind of myopia that renders you unable to acknowledge even the most self-evident of truths. Truths like the fact that the increase of rights for one group of people does not, in any sense, mean a decrease in rights for another.
The first group Blanch addresses is 'The Women’s Space'. Now, it’s very unclear to whom exactly he is referring here, and I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that he doesn’t really either. Nor do his demands of this group make this any clearer, all we know is that he would like them to stop talking about men in a way that is ‘sexist, prejudicial and derogatory’.
He goes on to declare that men will no longer be –
‘the silent sex, whose ideas are automatically disqualified if we disagree with the feminist polemic.’
The silent sex? I'm sorry what? To call men the silent sex is like … well it’s like calling men the silent sex. There’s no analogy that conveys how stupid this is that does the job better than just repeating what you wrote back at you. And in what arena, by what arbiter and by what means are these men’s voices being silenced? You can’t just write, with the best of intentions I’m sure, assertions as outrageous as that without providing examples. And it’s not just outrageous, it’s demonstrably untrue. If views that disagreed with the feminist polemic were automatically disqualified, tabloids would be little more than a place to sell your fridge, talkback radio would be reduced to static, and your article would not be published on a site called Women’s Agenda, champ.
But yes, if you publish opinions about gender that are outmoded, or offensive, or just poorly thought through, you’ll probably be called on it by people for whom these issues have significance. To assume that there is a gender conspiracy designed to silence men, it’s clear you’ve not considered the possibility that the reasons your arguments are being dismissed is because they are bad arguments – not because you are in possession of some balls.
But he’s not done holding the candle for all the silenced men out there, because from the next group he demands that men have a voice. He does so on the grounds that when ‘the media’ talk about gender, they focus too much on women’s issues. And you know what? Deep down, buried deep beneath the bullshit foundations Blanch has decided to erect his nonsense-palace, there is a kernel of a point, and one that I agree with. Serious men’s issues need to be discussed more. To read the bulk of men’s health mags, you’d be forgiven for believing that at least 90% of problems facing men are ab-based. This is not the case, and journalists, editors and commentators need to lift their game in this respect. It’s crucial that they do so, because we’re dealing here with issues as grave as suicide, depression and incarceration.
But this has absolutely nothing do to with how women’s issues are covered. It’s a perfect example of the most startling flaw with Blanch’s article – he simply can’t resist the temptation to bring it all back to his narrative men being treated unfairly at the hands of women. The story being peddled here is that serious men’s issues are being ignored in favour of women’s issues, and this is just confused. Why does a prevalence of articles about women’s issues mean there can’t be more about men? It’s not an either/or. It’s completely indicative of an argument that has inherent to it’s composition the steadfast belief that women can’t get nice things without men suffering.
This has been a difficult article to write because it seems to me that Adam Blanch’s intentions are more or less admirable ones. The man works an incredibly difficult and important job – helping men who’ve experienced trauma put their lives back together. He knows far better than anyone that just because you are a man it does not guarantee you an easy ride. And I feel guilty sniping from the sidelines, not least of all because I have a suspicion that what I’ve taken away from his piece is not what he intended. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I would assume that he wrote this after he, having spent a career dealing with broken men, got tired of hearing people say that being male presented no unique difficulties.
But by focusing on this, he’s shot himself spectacularly in the foot. A piece that was meant to be about raising awareness of the sort of tragic things he witnesses every day became a barely cogent rant in which he frequently pits men against women in the oppression stakes. He can’t win on this ground. It’s not that he’s overplayed his hand; he’s brought Boggle to the poker table.
So to Adam Blanch, I really do hope that we see more articles that address directly the issues that are faced by men in Australia. This is the only way that things are going to get better. I just hope they look nothing like the one you wrote.
Ben Jenkins is a Sydney-based writer. He blogs at abafflingordeal.com and tweets at @bencjenkins
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