Undead Sexist Cliche: Only women have agency

Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money they coined a phrase, “Murc’s law,” for a commenter who observed how often people arguing politics assume “only Democrats have agency.” On the extreme left it takes the form of “Obama could totally have made the ACA single-payer insurance if he’d wanted” and ignoring the opposition. On the right it’s endless variations of how this or that person doesn’t want to vote for Trump but they just have to because the Dems are so radical/socialist/communist. They have no choice! Tellingly, no conservative making these arguments ever suggests that Republicans should nominate someone more centrist to stop Democrats supporting A-OC (or whoever). Or Sen. Ron Johnson explaining he’s forced to break his pledge to serve only two terms because Democrats are evil.

It occurred to me that a lot of discussion makes the same assumption about women. Men are helpless creatures, subject to their primal drives; it’s up to women to rein them in.

For example, there’s the argument that men can’t help raping women, so it’s entirely women’s responsibility to avoid getting raped.

If young men aren’t achieving anything it’s women’s fault for having sex with them before marriage.

If boys become juvenile delinquents or homosexuals, it’s all the fault of the mother.

When men go on killing sprees, women make them do it.

Men can’t become grown-ups if they don’t settle down and get married, so if women don’t marry and have kids, men won’t grow up. As Echidne says, this works out much better for men — in the 1950s family so many of these arguments invoke, the mother had a shit-ton more work. Dad could put in his 9-to-5, come home and relax. Mom had to make him dinner, wash the dishes, put the kids to bed. “Honey do” tasks (as they used to be called) for the man of the house were lighter and a lot less frequent.

You can see some of that in the sitcoms so many right-wingers complain about. You know, the ones that show Mom has her shit together while dad is either a goof-off or a boob. Right-wingers love to blame this on feminism; a worldview where men get to slack off, duck their responsibilities and clown around knowing Mom will fix everything feels much more like a male fantasy. As the shutters Hathor Legacy blog put it, the message is not that men are idiots, it’s that”it’s okay to be a massive screw-up, because a woman will come along to fix it for you or take the blame.”

Likewise, when you have Republicans attracting men by playing on anxieties about not being manly enough, someone will complain that feminists (or at the link, liberals in general) are not offering men a better alternative. If men are feeling insecure about their manhood — and a lot of men do — and the right insists the solution is machismo and reasserting male dominance — then the left has to come up with a better narrative, one that reassures men.

As a political tactic, this makes a certain sense. But I can’t help thinking the left and feminists offer guys pretty much what the author at the link says they need, the freedom “to become sissies, scrawny historians or even women.” I suspect a lot of the guys listening to the right don’t want to hear this, they want to hear that they’re entitled to dominate women, to be the head of their household.

Saying they can break out of male stereotypes won’t be enough. Like the religious conservatives Kristin Kobes Du Mez writes about, they’re rejecting the alternatives; I think the right-wing Catholic young men profiled recently by The New Republic are in the same boat. If someone wants to make the case that feminists/liberals should launch a massive pitch, I want to hear what the winning strategy is, and how it works without compromising on equality. Otherwise, it’s just more hand-wringing about how liberals could totally win over the right wing if they’d just do … something unspecified.

Gender equality is justice. If men don’t like it, I don’t think that’s feminism’s fault.

Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holders.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

One response to “Undead Sexist Cliche: Only women have agency

  1. Pingback: Bad political arguments | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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