Safe spaces for men: necessary or not?

The litany of abuses hurled at feminist blogs by Men’s Rights Activists are probably familiar to anyone who spends any amount of time in the blogosphere. And for the most part, the accusations are bullshit. The claims that most rape accusations are false, that women are more abusive than men, or that feminism is somehow out to curtail men’s rights out of misandrist motivations drown out actually relevant points about men’s custody rights and lack of shelters or support for male victims of abuse. Ozymandias has a really great post on those points and the overall relevance of men’s rights  to the feminist movement here, and it led me to this question: where are the safe spaces for men?  So many feminist blogs identify themselves as “safe spaces,” though my blog is not one of them, but where are similar spaces for male-identified people?

I’ve heard the argument that the entire world is a “safe space” for men, but I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. That argument ignores men who are survivors, men who are seriously questioning the version of masculinity laid out for them by a patriarchal system, men who are transitioning, or find themselves elsewhere on the non-binary spectrum. It ignores men who are victims of emotional and physical abuse, and men who feel that their body types don’t quite measure to the ideal standard. There is a need for the sort of space that acknowledges these concerns and provides  an environment where questions can be asked, experiences shared and solutions devised.

Men do enjoy privilege due to their gender. Since I come from a Christian fundamentalist background in the Bible Belt, and attended a religious university, I can assure you that I have not been “indoctrinated” with feminism the way so many MRAs have claimed. The existence of male privilege has always been evident to me, as a woman in a religion that denied me leadership due to my sex, living in the American South with a long-held interest in politics and public affairs. These three spheres are male-dominated and that fact is well documented. I really see no need to defend that here. But men can absolutely face oppression in ways that do not necessarily relate to their sex, and the feminist movement cannot truly identify itself as progressive unless it acknowledges that fact. I’m not certain if the answer is more feminism, or an equivalent men’s movement (and not the sort that has manifested itself on the Spearhead), or a broader turn toward egalitarianism.

But I’d like to see safe spaces for men. I’d like to see more feminists call for the establishment of these spaces. And I have criticisms of the concept of “safe spaces;” they’re inherently exclusionary and so have limited use, in my opinion, but their most vital contribution is the provision of a place where it is acceptable to question the conventional roles that are expected of each of us. I’d take the men’s rights movement, as it exists, much more seriously if they showed a serious interest in creating such a space. Trolling a blog isn’t activism, and it doesn’t actually improve your situation a bit.

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19 thoughts on “Safe spaces for men: necessary or not?

  1. From what you said, most of the oppression that men face is due to factors *other* than their gender. The easiest way to address these is to make safer spaces with codes of conduct to protect along those specific lines, i.e. not along gendered lines. So they wouldn’t be safer spaces for men per se, but safe spaces for e.g. survivors, transitioning people, people questioning gender roles, people with body image issues etc. If men want to make some of these spaces men-only or men-focused, in order to discuss the specific issues which men in one particular field face (e.g. a support group for men abused as boys), then that’s fantastic. But the gendered aspect of such spaces isn’t what makes them safer (the only exception being a support group for men abused by women).

    Apologies if I’ve misunderstood.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    No, I wouldn’t say that men necessarily face “oppression” due their gender. But they do face certain harmful social pressures due to their gender, and those pressures are what I seek to address by the concept of a safe space for men. And maybe you’re right–maybe gendering space really isn’t the answer. It would be interesting to hear what male survivors (as one example) have to say on the subject. This is just a tentative sort of musing on my part.

  3. “Men do enjoy privilege due to their gender”

    Yeah, right on !That’s why men make up over 80% of people living in cardboard boxes and over 90% of people killed at work!

    • They also make up the majority of politicians and CEOs. Quite a few of those politicians just voted away my reproductive rights in the state of Ohio.

      This is a subject I’ve spent a great deal of time considering. I don’t want to appear oblivious to legitimate concerns raised by men. I like men. I’m very grateful for the good men in my life and I consider them valuable allies in the fight for equal gender rights. And it’s important to remember that men and women can both be disproportionately affected by certain social trends due to gender roles. In other words, traditional masculinity doesn’t exactly help men, either.

      • One thing I do notice when talking about men is that people are quick to declare that men are privileged and then point to those politicians and CEOs (despite the fact that they are vastly outnumbered by the men at the bottom that Porky D points out).

        Yes it is true that most of the folks at the top are of the male/men persuasion but frankly that’s only a small portion of us and its not like those men are acting in our interests. They are acting in their own interests and will mow down any man, woman, child, ideology, or philosophy that stands in the way of their power grab.

  4. No, I wouldn’t say that men necessarily face “oppression” due their gender.
    I have to disagree with you on that one.

    While different from what women face the harms that men face are just as ingrained in our culture and do quite the big of damage to men based on their gender.

    • I agree that traditional masculinity is very harmful to men. But men do not face institutional oppression specifically due to their gender. They can face oppression due to other factors, like sexual orientation, race or socioeconomic class.

      • Such a dismissive attitude.

        I’ve heard this argument plenty of times I’ve concluded that the only people that believe it are men that don’t go through those things and people who aren’t men. You can try to split the hairs all you want but in the end yes there are things that harm men on an institutional level that are due to our gender.

  5. As Men – we rarely – support others outside of our “pack” of those closest to us. Those of us who are Het, rarely see the importance of Gay/Lesbian/Trans causes for example. We leave the work for Male Survivors of Abuse to the women who tend to focus upon Female Survivors and the Male Survivors themselves.

    We oft times get angry at Women – because – they No Longer are our Sole emotional support.

    Stacey Bellem has started The Unifying Center:
    http://theunifyingcenter.org/ – which “is to improve the gender-based, mental health care of men and boys, with a special focus on healing men and boys that have been impacted by some type of trauma or abuse. Central to our work is recognizing the impact contemporary masculinities have on men’s health, identity development, certain behaviors and interpersonal relationships. ” – which I think is amazingly insightful and deserves our support.

    I’d have a lot more potential interest in MRA’s and similar – if I saw them really looking inside themselves and working to emotionally support men in affirming ways. Pushing – anger – the one “acceptable” – “male emotion” is not helpful in of itself.

    I’m trying to help men – find resources – to help us in our work through A Men’s Project – http://www.AMensProject.com which has over 1350 resources listed in various areas for North America. Thanks!

    • The presumption that male sexuality is inherently predatory and violent.

      The way that fathers are pushed out of their children’s lives.

      The expendability of men (pretty the much the other side of the presumption that women are too dainty and valuable to do dangerous work).

      The ways male abuse victims (especially at the hands of female abusers) are silenced.

    • You had just mentioned reproductive rights. Women have them. Men don’t. A woman can place a child for adoption and claim that they don’t know who the father is even if they do to prevent him from claiming his child. Women can do this and not pay child support. If a woman keeps the child and names the father, he has to pay child support even if he was raped by the woman. If a man finds out his child was adopted, he can’t reclaim his father’s rights. A mother can have her son circumcised because it’s too difficult to keep him clean or for any other reason that she chooses. Here are institutional biases against men simply because of their gender.

      • In the adoption scenario you’ve mentioned, a woman should not have to pay child support because the child has been adopted into a custodial family that will care for it. Child support is demanded when a parent of any gender decides to keep the child and requires the financial support of the non-custodial parent. That applies to men and women alike. It’s not an accurate example. I also believe that a woman should not have to answer to her male partner for her reproductive choices. If you are not the pregnant partner, you should by no means have a say if the pregnancy is completed or not. If a man is so uninvolved in his partner’s pregnancy that he’s unaware that a child has been placed for adoption, I don’t think he has any right to later claim parental rights.

        Circumcision doesn’t fall under the category of reproductive rights. It’s an issue of bodily autonomy, but does not affect a man’s ability to reproduce. I do oppose circumcision, though it’s worth noting that fathers are often the parents who desire to have the child circumcised. So it’s not an institutional bias against men. Furthermore, no feminist I know would argue that a rape victim should have to pay child support.

      • I accept and have accepted that every person has the right to do with their body as they wish so I’ve always supported abortion rights for women. My concern and the concern of many men’s rights proponents is that men do not have the same parental rights as women after the child is born.
        One, it’s her body. Why would a man be required to be involved with her pregnancy at all? If men shouldn’t be involved in the abortion decision, why should they be involved in the decision to carry a child to term, a societal bias? If a woman is passed out and was raped, she has no memory of the rape so the man shouldn’t be charged. If she was so concerned about being raped, she should have stayed sober. In case it’s not apparent, I’m being sarcastic to point out the absurdity. A man shouldn’t have to give up his right to fatherhood because a woman doesn’t want to pay him child support. Having women pay child support when there is no consent from the father to the adoption to adoptive parents would eliminate any incentive for a woman to keep a father out of adoption proceedings. Theoretically, the child support payment is for the benefit of the child, so where is the problem? If a man should discover that his parental rights were forfeited by the actions of another, why would he not be entitled to redress against the mother at the very least and to regain his parental rights, which would be ideal? At no point am I suggesting that a woman keep an unwanted child.
        Just because fathers can have their sons circumcised doesn’t mean that there isn’t a societal bias against men in this regards. It just means that boys can be victimized by either parent. Men paying child support to their rapists is opposed by men and apparently women. The only supporters are the female rapists seeking child support. The fact that it persists shows just how ingrained the institutional bias is against men in this regard.

    • I believe that the topic thread was the necessity of men only spaces. An assertion was that men did not need their own space because they are not victims of institutionalized discrimination. When I brought up the topic of circumcision, it was by way of illustrating the institutionalized bias against men and not an argument about men’s reproductive rights. I do need to take issue with your statement though. A man’s reproductive rights are not severely curtailed after a successful circumcision. That is true, but some are less than successful. There have been instances where too much was removed causing excessive pain during intercourse. Other times the penis was accidentally amputated. Some women won’t consider this affecting a man’s reproductive rights, but only preventing him from having sex. I would concur as long as we agree that ending abortion rights in one state or even in the country does not stop a woman from going outside the state or the country to get one. Parental notification, failure to dispense RU-486 because of conscience, waiting period, bans on abortions after a certain times, judicial bypass and any other of a myriad restriction on abortion doesn’t prevent a woman from exercising reproductive choice. It just makes it more difficult or costly just like with an amputated penis. Even if you don’t consider this abuse or an abridgement of reproductive rights, why shouldn’t a forum on circumcision not be men only since female circumcision is banned in the US and women are unlikely to have anything meaningful to contribute anyway. The possible exception is in extreme cases of botched make circumcision and out of the country female genital mutilation.

  6. If there is the need for other examples of societal bias against men, there is the selective service, which only men are required to fulfill. There are sentencing disparities in the legal system. Many false rape claims are never prosecuted. I’ve heard excuses ranging from women need help not incarceration to if we prosecuted then women won’t retracted a false accusation and an innocent man could go to prison. I’ve heard the latter even in instances where the proving of it being false led to the recantation and the recantation had nothing to do with preventing an innocent man from going to jail. Often women who have lodged false rape claims have faced less prison time than the wrongly convicted man has already served. I’m not referring to the cases of misidentification. I’m referring to fabrications.
    Mothers of a new born can leave their child at hospitals, police stations and fire houses without facing child abandonment charges in my state because if course women need help not incarceration. In theory, this also covers fathers, but in practice, if he didn’t notify the mother and she filed out a missing persons report, he would get in trouble. Men also many times don’t have the option of same gender care for intimate medical procedures and if you read the message boards, they are often ridiculed for requesting it.

  7. I am a young hetero-sexual male with an open mind, and I can say for sure that men face very real social oppressions strictly because of their gender. A woman will usually claim otherwise because she’s obviously not a man and can never truly know what it’s like to be a man. A man hits a woman – assault, abuse, jail / A woman slaps a man – so what, be a man. A man does anything sexually suggestive he’s a pervert – a woman will get a pass and get a bonus for being considered sexy. A man makes an advance on a woman, he gets turned down, that’s the way life goes / A woman makes an advance on me, I turn he down and she asks me if I’m gay. That last one really ticks me off. Men are supposed to be so obsessed with women, and society always tries to criticize us for it yet leaves us no other option. Being a man is a day-to-day struggle, we’re the ones committing suicide left and right. The difference is we don’t complain and whine, because we’re trained to “take it like a man”. Nuff said

    • Hello Erroth!

      First, as a survivor of domestic violence: no, men do not automatically get sent to jail for committing abuse. In fact, the overwhelming majority of abusers never see the inside of a courtroom. Just look up the statistics for rape convictions, and you’ll see what I mean. That does not, of course, excuse women who engage in domestic abuse. Abuse is abuse. Those women should also face consequences for the actions and I have yet to meet a feminist who’d disagree.

      The fact remains that men simply aren’t persecuted as a class merely because of gender. Men are persecuted for their race, or sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class, but there’s zero reputable evidence that supports the assertion that men face the level of misandrist bigotry that MRAs claim.

      Tell me, what precautions do you take to avoid sexual assault–do you avoid walking around after dark? Do you get sexually harassed when you walk down the street? Do you get harassed online by individuals who’d rather call you a cunt or slut instead of engaging with what you have to say? Do you know what it’s like to try to break into a field that’s been dominated by one gender literally for centuries?

      My guess is that your answer to all these questions would be ‘no.’ I’m sorry you find it so offensive to be characterized as ‘gay,’ but guess what? That’s the patriarchy. That’s who you want to blame. Feminism directly challenges traditional gender roles, and challenging traditional masculinity is part of that struggle. Your ire is misplaced, if you somehow believe that women, or feminism, is the enemy.

      • Somehow I find myself back here 1 year later. I’d forgotten I’d ever left a comment here.

        Sarahejones, in your response to my quote you make a number of assumptions that are inaccurate. First, the domestic violence. You are playing around my point. It is far more likely that a man reported of domestic abuse will be prosecuted for his offence than it is for a woman. I’ve personally heard stories of men going to police reporting a physically abusive wife only to be laughed at. Under such circumstances it is highly unlikely that a man will report being abused. All these films showing women casually slapping a male reinforces the idea in his head that he can’t actually be physically abused, so a male often can’t see what is happening to him right before his eyes. As a result males don’t report abuse and so there are no studies to show us a very real problem in society. Take Chris Brown for instance: when I bring up such a controversial name people are wired to respond ‘woman beater’. However it surprises me how few people realize that Rihanna hit him first. Society doesn’t see her physical actions as abuse. however. The idea is that a female can’t abuse a man. No one cares about violence directed against us, only when it’s directed against ‘innocent’ women and children.

        I avoid all forms of assault the same way – I work out weekly, and have trained in 3 different martial arts. This gives me a confidence in my safety, a confidence that others can notice. It tells them to keep away from me. On a similar note, men are genetically more physically capable than women, but only slightly. Genetics certainly do not cover the vast physical gap between the average male and the average female. Strength is adaptive: the more hardship we experience the more our body adapts to our environment by making itself stronger. This is why I never have to question whether I’m stronger than the female sitting next to me. I can look at her and see that she has not had to go through the same physical hardships that I have simply because I am a male. She was not dropped into a weight training class when she applied for yoga. She was not laughed at by her teacher for getting beat up by a peer. She thinks she understands my hardships, but she does not. I don’t even understand my hardships, because society tells me I have none. There is no literature to explain it to me; no data to quantify it. No one cares.

        Sexual assault specifically, I have been groped by strange females on two separate occasions. They somehow believed that it was ok to initiate unauthorized contact with me. Society never taught them otherwise. On the contrary, society has taught them that they are somehow doing me a favor by touching me. It’s some sort of offhand compliment. Had I not be so young and ignorant, or had society taught me the right way, I’d have been able to recognize that I was sexually assaulted and would have reported the issue. But alas.

        Similarly, in highscool there was this girl that went around pantsing all the boys around. The teachers knew about her behavior, but never even chastised her for it. The moment a boy returned the favor and pantsed her, he got suspended.

        And on the note of homosexuality, please do not try to lecture me on the subject. You have missed the point entirely. These girls were essentially saying to me that the only plausible explanation for me not wanting to have sexual contact with them had to be that I was gay. Are you trying to tell me that I should somehow not be offended by this?

        And P.S., I never even mentioned the words feminist or feminism in my original writing. You’re seeing only what you want to see, and interpreting my writing the way you wish to interpret it. I understand, people are bias seekers of information, it’s not your fault.

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