Bad Arguments Made Against Feminism
It's not unusual to find anti-feminism arguments that try to push back against the claim that women face more obstacles in life than men. Instead they claim that men are the real victims of oppression. The problem with these arguments is that they rarely offer any context or they're factually incorrect.
Before I get into these questionable arguments I'll explain why I think they're so appealing to many men and some women even if they can't stand up to much scrutiny. Groups seeking what they see as gender or racial justice often see white men as people who go through life having everything handed to them. The term white male privilege is constantly thrown around. But many white men don't feel very privileged and most have to work hard to achieve their goals. Yes white men have it easier in many respects than women or minorities. But that doesn't mean they have it easy. Because men feel they have many difficulties of their own they don't like being told how good they have it. Many people may derisively dismiss these feelings as "white male tears" but nobody likes to have their struggles dismissed as unimportant.
While my main goal here is to show why many anti-feminist arguments are inaccurate I will explain at the end why I think feminists can also be guilty of using similar tactics by claiming bias exists where it doesn't.
Simplistic claims are typically lacking any context. On the surface they may seem problematic. But when you dig deeper, they start to make sense. Or there are plenty of counter-arguments that undermine them.
One common claim is that there's more money spent on research for breast cancer than prostate cancer. Breast cancer mostly affects women, prostate cancer affects men. Spending in 2008 was $285 million for prostate cancer and $576 million for breast cancer. So a disease that mostly affects women gets double the funding than a cancer that affects men. So is this an example of female privilege as some anti-feminists claim?
To answer this, let's look at actual cancer rates from the American Cancer Society. These are estimates for 2017:
- About 161,360 new cases of prostate cancer
- About 26,730 deaths from prostate cancer
- About 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 40,610 women will die from breast cancer.
Breast cancer is almost certainly getting more funding because it's sickening and killing more people than prostrate cancer. There's also an argument made that it's harder for men to get breast cancer services than women. But only 1% of all breast cancer sufferers are male, so it stands to reason that most treatment would be focused on women.
If you do a little math, you'll find that breast cancer still gets more funding even when you take into account the different rates. Breast cancer receives about 20% more funding (that's a far cry from double). But disparities don't just benefit women. They can benefit men too. This is from the American Heart Association:
"Women are generally underrepresented in heart disease research. Because of this gap, physicians lack important information about how women might respond differently to heart disease, have different symptoms and need different diagnostic approaches and treatments."
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. As a result of this lack of focus on females in heart disease research, a woman is:
"more likely than a man to die within a year of having a heart attack. Women also don't seem to fare as well as men do after taking clot-busting drugs or undergoing certain heart-related medical procedures."
Higher funding for breast cancer is not due to any kind of prejudice or hostility toward men just like the deadly under-representation of women in heart disease research isn't caused by hostility against women. Disparities aren't always indicative of bias.
A similar argument is made with domestic violence in that men have a harder time finding services. Studies have found that men are less likely than women to be seriously injured by abusive partners than women. According to the Office for National Statistics, 46% of female homicide victims are murdered by an intimate partner. That number is only 7% for men. Male homicide victims are much more likely to involved in criminal activity than female homicide victims. (In fact, men are much more likely to be victims of violent crime but that's because men are involved in criminal activity at much higher rates than women.) Due to these lower rates of injury and death, there may be a concern that male domestic violence shelters will be underutilized.
The Taylor House near Batesville, Arkansas, the first male domestic violence shelter in the United States housed 18 male abuse victims in 10 1/2 months. For comparison, The Julian Center in Indianapolis houses 6000 women per year. You see something similar with female military veterans. They're a small percentage of the veteran population. As such, veterans hospitals provide less services to females. Again this isn't necessarily indicative of discrimination. Rightly or wrongly, it's a matter of putting scarce resources where they're most needed.
Sometimes outright dishonest arguments are made. A Pew study found that men experienced more online harassment than women. However when you actually look into the details, women have it worse. Men are a little more likely to be physically threatened (3% higher rate), called names (1% higher rate) or embarrassed (2% higher rate). However when it comes to being sexually harassed or stalked, women have it way worse. 25% of women versus 13% of men are sexually harassed. 26% of women versus 7% of men are stalked online. Online harassment and threats in many cases likely have nothing to do with gender bias. It's possible that many male victims are being harassed by other males, and females by other females.
Another dishonest argument is that men are more likely to be raped than women. About 90% of rape victims are female. For those under 18, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse.
There's a widespread assumption that men are discriminated against in the area of child custody. In fact, only about 5% of custody cases are decided by courts. And in most of those decisions fathers get joint or full custody. In most divorces, the parents decide who gets custody. It appears that the main reason fathers don't get custody is because they either don't ask for it or they don't want it. In the Slate article "Dad's Day in Court: The perception that family law is unfair to fathers is not exactly true" it was pointed out that disparities are economic rather than gender based in nature:
"There’s a real perception—even women share it—that courts are unfair to fathers...on the whole, courts are fair to men, particularly men who can afford a decent lawyer...The real inequality in family courts these days is not based on gender, but on income. Wealthy men have successfully fought against proposed reforms that would have forced them to pay more child support. With elite, college educated men, “it’s outrageous how little they can end up paying in child support in some cases"...poor men are in a different predicament. Welfare reform in the 1990s included an effort to track down fathers who weren’t paying child support. As the economy sank, those fathers fell behind on their payments and often wound up in jail or permanent debt."
This can cause hardship for mothers with custody as well. This is from the CBS article "Most Child-Support Payers Stiff Their Kids, Problem Intensifying:"
"Nearly a quarter of parents owing child support are complete deadbeats and fail to make any payments whatsoever, and another 30 percent don't pay the full amounts owed...The failure to pay child support compounds an already existing financial problem for custodial parents. Single parents with child-rearing duties have more limited income potential, due to child-care costs and the time they can commit to work. As a result, 25% of custodial parents had household incomes below the poverty line, compared with half that percentage of the overall population."
What Is and Isn't Gender Discrimation
People who make these kinds of arguments or people who believe them don't seem to have a good understanding of what constitutes discrimination. Men are more likely to be killed on the job because they're physically stronger, so more likely to do dangerous jobs. There is no societal oppression at work. Just like women suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at a rate 3 times higher than men isn't due to societal oppression. Boys struggle at school at higher rates than girls. The fact that boys suffer from learning disabilities at significantly higher rates than girl is the result of nature not bias.
Other arguments are a bit more complex. Men are drafted while women aren't but that could also be seen as sexist toward women as well because it assumes they aren't fit for combat. Many feminists argue that women are more than capable of serving in the military and should be subject to the draft. Suicide is also complex because while men kill themselves at higher rates than women, females attempt suicide three times more often than males. Women also suffer from depression, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders at higher rates than men. But these rates may have nothing to do with gender bias.
Here are some examples of actual gender discrimination and bias.
- In the 1980's women made up only 10% of musicians in American orchestras. That jumped to 25% in 1997. One reason for the increase was that steps were taken to reduce gender bias. Female musicians were 50% more likely to be selected for an orchestra when they auditioned behind a screen that hid their identity. Women candidates are advised to remove their shoes when walking behind the screen to ensure that judges can't detect their sex based on the sound of their shoes on the floor. These musicians practice for hours a day throughout their childhoods. Just because they're female they're more likely to be rejected.
- A Yale study found the following: "Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills, a new study by researchers at Yale concluded. As a result, the report found, the professors were less likely to offer the women mentoring or a job. And even if they were willing to offer a job, the salary was lower. The bias was pervasive, the scientists said, and probably reflected subconscious cultural influences rather than overt or deliberate discrimination." Male and female professors were equally guilty of bias.
- An Israeli study found that "In math, the girls outscored the boys in the exam graded anonymously, but the boys outscored the girls when graded by teachers who knew their names." In other words girls do worse on math tests when the grader knows they're female. And boys do better when the grader knows they're male.
- The Education Week article "Science Teachers Favor Males in Class, Study Finds" determined that "science teachers spent 39 percent more class time directly addressing boys than girls....teachers (five male and seven female) overwhelmingly spoke more to boys than girls during class time. 'Some of the worst offenders were female teachers.'"
Arguments that try to claim that men are just as likely to be victims of bias don't offer examples like this where intentional or unintentional bias is clearly at work. They find disparities that may or may not exist and then equate those disparities with bias when discrimination isn't even a factor.
There Are Valid Criticisms Against Feminism
This is not to say that there aren't valid criticisms against feminism. Or to say that bias against men doesn't ever exist. Men can be victims of sexism and bias. An example is when TV shows treat women slapping men as a joke. Even feminists argue that gender roles and expectations can be oppressive to men as well as to women. However, after watching multiple videos and reading numerous examples of supposed female privilege none have been completely accurate and few give valid examples where men have clearly been victims of bias or gender discrimination like in the examples I give above. They mainly confuse disparities with bias or fail to consider context. Just because a group has problems, it doesn't mean that group is a victim of prejudice.
However feminists can be guilty of doing the exact same thing. Feminists can be just as guilty as anti-feminists of claiming that sexism and bias exist where they don't. An example of this is in the area of law enforcement and rape. It is true that police often don't take these kinds of crimes seriously. But they don't take it seriously whether the victim is male or female. There's a tendency to believe the victim was somehow at fault or brought it on themselves. And police can be insensitive to victims of other kinds of crimes as well.
The Psychology Today article "Why Do We Blame Victims?" starts with the story of an NFL player who left his team due to bullying and threats. Another NFL player responded to the story by saying the victim was "just as much to blame because he allowed it to happen." People often victim blame to avoid vulnerability. We believe that bad things won't happen to us because we're too smart to allow them to happen.
"Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe."
Victim blaming is widespread and it affects all kinds of victims not just sexual assault victims. Bad things happening to this group, which is predominantly female, is not necessarily indicative of sexism, oppression, or bias at work. Both feminists and their critics need to do a better job determining what does and doesn't count as bias.