Do men and straight people need support societies too?

Recently there has been something of a backlash against equal rights movements - the counter demand for pride/rights/support from majority or dominant groups. This has taken the form of everything from university-based "masculinity groups" to those advancing the concept of "straight pride".

Recently there has been something of a backlash against equal rights movements which has found expression in the counter demand from majority or dominant groups for pride/rights/support. This has taken the form of everything from university-based “masculinity groups” to those advancing the concept of “straight pride”.

Some of these groups should be welcomed. Students at Oxford University recently set up something called the ‘Man Collective – Oxford (MC-O)’, which they launched “as a response to the current state of masculinity”.

Alex Linsley, 20, founder of MC-O, told the Guardian he set the group up because:

“There is so much conflicting information for men. There is massive confusion as to what being a man means, and how to be a good man. Should you be the sensitive all-caring, perhaps the ‘feminised’ man? Or should you be the hard, take no crap from anybody kind of figure?

“Neither of those are particularly useful paradigms. But there’s perhaps things we could learn from both perspectives”.

This is eminently sensible – male suicides at Oxford University are disturbingly high and men generally do poorer academically at university (as well as throughout the rest of the school system) than women.

The idea that a man will never need support because they’ve historically occupied positions of privilege (and still do) is a bit like saying that a white person can’t be working class because the elite are overwhelmingly white – once you start categorising people in a sweeping manner like this you blind yourself to the nuances.

This is why comments like this, from NUS national women’s officer Olivia Bailey about the Oxford men’s group, smack of double standards:

“Discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent, so what exactly will a men’s society do?”

“To suggest that men need a specific space to be ‘men’ is ludicrous, when everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces.”

There could hardly be a better example of how to spectacularly miss the point. Men sometimes need a specific place to be men for reasons that most feminists should understand – society puts pressure on both genders to play certain roles. Just as women are often expected to be subservient, coy and eager to please, so ‘real men’ are expected to be insensitive, tough and a ‘rock’.

If men and women are deep down as similar as feminist theory often suggests, then surely men talking about and expressing their insecurities is the way forward, rather than pretending they don’t exist because of ‘the patriarchy’.

I’m not sure the groups promoting ‘straight pride’ are quite as encouraging, however. A cursory look at the website of UK-based Straight Pride is fairly revealing:

Heterosexuals do not have equality, homosexuals have more rights then any sector of society. They have the right to take over city streets, dress ridiculously, and parade with danger and contempt. Straight Pride, is normal everyday people, dressed normally, walking normally, to raise awareness of being straight, and being PROUD to be heterosexual.

It’s hard to know where to start with this.

Perhaps it would be best if I left you with something I recently read on Facebook that I think accurately sums up Straight Pride (I apologise to whoever wrote it that I’ve forgotten who you are):

You know why saying, “I hate straight people,” isn’t the same thing as saying, “I hate queer people?”

Because no one who says they hate straight people is trying to legally take away the rights of straight people.

Because no straight youth end up homeless just because of someone hating their sexual orientation.

Because no straight person has been murdered for being straight by someone who says, “I hate straight people.” But queer people are routinely murdered by people who say, “I hate queer people” (and this has been and continues to be in some places, the legally mandated response to learning someone is queer).

Because when queer people say they hate straight people, they’re often saying they hate the people who have abused, assaulted, bullied, and harassed them. But when straight people say they hate queer people, they’re saying they think queer people deserve to be abused, assaulted, bullied, and harassed.

Because oppressed folks expressing their anger and exhaustion at dealing with their oppressors is not the same thing as oppressors expressing their hatred of those they oppress.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.