Echidne's Blog just posted the following quote from Robin Morgan: "And let’s put one lie to rest for all time: the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism—the lie that there can be such a thing as men’s liberation groups. Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a threatening characteristic shared by the latter group—skin color or sex or age, etc. The oppressors are indeed fucked up by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not oppressed. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism; the oppressed have no alternative—for they have no power—but to fight. In the long run, Women’s Liberation will of course free men—but in the short term it’s going to cost men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. Sexism is not the fault of women. . . ."
There are so many things that, in my opinion, are profoundly wrong about this statement that I hardly know where to begin. There was a moment in the history of the Women's Liberation movement when this vision of "all men oppress all women" made sense and could be used in order to mobilize women to take the first steps towards political activism in favor of women's liberation. But today this rhetoric of "men are masters, women are slaves" is about as productive as the "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" myth. The idea of men and women perennially at war for "privilege" (I swear, if I hear the word "privilege" one more time, I'm going to explode) is extremely simplistic and naive. The world is so much more complex than what this vision suggests.
Patriarchy hurts men and women because it presents us with a very limited set of roles that we have to fulfill with no room for our individual preferences. Morgan's statement is based on an equally limiting view of gender roles: men are always the oppressors, women are always the oppressed. I disagree that oppression is committed by men against women. Things are so much more complex than that. Oppression is committed against all of us by the patriarchy.
A question might be asked, if patriarchy is so oppressive to everybody, then why does it still exist? It exists because it offers us certain things in return. And when I say "us", I mean both men and women. Unless we recognize this painful, upsetting, offensive reality, there will be no moving forward. Only an honest discussion of what the patriarchy takes away from women and men and what it gives us back will allow us to dismantle the system.