A powerful show is explaining why a system that’s bad for women is bad for everyone

John Shafthauer

‘Mansplaining Masculinity’ is a show by Dave Pickering. In it, Pickering attempts to explain that the patriarchal system in which we live isn’t just bad for women, it’s also bad for men. But unlike the recent crop of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), Pickering doesn’t position the problems affecting men as being the fault of women. Instead, he explains that we live in a system that tries to force people into set roles. Roles which only really benefit a slender minority of privileged men.

The Canary interviewed Dave to find out more. You should definitely try and listen to the show before reading the interview. And you can do so through Soundcloud below.

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Since you wrote the show, has anything significantly changed in terms of this subject? And is there anything that you’ve added to the show to make it more up-to-date?

Even in the two years since I first performed the show, the way that we see masculinity within culture has changed. The “manosphere” has grown in lots of horrible new ways. The most significant development is that in the Trump/Pence election, we have seen the manosphere play a significant role in putting overtly anti-feminist white supremacists into a position of political power.

When I do the show these days, I suggest that an alternative definition of kyriarchy (a social system built around domination, oppression, and submission) would be the Trump/Pence administration. In the show I originally said “at least two” mass murders have been committed by people who have ideologies that explicitly fit in with Men’s Rights Activist rhetoric; that number is now higher.

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Since I wrote the show, my thinking around the issues covered has also developed. In the show I say that what men need is a “Men’s Rights and Men’s Wrongs” movement; now I think that men need to be fighting primarily for liberation rather than rights. I have also thought a lot about the way that rape by people with vulvas is not legally considered rape under UK law. Based on responses I’ve had from men to my show, I now wonder if this isn’t a much more common experience than statistics suggest. There have been studies that have come out since I made the show that indicate that this is the case.

I addressed the ways that my thinking on these issues has changed since I did the show in my talk for BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought, which was called Liberating Men.

In the recorded show, you ask if people believe the patriarchy exists and it sounds like everyone agrees. Have you performed the show in places where the reverse has been true, and are those places ultimately where you want to take it?

I ask the audience this question before I’ve defined patriarchy, so even when the audience has a consensus about patriarchy existing, they may have very different views on how it functions. Similarly, in a room where you find you are in the minority, you may raise your hand to fit into the social consensus.

I’ve never performed to a room of people where no one believes we live in a patriarchy, but I have done performances in rooms where people have said they don’t think it exists. Lots of men have told me that seeing the show changed their views on patriarchy and feminism.

Last year I performed the show at the UCL, and some self-defined Men’s Rights Activists came to see it. They were a minority, but they were very vocal minority. I talked about that experience in this episode of my podcast Getting Better Acquainted.

As for whether I’m looking to perform the show to rooms of people who don’t believe that patriarchy exists, I’m not sure. I’m prepared to do it, but I don’t think I’m seeking that out.

First of all, whilst I joke about preaching to the converted when audiences raise their hands, there is still a value in doing that. Many of the reactions I’ve had from men in my audiences (and from some women as well) suggest to me that many people feel very alone, both in terms of not feeling there are other men out there who also hate patriarchy, and in terms of connecting with the more personal aspects of the show.

One of the things I’m trying to do is to help people feel like they aren’t alone and to get men talking about these things. Just because people agree with you, it doesn’t mean that they feel able to voice those opinions in their daily lives. I hope this show will help people to feel more confident in both speaking up and opening up.

Then there’s the question of whether the show would convince rooms full of anti-feminists. Would it actually be a very effective way of getting them to think and change their minds? I’d also imagine the experience would be pretty triggering for me.

The men I most want to reach are the ones in the middle – men who haven’t really thought about these issues – or men who haven’t made up their minds about them. And getting men – any men – to come to this show can be hard! I performed it recently in Edinburgh at an event about masculinity, and the audience was majority women. I think the show has things to offer people of all genders, but it’s men to whom the show is addressed, and it’s men that I most want to see and engage with it.

You touch on some very personal issues – do you find that talking about these things is cathartic, or is it a struggle every time?

Both.

The recent rise of ‘men’s rights activism’ often comes across more as a rebranding of ‘anti-feminism’.  To what extent have you found MRAs to be cynical anti-feminists, and to what extent do you think many of them have genuine concerns?  

When I’ve met MRAs in person or interacted with them online, I’ve generally found them to be people who have been f*cked up by patriarchy but are aiming their understandable anger at women and feminism rather than at the system that hurts them. I can see the argument that they are an extension of existing anti-feminism. I doubt any MRA would ever claim to be pro-feminist, so I think most of them would have no problem with being labelled anti-feminist.

Whether it’s a rebranding or a new development (or a bit of both) we should expect some people to be overtly anti-woman and anti-feminist, as we live in a society that is, on a structural level, both of those things. MRAs aren’t the only people enforcing gender binaries and misogyny. I also think people who are hurt by capitalism, white supremacy and other forms of oppression can be encouraged by our society/media/politics to blame the wrong people and to direct their anger at the wrong targets.

MRAs are part of this phenomenon. Some MRAs use men’s issues very cynically and others genuinely care, but either way the effect is the same. When you look at the rhetoric of MRAs, you see that, as well as hating women, they also hate men. They often come from places of pain and trauma, and they exist within patriarchy and a load of other toxic systems. I don’t think all MRAs are beyond listening, and it’s important to say that there are men’s issues that need to be addressed. Denying these realities helps them to think there is a conspiracy against them and allows them to avoid a proper accounting of the situation we are all in.

But the Men’s Rights Movement are not addressing men’s issues; they are themselves an issue that damages men. The radicalisation of cis white straight men is damaging to society; men being recruited to ideologies of hate is a men’s issue. The people recruiting them are both true believers and cynics, but either way, the effect is the same: they hurt people, including themselves.

Have you had responses from people who support the MRA standpoint who have changed their mind after listening to your show?

I haven’t, sadly. The majority of the feedback from MRAs online has been abusive. The two people who identified themselves as MRAs who came to the show didn’t, to my knowledge, change their minds. They did spend a while after the show trying to change mine.

Have MRAs ever presented arguments to you that have made you change your mind about something? And if so, what was that argument?

No.

What MRAs teach me is about confusion and pain within masculinity. They demonstrate how patriarchy hurts men and how men hurt people because of patriarchy. I learn from them but not from their arguments. But I have read a lot of their arguments, so I feel like I’ve given them the full opportunity to change my mind.

Has doing the show helped you to identify any conditioning within yourself that you’d previously overlooked?

It depends when I began making the show. Some of the personal parts of the show have been around in some form for over ten years. I guess you could even argue that for the first 34 years of my life, I was making this show. And I see the show growing out of my true storytelling, the conversations I have had on my podcast, and from spending around five years before I made the show reading and learning from people online.

Seven years ago, I would not have considered myself a feminist, as I believed that men couldn’t be feminists. Now I do define as a feminist (although not as a “male feminist” and I don’t want any cookies for it!) Seven years ago, I didn’t see myself as someone with mental health issues. Now I understand that I’ve had depression and anxiety since my early teens. Seven years ago, I didn’t know there were at least three sexes, I saw gender as binary, and I believed, on some level, that men were irredeemable. None of that is the case now.

In terms of the actual process of making the show, it has caused me to feel more sympathy/empathy for men and for myself than I did previously. Also, when I began making the show, I wasn’t able to describe myself as a rape survivor or a rape victim, but now I can.

I think they count as examples of conditioning I’d previously overlooked, but there’s been plenty more that I can’t quite quantify yet. I find more and more conditioning every day. It’s a constant process of trying to unpick it. Some days I do better than others.

Get Involved!

– You can follow Dave on Twitter.

– You can read more about the show here.

– And you can also visit Dave’s personal site here.

Featured image via Stuart Taylor

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