The family on the sofa is divided, but not equally. On one side a sullen, rather menacing father stares defiantly at the camera; on the other, a waifish, stressed-looking mother is shielding anxious children. The message of the advertisement is one we have heard or seen innumerable times in the media: domestic violence is only perpetrated by men, who are by nature disposed to controlling behaviours, while women and children (an inseparable unit) are always innocent victims.
I call it misandry, discrimination against men, but although the Ontario Human Rights Code bars “discrimination via signs or symbols,” I doubt that any charges of discrimination will be laid against the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which has been carpet-bombing the media with this ad. Its appearance in newspapers, bank statements and on the sides of buses is aimed at promoting awareness of domestic violence:
|Generally speaking, men are portrayed as objects of scorn, objects of wrath or disparecidos — that is to say, they are often not treated at all.|
The image represents a half-truth and therefore a lie. The truth, established by all credible, peer-reviewed research, including our official number cruncher StatsCan, is that unprovoked intimate-partner violence is about equally split between men and women.
Imagine another picture based on a half-truth: a woman on one side of the sofa, a man protecting children or even his aged mother on the other — because women abuse the elderly and their children more frequently than men do. You never will see such an ad. Media bias against men is as notable for what you don’t see and hear as for what you do.
(And speaking of what you don’t see or hear, when was the last time you saw a public service ad around the alarmingly elevated statistics for male suicides (up 81 per cent), especially those involved in acrimonious custody disputes? We’re inundated with breast cancer ads; when do we see ads about prostate cancer? And if 94 per cent of work-related deaths happened to women rather than to men, I think more of us would be familiar with that shocking statistic.)
Except for radio talk shows, where real people with no ideological axe to grind control the agenda, misandry is ubiquitous in the media – and by media I mean all kinds: advertisements, sitcoms, films, political ads, TV talk shows, social service agency websites and billboards, and of course the punditocracy.
But it flies beneath most people’s radar, which is another way of saying that misandry is such an acceptable form of cultural bias – the last respectable form of cultural bias – that people are unaware of it when they hear it, read it, or see it.
White, heterosexual men
We live in an age in which the media are scrupulously rigorous in self-censoring when it comes to the terrible social crime of offending women, gays, people of colour and natives. Only one identifiable group – white heterosexual men (if they’re Christian, so much the better) – is considered fair game for overt collective prejudice.
Identifying active misandry is easy. One has only to imagine the same words, image or falsehood or failure to report attached to any other identifiable group, and the imbalance becomes clear.
Here for example, is mainstream writer Nora Ephron, ironically a revered romantic comedy writer (she scripted When Harry met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle), in a recent post on the Huffington Post blog regarding the American political primaries:
“This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women. And when I say people, I don’t mean people, I mean white men…the outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of them vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them…” It goes on in this vein.
Her claim is absurd. Blacks and blue-collar white women vote as bloc-ishly as white men, so why the anger at white men? It’s unseemly, and yet it went completely unremarked. Apply the same words to black men or women and watch the sparks fly. Of course no mainstream writer would ever say these things of blacks or women. They know better.
As a print journalist, my particular interest is my own peer group, many of whom echo Ephron’s gratuitous contempt for men. While most male writers take up journalism because they are news or political junkies, a good many women journalists have entered the field specifically as women with a feminist axe to grind.
That’s not quite the same as spreading a conservative or liberal or libertarian message, where you attack a line of thinking, not actual people. Urging feminism on readers and viewers is tantamount to spreading misandry, for feminism as it is ideologically conceived and played out in society today evokes zero-sum thinking and the conspiracy-theory temptation. When women succeed, it is because they are superior; when they fail, it is because they have been thwarted by men.
Male writers who try to defend men from anti-male bias or who criticize feminist ideology find it a very impolitic career move if they are not already well established. I personally know two excellent male writers, probably Canada’s most under-utilized researchers, who can’t get a media foothold because they critique feminism.
Once you decide to take conscious notice of the problem, media bias in a myriad of forms leaps out at you. Positive images of women are ubiquitous; positive images of manly men are uncommon. Generally speaking, men are portrayed as objects of scorn, objects of wrath or desaparecidos — that is to say, they are often not treated at all.
The cumulative message is that if men try hard to meet criteria established by women as lovers, husbands and fathers, they can hope to achieve status as contributors to women’s and children’s happiness, though on the whole they are unnecessary to it.
But all too often they are portrayed as active agents of women’s and children’s unhappiness. Women who rid themselves of these bad eggs are portrayed as heroic. Promiscuous women in TV sitcoms like Sex and the City present as warm, loyal and liberated. The promiscuous men in these stories are depicted as shallow, untrustworthy and opportunistic.
When men are characterized as heroic fathers in films, it is usually because the woman has fled the scene or died, a paradigm that debuted with the 1979 film, Kramer vs Kramer. Men are only allowed to present as good parents when they are desperately trying to fill the shoes of a mother. It is a role they must learn. In movies with couples, it is rare for the father’s parenting skills to outshine the mother’s, whose commitment and skills are presented as inherent.
The past few years have seen a spate of “baby” movies: Juno, Waitress, Knocked Up, Baby Mama, Then She Found Me. All have in common career women challenged by fertility issues or inconvenient pregnancies they choose not to terminate. In every case the elective mother may have foibles, but she is on the whole mature, smart and responsible.
The men are undesirable parent material, lumps of animated clay to be tossed away, or spun and shaped by a woman potter into a domestically useful artefact. These potential or accidental fathers range from the merely wimpy, to infantile, to explicitly abusive. None of the films express reservations about a child’s future with no father.
Anger and violence
The most disturbing aspects of media misandry revolve around the issues of anger and violence. Domestic violence is — apart from custody — the hottest of the hot button issues for demonisers and myth busters alike.
The message that male anger is a problem, while female anger isn’t, ends in overt publicity campaigns like the divided-family ad I mentioned at the outset. But it begins in a common stereotype, pervasive in the media, of female anger as cute, inconsequential and victimless.
For example, a current TV ad promoting a stop-smoking aid features a flight attendant in the throes of nicotine withdrawal. A series of vignettes shows her screaming at male passengers for no reason, snarling and sobbing over the public address system and in general acting hysterically and irrationally.
The choice of setting — an airplane — is no accident. On airplanes and in airports in general, "civilians" are at the mercy of officials and airline personnel, who wield absolute power over passengers. There is no recourse for unfair treatment. The male passengers subjected to her tirades shrink away in bewildered acquiescence. Their “wussy” reaction is played for humour, but in fact their fear of her is rational. There is nothing funny about being arbitrarily thrown off an airplane.
But far from critiquing this woman's egregious misuse of her power, the ad makes light of it. In the end, once the nicotine remedy begins to work, she is sheepishly laughing at herself.
One cannot possibly imagine an ad in which a male flight attendant harangues and menaces a female passenger. Indeed, that would be considered a form of sexual assault under today's feminist- inspired governmental guidelines.
The message here is that when women humiliate and threaten men as a side effect of personal "issues", men can just suck it up, since their right to respectful treatment is always subject to women's discretion and situational needs.
Casually misandric ads like this can be found at one end of the spectrum. The other end is more socially and culturally consequential.
With the media’s facilitation, an entire industry has been built on the Montreal Massacre, a tragedy – unlike male gendercides, which frequently occur in war – that has no historical precedent or sequel. The weeks before every December 6th anniversary produce a media orgy around domestic violence against women, with Marc Lepine, who was a solitary sociopath, touted as a mere exaggeration of typical male drives.
Conversely the media treatment of Remembrance Day, the one day a year feminists tacitly lay off men, no longer celebrates the specifically manly trait of physical courage. If you’ll notice, Remembrance Day now is played out in gender-neutral programming, with combat/non-combat lines blurred to equalize the contributions of men and women.
While the plight of abused heterosexual men is ignored in the media, whatever afflicts gay men is instantly picked up on. When StatsCan released figures last month indicating intimate-partner violence was disproportionately high amongst gay and lesbian couples, the Globe and Mail immediately commissioned a feature article – “A Skeleton that’s Still in the Closet”.
The violence scenarios described in the selected gay-couple examples are exactly the same as those in straight couples, reinforcing objective research which finds that partner violence is gender-neutral, a function of individual pathology. Yet, unlike hetero male violence, for which no explanation other than an inherent urge to control women is ever offered, this article falls over itself finding reasons to excuse violent behaviour by gays.
In their treatment of men, a lazy perpetuation of falsehoods, an incurious acceptance of bogus studies and statistics, and an eager willingness to recycle superannuated stereotypes constitute the present media template.
I began with mention of the Ontario Human Rights Code. I will end with it as the central motif of a seemingly trivial but memorable example of misandry that was brought to my attention by an extremely vigilant reader.
Ninety-nine per cent of funded social services in Canada, even those advertising “family services”, provide counseling and other forms of help only to women victims of domestic violence. Here is how the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre in London, Ontario provided itself with the moral high ground for refusing funded psychiatric help to men in crisis:
From their website last Fall: We at Crouch want to ensure that all our programming [is] accessible to all. The Ontario Human Rights Code states in section i: Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities without discrimination because of race, age, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, same-sex partnership, family status or disability.
Sounds official, eh? But in the actual Ontario Human Rights Code, between the words creed and sexual orientation is the word sex. Its omission was no accident. To accommodate an ideological bias, this website deliberately falsified the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The excision of those three letters was, for me, in its Orwellian implications, the most chilling of all examples of media misandry.
Barbara Kay writes for the National Post, a leading Canadian daily.