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April 21, 2023

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Progressive Misandry and the War in Ukraine (by Irfan Chowdhury)


I am a PhD student at the University of Brighton, in England. The title of my PhD is: ‘How systematic were the British Army’s war crimes in Iraq between 2003 and 2011?’. I am also a freelance writer, and have had articles published in Iraq Now, Bella Caledonia, Peace News, Roar News, Mondoweiss, Hastings In Focus, The Iranian, Interfere Journal, and other outlets. You can subscribe to my Substack newsletter here, and follow me on Twitter at @irfan_c98.


Ukrainian Men as Cannon Fodder

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, both Russia and Ukraine have been forcibly conscripting men into their armed forces. While Russia’s policy has (rightly) received widespread condemnation in the West, Ukraine’s policy has garnered little push-back, including from pro-war leftists who are cheering on the US/NATO war effort in Ukraine. All men aged 18-60 are banned from leaving Ukraine, which has been condemned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as overly broad:

“[T]he State Border Guard Service of Ukraine announced that men aged 18-60 are prohibited from leaving the country for the duration of the martial law. OHCHR notes that neither the martial law, nor the travel ban of the State Border Guard, provide a clear justification for its application to the majority of the male population of the country. Moreover, OHCHR received information indicating that even men who were not covered by the general mobilisation decree were prevented from leaving the country.

The travel ban imposed by the State Border Guard was initially applicable only to men, and therefore resulted in differential treatment. However, on 29 March and 1 April [2022], the Cabinet of Ministers extended the travel ban to all persons who are subject to mobilisation, which, as mentioned, also includes certain categories of women who can be called up for military duty on the basis of the jobs they occupy or professions they have. The practical application of the ban after the amendment continues to disproportionately affect men, since broader categories of men are subject to mobilisation than women”.

Charli Carpenter and Hunter Fairchild have written in Foreign Policy about the devastating physical and psychological impact of this travel ban on men:

“Even male residents of other countries, such as international students home on winter break when the war started, have been trapped behind the front lines. With unemployment at 34 percent, many men are unable to work, with savings and food running out. They are at risk of death by bombardment or massacre if they stay in eastern cities and face the psychosocial harm of being separated from and unable to protect their families in flight”.

They also note that according to a survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Human Security Lab, a majority of Ukrainians oppose the travel ban. Ukraine’s policy is also illegal under international law; as Amy Maguire, Associate Professor in Human Rights and International Law at the University of Newcastle, wrote in The Conversation:

“Some human rights can be suspended or limited during a public emergency. But the right to freedom of conscience is specifically excluded from this category… The government of Ukraine should cancel its ban on men leaving the country. To maintain it will violate the freedom of conscience of any man who wishes to flee due to a conscientious objection to killing others… The ban on men leaving Ukraine ought to be lifted, because it is legally and ethically wrong to force civilians to stay in harm’s way when they have the opportunity and desire to escape”.

Taras Chuiko, a 21-year-old Ukrainian student, wrote in October 2022 about how he was banned from leaving Ukraine to study Management for his Master’s degree at WSB University Kraków, which he had been accepted into. Ukraine considered him eligible for military service, despite his health problems, and thus he was banned from studying abroad:

“4 years ago I was not able to serve in the army due to health problems. And guess what. Now I am able to serve despite myopia and problems with my skin. They consider everybody healthy because they need people in the army”.

Chuiko quotes the following stipulation in the Ukrainian constitution:

§24. Citizens have equal constitutional rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. There can be no privileges or restrictions based on race, color, political, religious or other beliefs, gender, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, language or other characteristics…”.

And yet, Chuiko notes that despite this, “there are restrictions based on gender and age”. He concludes with the following sentence: “Thank you, [R]ussia and especially the Ukrainian government for ruining my youth”. There is a hashtag campaign active on Ukrainian Twitter – #FreeUkrainianStudents – with Ukrainians trying to lobby their government to end this travel ban on male students. The mainstream Western left has not supported this campaign.

Ukraine has also been forcibly conscripting men into the army, and sending them to the front lines against Russia. The Economist published an article in February 2023 detailing the case of a Ukrainian man, Ruslan Kubay, who received a draft notice in late January, despite the fact that he is missing both of his hands. When Kubay went to complain, officials at the recruiting office in Drohobych “doubled down and declared him fit for service. Only a social-media post and a subsequent national scandal reversed the decision”. The article continues:

“Mr Kubay’s case was an extreme, but far from isolated, incident. Ukraine has visibly stepped up mobilisation activities in the first two months of this year. For unclear reasons, officials in western Ukraine have been the most aggressive, but the trend is clear across the country. There have been reports of draft notices issued (and sometimes violently enforced) at military funerals in Lviv, checkpoints in Kharkiv, shopping centres in Kyiv and on street corners in Odessa. Popular ski resorts lie deserted despite the first proper snows of the winter—footage of military officials snooping around at the slopes was enough to keep the crowds away. In every town and city across the country social-media channels share information about where recruitment officers might be lurking”.

The article notes that while in the first wave of mobilisation when the war began, “most of the recruits were voluntary”, since December 2022, “officials are recruiting from a much less enthusiastic crowd”. In other words, Ukrainian men are being forced into fighting. Furthermore, the article confirms that this forced conscription is directly linked to the supply of Western arms to Ukraine, and that some of these conscripts are being deployed to the front lines in Bakhmut: “New Western hardware is arriving, and it needs to be manned. And heavy attrition rates in close-contact fighting on the eastern front, around the embattled city of Bakhmut, need to be balanced with new men”. It should be noted that former US marine Troy Offenbecker, who is fighting in Ukraine’s International Legion, told ABC News that the average life expectancy of a Ukrainian soldier on the front lines in Bakhmut is around four hours. He described it as “the meat grinder”. Thus, Ukrainian men are being thrown into the army against their will, and, in some cases, sent to certain death.

One heartbreaking case was reported in the Ukrainian newspaper Dnipro Today. A 33-year-old Ukrainian man, Bohdan Pokitko, was forcibly conscripted into the army, and was sent to the front lines in Donetsk, where he was killed four days later. Oksana Ogorodnyk, from Bohdan’s native city of Ternopil, detailed what happened thus:

“Bohdan was drafted in the second half of January 2023. (by forced delivery of the invitation and delivery to the TCC at a public transport stop in Ternopil). Training of a fighter (in the training part and on the training ground) – FAILED. Weapon handling training – FAILED. (Disassembly and assembly of AK and that’s it). He did not serve in the army. How can you send a PERSON to the front line – without professional skills, practice and training? On February 12, 2023, he went to the front line in Donetsk. The result – on February 16, 2023, there is no BOGDAN, no friend, no son, no loved one. A month has passed since the service of the summons. SHAME on all the responsible persons – it will be on your conscience!!!”.

According to the article, Bohdan’s mother is now “left alone without proper care and help”, and “The mayor of Ternopil promised to find out how an unprepared countryman, who was only handed a summons at a bus stop, ended up in an assault battalion”. These men who are being sent to their deaths are sons, husbands, and brothers, with hopes and dreams. Their lives matter, and they are being snuffed out on a mass scale. Ukraine has also been prosecuting men who dodge the draft; Vitaliy Alekseenko, a conscientious objector who refused to participate in military service due to his religious beliefs, has been sentenced to one year in jail. On top of this, Ukraine is harshly cracking down of military deserters and soldiers who question orders; as detailed in an article in Politico from February 2023:

“Zelenskyy in January [2023] signed into force a punitive law that introduces harsher punishment for deserters and wayward soldiers, and strips them of their right to appeal… Disobedience will be punishable by five to eight years in prison, rather than the previous two to seven; desertion or failure to appear for duty without a valid reason by up to 10 years. Threatening commanders, consuming alcohol, questioning orders and many other violations will also be dealt with more harshly, potentially with prison time; those who broke these rules in the past may have gotten away with a probation period or the docking of their combat pay”

Human rights activists in Ukraine have been campaigning against this. Valerii Markus, the chief master sergeant of the 47th Separate Assault Brigade, admitted that “many people in our own brigade don’t want to be there”. The picture that emerges from all of this is of Ukraine banning all men aged 18-60 from leaving the country, forcibly conscripting men into the army and sending them to the front lines, prosecuting men who refuse military service, and harshly punishing men who try to flee from the hell they’ve been thrust into. Men are having their human rights violated as a matter of policy by Ukraine and its Western patrons.


Progressives’ Dehumanisation of Men

Anyone who cheers for the war in Ukraine is by definition cheering for Ukrainian men being forced into a meat-grinder. One would have to regard Ukrainian men as less than human to adopt this position. Even if one believes that ultimately, it is a necessary sacrifice for the overall good of Ukraine, one is still viewing these Ukrainian men as utterly disposable; their lives can be sacrificed for the ‘greater good’. Owen Jones, Guardian journalist and stalwart of the British left, commented: “Ukraine is fighting a just, defensive war of liberation against a murderous invasion launched by a kleptocratic, chauvinist, far right autocracy. There’s nothing left wing about allowing nations to be conquered and subjugated by oppressors”. This framing reflects that misandrist dehumanisation; how can a country be fighting a “war of liberation” when men are literally imprisoned in the country – prevented from leaving, violating their right to freedom of movement and conscience – and are being forced to fight and die? That is the opposite of liberation. However, in Owen Jones’s mind, that contradiction is not even apparent, because that is how much it is taken as a given that of course men’s lives can just be thrown away as if they are nothing. Jones has further stated:

‘”Anti-war” doesn’t mean being “pacifist”. In the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it means opposing Russia’s war of aggression – which means supporting Ukraine’s armed struggle of liberation against it, and supporting a Russian military defeat. Ultimately it’s up to the Ukrainian people how they approach Russia’s war of aggression and the terms on which the war is ended. Easy for me, sitting in a cosy flat, to call for bloody sacrifice when my life isn’t on the line. But it should means [sic] supporting their armed struggle”.

Again, the irony here apparently does not register for Jones; “sitting in a cosy flat, [calling] for bloody sacrifice when my life isn’t on the line” is exactly what he is doing when he advocates for continuation of the war in Ukraine until Russia is militarily defeated, and framing it as a choice that “the Ukrainian people” have made again totally ignores those Ukrainian men who have not been given a choice, but are being sent to their deaths to fight this war that Jones is cheering on from the comfort of his flat in Britain. It is deeply immoral.

It is also doubly ironic because Jones is a prominent voice against ‘toxic masculinity’ (a popular buzz phrase on the left), writing: “How does toxic masculinity hurt men? From promoting violence to stopping men from seeking help when they suffer mental distress, there’s so many reasons”. “Promoting violence” and “stopping men from seeking help when they suffer mental distress” are things that Jones advocates for in the case of Ukraine when he advocates for the continuation of the war there; promoting violence as in men being forced to kill other human beings, and stopping men from seeking help as in banning them from leaving the country and harshly punishing them when they try to flee physical harm and emotional trauma on the battlefield. Jones loves ‘toxic masculinity’ in Ukraine. The irony is further compounded by his preening and cliched condemnations of “male violence”:

“[I]t doesn’t take much self-reflection to accept that the culture of men – into which we are socialised from the day we are born – fosters a sense of superiority and dominance. We did not invent it, but we did inherit it. And unless that culture is overcome in favour of a more inclusive form of masculinity, male violence against women will continue to be legitimised… there is still so far to go – and if male violence is to be overcome, men have a duty to listen to women and to speak out”.

Men need to do more to speak out against “male violence”… But also, men should be imprisoned in their own country and forced to engage in violence against other men. That kind of “male violence” is great. He implores men “to listen to women and to speak out”, but he clearly has no interest in listening to those Ukrainian men who are being conscripted into the army without their consent, or who are banned from going abroad so that they can facilitate a bloody war that Jones passionately cheerleads from behind his computer screen. (Jones also laughably talks about “the culture of men”; as if all men share the same culture).

Similar hypocrisy is evident in the position taken by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US representative for New York’s 14th congressional district and progressive member of ‘The Squad’ in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is an outspoken feminist voice against misogyny; in September 2022, she declared: “so many people in this country hate women… And they hate women of color.” Ocasio-Cortez has voted in favour of the Biden administration’s provision of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Ukraine, and she has never even questioned the US’s facilitation of systematic gender discrimination against men in Ukraine – which she is enabling – let alone called for Congressional hearings into the subject. In an interview with The Intercept in November 2022, she outlined what she considers the main question regarding the war in Ukraine: “how can we bring Russia to the table without compromising Ukrainian sovereignty and just core principles of self determination?”. Like Owen Jones, she apparently does not consider stripping Ukrainian men of their agency in the most fundamental ways to be a violation of “just core principles of self determination”.

Ocasio-Cortez has previously expounded upon the harms that men suffer under ‘patriarchy’:

“Men suffer from being under patriarchy… They don’t go to the doctor. They suffer from much higher rates of completed suicides. Even though they report lower levels of depression, that doesn’t mean that they suffer from it less. Just a couple years ago the American Psychological Association released a very deep paper and a campaign about how these traditional cultural markers of masculinity — stoicism, competition, domination, dominance — are leading to mental health issues for men. There’s a stigma around men being vulnerable”.

These crocodile tears over men’s mental health are belied by the fact that Ocasio-Cortez is contributing to the destruction of men’s mental health (and women’s mental health) on an industrial scale in Ukraine, through helping to ensure that the ongoing war there continues.

This blind spot when it comes to male suffering in Ukraine is reflected in much of progressive discourse on the war; writing in Novara Media, British Labour MP and member of the Socialist Campaign Group Nadia Whittome advocated the continuation of Western participation in the war without once mentioning the male travel ban or male conscription, instead focusing on supposed popular support in Ukraine for the war (she writes: “polling showed that 70% of Ukrainians are in favour of continuing armed resistance until victory, which 91% interpreted as recapturing all occupied territory, including Crimea”). This is a highly dubious statistic in a country where ‘supporting Russia’ (however that is interpreted) can result in being abducted and tortured by the Ukrainian state, as documented by OHCHR.

The progressive talk about how men shouldn’t be forced to adhere to ‘traditional gender roles’ and ‘patriarchal norms’ has gone out of the window in the case of Ukraine; there, progressives are fully on board with men being forced to become soldiers in order to fight an American proxy war against Russia. This indicates that much progressive concern for men and boys (to the extent that any is even expressed) is inauthentic. Many progressives view men as disposable objects to be sacrificed in service of what they consider higher causes; in this case, upholding US foreign policy, which is the latest bizarre fashion on much of the left.