The surprising common ground between feminists and men’s rights activists
by Marie Baleo
Every once in a while, there emerges something so obnoxious, so over-the-top, and so unnecessary, that the mere mention of it will make any reasonable human being roll their eyes: the selfie stick, the concept of “normcore” … but also, the “Men’s Rights Movement” (MRM). Although it appeared as early as the 1970s, the Men’s Rights Movement only truly found its audience, peculiar style, and obsessive gimmicks with the birth of Internet forums (they are perhaps best known for this gem of a Reddit thread) and the rise of trolling, an art form at which they excel.
The Men’s Rights Movement is a nebula of rather angry individuals, the majority of which are united by a propensity for misogynist speech and online bullying, and a distinct inability to articulate sound arguments. They claim to be working to protect rights specific to males, while deliberately ignoring certain issues affecting these same men, such as the imposition of gender roles on men, but also homophobia, transphobia, etc. Some of the movement’s concerns, such as understanding the causes for, and striving to reduce, the particularly high rates of male suicides, are perfectly legitimate; to voice these concerns is eminently understandable and commendable. However, this is not what the Men’s Rights Movement, as it has presented itself in recent years, is about. Instead, the movement has become a vast virtual feminism-bashing party, depriving it of all credibility. Meanwhile, the movement’s remaining credibility has been torn to shreds by several notorious self-proclaimed “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRAs) such as Paul Elam, who, far from launching an intelligent debate about the flaws of modern feminism or the oppression of men based on their gender, are happy to just shout their misogynist views from the rooftops.
However, a minority of MRAs is instead concerned with equality, and is both anti-patriarchy and anti-conservative; these happy few have (misguidedly) gathered under the MRM banner to fight for gender equality. In this regard, their goals appear to coalesce with those of the feminist movement. But feminism, as the promotion of gender equality, can and should be a much better protector of men’s rights than Paul Elam and his minions can ever claim to be. Because feminism at its core ought to be a movement fighting for the end of all discrimination and stigma based on gender, whether they be affecting females or males, it is already working towards what the Men’s Rights Movement inaccurately proclaims to protect. Of course, this does not mean feminism is perfect: it needs deep change, an evolution towards more inclusivity and intersectionality, as many feminists have become the reverse image of the MRA, their political agenda drifting toward generalized hatred and resentment towards men. Then, feminism will provide a platform for the protection and advancement of both women and men’s rights.
What is the Men’s Rights Movement?
“Don’t men already have all the rights?” you ask, somewhat candidly. Yes, yes, they do. Not that we take issue with that. Instead, feminists merely wish women worldwide would be granted the same. The Men’s Rights Movement is a misnomer: it should really be called a “Men’s Issues Movement”, as most of what it attempts to fight is a set of social phenomena based on subjective perception. Men’s Rights Activists are primarily concerned with specific discrimination towards males, sometimes reflected in what is perceived to be unequal treatment of men by judicial courts and the widespread promotion of women’s rights to the detriment of men’s rights. They reject the idea that men enjoy more privileges than women.
Warren Farrell, author of “The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex” and influential MRA, told NPR:
“We need to know not only why are our sons committing suicide, but also why are our sons much more likely to be the ones to shoot up schools?” he says. “We’re all in jeopardy if we don’t pay attention to the cries of pain and isolation and alienation that are happening among our sons.”
These are certainly critical issues, which MRAs do little to address, save from tweeting undocumented statements, dubious figures, and occasional profanities. Time notes that:
“Often the leaders of these groups are men who feel as though they got screwed in a divorce. They quote all sorts of statistics about child custody and unfair alimony payments, because in their minds, the single mother who has to choose between feeding the kids or paying the rent is a myth. They believe passionately in their own victimhood and their creed goes something like this: Women are trying to keep us down, usurp all our power, taking away what it means to be a man.”
MRAs thus rally around the idea that women enjoy undue privilege, and that feminism has gone too far (see, for example, this Reddit thread where a user describes feminism as “catharsis for upper middle class college educated white women”, while another argues that “mainstream feminism these days, in my opinion, is pretty shitty to both men and women”). They believe all feminists are expressly out to harm men, and that the patriarchy is a figment of the collective feminist imagination. MRAs criticize the use of gender issues and feminism as a lens (while their very existence is based on using the gender lens to condemn alleged oppression of men, but OK), arguing it gives the gender factor too large of a role when compared with education, class, or race. Additionally, they express frustration at what they describe as accusations of misogyny whenever they attempt to criticize or challenge feminist ideas.
This importance of anti-feminism as a component of the movement is evidenced by its historical origins: it first appeared in the United States in the 1970s, with the Men’s Rights Association and the National Coalition for Men among others, as the feminist movement began to gain strong visibility and a certain degree of popularity.
But the Men’s Rights Movement’s vocal fight against the disenfranchisement of men never really gained the widespread grassroots support feminism sometimes has, and never made the impact it meant to. Scoffed at, at best, it remains a minority underground movement lurking in shady corners of the Internet, occasionally coming out to harass a feminist (see Gamergate).
Today, the main issues on the MRM agenda are the alleged judicial bias in favor of women in divorce cases, specifically when it comes to child custody, child support, the division of assets, the so-called disposability of men (meaning, society’s alleged propensity to allocate more value to women’s lives than to men’s), the high rates of male suicides (when compared with female suicides), and low rate of male university enrollment.
Introducing MGTOW and Paul Elam’s “A Voice for Men”
The Men’s Rights Movement’s attempts at presenting itself as legitimate are severely undermined by what has come to be known as the “manosphere”, i.e., the sum of the deranged ramblings of some violently misogynistic individuals, such as this gentleman who believes the age of consent should be 12, disgusting fraud “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc, or charming online communities named SlutHate, Angry Harry, or NiceGuy’s American Women Suck Page.
MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), a prominent website at the forefront of the manosphere, defines the concept in the following way:
“To the casual observer, the Manosphere may seem like a disjointed collection of blogs and websites, but the Manosphere does not exist online; it exists in the hearts and minds of the next great generation of men. The Manosphere is the Big Bang of chaotic masculine disruption that will eventually bring into existence a new personal world of freedom for those who choose to be free.”
MGTOW’s About page announces the following goal: “Ejecting silly preconceptions and cultural definitions of what a MAN is.” Take this sentence out of its context and it could well belong on a feminist site. It is a commendable goal, but MGTOW errs in its violently misogynist discourse. Instead of allocating the responsibility for these “silly preconceptions and cultural definitions”, to, well, the same patriarchal society stifling women everywhere, it has chosen to blame feminists and sometimes women in general, and to offer general narratives of lost male power and freedom fueled by particular, individual frustrations (e.g., divorce cases), far from the endless, constant oppression and discrimination experienced by women. Interestingly, and unsurprisingly, Time Magazine journalist Jessica Roy, who attended the International Conference on Men’s Issues in Detroit in 2014, wrote that:
“Despite a shared feeling of disenfranchisement, most of the attendees I spoke with struggled to recall a time in their lives when they were discriminated against for being men. When asked, two different attendees mentioned losing out to a woman for a job opportunity, though one conceded that she could have simply been more qualified.”
This beautiful ignorance of all things discrimination may perhaps be explained by the fact that most MRAs are young, white, middle-class, heterosexual men, cumulating all kinds of handy privileges. The Week notes that MRAs are “largely young, white, single, and heterosexual men”. A self-reported Reddit survey cited by The Kernel offers further insight: MRAs on Reddit are majoritarily aged 18 to 34, 89% are male, 85% are white, 81% are heterosexual, 60% define as non religious, and 91% don’t have children. God forbid any of the “minorities” (female, anyone who’s not white, healthy, straight and cisgender, essentially) take away any of the privilege! As Time so perfectly put it, “It is a like a multi-millionaire who whines that a tax loophole was closed and he’s losing 0.5% of his annual income”.
Unsurprisingly, the Men’s Rights Movement itself rarely bothers to address the issue of intersectionality within its own ranks and largely ignores, for example, the racial factor in its analysis of the ways in which it considers men to be oppressed; an article by Dre Morell published on A Voice For Men states the following:
“Lifespans, education level, income inequality, criminal justice, prison reform, divorce court, child support….all have had not just devastating impacts on men, but men of color more disproportionately. (…) If we work together to fix the issues men of color deal with, that is addressing a Men’s Rights Issue. That attracts more men, that gives us more appeal, with each step we become closer to truly unifying and becoming a beacon to attract more men, not an alarm telling other men, certain men to stay away. (…) The media showcases us as a movement for white men only and if you refuse to discuss race, then congrats, you’re just giving feminists the ammunition they need to label the movement as right-wing anti-minority. Feminists have a long history of shutting out and exploiting women of color, and do we really want to be like feminists? Caring about issues people of color have only in name, but nothing substantive? This is a real chance do something Feminists seemingly are incapable of, or unwilling to do: address the concerns of all men and really give a shit. (…) Feminists are not inclusive, they are largely upper middle class white women caring only about their own gains of power”.
In this regard, Paul Elam, a white, heterosexual, American man is perhaps the most disturbing and famous representative of the manosphere. He has gifted us with statements like this one:
“There’s just a different way that men do things with each other, and it results in excellence. In civilization. In the aqueducts being built. To people landing on the moon and cures being found to disease.”(…) “I’m sorry, ladies, but if we want society to advance, we need to leave men alone to do their work — to do their thing and be with each other to get things done. Because that’s how it works.”
In the same video interview, quoted by Salon, Elam goes on to imitate a female voice:
“‘Hi! I have a vagina and a whole new set of rules! Never mind what’s worked for thousands of years, because I’m female and I know how to make 9,000 people work together to build a bridge across two miles of river!’”
Beyond his colorful outbursts, Elam is perhaps best-known for the website he created, A Voice for Men (AVFM), handily subtitled “Humanist counter-theory”. But under the guise of seeking gender equality and promoting humanism (which totally works if you don’t consider women as humans), Elam’s website is, in the well-chosen words of the Southern Law Poverty Center:
“a mouthpiece for its editor, Paul Elam, who proposes to “expose misandry [hatred of men] on all levels in our culture.” Elam tosses down the gauntlet in his mission statement: “AVfM regards feminists, manginas [a derisive term for weak men], white knights [a similar derisive term, for males who identify as feminists] and other agents of misandry as a social malignancy. We do not consider them well intentioned or honest agents for their purported goals and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would clansmen [sic], skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate..
One cannot both advocate men’s issues and the end of gender oppression directed at males, and use the word “mangina”. It would take thousands of pages and way more effort than I care to deploy to make the list of the psychologically deranged and violently hostile statements on Elam’s website, whether they be directed at men or purely misogynist.
In a section deceitfully entitled “Facts”, AVFM mentions the “rape shield law” which “prevents the alleged victim of a sexual assault from having her past sexual behavior an issue in court”, a basic protection that allows women’s sexual behavior, which is strictly irrelevant to the issue of whether they were sexually assaulted, to remain nothing but that woman’s business.
What would an efficient, fair, sane “Men’s Rights Movement” look like?
Unsurprisingly, a better Men’s Rights Movement would largely coincide with a better, reformed feminist movement. As Nótt Magazine has previously written, feminism suffers from its blatant disregard for the pressing issue of intersectionality. Like the MRM, it remains primarily concerned with the well-being and rights of cisgender, heterosexual white individuals of the Western world, and is often rightfully blamed for not supporting, for example, women in the Third World who are routinely faced with all sorts of oppression based solely on gender.
In this refusal to be more inclusive, the feminist movement errs just as much as the MRM does when it ignores gay or trans men’s rights, for instance. Both movements also have a tendency to steer towards emotional, rather than rational, discourse, and can easily fall into the trap of hatred, blaming the other gender, instead of the patriarchal societies we live in and contribute to, for their woes. In an ideal world, feminism and the MRM would both pursue one single goal: gender equality, the disappearance of all gender-based discrimination, the abolition of gender roles imposed on us.
In this regard, many valid issues are raised by MRAs such as the humorous depiction of female-to-male domestic abuse, the lack of attention given to male consent for sexual acts, etc. Male victims of domestic violence are often ridiculed and stigmatized when they need the exact same support and recognition female victims do. These are feminist issues too, because they generate oppression based on gender and are the product of the imposition of gender roles: men should be strong, men who are hit by women are ridiculous, and so forth.
The MRM thus has valid points to make, which are shared by many feminists: a Washington Post survey found that 1 in 20 male current or former college students reported to have been sexually assaulted while in school, and the Movement voices concern and indignation over the lack of attention male victims of sexual abuse usually receive. Interestingly, the Movement takes a whole other stance regarding sexual abuse of females: always happy to whip out the expression “rape hysteria”, the Movement routinely dismisses the reality and horror of sexual abuse directed at females. Such behaviors are frequent within the movement; for example, conservative writer Barbara Kay told NPR that “The vast majority of female students alleging rape on campus are actually voicing buyer’s remorse for alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior, involving murky lines of consent on both sides. It’s their get-out-of-guilt-free card, you know, like in Monopoly.”
Let us not make the same mistake MRMs are doing with regard to sexual abuse of men: the fact that sexual abuse statistics are four times higher for females is no valid reason to dismiss the gravity of the “1 in 20” figure. It just means we ought to be fighting sexual abuse in general, and educating all individuals, regardless of gender, on the importance of acquiring consent. It is not normal that male rape victims should have to fear they won’t be taken seriously because of the perception that only females can be sexually assaulted. This is a gender bias; it rightfully profoundly bothers MRAs and should logically anger feminists too: no individual shall have to suffer from such bias, and no sexual assault survivor’s experience should ever be dismissed based on their gender.
There is an urgent need to collectively steer towards less defensive, more inclusive movements. Then, a common ground will logically appear between the Men’s Rights Movement, which will no longer be a group of hateful Internet trolls, and feminism, which will no longer blame men for a patriarchy we are all responsible for, and will no longer turn its back on intersectionality.
 Not that this prevents them from largely ignoring intersectionality, as we will see.
 Respectively created in 1973 and 1977.
 Emphasis added.