Dismantling Bullshit: A Challenge to the Men’s Rights Movement

Last week, I came across Kate Harding’s article in Jezebel “Fuck You, Men’s Rights Activists”. I’ve been waiting for a chance to discuss it with you. She articulates, even if in exaggerated form, what I’ve been alluding to when I mention the destructiveness of the men’s rights movement. Her undeniably emotional tirade made me realize that it’s about time I directly approach this subject myself with a little less rancor and hopefully more balance. My problem with these groups runs much deeper than even Harding’s justified opposition to their obvious and active contempt for women. Though that is an unavoidable piece of my own position, there are much greater problems with the men’s rights movement that affect both men and women.

For those of you unfamiliar with men’s rights, beyond the little you may have gleaned from me so far, this is a brief overview from Wikipedia:

“The men’s rights movement (MRM), a subset of the larger men’s movement, is focused on addressing discrimination against men in areas such as reproductive rights, divorce settlements, domestic violence laws, and sexual harassment laws. It branched off from the men’s liberation movement in the early 1970s, differing from that movement in its focus and rejection of pro-feminist principles.”

In other words, men’s rights activists believe that our culture and courts have become biased against men. Their biggest issues are advocating for men who claim to have been falsely accused of rape or domestic violence, seeking more fair rulings in divorce cases, and advocating for the rights and protection of men who are the victims of domestic violence.

I sympathize with the goal of men’s rights activists (MRAs) to eradicate these injustices. I have just as much compassion for men in abusive relationships who are dealing with the challenge of skeptical cops and judgmental family members and communities as I do for women in similar circumstances. There are, undeniably, more resources available for women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault than there are for men. I do believe more resources should be made available to them. There is certainly some bias in our divorce courts that needs to be corrected (just this evening my dad was telling me of two men in his department with unfaithful wives who they haven’t divorced because they wouldn’t be able to live on the paltry amount of money they’d have left after child support). False rape and false domestic abuse charges can have a hugely detrimental effect on men’s lives. When committed intentionally and maliciously, they are gross crimes that need to be more adequately addressed. 

Even Harding shares this sympathy. I think that many women would agree with her statement, “We would be the natural allies of MRAs, if MRAs were sincerely committed to the causes with which they claim to be chiefly concerned.” Their chief concern seems to be to turn the tables and characterize women asThe Oppressor instead of men. MRAs tend to portray women as a whole as manipulative, violent liars. They detrimentally misrepresent the prevalence of these issues they are fighting against: suggesting that women violently attack men as frequently as they are attacked by men or provoke this violence, claiming that the majority of women who make accusations of rape or domestic violence are lying in order to make men look bad or get the upper hand in a custody case, etc. (If you’d like to see the scientific data disputing MRAs claims about these issues, check out Mark Potok and Evelyn Schlatter’s excellent article “Men’s Rights Movement Spreads False Claims about Women” from The Intelligence Report). Harsh as it may be, MRAs have earned for themselves the title of unapologetic misogynists.

The problem with misogyny is that it truly kills, or can, both directly and indirectly. Cops and courts are more skeptical of charges of both rape and domestic violence than MRAs portray. Their loud advocacy makes it that much more likely that a victim of rape will be too scared to come forward and potentially prevent her assailant from repeating the crime. Their desire to quickly believe a man has been falsely accused of domestic violence and their support of his case could put children and wives back into homes where they may be killed. While it is important to root out false charges, it is more important to prevent future violence and victims.

The problem with MRAs advocacy goes further than this. It has the same short fall as feminisms when it paints men as The Oppressor. It ignores the problem of inter-gender violence. Two thirds of men who are raped are raped by men. Where is the advocacy for them? The police departments, guilty of dismissing legitimate cases of men being abused by female partners, are still heavily male dominated. Where is the challenge to men’s stereotyping of their own gender being made so that these men can be heard, respected and aided? By too quickly painting women as the problem, they are not able to adequately help each other.

At the base of this movement is an ugly and demeaning understanding of what it means to be both a man and a woman. Women are vile oppressors. And men the pathetic oppressed. Neither has any inherit dignity besides what it robs from the other. In the MRA narrative, the dignity women now possess was stolen from men. MRAs’ job is to reclaim it. Of course, this is rarely made so explicit but they do a good enough job of making it evident. With this foundation, it is no surprise that they are doing more damage than good and provoking a greater battle between the sexes.

As someone who desires for men and women to work together for a more meaningful understanding of what it means to be human, to move past feminist to a new humanism, I cannot help but take a strong stand against this movement. I won’t say fuck you to all men’s rights activists because there are some out there with good intentions who are doing good work. But I will join my voice with Harding against those who are guilty of her charges. If they would listen to reason, I would urge them to be more equitable advocates whose concern and commitment to justice extends outside of their own gender and is sensitive to the complexity of these issues.

4 thoughts on “Dismantling Bullshit: A Challenge to the Men’s Rights Movement

  1. Here are some of my ramblings in response:

    A common point many MRAs make is that they have never had much support from society. Men are valued for doing, rather than for being. I think this is in fact one of the main dissatisfaction that MRAs have, but it seems to be a fact of life. Because many of them (MRAs, not successful PUAs – as egregious as that sounds) would be considered losers in life, the only thing they can do about it is to complain. Similarly, many people’s criticisms of hard-core feminists or those that hold strong feminist values is that they are unattractive and undesirable to many men. Both sides do little to dispel either view, and it is particularly unhelpful for many MRAs that they often only become interested in men’s rights when something catastrophic happens in their own life that quite naturally causes them to be bitter. Often, until that point, they are quite supportive of the status quo view of women as oppressed. The problem, then, seems to lie in the complicated and subtle nature of each side. Neither is necessarily insidious (well, that statement could spark a huge debate and I might disagree with it myself, but let’s remember the “necessarily” added in there, shall we?), and both have their moments of truth and draw upon those to reinforce their beliefs. Whether it is a small percentage of each gender doing much of the damage, or if there is a little nefariousness in everybody is harder to elaborate.

    I think much of the “misogyny” attributed to MRAs is more likely considered by them to be an excessive honesty towards what they (and PUAs) consider the behavior of women – the constant dissatisfaction, hypergamy, and flakiness that has become more or less endemic due to the nature of our society. These characteristics are things that they quite frequently vilify or joke about, which is amusing to them like it is amusing for Sharon Osborne to laugh upon hearing a wife cut off her husband’s penis. It doesn’t always translate well to an external group that is paying attention. Anyway, nearly any woman could go to bars and be treated by random men all night – they are, in many ways, constantly spoiled. Meanwhile, this is only true of a few types of very special men, and most are not desirable (certainly not by your standards). The problem goes back to what you briefly mention: are the virtues of women relatively admirable? I’m going out on a limb here, as I really can’t say with certainty, but I think that PUAs in particular would probably view women as similar to a lion that needs to be tamed: while it is very possible to control women’s more destructive behaviors, one must always be on guard that they are still dealing with something capable of considerable damage if the frame were to weaken or change. Their disappointment, if you would call it that, is that our society no longer does the taming. This is due to countless reasons, but the MRAs are quick to attribute it to the feminist movement. This whole topic on the nature of women is probably the most important part of it all, and where the largest disagreement comes in. Hence, I will be ignoring it.

    To further elaborate on the difference between men doing and women being: almost every girl I know can make a decent living for themselves in a city, because they are valued simply for being a woman. This can take the form of being recommended for hostess jobs (that a man wouldn’t be considered to do), to being invited countless places by countless guys because they are simply a “cute girl”, to being approached incessantly, whether on the internet where a simple upload of themselves in a bikini can illicit hundreds of “likes” and favorable comments, or in person (“oh my god that guy was so creepy”, but if they are insecure, they will likely be quite secretly flattered by it). This is so far removed from the life of a male that it may sound bitter to mention it, but it drives many men to resent that their relative accomplishments are not as favorably viewed as in previous generations, since women can also obtain those too. And while not every woman makes use of these opportunities, the resources are there simply by their being a woman. I would suggest that this is one of the things some hardcore feminists try to eradicate, but it is not going to leave the nature of humanity anytime soon. Men love to provide for women, and since women don’t need it anymore, they feel they have the opportunity to take advantage of it. On the flip side, people who you would consider PUAs (god that’s such a silly word, it really struggles to define an even significant portion of men) feel the same way towards women – they no longer need a wife for sex (overly simplistic, yes! yes! but necessary to say), and in many cases that wife that they would be hoping to support and sacrifice a large chunk of their life for has given of themselves for free to countless other men.

    I think it is interesting to notice that you draw very little on facts (not judging you, I’m sure it was more for brevity and focus – there are plenty of stats to support the feminist narrative), but concern yourself more with the “frame” that is being created, the detrimental narrative. This narrative is what MRAs often have problems with from the feminist side: the idea that men are abusers, rapists, murderers. It fosters, in their opinion, the view of men as oppressors when most of them are simply trying to live their life, and have given much for women that they love. That love, which drives men to take care of a woman and to obsess in ways, is resented in the MRA/PUA bubble, because that is, in their view, when it is least likely to be reciprocated, or when it is most likely to be taken advantage of. This lack of understanding and/or acceptance of female behavior is what drives much dissatisfaction, and it is something women are comprehensively unaware of (uh-oh, shouldn’t say that!).

    Again, the narrative of men as oppressors is ironic as the same view is considered hostile or negative when attributed to black men, who commit a much more significant portion of crimes and have much greater systemic problems. When in dialogue though, we consider it beneficial to not classify or denigrate them because of their behavior or issues. While we largely fail, the same should be true of all men. And in that, we also largely fail. This is where it gets controversial, but when the behavior is the same and the response is different, it creates resentment. There is a lot of history naturally associated to both sets of behaviors, but ultimately, our response in society IS based on who the person is. We treat black men differently than white men, and we treat white men differently than white women (and so on and so forth), regardless of how much we want not to, the realities of our society’s behavior reflects the truth.

    The fight, again, is largely over narrative, which is what drives the perception of those in power, the police, and fellow citizens of this mendicant state.

    I had a roommate recently who used to call himself a feminist. When he told me all of his views, I suggested he change the term to “humanist”, as it seemed a more accurate depiction of his gender-neutral ideas and separated him from a close friend who was quite radically feminist. A couple weeks later, when he called himself feminist again, I reminded him of the humanist term. He said it was a good one, and that he would consider using it. He had completely forgotten that I had mentioned it two weeks before! This blindness to a neutral side, shown in one of the most rational people I know, suggested to me that the narrative he was hearing was still one of a Young Turk, and of alignment with a particular view. This subtle tendentiousness weighs heavy on both sides.

    Finally, I’d like to note my lack of affinity for any particular horse in this race. While I don’t align myself with an ideology, I naturally consider certain facts and narratives to be more accurate than others. In this comment, I am merely trying to raise empathy for a misunderstood perspective. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that emotion wins a majority, not rationality. This is largely what women have on their side: a sympathy from men and each other that rarely extends to men.

  2. Frankly, you didn’t share with me anything I wasn’t already aware of. Any reasonable person reading your description of MRAs and PUAs understanding of men, women and culture can easily see the flaws in them. The only comments worth adding are: The fact that they mistake their misogyny as an honest estimate of women’s behavior is, in itself, very telling. How they do not see the advantages of “being” that they have (such as the fact that they are the measure of what it means to be fully human) and only focus on the petty advantages that women have (few of which have any real value, most of which are pathetic/sketchy/creepy with the potential of posing real threat and, most importantly, are only the advantages of “cute women” which excludes the 61% of overweight/obese women in the USA) is also very revealing. These illustrate how narrow minded their perspectives are.

    I think you are incorrect in stating that many people are unaware of the “behaviors of women” that MRAs are upset about. The difference is that most women, actually most people, do not see these as THE behaviors of women but as specific, bad behaviors of a sadly growing minority of women. Most people worth their salt (to use a phrase from Caputo) are dissatisfied with all men being characterized as oppressors and desire for men and women to both be valued for their being and doing.

    It’s interesting how you imply my narrative is a feminist narrative, when what I have clearly written and advocate is a humanist narrative. While in this specific post I have focused on how the MRM narrative is detrimental, in other posts I have dealt with how the feminist narrative can be detrimental. I’ve been told that my perspective is “even, honest, and refreshing.” That is what I aim for.

    It’s ironic, considering that both Harding and I expressed sympathy and support for men, that you would end your comment stating that women’s sympathy rarely extends to men. Even Hardings first fuck you to men’s rights activist was on behalf of men. The men’s rights movements of the 1970s and 80s were allies with feminists, so that seems to me to be very inaccurate.

    1. Firstly, I didn’t mean to imply that your narrative is explicitly a feminist narrative, though I’m not sure why that should be something negative necessarily. What I was saying is that both sides draw from very real problems and statistics to reinforce their views and to create their narrative. Those things don’t have to contradict.

      I would assume the problem is not that MRAs don’t realize the benefits of being a man, but they obviously wouldn’t address them too much as they’re looking at the negatives, not the positives. This is hardly controversial or hypocritical: it’s pretty rare for women to come down on chivalry (yes I know it does happen – mostly to the confusion of everyone involved), or to insist that they should be a part of the draft. As for your remark on men being “the measure of what it means to be fully human”, where did that straw man come from? I think that is something most logical people these days would reject quite easily.

      Touching on the “narrowmindedness” of the MRA perspectives that you mentioned, it reminds me of a common complaint that MRAs have (actually, I’m not sure if they do, but somebody somewhere has these complaints) regarding the benefits of being a man. While many men do receive quite stellar benefits as men (being POTUS, for instance), many of those are things that are reserved for an extremely small portion of men, and are not fair examples of the mass of men. Men tend to be on the extreme ends of the bell curves in general (a simple example: there are slightly more intelligent men than women, but also more stupid men than women), but the opposite end of the curve is often ignored, particularly for people like the MRAs. This seems pretty similar to the feminist reality as well, but for men it includes things like being more likely to die on jobs, having to enlist in the draft, being much more likely to be homeless, receiving longer punishments than women for equivalent crimes, being more likely to commit suicide, etc. Finally, I don’t want to be counting points on either side, but it just seems silly to say that women don’t receive benefits for being women. You can call them superficial if you would like, but many women would be quite disappointed if they no longer received those benefits. Also, the 61% obesity is a very pointless figure. Consider, for instance, a thinner woman who marries a wealthy man and gains weight. Their marriage ends in divorce, and while she may be overweight currently, she certainly receives benefits from him that she obtained while she was (arguably) more attractive, despite not being so for very long at all. The opportunity that women have to make use of their gender is much smaller, that is true. It is why PUAs? MRAs? (I don’t know who these people are, but some people say this) that if a woman really wants to marry someone desirable, they should do so when they are young and nubile, as opposed to spending those years extracting “superficial” benefits from their looks. But, women can much more easily obtain benefits like money purely from their existence. This is virtually impossible for men. Again, it goes back to the difference between men “doing” and women “being”, which I’m sure feminism and you have plenty of issues with. So do MRAs.

      In that sense, MRAs seem to resent the pushing for equality when many traditionally feminine benefits are still conferred, and women do not in large part take on the miserable aspects of being a man. From my perspective, women seem to be taking them on more and more as they make a stronger push in the world, which manifests itself in their increasing violent crime rates and unhappiness. There is a lot of dysfunction to being a man that woman are learning to appreciate. It sometimes seems that women want to be more like men, after spending a lot of time saying how terrible men are. Again, this “pushing for benefits while they already have some” argument is an extremely salient point on the feminist side as well, with a much stronger historical argument to back it up. But it’s arguing against something else, that hardly devalues the men’s issues that MRAs focus on. Especially since many of feminist’s biggest victories have created some of the issues. It sometimes seems like both sides are just complaining about the relevant benefits the other has.

      Also, support from you and one other person hardly makes my comment ironic. I was quite clearly referring to the general perception in society, and your later mention that your view is considered “refreshing” suggests that your sympathy for men is rare, as I stated. The fact is that very few people do have sympathy for the MRM, and possibly more even feel hostility towards it (pretty naturally, I might add). That is one of the things that MRAs always hoped to achieve: support for “their narrative”, but they have quite ecstatically failed to do so up to now. Of course the same was frequently said of early feminists as well, and it developed into a fairly effective movement.

      As for the early start of men’s rights activists, it was largely superficial and was originally headed by a man who became a woman – naturally it was aligned with feminism. A professor of mine who was involved at the time expressed concern that the leader of a “movement” (if we can call it that at the time) of the “men’s experience” (wow that sounds stupid to say) did not even want to be a man. There has since developed a rift between men’s studies and male studies, which again, sounds ridiculous, but is true. I don’t know anything about it, but there have been books published that detail it. From the perspective of my professor, his research is very much focused on understanding and assisting the experience of being a man.

  3. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over
    again. Anyways, just wanted to say superb blog!

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