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.