Uncommon Journalism speaks to several Men’s Rights Activists about the controversial movement, and why they believe they are being grossly misrepresented and misinterpreted by the media at large.
By: James Swift
A Google search for the term “Men’s Rights Movement” leads to some very astringent links.
A Time op-ed refers to the movement as a whole as “toxic,” with the author connecting men’s rights activism to the recent Isla Vista mass murder spree. Another highly critical article, titled “Let’s All Have a Laugh at the Men’s Rights Movement” was posted on the website of the Special Broadcasting Service, a publicly funded radio and television network in Australia. And a petition listed on the official White House website calls for the Obama Administration to classify the Men’s Rights Movement -- as a whole -- as a terrorist group.
J. Steven Svoboda, public relations director for the National Coalition for Men, lists a few of the common criticisms lobbed at “Men’s Rights Activists.”
“We are bad guys. We are angry. We have it all or nearly all of it and still want more,” he told Uncommon Journalism. “The truth? We are good folks, men and women, fighting a fight that is often misunderstood.”
Dean Esmay, A Voice for Men (AVFM) managing editor, shared a few disparaging remarks he frequently hears from “Men’s Rights” detractors.
“We hate women, just can't get laid, or are all about men of only one race or sexual orientation,” he said. “All of which is false.”
“There are misconceptions that we are, in essence, hateful people,” said Sage Gerard, AVFM collegiate activism director. "There's a lot of knee jerk reactions around it."
A representative for the organization MensRights Edmonton, who wished to be identified only as “Raz,” also believes the movement is unjustly condemned.
“We are also accused of thinking men are an ‘oppressed’ group of people,” he told Uncommon Journalism. “This tendency to identify one group of people as ‘oppressed’ and another as ‘oppressor’ is a culturally Marxist concept which is used to excuse finger pointing and emphasize the need for an increased state…we truly do want equality under the law, and that means seeing people as individuals, not members of opposing ‘teams.’”
Jonathan Taylor, founder of A Voice for Male Students, said he takes offense to the depiction of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) as “hyper masculine right-wingers.”
“Although I generally shy away from left/right dichotomies, I am actually rather liberal in political orientation since I am supportive of liberal ideas like gay rights, abortion, equality and separation of church and state,” he said. “And although in my teenage years I used to do stereotypically ‘manly’ things like work in construction and practice martial arts, in my late twenties I also enjoy playing the flute, watching musicals, writing and reading poetry – things that our culture typically labels ‘feminine.’”
Decried by the Southern Poverty Law Center and mercilessly berated on popular Gen Y websites like Cracked, individuals inside the Men's Rights Movement (MRM) are no strangers to being depicted as the cultural other. Often described as "insecure" and "misogynistic," the leaders of the movement argue to the contrary; instead, they claim to be the victims of widespread cultural misrepresentation themselves, with their agendas and beliefs skewed by a media less than receptive to their political stances.
What is the "Men's Rights Movement?"
“It’s simply a human rights advocacy movement that specializes in issues affecting men and boys," Gerard told Uncommon Journalism. Esmay, his AFVM colleague, called the MRM "the human rights movement of the 21st Century."
"It's necessary because we are the majority of the unemployed, a majority of the homeless, a majority of the imprisoned, a majority of the drug and alcohol dependent, a majority of suicides, a majority in dangerous jobs and low-status jobs, a majority of those failing in school, and no one cares," Esmay stated. "Those calling us horrible names and accusing us of horrible motives are exposing their own prejudices, and are the reason why we are needed."
Raz said the movement was ultimately about freedom. "It's about things such as protecting the family unit, returning the power of self governance to the individual, maintaining the integrity of the judicial system, and establishing true equality under the law," he said. "Basically, safeguarding the civil society."
Taylor said that an "egalitarian" movement was impossible due to the "near-complete dominance" of Feminism in the discussion of gender issues.
"This is one strong reason why a Men’s Movement is needed," he said. "To provide a counterbalance, until both voices have been adequately heard and we can then start to work on a progressive movement that incorporates the experiences of both men and women who work toward equality."
Per Svoboda, the movement is about equality, fairness and justice. "We just want our fair share, for example our fair share of access to our children and to support if we are battered or in need of health care," he said. "Nothing more, just what's fair."
The Accusations of Misogyny
“Misogynists do not represent the Men’s Rights Movement at all," Gerard said. "We have women who are deeply involved in this." He mentions the Honey Badger Brigade, a quartet of female Men's Rights Activists who host a popular Internet radio series.
However, he does recall encountering some misogynistic comments on the AVFM Internet forums. "We had some people come in and spout misogynistic stuff, and they got banned," he said. "They just don’t last, because no bigotry is allowed.”
Esmay also refutes claims that the Men's Rights Movement is inherently misogynistic.
"The 'misogynistic' claim is particularly laughable given the deep and heavy involvement of women," he said. "And the fact that [detractors] rarely acknowledge these women and often call those women horrible names and claim they're just wanting to get sex and attention from us."
Raz also finds the misogyny allegations mystifying. "Most of the reason I think people choose to perceive the Men's Rights Movement as misogynistic is because of our strict opposition to Feminism," he said. "We do our best to stress however, that women and Feminism are not the same thing. Women are a demographic of human beings, while Feminism is a hateful, violent and bigoted supremacist ideology."
While Taylor said there are a some anti-women extremists in the MRM, he said they make up a very small percentage of the total movement.
“In my experience and observation the majority of those who accuse the Men’s Movement of being, in general, a misogynistic movement are people who have either not adequately researched it, or who desire to shut it down for disingenuous purposes and make false or embellished accusations against it,” he said.
"Those who claim we are prejudiced or misogynistic do not know us, do not know our work, and do not know our organization," Svoboda stated. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."
What is "Misandry?"
All of the MRA representatives mentioned "misandry"-- the gender inversion of "misogyny" -- as a reason for why a Men's Rights Movement is necessary.
"Misandry occurs whenever a man’s needs are dismissed and whenever a man’s right to talk about his own life and those of his fellows is made light of or compared with the rights of women and found wanting in the comparison," Svoboda said. Misandrist organizations, he continued, negatively impact men by "separating us from compassion and from the help those of us who need it might otherwise be able to obtain."
Gerard said that while there are several organizations that seem combative towards MRM ideology, namely the National Organization for Women and Women, Action & the Media, he does not consider any group a misandrist "leader" of sorts. Instead, he considers "misandry" to be a cultural force, forged by years of Feminist vitriol.
“These organizations are being fueled by ideological misandry kind of centrism, through what is, essentially, a corrupted form of feminism,” he said. "Feminism has become a very dangerous force that is popular and permeated through institutions all over the world."
Likewise, Esmay said that contemporary misandry is an offshoot of traditional Feminism, although he considers institutionalized Feminism in academia to be a much larger issue.
"Modern-day misandry is an extension of the age-old problem of male disposability, hyped up by an ideology that has taught a false history that men have oppressed women and privileged themselves for thousands of years," he said. "Feminism is not the root cause of our woes, but the ideological feminism of the university system and the large multi-billion dollar private endowment and public funding machine that feeds the ideology is a big problem."
Taylor views misandry not as a "hatred for men," but a "lack of compassion" for men's needs. He considers it the byproduct of traditional gender roles and Feminism.
"Traditional gender roles sees men as disposable by singling them out to die in the workplace in deadly jobs and in war," he said. "Feminism, by contrast ignores how pervasively male disposability is a function of traditional gender roles, paints them erroneously as a 'patriarchy' that overwhelmingly favors men, and subsequently uses that as a rationalization to see men’s concerns as secondary or trivial – rather than equal – to those of women."
Raz said the definition of misandry is often expanded to include the indifference to or normalizing of male suffering. He brings up an episode of the television program "The Talk," in which the female hosts of the program made light of a story of about a man who was tortured and sexually mutilated by his wife.
"On daytime cable TV, Sharon Osbourne and thousands of women laughed together at how a man had his penis cut off and tossed into a garbage disposal, because he dared ask for a divorce from his wife," he said. "This is misandry. Can you imagine a group of men sitting around on cable TV laughing hysterically at the concept of Ozzy Osbourne drugging his wife, pinning her down, and taking a butcher's knife to her genitals? I sure as hell can't."
At AFVM, Gerard serves a a liaison to college students and faculty members who wish to expand their own on-campus activism efforts. "If there’s somebody who wants to start their own men’s rights group on their campus, they are open to contact me, and I will connect them with either the people or information necessary so that they can build something that will last," he said. Currently, the organization does not have any any formal, campus-wide partnerships, however.
Reactions to "Men's Rights" college groups vary, Gerard said. While his own student organization based out of a metro Atlanta university was largely met with ambivalence, he said campus groups elsewhere have been received with great hostility. He notes two recent incidents that he believes speaks to an ideological prejudice against the MRM.
“It’s not just students, there are also faculty and scholars,” he said. He recently spoke with a professor in Canada, who said that his report on male genocide victims had experienced pushback in the peer-review process.
“The barrier is that in reporting facts about men’s pain or male victimization, it is possible that those facts will be silenced and not allowed to be shown, for ideological reasons,” Gerard said. “At the University of Toronto, men wanted to attend a talk by Dr. Warren Farrell, but they were physically prevented from entering the building to hear the speech, again, for ideological reasons.”
As a freshman composition and argumentation tutor, Taylor observed numerous colleagues pushing literature upon students that he considered “more ideological than scholarly.” He also noticed that some professors were expressing double standards against male students; other students, he said, adopted these outlooks sans little questioning or resistance.
Last year, Taylor launched A Voice for Male Students, which he said is designed to raise awareness for issues men and boys face at all levels of education. He said his website contains the world’s largest online database of male-only scholarships, as well as a “warehouse” of raw data, including in-house developed graphs, on education issues.
“I am considering expanding the website in the future to include a state-by-state network of education consultants, father-involvement groups, and other groups that work to improve educational outcomes for boys in their local communities,“ he said. “I am also considering building a network of attorneys who are passionate about defending individual rights on campus in higher education.”
Taylor said that boys’ educational underachievement is often considered less important than educational barriers girls face because men are “overrepresented at the top of the society.”
“The fact that men are underrepresented at the bottom of society – among the homeless, the incarcerated, those who work deadly jobs, suicides, and so forth – is not considered a 'call to action' to pay more attention to boys’ education,” he said. “In essence, we have begun to care so much about bringing men who are the majority at the top of society down that we have neglected to bring men who are the majority at the bottom of society up. This is very important in the conversation on education, since education is often described as ‘the great equalizer.’"
Double Standards in the Legal System?
MRAs say that men face numerous legal "prejudices," particularly in family court rulings and domestic violence charges. Additionally, many activists say that women are entitled to standard rights -- namely, reproductive rights -- which men are not.
Compared to the U.S., Raz said men's rights within Canada's legal system are much more restricted.
"Really, the issues facing men and boys today are so vast and all encompassing I find it hard to even know where to begin," he said. "Lets start with the fact that in Canada, women have the legal right to genital integrity and legal paternal surrender, which men do not."
While Alberta spent more than $40 million on domestic violence (DV) shelters for women in 2010, Raz said shelters for men -- who represent roughly half of Canada's domestic violence victims -- went completely unfunded.
"Not only does our culture deny male victims of DV even exist, they've been brainwashed into believing DV is a male only crime inherent to masculinity," he said.
"Erin Pizzey, founder of the world's first women's DV shelter and currently a men's rights advocate, has been saying for decades that DV is a genderless crime, mostly attributed to learned behavior," Raz continued. "As an aside, Erin calls Canada the most frightening place in the world to be a man, and refuses to even set foot in this country."
He was also highly critical of "guilty until proven innocent" standards pertaining to male-on-female campus sexual assault investigations.
"Legally speaking, there are a myriad of male only responsibilities and obligations in our culture," Raz said. "For example, if a man and a woman go out, get drunk and have consensual sex which the woman later regrets the following morning, culturally, we will see that man as a rapist, and that woman as the helpless victim. He is somehow made responsible for both his and the woman's actions, while the woman is relived of any and all responsibility in the role she played in that encounter."
He said society is “all too willing” to believe accusations of male-on-female rape, while overlooking a high percentage of rape accusations that turn out to be fraudulent.
"And virtually 100 percent of the time," he concluded, "a woman caught making a false accusation suffers no legal penalties whatsoever."
Furthermore, Taylor said that male rape victims tend to be overlooked when discussing sexual assault, while male educators are frequently accused -- without evidence -- of being pedophiles.
"Unlike girls who are statutorily raped by male teachers, the statutory rape of boys by female teachers is often dismissed on the grounds that 'boys wanted it' and re-framed as a 'relationship,'" he said. "Meanwhile, many male teachers are afraid to even consider a teaching job in lower education on the grounds that they may be unfairly maligned as child predators, regardless as to whatever they have done or not done."
Recently, Gerard attended a rally in Ellsworth, Maine, where organizations such as Integrity4Maine have accused the Washington County District Attorney's Office of prosecutor misconduct. And even at his university, Gerard said that gender discrimination manifests itself in the legal requirements of Title IX.
“We have an interpersonal violence prevention center and a Rape and Aggression Defense course here on campus, that offer services to both men and women, but only really market themselves to women in a way to circumvent Title IX regulations,“ he said. “I conferred with legal counsel about this and found out that even though Title IX forces them to have services for men and women, there’s nothing that says they have to promote it for both men and women, and what ends up happening is you have results similar to if you had violated Title IX in the first place, only there’s no legal liability."
In terms of policy changes, the MRAs offered several proposals to strengthen men's rights in education, the courtroom and society as a whole.
Raz said his organization was not seeking legislation favoring men, or even increased government spending on men's support services. Instead, he said MenRights Edmonton simply seeks legislative changes that give men equal footing with women.
"The default presumption of shared parenting is one policy we would like to see, but we would also like laws which offer clearly preferential treatment to people based on their sex to be thrown out," he said. He also said the MRM can reshape cultural perspectives by serving as opposition to radical Feminism.
"Nobody in the MRM honestly believes we can create a utopia, but if you want to have a meaningful impact on many of the important issues of our time, then you must have an unbiased, non ideological, un-gendered assessment of the root causes," he said. "To that end, every self described feminist college professor, or politician, or social worker is an enemy to men and the civil society."
Svoboda said his organization is fighting for men to get a "fair shake" in family court and domestic violence cases. "We have already won a struggle we waged to get diaper changing rooms placed in men’s restrooms," he said. "These are victories for all of us as we all must work together especially given the growing environmental and economic crises that seem to be looming in our future."
On the college level, Gerard said he would like to see institutions be held more accountable for men's services. Furthermore, he said his organization will continue to fight against policies they believe discriminate against males.
“Look up the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter," he stated, "that discusses the lowering of standards in getting a conviction for young men who are accused of sexual assault and the denial of the accused to meet their accuser."
To Esmay, a major goal of the MRM is simply getting society to accept the harsh realities that many males face. Additionally, he believes addressing male stereotypes is a matter of great importance to men across the globe.
“Men are the majority of school dropouts, they are the majority of the unemployed and the underemployed, they are a majority of the homeless, they are a rapidly shrinking minority on college campuses and they are generally viewed as violent predators waiting to happen and at fault for most of the wrong in this world,” he concluded. “It starts from birth and goes all the way to old age, and it affects men of all races and ethnic backgrounds.”
Uncommon Journalism, 2014.