Who Are The Men’s Rights Activists & What Do They Do?
Men’s rights activists see society as being inherently “sexist” towards men (1). They believe that men face discrimination from the government, the media, the justice system, and seek to confront custody laws that they argue favour women. Many activists would identify Warren Farrell as an integral part of the movement and its growth (2). Farrell, in his book The Myth of Male Power, alleged that all men are disadvantaged, discriminated against, and oppressed by systems (3). Men’s rights proponents have since been inspired to fight against false rape allegations, violence against men, and other concerns such as the disproportionate male prison sentences.
The movement is also deemed to be backlash against feminism, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that its advocates reject many feminist theories and principles (4). The movement consists of mostly young men, and men who have been victims of domestic and sexual abuse (5). Women can be found in the movement partly as a result of the movement’s growth and reach (6), which is attributable to the online presence and ease of access to the online public (7). A number of feminists refer to this online space as the “manosphere,” which denotes online spaces where men have the opportunity to talk and share ideas relating to men and masculinity (8), while also opposing feminism (9). Numerous organizations represent the movement such as the The Fathers Rights Foundation, International Association of Masculinists, Parent Without Rights, A Voice for Men, and Men’s Rights Canada.
Men’s Rights Issues & Their Responses to Feminism.
Men’s rights activists argue that men are disadvantaged, oppressed, and/or discriminated against (10). Feminism is often in the firing line although gay and lesbian politics and other progressive movements have also been challenged (11). Writer Tod Kelly, in an analysis of the men’s rights movement, says that “For members of the MRM, feminism is more than just an adversary competing for political outcomes. To the MRM, feminism is the enemy. It is a vast conspiracy that is working tirelessly to build a Matriarchy to enslave men” (12).
Men’s rights proponents contest the idea presented by feminists that men have greater power and privilege in society. Sometimes they also argue that modern feminism has simply gone too far. Michael Kimmel, a Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University and an author of two books on the topic ‘Against the Tide’ and ‘Manhood in America’, captures the central point of difference between the two movements. He says that where they differ is “on how far gender equality has progressed. The men’s rights movement says it’s gone too far. And the pro-feminists say it hasn’t gone far enough yet. The men’s rights groups basically think that women are now in control, that women run everything and that it’s a national catastrophe that women are able to interview male athletes in the locker room or serve in the military. That this is evidence of women winning” (13).
Kimmel observes the three major areas of focus for men’s rights activists. These are divorce alimony issues (women are more likely to be believed in divorce courts than men), custody issues (women are more likely to get custody of children even though many men make excellent fathers), and the discrimination against men in the military. Similarly David Benatar, a South African Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town, argues in his book ‘The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys’ that globally men are more likely to be victims of violence, be conscripted into the military, lose custody of their children, and take their own lives. The custody of one’s own children is of concern, “When the man is the primary care-giver his chances of winning custody are lower than when the woman is the primary care-giver. Even when the case is not contested by the mother, he’s still not as likely to get custody as when the woman’s claim is uncontested” (14).
Benatar raises further concerns when it comes to education, “Tests in 2009 by the Programme for International Student Assessment showed that boys lagged a year behind girls at reading in every industrialised country. And women now make up the majority of undergraduates.” Benatar detects a double standard that “When women are underrepresented as CEOs of companies that is deemed discrimination. But when boys are falling behind at school, when 90% of people in prison are male, there’s never any thought given to whether men are discriminated against… If sexual equality is to be achieved then male discrimination must be taken as seriously as sexism against women” (15)
Kimmel also says that men’s rights activists have identified the disparity in medical funding between breast cancer research and prostate research. They believe that serious issues facing men are not taken as seriously as those which face women, an argument that forms the basis for the Movember campaign, a campaign in which men grow facial hair for a month to raise awareness of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide (16). Advocates further note that men are displaced from schools and universities, regarded as cash machines, face marginalization in a feminized schooling system, and are prone to “misandrist” depictions in popular culture (17). The Institute of Men’s Studies appear quite invested in this stating that women have “become the ruling elite” and that because of this education “must be freed from feminist shackles” (18).
Critiques & Feminist responses
Critics often identify the men’s rights movement as consisting of “hate groups,” and deny that it is a legitimate political or social movement (19). Others criticize it for its allegedly obvious misogynistic tendencies, and argue this on the basis of controversy (20). For example, members of the group Men’s Rights Canada were responsible for spamming a university’s anonymous sexual assault reporting service as well as continuously abusing online feminist writers by sending them death and rape threats (21). The organization also ran a controversial campaign claiming that many young women who engaged in consensual sex later lie about having been raped (22). Paul Elam, another men’s rights activist and the founder of A Voice for Men, got himself in hot water over statements he wrote in an article about how drunk women were “freaking begging to be raped” (23).
According to Professor Sarah Maddison of the School of Social and Political Sciences, some arguments presented by men’s rights groups are difficult to accept, “in particular, the claim that women have become the true power holders in our society seems contestable since it seems clear that, at least in terms of institutional power, men are still holding most of the cards” (24). Additionally, that men are now the victims of gender struggle is nonsensical because for thousands of years women have been subjugated and viewed as second class citizens, “We’ve just started to change that in the last two centuries and there’s a long way to go. The men’s activists are denying history” (25). The movement fields quite a bit of criticism for its systematic denial of the power and privilege that have been argued to benefit many men over women (26) (27).
Critics have argued that some within the men’s rights movement are pro-patriarchy, hoping to preserve it as the norm in society in which men rule and possess all of the power. Alan Barron, for example, in his 2001 “Men’s Manifesto” penned that men “must vigorously defend the concept that male domination/patriarchy is part of the natural order of things” (28). Some supporters who hold to similar views have been known to be affiliated with conservative Christian bodies and organizations wishing to preserve traditional patriarchal family norms as the only real and natural form of family (29). In Australia, for example, a coalition of fathers’ rights groups, The Shared Parenting Council, is known for its close links with the Festival of Light, a conservative Christian group. Similarly The National Fatherhood Forum has a close relationship with the Christian body Australian Family Association.
Although men’s rights activists are quite aggressive in approach, some have argued that they do no accurately represent the views of most men. In fact, though many men still find the process of divorce to be painful for obvious reasons, the majority do not adopt aggressive views witnessed in the antifeminist men’s groups (30). Organizations of the likes of Dads and Daughters (USA) and FathersDirect (UK) seek to assist both men and women. Sociologist Michael Flood says that “in general, “men’s rights” is an anti-feminist and sometimes misogynist (woman-hating) backlash. Its analysis is wrong, its strategies are misdirected and sometimes harmful, and ultimately it does not serve men well” (31).
Few would likely deny that the men’s rights movement really does engage important issues although, as Flood elucidates, these are easily obscured given the movement’s approach to the issues, “There are legitimate aspects to the issues it raises, but they will not be addressed when surrounded by its hostile and sexist agendas” (32). Some legitimate aspects which tend to receive little attention include underage male statutory rape victims, issues of men’s health, the education of boys and men, and injustices and anti-male biases in family law, the male versus female workplace deaths, murder rates, and incidents of homelessness (33). Feminist blogger Annie Theriault writes that these are important for they “disproportionately affect men — the suicide rate among men is higher, as is the rate of homelessness. Men are more likely to be injured or killed on the job or because of violence. Men who are the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault are less likely to report these things” (34). Theriault, however, criticizes the men’s rights movement for failing to actually address these issues and instead resorts to blaming it on feminism. Flood would seem to agree, he says that “Some of the examples given of injustices or discriminations experienced by men (including some at the hands of women) are legitimate examples, which must be dealt with.” He particularly highlights unfair treatment in custody and divorce matters that are in need of urgent address.
1. The Week. 2015. Men’s rights movement: why it is so controversial? Available.
2. Cohen, R. 2015. Welcome to the Manosphere: A Brief Guide to the Controversial Men’s Rights Movement. Available.
3. Smith, W. 1993. The Myth of Male Power.
4. Kimmel, M. 2013. Angry White Men: American Masculinity as the End of an Era. p. 113-115.
5. The Week. 2015. Ibid.
6. Flood, M. 2004. “Backlash: Angry men’s movements,” in The Battle and Backlash Rage On. p. 261.
7. Kelly, T. 2013. The Masculine Mystique: Inside The Men’s Rights Movement (MRM). Available.
8. Cohen, R. 2015. Ibid.
9. Dewey, C, 2014. Inside the ‘manosphere’ that inspired Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger. Available.
10. Messner, M. 1998. The Limits of the “Male Sex Role”: An Analysis of the Men’s Liberation and Men’s Rights Movement’s Discourse. Gender & Society. 12(3): p. 255–276.
11. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 264.
12. Kelly, T. 2013. Ibid.
13. Finocchiaro, P. 2011. Is the men’s rights movement growing? Available.
14. De Castella, T. 2012. Just who are men’s rights activists? Available.
15. David Benatar quoted by Tom de Castella in Just who are men’s rights activists? (2012)
16. De Castella, T. 2012. Ibid.
17. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 262.
18. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 262.
20. West, L. 2014. No, I Will Not Take the Men’s Rights Movement Seriously. Available.
21. Ruzankina, E. 2010. Men’s Movements and Male Subjectivity. Archeology of Eurasia. 49 (1): p. 8-16.
22. The Week. 2015. Ibid.
23. Kelly, T. 2013. Ibid.
24. Maddison, S. 1999. Private Men, Public Anger: The Men’s Rights Movement in Australia. Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. p. 39.
25. Kat Banyard quoted by Tom de Castella in Just who are men’s rights activists? (2012)
26. De Castella, T. 2012. Ibid.
27. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 271.
28. Messner, M. 1997. Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. p. 5.
29. Alan Barron quoted by Stacey Elin Rossi in The Battle and Backlash Rage On (2004). p. 263.
30. Kaye, M. & Tolmie, J. 1998. Discoursing Dads: The Rhetorical Devices of Fathers’ Rights Groups. Melbourne University Law Review. p. 182-184.
31. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 264
32. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 271
33. Flood, M. 2004. Ibid. p. 272.
34. Kelly, T. 2013. Ibid.
35. Theriault, A. 2014. Why the Men’s Rights Movement Is Garbage. Available.