What is the Men’s Rights Movement?

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Men’s rights activists view society as being inherently “sexist” towards men (1). They believe that men face discrimination from the government, the media, the justice system, and women. They seek to confront custody laws that purportedly favour women. The movement is sometimes viewed as a backlash to feminism, and its advocates reject many feminist theories and principles. The Institute of Men’s Studies says that women have “become the ruling elite” and that education “must be freed from feminist shackles.”

Who Makes Up the Movement?

Many identify Warren Farrell as key figure in the movement and its growth. In The Myth of Male Power (1993), Farrell alleged that all men are disadvantaged, discriminated against, and oppressed by systems. Men’s rights proponents have since been inspired to fight against false rape allegations, violence against men, and other concerns such as disproportionate male prison sentences.

The movement consists of mostly young men, and men who have been victims of domestic and sexual abuse, although women are found in it too (2). The movement has grown due to its online presence. Some feminists refer to this as the “manosphere,” namely the online spaces where proponents share and talk about ideas on masculinity while also opposing feminism (3). Several organizations represent the movement including The Fathers Rights Foundation, International Association of Masculinists, Parent Without Rights, A Voice for Men, and Men’s Rights Canada.

Issues and Responses to Feminism

Men’s rights activists argue that men are disadvantaged, oppressed, and/or discriminated against. Feminist, gay, lesbian, and progressive politics and movements are opposed,

“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” (4).

Men’s rights proponents contest the idea that men have greater power and privilege in society. Sometimes they argue that feminism has gone too far. According to sociologist and gender studies specialist Michael Kimmel,

“The men’s rights movement says it’s [feminism] 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” (5).

Issues Raised By Men’s Rights Activists

Kimmel notes three major areas of primacy for men’s rights activists: 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.

David Benatar of the University of Cape Town says that globally men are more likely to be victims of violence. They are more likely to conscripted into the military, lose custody of their children, and take their own lives. The custody of one’s own children is concerning,

“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” (6).

Benatar has further concerns in terms of education and detects a double standard,

“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… 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.”

Kimmel says that men’s rights activists have identified the disparity in medical funding between breast cancer research and prostate research. They maintain that serious issues facing men are not taken as seriously as those which face women. This conviction stands behind the Movember campaign which encourages men grow facial hair for a month to raise awareness of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide.

Several other issues raised include men and boys being displaced from schools and universities, regarded as cash machines, facing marginalization in a feminized schooling system, and rendered prone to “misandrist” depictions in popular culture.

Critiques and Feminist Responses

Critics typically identify the men’s rights movement as consisting of hate groups, deny that it is a legitimate political or social movement, and criticize it for its purportedly misogynistic sentiments (7). Critics point to the abuses perpetuated by its advocates such as members of Men’s Rights Canada spamming a university’s anonymous sexual assault reporting service and sending online feminist writers death and rape threats (8). Men’s Rights Canada also ran a campaign stating that many young women who engaged in consensual sex later lie about having been raped (9). Paul Elam, the founder of A Voice for Men, found himself in controversy over statements concerning how drunk women were “begging to be raped” (10).

Politics professor Sarah Maddison contends that some of the 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” (11).

That men are victims of gender struggle is dubious, and the movement is criticized for its denial of the power and privilege in favour of many men over women. Critics argue that some within the movement are pro-patriarchy, hoping to preserve it as the norm in society in which men rule and hold all of the power. Alan Barron in a Men’s Manifesto (2001) stated that men “must vigorously defend the concept that male domination/patriarchy is part of the natural order of things” (12). Supporters holding to similar views are affiliated with conservative Christian bodies wishing to preserve patriarchal family norms as the only real and natural form of family (13).

Sociologist Michael Flood is critical of the movement saying 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” (14).

Legitimate Concerns

Few deny that the men’s rights movement engages important issues. However, Flood writes that these are easily obscured given the movement’s approach, “There are legitimate aspects to the issues it raises, but they will not be addressed when surrounded by its hostile and sexist agendas” (15).

Flood says that legitimate concerns which receive little attention include underage male statutory rape victims, issues of men’s health, the education of boys and men, injustices and anti-male biases in family law, the male versus female workplace deaths, murder rates, and incidents of homelessness. Feminist author Annie Theriault writes that these issues are concerning 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” (16).

She criticizes the men’s rights movement for failing to address these issues and for instead resorting to blaming them on feminism. Flood agrees,

“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.”

References

1. 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;
The Week. 2015. Men’s rights movement: why it is so controversial? Available.

2. The Week. 2015. Ibid.

3. Dewey, C, 2014. Inside the ‘manosphere’ that inspired Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger. Available.

4. Kelly, T. 2013. The Masculine Mystique: Inside The Men’s Rights Movement (MRM). Available.

5. Finocchiaro, P. 2011. Is the men’s rights movement growing? Available.

6. De Castella, T. 2012. Just who are men’s rights activists? Available.

7. West, L. 2014. No, I Will Not Take the Men’s Rights Movement Seriously. Available.

8. Ruzankina, E. 2010. Men’s Movements and Male Subjectivity. Archeology of Eurasia. 49 (1): p. 8-16.

9. The Week. 2015. Ibid.

10. Smith, C. 2018. This Man Leads the Most ‘Hateful’ Men’s Rights Group in the Country. Available.

11. Maddison, S. 1999. Private Men, Public Anger: The Men’s Rights Movement in Australia. Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. p. 39.

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