“To expose misandry on all levels in our culture. To promote an end to chivalry in any form or fashion. To educate men and boys about the threats they face in feminist governance and to promote an end to that governance. To push for an end to rape hysteria, DV hysteria and false allegations. To promote a culture that values equal treatment under the law for all human beings.” -An excerpt from AVoiceforMen.com’s mission statement
As over 100 institutions of higher education, including Brown, stand under investigation for Title IX violations, a national outrage has built over the mistreatment of survivors of sexual assault. However, one community stands in opposition to this mainstream perspective. The indignation is still there, perhaps just as strong, but it is leveled against the treatment of the accused, not the accusers. The members of this community do not appear on television or in the bylines of op-eds or marching in the streets. Instead, they operate in chat rooms and reddit sub-threads and the blogosphere. They take to online spaces to discuss and disperse their political ideology and agenda: feminism and the gender equality movement have infringed on the civil rights of men.
The Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) has moved past politically incorrect to politically infamous. Notably, MRM online forums influenced Elliot Rodger, the 22-year old gunmen who killed six and injured 14 others during last year’s University of California, Santa Barbara campus shooting. As result of their growing notoriety stemming largely from this event, the MRM has entered on the fringes of the ongoing national conversation on campus sexual assault. They argue against the rape culture and for false allegation culture. Regardless of whether one believes the MRM deserves a voice in this national conversation or not, they have made their presence hard to ignore. The situation demands the question, how did this extremist movement come to be?
The Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) began in reaction to radical feminism in the late 1970’s. When feminist thinkers identified and challenged the ways that masculinity and gender roles in society oppressed women they unknowing laid the intellectual foundation for a parallel political movement. The Men’s Liberation Movement, like feminism, challenged masculinity and gender roles. Instead of directing a critique towards the oppression of the female gender, however, they examined how masculinity was inherently unjust towards men. These thinkers understood the process of socializing young boys into men to be cruel and bread violence and shame.
While most members of this political community looked towards a dismantlement of the patriarchy to counter these social injustices, one branch of the movement did not. The Men’s Right’s Movement reversed itself on the ideology of feminism by examining the matriarchy as a means of understanding the oppressive power of male gender roles. In this dogma lies the implicit belief that feminism has “overcorrected” itself and advanced so much that it’s moved beyond equality and tipped the balance towards female control. The MRM’s understanding of the gender double standard is that in feminism’s efforts to counter gender oppression, they have become oppressors themselves. It is a cruel irony that feminism’s harshest critic is a byproduct of it’s own ideology.
This flawed logic reflects that of other counter civil rights movements like “reverse racism” and “the war on Christmas.” The movement uses selective vision to identify incidents where the female gender is “favored” over the male as evidence of female domination. Not only is it problematic to take single incidents to make larger societal generalizations, but also MRM ideology ignores the societal and structural means by which gender inequality occurs. The wage gap, rape culture and violations of reproductive rights—the MRM discredits the historical and contemporary precedents that led to laws which work to counteract these cases of gender discrimination. Policies and social trends that seek to forward women are a means of counteracting the embedded discrimination against women in society. The MRM views feminism as a way to discriminate against men instead of a method to create gender equality.
The MRM largely went underground as radical feminism lost the national spotlight in the 80’s. It wasn’t until the birth of Internet activism in the past decade—think the Arab Spring and Anonymous—that the MRM was given a platform to politically organize. The anonymity and geographical diversity of online communities was key to the growth of this movement whose presence is largely loathed. In its current iteration, the MRM seeks to rally around issues of family law, reproductive rights, male domestic and child abuse, military service and now sexual assault policy. A look online at MRM discussion threads, however, reveals that in reality a majority of the conversations taking place are not academic and intellectual calls for justice and equal treatment under the law.
A Voice for Men, one of MRM’s foremost website, includes threads with titles like MGTOW (“Men Going Their Own Way”)—which refers to those who reject the presence of female relationships in their life by “killing their thirst for women”—and “Fight Club,” a forum for diatribes. In fact a large portion of this community revolves around venting about problematic female relationships (cheating fiancés and abusive mothers). Even A Voice for Men founder Elam cites his troubled relationship with his mother as his “red pill.” In MRM speak, taking the “red pill”—a reference to The Matrix—marks the moment one realizes that one lives in an oppressive female dominated world. Elam’s first evidence of the matriarchy was founded in a flawed personal relationship rather than institutional subjugation. In this sense, outside of its leadership and despite its stated agenda, most of the movement has little concern for a true civil rights agenda.
It appears that the MRM’s reliance on online political organizing has been both its means of revival and a deep-rooted flaw. On online platforms, MRM has little control over the direction its discourse takes. Any blogger, redditor or violent twenty year-old can tap into and produce content that becomes a part of the movement. Online, MRM has drifted away from its historical foundation in challenging masculinity—however flawed its approach might be. As MRM-ers spew hateful comments about women in their lives (many of which cannot be reprinted) it is hard to ignore that these misogynistic threads, under the veil of civil rights, speak more to a repossession of “manliness” than a deconstruction of male gender roles. Here lies an inherent hypocrisy in the MRM. In its attempt to subvert male socialization towards violence and anger, it seems to have repossessed those very qualities.