What Kind of Person Goes to a Men’s Rights Rally?
On September 28, an international coalition of men’s rights groups converged in Toronto to discuss the topic of “Men and Boys in Crisis.”
Prior to the rally I didn’t know much about men’s rights activism, except that these groups have an established tradition of responding to writers with personal attacks, seen in creatively titled blog posts like “Jonathan Goldsbie: Head in the sand, talking out ass” and “Brad Casey wants to mind-rape our women!” It is because of blog posts like these,previous events like this, anti-feminist diatribes like this, and individual men’s rights supporters with a fondness for Nazi iconography that I had developed a skewed impression of who actually goes to their rallies. I expected to encounter an all-out hate group, when in actuality the men’s rights activists I spoke to held beliefs ranging from reasonable to downright oppressive and sprinkled with a dose of crazy.
Most attendees seemed motivated by a concern for the well-being of men, or a fear of women rooted in their own personal traumas. A surprising number of men at the rally came forward as victims of domestic violence. These men felt stung by misandry—they talked reasonably about the weakness of men’s support networks and the lack of sympathy that they experienced following abuse. Almost everyone at the rally expressed concern for things like the high suicide rate among males, boys falling behind in school, and a systemic bias against fathers in custody battles. Then again, some statistics used by the activists to bolster these issues were hard to swallow: “In 50 years the last bachelor’s degree will be issued to a male in this culture,” said Paul Elam of the organization A Voice for Men.
The MRAs who met in Toronto attribute all of these problems to a single threat—a radical feminist ideology that has taken hold of our institutions and is actively oppressing men, even if most people with power in these institutions are still men. Attila Vincer, who organized the rally to take place outside of Ontario’s legislature, didn’t know if Canada or Ontario had more female or male legislators (spoiler, it’s men). Of those we talked to, not a single person protesting knew what laws they wanted to see enacted.
We Went to a Men’s Rights Lecture in Toronto (and Discovered That They’re a Bunch of Losers)
In November of last year the University of Toronto hosted a lecture by Dr. Warren Farrell, a divisive figure who has been described simultaneously as a sage of the men’s movement and a rape apologist. On the night of the lecture a group of students barred the doors of the lecture hall in protest while chanting, “No hate speech on campus.” Police were called, the situation was brought under control, and the lecture went on as scheduled. Another lecture took place in March of this year, this time an overly critical look at feminist studies by Janice Fiamengo in which she described the discipline as “intellectually incoherent and dishonest.” Again, protesters were on hand waving placards and this time a fire alarm was pulled but, once more, the event went on as scheduled. These controversial lectures were organized by a student group called theCanadian Association for Equality or CAFE for short. CAFE has come under fire from student groups andmedia who not only disagree with their actions and ideology, but have associated them with the extreme, vitriolic American men’s rights website A Voice For Men. Where AVFM is upfront and open about its hatred for feminism and -ists, calling them “rape farmers,” CAFE takes aim at feminism with misleading information and careful rhetoric, barely ever using the word “feminist” itself.
CAFE has sprung up in several campuses across central Canada in the past year. They have groups on-site at universities in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa, and Peterborough, as well as two Toronto organizations and off-campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver. Most recently, Ryerson University caught a controversial mix ofpraise and indignation for banning the group from their campus. CAFE claims to be “committed to achieving equality for all Canadians” and identifies as a human rights group that focuses on men’s issues. However, despite their claims or how they identify, the events that CAFE has been planning have been covered to anunusually extensive degree by A Voice For Men.
You’re a Pussy if You Think There’s a War on Men
For some men, women—especially feminists—are terrifying. Not in the normal oh-my-God-I-can’t-ask-her-out-what-if-she-says-no way that middle schoolers and characters on Friends experience, but “afraid” in the sense that women will take their money, try to get pregnant on purpose, invent false rape claims, and use feminism to generally abuse men. In this narrative, men are either an oppressed minority (or about to become one), or have to “fight back” against feminists to preserve their rights.
If you want to see what this kind of thinking looks like, take a dip into the river of the Men’s Rights section of Reddit, where a bunch of dudes go to complain about getting raped by women and talk gibberish about how their “clans” are getting attacked by “Statism and Feminism.” Currently, some of the most popular posts on the subreddit include a complaint about how if you owe more than $2,500 in child support payments you can’t get a passport (in the Men’s Rights universe, deadbeat dads are often victims of a misandrist court system); adiscussion, inspired by a Walking Dead plot point, about how getting beaten up is worse than being threatened with rape; an account of some guy squabbling with an obscure feminist blogger (these guys are always getting into internet beef with feminist bloggers, and vice-versa); and a screenshot of some gobbledygook about patriarchy that probably sounded smart to the high-schooler who wrote it. Like a lot of Reddit, the Men’s Rights forum is a way for predominantly white, predominantly rich young men to pat themselves on the back for how smart they are. It gives them something to do, I guess, and it gives the Shit Reddit Says subreddit something to react against.
But the idea that feminism is harmful to men, and women have declared war on people with penises, isn’t confined to Reddit’s nether regions anymore. It’s now mainstream enough for Fox News’s website, which published an awful, troll-baiting op-ed about “The War on Men” written by Suzzanne Venker. Her thesis is that while women want to marry men, men don’t want to marry them because, “Women aren’t women anymore.” She goes on:
“Women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy. Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise) and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs.
Now the men have nowhere to go.”
What she’s describing is a pretty standard anti-feminist narrative: The evil feminists “convinced” women to want things like the same careers and pay and power that men had (they didn’t really want these things, see, but they were persuaded otherwise), thereby causing them to lose the status they were too short-sighted to have valued.