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.
What It Means to Be a Slut in 2013
Tonight is Slut Night in London – follow the VICE live blog, hosted by Bertie Brandes, here.
Now that I’m feigning adulthood, I truly thought the word slut was behind me. If I wake up next to someone different than the person I remember making out with the night before in some bar’s bathroom, I’m OK with it. It’s my decision and I’ve managed to surround myself with people who happen to be OK with it, too, so that the remnant guilt doesn’t make me feel hungover for days afterward. Yet, I find that the word slut is thrown around more carelessly than ever these days. Member of the European Parliament Godfrey Bloom called a room full of women “sluts” recently (earning him a booting from UK Independence Party), UK tabloids still think it’s OK to use it in their headlines, and I’m pretty sure I overheard my neighbor call her dog a slut the other day.
It’s 2013 and though some people are still using the term to shame one another, other, much better people, are attempting to address this, be it with hashtags, neologisms, or simply by running around London half naked.
Still, the word is as slippery as a used condom. Everyone has a different conception of what constitutes a slut these days, which makes it really hard to know when to be offended. To save confusion, here’s a brief guide to what certain breeds of people mean when they use the word slut in 2013.
WHEN ELDERLY RACISTS CALL YOU A SLUT
Etymologically, slut comes from the word slattern, meaning “untidy” or “unclean.” This is what old people usually in the UK mean when they call you a slut. To use it in a sentence: “I find cigarette butts in my dishwasher ‘cause I live with a bunch of sluts,” or, “I have the detritus of a Domino’s Pizza crust in my belly button because I’m a filthy slut.” This is basically what Godfrey Bloom says he meant when he called a bunch of women sluts at that UK Independence Party (UKIP) conference, after they admitted—in mocking reference to a previous speech he’d made about the slobs who pass for women these days—that they didn’t “clean behind the fridge.” So it’s still misogynistic, but in a different way. Fair enough, Godfrey, but I’m keeping that pizza crust there just in case I get hungry later.
WHEN TEENAGER GIRLS CALL YOU A SLUT
If there’s one thing I learned by attending an all-girls’ school, it’s that everyone’s a slut, to the point where the word becomes virtually redundant. The head teacher’s a slut. Your best friend’s a slut. The school cat that belongs to the caretaker is a slut. Whether or not you actually gave a guy a blowjob on the ferry ride back from that tenth-grade trip to France, you will get called a slut by any teenage girl who is insecure about her appearance and ability to navigate another human body, which is, oh, all of them, ever. You will also probably call another girl a slut at some point, because she was allowed to wear Steve Madden heels and a Victoria’s Secret thong and your mom wouldn’t let you have those, because she thought dressing you like that would make you look too slutty.
The Least Bad Option
Americans will declare war on almost anything. Like most nations in history, we declare war on other governments. But we have also made a habit of declaring war on ideologies (Communism, Islamic extremism), on broadly defined patterns of violence (terrorism, piracy), and even on abstract social ills (poverty, drugs). And then there are the “culture wars,” a lazy phrase that at one point served as a shorthand for the political agenda of the Christian right, but which has recently expanded to refer to any controversial topic that doesn’t involve tax brackets or firing cruise missiles into foreign countries. Guns, medical marijuana, zoning regulations, soda bans, physician-assisted suicide, rent-controlled apartments, Citibikes, and the Pledge of Allegiance all are part of the culture wars according to one respected commentator or another.
But there is one front in the culture war where the word “war” doesn’t seem like overheated rhetoric, where real bullets are fired and where real bombs are thrown: the struggle over the availability and scope of abortion. It’s the hot-button social issue that stubbornly continues to divide Americans even as other bones of contention like recreational drug use and gay rights inch reliably towards liberalization. And the white-hot beating heart of the abortion debate—its bloodiest battlefield—is the question of late-term (i.e., third-trimester) abortions.
Late-term abortions and the forces arrayed for and against them are the subject of a wrenching new documentary, After Tiller, which opens in New York later this month. The film profiles the four remaining doctors in the United States who perform late-term abortions, all of whose lives were touched in one way or another by George Tiller, the Kansas-based, late-term abortion provider gunned-down by an anti-abortion extremist while attending Sunday church services three years ago. In the aftermath of Tiller’s slaying, Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, called Tiller a “mass murderer” who “reaped what he sowed.” Despite widespread condemnation, the killer got what he wanted: late-term abortions are no longer available in Kansas. Residents now must travel 500 miles to Denver for the procedure.
Stoya: Feminism and Me
Feminism, like everything in the world except for maybe the fact that water is good for people to drink, is a complex and nuanced thing. I love many parts of feminism and am grateful for many people who are or were feminists. I have the right to vote because of feminism. I feel entitled to walk home alone at night without being molested (whether I actually get to walk home without being catcalled or grabbed or not) because of feminism. My ability to choose to work in the on-camera side of the sex industry instead of other possible careers is mostly because of feminism, too. I should also point out that I am Caucasian, was raised middle class, and check a lot of the “conventionally attractive” boxes. All of these things confer unmerited privilege upon me in most parts of the United States, and the closer to the top of the privilege heap a person is the more options they usually have open to them.
Having a job that involves talking to the press means inevitably everything from my politics to my chewing-gum habits are up for debate and discussion. I’ve been told that I must be a feminist, that my job is feminist, that I absolutely cannot be a feminist, and, one time, that my vagina should be revoked for crimes against women.
To me, the word feminist is heavy with sometimes-opposing connotations. When feminists fight for the rights of all people to be paid fairly by specifically campaigning to correct male/female pay inequalities or defend the rights of people with fertile uteruses to have accessible birth control, I think it is a wonderful thing. When feminists persecute anyone who isn’t biologically female or infantalize other women who make choices they disagree with, I find it offensive. When feminists debate whether the act of applying lipstick is empowering or not, I find it trivial. My disagreement with some of the extremes of feminism isn’t the reason I’m frequently uncomfortable calling myself a feminist though. I’m conflicted about applying the label to myself because I rarely do things specifically for the purpose of furthering women’s rights. Avoiding giving a straight answer about whether I’m feminist or not is kind of a cop-out though. Shirking the word feels like turning my back on the women who fought to give me many of the advantages I have. So here goes: Hi, I’m Stoya. My politics and I are feminist… But my job is not.
Mexico’s Female Wrestlers Do It for the Love
At this point lucha libre, Mexico’s version of professional wrestling, is famous the world over—the superheroesque masks, the muscled men preening and acting out storylines in the ring, the acrobatic aerial maneuvers. But what’s not as well-known is that the sport isn’t exclusive to dudes. Luchadoras, masked female competitors, are becoming more and more prominent in Mexico, and not just as sexy sideshows. Journalist Marta Franco followed a handful of these women through Mexico City’s pro wrestling scene and used the material she gathered to create her graduate-school thesis, “Las Luchadoras,” a series of videos that documents and celebrates these women’s role in lucha libre as well as their difficulties acheiving the same recognition as men.
Mexican women have been invovled in pro wrestling since the 1940s, but they were barred from competing in the county’s capital until 1986. At first, many entered the ring as eye candy (they were there to “blow kisses and show off” to the crowd, one luchadora told Marta) rather than actual competitors. It’s only recently that the sport has allowed women to fight men. Yet there’s still widespread discrimination despite the efforts of luchadoras and their fans. I recently sat down with Marta in San Francisco to talk about her project and what place women occupy in lucha libre.
VICE: Where did you get the idea to do this story?
Marta Franco: I’m from Spain, and we don’t have lucha libre or anything like that. Everybody knows the aesthetics—the masks—but it’s not something I’d seen until I moved to San Francisco, to the Mission District, two years ago. A Mexican friend of mine told me there was a lucha libre show in the neighborhood, we went, and I loved it. At another wrestling event, I heard a woman in line telling some people about her friend, who was a wrestler and a woman. That’s where I started thinking, A woman? Who are these women? Where are they? How do they fit in something that, at first sight, looks like such a macho world?’
Saudi Arabia Isn’t Having a Feminist Revolution
When it comes to women’s rights, Saudi Arabia takes baby steps to a whole new level of infancy. (In utero steps? Spermy steps?) Sure, the King Khalid Charitable Foundation launched the country’s first ever anti-domestic-violence ad last month, but women are still unable to defend themselves against those same domestic-violence cases in court. In 2013.
One other huge breakthrough that I’m sure would have Susan B. Anthony setting off streamers in her grave is new legislation that allows women to ride bicycles. Granted, they still have to be supervised by men—but bicycles! Think of the endless freedoms that come with finally being able to cycle around Riyadh, a city not built with cyclists in mind whatsoever!
Oh, also, girls in private schools are now allowed to play sports, but girls in state schools still can’t. So, much like in other parts of the world, the amount of rights a person gets depends entirely on their wealth.
Despite these forward-thinking changes, Saudi Arabia was still ranked 131 out of 134 countries for gender parity in the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. So recent, optimistic reports of Saudi Arabia going through a “feminist revolution" seem a little off the mark.
I spoke to Nouf Alhimiary, a 20-year-old photographer from Jeddah, about the challenges she faced when trying to put on an art exhibition about Saudi women in a country where basically every minutely inflammatory art piece gets banned from public display.
VICE: Hey, Nouf. How come you were only allowed to display half of your exhibition?
Nouf Alhimiary:You know that thing where you take a picture of your outfit every day and post it on Instagram or Twitter? I thought it was interesting that a lot my Saudi friends do that when they’re out of the country, but can’t do it here because they have to wear the exact same thing every day: the abaya. I wanted to create a parody of that by photographing women wearing the same thing in different places. I wanted to call it What She Wore/ What She Wore Underneath. The plan was to take pictures of all these women in the abaya, take pictures of whatever they were wearing underneath, and then display both pictures together.
But you weren’t allowed to do that?
The curator for the Mostly Visible show told me I couldn’t do it because the government would have rejected it. In Saudi Arabia, the government has to look at every art project that’s going to be exhibited to decide whether or not it can be displayed. The curator told me that if I included pictures of women outside their houses not wearing the abaya, they wouldn’t display it.
So what did you do?
I settled for What She Wore, which I actually like because it makes you ask, “Why do all these women look like they’re wearing a uniform?” But even though I only displayed pictures of women in the abaya, a lot of people at the exhibition came up to me and asked, “Why are you trying to change women?”
Gay Men and Their Not-So-Cute Misogyny Problem
What’s up with all the misogyny, gay dudes? Seriously. I’m not saying you have to be deep-throating a copy of Feminine Mystique while blasting Julie Ruin, but could some of you (emphasis on SOME) not have such thinly-veiled contempt for women?
Maybe you don’t even realize it. You probably don’t. You probably think you’re just being cute when you belittle your best girlfriend’s appearance or call her (jokingly!) a whore, but no, it doesn’t work that way.
As glorious as a friendship between a gay man and a straight girl can be, it also has the tendency to get a little dark. For example, we are all aware of the whole “OMG, GAY BEST FRIEND” epidemic where women fetishize their friendships with homos and treat them like a Pez dispenser of fabulousness rather than, you know, a nuanced human being. What I don’t hear getting talked about as much, though, is when the gay guy treats the girl like shit. When his seemingly harmless taunts turn into something that resembles verbal abuse.
Last year, I was in San Francisco with one of my best girlfriends and her gay friend, whom I had only met once or twice before. We were drinking at some house party, having an A-OK time, when all of a sudden her gay friend starts shouting to her, “You’re a fucking slut. Look at you, you slut whore!”
This, I guess, was supposed to be “sassy” and “cute” but really it just made everyone in the room profoundly uncomfortable. He was drunk, too drunk, and his words felt like daggers. My girlfriend had no idea what to do so she just laughed it off and prayed it would stop.