Last week, men’s rights activists (MRAs) achieved some marginal media exposure when the Twitter hashtag “INeedMasculismBecause,” initially a prank set about by users of the well-trafficked imageboard 4chan, was co-opted in earnest by a number of individuals professing our culture’s widespread subjugation of men. Thankfully, it seems not all publicity is good publicity when it comes to the imaginary war on masculinity; shortly after the hashtag gained steam, it was hijacked and repurposed by masses of users eager to lampoon the often misogynist tenets of the men’s rights movement. Within hours, satirical tweets dwarfed the zealous ululations of male persecution. Perhaps most striking was the challenge in differentiating some of the more hyperbolic sardonic comments from their equally hyperbolic legitimate counterparts.
While the hashtag began as an attempt to bait feminists into misguided rage, its pseudo-ironic, ostensibly apolitical intents were quickly jettisoned by the more sincere MRAs who took the trending phrase as an opportunity to disseminate their particular brand of reality. Some tweets nodded towards legitimate issues men face in today’s cultural milieu: disproportionate rates of suicide, the toxic effects of hyper-masculinity, the rampant heterosexism in popular depictions of maleness. Most didn’t. Alongside essentializing complaints about women’s supposed privilege in romantic and sexual scenarios, calls for “equal rights, equal fights,” and a repulsive preoccupation with “spermjacking” and false rape accusations (a preoccupation which trivializes the immense problem of predatory masculinity), was an underlying pattern of sexist, anti-feminist sentiment. Of course, for those already acquainted with MRA rhetoric, these regressive, overtly misogynist tendencies might be less than shocking. In fact, this past spring, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to monitoring alleged hate groups, released a list of active men’s rights websites under the title, “Misogyny: The Sites.” Included in this list was Reddit: Mens Rights, a bulletin-board (or “subreddit”) with nearly 62,000 subscribers on the user-driven, social news website Reddit. Reddit, with its user base’s overwhelming tendency to lambaste conservative social values, seems a strange host to such a regressive movement. Stranger still is the way in which many Mens Rights subscribers—who often proudly flaunt their (questionably) progressive attitudes on issues like gay rights, institutionalized sexuality, and firearm legislation in other subreddits—attempt to fit an aggressively anti-feminist ideology into their otherwise left-leaning worldview. It seems maintaining the status quo has never been more subversive.
How the hell did we get here? When did reactionary, hard-right, fringe beliefs become acceptable, even palatable, for those who would otherwise self-identify as liberal through-and-through? More importantly, how have so many people conflated the insidious institutional oppression of women (and, in the odd case, the insidious institutional oppression of racial and sexual minorities) with the relatively petty challenges experienced by those within dominant social classes?
Well, to quote a character from one of my dearest television programs, “the times they are a-becoming quite different.” Women’s salaries saw a 44% increase between 1970 and 2007 in the States, just over half of undergraduate students are now female, and with various feminisms slowly creeping into mainstream consciousness, women’s rights appear to have a stronger public platform than ever before. Of course, gender parity is nowhere near comprehensive: women on average still earn a fraction of every dollar men make; men still hold a massive majority of powerful positions in the mainstream media (roughly 90-97% in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising, depending on which study you cite); and nearly one in five American women are raped at some point in their lives (compared to one in 71 men). The list goes on and on and on, but to combat these pervasive injustices are a number of entrenched activist and academic counter-publics dedicated to curtailing women’s subjugation through consciousness raising, social programs, and community building. This push towards women’s solidarity, combined with the leisurely dwindling of male privilege over the past century, has left many men without the option to abstract to a traditional, powerful male identity (at least not without criticism), and thus the question for MRAs is, if I might parrot a popular social justice gag, “What about the mens?” Men’s rights activists have seen women slowly climb the social ladder, and they want a slice of the bitter-sweet oppression pie, even if it means hurling that pie into the face of the nearest feminist and lapping up whatever bits of pastry and custard fall haphazardly to the floor. Yes, that was a messy metaphor.
The men’s rights movement gained a lot of steam within the past couple years following the self-immolation of Thomas James Ball, a leader of one branch of the Massachusetts Fatherhood Coalition. Ball, who had been fighting ten years of custody battles, blamed feminist-crafted anti-domestic violence legislation for his losing battle—rather than admitting perhaps, after smacking and bloodying his 4-year-old daughter, he was at least partly responsible for the situation. Nevertheless, Ball’s striking public suicide cemented child custody, domestic violence, and feminist action as inalienable parts of the modern man’s “struggle” for “equality.” Today, the tendency within the online MRA community to demonize feminism is nothing short of canonical, with many users framing second-wave radicals like Dworkin or Solanas (along with their occasionally alluring fringe beliefs) as feminist archetypes. What’s more, men’s rights activists regularly deride the notion of male privilege as a feminist construction; male stoicism, military drafts, child support, and even that “male power” is considered a sexist cry apparently all point to female privilege and institutionalized misandry. Much of the movement is concerned with men’s increasingly uncertain roles in familial, penal, and academic institutions, largely ignoring that these uncertainties stem from the currently conflicting doctrines of traditional male supremacy and modern social equality.
“I need masculism because,” one man writes, “I am a nurse, not a male nurse,” missing that inherent in his declaration is the supposition that doctors are generally assumed to be male. “I need masculism because,” writes another, “Children deserve financial support, Not their mothers,” vaguely nodding towards women’s unfavourable treatment in economic and familial institutions before ultimately framing this phenomenon as a men’s rights issue. “#INeedMasculismBecause ‘Consent’ is agreeing to do something. It has no legal bearing on your emotional state towards it,” he adds, tossing his pro-rape hat into the false-rape allegations ring. Yes, these are potshots at low-hanging fruit, but it requires only a few moments reviewing the hordes of accumulating tweets to see just how thoroughly these masculists misinterpret readily observable social trends.
“#INeedMasculismBecause the word ‘feminism’ doesn’t have ‘equal’ in it & I’m too lazy to pick up a history book, so I KNOW they hate all men,” says one satirical tweet, poignantly summarizing the anti-feminist sentiments of the men’s rights movement.
You see, feminists have never asserted that men are without their own unique problems. Even Valerie Solanas—who called for the eradication of the male gender in her likely-parodical-but-maybe-not-but-really-what-does-it-matter-no-one-is-seriously-entertaining-the-idea-of-killing-all-men-anyway SCUM Manifesto—alluded to the troubles men have displaying emotion and maintaining meaningful interpersonal relations. Thomas Ball would be delighted to know that early feminists (as well as more contemporary counterparts) routinely pointed to motherhood as one of the primary forms of gender subjugation, and, had he not savaged his daughter, he may have found solace, perhaps even support, in pursuing feminist theory. The patriarchy, and its coinciding gender binary, does violence to all genders (especially those which lie outside the typical categories of male and female), but men do not face pervasive systemic oppression, much to the paradoxical dismay of men’s rights activists. Simply put, misandry is not real, or, if it absolutely must be acknowledged, it is by no means the equivalent of misogyny. Problems in equating sexism with racism aside, misandry is the intellectual equal of reverse-racism in that both ignore near-universal political, cultural, and economic investments in the properties of maleness and whiteness respectively. But perhaps I digress. The question was, after all, how did we get here?
Truly, there’s no simple answer, but allow me to posit one potential solution. Over the past few decades, overt sexism, racism, and homophobia have fallen out of vogue in mainstream discourse (of course, insidious sexism, racism, and homophobia are still alive and well, but that’s a topic for another day). These -isms are now so thoroughly abhorrent to socially-conscious folk that, to some, bigotry now seems subversive rather than antiquated. To less socially-conscious individuals, it appears that women, racial, gendered, and sexual minorities are above criticism, and as a result, many bigots appeal to the false notion of diminishing free speech—the diminishing free speech of whites, straights, and men, of course—in an effort to lend credence to their attacks on anti-racist and anti-sexist movements. Not only this, but the active efforts of a stumbling, politically-correct society to atone for past and ongoing misdeeds seems to imply that whites and men are increasingly disadvantaged by way of social welfare programs; that a handful of non-white, non-male individuals have been ever so graciously granted a “leg up” in a paternal and patronizing step towards formal inclusivity has surely increased the rates of martyr complexes among suburban man-children. Mind you, the questioning of privilege is always met with widespread backlash (take the reactions to the civil and gay rights movements, for example), so this recent anti-feminist phenomenon is nowhere near novel.
The men’s rights movement provides an interesting and complex case study in organized, regressive revolt, and I sincerely doubt the above solution is adequate in explaining the origins of today’s “manosphere,” as the online MRA community has been dubbed. The overlapping worldviews of patently misogynist pick up artists and anti-feminist men’s rights activists—along with the movement’s preoccupation with false-rape accusations, the “friendzone,” and “creep shaming”—suggests a relatively widespread unease with shifting sexual norms, and the fervent disregard of otherwise pertinent feminist theory seems to signal a thorough suspicion of empowered women. While neither of these trends are contained solely to aggressively misogynist publics, we can all sleep easy knowing the majority of men’s rights activism appears reasonably contained to the virtual manosphere.
Information about the men’s rights movement can be found here, here, and if you’re feeling especially intrepid here. Amusing coverage of the #INeedMasculismBecause debacle can be found here, here, and here.
EDIT: Just to clarify any ambiguities, the SPLC did not officially define the various websites in the manosphere as “hate groups.” Rather, the SPLC simply grouped them under the label “misogynist,” which I guess makes them woman hating groups, so, I mean, take that as you will.
Dan Perdic is a fourth year honours MIT student, a devout misandrist, and sincerely apologetic for the preceding novel. He’ll try to include more images and fewer words in subsequent articles.