Spelunking the Manosphere: Anti-Feminism, Men’s Rights Activism, and the Myth of Misandry


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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.

Feminism is for Everybody

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, aStraw Feministsnd 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.

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 1.09.50 AM“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?

Racists and SexistsTruly, 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 herehere, 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.

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9 thoughts on “Spelunking the Manosphere: Anti-Feminism, Men’s Rights Activism, and the Myth of Misandry

  1. Funny how you’re belittling men’s concerns on feminist grounds while claiming that feminism is for men. The rationalization hamster is spinning very rapidly in this post.

    • Belittling hateful MRA groups and belittling men’s concerns are not the same thing. It’s entirely possible to create a men’s rights movement without centering the thing around anti-feminist dogma and the patently false notion of institutionalized misandry (I mean, hell, the early 70s stargazing men’s rights movement was pretty groovy in that regard); if there were a movement like that, I’d support it. Until those sorts of groups are as mainstream as A Voice for Men or r/MensRights, I think men can find a much better (and altogether less vitriolic) answer to most of their problems in feminist theory (or, you know, the public sphere).

      • >It’s entirely possible to create a men’s rights movement without centering the thing around anti-feminist dogma and the patently false notion of institutionalized misandry (I mean, hell, the early 70s stargazing men’s rights movement was pretty groovy in that regard)

        Here is a thorough, well-cited list of institutionalized misandry, along with strong evidence that feminism is behind much of it:

        http://whatmenthinkofwomen.blogspot.jp/2011/02/feminism-is-dying-and-only-vultures-are.html?m=1

        If it’s a choice between “stargazing” with feminist approval, and addressing the *legitimate* concerns of men, I’ll take the latter anyday. Even if it may upset a few feminists.

        • Congrats, you’ve found an article written by an anti-feminist nutjob (and a nutjob who assumes radical feminists speak for all feminists, no less). Point proven, let’s call it a day. Also, while the article is well-cited, it just so happens that most of the cited statistics are dubious at best, their findings directly opposing those of numerous other studies (for instance, nearly every study ever done on domestic violence finds men are the primary aggressors). Even those articles with more-than-dubious merit have been reinterpreted to fit into an anti-feminist ideology. This entire piece is a list of questionable (some legitimate) issues men face, each point followed by “because of feminism,” without the author expanding on how feminism is possibly to blame. Take this hilariously misguided quote, for instance, “Rape, when the victim is a man, is comedy, because feminism is a doctrine of violence,” he says, forgetting this issue stems from the mainstream notion that men are perpetually lecherous (a notion which feminists had no part in constructing and which a number of second and third-wave feminists find damaging to all genders). The neglect of male rape victims, while tragic, does not point to a widespread exploitation of men; this phenomenon is directly resultant from man’s position as the active (capable) sex and woman’s predefined passive roles in sexual scenarios.

          The piece starts by introducing rad fem Jessica Valenti, forgetting that no one really cares what Valenti is arguing for (aside from feminists and MRAs). She isn’t in a powerful administrative or governmental position, and as such, she can’t exactly affect legislative change. She can prod public opinion, but something tells me public opinion will receive radical feminist ideologies just about as well as you, as an upholder of the status quo, do. So no, this doesn’t point to institutionalized violence against men, much less does it point to a “feminist hegemony.” See, these feminists are only looking to stir up change in criminal rape trials; they’re speculating, not legislating. Still, the author focuses on this “what if” scenario, as if Valenti actually managed to redefine rape legislation. “This is the outcome which logically follows the transformation of criminal law into a law of privilege for one group,” he says, forgetting that absolutely nothing has changed, and forgetting that his hypothetical scenario is not proof of some “legislative apartheid.” You (and the author of this piece) both vastly overestimate the societal influence of feminist ideology (barring the widespread acceptance of accessible notions like gender equality and such). To be honest, the only groups that invest any serious conviction in feminist theory/action are feminists and men’s rights activists (and men’s rights activists haven’t even taken the time to read the literature they claim to despise).

          That MRAs have misconstrued laws enacted to protect women and children (anti-domestic violence legislation, rape legislation) as anti-male legislation is absurd. Are some men disadvantaged by this legislation? Occasionally. Was this legislation adopted to demonize men? No. Does this legislation provide substantial relief to women, children, and occasionally men who find themselves in compromising situations? Certainly. Are men “disadvantaged” by this legislation because the vast majority of rapes and household aggressions are perpetrated by men? Yes (regardless of what odd revisionist studies cherry-picked by MRAs might conclude). It might not be the best way to deal with this issue, but it’s by no means a widespread systemic exploitation of men.

          The author then gestures towards occasionally poor media depictions of men, as if this is somehow a legitimate argument for men’s subjugation. He forgets men still make up the massive majority of clout positions in media and entertainment industries (something around 90-95%), and what’s more, male characters still appear in film and television roughly twice as often as women (overwhelmingly in leading roles). So yes, there’s the occasional bumbling sitcom or advertisement father, but it’s not as if women’s media portrayals are any more fair in the long run, though they are portrayed much less frequently and with far fewer vocal and important roles.

          There are really too many points to argue here, and I’ve already spent far too long debunking MRA sentiments I’ve seen and debunked dozens of times before. Let me leave you with a piece of advice, “I’ve found some feminists who’ve done arguably bad things (when interpreted from an MRA lens),” is not proof of institutionalized subjugation of men, nor is a cursory appraisal of some challenges facing men today. Don’t get me wrong, men are subject to a number of relatively serious issues, but feminists are not and have never been to blame, and these issues are not nearly as widespread as MRAs make them out to be. Focus on familial roles (and the ties these roles have with capitalist exploitation) when you’re fighting for custody or men’s workplace safety; focus on gendered norms when you’re raising awareness for male-on-male violence (a violence which is, I mean, already largely remedied by the judicial system) or male suicide; just remember that feminists had no part in constructing these problems and norms, and your movement might actually be able to mobilize against the legitimate oppressors of the masses.

          • I usually prefer to focus on fewer points than get into long-winded discussions nitpicking every single word. So of all the things that you stated, here’s what stuck out most to me:

            >Focus on familial roles (and the ties these roles have with capitalist exploitation)
            I usually prefer to focus on fewer points than get into long-winded discussions nitpicking every single word. So of all the things that you stated, here’s what stuck out most to me:

            >Focus on familial roles (and the ties these roles have with capitalist exploitation)

            I have never been, nor will I ever be, a Marxist.

            >focus on gendered norms when you’re raising awareness for male-on-male violence (a violence which is, I mean, already largely remedied by the judicial system) or male suicide

            I will never be ashamed of my gender.

            >just remember that feminists had no part in constructing these problems and norms

            Feminists have had everything to do with what the Duke lacrosse players and the Hofstra 5 went through. Feminists have had everything to do with my dad getting automatically arrested via the Duluth model, despite the fact that he was the only one with bruises. Feminists have had everything to do with ensuring that homeless and helpless men get turned away from women’s-only shelters, even if they have vacancies. And now feminists are trying to get men automatically kicked out of Harvard University for not abiding by a strict, frigid script of sexual consent: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/10/14/student-reps-assault-committee/. Before you say that “only rapists have something to worry about with this model of sexual consent”, keep in mind that selective enforcement of absurd laws that nobody actually follows can be used as a tool of revenge and oppression.

            A lot of these issues are zero-sum, and feminists have taken advantage of benevolent sexism to get the upper hand. The burden should always be on the claimant to prove that they’re “institutionally oppressed”, and a Gender’s Studies course- which lacks the mathematical rigor to make the claims that they do- should not give someone the entitlement to believe that they deserve more while ignoring the advantages that they already have.

          • You don’t need to be a Marxist to appraise the goods and bads of capitalism. If you aren’t even willing to critique the socioeconomic status quo (and if you reductively lump any and all critiques of capitalism into the vague category of Marxism), how are you at all fit to debate complicated social issues (issues which intersect with socioeconomic status, gender, race, etc.)? Men’s unfulfilling or dangerous roles in familial and economic institutions are directly related to the exploitation of the working class (20th and 21st-century man-as-provider stems from patriarchal capitalist norms), so your appraisals of man’s position in the family or in the workforce could certainly benefit from a more critical, maybe even Marxist (if you aren’t too stuck in the 50s to realize communism isn’t a dirty word), lens. Your appeal to mathematical rigor as the seeming sole delineator of legitimate from illegitimate academic affairs shows you’re profoundly out of your element in these sorts of discussions. Moreover, while feminism isn’t a scientific or mathematic discipline, this does not mean that 1) feminists are unable to interpret readily accessible statistical trends 2) that there are no interdisciplinary feminist scientists or 3) that statisticians’ and mathematicians’ findings are somehow always antithetical to feminist assertions. If there were no quantifiable foundation for feminist theory (there is, and it’s readily accessible to anyone with a cursory understanding of Google), the discipline would be more derided in the (increasingly scientific) public eye than it already is.

            As well, you don’t need to be ashamed of your gender to realize the damaging effects traditional masculinity has on many people. The traditional male identity, active, violent, relatively emotionless, is substantially to blame for high rates of male suicide, high rates of male aggression, men’s difficulty maintaining sincere relationships, etc. Of course, the traditional male identity suits some people well. A lot of men find great benefits (personal, social, economic, etc.) in abstracting to the historic male ideal. I’m not saying you need to be ashamed of your gender, I’m saying you need to constantly question the norms associated with it. All too often people are enslaved by an identity they had no part in constructing, or pressured into accepting an identity they feel doesn’t represent them. Even MRAs accept this notion (co-opted from feminist notions like toxic masculinity) as a major issue facing men in today’s cultural milieu.

            Feminists had nothing to do with the Duke Lacrosse players or the Hofstra 5 (perhaps the anti-rape ideals espoused with feminism had a part to play, but really, I don’t think one could, in good faith, take such an adversarial stance to anti-rape sentiments). Perhaps some feminists believed the claimants, or argued for their credibility, but this is not the same as supporting false-rape accusations. And, again, pointing to a few instances where men have been falsely accused of rape, or a few instances where men have been slightly disadvantaged as a result of a gradually-increasing societal backlash against rape or domestic violence, does not point to any systemic oppression of men, who are, if you recall, the overwhelming perpetrators of such crimes. False rape claims are significantly less common than MRAs would have you believe, and I think taking the side of the victim (you know, the real victim of rape) out of caution or empathy provides far more benefits than problems. Men who experience adverse side-effects of an empathetic approach to rape and domestic violence charges are few and far between (and yes, I’ve seen the MRA statistics which say otherwise, as well as numerous other studies which support my claim); the substantial benefits provided to the victims (and keep in mind, there are considerably more victims of rape than victims of false-rape charges) are undenaibly worth it. Just because “selective enforcement of absurd laws that nobody actually follows can be used as a tool of revenge and oppression” does not mean the law is regularly used in such a fashion, and the outlying instances where it is do not outweigh the comforts provided rape victims.

            Moreover, you bring this point up as if there’s a person on earth who would legitimately argue against it. No one supports false rape claimants. Inauthentic rape accusations marginalize authentic victims, and make it considerably harder for those victims to speak up or be taken seriously (much as the MRA preoccupation with false-rape claims makes it seem as if most rapes are inauthentic).

            Lastly, I would like to know how MRAs (whose movement arose out of feminism and co-opted/repurposed feminist tropes and jargon) are any more mathematically inclined to substantiate their institutional oppression. As much of the movement is, like feminism, associated either with the humanities or social sciences, how exactly are MRA statistics any more valid than those statistics used in feminist research? As well, I can’t imagine you’ve taken a gender studies course in your life, so I’d ask you to refrain from critiquing things you’ve either never experienced or experienced only through an MRA lens (feminism, particularly). See, I’m in a position to critique the men’s rights movement, because (when I was a teenager) I legitimately held similar beliefs on the issue of “equality”; you’re in no position to critique feminism because you’ve taken a reactionary, anti-feminist movement as a supposedly unbiased source of information regarding feminism. No, gender equality is not a zero-sum game. Societal equality has never been a zero-sum game (even though it was portrayed as such in backlashes against early feminist movements, anti-slavery movements, civil rights movements, gay rights movements, etc.). Women are not taking men’s rights, and that you take such an absurd belief as axiomatic speaks to the fact that you are ill-fit to debate these matters.

          • Late to the party but my god are you blind. The national organization for women ran rough shod over President elect Obamas plan to put money in to an infrastructure program to create jobs for men (construction etc) who at the time were 78 percent of the people who were jobless. Well , NOW, got wind of that and demanded that Obama restructure the program to channel the money towards women’s programs that didn’t need it and her exact word to Obama were ” why should we give all the money to burly Men..?” Obama caved toward the political pressure of feminist women voters and restructured the program and to this day more men than women continue to be jobless. That’s just one example of how feminists are to ‘blame’ for the current social condition for mens issues. Please grow up and stop defending the indefensible.

  2. I usually prefer to focus on fewer points than get into long-winded discussions nitpicking every single word. So of all the things that you stated, here’s what stuck out most to me:

    >Focus on familial roles (and the ties these roles have with capitalist exploitation)

    I have never been, nor will I ever be, a Marxist.

    >focus on gendered norms when you’re raising awareness for male-on-male violence (a violence which is, I mean, already largely remedied by the judicial system) or male suicide

    I will never be ashamed of my gender.

    >just remember that feminists had no part in constructing these problems and norms

    Feminists have had everything to do with what the Duke lacrosse players and the Hofstra 5 went through. Feminists have had everything to do with my dad getting automatically arrested via the Duluth model, despite the fact that he was the only one with bruises. Feminists have had everything to do with ensuring that homeless and helpless men get turned away from women’s-only shelters, even if they have vacancies. And now feminists are trying to get men automatically kicked out of Harvard University for not abiding by a strict, frigid script of sexual consent: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/10/14/student-reps-assault-committee/. Before you say that “only rapists have something to worry about with this model of sexual consent”, keep in mind that selective enforcement of absurd laws that nobody actually follows can be used as a tool of revenge and oppression.

    A lot of these issues are zero-sum, and feminists have taken advantage of benevolent sexism to get the upper hand. The burden should always be on the claimant to prove that they’re “institutionally oppressed”, and a Gender’s Studies course- which lacks the mathematical rigor to make the claims that they do- should not give someone the entitlement to believe that they deserve more while ignoring the advantages that they already have.

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