Later this month, the men's rights group A Voice for Men (AVfM) will hold its first conference at the Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Detroit.
As part of the controversial men's rights movement (MRM), AVfM questions the legitimacy of male privilege, asserting that we live in a female-dominated world and that men, in fact, are subject to widespread disadvantage and discrimination on the basis of their gender.
"The problem we see is a culture that still puts women first in so many ways, and men come in last," AVfM founder Paul Elam told the Huffington Post.
Yes, this is a real thing. Although MRAs made headlines recently for their alleged connection to the Santa Barbara shooter (a connection many MRAs have tried to deny), this movement has been around, and infuriating feminists, for quite some time. MRAs are often dismissed as angry, sex-starved man-children, but the movement likens itself to a male response to feminism. And it seems to be becoming even more vocal in the wake of the feminist movement's new wave of online solidarity.
Unfortunately, despite their activist moniker, MRAs do not generally use their networks to create meaningful change. Instead, they often parrot the same talking points on the bottom of articles about women's issues to prove that men are, in actuality, the more oppressed gender. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes their rhetoric as "dedicated to savaging feminists in particular and women, very typically American women, in general."
This is a shame. Men have real concerns (like a higher rate of workplace deaths and homelessness, as well as being subject to rigid constructs of masculinity), but the hostility expressed by MRAs towards the struggle for women's rights does nothing to rectify the injustices men may face, primarily because these injustices are not caused by women. They're caused by things like race and class, factors largely absent from most MRA discussions. They also owe much to patriarchal gender roles — the exact same roles that feminists fight to dismantle. Men who truly believe in gender equality must be tired of having these important debates constantly disrupted by those who either blame men's issues on feminism or turn them into a contest of suffering and oppression.
Many MRA arguments are blatantly misogynistic (Elam once wrote on AVfM's website that drunk women are "freaking begging" to be raped), but the more dangerous ones have an air of credibility that serves to insidiously legitimize the broader movement.
These are just a handful of the most pernicious myths put forth by MRAs to convince the world that (white, cis, heterosexual) guys are the ones who really have it bad.
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Misandry is too often employed as a catch-all to belittle women's arguments surrounding the patriarchy. But, as Shailene Woodley recently discovered, feminism has nothing to do with hating men. Feminists don't like misogyny and sexism, and sometimes men may be proponents of both, unwitting or otherwise. It's important to recognize this when it happens.
The stereotype of the "man-hating" feminist exists in part because of a small number of outspoken women whose views most would argue do not align with feminist ideology, as well as the mistaken assumption that feminists view the male gender as inherently evil. This is simply false, and assertions that "not all men" are part of the problem are disruptive and unhelpful.
MRAs also may think feminists hate men because they do not devote equal attention to their problems in feminist spaces. It's essential to recognize that patriarchy hurts men, too (as will be explored throughout this post), but the fact that it hurts women should be enough to spur social change. Our experiences matter, and, as a historically marginalized group, we still need the space and time devoted to addressing issues as they specifically affect us.
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There's a popular meme
This is false. The supposed "perks" of being a lady are largely the result of "benevolent sexism," a set of behaviors shown to be harmful to both women and social activism specifically because people often fail to see them for what they really are: practices steeped in restrictive stereotypes of masculinity and femininity that hinder gender equality by keeping men in a position of dominance over women.
This is not to say people should treat each other poorly because chivalry and civility are not the same thing. Being decent to someone because you're a conscientious human being is different from being decent to someone because that someone is a delicate, helpless lady.
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One of the biggest sticking points for the MRA community is the argument that the courts actively discriminate against men in custody disputes. While it's true that women more often get custody, it's far more complicated than a systematic bias that turns dads into the real victims of custody battles (as opposed to, you know, the children).
Most disputes* are settled out of court, meaning that custody placement does not rest in the hands of judges (most of whom are men, by the way). Just 4% of cases actually go to trial. And mothers often get custody in large part because, on average, they're still the primary caretakers of children. That's not bias, and it's not even necessarily a good thing. It's just a fact.
Oft-cited statistics that only 10-15% of fathers are granted sole custody are skewed because they include couples who have agreed to grant the mother custody or to joint custody. When men do seek primary physical custody in a disputed divorce, about 50% get it.
Family attorney Christopher Rao also points out in the Stranger that perceptions of anti-male bias are based on "selective fact-finding," and that the influence of "lazy lawyering" is also frequently excused or overlooked by MRAs.
Even if a court awards custody to a mother solely because she is a woman (as opposed to carefully considering the innumerable factors that determine a child's best interest), then such bias would be due to patriarchal gender roles that dictate men should be breadwinners and women should be caregivers. Not only did women not create these roles, they are precisely what feminists want to dismantle. (As one TIME reporter succinctly puts it, "Let's end the Mommy fetish.")
*This is based on heterosexual marriages, as less research is available for custody disputes involving other unions.
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Many MRAs lament the disproportionate amount of attention paid to female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), supposedly at the expense of discussing male circumcision (deemed an "amputation" of the foreskin designed to "ruin male sexuality").
Thoughtful consideration of the medical and philosophical implications of circumcision are not without merit, but there is no equivalence in terms of harmful long-term effects between slicing off a young girl's clitoris (and in 80% of cases, the entire labia minora as well) and removing a baby's foreskin. Indeed, 15% of global FGM/C cases involve removing all external genitalia, and sewing up the vaginal opening.
Unlike male circumcision, FGM/C has never been about health. Its cultural legacy runs deep, though the World Health Organization has deemed it a human rights violation that reinforces patriarchal conceptions of purity and denies women sexual agency. It has "absolutely no medical value" and can lead to prolonged bleeding, infection, cysts, childbirth complications, infertility and death.
Many studies have found male circumcision, on the other hand, to have a low complication rate, and that it may reduce the risk of getting or spreading HPV, HIV, herpes, syphilis and UTIs. A systematic review of "the highest-quality studies" on the practice also concluded that it "has no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, sexual sensation or satisfaction."
The point here, ultimately, is not to debate the medical necessity of the practice. Those looking to contemplate the bodily autonomy of infants are not without feminist allies, but commandeering conversations about FGM/C in the name of male circumcision is seriously misguided.
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That only men are eligible for the draft is an old standby used to derail arguments male privilege. The following was the most upvoted comment in a men's rights subReddit thread from nearly a year ago titled, "Are We Fanatics?" (Spoiler alert: They don't think so.)
Ignoring for a moment the existence of men like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Kim Jong Il, etc. — all of whom were quite obviously more responsible for this commentor's aforementioned moral atrocities than any feminist — it's true that the majority of countries with drafts still only conscript men. It's also true that in the U.S., the draft has not been around for 40 years.
Many feminists don't support conscription — for anyone. But regardless of whether you agree with a draft in theory, it's important to remember that military action (including the decision to go to war in the first place) has been legislated almost entirely by men, and that women historically have shown less support for war.
Moreover, the exclusion of women from the draft was based on essentialist stereotypes that painted them as weak and with a duty to the home. These stereotypes are, yet again, inherent to patriarchy, and a large part of why women in many countries have had to fight for their right to serve today (and, as the Women's Research and Education Institute points out, remain barred from certain positions "necessary or advantageous to advancement and promotion").
It's also worth noting that when the male draft ended and the All Volunteer Force was instated in 1973, the percentage of women in the military shot up from 1.6 to 10.8% — meaning there were plenty of women who wanted to serve their country — but had not been allowed to do so.
Bizarrely, the fact that some British suffragettes supported a draft is often cited by MRAs to prove that feminists view men as disposable. While there are a lot of reasons why this defense is a red herring, the biggest one in the context of this list is that the whole debate happened 100 years ago in Britain, and most certainly would not fly in today's America.
Lastly, using the number of men who die in combat as evidence of men being the only victims of war ignores the enormous number of civilian casualties. Estimates vary widely, but multiple experts place this number at around 50% of all wartime deaths over time. This 50% would ostensibly include many women and children, since they more often stay behind. Casualties also do not include the huge numbers of women subject to sexual violence during war.
This is not to discredit military service at all. The moral of the story is that war is terrible for everyone, and to blame modern feminism for being complicit in its horrors is utterly illogical.
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Nearly every time an article is published about women's media representation, some commenters will inevitably point out that men get objectified, too. As Men's Journal notes, men are held to increasingly demanding standards of physical masculinity. But — here we go — these standards are again based upon rigid, patriarchal stereotypes of what it means to be a man. And while it's true that men are increasingly seeing chiseled images of their gender in advertising and media (deemed by AdWeek to be "hunkvertising"), men do not face equal expectations of physical attractiveness.
As sociologist Lisa Wade points out, "[B]ecause the ads are so tongue-in-cheek, they didn't seem to be acknowledging and validating women's sexual desire, so much as mocking it. ... In this way, the joke affirms the gender order because the humor depends on us knowing that we don't really objectify men this way and we don't really believe that women are the way we imagine men to be."
Ultimately, we should work to make everyone comfortable in their body by increasing diversity in media representation of all genders. But objectification does not happen in a vacuum. For most of human history, women's sexuality has been both our most valued asset and readily available path to power, meaning our looks have disproportionate bearing on our lives and that there are severe consequences for failing to meet expectations surrounding them.
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The bumbling dad stereotype is another common example of how men get the short shrift in entertainment, but it's important to remember both that this stereotype was born in response to the dependable, perfect father of '50s TV and that it implies women are meant to be the more responsible — that's code for "nagging" — partner.
Are repeated images of clueless dudes offensive? Sure. But there are many other representations of men available in media (ahem). The breadth of male characters simply crushes that of female characters (and LGBTIQA ones, and non-white ones, for that matter).
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No one denies that false accusations are terrible to experience. But the fear some men appear to harbor of being falsely accused is wildly out of sync with the actual rate at which this occurs. Worse, this excessive paranoia can lead to the silencing of survivors — of any gender — who fear they won't be believed if they come forward.
While all crimes have at least some level of false reporting, the language used to describe false rape accusations typically rests on patently misogynistic (and almost always anecdotal) assumptions that women are petty and vindictive.
Stereotypes of "spurned women" be damned, the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women reports that false reports "are not typically filed by women trying to 'get back at a boyfriend' or cover up a pregnancy, affair, or other misbehavior." On the contrary, "The vast majority are actually filed by people with serious psychological and emotional problems."
Plus, and it's amazing that this still needs to be articulated: Reporting rape is not remotely enjoyable. In fact, most survivors don't report their rapes at all, largely due to fear of retribution or not being believed, as well as a lack of faith in our justice system. This means that even the 2 to 8% statistic is itself likely inflated.
Men are victims of sexual violence, too, and we need to more actively support them. MRAs seem too busying rallying for stiffer punishments for the supposed plethora false accusers and spreading "Don't Be That Girl" rape apologia campaigns to actually do the work that helps survivors of all genders.
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Also inherent to the fear of false rape allegations is the idea that new conceptions of rape are terribly murky and complicated, resulting in the criminalization of "hookup culture" and supposedly well-intentioned guys getting accused of violating willing (read: drunk) women.
But broader recognition of what constitutes rape and sexual assault isn't about shirking of personal responsibility — it's about recognizing, for once, the extent of bodily autonomy. To be clear, rape is usually not violent. The victim usually knows the perpetrator. And absence of a firm "no" is not the same as a "yes." If you don't know the difference, you should not be hooking up with someone in the first place.
The real irony of the men's rights movement is that so many of the legitimate issues men face are already encompassed by the feminism it so vehemently opposes, because gender equality is a fight that affects us all. In the words of bell hooks, "When women and men understand that working to eradicate patriarchal domination is a struggle rooted in the longing to make a world where everyone can live fully and freely, then we know our work to be a gesture of love."