A few months ago I was contacted by a journalism student doing an article on the Men’s Rights Movement in Canada and the U.S. Having had increased exposure to the MRM due to their recent increased activity in my own city, I was somewhat wary of being contacted out of the blue by someone I had never heard of. Jaded as I am, I even wondered if I was being trolled by the local MRAs. Happily, it turns out everything was on the up and up and the article was recently published on The F Word website. Written by Carly Rhianna Smith, the article is an in-depth and insightful analysis of the current status of the Men’s Rights Movement in North America, as well as their tactics. It’s definitely worth heading over to The F Word site and taking the time to read the article.
I’m pretty pleased to have been quoted in an article as well. Since only a very small portion of my comments are included in the article, I’m posting Carly’s questions and my responses below.
Have you had interactions with MRAs in your community? What are your strategies for dealing with the tactics of the MRM?
1. In your experience with MRAs, what is their approach in arguing their case?
In my experience, their approach is quite reactionary as opposed to pro-active; I find they are more interested in smear campaigns against feminism rather than making a case for issues they think are important to men. They generally blame feminism for what they consider men’s issues and that ultimately detracts from their arguments.
2. Do you think they have valid arguments? Why/why not?
Yes and no. Some of their issues are legitimate; for instance, I’ve heard MRAs talk about things like the lack of attention given to male victims of sexual and domestic violence, the fact that men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, and the issue of male circumcision (they usually refer to the opposition to male circumcision as “Intactivism”). These are all important issues and almost all feminists would agree they should be part of a larger social justice movement; however, MRAs tend to argue their case by blaming feminism for these problems, as though feminists are somehow responsible for them or, perversely, should be blamed for not doing enough about them. I’ve also heard a lot of misinformation from MRAs, which further detracts from the validity of their arguments; for instance, some Men’s Rights posters recently went up in Edmonton that claimed men are the majority of rape victims in our society, but did not provide any source for that supposed statistic. The only way that statement could come close to being true is if victims of prison rape are included and even then, I’d have to do more research to find out. Furthermore, they conveniently leave out context and present their information as though feminists have somehow been lying about women being the majority of rape victims in our society.
3. What brought on the men’s rights movement? What do you perceive their motivation to be?
They are just the latest trend in the ongoing backlash to the gains of the feminist movement we’ve seen in the past few decades. While individual men may face structural inequality due to other aspects of their identity (race, class, sexual orientation, ability, etc.) they still derive privilege from being male; I think the majority of MRAs are reacting to seeing some of their previously unquestionned privilege eroded and they are threatened by that.
4. Men’s rights activists have many qualms with the feminist movement. One thing is, the men’s rights movement does not believe that, historically, the scales of power have been tipped away from women, and that society is not, nor has ever been, patriarchal. As a feminist, what would your response to that be?
My response would be that it’s patently untrue. Historically, and to a large extent in the present day, men still hold the majority of power in social systems and institutions. Descent and inheritance were (and still are) traced through the male line, women could not own property, could not vote, and were not legally considered persons — they were property of their fathers or husbands. Women did not have access to education or the opportunity to play sports. Female infanticide and sex selective abortion to ensure male offspring is still a problem in many parts of the world. In North America, men hold the majority of positions as CEOs and in political office and women still face a pay gap. A society in which women are valued less than men, have fewer rights than men, and hold far less of the institutional power compared with men, is a patriarchal society.
5. On issues such as reproductive rights, one of the men’s rights activists I spoke with said that it was an issue of religious beliefs and not a “war on women.” Do you agree/disagree? Why?
The motivation doesn’t really matter. Most major religions are historically rooted in patriarchy and misogyny, so that’s not much of a defense. You can’t separate the issues and say it’s not a war on women because people have misogynystic religious beliefs. The backlash to reproductive rights comes down to politicians on the right and their supporters wanting to control women’s lives and punish them for having unsanctioned sex. Since women are the ones who become pregnant, they need to have control over their own bodies and lives.
6. Have women achieved equal status in society?
That depends how you define “equal status”. Legally, women have won many victories — we can vote, rape is illegal, we can work outside the home — those things are great and very important, but that doesn’t mean we live in a post-patriarchy and everything is equal now. We are still seeing attempts to chip away at women’s legal rights (see my response to #5), and there’s still a wage gap. There are also different types of equality; in addition to legal rights, feminists are fighting for social equality as well. Rape may be illegal, but it still happens at an alarming rate, the majority of victims are still women, and the majority of perpetrators (regardless of the victim’s gender) are male. That is not equality. It is still totally acceptable for media to comment more on a female politician’s appearance than on her political platform. That is not equality. The hyper-sexualization of female athletes, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, street harassment — these are all major problems and the list goes on. That is not what equality looks like, regardless of the gains we’ve made.
7. Why do you believe feminism is still relevant?
For all of the reasons (and more) listed above.
8. I asked a men’s rights activist about the over-sexualization of women in the media, the madonna/whore dichotomy, and his thoughts were: it’s not only society’s exploitation of female sexuality, but women exploiting the sexual power they hold over men. I am curious to hear your thoughts on this.
For how often MRAs accuse feminists of misandry, it’s incredibly ironic when they rely on arguments such as this one. That statement is more insulting to men than anything feminists could come up with. The whole basis of that argument relies on the belief that men are slaves to their sexual desires and they can’t help but be overcome with lust around women. It also implies women’s bodies are inherently sexual and must be covered up to avoid “tempting” men. It is completely infantilizing to men to say women hold some sort of power over them like a magic spell. Furthermore, that comment completely misses the point and derails your original question. As I mentioned before, legal and social equality are not the same thing. It’s very telling to me that women’s legal gains over the last 50 or so years have been accompanied by ever more sexualized images of themselves in media and popular culture. This is the patriarchy’s way of putting women in their place; it says to women, “You may have gained some legal rights, but for all intents and purposes, you’re still an object and your appearance is your most important feature.”
The madonna/whore dichotomy is another issue entirely; let me know if you need more thoughts on that as well.
9. What would you say to anyone who views feminism as an attack on men’s liberties?
Do some research and learn more about feminism. Feminists do not now, nor have they ever, stood for attacking men or their rights; criticizing male privilege and the patriarchy is not the same thing as attacking men. Feminism is about creating equality for all; it’s disingenuous and self-centered for MRAs to paint a movement as diverse as feminism with one broad brush stroke and say it exists to attack men’s liberties. Feminists are too busy working to gain liberty from oppression for everyone to waste our time attacking men.
10. Do you think the feminist movement is threatened by the men’s rights movement?
No. Due to their reactionary nature, Men’s Rights and MRAs wouldn’t exist without feminism. While they focus on “anti-feminism”, feminists work on creating a more equal and just world by focusing on society’s most marginalised populations. That will always be relevant and necessary work, regardless of what the MRAs do or don’t do.