In the Spring 2012 edition of its quarterly publication “The Year in Hate and Extremism,” the Southern Poverty Law Center named so-called Men’s Rights Activists (sometimes called Fathers’ Rights Activists) as a hate group based on their misogynistic messages, use of false anti-woman propaganda and encouragement of acts of domestic terrorism and violence against women.
For those unfamiliar, the SPLC is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. The SPLC monitors and tracks hate groups, while using the legal system to combat and dismantle them.
Some attention was brought to the Men’s Rights Movement last year when Thomas Jefferson Ball, leader of the Worcester, N.H., branch of the Massachusetts-based Fatherhood Coalition, doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire outside of the Cheshire County, N.H., Courthouse. Ball, who was facing imminent imprisonment for 10 years of child support non-payment, died within minutes. In his “Last Statement,” which arrived posthumously at a nearby newspaper, he wrote: “25 years ago the federal government declared war on men. It is time to see how committed they are to their cause. It is time, boys, to give them a taste of war.”
Ball’s letter offered tips on how to make Molotov cocktails and urged his fellow MRAs to use them against police stations and courthouses, which he saw as enablers of western women’s oppression of men.
The Ball incident shed light on an extensive subculture of misogynists, whose woman-hating fury goes far beyond legitimate criticism of family court systems. As the SPLC publication puts it, there “are literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums devoted to attacking virtually all women (or, at least, westernized ones)—the so-called ‘manosphere,’ which now also includes a tribute page for Tom Ball (‘He Died For Our Children’).”
On these sites, women are routinely vilified as sluts, gold-diggers, temptresses or “feminazis” and “man-hating feminists” out to destroy all that is male and good in the world. Not surprisingly, these websites frequently have ties to other sites and ideologues who oppose same-sex marriage, non-Christian immigration, women in the workplace, women’s reproductive rights, and even the advancement of African Americans.
To support their depictions of women as virulent liars, manipulators and abusers of men, MRAs have developed a set of claims that have no rational basis in reality.
For example, they attempt to assert that men are victimized by sex crimes and abuse just as much as women are, if not more. (This is meant to bolster their claim that the courts and laws outrageously favor women.) The reality is that one in five American women have been raped, compared to about 1.4 percent of men. And in instances of male sexual abuse, the abuser is almost always another man.
Also, women are far more likely to be stalked than men (16 percent versus 5 percent), and, as of 2002, 84 percent of all spousal-abuse victims were female. Males also account for 83 percent of all spouse-murderers. MRAs love to claim that half or even more of the sexual assaults reported by women never occurred, while the best studies done in the U.S. put the figure around 6 percent.
The anti-woman vitriol of the MRM is just another form of backlash against social change and the shifting of the status quo, in the same way that white supremacists and anti-gay leaders oppose the advancement of people of color and LGBT people, respectively. It is essentially a response to the loss of certain unearned privileges of being male, like letting oneself off the hook in regards to familial support by leaving town, denying paternity or worse.
These men are not actually interested in equality; they’re upset about possibly losing their position on top of the economic, political and social hierarchy. Or perhaps they just view life as a zero-sum game: If someone else is gaining rights, they must be losing rights. Either way, their efforts are misguided and their messages bigoted.
The irony of it all, of course, is that the few issues men do face are a result of antiquated patriarchal ideas about gender. The family court precedents set by the male-dominated judicial system that give preference to mothers are based on the idea that raising children is “women’s work.” Women being purposely excluded (as a matter of policy) from combat in the male-dominated military is based on the idea that war is “no place for a woman.”
Men probably have much higher rates of suicide because they are universally discouraged by other men from ever exhibiting human emotion. If Men’s Rights Activists were actually interested in equality, they would join feminists in working to undo oppressive, patriarchal gender stereotypes that saturate our world.
Somehow that doesn’t seem likely, though.