BY Jim Byset
IT IS UNDENIABLE that the MHRM has gained traction in the past few years. Men’s advocacy websites and interest groups have seen massive upsurges in membership and participation. Real world activism is taking discernible shape. Men’s rights, often seen as a fringe, obscure movement is now shifting towards the centre of public consciousness with distinct groups now clearly apparent. Some (albeit tiny minorities) are characterized by their strongly political viewpoints – while others are apolitical. Some, such as the Japanese grass eating men and the North American MGTOWs eschew societal rules, in particular – romantic or committed involvement with the opposite sex; others welcome involvement with women and see male-female cooperation as vital to the success of the MHRM.
Some label themselves as Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs,) others Men’s Human Rights Activists (MHRAs) and some, while advocating for men and families only recognize the existence of human rights as a whole, rather than the existence of rights specific, or more applicable to men, than to women. Put bluntly, it’s a global, complex movement that for the most part operates with a surprising degree of mutual respect and harmony.
The mainstream media, hitherto oblivious to the growth of the MHRM is taking notice. Major news outlets are asking questions about what the MHRM is, who’s involved, and what the issues are. While the media is yet to undertake a substantial survey of the myriad groups, divisions, politics, and realities of the wider MHRM, they are learning – albeit slowly. Results so far have been mixed. Balanced stories and accurate depictions of the MHRM are so far the exception. Reporting is too often misleading, misinformed, and relies far too heavily on the input of those diametrically opposed to the MHRM.
And sometimes, the results are just downright disastrous.
Earlier this year ABC’s investigative documentary program 20/20 was forced to pull a piece purporting to profile the rise of the MHRM and the online ‘Manosphere.’ Prior to air, 20/20 ran a teaser trailer, with snippets from an interview with A Voice For Men’s founder Paul Elam, and an accompanying article featuring Anita Sarkeesian – a woman universally despised within not only the MHRM but also the gaming community.
Sarkeesian’s shady and questionable past as well as her opportunistic foray into gender-based criticism of the video game industry infuriated gamers and MHRAs alike (indeed both communities have a substantial demographical overlap.)
Sarkeesian’s inclusion in the documentary was sufficient by itself to enrage the MHRM but there was more. It was evident from the trailer and the look of barely disguised contempt on the face of veteran journalist Elizabeth Vargas that the fix was in – and that objectivity was not high on either 20/20’s, or Vargas’ agenda.
Paul Elam, himself an unwilling ‘veteran’ of the media hit piece, saw the signs early. While happy of the coverage, Elam understood ABC’s intentions and immediately made his feelings public. The wider MHRM, already skeptical of the mainstream media’s agenda and poor track record, unleashed a maelstrom of ridicule and criticism at 20/20 and its producers – deconstructing their agenda in ABC’s comment sections, social media sites , and creating online petitions to demand higher standards of journalistic integrity. So taken aback were ABC at the weight of public opinion against them, they pulled the piece, a move that only served to further anger many MHRAs.
As the ABC debacle demonstrated – the MHRM is not without power. Its burgeoning membership, predominantly young, educated, and diverse (not only in terms of gender but also sexual orientation and race) – is laying claim to new territory, in a way not considered possible before.
Feminism – traditionally perceived as the outsider, as the plucky underdog with a score to settle, is now widely acknowledged as the establishment – an establishment from which its traditional core support – young, impressionable female undergrads, is turning away from in droves. The propagandizing, the belabouring of tired clichés such as the myth of involuntary female domestic servitude or the gender pay gap has had its day. The old idée fixes, are just that – old.
Third wave feminism has only recently recognized that there is a massive conundrum at the centre of its existence – that of its increasing irrelevance. As the MHRM grew in popularity the feminist modus operandi wasn’t to reach out to those involved or to seek acquiescence on issues affecting men and boys. Instead, feminists went on the offensive, hurling insult, lies, and cast the MHRM as well as individual MHRAs as misogynists, racists, homophobes – bigots of every imaginable variety. It was a strategy concocted by and for those with a lot to lose – highly paid university professors whose jobs, research grants, and tenure depended on the continued promulgation of feminist mythology, and low-level politicians, eager to further their careers by appealing to the ideological status quo.
It was a strategy implemented for the most part by naïve, acned undergrads, barely able to tie their own shoelaces, let alone disentangle complex ideology and propaganda from truth. This strategy did achieve a measure of success. The unwillingness on the part of some MHRAs to convene in public due to shaming, intimidation, and doxxing tactics from feminists proved effective.
However, in November 2012, those same tactics backfired in spectacular fashion at what was becoming the epicentre of feminist antagonism towards the MHRM, the University of Toronto.
‘Protestors’ some openly admitting that they were sent to the event by their gender studies professors, harried and physically intimidated attendees, pulled fire alarms, blocked entrances to the venue, were assaultive to police (called in because of violent behavior from feminists) and verbally abused those present. The video of the event, shot by Canadian filmmaker Steve Brulé, went viral. The violence and bullying tactics of feminist agitators were seen around the world.
It was a watershed moment.
The public were aghast and the media, playing catch-up with a movement comprised of mysterious MGTOWs and hermitic herbivores latched onto the story. It was an event that showed the public the true face of feminism, ugly, vicious – feral and it was an event that gave feminists serious pause for thought. The old ways of intimidation, verbal abuse, shaming, violence – would no longer work. That night steeled many within the MHRM who returned to Toronto in September 2013 and faced down the defunct gay activist group ‘Bashback.’ Bashback, reduced to a ragtag bunch of professional protestors tried and failed to shame MHRAs convened at Queen’s Park in Toronto – there to acknowledge the crisis facing men and boys in society. Activists representing A Voice For Men, CAFE, the National Coalition For Men, Men’s Rights Edmonton, Men’s Human Rights Ontario, among others were present and shouted back against the shaming tactics – their voice was clear – ‘we will not be shamed anymore.’
This too, was another watershed.
The increasing awareness of feminism as a special interests group, dedicated to enhancing the circumstances of already over-privileged women at cost to society generally is reaching a critical mass. Attendant to this is the growing recognition of the legitimacy of men’s human rights. Feminists, now aware of their impending extinction and the intensifying acceptance of the MHRM have begun in recent months to change the record, or at least, to attempt to place it in a shinier sleeve.
In a bid to stop the bleeding, feminists have sparked a debate about rebranding. Led by Elle magazine, the campaign has sought to undo the negative connotations around feminism. From Elle journalist, Hannah Swerling: ‘The conversation about feminism, what it means and more importantly, what it means to you, is one that runs continually at ELLE HQ. That’s why in the November issue, we invited three feminist groups to work with three award-winning advertising agencies to re-brand a term that many feel has become burdened with complications and negativity.’
Of course – it is magnificently ironic that a glossy women’s magazine, heavy on aspirational consumerism, should take such a leading role in modern feminism. It speaks volumes as to just how out of touch with reality feminism has become.
Yet this rebranding is not the only change taking place.
Feminists are beginning to begrudgingly accept the existence of men’s issues. Refusing to fully relinquish their victim narrative, however, feminists have attached the caveat that MHRAs should not blame feminism for the existence of issues that affect men and boys. November 19th saw the celebration of International Men’s Day – an event that in previous years was mostly ignored by everybody outside of the MHRM. This year, though, was different. The celebration was covered by the mainstream media – with numerous feminist writers acknowledging the event, but also using the opportunity to issue edicts on discussion related to the role of feminism. They were not to be blamed – for anything. While a lot of the coverage was plainly bigoted and demeaning, some was more even-handed – and some was actually positive.
Feminism is changing. For the most part, those changes are cosmetic but feminism has a long history of coopting popular causes, and this is something that the MHRM needs to protect against. The softening of rhetoric from feminists may indicate a future attempt to appropriate the issues of the MHRM. Feminists have tried, and failed to convince not only the MHRM but the general public that they were addressing issues important to men and boys. Of course, this was a massive lie, predicated on the idea that smashing the ludicrously imagined patriarchy would fix everything. It is likely, that in yet another act of window dressing akin to the Elle rebranding, and previous coopting, that feminism will try to appropriate men’s human rights issues in a bid to obviate the necessity for an MHRM independent of feminism.
It won’t succeed.
Feminism has been exposed and no amount of rebranding, rewording, or special pleading will cover over the truth.
They have lost trust; they have lost legitimacy.
They have lost.