There is no denying the fact that patriarchy affects men too. However, it is difficult to surmise why someone has to come up with a counter movement to women’s movements, and demean all the feminists to fight discrimination when gender-based oppression of both women and men stems from the same root – The Patriarchy.
What is Men’s Rights Activism?
Men’s Rights Activism pages and user accounts have now become ubiquitous on social media, and they have a considerable number of followers too. These Facebook pages and Twitter accounts run by people who call themselves ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ often claim to exist for the purpose of “promoting awareness, discuss, and share issues pertaining to Men & Boys” (Men’s Rights Activism Universe Facebook page). However, if you have been unfortunate enough to come across their pages or posts, you must have observed that these MRA pages hardly ever focus on what they claim to be their noble cause. Instead, they spend most of their time in charging feminists with misandry.
Men’s Rights Activists proclaim that their job is to speak up for ‘men’s rights’, and to foreground men’s problems and struggles. While one might question why men even need such a platform when it is known that they are the privileged section with all the privileges granted to them right from their birth, we as feminists understand that gender hierarchies are not the only social constructs that lead to oppression of those placed at the lowest level in the hierarchical scale. There are hierarchies of class, race, caste, among others that affect and assist systematic oppression of humans. Gender is a complex social construct and patriarchy is an institution that operates differently for everyone. Feminists, therefore, never do and never have assumed that all men are empowered, or men cannot face discrimination. Yet it is also undeniably true that women are the primary victims of patriarchy. Misogyny, from what history tells us, has ruined far more lives than misandry.
Far more women than men have been and continue to be victims of sexual assaults, domestic violence, infanticide, abuse, abduction, forced prostitution, trafficking, acid attacks, honour killing, harassment, discrimination, restrictions, shaming, stereotyping and what not.
If you are a man, you are less likely to be a victim of domestic violence or gender-based discrimination, and you are not expected to give up your career for childcare, or do the house cleaning. I’m not saying this out of mere personal observation, or conjectures. This is what the yearly statistics, surveys, research works, government reports, etc tell us.
According to one international Statistics on Domestic Violence published on We Will Speak Out,
“Women are much more likely than men to be the victim of multiple incidents of abuse, and of sexual violence: 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence; and women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.” (Walby and Allen, 2004)
Nonetheless, sexual and domestic violence against men definitely deserves equal attention. In that sense, one would contend that activism for men’s rights is justified. But the problem is that there’s hardly any post to be found on any of the MRA pages that actually addresses men’s issues. All that these men’s rights activists have to lament about is how ‘innocent’ men are ‘exploited’ by women for extracting money, how they get unfairly ‘friendzoned’ by the girls they really like, how women want to marry only successful, rich men among others. As if these are the most serious problems encountered by men; as if men don’t employ emotions, relationships and marriage for monetary benefits (whatever happened to dowry); as if being nice to someone means they owe you their love and loyalty.
None of these MRAs ever talk about the humiliation and oppression of gay and trans men in the society, or about the ill-treatment met out to men who don’t conform to the conventional notions of ‘masculinity’. If they do manage to bring up these issues by any good chance, they don’t realize that they are all deeply rooted in misogyny, and not misandry. And when it comes time to actually do something about these problems, they have already disappeared.
A little history of Men’s Rights Activism would do us much help in gauging the nature and purpose of this movement.
History of Men’s Rights Activism
The term ‘men’s rights’ was first used in February 1856 when it appeared in Putnam’s Magazine, Volume 7 Issue 38 in an article titled ‘A Word for Men’s Rights.’ The League for Men’s Rights was founded in 1926 with the goal of “combatting all excesses of women’s emancipation.” (“Men’s Rights League in Vienna”. The New York Times. 10 March 1926. p. 20.)
The members of the Men’s Rights League believed that the women’s movement was giving women excessive freedoms and rights. These men’s rights groups not only opposed women’s entry into the labor market, but also expressed concerns over the increased participation of women in the public sphere. They criticized the reformed marriage and family laws that made it mandatory for men to provide financial support to their former wives and illegitimate children.
The modern men’s rights movement is said to have emerged from the Men’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s in Britain and North America. The Men’s Liberation Movement was started by heterosexual, middle-class white men in response to the cultural and social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, mainly the growth of the feminist movement, gay liberation movements, and the sexual revolution. It is reported that the movement had some progressive men too who were critical of patriarchy and toxic masculinity that imposed oppressive rules on men. Later, the movement split into two factions. The conservative members of the movement formed an anti-feminist Men’s Rights Movement, while the progressive members either left the scene or joined the feminist movement. For details, read ‘The Limits of the “Male Sex Role”: An Analysis of the Men’s Liberation and Men’s Rights Movement’s Discourse’ by Messner, Michael A. (1998), Gender & Society.
In India, men’s rights activist groups such as the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) have vigorously campaigned to abolish Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which protects women from being abused by their husbands and in-laws for not paying dowries.
Thus the origins and history of men’s rights movement/activism clearly demonstrate that MRAs emerged to counter the effects of the feminist movement, and to protect the privilege of heterosexual men. They have protested against all possible progressive laws and policies formulated by governments for the protection of women and children. This very fact should be enough to understand the conservative and misogynistic nature of this movement and its activists.
Backlash Against Feminism
Many scholars have identified men’s rights activism as a backlash against feminism, which is evident in majority of their posts on social media (read “Virtual Backlash: Representation of Men’s “Rights” and Feminist “Wrongs” in Cyberspace” by Robert Menzies). Men’s rights activists derail feminist conversations; their sole purpose is to attack feminists rather than talk about genuine issues that men face. The only reason MRAs exist is due to the fear of loss of male privilege and entitlement.
Professor Ruth M. Mann of the University of Windsor in Canada has written:
“In contrast to feminist groups who have advocated for domestic violence services on behalf of other historically oppressed groups in addition to women, such as individuals impacted by poverty, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, etc., men’s rights groups have attempted to achieve their goals by actively opposing and attempting to dismantle services and supports put in place to protect abused women and children.” [Mann, Ruth M (2008) on “Men’s Rights and Feminist Advocacy in Canadian Domestic Violence Policy Arenas” Feminist Criminology Volume 3].
MRAs seem to have misplaced priorities and a highly twisted notion of social justice. They fail to understand that claiming your rights doesn’t mean marginalisation and taking away of the rights of the other group.
Men’s rights activists outright deny that men have been given more privileges on account of their sex. Many of them, in fact, theorize that the feminist movement is actually a political conspiracy by women to conceal men’s victimization and to create a ‘female-dominated world’. Yes, you read it right! According to MRA’s, women have never been oppressed, rather men have always been the real ‘victims’. Women were never denied the right to obtain formal education, or practice a profession of their choice. They always had voting and reproductive rights. Everything is just an elaborate, wicked plot to defame and eventually subjugate men!
Men’s Rights Activists declare that their purpose is to highlight the gender-based discrimination that men face everyday and that gets ignored by the society or law because all are too busy giving away “privileges” to women in the name of equal rights and fair treatment. They have complained that feminism has gone too far, causing enormous harm to men. By “privileges”, Indian MRAs often mean the separate compartment in metro trains for women to prevent sexual harassment by pervert men who treat women’s bodies as their private property. By “too far”, they probably mean that feminism has gone on to perpetuate this crazy idea that women too are human beings with a mind of their own, and rights over their bodies. And yes, feminists have seriously harmed men by preaching gender equality which entails men and women are equally responsible for financially supporting their families, hence the burden of earning a livelihood shouldn’t rest upon the shoulders of men alone.
The men’s rights activism has become more vocal as well as absurd with the emergence of social media. Scroll through any MRA page on Facebook and you will be shocked with the amount of misogyny and stupidity their posts display. They share links of pseudo-scientific studies claiming that men are naturally better drivers than women, thus rejoicing over the “innate inferiority of the female sex.” They openly defend and support rapists like Brock Turner. They slut-shame women celebrities, mock feminists, do selective reporting, and make racist and homophobic posts on their pages. They say that date-rape isn’t a thing, and marital rape shouldn’t be recognized by the law.
Look at the image above for reference. It was posted on a prominent MRA page. In the name of “men’s rights”, they are openly supporting a rapist. Clearly, the word ‘consent’ doesn’t exist anywhere in their dictionaries. They believe that forcefully penetrating a woman who is drunk and unable to give sexual consent is not rape because “she’s asking for it.” They are sending out this ugly message to all young boys and men that a drunk woman in a party is sexually available; that there’s nothing wrong in raping a sub-conscious, or unconscious woman. And here’s another gem from another prominent MRA Facebook page:
Now, upon this earth, what has this pseudo-study got to do with their so called men’s rights? What else is this if not another one of their nonsensical tactics to inferiorize women? The post is suggesting that women lack a general sportswoman’s spirit as they harbour ill-will or jealousy for each other. Indeed! We saw all women athletes fighting with each other after every single match during the Rio Olympics. That beautiful gesture of P.V. Sindhu happily giving a hand to Carolina Marin after being defeated by her in the final badminton match was actually an illusion!
Make a comparison between the posts on feminist pages and the ones on MRA pages anyday. You will easily find out who’s raising genuine issues and who’s promoting hatred.
MRAs confuse the term ‘equality’ with ‘similarity’, and say that men and women can never be equal since they are biologically different. They accuse feminists of having moral bias. They need to be told that feminism doesn’t give women the privilege card to get away with their crimes, unlike patriarchy that lets a rapist go with an easy 3 months imprisonment because anything more than that would be “too much”.
Each time a feminist raises women’s issues such as unequal pay, sexual harassment at workplace, female body objectification, etc., a men’s rights activist tries to neutralize it by raising serious men’s issues such as the ‘friendzone’. #Facepalm
Featured Image Credit: RednBlackSalamander