Written by Peachy_by_night
18 December 2019
Editor’s note: This article is the writer’s research, done for a class. Though it contains some assertions and accepts some concepts that many in the movement will not agree with, it is of interest to the men’s issues discussion for a couple of reasons. First, it represents an academic look at the movement from a fairly neutral perspective. Second, despite being research that approaches from a perspective which accepts some feminist concepts, the writer reached a very different conclusion than feminist media and feminist pundits have reached about men’s rights advocacy. For more information about the history of the MRM, readers should check out Peter Write’s book, A Brief History of The Men’s Rights Movement: From 1856 to the present.
In past few decades, there have been notable progress on issues of gender and human rights. Social development for women has increased tremendously, whereas, for men, their growth in terms of social progression has become stagnant. When talking about the gender debate, there has been such a focus on bettering society for the sake of women. Men and boys are then used as scapegoats for not complying with the altruistic tribalism that is feminism. They are left behind, deemed as faulty and a social pariah, and yet feminists still claim patriarchy and toxic masculinity for absence of female representation. It makes you wonder if the patriarchy, the “inherit” social advantage that men have, is as evil as feminist theory has made it be. This is the question that the men’s rights movement is trying to establish. Some have said that this movement is a counter to the massive feminist movement. However, the men’s rights movement was an indictment of unfair gynocentric nature. It is a way to sanctify men’s liberation, a way to bring back purpose to men in society.
So, what is the men’s rights movement? The Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) is a social movement that consists of a variety of groups and individuals who focus on social issues and specific government services which they claim adversely impact and structurally discriminate against men. The beginnings of the MRM emerged from the Men’s Liberation Movement. The men’s liberation movement acknowledged men’s institutionalized power while examining the framework of hegemonic masculinity (Messner 1998). The Men’s Liberation Movement was considered as a contrast to the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s (Messner 1998). They recognize the amount of sexism and struggles of women and the importance of feminism to address gender inequalities (Messner 1998). They, then, split into two factions: the pro-feminist and anti-feminist. Nowadays, the MRM is more focused on the “crisis of masculinity” (Maddison 2015). What men’s rights activists want to implement that men are disadvantaged, oppressed, or discriminated against as well (Maddison 2008). Issues like education, divorce, genital mutilation, suicide, incarceration, and domestic violence are some of the few social issues that feminists have gendered to be more of a woman’s point, instead of something that affects both genders. What they are trying to achieve is the idea that men have issues too.
One of the significant components of the men’s rights movement ideology is the topic of a masculinity crisis. There is this idea in the feminist spectrum that vilifies masculinity, calling it toxic. The current culture has actively preached that masculinity coincides with risk, violence, and sexual aggression (Veissière 2018). This brings up the topic that feminism has become the cultural norm and any opposition to the narrative is seen as misogynistic. Yet, when men try to talk about their issues, it is considered a claim to victimhood, despite women’s rights advocates doing the same thing. It is the matter of the “he said, she said,” dilemma, almost like a competition for the victim status on the gender equality debate (Veissière 2018). Stereotyping makes part of the difficulty. Though they can be rather crude and insensitive, they describe patterns of behavior and statistical regularities (Veissière 2018). Because the human mind has a difficult time handling complexity, it tends to simplify, which in turn can create fallacies and superstitions (Veissière 2018). This is what has become of gender archetypes. Gender archetypes often describe the best- and worst-case ideal types for both men and women. The worst cases for men are known for aggression, selfishness, and lacking care; the best examples are seen as strong, protective, and generous. As for women, the worst-cases are viewed as codding and manipulative. The best-cases are seen as beautiful, caring, and generous. Both sexes are affected by sexism, but for early men’s liberalists like Herb Goldberg, he mentions the rigidity of the male sex role has made men more susceptible to have less societal change. Some of the problems facing men cannot be solved through legislation (Messner 1998). The men in this perspective are told that they are the oppressor, and they are culturally favored, despite overwhelming evidence about “longevity, disease, suicide, crime, accidents, childhood emotional disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction” that says otherwise (Messner 1998).
In the article, The Limits of the “Male Sex Role,” Michael Messner mentions the functionalist perspective of sex roles, the family is described as a socialization process that instructs men in women to complementary roles to help in the maintenance of the family as well as the broader society (Messner 1998). One of the most notable ideologies in the men’s rights movement is that their main focus is not centered around the idea that “men are losing to women” but “a complex mix of change and continuity, reflecting profound economic, social, and cultural shifts affecting men, women and children and the relations between them” (Ruxton 2009). Early feminist scholars have taken that theory and utilized it to illuminate that masculinity and femininity are social constructs instead of innate biological essences of the sexes. However, in this context, they were more explicit in the negative aspects of sex roles instead of putting the emphasis on the positive attributes (Messner 1998). Because of the ever-growing feminist movement, the liberation of the female sex role has made women virtually free from the burden of fulfilling supposed feminine gender roles (Messner 1998). Women have been able to relieve themselves of their gender roles, yet still push that narrative onto men that they wish to encounter. However, the rigidity of the male sex role has created social imbalance, thus the creation of the men’s rights movement. The liberal pro-feminist faction has built this ideology that men have power and privilege under the presumed male-dominated society.
The MRM has alluded this crisis to the issue of fatherlessness and father rights. A sector of the men’s rights movement is the Fathers 4 Justice campaign. They focus on the inconsistency of the custody court hears and the voices of extradited fathers. Fatherhood is of profound significance when it comes to the discourses and practices of masculinity and is considered a focal point for tensions in gender relations (Maddison 1999). Academics has been so adamant on focusing on the power dynamic and strength that they have ignored the positive benefits of paternal masculinity like being a hard worker, an abiding citizen, as a good husband or partner (Maddison 1999). There is a belief within the men’s rights movement that fatherhood is not profoundly valued in the same way that motherhood has been. Especially in the family court system, when it comes to child custody, in the eyes of the court, the mother is often seen more as a better primary caregiver and is given full child custody (Jaye 2016). They are built on the idea of the dead-beat father, the absent father. Yet, most of the men’s rights advocates are divorced fathers and in debt due to unfair child support and alimony, and some are even denied access to their biological children (Maddison 1999). They have coined the term as “living bereavement,”
“if someone said how does it feel to have had your children die, that’s the same emotion you go through when you’re dealing with it you feel you’re never gonna see ’em again, and that’s just how you feel …”
It is not just the men who are suffering; Children who do not have positive father figures in their lives are more susceptible to commit suicide (63%) (Parker 2019). They are more likely to become runaways and homeless (90%) (Parker 2019). They are more likely to drop out of high school (71%), to be incarcerated (75%), and to take part in substance abuse (75%) (Parker 2019). Their opinion is that a child should be with both parents unless the other parent has discrete evidence of why they should not see their children. Yet, they are some, not all, mothers who become gatekeepers, using claims of domestic violence or abusive behavior extort power over their ex-husbands (Jordan 2009). In most legal proceedings for rape and child abuse, at least 26 percent of allegations are found to be false or unsubstantiated (Mazeh and Widrig 2016). These men have experienced the manipulative behavior that these bad mothers have on their children, coining the idea of poisoning or brainwashing their children to be against their fathers (Jordan 2009). “Parental Alienation Syndrome” is considered a form of child abuse and domestic abuse. As an interviewee emphasized on this topic,
‘by tormenting the child and the father, erm that is a form of domestic violence’; ‘it is an abuse, if we talk about child abuse, to take one parent away from a child when that child loves that parent, is child abuse, and there is no other way you can describe it, as child abuse, to take that child away’
The masculinity crisis and father bereavement are focused on one social thought, that overall, masculinity is inherently toxic. Still, as the evidence shows, it is the lack of positive masculinity that is the culprit.
A topic that is very prevalent in the MRM is the issue of men’s violence. Toxic masculinity has always been associated with violence. When speaking on the subject of men’s violence, people would automatically assume that violent acts inflicted on women and children like “rape, sexual harassment, and physical and sexual abuse” (Ruxton 2009). However, other forms of violence affect men like “football hooliganism, alcohol-related violence, rioting, racist attacks, bullying, military conflict” (Ruxton 2009). Men nearly account for 75 percent of all homicide victims; that is three times the rate of female victims and yet it is not seen as alarming (Ruxton 2009). Men and boys are influenced by pervasive ideas and images, perpetrated by the media and by peer groups, and other factors of “what being a ‘real man’ are about: being rich, successful, handsome, powerful and obeyed or ‘respected,’ physically strong, unemotional” (Ruxton 2009). This view of toxic masculinity makes the issue of domestic violence so counterintuitive when it comes to male victims. Most of society views men to be the primary abusers with it comes to domestic violence. According to Man Made: Men, masculinities, and equality in public policy,
The Government defines domestic violence as ‘Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality … Whatever form it takes, domestic violence is rarely a one-off incident. More usually, it’s a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour through which the abuser seeks power over their victim’.
Though it is statistically valid that at one out of four women will experience some form of domestic violence, one in six men are victims of domestic violence and should be recognized to be just as important (Jaye 2015). Out of the 2000 plus domestic violence in the united states, only 2 shelters are specifically for male domestic violence (Jaye 2016). When a community sees a woman beaten by her partner, they will rush to give her aide and guidance, but when men are the victims, they are left emasculated and dismissed of their problems. One in four men will have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and yet there is little to no social outrage. Even more disturbing is the fact that some women will lie and call false claims on their intimate partners as a form of dominance over their partners (Mazeh and Widrig 2016). When male victims of domestic violence file complaints against their female partners, they will pursue a false counter claim, leading to the men’s arrests (Mazeh and Widrig 2016). For example, non-violent conflicts between spouses, especially against the litigation around divorce or child custody, might lead people to file false complaints of domestic violence (Mazeh and Widrig 2016). Many have argued that when receiving a claim of partner abuse, immediate measures should be taken, like restraining orders, removal of the shared residence, and, if necessary, arrest. However, this is a violation of one of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. When speaking of men’s violence, it is vital to understand that it is not minimizing the effects of violence toward women and children, but it further emphasizing that they have their fair share.
The men’s rights movement can be considered more of a national social change, even thought to be more transnational. National social movements present a broad perspective on issues while involving formal and loosely affiliated networks, whereas transnational social movements affect multiple countries and coordinate with their actions (Almeida 2019). A great example is the International Conference on Men’s Issues. They bring members of different men’s rights groups around the world under one roof to talk and discuss the marginalization of men’s issues. Countries like India, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States has adopted to the coalition as they view the men in their countries be almost disregarded and abandoned. The Honey Badger Podcast has done stories and articles of the different problems that faced men in various countries, including their own.
The MRM has a collective identity. Collective identity is centered on a sense of togetherness (Almeida 2019). An ethnographic done by Virgil E. Russel, he analyzed the group participation of smaller men groups and their interactions with one another. What he had concluded is that men groups provide a sense of comfort and intimacy that they fail to obtain because a lack of community (Russel 2009). Men have a fear of self-disclosure of problems that they face because of the fear of backlash from women and other men and the hegemonic masculinity narrative (Russel 2009). Within the group setting, men are more willing to discuss their complaints in an environment of peers with similar backgrounds. As such, organizations have made their way to allow men to heard such as National Coalition of Men and Boys, International Conference on Men’s Issues, Fathers 4 Justice Campaign, Taylor House Domestic Violence Shelter for Men, The Lighthouse Project, in Canada and Australia, and The Rights of the Child (Ruxton 2009). They are a collection of both activist and everyday organizations for the MRM. Activist groups’ purpose is to help coordinate social movement campaigns, whereas everyday organizations are made to set up to meet the goals other than collective action (Almeida 2019). The National Coalition of Men and Boys and International Conference on Men’s Issues are activist organizations, focusing on public policies and initiating conferences and societal awareness. The following are examples of everyday organizations under the MRM. The Taylor House Domestic Violence Shelter for Men was built because of the lack of domestic violence shelter for male victims, making it the first domestic violence shelter for men in the United States (International Conference on Men’s Issues 2019). The Lighthouse Project in Australia focuses primarily on men’s mental health and suicide prevention, while the one in Canada provides free assistance for those who have been wrongly or falsely accused of sexual assault or domestic violence States (International Conference on Men’s Issues 2019). They are built on the collective identity that they are advocates for the men who do not have a voice, for the vulnerable men.
According to Smelser, a norm-oriented movement is a collective attempt to restore, protect, modify, or create norms in the name of a generalized belief (Miller 2016). For this type of movement to mobilize, it requires an initial interest. The first stage of a norm-oriented movement is to, first, search for activity (Miller 2016). The Men’s Liberation Movement can be considered the early stage and second stage of mobilization efforts. It started with men who were astounded by the immense amount of feminism affecting the academics that it made them beg the question what it had to do with them (Messner 1998). Now in the cultural spectrum, the MRM has reached its last stage of mobilization by attracting different variants of men’s issues that it has culminated into this countermovement against feminism. The Men’ Rights Movement is considered as a norm-oriented movement; purposely ratifying the men’s societal role and reinforcing the idea of positive masculinity. On occasion, the norm-oriented movement will work with several groups simultaneously (Miller 2016). The Men’s Rights Movement is consisted of and is not limited to National Coalition of Men and Boys, International Conference on Men’s Issues, Fathers 4 Justice Campaign, Taylor House Domestic Violence Shelter for Men, The Lighthouse Project, in Canada and Australia, and The Rights of the Child (Ruxton 2009). The movement’s focus is on the behavior of people either within the movement or outside the movement; what Men’s Rights Advocates want is to change the perspective of the cultural belief that men are a negative part of society (Miller 2016).
In order for a movement like this to thrive, it requires some sort of framework. Diagnostic framing involves a diagnosis for some social problem and promote change (Almeida 2019). Prognostic framing, then offers a solution to the problem (Almeida 2019). Motivational framing then brings in the emotional appeals and calls for action (Almeida 2019). The MRM has made it their due diligence to bring light to some of the feminists’ fallacies. Then, they offer their solutions by promoting the inclusion of men’s issues into gender dialogue. By using anecdotes and statistics, they reveal the social dilemma that affects men. The MRM heavily relies on advocacy, such as websites, social media and speeches, and conferences by prominent leaders of the group. However, there are some concerns when it comes to the framing process: framing centrality and frame vulnerabilities (Almeida 2019). Frame centrality addresses the question of how important a social issue is on the hierarchy of public concerns (Almeida 2019). That issue is prominent in the MRM because of the cultural assumption that men are privileged thus have no right to have their own movement. As such, they have to rely heavily on the diagnostic side of their framework, focuses on educating on their issues instead of active protesting (Almeida 2019). Most of the MRM events are not public protests as they understand if they act belligerent or irrational, they will be hammered with public scrutiny. They do not want to support further the negative stereotypes that feminists have on MRAs. That is one of the frame vulnerabilities that face the MRM. The recent resurgence of the MRM has been met with some criticism. Feminists stereotype men’s rights advocates as misogynists, sexists, internal misogynists if you happen to be a female men’s rights advocate, etc. Feminists have centralized their movement on gender inequality, gender discrimination, and violence against women, and liberation from gender roles, however, they will disavow the idea that men have some social prejudices against them as well. Feminists see men as people with no societal pressures under the belief of the Feminist theory of patriarchy, where men are considered the most powerful of the two sexes. Some have gone to the extent of normalizing misandry.
Understanding the Men’s Rights Movement allows the conversation of gender issues to be challenged. When talking about gender inequality, it is almost explicitly spoken on the women’s perspective, talking about the patriarchy and male privilege. What they are knowledgeable about the issues of women, they lack or refuse to acknowledge the problems that still affect men. In every conflict is the other side of the coin.
By using the theoretic frameworks of norm-oriented and national social movement theory, the MRM established their mark in the social movement spectrum. Although the Men’s Rights Movement is widely misunderstood as being the “backlash” strand of the men’s movement, they are using their knowledge on men’s issues to bring awareness by utilizing diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational frameworks.
There is a widespread belief amongst men’s rights activists that the women’s movement has “gone too far” and has harmed men in profound and fundamental ways (Maddison 1999). The Men’s Rights Movement brought the men’s perspective on the gender debate. Masculinity is being called toxic (Veissière 2018). Fathers are being extradited from their children by estranged ex-wives (Jaye 2016). False accusations are putting innocent men in jail (Mazeh and Widrig 2016). In their eyes, the gender issue should not be made into a competition. There is no better or worse gender. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, and neither should be used to make either seem more superior. Women and men have their own issues to combat against, but that should not make either argument insignificant. What the current census of society is that men are the majority and do not need the benefits that they have supposedly earned through their “male privilege.” The men’s rights movement’s goal is to bring light to the inequalities that men face. What they truly want is not gender favoritism but true gender equality.
Almeida, Paul. 2019. Social Movements: The Structure of Collective Mobilization. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
International Conference on Men’s Issues. 2019. “International Conference on Men’s Issues 2019.” International Conference on Men’s Issues 2019. (http://icmi2019.icmi.info/).
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Retrieved December 20, 2019 (https://www.liveabout.com/fatherless-children-in-america-statistics-1270392).
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