Top 10 Things You Must Understand about the Men’s Movement
“Is there really such a thing as a ‘Men’s Movement’?” may be one question that is spurred upon reading the title of this list.
Yes, there is, and the Men’s Movement is one that actually stretches back over four decades. Operating alongside the second wave of feminism, the Men’s Movement is actually made up of several factions—some still gaining steam today while others have since been dismantled.
There are subsections of the Men’s Movements which, like feminism, are poised to further egalitarianism in our society by working to eradicate oppression of groups based on gender and stereotypes that continue to percolate in 2015. Conversely, sections of the Men’s Movements such as the Men’s Rights Movement have gained disconcerting traction in the media and online with messages saturated by hate speech and misogyny. This type of movement not only seemingly attempts to keep a glass ceiling permanently lowered on women as a whole, faulty reporting and misuse of data have been put forth by members of this movement in order to downplay such serious issues like rape and domestic violence—issues which are as pertinent in 2015 as they ever were.
There are many things that warrant discussion about the Men’s Movement. Below are the top 10 things to understand about this movement’s history, evolution and the way the movement is effecting American society today.
The Men’s Movement was Sparked by the Second Wave of Feminism
The second wave of feminism (also known as the “women’s movement”) occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. Whereas the first wave of feminism focused mainly on women’s suffrage and allowing for women to enjoy constitutional freedoms they had been denied, such as the right to vote, the second wave of feminism focused more on liberating women in regard to allowing for women to pursue careers, have focuses outside of home and the family, and also for women’s sexuality to no longer be objectified or oppressed. In response was the Men’s Movement, which was established as a way for groups of men to come together for activities such as self-help, support and lobbying.
The Men’s Rights Movement is only one faction of the Men’s Movement.
The Men’s Rights Movement was established alongside other movements responding to the second wave of feminism during the late 1960s and 1970s. Due to its prevalence within the media over the past decade—particularly due to the provocative and vitriolic organization A Voice For Men (AVFM)—many refer to the Men’s Rights Movement and the Men’s Movement interchangeably.
However, the Men’s Rights Movement is only one faction of the Men’s Movement. In fact, other factions such as the Pro-Feminist Men’s Movement and the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement are actually in great opposition to derogatory principles laid out by AVFM.
We have plenty to go over regarding the Men’s Rights Movement, but we will also be expounding upon parts of the Men’s Movement which contributed to its history as well as its presence today.
Certain Men’s Rights Activists Frequently Report Faulty Statistics on Women Rapists
I’m going to preface this with acknowledgment to the fact that yes, a man can most definitely be raped by a woman. And yes, the psychological scars left by such an act should not be discredited or devalued simply because of stereotypes that, “all men want sex all the time” and that, “it is not physically possible for a man to be raped by a woman.”
A 2013 report from CNN told the story of James Landrith, who was 19 when a woman who offered him a ride home from a bar took him to a hotel room and forced herself on him repeatedly. The woman was pregnant and told Landrith “…that he could hurt the baby if he put up a fight.” After seeking the help of a therapist, Landrith was able to acknowledge the incident for what it was—female-on-male rape.
CNN went on to note 2010 statistics from the CDC, which states that, “…Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped.” The number for men is likely higher due to the gross underreporting that comes along with female-to-male rape.
Male victims of rapes by women is an issue that demands more attention, which the MRAs allege to be proponents of in their “activism.” However, using faulty statistics while also downplaying the seriousness of female victims of rape does nothing to help the cause.
Through cherrypicking (and erroneous mathematical calculations) of data from The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, several MRAs and MRA websites have made the erroneous claim that, “40% of rapists are women.” We Hunted the Mammoth writer David Futrelle spoke to the researchers behind the NIPSVS, who verified that the percentage put forth by MRAs was false.
“It appears that the math used to derive an estimated percentage of female rapists…is flawed…several aspects of mistreatments of the data and the published estimates occurred.”
The misuse of data by MRAs not only discredits their argument, but these types of alterations that are subsequently framed with sentiments that denigrate and attempt to oppress women (more on that in a bit) ultimately do nothing but dismantle the captivation society could have—and needs—toward the oft undisclosed incidents of sexual assault on men.
Furthermore, Certain Men’s Rights Activists Downplay the Seriousness of Rape when Females are the Victims
In complete opposition to their point about the dangers and long-term psychological effects placed on men being raped, several MRAs downplay the effects sexual assault has when females are the victim. Moreover, MRAs have both negated several rape claims by women as false or being due to regret over a one night stand. At its most dangerous, MRAs—perhaps the most prominent being leader of the men’s rights group A Voice for Men, Paul Elam—has written posts claiming that women are not merely “asking” to be sexually assaulted when they go out to clubs or bars and partake in drinking and flirtations with men, but that they are “begging” for it. In his 2010 post Challenging the Etiology of Rape, Elam wrote:
“I have ideas about women who spend evenings in bars hustling men for drinks, playing on their sexual desires so they can get s***faced on the beta dole; paying their bar tab with the p***y pass. And the women who drink and make out, doing everything short of sex with men all evening, and then go to his apartment at 2:00 a.m.. Sometimes both of these women end up being the ‘victims’ of rape. But are these women asking to get raped? In the most severe and emphatic terms possible the answer is NO, THEY ARE NOT ASKING TO GET RAPED. They are freaking begging for it. Damn near demanding it.”
According to a 2010 counter post by WHTM and a 2014 report from RH Reality Check, a cacophony of backlash caused Elam to take down the post and brushed off criticism by claiming his intention was to be satirical and, as RH Reality put it, an “…attempt to clean up [AVFM’s] image, as the organization attempts to mainstream itself to the public.”
However, it appears that the post has been republished to the website, along with several more recent articles that continue to purport hate speech and misogyny toward female victims of rape. Such posts include titles like “5 Reasons Women Love Rape Fantasies” and “The Girl Who Cried ‘Rape!’”
Men’s Rights Movements Have Made Other Faulty Claims in Regard to Custody Disputes
One of MRAs most prominent grievances with women is the supposed advantages females have when it comes to child custody disputes. Writer Julianne Ross debunked AVFM’s several stories and faulty statistics with her article The 8 Biggest Lies Men’s Rights Activists Spread About Women. She writes:
“Most [custody disputes within heterosexual marriages] are settled out of court, meaning that custody placement does not rest in the hands of judges (most of whom are men, by the way). Just 4% of cases actually go to trial. And mothers often get custody in large part because, on average, they’re still the primary caretakers of children. That’s not bias, and it’s not even necessarily a good thing. It’s just a fact. Oft-cited statistics that only 10-15% of fathers are granted sole custody are skewed because they include couples who have agreed to grant the mother custody or to joint custody. When men do seek primary physical custody in a disputed divorce, about 50% get it.”
It should be noted as well that AVFM’s ringleader, Paul Elam, had at one time refused to paid child support for his now estranged daughter. After accusing his ex-wife of lying about being raped by his friend, stating she was “…bored with her marriage…”, Elam wrote a petition to the courts stating that he did not feel he should pay because he did not believe the child was his. After finally relinquishing to a paternity test, it was found that the child was in fact his, and Elam “…was ultimately held in contempt for failure to pay child support. His punishment was a $100 fine and 30 days in jail. He was ordered to pay $1,200 in unpaid debts, upon which, both parties agreed, his parental rights would be terminated.”
Elam’s ex wife and estranged daughter (who he briefly reunited with after being absent for her entire childhood and much of her adult life) were interviewed by BuzzFeed, where they described the man that has led a movement as an emotionally abusive narcissist, whose former addiction to drugs and alcohol made him only scarcely present even before the divorce and custody battle.
The Original Men’s Liberation Movement had Egalitarian Principles
The Men’s Liberation Movement began in the late 1960s and 1970s as a response to the women’s movement and feminism which had gained steam in Western Culture. Interestingly, the Men’s Liberation Movement was—in a way—birthed from and very much inspired by the second wave of feminism. Originators of the movement sought similar goals as second wave feminists—to quash stereotypes placed on gender which led to both the oppression and division of men and women, as well as the mentality amongst men that their emotions and sensitivity must be incessantly quelled in order to maintain their masculinity.
In his 1970 article On Men’s Liberation, published in the Liberation journal, Jack Sawyer (a psychologist and civil rights activist, not the dude from Lost) wrote:
“Male liberation seeks to aid in destroying the sex role stereotypes that regard ‘being a man’ as statuses that must be achieved through proper behavior…If men cannot play freely, neither can they freely cry, be gentle, nor show weakness—because they are ‘feminine,’ not ‘masculine.’ But a fuller concept of humanity recognizes that all men and women are potentially strong and weak and active and passive; and these human characteristics are not the province of one sex.”
This work was acknowledged in Michael A. Messner’s 1997 book, Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. Messner went on to note that the Men’s Liberation Movement was short-lived when it branched into two different facets during the late 1970s—the one branch includes the aforementioned Men’s Rights Movement, which has utilized a radical—and harmful—antifeminist view in order to supposedly lift the oppression of men. The other facet is known as the Pro-Feminist Men’s Movement. The Pro-Feminist Men’s Movement expounded upon the original principles set forth by the Men’s Liberation Movement by continuing to pushback against the stereotypes that led to rigid gender roles, while also providing a network of allies to feminists as well as proponents of civil rights, anti-war movements and the LGBT community.
Pro-Feminist Men Have Confronted Issues Such as Violence Against Women
Author and pro-feminist Michael Kaufman was one of the leading activists in a campaign known as the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC), which seeks to end violence against women. The campaign was sparked as a response to the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, which occurred on December 6, 1989 in Canada. On that day, 25-year-old Marc Lepine shot 28 people and killed 14 women before committing suicide. Lepine made statements about his hatred of feminists and feminism during his rampage.
After being spearheaded in 1991 as a campaign to end violence against women by raising awareness and educating boys and men about the importance of speaking out against the problem, the WRC is currently active in 57 countries around the world.
Pro-Feminism Has Also Ignited Discussion and Activism which Confronts Rape
Unlike MRAs who have seemingly used female-to-male rape statistics as a way to fuel their campaign against women, pro-feminists have addressed the importance of raising awareness about rape through the encouragement of activism and education in order to put an end to sexual assault upon any individual. Pro-feminists have not used misogyny or hate speech in an attempt to get their point across and further a disconcerting agenda, unlike MRAs.
In his work Outside In: A Man in the Movement, Richard Orton describes the perspectives he gained on feminism and pro-feminism while working as a Public Education Director of the Austin Rape Crisis Center. He wrote:
“Working in a rape crisis center has given me access to the world as women experience it; it has given me a chance to feel their vulnerability…their fear…and their sense of injustice. These feelings have created in me a personal imperative: the need to work for change. But this opportunity is not available to many men. Trust and power issues keep many women in centers and shelters from being comfortable with men in their programs. Their concerns are easy to understand. Men created the problem of sexual violence and most still do not grasp the connections between everyday sexism and violence. This creates mistrust. But if women and men are to overcome their history and be able to redefine power in relationships, they, at some point, must come together, face-to-face, and learn to do this in real life — over the dinner table, in the workplace, and, in my view, in settings where women’s experience is validated and women’s leadership is guaranteed. Rape crisis centers and shelters are such places.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and other Actors are Self-Proclaimed Pro-Feminists
Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been praised by feminists and members of the pro-feminist community by speaking out about the true meanings of feminism that often get lost in translation as well as the need for egalitarianism.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gordon-Levitt was quick to proclaim himself as a feminist, and went on to note that he felt historically women were “an oppressed category of people,” and that as such there has been detriment to society.
“There’s a long, long history of women suffering abuse, injustice and not having the same opportunities as men, and I think that’s been very detrimental to the human race as a whole. I’m a believer that if everyone has a fair chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, it’s better for everyone. It benefits society as a whole.”
For the most part, the response to Gordon-Levitt’s statement was positive, but there were also some mixed reviews from people who stated they felt feminism was “irrelevant today” due to the fact that men and women have become “equal.” The 34-year-old actor subsequently posted a video to YouTube titled Re: Feminism, where he noted some of the comments that had been critical about his identification as a feminist, the disparities between men and women he felt continued to be relevant today and invited his audience to further the discussion.
“…It’s complicated, and I grant that it’s complicated, and I think that it’s a really great thing for us all to be talking about.”
Gordon-Levitt also responded to women against feminism who felt that feminists denigrated women who make the choice to take on traditional roles of being wives and stay-at-home mothers. The actor noted lessons he had garnered from his own mother, stating, “To me, as a feminist, I would say it should be up to the woman if she wants to decide. If she wants to be a mom, she should be a mom. If that’s what she wants to do full time then that’s awesome—that’s what my mom did. But if she wants to be able to go out and work and go have a career, she should be able to do that as well.”
In other news, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is currently married to a woman who is not me, which I am saddened by on a regular basis. I mean, congrats I guess…
Other actors and male entertainers who identify themselves as allies to feminism include John Legend, Seth Meyers and Jon Hamm to name a few.
Not All of the Facets of the Men’s Movements Have Been Political
A seldom noted part of the Men’s Movement is the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, which was established by American poet, author and activist, Robert Bly. The movement did not oft address politics, but was more rooted in spirituality and psychoanalysis, acting as a sort of “self-help” forum for me to better express their feelings. One consistent theme of this movement is the need for boys to have their father present in order to graduate into adulthood and become men.
In an interview with PBS, Bly spoke of the concerns he had over how the Industrial revolution led to men being absent for a majority of childrearing, particularly when it came to raising sons. Bly also noted the dangers that come from men not being able to express feelings as women have, and he predicted violent behavior could erupt from this. In the interview, Bly goes on to explain his perspective on the ability for men to band together and support each other without this leading to a trajectory that is resentful towards women.