Men’s rights activists. A thorn in the side of pretty much every feminist and, actually, many other people. While men’s rights activists hide beneath a seemingly inoffensive title (though dig a little deeper and the label is problematic), what they actually do can be insulting and genuinely terrifying.
For example, in Australia in 2018, 22 year old Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered as she walked home through a park. Her murder ignited a huge outpouring of anger over the levels of violence against women in Australia. But a men’s rights activist Andrew Nolch decided that the anger over Dixon’s murder had turned into ‘man-hating’. Apparently to prove his point and take a stand, Nolch defaced a memorial to Dixon in Princes Park by painting a 25 metre long penis on the grass.
Men’s rights activists rarely have much to do with actual men’s rights. Whereas women’s rights activists typically seek to address the inequalities women face to ensure that women’s human rights are fulfilled and not disregarded to pander to male supremacist ideas, men’s rights activists actively seek to reverse many of the gains women have made over the past few decades. Their ideas are reactionary, and they claim that progress towards women’s rights has actually stripped men of their own rights.
But of course, this is patently not true. In fact, for many women, men’s rights activists are not a threat in terms of legitimacy, but in terms of how they can frighten women and often appear to be able to galvanise other men into harmful behaviours.
So what are some of the ways that men’s rights activists derail conversations around violence against women? Well here are some responses to the matter that reek of men’s rights activism.
Whataboutery and excuses for violence
If you broach conversations about violence against women in front of men’s rights activists, many of them will refuse to discuss the matter and will instead reference the fact that men also experience domestic violence at the hands of women.
While men definitely do experience violence at the hands of women, the rate is much much lower, and the fact of this violence does not detract from the fact that domestic violence is most typically gendered as male on female. However, men’s rights activists are always keen to point out the existence of female on male violence as though it invalidates the existence of female on male violence.
Men’s rights activists also often claim that women overstate the impact of male on female domestic violence – something that is rather worrying when so many of them simultaneously argue that men ought to be allowed to hit their partners, and discuss ideas such as the ‘necessity of domestic violence’.
Many men’s rights activists refuse to see the equal humanity of women. They characterise women as parasites who simply want to leech off and hurt men. Women are not fellow human beings but serious threats to men being able to live a comfortable life. Activist forums online are full of sensationalised claims about women’s innate unfaithfulness, anger about false rape accusations and cruel jokes about miscarriage. All this is used to dehumanise women and turn them into objects who are deserving of mistreatment.
Beyond this, men’s rights activists typically refer to other statistics to present a picture of society as disproportionately biased against men. It is true that the majority of homicide victims are male, but the vast vast majority of perpetrators are male as well.
Fundamentally, this behaviour amounts to nothing more than whataboutery – an attempt to bluster away a core belief in the values of patriarchy.
The ills men face
This is a big topic of conversation for men’s rights activists. Much of the narrative around men’s rights seems to be focused on the idea that women have things easier.
In 2020, Will Knowland, a teacher at Eton school, was fired after refusing to take down a video called the ‘Patriarchy Paradox’ from his YouTube channel. The video in question (which seemed to be heavily influenced by men’s rights ideology) claimed that women needed men in order to be able to live in a non-primitive state. Knowland argued that women never do any of the tough and difficult work required in this world – including agriculture (a bizarre claim considering that a huge proportion of the world’s famers are women). Another argument that Knowland gave is that it is men who put their bodies and lives on the line in war.
This is a huge issue for many men’s rights activists. The fact that it tends to be men who fight on the frontlines in war – even in countries which have a larger focus on women’s rights – is a sign (to men’s rights activists) that men are seen as disposable and less valued in society.
And yet this argument is flawed. It fails to take into account that warfare is rarely just about battles and bombs. In modern warfare, civilian casualties typically outnumber military ones, and women and children also bear the brunt of the risks for sexual violence. Modern slavery and human trafficking are huge side effects of war – and these issues undoubtedly affect women. The idea that war can simply be boiled down to men fighting men in separate arenas from civilian life is reductive and dishonest
Gender parity isn’t about fights between men and women – and it’s not about one group winning rights at the expense of the other. A fairer society for women is also a fairer society for men – fairness does not logically work any other way. Men’s rights activists seek to claim that gains in women’s rights have pushed men’s freedoms and rights off the agenda; but what they really and simply mean is that men no longer can feel entitled to behave however they want with women, and automatically be privileged over them.