Fusion

Society treats boys and men as inferiors to girls and women, and there’s an institutionalized feminist conspiracy to keep things this way.

If you agree with that statement, you’re not alone. The upstart Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) movement predicates its entire worldview on that argument, and they’ve got a lot to say on the issue.

The movement, which is growing in membership, recently held its first-ever International Conference on Men’s Issues at a Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Hall in the quaint Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores, Michigan. The event was organized by “A Voice for Men,” an organization whose website has become one of the go-to destinations for those who share the group’s concerns. It was founded in 2009 by Paul Elam, who has since become one of the de facto leaders of the men’s movement.

For Elam, the last weekend’s conference in Detroit was another milestone in the groundswell of men who are finding their voice to speak truth to feminist power. But for feminists and rights activists, the meeting was a misogynistic celebration of violence against women.

Why You Should Care What These Guys Say

Regardless of where you stand on the men’s rights movement, there’s no denying that it has grown remarkably. The Internet has provided fertile ground for the movement to deepen its roots and spread its branches.

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The movement can trace its origins back to the 1970s and ironically is tied to the feminist cause. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University who specializes in gender issues, told Salon in 2011:

“Around the time of the early second wave of feminism — the early 1970s — women basically said, ‘Women get a bad deal. We have to be mothers and homemakers but we can’t have careers’ — all that stuff that everybody knows. Then a bunch of men in the 1970s started saying, ‘Yeah! Society says that we have to be the breadwinners, we have to be unemotional, we have to do all these things. Boy, it sucks for men too.’ And out of that a men’s liberation movement was born.”

The men’s lib movement was quickly relegated to the fringe of society. But that’s where life thrives on the Internet.

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“I don’t even have words to describe how important the Internet has been,” Paul Elam told Fusion. “The mainstream media has not exactly, in my opinion, done its job, on covering gender issues fairly. The Internet levels the playing field. You can get as much audience as you’re capable of generating and if you have quality content and you have a little bit of marketing savvy you can address these issues to millions of people.”

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor of their journal The Intelligence Report, agrees with the Internet’s pivotal role, but he likened the growing presence of the the men’s rights movement to the recent online resurgence of white supremacy groups.

“These are people who were formerly extremely isolated individuals, who were seen by others around them as losers, and who really didn’t have much of anything going for them,” he told Fusion. “With the Internet, the whole world has changed for them. They’ve discovered that they are a part of a much larger community and now they feel that they are right. They’ve discovered other people who have told them they are right and they’ve been empowered in a sense.”

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The men’s rights community extends beyond just Elam’s website. Platforms like Reddit have also made it easier for MRAs to find one another. The subreddit /r/MensRights, for example, currently boasts more than 93,000 subscribers and has steadily grown since it was founded in March 2008. It’s currently one of the top 300 communities on Reddit.

What Do The MRAs Believe?

First and foremost, members of the men’s rights movement believe that anyone with a penis is treated as a second-class citizen. This is an absolute truth for the MRAs, and they look for evidence that substantiates this fundamental belief. Just about every person we spoke to at the conference echoed the group’s talking points about how the vast majority of the prison and homeless population in the United States is male. They are also quick to point out that more men tend to commit suicide than women, and account for the majority of workplace fatalities.

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“Somewhere along the lines, we started treating boys and men as if they were less important than girls,” said Dean Esmay, A Voice for Men’s Operations Manager and self-described second-in-command.

“Society is concerning itself with women’s issues first, and they’re not even looking at what’s happening to boys or men,” he told Fusion.

Denying the historical oppression of women is essential to the MRA narrative—the wage gap, for example, is a myth they attempt to disprove with the following logic:

“If you think really hard about it, if I really could get away with paying women 77 cents on the dollar, as an employer why wouldn’t I only hire women? I would save a lot of money over my competitors,” said Esmay.

Video by Ingrid Rojas

And who’s to blame for the oppression of men? Radical feminists.

In fact, the bulk of the presenters at last weekend’s conference focused on attacking feminism rather than discussing viable solutions to homelessness, male imprisonment, or a court system that they claim gives preferential treatment to woman. There were no discussions of how to work towards societal change. Instead, as Esmay stated, the focus of the meeting was to voice concerns and raise awareness on these issues.

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They discussed how feminism is to blame for the perpetuation of societal misandry, and attempted to debunk the “myths” of patriarchy and rape culture.

The Women of the MRA

Surprisingly, a lot of these claims made at the men’s rights conference were made by women participants. The conference kicked off with three female presenters— Canadian Senator Ann Cools (who said that “the safest place for a woman was at home with her husband”), Erin Pizzey (founder of one of the world’s first women’s shelters who believes that Hillary Clinton and other feminists are part of an “evil empire), and Tara Palmatier (a psychologist who runs Shrink4Men.com who equates feminism to “the vilification of boys and men, and the lionization of girls and women” and believes that our “mother-driven society” creates a culture of shaming boys).

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The male conference-goers were thankful for the women’s participation in the event.

“The women gave credibility,” said Peter Mergen, who said he attended the conference because he wanted to learn more about the movement. “These are not slouch women, these are not women who are cowering and saying what they’re saying because they think they need to please their men.”

The participation of women also provides the mostly male movement with a shield against the many accusations of misogyny.

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“Misogyny to me is like a catch-all excuse to dismiss an issue. It’s almost like an ethnic slur,” Esmay said. “Really, if we’re such misogynists, we’re doing it wrong because we have an awful lot of women here and I don’t know any subservient, meek, submissive women in this movement.”

Misogyny in the MRA Movement

Still, it’s hard for the group to shake the misogynist label that easily, especially when the website A Voice For Men has published numerous articles—-many of which have since been removed—-that promote hatred and violence towards women. One such article posted in 2010, entitled “If You See a Jezebel in the Road, Run the Bitch Down” and authored by A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam, suggests renaming October to “Bash a Violent Bitch Month.”

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“I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women—to beat the living shit out of them,” Elam wrote (emphasis was also his).

Elam claims the piece was meant to be satire.

Then there’s this article (also from 2010), entitled “When Is It OK to Punch Your Wife?” In it, Elam concedes that his headline is meant to be sensational and answers his question by saying that it’s never ok to hit your spouse because our society condemns such action (not because it’s a terrible thing to do).

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The group seems to have mellowed since the publication of the earlier hate articles. Everyone at the conference was on their best behavior; Elam (and other participants) went to great lengths to explain that A Voice For Men considers itself to be a peaceful movement.

Mark Potok, however, is skeptical the group has really changed its tune.

“Two years ago, when you dipped into the world of Paul Elam and his friends, it was a universe absolutely dripping of hatred for women, false propaganda about them, and repeated concentrated harassment of particular individuals,” he said.

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While the group appeared to behave more respectfully in the flesh than they do when hidden behind the anonymity veil of the Internet, their “coming out” party is an event worth noting. Most media ridiculed the first International Conference on Men’s Issues for its relatively poor attendance. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. Rather than dismiss the group for how few people showed up, it should be noted that they’re becoming increasingly public and bold. This is how movements start; to dismiss them is to ignore the power of hateful ideology.

Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.