What Should You Do When Someone You Love Becomes a Men's Rights Activist?

That's the question posed by an advice-seeker who wants to know what to do about his increasingly misogynist dad. We decided to look for a few more tips.

Earlier this week, Dad-Related Dilemma wrote to Slate's Dear Prudence,

My mom left my dad for another man 10 years ago, when my brother and I were in grade school. She took us with her, and the loss of his family turned my father into a bitter man. He now considers himself a men's rights activist. From what I can tell, the men's rights movement my dad belongs to believes that American law and society has institutionalized misandry. One website my dad frequents warns men not to date single mothers because their children might accuse the boyfriend of molesting them to reap the benefits of victimhood. My dad speaks often about the men's rights movement, and when my brother and I don't want to listen, he accuses us of being brainwashed by feminists. His behavior doesn't come across as crazy so much as it does misogynistic. Now I'm 18 and could stop seeing him if I wanted to. But my brother is younger and still has to see him. My mom doesn't know the full story because we don't want her to overreact. What should we do?

Prudie advises telling Dad he needs to quit the MRA talk if he wants to have a relationship with his sons, which is solid advice, but is there any way to tackle his bad ideas head-on? How should one argue with a loved one who's turned into a misogynist? I talked to David Futrelle of Man Boobz, who is somewhat bearish on MRAs' ability to change: "Unfortunately, in most cases, I don't think it's possible to talk someone out of a Men's Rights obsession. For most of them, it seems to be driven not by facts — they're happy to simply make up facts to fit their worldview — but by feelings, most obviously by rage at women." However, he adds,

The one argument I think you CAN make to MRAs who are not too far gone is this: it's not healthy for you to spend so much time stewing in your anger online. Instead of trying to help men work through their personal issues with women, the [men's rights media] encourages men to cultivate their rages and hatreds, to remain stuck. That's not healthy for them, or for society at large.

Jezebel contributor Hugo Schwyzer offered some more ideas. He says "most MRAs come from a place of huge disappointment. Yes, it's entitlement too, but it's also a deep place of hurt." How to get past that hurt? Schwyzer says,

In terms of advice, it's not easy for a son to challenge his Dad. But drive the conversation towards individual women — not the "bitches" and "harpies" of his father's imagination, but the women Dad has loved. A mother? A sister? An ex? There is inside every MRA I've ever met a stopped-up well of compassion and love for women. It's getting to the good stories (and there are always GOOD stories) about women that is so vital. And from those stories about individual women Dad has loved, perhaps the son can talk about what those women went through and experienced.

He adds,

It's also important for Dad to be able to talk about his own pain — not his rage, which is a response to pain, but the pain itself. Men's Rights Activism is the public manifestation of an experience of betrayal (whether that betrayal is "real" or not, it's perceived as real.) Getting to the source of that rage is vital.

I wouldn't ordinarily advocate trying to get to the bottom of a men's rights activist's pain — lots of MRAs talk about how much they'd like to inflict pain on women, and frankly, I don't have much empathy for them. But in this case we're talking about a dude (or maybe a lady) and his dad. This is someone he loves and someone his brother has to have regular contact with — and it's not clear that DRD wants to cut his dad off, either. That's always an option — Schwyzer notes that there could come a point when "it becomes too painful" for DRD to keep engaging with his dad. But if he hasn't reached that point yet, it may be worth trying to reach out. After all, if anyone's going to get MRAs to stop spewing hate, it's probably the people they love.

In Love With the Nanny [Slate]

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