It seems like there's been a small uptick in mainstream coverage of the "manosphere" lately—that loose web of pick-up artists, men's rights activists, "men going their own way," and other intellectually vacuous "movements" that dot the internet—and while I can't say I'm surprised (it is amusing to gawk at, for a moment, when you first become aware of its bewildering existence), I do wish we would let it drop now that we've all had a grimace and a laugh.
If the manosphere does anything positive for men (I would posit that it doesn't—that reinforcing gender divides and "traditional" masculinity is as harmful to men as it is to women, and that happiness based on the exploitation of others is not real happiness at all—but that's subjective to a degree), it does so deliberately and vindictively at the expense of women. This is not a legitimate political or social movement; it is a hate group. And no matter how loud and aggressive it gets, no matter how much mainstream coverage it garners, no thinking person should take it seriously.
The latest men's rights exposé comes from Emily Matchar at the New Republic. Matchar offers a decent overview of the latest antics of the Men's Rights Movement (or MRM), from spamming Occidental College's anonymous rape reporting form with false reports to plastering Edmonton with posters explaining, "Just because you regret a one-night stand doesn't mean it wasn't consensual." Their point is to cement in the public consciousness the myth that false rape accusations are a problem approaching or even on par with actual rapes; and that the culture is rigged to support women unconditionally and vilify men, not the other way around. It's unsurprising that one of the MRM's tactics is to fabricate hundreds of false false reports themselves (they're reportedly planning a similar campaign with Dartmouth's online reporting form)—almost as though, perhaps, the real numbers don't reflect quite the dire epidemic they've been squalling about.
Unfortunately, there's little new information in Matchar's piece, unless you count the MRM's big bright shining stars Paul Elam, Karen Straughan, and Dean Esmay regurgitating their usual faux-social-justice boilerplate (for some reason, Matchar interviews no opposing voices). Her reason for writing the essay seems to be to warn fellow progressives that we ought to be paying more attention to this growing swarm of disingenuous gadflies, and treating their arguments like one side (albeit an unpleasant one, she accedes) of a credible debate. I understand Matchar's angle here and believe that she's writing in good faith, but no. Sorry. Absolutely not. If the MRM is going to be in the public eye (and, sure, it's welcome to keep doing its little thing—I don't particularly care), it should be as nothing more than a beacon of indecency, evidence of the pervasiveness of modern misogyny, and a reminder of how far we have to go.
To dismiss the MRM as merely misogynist and extreme would be to ignore the fact that their beliefs are shared by a troublingly large percentage of the American population. And while the MRM's rhetoric is ugly and often sophistic, they have identified a number of issues—consent, victim-blaming, and legal standards of proof—that have too often been presented in black and white terms, when the reality is much more complicated.
...The MRM's tirades and hijinks certainly don't meaningfully add to the debate surrounding the way we handle sexual assault. But to totally ignore the issues that they raise does not further a productive conversation. Unfortunately, it's difficult to talk about these issues in progressive or feminist circles, where discussions of sexual assault prevention can quickly degenerate into angry hyperbole and name-calling. Among progressive media circles, to suggest that sexual assault and sexual assault prevention can be less than clear-cut is to court accusations of being a rape apologist. When Slate's Emily Yoffe wrote about the importance of teaching college girls about rape and alcohol safety, the blogosphere pounced—the writer Jessica Valenti even accused Yoffe of having "made the world a little bit safer for rapists." Some feminists dismiss the problem of false rape accusations as trivial in the face of real rape. "A man's chances of being falsely accused of rape are incredibly small," wrote Slate's Amanda Marcotte. (To be fair to Slate and the range of perspectives that it offers, Marcotte's colleague, Emily Bazelon has written that fairly conservative estimates put the number of false rape reports at 20,000 a year.) When Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto wrote a piece several weeks ago bashing the idea of equating drunken sex and rape, organizations like NOW demanded his ouster. Though Taranto does have a record of being a dinosaur when it comes to gender issues, to see his point here as rape apology seemed quite a stretch.
No. No, in fact, it is not a stretch at all. There are few things I can think of that are more important than maintaining a hardline stance on rape being a criminal act that is solely the fault of the rapist.
While conversations about consent are nuanced and evolving (I will not extend that concession to victim-blaming, which, in my opinion, is objectively black-and-white), being "nuanced" is not the same as being a gray area. For instance, I do think it's instructive to talk about the chasm between the silent lack of a "no" and enthusiastic consent, and to have some compassion for boys raised in a culture where women are almost exclusively characterized as passive, pretty, pliant prizes to be won. I don't mean apologia for those who actually commit rape, of course (though they certainly deserve fair, pragmatic treatment under the law), but sympathy for boys and men who feel anxious about navigating the contradictions inherent in a misogynistic cultural trope that's presented as their birthright. Patriarchy hurts men too, etc, etc, etc.
I believe that most human beings are decent. I believe that most people do not want to be rapists. But I also believe that our culture presents some handy scripts—via people like Yoffe and Taranto—for men who want to weasel out of that label and a for society that wants to excuse them. And those loopholes have a direct effect on the way we treat rape victims, the frequency with which they decline to report, and the staggeringly low conviction rates in the few rape cases that actually make it to trial. To criticize that system is not to "degenerate into angry hyperbole," it is to protect the sanctity of one of the few hardline anti-rape stances we've managed to register, however feebly, in the public conversation: Rape is real, rape is the fault of the rapist. And any broader nuances that deserve discussion are not to be found down in the muck of A Voice for Men or the fuzzy-headed bleating of James Taranto.
MRAs bring these issues up, sure, but so do a lot of other people—people without outspoken biases against rape victims, people who've never gone out of their way to sabotage rape reporting systems (systems that serve male rape victims too, by the way). So why should we be obligated to include MRAs in the conversation? We can have it without them. And we already are.
So, no, I'm not going to "start addressing [the MRM] more comprehensively and less reactively." These are men who would rather spend their time on the internet terrorizing women and wasting the time of domestic violence counselors than actually take action, on the ground, to help men.
In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month.
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. I don't mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won't fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.
And then make them clean up the mess.
[T]here are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk though life with the equivalent of a I'M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.
Women are the natural enemies of men. No matter what anyone says and how good women claim to be, that is just the truth. This will never stop and men will continue under the tyranny of women. ... We are called rapists, abusers, bullies, and even homophobes because we don't embrace the faggots biologically backward, queer-ass culture. ... I am so fucking tired of this shit, that I really wouldn't mind shooting a bitch dead in the face. ... They are evil. ALL OF THEM!!! ... This is a gender war, and women, ALL WOMEN! are the enemies, there is no compromising.
Those quotes are not cherry-picked or mined from some deep dark corner, they are commonplace in the manosphere to the point of dullness. So no, I don't believe that those are human beings worthy of good-faith engagement. They're rigid, embittered ideologues attempting to play dress-up with genuine, grown-up discourse. And their views should be acknowledged by mainstream intellectuals about as much as the views of people who think "reverse racism" is as big a problem as racism, people who think we should be concerned about Jews running world banks, and people who think that gay people holding hands cause hurricanes.
Matchar says it herself, in her brief overview of Elam's bizarro worldview:
The way Elam sees it, college campuses are hotbeds of feminist bias where all male students are shamed as potential rapists in endless anti-rape orientations and workshops.
That's someone I'm expected to converse with? With a straight face? Nah, I'm good.
Perhaps the most distasteful aspect of the MRM is that they undermine (or, at best, neglect) the causes they purport to care about. Because there are issues facing men that deserve urgent care and attention. As the partner of a divorced father, I'm painfully and personally aware of the court's bias against him (rooted in traditional gender roles, which intersectional feminists of my generation strive tirelessly to subvert, and which much of the manosphere looks on with fond nostalgia). He's been contacted multiple times by the state, demanding child support payments, during periods when he had full-time custody of his two daughters. They assumed he was a deadbeat because of his gender. What is the MRM actually doing to help my partner (who is, himself, a feminist)? And how dare they suggest that they know and care more about his situation (our situation) than I do?
As Kate Harding put it:
Fuck you, first of all, for making it nearly impossible for decent men struggling with abusive partners or unfair custody arrangements to get the help they need and deserve. You have forever tainted those issues with your rage-filled, obsessively anti-woman horseshit, to the point where it's become difficult for any rational, compassionate person to trust a man who claims he's been screwed over in family court or abused by a female partner, even if he has.
That's right—I fully understand that those things happen. I fully believe that men in those situations deserve help, and I know they're generally less likely to ask for it than women are, not to mention less likely to find help there for them when they do go looking. I get how our society's ridiculously rigid ideas about masculinity mean that men are brought up to believe needing help will make them look weak, especially if it's a woman who's terrorizing them. I know those same suffocating standards also encourage men to stifle strong feelings and any nurturing tendencies, which deprives them of the right to experience the full range of human emotions without shame. That completely fucking sucks! You know how I know all that, and why I think it sucks?
BECAUSE I'M A FEMINIST.
These are feminist issues. And they are being worked on—by men and women, feminist and not—in egalitarian, caring, open-air spaces, where every word and action isn't just misogyny in disguise. There are domestic violence advocates who care about men—they're called domestic violence advocates. There are people working on improving job safety for men—they're called workplace safety advocates. There are people working to integrate dangerous, traditionally male professions such as coal mining and military combat—they're called WOMEN. We still have a long way to go, especially in the widespread thinking about masculinity and gender roles (again, a feminist issue!), but drenching this conversation in misogynist hate is nothing but a hindrance and a masturbatory distraction.
The MRM's attempts to frame the "false rape accusation" argument as some sort of underserved underdog in this conversation is a baldfaced, bad-faith lie. The side that doubts accusers and bends over backwards to excuse the accused—that's the side that police departments, college administrations, and the American public are already on. So Matchar is correct, in that way. Some of the MRM's views are reflected more widely across society, which is why we don't need them for this discussion. They are superfluous and should be left in their corner. We have real work to do.
Image via Pond5/curvabezier.