The first ever International Conference on Men's Issues took place in St. Clair Shores, Michigan (right outside of Detroit) late last week and while no representative from Jezebel was able to attend (the last weekend in June is when we meet to raise our Diva Cups in a toast to misandry), many highly capable journalists from other publications did. Based on their reports, the conference was mostly asinine, sad and packed with panelists spouting misinformation.
Kicking things off with a bit of empathy, it's worth noting that there are several men's issues that are valid and worthy of attention. There economic issues (men were hit harder in the recession than women), the high rate of suicide among males, the way domestic violence and sexual assault are trivialized when the victims are men, veterans' affairs, the low rate of male college enrollment and how hard fathers have to fight for custody of their children. All of these topics were discussed at the conference, but, as the Washington Post's Monica Hesse puts it, "the [kernels of truth get] rhetorically buried in paranoia and anger, which, at this conference, created a wounded echo chamber of nebulous statistics."
The paranoia and anger that Hesse refers to is rooted in a deep hatred of women. Paul Elam, who runs the website A Voice for Men and led the conference, tried to hide this by warning event-goers to avoid misogynistic statements, not because they're necessarily wrong, but because it opens the conference up to criticism from the press:
There will be ideological opponents to the MHRM, including some members of the media, present at the event. Some will be looking for anything they can to hurt us with. They will be listening, eavesdropping, and if they can, gathering things to harm us with.
For that reason, ANYONE sitting around trash-talking women, men, making violent statements, even jokingly, will be brought to the attention of security who will issue ONE warning (or less). After that, they will be directed by security to leave. There are no exceptions.
Despite his warnings, violent, anti-women statements were stated openly and plainly, often by panelists to large crowds. (Well, large-ish — only about 200 people preordered tickets to the event.)
"Ordinary people know the vast majority of women crying rape on campus are actually expressing buyer's remorse from alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky consent on both sides. It's true. It's their get-out-of-guilt-free card," conservative columnist Barbara Kay (5 of the 15 speakers were women) joked to her audience.
Another big crowd pleaser was when psychologist Tara Palmatier (referred to lovingly as Dr. T by MRAs) showed a photo of a midriff-baring Miley Cyrus with the caption "Quit objectifying me. You're being rapey!" [pause for more laughs.]
All of the speakers were very concerned with a father's right to joint custody of his children — unless, of course, he doesn't want to be a father. Then he's free to accuse the mother of his children of being a lying, cheating whore.
"We know that when it comes to matters of sex, lies and all those things in the heart, that sometimes men lie," remarked panelist Carnell Smith. "And by shock, sometimes women lie about the relationships they're in and the resulting pregnancies, however the law treats the situations differently."
Smith then rambled, "How dare me to insist and believe that the mother, who has other intimate partners, I'm crazy enough to believe she is capable of naming the guy or guys, that could be the children's father?"
MRA Mike Buchanan is so convinced that countless women are disingenuously trying to pin paternity on unwitting men that he wants to legally require paternity tests on infants at birth: "We're calling for compulsory paternity testing at birth, so at long last we'll find out just what the rate is."
Dr. Helen Smith notes that while "We've seen women with increased reproductive freedom [Authors note: Say what now?], married men often require a note from their wives before a doctor will even perform a vasectomy."
I looked into this and found Dr. Smith's quotes to be rather misleading. There is absolutely no legal requirement that demands a man get a note from his spouse before getting a vasectomy, however private clinics can technically ask for spousal consent — just as private clinics can refuse to perform abortions without spousal consent. Or refuse to perform abortions, period.
Statements with little foundation in real data (or reality) were common place at the conference.
One presenter, a military veteran speaking on the treatment of veterans returning from war, put up a PowerPoint slide alleging that 70 percent of men returning from war get divorced, and 90 percent do so within five years. When asked about the source of this statistic, he said, "That particular statistic is from my personal observations. I'm just speaking here as a dude."
During a small group discussion, Dr. Warren Farrell, a former prominent feminist who turned into vocal MRA after becoming disillusioned in the 1970s by the National Organization for Women's stance on parental custody, tried to blame the high rate of male mass shooters largely on single mothers:
There seems to be a number of things. First of all, a history of mental health problems usually has been identified. Second, is they identify as being very lonely, people see them as being very lonely people, people see them as being isolated.
They're likely to be brought up in divorce situations, usually with their mom, like with Adam Lanza, in Connecticut he was living with his mom and alienated from his dad. And Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara, I saw the papers where the father as wanting to be involved equally with him, but the mother wanted the money not his involvement.
And of course the availability of guns, you know people say "guns don't kill people" but people who are available are more likely to use those guns to kill people.
Here's a short video from the discussion, courtesy of Animal:
An audience member then interrupted to point out that, when speaking about Elliot Rodger, Farrell was misinformed.
Audience member: You just made a comment on Elliot Rodger. You said that you saw that the father was denied access. In reading from his 140-page paper — Elliot Rodger's paper — was that [Rodger's parents] had shared custody…the father actually threw him out of his house.
Warren Farrell: Oh, yeah, the father threw him out of the house. The papers that I saw — first of all, if you have different information, please send that to me —
Audience member: I read all 140-pages —
Farrell: The court document that I saw said the father petitioning for being involved with the child and the mother responding that she did not want that to happen, so I don't know whether or not it was joint support, joint involvement with the children…
He doesn't know, but he's more than willing to speculate.
The real pity, as previously noted, is that there is some validity to the men's rights movement. Unfortunately, that validity is completely lost by the other louder and more ridiculous factors of the cause.
As Time's Jessica Roy observes:
When you talk to someone like 68-year-old Steve DeLuca, the legitimate need to remedy some of the issues raised by men's rights activists becomes more evident. A Vietnam veteran who was injured in combat, DeLuca spoke movingly to me about the two brothers he lost to suicide, and the unfathomable toll the high suicide rate among men can take. There are men out there, like DeLuca and Brendan Rex, who have a real stake in the movement's success. The paranoia and vitriol of its leaders can't possibly do anything for them.
The paranoia and vitriol unfortunately seem here to stay.
Image via Shutterstock.