Time to ‘fess up.
I am a man.
Well, okay, sort of broadly a man. I don’t really like cars, or know how to fix things, and it is possible that I sometimes re-read my sister’s Sweet Valley Highs. But I’m certainly enough of a man to know that the ability to pee standing up and look ugly naked, does not necessarily lead to a lifetime of privilege.
Men are a lot more likely to commit suicide than women, or end up on drugs or homeless. We make up the minority of university students, and the vast majority of prisoners. And – whether it be picking up rubbish bins or going down a mine – we’re often saddled with society’s worst jobs.
So, looking at the world through that lens, it’s hard to see why the “Men’s Rights Movement” (or “MRM”, to use the lingo) should not be a positive thing. After all, we have cyclists’ rights and tenants’ rights and workers’ rights and animals’ rights. Why should 50% of the population not have few groups beat the rights drum as well?
“Why don’t you have a chat with some of them?” said my editor at Mamamia, and I said “Okay,” with a weary sigh. But it turns out that making contact with Australia’s 200 or so men’s rights (as opposed to father’s rights) activists is more easily said than done.
If these people are having meetings, they more or less have them in secret, and if they have an email address, then they don’t seem to use it.
“You cop a lot of flak for being a man who speaks out about men and men’s issues,” says one of the few activists that I did manage to get a hold of, a Townsville GP called Dr Greg Canning. “I’m fairly lucky in that I’m self-employed and I don’t care what people write about me or say about me. I get awful things said about me all the time and so be it, but a lot of people can’t afford to put their livelihood or career in jeopardy by saying something that’s politically incorrect.”
The man has a point. If the MRM was to enter a popularity contest, it would end up somewhere between leprosy and Cardinal George Pell. The general perception is that it’s an intellectually-bereft ragbag of angry white men. Men who have recently been defeated in a rather poisonous custody battle, or got their arse kicked in a costly divorce. Men whose politics are rather to the right of the spectrum, and whose finances are not what they were. Men who are angry and hurting, and keen to take a swing at the opposite sex.
And as it happens, this all pretty true.
To wade into the world of MRM websites is to wade into a world of “tart-brain bitches” and “vicious sluts”; a world in which feminists are “fat lesbian man haters” and “a disease that must be extirpated.”
Improving the plight of men, for many MRM activists, does not seem to have much to do with actual activism. Practical, sensible policy initiatives (like, say, shortening working hours or tweaking a few teaching methods, or maybe setting up some more men’s shelters or suicide hotlines) are not exactly the order of the day.