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.
Instead, “male liberation” involves fighting, and defeating, an enemy – and that enemy, needless to say, is feminism. Women may earn less than men, spend the rest of their time doing chores, and get killed or raped in numbers every week, but it turns out that they’re all in charge. Every improvement in the plight of women has apparently come at the expense of us men.
Until now, at least. “Simply put, we are coming for you,” says Paul Elam, the “brains” behind US website, A Voice for Men (AVfM), a particularly vocal opponent of the “feminist jackboot”. “All of you. And by the time we are done you will wax nostalgic over the days when all you had to deal with was someone expressing a desire to f*ck you up your shop-worn ass … AVfM regards feminists and manginas [feminist men] … as a social malignancy … We extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would Klansmen, skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate.”
Greg Canning, as it happens, is AVfM’s “Australian News Director”. His colourful history of fighting “titty hall” includes an offer to contribute funds to Paul Elam’s efforts to track down an anonymous feminist blogger who clearly gave him the shits. (“Get ready to live a life of misery, you worthless Irish slut. We will never let you escape.”)
But Canning now says that he regrets having been “a bit extreme” in the past: “I don’t advocate being misogynistic and violent and burning down courthouses or whatever.”
So what, then, stripped of all vitriol, are these men’s rights “issues” he speaks of? In what ways has my life been destroyed by all you “feminazis, bimbo-sapiens and parasites”? (Ok, sorry, will stop quoting now.)
Issue one, Canning says, is child custody – and that might just an issue where MRM has a bit of a point. It does appear, to the observer, that Australia’s child custody arrangements tend to favour the mother.
But there are many father’s rights groups at work in this wide, brown land, and they’re (generally) a different beast to the MRM. They don’t see a sinister feminist cabal lurking in Australia’s corridors of power – they just think that something’s a bit askew in the family court. “There is still a long way to go to achieve equality,” says the president of the Lone Fathers Association, Barry Williams, “but this is not going to be achieved by denouncing the mother of the children”.
Issue two, for men’s rights activists, is violence against women. According to Canning, it’s not as common as, well, every statistician thinks. A man who grew up with six sisters, and “a copy of The Female Eunuch on the bookshelf in our home,” he got involved with the MRM after going through a particularly ugly divorce. “I had a domestic violence order taken out against me which was trivial and false, but under advice from my legal people I accepted it without admission (of guilt) for the sake of not inflaming what was already a high conflict situation,” says the fifty-something year old, who has since married Veronika, a clinical psychologist.
“But I am now aware that that is a very common tactic used in divorce situations for people to gain an upper hand, and the sad thing is that men are becoming aware of this too … So you start to see stories coming through of women who say that they’ve been falsely accused so that the man can get the upper hand in things.”
“Very common”? Really? It could well be true that false accusations are levelled every now and then, but you could say the same thing about any crime. Far more common, I’d guess, would be battered wives who say nothing, for fear of being hit yet again.
Anyway, where were we? “I think that domestic violence orders need to be assessed properly,” says Canning, “the same way that the legal system would assess any crime.”
Like most of Canning’s arguments, this one carries a faint whiff of truth – but at the same time, clearly stinks. The standard way in which the legal system assesses crimes tends to take years and a lot of hard-to-find evidence. Handing out prevention orders to women who ask for them may well have screwed over 100 or more men. But it’s almost certainly saved thousands of lives.
Issue three, believe it or not, is violence against men. “It’s assumed that women can’t or won’t be violent, whereas in reality they can be,” says Canning. “They don’t do it as often as men, that’s true, but if you’re a victim it doesn’t matter if it’s a male or a female that attacked you, you’re still a victim. So I just see a lot of double standards in the debate about this.”
It’s hard to disgree with Canning’s argument that a victim is a victim. But it would also be a hard to find a feminist who does. He may as well argue that a table’s a table, or assert that a chair is a chair. Of course it is not ok for a 50kg women to hit a 80kg man. But if he hits her back, I’d say that that’s as bad or worse …
Dr Canning, however, would not say this. “The perception is that if it’s a male and a female (having a biff) then the male is always at fault … A lot of family violence is mutual and combative, where both partners use violence.” He hates the way “officially sanctioned feminist propaganda … paints all women as blameless victims of male violence and patriarchal oppression … and victim blaming can never be allowed.”
Hmmm. Now, there’s no doubt that I’d be a bit silly if I took a stroll through some dodgy part of the city fingering money at 4am. But would I be to blame if I got beaten up? No. Whoever attacked me would be. Canning’s position seems dangerously close to “some women ask to be raped” territory – though, in fairness, he doesn’t quite go there. (His ever-charming editor at AVfM does, of course. Paul Elam is not a fan of women who “walk through life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH—PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.”)
But as far as Canning – a climate change denier and martial arts enthusiast – is concerned, he’s just showing “compassion” for all parties. And compassion is something that feminists tend to have in short supply. “Men (who talk about a problem) are often shouted down,” he says, “whereas when women have problems, they tend to get listened to … I think that men kill themselves far more often than they kill partners or children.”
He recently resigned from a part-time teaching position at Townsville’s James Cook University because of a feminist colleague’s “sexual vilification” of men. She, he says, is “at the extreme side of feminism, which started out as a movement of equality to bring equal rights to men and women.”
“But even though that’s largely been achieved, there’s still a group of people who believe men are evil … I think that there’s a whole lot of double standards out there, and that there are two sides to the sexism and discrimination argument. At the end of the day, I just see myself as someone arguing for some degree of fairness in the whole thing.”
Me? Well, at the end of the day, I think that Greg needs to take a few chill pills. And maybe get a hobby, like building a men’s shelter.
Do you have any sympathy for the Men’s Rights Movement?
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