Monday, March 14, 2011

Good Men Project Presents MRAs. Part I

[TW: Misogyny; Threats; Hate speech; See also- commenting guidelines at end of piece]

The somewhat pro-feminist Good Men Project (GMP) recently ran a series of articles about the Men's Rights Activist/Advocate (MRA) movement, featuring articles written from varying points of view.

If you don't want to read a post about MRAs, allow me to synthesize the competing arguments:

Feminism: The cause of and solution to all of life's problems

But seriously, first off, I know the MRA movement is not monolithic (although I'm still not entirely sure what a self-described "predatory tranny MRA subgroup" is- it seems to have something to do with being a trans* woman who hates cis women and/or feminists?). Secondly, I read all of the associated GMP articles and waded into the comment threads following the articles. Accordingly, today's post and tomorrow's are impressions perhaps more reflective of the participants in the articles and comments than of all MRAs. No matter how many "angry men" some of the participants claimed to be speaking for, I didn't see statistics or numbers reflecting how many men or MRAs they are actually speaking for or are involved in this movement.

Thirdly, many of the MRAs (and the few Special Snowflake Women who aren't bitches like the rest of us) participating in the, um, conversations didn't impress me much. This is not man-hating or anti-MRA to say, it's just my observation of the dialogue. As I read, the more reasonable MRA commenters were largely overshadowed by a handful whose contributions were frequent, reactionary, abusive, and uninspired (and armed with seemingly ready-made throw-noodles-at-the-wall lists to post into comment threads, that perhaps serve as all-purpose comments for a variety of different internet forums).

For instance, many MRA commenters bristled at what they saw as unfair characterizations of MRAs, yet largely presented feminism as a monolithic man-hating movement comprised of their intellectual inferiors. Continuing the theme that apparently all things in life must be centered around men, some are convinced that feminists "routinely" call for and support the extermination and/or castration of men.

Like, I suspect, most feminists, I would be appalled if this were true. Yet, some men believe this of feminism with absolute certainty, a certainty that seems to serve as cover for statements like this, from Paul Elam, a leader of the MRA movement:

"...[O]ur current gender zeitgeist is one that has promoted and enabled such a degree of female narcissism and entitlement that it has now produced two generations of women that are for the most part, shallow, self-serving wastes of human existence—parasites—semi-human black holes that suck resources and goodwill out of men and squander them on the mindless pursuit of vanity."

Apparently women, like feminists, are monolithic things. Elam's statement went entirely unchallenged by MRAs in the midst of them simultaneously making tone arguments against feminists.

Now, tone arguments are a strange thing with MRAs. Mostly because I think that if a feminist rendered a polite, "You know, it makes me feel really unsafe as a woman when Paul Elam calls us parasites," it would elicit MRA mocking, ridicule, and endless rounds of "what's good for the goose blah blah fart fart." Really, I'm not sure a feminist can win with many of these guys no matter what tack we take.

So, I'm not sure I agree with the Good Men Project giving Elam's rhetoric a platform, as doing so implies that the notion that two generations of women "for the most part" are useless parasites is a legitimate other side to the notion that women "for the most part" are not. Yet, add to that speech the amateurish quality of the pro-MRA articles, like this purported "Top 10 Issues" of the MRA movement (containing entirely unsupported statements like "While women seldom go unpunished in cases of abuse, their sentencing is often nowhere near as severe as men’s." Um, okay, I guess we'll all just take his word on that?), and I'm not sure the participating MRAs utilized the forum to present that great of a PR campaign.

See also this piece, where the author explains why MRAs "hate" feminists: "In a nutshell, because nearly everything they say is a lie....MRAs reject the very notion that 'men oppressed women.' It didn’t happen. Ever." Again with the feminists being monolithic, and monolithically bad and paranoid, natch. Again with the largely unchallenged hate speech (notice this MRA fellow doesn't deny that he hates feminists. His hatred seems to be a given).

Yet rather than recognizing the rhetorical flaws about making such broad, unsupported statements in attempted persuasive pieces, some MRAs were quick to project stupidity onto feminists. For instance, one fellow half-assedly edjumacated me on who Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, and Catherine MacKinnon were because he "suspect[ed]" I am "one of those feminists who doesn't actually know anything about the history of feminism."

Lulz. Inquiring minds actually want to know how many MRAs have read books by any of these ladies. I mean, we know they can cherry-pick things these feminists did, and in some cases did not, say. But, am I confident that the vast majority of MRAs have read, say, Are Woman Human? or The Church and the Second Sex? Nah. Not so much.

Then, when I suggested in the comments that the MRA articles would have been stronger had they included citations supporting their claims, several MRAs instructed me on how to use The Google and said I should find references to support the MRA author's claims myself. You know, do the author's work for him because Boy Genius can't be bothered to include hyperlinks himself.


I suppose I'm just used to my profession where a judge would laugh such instruction out of a goddamn courtroom. I can see it now, "Your Honor, my client's friend totally left him $1 million in his will. We don't actually have the will, but it's in the attic somewhere if you wanna look for it."

Yet... even on internet, that sort of rhetorical laziness isn't going to convince many non-MRAs, especially if the point of, say, a Top Ten article is to present the top MRA issues to those who aren't familiar with the movement. If these issue are the Big Deals the MRAs claim them to be, one would think they'd want to make the strongest case possible to convince others to hop aboard. Many MRAs didn't recognize this incompetence, however, instead echoing "Good piece, man" in the comments, oblivious to how others were perceiving it and pissed that feminists wouldn't immediately jump on the MRA bandwagon.

Now, like I said, I have no idea how representative the GMP participants are of the MRA movement in general. From what I saw, the more civil ones did not regularly take it upon themselves to confront the incompetent, uncivil, violent, and/or misogynistic rhetoric of their more vocal comrades. I didn't see one MRA in the comment threads, for instance, take issue with Paul Elam's statement. And, when I noted the tendency toward violent speech in MRA commentary, a frequent MRA commenter threatened:

"In point of fact, I continually warn people that if these issues are not MEANINGFULLY addressed, and soon, there will be a LOT of violence (see: Middle East) that we MRAs won’t be able to stop.

And frankly, if it comes to that, society (and all the women in it along with the men) flat out DESERVES whatever is coming.

Your hubris as a movement is causing a lot of men to be angry. You all vastly underestimate both the anger, and the ubiquitous nature of this anger."

In other words, if men don't get their way about all this, they'll be unable to control their rage and will start inflicting mass amounts of violence upon people. (Remember, honey + vinegar, ladies!)

I'm not sure a feminist could write a more insulting caricature of men than this MRA did himself. Other MRAs didn't challenge this statement, either. Yet, as a feminist, I expect better from men, mostly because I question the notion that they're wildebeasts who are incapable of controlling rage and are entitled to engage in a "LOT" of violence because of that rage. It is misandrists who view rage as a uniquely male problem, rather than the human problem that it is.

As someone who had an anger management problem in the past that would make Bobby Knight blush (I was not, um, very forgiving of referees who made mistakes), I am familiar with rage. I think, in general, many people underestimate female anger, because we are conditioned to suppress it. I also know that the threshold of what would get me reprimanded in, say, a basketball game was much lower than for a male player. So yeah, I resent the MRA notion that men, in a purported civil society, get some special entitlement to make threats about how if they don't get their way they're going to Tear Shit Up. Neither do I agree with them that male anger is somehow more "ubiquitous" or powerful or real than female anger.

Working through anger in non-aggressive ways can be done, I believe, for most people no matter their sex. Some MRAs seem to doubt this, threatening American women with a coming dystopian "Middle-East"-like future if we don't give in to the demands they can't even be bothered to provide support for.

Is the MRA movement really doing itself a favor with this sort of rhetoric? I think not. But we'll continue tomorrow.

[Commenting note: This piece is my opinion based upon what I observed at GMP, and was not intended to misrepresent or refer to all MRAs. Unless you have proof of clairvoyancy, don't question my intent or make accusations of bad faith on my part. Any MRAs who wish to comment on this article are welcome to make civil arguments supported by evidence. At GMP, I saw a lot of reactive MRA comments about critical articles supposedly being "man-hating" or "hit pieces," but little supporting argumentation was provided as to how particular articles were, specifically, man-hating or erroneous. Comments like, "Typical misandrist propaganda" without further explanation or examples are intellectually insufficient and I encourage you to be more thorough. Cite examples and make arguments, not mere conclusions.

Feminists: These guys already believe themselves to be victimized at the hands of women/feminists/society, so I also request that everyone focus criticism on their arguments, rather than calling them douchebags, etc.]

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