by Kaitlyn Gaffney
On the first day of my senior year of high school, my Creative Writing teacher wrote his email on the board. His first name begins with A, and he had attempted the phrase “Mr. A” in the email address, so it began “mra…” I asked him, jokingly, if he was a Men’s Rights Activist. He chuckled, then said:
“No, no. I do not advocate for men’s rights. I believe we have quite enough of those already.”
That stuck with me for many reasons. Here was a man who, in fact, turned out to be one of the coolest men I had ever met, in part because he broke many traditional conventions of masculinity. He was a flamboyant, animated literary nerd, shamelessly took advantage of our high school’s paternity leave, and took any chance he could to tell us about how profoundly he loved his wife and children. He’s an incredible dude, who, simply in his own being, redefines masculinity and exists there with confidence – but he is not a Men’s Rights Activist.
I expect this is because the Men’s Rights movement, ironically, is largely unconcerned with the rights of men. MRAs, as they so call themselves, are more often concerned with eradicating modern feminists and third-wave feminism. The “men’s rights” they lobby for are not so much rights, but the rollbacks of legislation put in place by feminists. The movement was not borne out of a need for men’s rights or representation – instead, it is a hateful, vile social countermovement against feminism, propagated by scared, ignorant men who don’t want to share their privilege.
Men’s Rights Activism has existed socially since the 80s, but with the advent of our great technological age, websites and social media accounts have been popping up in dark corners of the Internet comparatively recently. The content found in these places is vastly disturbing; websites like AVoiceForMen, ReturnofKings, and BreitBart often boast articles advocating for things like the legalization of marital rape, de-“feminization” of education (allowing girls and women to be educated), and violent toxic masculinity as a way for men to “express themselves.”
Granted, I would assume there exist passive male skeptics of feminism who believe sexism affects all genders equally, and believe in egalitarianism (decidedly feminist values, but that’s another article). But if any person still identifies as an MRA, after ReturnofKings blogger Roosh Valizadeh proposes “we make the violent taking of a woman not punishable by law when done off public grounds,” or the Men’s Defense Association files a 2003 lawsuit to obliterate protections for female victims of marital violence – where must your values lie? Even if you do not actively condone the initiatives and ideologies of radical MRAs and are just irritated by active feminists (that discomfort is productive – hang out with it), what must you passively consider acceptable to still associate yourself with the movement?
The moniker “men’s rights activists” is detrimentally misleading and downright false. A reader will be hard-pressed to read an MRA-written article without encountering something about loud, hairy, misandrous “feminazis” who are taking men’s rights away by advocating for equal pay and reproductive rights. Where are the MRAs lobbying for the rights of LGB men? Trans* men? The disproportionate amount of MOC in prison or who are victims of police brutality for the same crimes as white men? The alarmingly high number of men who are victims of suicide? Where is the MRA representation of all men, and not just a select, privileged few?
The MRA movement is reprehensible, violent, and terrifying, but with the right amount of education on social activism and rights, we can overcome these “activists” and foster a positive, supportive society based on equity and acceptance. If modern feminism makes you desperately uncomfortable, ask yourself: why are you uncomfortable? Whatever you do or believe, propagating violence, misogyny, oppression, and the reduction of the rights of others is never the answer. Instead, be someone’s incredible Creative Writing teacher, or incredible father, or incredible partner, or incredible role model. Define your own masculinity and make room for others to do the same – and outwardly and declaratively denounce those dark corners of the Internet until they grow invisible.