The men’s rights movement (MRM) has had a significant amount of bad press. Men’s rights activists (MRAs) are routinely labelled toxic misogynistic nutjobs, and are commonly silenced by feminists, disrupted without the chance to even state their case.
Granted, there are blatant misogynists hiding under the banner of the men’s rights movement. These misogynists are responsible for most of the vitriolic attacks on women and women’s rights. However, these misogynists are just a vocal minority of those calling themselves MRAs.
The majority of MRAs hold substantiated, reasonable views, which are in line with the core ideals of feminism. Moderate MRAs’ views are distinct from those of the fringe MRA misogynists, and should not be treated as equivalent1. Generally speaking, while moderate MRAs agree with core tenets of feminism, they may disagree with specific aspects of its theory or implementation.
To illustrate this, I will enumerate two of the core issues the men’s rights movement raises.
Many feminists (or at least, those who influence policymaking) believe that domestic violence can only be committed by men against women, or else they believe that it constitutes the vast majority of cases. As a result, there are very few shelters accepting men compared to women. Shelters for men have been refused funding, and battered men have been ridiculed and blamed for the violence they suffered, or even accused of being the assaulters.
Although many studies show that a similar number of men and women are victims of domestic violence, many cling to the narrative that domestic violence is due to a patriarchal desire of men to exert power over women, and that women are incapable of committing similar violence. The Duluth Model of rehabilitation, the one most widely used in the world, assumes this from the outset, attempting to “re-educate” all men, and only the men, involved in domestic violence cases.
The MRM’s position is that although feminists have done a good job fighting domestic violence with regards to women victims, the flawed narrative around domestic violence discriminates against men2. Male victims are blamed for their partner’s violence, and are not provided safe refuge from their abusers. MRAs argue that this narrative must change, in order to protect all victims of domestic abuse, not just a subset.
False Rape Accusations
Rape is a horrible crime, and rapists should be severely punished. At the same time, being falsely accused of rape is also a terrible experience, whether or not it results in a false conviction. Feminists have pushed for rape law reforms, arguing that alleged rapists’ identities should be revealed, rape victims’ identities protected, and cross-examination of victims limited, in order to protect the victims from reliving their trauma. These policies would certainly increase the probability that rapists are convicted. However, implementing these policies necessarily also increase the probability of a Type I error (false conviction), in the event of a false accusation.
False accusations of rape can be extremely damaging to the accused. Terry Brown was forced to move his family into a tent in the woods, after suffering prolonged abuse by the public, even long after charges were cleared. He says he had rocks thrown at him while walking in the street, and could not go to the shops without being called a rapist. Although true accusations outnumber false ones3, the proportions are not so small that the possibility can be ignored altogether.
This sort of “guilty even though proven innocent” mentality is not isolated. Emma Sulkowicz continued her “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)” even after her alleged rapist had been cleared of wrongdoing twice over, and her allegations continued to be supported by many people, among them Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
The danger of false accusation increases on college campuses. In all colleges in the USA who receive federal funding, a 2011 ruling:
- reduces the standard of evidence required to only a “preponderance of evidence” (50% confidence), rather than “beyond reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing evidence”,
- “strongly discourages” male students being given the right to question their accuser,
- allows accusers to appeal verdicts, subjecting the accused to double jeopardy.
In the hands of a sufficiently intelligent malicious accuser, even completely innocent people can be found guilty, because they are unable to cross-examine the accuser’s statements, combined with the low standard of evidence. The accused may not even be allowed to know the identity of the accuser, and as a result are unable to gather extenuating evidence. In 2013, an unnamed student at Amherst College was expelled for rape, finally clearing his name in 2015 when he filed a lawsuit demonstrating that his hearings had been unfair and evidence purposefully withheld.
If it is made excessively easy to convict, not only does this mean that a high proportion of innocent people may be found guilty of rape, this may also result in an increase in false accusations. If false accusations become easy to pull off, and there are insufficient checks against it, more people will use them for their own purposes.
Rapists should be brought to justice, but this should not be at the expense of the innocent.
Silencing Is Not Helpful
You may not agree with the above arguments. Perhaps the statistics I have read are misleading. Perhaps my facts are correct, but I have drawn incorrect conclusions. But are they so wrong, so offensive, so innately destructive that they must at all costs be silenced without even being heard?
It is true that misogynists masquerading as MRAs cause trouble online and in the real world, derailing discussions and disrupting discourse. Wanting to completely shut them out is perfectly understandable, and may even be the only viable course of action.
But, when a professor at the University of Ottawa tried to hold a lecture on men’s issues, what was the rationale behind silencing her? She was not disrupting an existing discussion, merely presenting her views on her own time, in her own venue. Shutting down her lecture was purely out of the desire to prevent her arguments from being heard.
Were the protesters so insecure that they felt the need to parentalistically insulate the community from all alternate arguments? Did they think that current feminist ideology is flawless? Just because the protesters refuse to listen to others, doesn’t mean that their professed view is likely to be right. Silencing opposing viewpoints passes over opportunities to discover and correct flaws in beliefs. Because of this, if those protesters were in the habit of silencing opposing viewpoints, then, all else being equal, their arguments are in fact more likely to be wrong.
Furthermore, even if opponents are known to be wrong, silencing opponents will not change their minds, nor that of anyone who wants to listen to them. The combination of the Streisand effect and the underdog effect will only entrench their beliefs, and perhaps draw more people to their cause.
If progress is to be made, and the divide between feminists and the men’s rights movement healed, silencing must cease to be the knee-jerk response to rational dissent. Feminists and men’s rights activists have similar ideals, and working together would save a significant amount of time and blood pressure. But before that can happen, they must first be willing to listen to each other.
- This is often misconstrued as a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, which it is not. There are usually fringe, radical elements attaching themselves to any given cause. Just as “kill all men” radical feminists are not representative of feminism, and ISIS terrorists are not representative of Islam, so too fringe misogynists are not representative of the men’s rights movement. ↩
- Not all feminists agree with the narrative. Nevertheless, this is the narrative employed in most government-sanctioned programs and the narrative believed by a significant fraction of the population. ↩
- Most reliable sources quote values between 2% to 10%, although some estimates go up to 17% or even 65%. ↩