War of the sexes
The Masculine Mystique: Inside The Men's Rights Movement (MRM)
For the past decade, the Men's Rights Movement has been gaining traction on the Internet—and growing ever more radical in its attacks on feminists. R. Tod Kelly goes down the MRM rabbit hole.
This summer, two competing Canadian rape-awareness campaigns began popping up on posters across Edmonton and Vancouver. The first, entitled ‘Don’t Be That Guy,’ warned young men that having sex with a woman too inebriated to give consent is considered lawful rape. One of the posters featured a picture of a girl passed out on a couch, with the tagline, “Just because she isn’t saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean she’s saying ‘yes’.” Police in both cities credit the campaign with a 10 percent reduction in rapes over the previous calendar year.
The second campaign is far more provocative.
Using the same images and graphics as the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign, ‘Don’t Be That Girl’ claims that many young women who engage in consensual sex later lie about having been raped. “Just because you regret a one-night stand doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual,” reads one poster. The campaign outraged anti-rape groups and law-enforcement officials alike; University of Alberta’s chair of gender and women’s studies Lise Gotell described 'Don’t Be That Girl' as a “deeply offensive… rape apologist campaign.”
‘Don’t Be That Girl’ was the brainchild of Men’s Rights Edmonton, a local advocacy group that is part of the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), one of the quirkiest, fastest-growing, and most frustrating civil-rights movements in the Western world today. After its initial media success, other MRM groups began promoting 'Don’t Be That Girl.' Paul Elam’s A Voice for Men (AV4M), the MRM’s largest and most visible on-line website, adopted the slogan as their meme of the summer, creating their own images and posts that urged women 'Don’t Be That Lying Feminist,' 'Don’t Be That Bigot,' 'Don’t Be That Princess' and 'Don’t Be That Bitch.'
Google “Men’s Right’s Movement” and you’ll come across a host of websites, Reddit threads and chat rooms dedicated to the cause. The most ambitious and influential is Elam’s AV4M. Under the tagline “Compassion For Men and Boys,” AV4M’s pages attract more than half a million page hits a month. In contrast to most other MRM websites, AV4M features female editors and a number of quality female writers. According to Elam, an independent film company is about to start work on a documentary about AV4M, and the site was featured on ABC’s 20/20 this weekend. Peers in the MRM movement quote no other site as often as AV4M; no other site is reviled as deeply by feminist bloggers. Loved or despised by seemingly everyone, Elam is the closest thing the movement has to a rock star. More importantly, Elam, who is now in his fifties, appears to have successfully named his successor: his Editor in Chief, John Hembling.
Most people we spoke with may have labeled Elam the “leader,” but Hembling is the one they talk about most. He is the movement’s most prolific writer. In addition, he co-hosts an online radio show and has produced hundreds of YouTube editorials. MRM members appreciate his combative style, exemplified in essays such as "Why Yes, I Am A Little Angry," "Facebook Is Feminism’s Admission of Failure," and "This Is Not A Negotiation And I Don’t Want Your Pussy." His angry charisma even affects his personal appearance. When one looks at a still of Hembling, he appears somewhat common, with his short, stocky frame and calm, bespectacled expression. Watch him one of his many videos, however, and he transforms into a larger-than-life, sweeping figure. Even in video interviews where he is standing next to much taller men, Hembling somehow becomes the largest figure on camera. He once claimed to have spent two years being homeless before transforming himself into a respected computer programmer and web designer in Vancouver, B.C.
Hembling’s rise to the leadership of AV4M doesn’t come as a surprise to those who know him offline and are unconnected with the movement. They say a strong business acumen and entrepreneurial fire have always separated him from his peers. “Of all the people on our team, he was the hardest worker by far,” says one former business partner. “He’s an idea man and a problem solver,” says a long-time friend. “I can’t imagine there’s anything he couldn’t accomplish if he set his mind to it.” Unlike everyone else in the MRM that I spoke with, Hembling claims that there was no catalytic event—no nasty breakup, no traumatic childhood, no conniving ex-wife—that steered him to the movement. Rather, he says that he was attracted to it by its sheer intellectual merits. (For example, the theory that women are “without the capacity for moral agency” and unable to grasp the concepts of “personal accountability, ethics, compassion or empathy,” which he suspects is hardwired into the X chromosome.)
In his posts for AV4M, Hembling likes to tell swashbuckling stories that have made him into something of a legend in the MRM. When people call him a “rape apologist” for making comments like “I don’t give a f--k about a woman being raped,” he trots out a story about heroically intervening to protect a female stranger from a sexual assault. When he’s accused of being overly paranoid for recommending that men secretly record phone conversations with anyone they are likely to have sex with, he turns around and talks about the time he fended off a mob of 20-30 feminists wielding box cutters. When his critics say he hates women, he points to the time he protected the identity of a woman who was threatened with violence by “self-identified feminists” merely for offering to debate the merits of feminism.
If Elam is the movement’s rock star, Hembling is well on his way to being its first superstar. Elam and other old-guard activists aren’t getting any younger, and almost every MRM member I spoke with (including those unaffiliated with AV4M) identifies Hembling as the person most likely to be leading the movement in the next decade. If so, it will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the MRM to influence public policy. More moderate MRM members are seeking ways to change public policy on issues that truly do infringe on men’s civil rights, especially the rights of low-income men. Hembling, on the other hand, sees the role of the MRM differently.
“I don’t mind telling you,’ he says, “I am no longer here to debate, or to reason, or to converse, or to hope you may be reached by logic or evidence."
“I AM HERE TO F--K YOUR SHIT UP.”
My own introduction to the MRM came this past spring. I had written a short article on Ken Hoinsky, the man who was kicked off Kickstarter for penning a book for socially awkward guys on how to pick up women. A few days was after my piece was published, I began to receive dozens of emails from different men, each telling me I needed to take “the red pill.”
At first I had no idea that the red-pill emails and Hoinsky were in any way related. The red pill is a reference to The Matrix. In the movie, the red pill is what the protagonist, Neo, swallows in order to discover that his world is an illusion and that he is a slave. It wasn’t until the fourth email that someone bothered referencing Hoinsky, and it wasn’t until the thirteenth—the one that included a long string of web links—that I really peered down the MRM rabbit hole. “Until you KNOW the RED PILL you exist in the world of SHADOWS and LIES,” it said. “You are a SLAVE to the MATRIARCHY. Break your CHAINS, join the FREEDOM-FIGHTING men LISTENING and SEEING, and you will learn the TRUTH and be FREE.” I immediately began to click on the enclosed links.
Once you know where to look, it turns out the number of websites devoted to the different flavors of the MRM is legion. A large number of subreddits cater to the movement, including Reddit-Men’s Rights and Reddit- TheRedPill. Other sites, such as Return of Kings, somehow manage to peg the practice of picking up women at bars as a key element in the struggle for men’s civil rights. The Fathers Rights Foundation is just one of scores of sites that focus primarily on alimony and child-custody issues, most of which appear to be funded by law firms that specialize in divorce cases. The more radical male-separatists can find their brethren at sites such as Men Going Their Own Way.
A predictable reaction to the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the MRM struggled for decades to get recognition. Occasionally an issue like child-custody rights would allow some small growth, but for the most part the MRM limped along relatively unknown for decades. And then, the Internet happened, and the MRM evolved along with it into a coalition where the most radical, hyperbolic and outrageous voices are disproportionately rewarded with visibility and clout.
Over the past decade, the movement has grown organically online into a confederacy of somewhat disjointed causes. Fathers' rights advocates are part of it, as are male victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Also included are members of the Pick-Up Artist movement, which is exactly what it sounds like. Men who fight for those accused of rape make up a surprisingly large part of the confederacy. There are even radical male separatists, some of whom say the power of technology has made interaction with females all but obsolete. The ability to congregate anonymously online with like-minded men has been a perfect incubator for such a mish-mash of banners, many of them politically incorrect. The single common thread that binds them all together is their deep-seated hatred of feminism.
For members of the MRM, feminism is more than just an adversary competing for political outcomes. To the MRM, feminism is the enemy. It is a vast conspiracy that is working tirelessly to build a Matriarchy to enslave men. The red pill Matrix reference—which the movement uses to identify who is a member of their tribe—comes from the MRM belief that men are already largely slaves, even if they don't know it yet. It's the movement's job to bring them the bad news, and then to bring them out of their bondage.
Just how big of a community can one build on the foundation of despising feminism? Pretty damn big, it turns out.
Before we get into that, it’s important to acknowledge the things that the MRM gets right. The New York Times may have recently reported that the majority of sexual assault victims in the military are men, but they are light years behind AV4M and other men’s rights sites in doing so. Then there are male victims of domestic abuse whose plight is largely ignored by both the media and the justice system. It’s hard to say exactly how big the problem is because there has never been sufficient interest to fund a proper study tracking it. There are still many regions in the United States that lack any kind of safe houses or shelters for men at risk. Even in my progressive hometown of Portland, Oregon, the Police Bureau’s domestic violence victims’ resource manual defines a domestic abuse shelter as “a temporary place for women.” In instances of immediate crisis, men who call the police are as likely to be offered smirks as they are protection. Just as female victims have historically had to deal with some form of 'she must have been asking for it,' males face derision for 'not being man enough' to defend themselves.
The MRM also shines a spotlight on underage male statutory rape victims. For the most part our justice system treats the crime as being in effect victimless, while the media tends to portray the victim as “lucky.” What’s more, male victims of statutory rape can be liable for child support payments if the molestation results in a pregnancy. When Glee dealt with female-initiated statutory rape in its third season, the storyline focused on the inherent sexiness of illicit attraction; the question posed wasn’t “Should or shouldn’t she be arrested?” so much as “Should or shouldn’t she just go for it?”
There are other MRM issues that deserve greater attention from the public, despite the movement’s dubious—and oftentimes historically inaccurate—claims that they are caused by modern feminism. These include the discrepancy in male versus female workplace deaths, murder rates, and incidents of homelessness.
MRM leaders say they find it especially frustrating when their critics label them as misogynists for bringing up these issues. To a person, each says this characterization is unfair. Hembling insists the charges of misogyny stem from critics conflating femaleness with feminism. “Much of men’s rights writing opposes the ideology operating under the name of Feminism,” he writes. “Critics and opponents of the MRM claiming this equates to a hatred of women make several false assumptions. The first such assumption is that ‘women’ and ‘feminism’ are synonyms. One is an ideology, one is a biological demographic.” Each MRM advocate I spoke with shared some version of this same idea.
However, there is a significant disconnect between what MRM leaders say when accused of misogyny and the often-misogynistic content they are willing to write and publish. Much of this content appears as angry fist-shaking. Recently, for example, AV4M’s Jason Gregory posted an open letter to all women that said, amongst other things, “We don’t need you in the house anymore, so get the f**k out… Perhaps you should consider making yourself useful as something other than a sandwich-maker and create a meaningful existence for yourself.” Another by August Løvenskiolds counseled men against marriage so that “you won’t have to watch/hold/carry/rebuild [a wife’s] f**king purse.” Another post decried the increasing visibility of female vocalists in country music as the promotion of “pussy beggar shit” that lacked “balls.”
Over on Return of Kings, a writer recently criticized celebrity self-help doctor Mehmet Oz for being rich and famous and still choosing an overweight wife. When the founder and moderator of Reddit’s RedPill stepped down, a man who divided his time between RedPill and Reddit’s BeatingWomen thread was chosen to replace him. In 2012, MRM writer Matt Forney penned the now-infamous treatise entitled "The Necessity of Domestic Violence," in which he declared that women "should be terrorized by men; it's the only thing that makes them behave better than chimps." Zed the Zen Priest, the MRM pioneer described by AV4M as “a warrior in the battle for sanity” caused a ruckus on the Internet last month by suggesting that if you see a four-year-old girl drowning, you should let her drown lest she grow into a woman and, perhaps, a feminist.
And, despite working so hard to get society to acknowledge male victims of sexual assault, the movement shoots itself in the foot when discussing rape and public policy, as with their reaction to the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign.
“If people want to know my own objection [to the campaign]” says The Spearhead’s W.F. Price, “imagine an anti-crime poster campaign that says, ‘Don’t Be That African-American,’ or ‘Don’t Be That Latino.’ Women should realize the anger they feel at my generalizing their sex is the same I feel when they generalize mine.” Price goes on to argue that modern society’s tendency to assume guilt of those accused of rape has terrible consequences even for those later vindicated—which, to be fair, is not an unreasonable view.
Unfortunately, Price and other moderates tend to get drowned out by the more sensational statements about rape made by other MRM leaders. Though he claims to have once stopped a rape (more on that in a moment), Hembling says he would no longer bother to do so. “I don’t give a flying f**k about [it]” he writes “If I encounter a rape in progress, what am I going to do, stop it? No, I’m going to walk around it.” Return of Kings founder Roosh Vörek, who also serves on the board of a fund to help “victims of feminism,” actually supports having sex with women too inebriated to give consent. In his book entitled Bang Iceland: How to Sleep With Icelandic Women in Iceland, Vörek writes:
While walking to my place, I realized how drunk she was. In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she legally couldn’t give her consent. It didn’t help matters that I was relatively sober, but I can’t say I cared or even hesitated. I won’t rationalize my actions, but having sex is what I do.
Two years ago, in what is certainly his most notorious and controversial essay, Elam suggested that while beautiful women may fear rape, fat and ugly ones might secretly covet it. Spring-boarding from his theory about radical feminist Andrea Dworkin to the briefly famous Slut Walk anti-rape protests, Elam wrote:
The 300+ lb. basilisk of man-hate had a face big enough and pockmarked enough to be used to fake a lunar landing. Her body was roughly the size and shape of a small sperm whale … Dworkin wanted to be raped, which in her mind meant being sexually desired, but didn’t have the goods to make that happen so she made a career of hating both the source of her rejection, men, and the source of her competition, attractive women… The concept of rape has a lot of utility for women. One, it feeds their narcissistic need to feel irresistible. Two, it feeds their narcissistic need to feel irresistible. That level of irresistibility is the pinnacle of a woman’s sexual viability and worth.
Even the word the movement has coined to describe those concerned about rape culture—“rapetard”—seems designed to foster antipathy from mainstream audiences.
The MRM also suffers from a lack of good judgment regarding whom to publically target with its wrath. Some of the women they condemn, such as Maine’s disgraced Assistant District Attorney Mary Kellett, are certainly in need of greater scrutiny. Kellett recently had her law license suspended by the Maine Supreme Court for unethical behavior in the pursuit of convicting men accused of rape and assault. Other women, however, seem like less worthy targets. In early 2011 AV4M started Register-Her.com, a Wiki page initially dedicated to publishing the names, addresses, and other personal information of women who had been convicted of killing, abusing, or raping men or boys. Although controversial, this is not dissimilar to what other anti-crime groups have done in the past with male predators. But within a year, Register-Her.com morphed into something else completely. In addition to criminals, the site now lists the names and locations of "bigots," which include young, college-age women whose only 'crime' seems to have been participating in anti-MRM protests, writing graffiti on MRM posters, or mocking the MRM on social media. Supporters of Register-Her.com insist that when they ask readers to hold these women accountable, they are not calling for violence—but it’s hard to believe they don’t realize such violence could be a possibility. After all, when the MRM decides a woman has transgressed even in the slightest, some of its members tend to go overboard.
One of the many women who can attest to this is founder of the website Skepchick, Rebecca Watson. Two years ago, Watson took part in a panel discussion at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, where she lamented being sexualized in a male-dominated field. She found it ironic, then, when a male attendee complemented her remarks while propositioning her on an elevator later that evening. She briefly described the exchange in a later podcast without revealing the identity of the man who propositioned her.
Watson’s comments about it were relatively innocuous, making the degree of backlash from the MRM especially jarring. Elam dubbed Watson a “stupid, lying, whining whore.” Hembling insisted that she was calling all men rapists—Watson had not even suggested that the man on the elevator was a rapist—and later proceeded to post videos of Watson that had been carefully and dishonestly edited to make it appear she was “sociopathic.” Other, lesser-known MRM members descended upon Watson’s website and email, issuing death threats, demands that Watson take her own life, and calls for her to be raped. These emails and comments continue today, two years later. When I asked why she thought her milquetoast comments had triggered such an extreme reaction Watson replied “I think they heard exactly what they wanted to hear, not what I said, and so they believe I want men to be ‘destroyed.’” Watson says she finds irony in the fact that she is someone who actually supports most of the causes that fuel MRM passions. “I am someone who would gladly join them in the fight against issues like male domestic abuse victims or male circumcision, if only they weren’t such horrific people.”
But perhaps the biggest obstacle that the MRM creates for its own mainstream viability is its tendency to rely on highly dubious claims. A good example is their commentary on the lack of a commercially available male contraception pill. The reason the male pill is not widely available, they argue, is that powerful women want to be able to father children without their partners’ consent in order to capture financial assets. “It has been gender ideologues who unilaterally deny men access to basic birth control technology women have enjoyed for a half-century,” Hembling declares, noting that Brazilian researcher Dr. Elsimar Coutinho has already developed such a pill. Hembling neglects to mention, however, that the testing of Coutinho’s male pill was abandoned in 1998 because the active ingredient, gossypol, was shown to produce extreme side effects—including sterility for men and permanent damage to the uterine lining in women. In addition, its effectiveness at reducing sperm count was unpredictable.
It’s not the only time Hembling has played fast and loose with the facts. Let’s circle back to his swashbuckling stories about the box-cutter-wielding feminist mob (in Hembling’s recounting, police threatened to arrest him for defending himself), the thwarted rape and the woman he protected from murderous feminists. What these stories have in common is the portrait of Hembling as a peaceful warrior who puts his life on the line to stand up to a violent and unhinged enemy. It is also likely that all of them contain at best, distortions and, at worst, outright falsehoods.
Take the first yarn, about the box cutters. Vancouver police records show that there was indeed an altercation in Spetember of 2012 between Hembling and others seeking to tear down men’s rights posters. However, according to the police, Hembling was arguing with two or three people, not being accosted by a “mob” of any size. When questioned by the authorities, neither Hembling nor witnesses mentioned seeing any weapons. Furthermore, police state that Hembling had the right to put up posters where the altercation took place, and no mention of an arrest threat is made.
Curiously enough, Hembling actually videotaped the events and had his AV4M Radio partner Karen Straughan post it online. The discussion with the police has been conveniently edited out, but the rest of the video clearly matches police records and not Hembling’s story. There are only a few young men taking down Hembling's posters, and the video shows them choosing to ignore him except when he engages them in conversation. One of the men is seen using a box cutter to take down the flyers, but at no time does he use it as a weapon, raise his voice, or threaten Hembling in any way.
The story of Hembling protecting a woman involved in entitled cancelled debate on “Has Feminism Gone Too Far?” is more troubling. The woman who had scheduled the debate did receive vitriolic criticism, much of it from “self-identified feminists.” However, emails obtained by The Daily Beast show that the debate was actually cancelled due to threats from MRM supporters, not feminists.
What really happened with Hembling’s alleged protection of a woman being raped is less clear. According to Hembling, sometime around 1995 he was on his way home at 2:00 am after working a night shift when he came upon Crimean assault in progress. He says he used his steel-toed boots as weapons to chase off the perpetrator. When the victim was too distraught to speak with him, Hembling says he contacted the police, waited until they arrived, and then quietly left without speaking to them. He says they later tracked him down at his home, where he gave a statement.
It’s hard to know whether this event actually occurred or not. There is no record—at least, not in the Vancouver police files—of Hembling being a material witness to a rape, and police blotters from that time period do not show a crime that matches Hembling’s description. However, this does not necessarily mean the event did not occur. Vancouver police did not fully computerize their data until 2002, and it is possible the police never reported the incident. Hembling claims the incident took place at a specific hospital, where he says he worked as a contractor for 18 months. The address he gives, however, is for a different hospital in a completely different part of the city. This raises the curious question of whether Hembling forget the name of the hospital he contracted with for 18 months, or whether he forget what part of the city he worked in for that same period of time. The real truth of the matter is anyone’s guess, because Hembling wouldn't comment to The Beast on that or any other matter.
After our first on-line interview, I scheduled an in-person interview with Hembling in Vancouver. A few days before the second interview, I sent him an email asking for clarification on a statement he had made regarding a BBC panel show entitled “The End of Men,” which Hembling claimed advocated the elimination of men in society. There is a BBC panel show with that title, but it is not what Hembling claims. It is an interview with Hanna Rosen about her book of the same name, where she makes the men’s rights friendly argument that today’s economic system is leaving men behind, and how that needs to change. When I contacted the BBC to ask if they had ever run a show advocating the elimination of men, they were good enough to actually check, though they did confess mine was “the strangest query we have received all year.” After receiving my email for clarification, Hembling ostensibly cut off contact, save to let me know he would no longer be answering questions. The next day he posted a preliminary strike on this article, declaring that I would likely criticize him for being a “sexual loser,” “living in [his] mothers basement,” and following “lizard-man overlords from planet X.” That I might instead criticize him simply for being either overly credulous, potentially dishonest, or a terrible fact-checker did not seem to occur to him.
It is a balmy summer afternoon in Seattle as I sit down to share a pizza with W.F. Price and his new bride, Michelle.
Price runs his own MRM on-line magazine, The Spearhead, which both compliments and competes with AV4M.
Price is well known and respected throughout the MRM—and, in a twist that makes one want to phone a movie producer to pitch Hollywood’s next big RomCom, Michelle Price turns out to be that most unexpected of matches for The Spearhead’s fiery publisher: an outspoken, self-described feminist.
“I’ve never said I’m not married,” says Price when I ask him how his readers are going to take the news that he has settled down into a happy domestic life with the enemy. “I think I’ve left it easy to read between the lines that I’m involved with a woman, even if I’ve never come out and said I’m married, so… who knows?”
Most of the MRM members I spoke with told me that before Hembling’s rise, Price was widely considered to be the heir apparent to the movement. As publisher and editor of The Spearhead, Price was one of the movement’s Internet-age pioneers. He wrote alongside the older Elam at the now-defunct Men’s News Daily, and he published the AV4M publisher’s writings before Elam’s site became the juggernaut it is today. Price became involved in the MRM after a divorce and a particularly nasty custody battle with his first wife. His subsequent inability to get equal time with his children fueled a passion that continues to motivate him years later.
If the concept of W.H. and Michelle Price as a happy couple is hard to fathom, the reality is easy to understand. Each is an intelligent, articulate and passionate person wanting to make the world a better place. Though there is much they disagree on (obviously), each has learned to listen to the other, giving the other’s arguments both a fair hearing and the assumption of good faith. As a result, Michelle has become a fervent advocate for many of the causes that matter to Price, such as examining the negative effects of current child-support laws on men, women, and families alike. “When he first talked about his cause, the thing that became instantly clear was that he was a man who cared passionately about being a good father,” Michelle tells me. “It’s a big part of what I fell in love with.”
In turn, Michelle’s challenges to Price have made his arguments sharper and more nuanced than they were even a year ago. More importantly, he is learning how to craft an advocacy that has the potential to appeal to mainstream voters and policy makers while remaining true to his MRM ideals. He best illustrates this skill when stumping on behalf of divorced fathers. Price argues that the laws meant to remedy unpaid child support payments were largely created to solve the problems of a small subset of middle- and upper-class women without enough consideration of their potential negative impact on lower-class families.
A study by the Urban Institute identified 10,000 men incarcerated for falling behind on child support in 2002. Given the disproportionate negative impact of recent years’ bad economic times on the working poor, it would be hard to believe that number has not grown significantly. Fathers unable to pay child support are the last victims of debtors’ prisons in our society. They are also the last non-enemy-combatant group of U.S. citizens who are not entitled to legal representation when being tried.
“Men in this recession get laid off and can’t find work, and when they fall behind on payments they’re sent to prison,” fumes Price. “They don’t earn money while doing time, so when they’re released they’re often rounded up and imprisoned again for being even farther behind. It’s a system that punishes you for being unemployed while making you less employable. And forget about the men for a minute and ask yourself, how does that actually help lower-income children or mothers?”
Price is every bit as angry about child-support inequality as Hembling, but the difference between the two is important. Hembling relies on easily debunked male-pill conspiracy theories and reflexively labels anyone who question his conclusions a liar, idiot or psychopath. In contrast, one could easily see Price’s arguments being picked up by a mainstream politician and resonating with voters. To put it another way, while Hembling has been perfecting a way to generate page hits, Price has been working on a narrative that might actually make a difference to the men they each seek to help.
The problem is that the MRM movement has largely been built around its Hemblings and not its Prices. Hembling’s readership and influence has exploded exponentially, eclipsing Price’s more and more each day. In addition to harming the long-term prospects of the cause, the movement’s radicals might also do more immediate damage to those who most desperately need the MRM to succeed.
“When we talk about recovery from trauma and abuse, there were two things that helped me,” says Chris Anderson, executive director of the male-victim advocacy group Male Survivor and a sexual abuse survivor himself. “The first was realizing that I'm not alone; the second was hearing that recovery was possible.” Anderson is quick to dissociate himself from the men’s rights movement: “In [the MRM] people get that first message, that they're not alone. I don't know that they ever get the second message. And when they don’t get that second message, it turns into an endless feedback loop and eventually they say, ‘Oh my God, all of society is f**ked.’”
Surprisingly, Elam, Hembling’s publisher, seems to understand this. “Every time we have an outrageous, hyperbolic post,” he confessed to me, “while it’s very successful in the marketing sense, it’s also an opportunity that could have been spent having a rational discussion with important people were they there to have that discussion.” From Elam’s point of view, the vitriol engrained in the movement is a necessary evil in order to draw attention to worthy causes. He says he knows the inflammatory language has to be temporary. “I very much hope the day soon comes when it isn’t necessary,” he says. And maybe he’s right. Maybe the movement needs the attention to grow, and maybe once it grows to sufficient size its leaders will be able to sit down with opponents and have those rational discussions.
Perhaps—though history shows us that ideological movements rarely, if ever, get to a point where they feel they don’t need any more donations, media attention, or page hits. And even if Elam is sincere in his desire to dial down the vitriol once the movement is large enough, there’s an inherent problem with growing a political movement largely by referring to women as bitches, whores and c**ts. At the end of the day, you have a lot of members who joined up simply because they liked calling women bitches, whores and c**ts—and any eventual pleas to come together and sing "Kumbaya" could likely fall on deaf ears.
This, of course, is the real tragedy of the MRM. Male victims of domestic abuse need more help than they’re currently getting, as do male victims of sexual assault. Lower-income divorced fathers need a different system to ensure the well-being of their children. But all of this help requires both financial and political resources, and getting society to allocate those resources requires support and interest from the larger tax-paying community.
What the MRM doesn’t seem to realize is that every time they lionize someone who says a four-year-old girl drowning is a good thing, or giggle over a leader bragging about taking sexual advantage of a woman who’s too drunk to understand what’s happening to her, or theorize that fat women want to be forcibly raped, or float a preposterous claim that women’s brains are physically incapable of comprehending morality, they only put those resources that much further out of reach. It is telling to note that of the professional male-victim advocacy organizations I spoke with, every single one specifically asked that I not allow readers to think they were in any way related to the MRM.
The MRM has long begged for mainstream attention. Now that it is finally getting its wish, it needs to ask itself what it truly wants: page hits or policy changes. Price and other more moderate voices (many of whom write for AV4M under Hembling) have an opportunity to take the first small steps toward correcting the very real civil rights discrepancies they have uncovered. What remains to be seen is whether the rank and file of their movement will let them, or whether they’ll opt for the instant gratification of the Hemblings and Vöreks.
Or, as Hembling tells feminists, apparently without irony: "You are losing control of the narrative, and the vicious, sadistic and amoral character of your movement is increasingly and glaringly obvious. You might just want to check yourselves in a mirror, dummies."