Dismantling the Men’s Rights Movement

David Futrelle dug deep into the Men’s Rights Movement, looking for some kind of activism. Here’s what he found.

When I started my blog Man Boobz around six months ago, I intended to mostly discuss the issues motivating those in the Men’s Rights Movement, and to highlight some of the sillier misogynist emanations from men’s rights activists (MRAs). But the more I delved into the movement online, the more convinced I became that, for most of those involved in it, the movement isn’t really about the issues at all—rather, it’s an excuse to vent male rage and spew misogyny online.

To borrow a phrase from computer programmers: misogyny isn’t a bug in the Men’s Rights Movement; it’s a feature.

Men’s rights activists aren’t much like any other activists I’ve ever run across. For one thing, for supposed activists they are almost completely inactive. Sure, they complain endlessly about things they see as terrible injustices against men. They just don’t do anything about them. While some of those who consider themselves fathers’ rights activists—a slightly different breed from your garden-variety MRAs—try to influence laws and legislatures, MRAs do little more than cultivate their resentments.

MRAs complain about (and dramatically overstate the number of) false rape accusations, but instead of mounting media campaigns or protests or anything else that would involve trying to bring this issue to a wider world, the overwhelming majority of MRAs seem content to use the issue as an excuse to rant about lying bitches online. MRAs, meanwhile, are quick to raise the issue prison rape (which mostly affects men) whenever rape is being discussed, but generally only to score rhetorical points; very few MRAs seem to even be aware there is an established national organization, Just Detention, devoted to fighting prison rape.


Similarly, MRAs complain that there are virtually no domestic violence shelters specifically designed for male victims, but unlike the feminists and other activists who fought for years to get the woman-centered shelters we have today, MRAs seem content to gripe that feminists haven’t given them shelters, too. The closest thing we’ve seen to an actual activist campaign from MRAs on this issue was when Glenn Sacks, a fathers’ rights activist, called on his supporters to besiege the biggest donors to one domestic-violence shelter serving mostly women—they had run an ad Sacks didn’t like—in an attempt to get them to stop donating to the shelter. That’s right: instead of trying to raise money to build domestic-violence shelters for men, Sacks’ fans instead tried to take money away from a shelter for women.

MRAs are as sensitive to signs of oppression as the princess from “The Princess and the Pea.”

At its heart, men’s rights activism doesn’t really seem to be about activism at all. What the movement has turned into is a strange parody of “victim feminism,” an endless search for proof that men (despite earning more than women, heading up the overwhelming majority of companies and governments in the world, getting all the best movie roles, never having to wear heels, and so on and so on and so on) are in fact second-class citizens.

MRAs are as sensitive to signs of oppression as the princess from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea,” who was able to detect the presence of a pea under 20 mattresses. No sign of “oppression” is too trivial to whine about; these are people who think that whenever a woman “gets away with” calling a man a “creep”—apparently the worst insult in the world, far worse than “slut” or “bitch” or other insults directed at women that I cannot repeat here—it is a sign that women “sit on a pedestal of privilege.”

Others see themselves as besieged by women … dressing slutty. One would-be patriarch complained on a forum promoting patriarchy that “dressing provocatively and then suppressing male urges is an assault on men’s sexuality.” By “suppressing male urges” he essentially means not having sex with any man who lusts after her. Meanwhile, his idea of “dressing provocatively” includes wearing blue jeans, “because a tight pair of jeans will accentuate a woman’s legs and buttocks. High heels meet the same conflict as tight jeans, while they may not show extra skin, they accentuate a woman’s legs and buttocks. “Even uncovered hair is bad,” as “raw, long hair can excite men.”


Next: A vacation from empathy


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About David Futrelle

David Futrelle, the blogger behind Man Boobz, is a freelance writer living in Chicago. His writings have appeared in a variety of publications ranging from The Nation and The New York Times to Money magazine.


  1. daniel sebold says:

    The real men’s movement is a movement of men living in quiet desperation. The male gender role looks more rigidly defined than it has ever been: we wear the long calf length shorts, the long calf length swimming attire so that we don’t harass the poor oppressed feminists with our naked thighs. Why bother having sex on a one way street? So stay single. Continue the marriage strike. Hey, but what can I say? If oafs are in fashion, then so be it. They give women an excellent target for bashing.

    Whatever happened to Dwight Stones high jumping in those orange micro shorts like what you see on that seventies Youtube video, or Mark Spitz in his Speedoes? Male athletes cover up more and more while women athletes wear less and less. Hey, if this is the sex role women want for men, then no problem. I am sure this will all work out in a generation or two– when men wake up and see that there isn’t much difference between western males and Saudi women.

  2. Don’t you know by now? You’re feeding the trolls. So long as the focus is on the nastiest parts of the MRM, it will only get worse. There are some legitimate issues that they bring up, but it’s the misogynists festering their movement from within that gets them any attention or relevance.

    There are people out there who seem desperate to find some violent act — any violent act — that can be attributed to the MRM even if it takes enhancing the truth a little bit. There are websites devoted to seeking out the worst among MRAs to publicize their vile bigotry. There are readers all over just itching to read that next juicy article about all the terrible things the MRM is doing because if the other is bad then the self must be good.

    If any of you opposed the things in this article, you’d stop writing about it. You’d seek out the rational, fair, moderate, egalitarian voices in the MRM no matter how small and insignificant those voices are and give them exposure. You’d find the ones arguing and debating against the promoters of violence and sexism to say that they stand for something worth considering, and not their bigoted debate partners. You’d seek out however few are willing from within that movement to work in conjunction and mutual respect with feminists and promote their ideas.

    Then the trolls would get bored and wander away. I know the argumentative styles I see among the trolls. I’ve seen before the exact patterns of reasoning, language, and rhetoric that they use. They’re the exact same socially marginalized misfits who clung to atheism not too long ago, donned fedoras, and sought to establish their own identity and vent their own angst in that way. And when those trolls are no longer fed through the MRM, they will migrate to some new social group, cling on to it, and use it for the validation and outlet they crave. And when they do, they should be chased from there as well.

    This article points out a problem. But there comes a point where only pointing out problems makes them worse.

  3. David Futrelle is my hero.

  4. Saga Riihinen says:

    Great post! It’s definitely a shame that MRA’s are taking attention away from legitimate men’s issues. I regularly have MRA thrown in my face. I can’t understand how blind they are to what feminists are doing. Well, I guess I should only be speaking of “my feminists”. In the feminists spaces where I hang out, prison rape jokes and the like get called out pretty damn fast. And we regularly dicsuss such things as boys being mistreated in primary schools because of gender, male circumcision and how we need equality with parental rights. I don’t see any of these things as men being in any way against me. I want to be on the same side, I want *equality*.

    I love that the Good Men Project feels the same way and that you’ve created a platform for the non-violent, non-misogynist men’s voices to be heard.

  5. Thank for writing this article. I think men do have legitimate issues, & it would be nice if someone was actually fighting for those issues. But you are right, MRA’s & MGTOW seems to be a place for men to vent about how “terrible” women are. I’m not saying women are perfect, but focus on the issues, not the hate. When men want to start dealing with real issues, I’ll be there to lend support, but I won’t have anything to do with perpetuating hate.

  6. “never having to wear heels?” “the best movie roles?”
    — I almost choked on my coffee laughing on that one. Are you suggesting that heels are something women must or are forced to endure? Some of the highest paid in Hollywood are female. This is silly.

    A tiny percentage of alpha males run government and corporations. What about most alphas, betas, and omegas? Do you really think that <1% of alphas care about other men? Get real.

    Men earn more? Look at the different types of jobs men and women do, the hours worked, the time off to raise kids, etc. BTW, in 48/50 urban areas women earn more. Women over age 51 control most of the nations private wealth. Young women earn more than men. Be honest about the numbers.

  7. Men do not earn more in general than women, and the ones who do, are doing especially dirty, dangerous, heavy work women often refuse. Everything from construction to combat…

    If an employer pays you more for your work it is surely not because you are a man and not a woman.

    If men are so expensive and women are working for such a cheap salary, most employers would accept only females applicants to save up to 20 percent of salaries for the same work done.

    It also should be noticed that men often transfer money earned out of their work for their families, to their women and children. Often to their ex-wives in form of alimony and child-support.

    Women are able to enjoy a much larger sortiment of various goods in department stores, and despite they are so poor, they are buying much more for themselves related to fashion/shoes industry, jewelry and similar items than men. Many products are designed for women only, and if the woman is so poor and nevertheless can buy that and the man is so rich, from where is the money coming from?

  8. Time off to raise kids is not time off. Raising children is a full time job. You don’t put in 40 hours a week and then sit around watching football. You’re there all day, all night, constantly working. If you don’t consider raising children to be a job (one that doesn’t pay btw) you need a reality check.

  9. @Jess

    Women do have a choice – no woman is forced to give birth and to raise children.

    If a woman prefers to work 40 hours instead of a family with children, it’s up to her.

    What’s your problem?

  10. Then don’t have them…

  11. A job were you get to run around in your slippers and build gingerbread houses with the kids. Oh yes, we know that dinner is cooking and the washing machine is cleaning. Time then for yet another phone call to one of your many gal pals to continue complaining how much easier men have it.

  12. MorgainePendragon says:

    But men don’t have to make that choice. A man can have both.

    Why should ONLY women be penalised for having children?

  13. GeoffOfOZ says:

    Possibly. Looking at the situaiton regarding the uproar over contracepton and access to it at the moment in the States?

    Could we not agree that
    a) there are structures in place in society
    b) these structures, historically (pre-1960 back to say the Pharaohs of Egypt), were designed by men
    c) thus we do assume that these structures are designed to help people like those who designed the laws (including men, as well as rich, socially connected, etc.) or at the very least not to harm their position
    d) if you fall outside of the narrow confines of “good” the laws were designed for, you will experience varying degrees of hardship depending on how far you fall outside of “good”.

    So this takes into account men, women, sissy men, butch girls, bookish guys that would prefer to talk politics than go to a bar, a girl that would prefer to watch football and yell at the tv for 2 hours than go through an elaborate beauty routine, etc.?

    If we do accept the premise of my argument, that the powerful serves to maintain or extend their own power, regardless of the group with the power, could we then not accept that to remedy this the people must attack inequitable laws rather than fighting for supremacy?

  14. Why shouldn’t men have the right to opt out of fatherhood if their sex buddy/girlfriend/wife gets pregnant? Women can do what they want; abort, give birth, raise the kid, go back to work and use day care, etc. Women are now more of a hassle than they are worth and having a relationship with a woman is actually very very dangerous.

  15. wellokaythen says:

    Men and women are also penalized for NOT having children. People with children get income tax benefits that childless/childfree people do not. That is, in effect, a tax penalty for not having children.

  16. “Why shouldn’t men have the right to opt out of fatherhood if their sex buddy/girlfriend/wife gets pregnant?”

    Perhaps because of the biological fact that the fetus grows in the woman’s body? If humans were like seahorses and the fetuses incubated in the male’s bodies, then in that case the men would get to decide whether to keep or abort. A society where others had the right to impose a surgical procedure on your body against your will would be a pretty awful one, no? If you want to complain about the injustice that this right-to-refuse-surgery has the side effect of leaving the decision about whether to keep the child entirely in the hands of the woman, it’s nature you should complain to for making reproductive biology work in such a sexist way (or God, if you’re a creationist).

    And speaking of biology, a man does have one surefire way of avoiding fatherhood if he plans in advance, namely getting a vasectomy.

  17. If a man doesn’t want to be a father then HE should always use birth control, whether the woman says she does or not. If he doesn’t he could become someone’s Daddy.

  18. Damn, Aharon! I agreed with your point about the heels earlier, but your statement about women being “more of a hassle than they are worth” is unnecessarily insulting. There’s just no reason to talk like that.

  19. Good luck getting a vasectomy if you’re under 30, and haven’t had kids. Everything I’ve heard on it makes it quite difficult to get.

  20. Do you advocate sterilization for women who don’t want to become mothers?

  21. Abortion has nothing to do with a father’s inability to opt out of parenthood. We live in a society with adoptions and safe haven laws. In other words, a woman still has the choice to opt out even after there is a living breathing baby right there. Why don’t men have these same abilities?

    Equal responsibilities and unequal rights

  22. stupid.

  23. Equalizer says:

    @Jesse M: Your merely side stepping the issue here by saying it grows in a womans body, your basically saying sense women have all the rights to a child they can do whatever they want and men shouldn’t complain about it. Tell me whats the difference between killing it and having it then giving it to loving father after its born? The woman doesn’t want it so she can go on with her life and Abortion can be much more dangerous then actually giving birth. You act like a man has no right to the child simply because it has nothing to do with him which is blatantly false.

  24. He’s not talking about the father demanding an abortion. He’s talkIng about legal paternal surrender. The equivalent of giving a child up for adoption, something a woman is allowed to do but a man isn’t.

  25. The reason why doctors balk at performing or referring one to vasectomy if one is young and childless is that is shouldn’t be considered a reversible procedures. If it’s more than three years since the vasectomy a reversal procedures only have a 51% pregnancy rate*. And it declines even more as time go by.

    *Belker AM, et al. Results of 1,469 microsurgical vasectomy reversals by the Vasovasostomy Study Group. Journal of Urology 1991; 145(3):505-11.

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  27. I think that’s a larger surgery and thus riskier, but if I’m wrong about that–or in a hypothetical world where the health risk was as low as a vasectomy–then sure, why not?

  28. “Abortion has nothing to do with a father’s inability to opt out of parenthood. We live in a society with adoptions and safe haven laws. In other words, a woman still has the choice to opt out even after there is a living breathing baby right there. Why don’t men have these same abilities?

    Equal responsibilities and unequal rights”

    Well, you’re talking about a situation where the baby is actually born and the mother is raising it, and the father is free to “opt out” of any actual parenting responsibilities but usually has to pay some form of child support. So, let’s think about what would happen in this situation with the genders reversed. If the mother wanted to have the baby but then opt out of parenthood, but the biological father wanted to raise the baby (and could provide a good home environment), wouldn’t the courts be more likely to grant custody to the father than to have the child given up for adoption against the father’s wishes? In a case like this I don’t necessarily think the mother would be able to completely opt out any more than the father can opt out in a case where the mother wants to raise the baby…the mother might well have to pay some form of child support if the father was raising the baby, at least if she was making decent money. This sort of situation (mother bringing child to term but not wanting to raise it, father wanting to raise it) probably doesn’t happen that often, but to show there is are “unequal rights” you’d have to demonstrate that even when it does, the mother is always free to avoid paying any form of child support.

  29. Your merely side stepping the issue here by saying it grows in a womans body

    I’m not side-stepping the issue, I’m saying that fact is essential to the issue.

    your basically saying sense women have all the rights to a child they can do whatever they want and men shouldn’t complain about it. Tell me whats the difference between killing it and having it then giving it to loving father after its born?

    Months of potentially fairly intense physical discomfort and greater risk of serious permanent harm. Do you believe it’s right to subject people to long periods of avoidable physical discomfort against their will? For example if some person had a kidney disease and the only way to keep them alive until a donor could be found would be to connect their bloodstream to the bloodstream of a person with healthy kidneys, do you think it would be moral to force a healthy person to be connected in this way for several months against their will?

    The woman doesn’t want it so she can go on with her life and Abortion can be much more dangerous then actually giving birth.

    If you define “dangerous” in terms of statistical risks, abortion is less likely to lead to the mother’s death than childbirth, see for example http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/248/2/188.abstract

    You act like a man has no right to the child simply because it has nothing to do with him which is blatantly false.

    I never said “it has nothing to do with him”, and I also wouldn’t say he “has no right to the child” if it’s born. But I don’t think the man’s involvement in creating the pregnancy should trump the basic right of anyone not to be forced to experience bodily discomfort that could be avoided with a simple procedure.

  30. Jesse M. says:
    April 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm
    …abortion is less likely to lead to the mother’s death than childbirth…

    How can you compare pregnancy with a kidney disease?
    To consider abortion healthier than childbirth is grotesque.

    It sounds somehow that pregnancy is a form of illness requires surgery.

  31. Jesse M. says:

    “To consider abortion healthier than childbirth is grotesque.”

    I was responding to Equalizer’s comment “The woman doesn’t want it so she can go on with her life and Abortion can be much more dangerous then actually giving birth”, which was pretty clearly talking about how “dangerous” it is to “the woman”, not to the fetus. And I didn’t compare abortion to a kidney disease, is your reading comprehension really that poor? I compared it to a hypothetical situation where adult person #1 (supposed to be analogous to the fetus) is attached to the body of another adult #2 (analogous to the mother, with the “attachment” analogous to pregnancy) and is dependent on remaining attached to them for survival. An abortion opponent should like this analogy, because it grants the “personhood” of the fetus by comparing them to a sentient adult…in reality I don’t think the fetus can be considered a “person” before it develops some form of consciousness, which based on the development of the brain probably doesn’t happen until around the end of the second trimester (because until then, most of the synapses that are needed for brain cells to communicate with each other haven’t formed, so no coherent brain activity can occur–see the articles at http://web.archive.org/web/20000823035839/http://www.tnr.com/013100/easterbrook013100.html and http://web.archive.org/web/20110707061912/http://eileen.250x.com/Main/Einstein/Brain_Waves.htm for some info on this). But I’m saying even in this hypothetical situation, where I would grant personhood to person #1, person #2’s right to control over their body should give them the right to sever the attachment (equivalent to terminating the pregnancy), even though this would kill person #1.

  32. I can answer your entire comment with two words: Safe. Haven.

    As long as a woman is able to dump her kid at any hospital or police station without even notifying the father it’s happened, then I will continue to claim that women have more rights than responsibilities.

    But further: A quick google search shows a number of cases where the woman has given a child up for adoption out of state (usualy Utah) without the father’s notice or consent, and thanks to long delays of the judicial system the child is ultimately left with the adoptive parents because those same delays (usually years long) have left the baby in the care of the adoptive parents so the courts rule that staying there is in “the child’s best interest.”

    Also, while the percentage of women who pay child support is smaller than that of men, the likelyhood of those women being “deadbeat” is greater than in men.

  33. There is so much generalization and failed logic going on here, it’s making me dizzy.

  34. Jon Fritch says:

    I just don’t understand why men’s rights activists don’t see that most of the problems that they complain about are mens’ faults.

    Yohan, why do you think it is that only men are often seen doing heavy labor or combat? Because men made it that way. Women had nothing to do with that unbalance. It’s been men that tell themselves and others that men are the stronger sex, so men should have the rougher jobs – women should stay in the kitchen. Women usually aren’t encouraged by anyone to take rougher jobs. They have been told for decades that they are genetically weaker, that they can’t accomplish the same things men can. And do you not think that some men generally make the heavy work environment more uncomfortable for women? These guys have probably been brought up with that attitude that only men can do this rough job. They’ve never seen it any other way, and they probably aren’t open to change.

    Damaging attitudes about men almost always come from men. Boys are expected to suppress their emotions in order to be real men, to be men of their own houses one day. That’s a patriarchal attitude if I’ve ever heard one. Men won’t accept as much variety and specificity when it comes to the products that they want to purchase. Men have told themselves that they always need to keep their needs simple and basic – anything fru-fru would be feminine. If men made it okay for other men to care about the way they look and feel more, then certainly men would be offered as wide a selection of goods. But no, men usually mock their male peers for embracing that stuff. We need to stop forcing these attitudes upon ourselves, and feminism is how.


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