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Men’s Rights Activists

Men’s rights activists (MRAs) are a subgroup of male supremacists who believe they are fighting against a feminist conspiracy to oppress men. While they claim to advocate for men, their primary focus has been attacking women and feminism.

Men’s rights activists are a male supremacist movement of men who view themselves as defending men against the oppressive gains of women and feminism over the past several decades. MRAs believe we live in a gynocentric society that favors women to the detriment of men. Under the guise of gender equality, members of this movement rally around issues and institutions they perceive as discriminating against men, particularly the court system and legislation against sexual violence and harassment. This discourse of disempowerment frames feminists as the ultimate enemy, engaged in a conspiracy to harm and oppress men. As Laura Bates, author of the book Men Who Hate Women, puts it, “MRAs are about as focused on men’s rights as defense contractors are invested in maintaining peace.” Instead, she explains: “MRAs are concerned, to the point of obsession, with attacking women. And their particular target is feminism.”

The foundation of men’s rights activist ideology is rooted in misogynistic generalizations about women. MRAs typically view women as stupid, narcissistic, conniving and manipulative. Adherents assert women are hypergamous by nature, a misappropriated biology term male supremacists use to insist women will seek out and mate with men who have a “higher status” than themselves and will quickly dispose of a male partner when a better one comes along.

Many of the core tenets of MRA arguments are fundamentally contradictory. According to an Australian father’s rights organization, the Men’s Rights Agency, women need to accept their biological differences from men: “Women are innately more nurturing. They are also, generally, better with children, the elderly and the infirm. Most do not aspire to become generals, CEOs or heads of state.” Yet on the same website, the organization complains how family courts are biased in favor of women and fail to recognize the importance of men raising their children.

Similarly, men’s rights activists use misleading and outright false statistics and research to argue that women are the primary perpetrators of gender-based violence and deny the epidemic of violence against women. At the same time, MRA rhetoric often argues that women deserve or are responsible for the violence perpetrated against them.

In a 2010 blog post about rape, MRA Paul Elam wrote, “There are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk though [sic] life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.” Similarly, in a blog titled “The Necessity of Domestic Violence,” another prominent MRA, Matt Forney, wrote “Women should be terrorized by their men; it’s the only thing that makes them behave better than chimps.”

Despite the movement’s claim that they are fighting on behalf of equal rights for men, their activities are more often targeted at disrupting feminist efforts rather than helping men. In one example from 2013, a men’s rights activist group closely affiliated with A Voice for Men tried to hijack a local campaign against sexual violence using the slogan “Don’t be THAT Guy.” The group imitated the original posters and branding to spread the myth that a significant number of women are lying about rape under the heading “Don’t be THAT Girl.” The following year, Paul Elam mimicked this tactic to disrupt an international campaign to combat violence against women by creating a copycat website to redirect funds away from the original cause and spread disinformation about gender-based violence.

The modern MRA movement tends to congregate primarily online, and its members are notorious for coordinating large-scale online harassment campaigns that target perceived feminists. Additionally, MRA efforts to present themselves to the public as legitimate advocates on men’s issues have allowed them to have a more significant offline presence than many other male supremacist movements.

In Their Own Words

“If men dominate then women manipulate.” – National Coalition for Men in a Facebook post, Aug. 10, 2023

“In many cases, accusers will falsely report to the police that a man drugged them and raped them. What really happened is that they had fully consensual sex with the man, but don’t remember giving consent, or anything else, because of the alcoholic-induced amnesia.” – National Coalition for Men in a brochure titled “False Reporting of Sexual Misconduct: Understanding the Myths,” Nov. 29, 2020

“I’m not saying [Former NFL player Ray Rice is] a good guy. But if [Janay Rice] hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit. They would say that’s blaming the victim. But I don’t buy it. And anyway, football is always happy to put on pink suits and celebrate women. Why can’t they have a week, or just a day when they celebrate men?” – Harry Crouch quoted in an article, “Silencing Women: Inside the National Coalition for Men,” Nov. 12, 2014

“Insurrection seems better than living as slaves to the Feminists and a government that enforces their male-hating policies. If we fail, we’ll be gone, and then the ladies can fight among themselves and with the androgynies who are left. Violence is coming, and not the feminine softened type of violence defined in current domestic violence laws.” – Roy Den Hollander in a document on his website titled “Evolutionarily Correct Cyclopedia,” Feb. 20, 2019

“I know people instinctively and reflexively sympathize with the victim of a brutal attack, but there comes a time when one has to ask whether or not the victim bears some responsibility for putting herself in this situation. Does Janay really think that will be the last time Rice gives her a beatdown? And even if she does, what statement is she making marrying a man willing to treat her like that? The statement is clear: she thinks the violence is a reasonable tradeoff for whatever she gets in return for her relationship, whether it’s sexual gratification, status or money. Women make that statement all the time. … Maybe, just maybe, the only way to really cut down on intimate violence would be to restrict women’s sexual freedom.” – W.F. Price, discussing Ray Rice’s assault of Janay Rice, in The Spearhead blog, Sept. 8, 2014

“Women should be terrorized by their men; it’s the only thing that makes them behave better than chimps.” – Matt Forney under the pseudonym Ferdinand Bardamu, “The Necessity of Domestic Violence,” In Mala Fide blog, 2012

“There are women, and plenty of them, for which [sic] a solid ass kicking would be the least they deserve. The real question here is not whether these women deserve the business end of a right hook, they obviously do, and some of them deserve one hard enough to leave them in an unconscious, innocuous pile on the ground if it serves to protect the innocent from imminent harm. The real question is whether men deserve to be able to physically defend themselves from assault when it comes from a woman.” – Paul Elam in a blog titled “When is it OK to punch your wife?” on AVFM, Sept. 14, 2010

“Murder, rape, and spouse abuse, like suicide and alcoholism, are but a minute’s worth of superficial power to compensate for years of underlying powerlessness. They are manifestations of hopelessness committed by the powerless.” – Warren Farrell, explaining why men commit most violent crime in his book The Myth of Male Power, 1973

Historical foundations of male supremacy

The men’s rights movement has roots in the “men’s liberation” movement, which emerged in the 1970s and embraced female liberation, as well as critiques of gender roles. The movement sought to free men from the constraints associated with the male gender role, which removed men from the home, precluded male emotional intimacy and established men as the protectors of and providers for their families.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, however, according to sociologist Michael Kimmel, this critique of the traditional male role “morphed into a celebration of all things masculine and a near infatuation with the traditional masculine role itself.” The problem was no longer oppressive gender roles: “The problem was, in a word, women – or more accurately, women’s equality, women’s empowerment, and feminism.”

As women gained ground in the workplace and family structures loosened, some men’s rights activists started blaming feminism for all of men’s ills. The traditional masculine gender role was seen as either worth reestablishing, or – rather than being limiting to both genders – actually benefiting women. Men’s rights activists decided to blame women for taking away jobs, for the decline of the family or for alimony and child custody issues after a divorce, rather than focusing on larger political and structural issues.

With its focus on intimate partner violence, the fathers’ rights movement served as a common entry point into the men’s rights movement. Large portions of the movement were based on resentment of women and sustained by junk psychiatry, falsified statistics on the prevalence of women’s physical abuse of male intimate partners, and one-off anecdotes rather than data-driven evidence.

The progenitor of the men’s rights movement, Warren Farrell, gave voice to those feelings of male oppression in his 1993 bestseller, The Myth of Male Power, which has since become the seminal text of the men’s rights movement. A former National Organization for Women (NOW) board member who used to rub shoulders with prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem, Farrell – after his divorce – declared men were as oppressed as women, if not more.

Though claiming to be equally dedicated to the liberation of both men and women, Farrell argued in his book that women were better off in society than men. In one section, he made a comparison that greatly trivialized the history of American slavery, writing, “The male role (out in the field) is akin to the field slave – or the second class slave; the traditional female role (homemaker) is akin to the house slave – the first class slave.”

The book also drew equivalences between “slaves g[iving] up their seats for whites” and “men g[iving] up their seats for women,” enslaved people having their children stolen and sold and men losing custody of their children in court and compared paying child custody to “taxation without representation.” Women, Farrell decried, had become too powerful and dangerous because – on top of holding sexual power over men – they could allegedly induce men’s downfall with accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

Some corners of the men’s rights movement focused on legitimate grievances – male homelessness and rates of suicide, male conscription or lack of male shelters for domestic violence victims – to draw in followers. But the movement has never made meaningful steps to address these issues or seek solutions, instead directing their followers to blame women, working in concert as part of a large feminist conspiracy, for everything.

Recent developments in the men’s rights movement

The men’s rights movement lives in a pseudo-academic bubble, using litigation to challenge female-only spaces or defend men accused of campus sexual assault while airing more disturbing ideas behind the scenes. Often, these men’s rights advocacy groups, like the National Coalition for Men (NCFM) – founded in 1977, and on whose board of advisers Farrell sits – distort statistics to indicate female privilege, scapegoat women for their unfounded gripes or create false equivalencies between the oppression of men and of women. Groups like NCFM use litigation to challenge what they perceive as discrimination against men and try to influence policy on domestic violence, sexual assault, divorce and custody cases. Funneling extensive energy into grievances with legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, men’s rights groups offer little tangible support to their constituents.

In July 2017, the Carolinas chapter of NCFM, in addition to men’s rights advocates from Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), were invited by then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to a summit on Title IX. Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed an extensive relationship between the Department of Education and these organizations, which spread disinformation about the frequency of false rape allegations. In September 2017, DeVos rolled back guidance on reporting, investigating and responding to campus sexual assault allegations, leaving survivors unsafe and unsupported.

The men’s rights movement has a dedicated international following, particularly in the United Kingdom, India and Australia. Women, too, have helped give the men’s rights movement a veneer of evenhandedness. Prominent men’s rights activists include anti-feminist female voices such as popular Canadian YouTube personality Karen Straughan, American psychologist Helen Smith and the former head of a U.K.-based domestic violence shelter for women, Erin Pizzey. Men’s rights issues also overlap with the rhetoric of so-called equity feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers, who give a mainstream and respectable face to some MRA concerns. American documentary filmmaker Cassie Jaye has similarly lent credibility to men’s rights activists with the creation of The Red Pill documentary. Funded by numerous male supremacists including Paul Elam and Mike Cernovich, the film was denounced as “misogynistic propaganda.”

Founded in 2009 by Paul Elam, A Voice for Men and its podcast “An Ear for Men” has combined men’s rights issues and rabidly misogynistic and violent rhetoric. Elam is famously known for declaring October to be “Bash a Violent B---- month.” He later called the piece satirical but has been republishing it every October with equally violent introductions. He has claimed that were he to serve on a jury for a man accused of rape, he would automatically declare the defendant not guilty, regardless of the facts of the case.

In 2011, A Voice for Men launched Register-Her, a website where individuals posted images of the women they thought should be put in prison. It included women deemed to have falsely accused men of rape or domestic violence, others for having protested men’s rights activist gatherings, and some Elam simply disagreed with. The effect of Register-Her was an explosion of online harassment. After finding herself targeted, feminist writer Jessica Valenti was forced to leave her home in fear for her safety. The website has since been taken down.

Ties to Violence

The men’s rights movement is notorious for targeted online harassment, including doxing and violent threats. Doxing is an online harassment tactic where an individual’s personal information, such as their phone number or address, is posted with the intent to cause harm. The men’s rights activists who use this tactic are not merely violating their victim’s privacy but hope to force them to question their physical safety. In one case, after clashing with a men’s rights activist at a protest in Canada, a young woman was doxed by MRAs who then inundated her with hundreds of threatening messages, including one who relished: “I would actually cum cutting that bitch’s throat.”

The violence of men’s rights activists is not confined to their rhetoric or online activities. It is difficult to track the number of MRAs who are motivated by their male supremacist ideology when they target their current or former partners and children with violence. Several MRAs have directed their extremist rage at the public, particularly at judges.

In the summer of 2006, Darren Mack, a member of a Reno, Nevada-based father’s rights group, stabbed his estranged wife to death in their garage. He then attempted to assassinate the judge who was handling their divorce in a sniper attack.

In June 2011, Thomas Ball set himself on fire outside a courthouse in New Hampshire to protest what he perceived as a legal system discriminating against men. Ball was the leader of a local branch of the Massachusetts-based MRA group, Fatherhood Coalition. Prior to his public suicide, he wrote a manifesto titled “Last statement” in which he called for an insurrection, writing “Twenty-five years ago, the federal government declared war on men. … It is time, boys, to give them a taste of war.”

The following day, Paul Elam posted this statement on A Voice for Men along with a link to the full manifesto. He also fanned the flames of violence, writing “A judge dragged out of his courtroom into the street, beaten mercilessly, doused with gasoline and set afire by a father who just won’t take another moment of injustice ... [would be] a minor tragedy that pales by far in comparison to the systematic brutality and thuggery inflicted daily on American fathers by those courts and their police henchmen.”

Nearly a decade later, Roy Den Hollander acted on those calls to target judges. Disguised as a FedEx driver, Den Hollander approached Judge Esther Salas’ home and opened fire, killing her 20-year-old son and seriously injuring her husband. The following day, Den Hollander was found in a rental car after killing himself. After searching the car, federal officials found the name, photo and address of New York state Chief Judge Janet M. DiFiore, as well as evidence linking him to the murder of Marc Angelucci. Angelucci was the vice president of the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights organization that Den Hollender had been kicked out of following a conflict with Angelucci.

In a document posted on his website, titled “The Evolutionarily Correct Cyclopedia,” Den Hollander foreshadowed the murder, writing, “Things begin to change when individual men start taking out those specific persons responsible for destroying their lives before committing suicide. When every life destroyed by a lying tongue is repaid with another destroyed by a gun.”

Den Hollander described himself as an “antifeminist lawyer” and was a highly visible leader in the MRA movement. He was known for his numerous lawsuits against “ladies’ nights” at bars and women’s studies programs at universities. In 2015, Den Hollander unsuccessfully argued a case in front of Judge Salas, claiming the male-only military draft was unconstitutional.

He wrote extensively on his website about his hatred for women and feminism, bragged about forcibly kissing girls when he was in third grade, and posted revenge porn of his ex-wife. Despite this, prior to the murder Den Hollander and his misogyny were presented lightheartedly in the media, including being profiled on The Colbert Report. Rather than interrogating the misogynist beliefs that underpinned his cause, he was presented as a punchline with a frivolous cause.

MRAs try to present themselves as the righteous defenders of men and cast women as violent liars and manipulators. However, even a cursory examination of the movement reveals their true intention is to perpetrate, downplay and justify men’s violent misogyny.