Last spring, I wrote an article for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Report that ran online under the headline, “Leader’s Suicide Brings Attention to Men’s Rights Movement.” One year later, following an unremitting series of attacks on what I wrote by defensive men’s right activists (MRAs), another suicide has shed new light on men’s rights activism.
Back in 1991, Earl Silverman started a self-help group for abused men in Calgary, Canada. Silverman’s abusive wife had fled to a women’s shelter after he’d “hit her back,” he said, but no equivalent refuge had been available to him. Over the years, he filed numerous complaints against the provincial government, in which he argued that its failure to provide the same funding for battered men that it did for battered women was a violation of basic human rights. Three years ago, he opened a shelter for battered men in his home. In April, 2013, beset with financial difficulties, Silverman closed its doors, sold his house, and hung himself, “murdered by suicide by the Feminized state of Canada,” as the National Coalition for Men’s Harry Crouch put it.
In summarizing Silverman’s story, the online Atlantic Wire’s Alexander Abad-Santos quoted from both the Intelligence Report and Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, who wrote, “There are male victims. … Yet where Silverman came up short was in perpetuating the Men’s Rights Movement’s fiction that there’s any gender equity as far as violence and victims.”
The MRA website A Voice for Men reacted with its signature restraint, accusing Abad-Santos of “gloating” over Silverman’s corpse. It brought the SPLC into the story, too, falsely accusing it (and me) of backpedaling after a tsunami of outrage met what was described as our “irresponsible fear-mongering about the MRM.” Anyone who denies that men are as victimized by women as women are by men is a shill for feminism, with its “core foundations of violence and hatred,” it added.
Another MRA blogged, “I cheerfully await the feminists who will be dancing on [Silverman’s] grave.”
The odd thing is that links in Silverman’s own blog offer a more nuanced view of his story than his mourners do. Voluminous briefs and transcripts document how accommodating various officials were — assigning him a liaison, inviting him to conferences, scheduling interviews with ministers, granting him wide latitude when he failed to dot every bureaucratic “i” and cross every “t.” He also benefited from the $1,000 benefit that is available to people of either gender who are fleeing domestic violence in Alberta. The same Harry Crouch who accused “Feminized” Canada of murder celebrated in 2011 when “Earl Silverman’s DV [domestic violence] shelter … announced that it took in and housed its first male victim that had been both referred and funded by a $1,000 grant from the local provincial government. This is a huge deal.”
Some of those who knew Silverman saw things quite differently.
“Mr. Silverman appears incapable of coherent and rational problem solving with government or community partners,” Maria David-Evans, the exasperated deputy minister of Alberta Children’s Services wrote in a formal response to one of his suits. “This is clearly not because of discrimination or gender bias … but is based on the illogical, unjustifiable and unreasonable ideology needed to communicate his views about misandry conspiracies that he has come to believe.”
Like the men’s rights movement at large, Earl Silverman was not always his own best advocate. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that his supporters are looking to get more out of his death than any feminists are.