The Enemy of My Enemy: Feminism and the Men’s Rights Movement

Most people know what feminism is—or at least, they’ve heard of it and have a definition in their head.  However, it’s safe to say that the Men’s Rights Movement (or MRM, although many use the term Men’s Human Rights Movement or MRHM) is relatively unknown.  They have a subreddit, plenty of websites, and a handful of real-world activist groups, but the movement has failed to penetrate the mainstream consciousness like feminism has.  Interestingly, though, the two groups have a lot in common.

There are certainly more details and subtleties I could go into, but suffice to say that both feel their focal gender is treated as second-class, that they are lacking various rights and protections, and that they are systematically and institutionally oppressed or marginalized.  Much of the mission statement on A Voice for Men, one of the major MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) websites, reads like a gender-swapped feminist statement, although most feminism is arguably less antagonistic and I like to think that few self-respecting feminists would openly compare their opponents to neo-Nazis.

Though they are by no means the only issues, the main topics for MRAs tend to center on divorce and child custody rights, violence against men, gender inequality in the criminal justice system, domestic violence, and education.  There’s a good summary here, and with the possible exceptions of the wage gap and domestic violence statistics (both of which are often contested), most of those numbers are correct.

But here’s the kicker: almost all of these issues come down to the very same thing feminists are fighting against.  Skewed gender roles and norms are behind many of the wrongs perpetrated against women and behind most of wrongs MRAs identify.  Let’s look at some specific examples.

Men make up the vast majority of combat deaths because they make up the vast majority of combat roles, largely due to the socially-ingrained idea that men should be physically strong and violent and women should be meek and domestic.  This is a gender role, and feminists are against it.

Men are far more likely to commit suicide than women are, despite having similar or lower rates of depression and of attempted suicide.  There are two likely reasons for this.  First, men choose highly-lethal methods (hanging, firearms, etc.) more often than women do.  (Women are more likely to attempt suicide through drug overdose, which has a fairly low rate of completion.)  This may be due to access—more men than women own firearms—or due to a male tendency toward violence, both of which go back to the ways in which men are socially encouraged to be violent and women nonviolent.  Men are also less likely to seek treatment for depression because, on the flip side, men who are seen as emotional or vulnerable are often shamed or bullied.  This is a gender role, and feminists are against it.

Finally, men are far less likely to gain custody of children in a divorce.  This is because courts—which are biased in the same way every other part of society is—deem women to be naturally better caretakers whose love is the most important thing in a child’s life.  This is a (particularly bullshit) gender role, and feminists are against it.

Feminists and MRAs are both fighting the same enemy.  I wouldn’t call the two groups friends—mostly because it’s really hard to be friends with someone who openly hates you and compares you to authoritarian mass murderers—but the two groups have a lot more in common than MRAs would have you believe.


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