Monday, July 7, 2014

Various Perspectives on the First International Conference on Men’s Issues

The last weekend in June, in Detroit (fittingly), the first ever International Conference on Men’s Issues was held. Monica Hesse, who covered the conference for the Washington Post, summed up the 150-200 (mostly white) men who attended: "the binding theme was that almost everyone here had experienced a version of a 'red pill moment'." For those unfamiliar with the jargon of the men's rights activists (MRAs), think back to The Matrix:

For MRAs, a red pill moment is the moment in which a man wakes up and realizes he has become a second class citizen in this country. It's the moment he realizes that feminism has taken away his rights, his freedoms, and his privilege. The red pill crowd has a very popular Reddit site.

Unfortunately, for the majority of MRAs, taking their red pill seems to lead not only to anti-feminism, but to a lot of anti-women rhetoric as well.


As you might guess, this conference was an easy target for pro-women and pro-feminist sites to make fun of and ridicule, and Jezebel took up that task with enthusiasm.

The conference was organized by Paul Elam, who hosts the MRA site, A Voice For Men. According to Jessica Roy's article for Time Magazine, Elam wanted speakers and attendees to take a more press-friendly tone:
At Elam’s request, the majority of the speakers were noticeably less anti-woman in person than many are in their writings or speeches elsewhere.
For what it's worth, Roy did the best job of trying to provide fair and balanced coverage, but apparently Elam took issue with a couple of tweets she posted during the conference, moments when she was dismayed by the commentary she was seeing.

We Hunted the Mammoth posted about Elam's response to the tweets:
Elam, evidently incensed about a handful of sarcastic remarks that Roy tweeted during the conference, denounced her as, among other things, a “hack,” “a liar and bigot” and a practitioner of “journalistic scumtardery,” whatever that is. Commenters on A Voice for Men happily joined in the hate, denouncing her as an “airhead,” a “disgrace and a liar,” “lil’ miss hair-o’or-her-eyes,” and a “little asshole [who] will look like a right nazi in five-to-ten years time.” Amazingly, no one pulled out the c-word. Evidently AVFMers are still on their best behavior.
So much for being on their good behavior.

It's unfortunate, as Tom Hawking notes at Flavorwire, that the MRAs are so caught up in hating feminism and feeling like victims - their anger and hatred do more harm to men than they do to help men.
There are many things to dislike about r/RedPill types. Many, many things. But here’s the issue: quite apart from their hatefulness, they do their “cause” — such as it is — absolutely no good at all. As with extremists in many other areas, they hijack and polarize a discussion that is worth having.
And it IS a discussion that needs to be held, with all sides open and curious, not convinced they are right and highly cynical of other perspectives.

The blog ANIMAL New York posted the conference as well, but they took the added step of including some of the key comments from the speakers. Interestingly, many of the most cogent points have nothing to do with feminism. The realms where feminism has probably done men the most harm is in family courts, education, and related areas.

Quotes from Warren Farrell:
  • Millions of boys are getting their dopamine fixes from performing in video games, but not performing in real life.
  • With the increased amount of video porn, boys who are failures to launch, who aren’t doing well in school, notice that not many girls are interested in them. But they have an easy escape: Video porn, 250 million options… free.
  • Men questioning work full time is to this day extremely difficult especially if the man is successful.
  • Why, when girls are doing much better than boys, do we have a White House council on women and girls, but no White House council on men and boys?
None of these points can be pinned on women or feminism. Farrell has been one of the loudest and most visible voices on the plight of boys in education and as young men. However, if one looks at the issues he is most known for (some of which Elam presents below), in The Myth of Male Power, these are social structures and products of power differential.

Even Paul Elam had some good points in this area:
  • Men are 93% of all workplace fatalities. They’re currently 97% of combat deaths. They’re the majority of the homeless.
  • Men are sentenced on average to 66% more time in prison than women for the same crime, and are twice as likely to be incarcerated in the first place, again, for the first time. It is a gap even wider than that between black and white.
It's the 1%, the wealthy elite, who are the owners of all the industries in which men are most likely to be killed (mining, oil fields, etc) and these owners fight every effort to regulate safety. Furthermore, the military that sends these men to die in battle is run almost exclusively by men. As Hawking pointed out on Flavorwire:
The prison industrial complex uses male bodies as free labor for the enrichment of a privileged elite… who are pretty much entirely white men.
When Elam gets deeper into his message, however, there is a more direct attack on the feminist assault on male rights:
  • Men are subject to a family court system so corrupt and biased it represents the biggest rollback of civil right since Jim Crow. It is a system that destroys the lives of men and children by severing their bond with calculated indifference. Parental alienation is real and rampant. Sadly there is now a profit to be made in the destruction of our families.
  • Under the false banner of the best interests of the child, fathers are forced to pay child support as though it were mafia protection money.
  • Men are starting to abandon the idea of marriage in the first place. It’s a form of risk management for their lives.
  • Despite a compelling body of evidence, that men and boys are victims of domestic and sexual assault at rates far exceeding what most would think, the current gender paradigm ignores this and dedicates to resources all but exclusively to women.
The issue of the family court system is one place where I have seen good men lose to the system, even when the mother originally abandoned the child to the father. Then she decides she wants custody and wins, three years after walking away from her child. I have seen other fathers get jerked around in court by the ex-wives, forced to pay more child support because the mother "won" more direct time with custody.

The family court system claims that equal custody is the preferred norm, but it seldom plays out that way in court, especially if there are lawyers involved.

On that issue, I am all-in with the MRAs, except that I blame a patriarchal society that sees women as the care-providers and men as the bread-winners. Until that model changes the family court system is unlikely to change.

I'm also all-in on the lack of support for men who are victims of domestic violence (and men tend to be more often the victims, while women tend to be more often injured). This is a topic that will continue to be an issue until the stigma disappears on a man who says his wife or girlfriend beat him up. Part of this problem is due to law enforcement - if they are called to a DV scene and the male is the victim, they are much less likely to take it seriously unless the female is holding a knife or something and he is bleeding.

Elam gets caught in a double standard in his comments above. On the one hand, it should be easier for men to have or get custody of their children, while on the other hand, if a man doesn't want to be a father he should not have to pay child support. Sorry, man, but if you're going to play in the rain, you need to wear a jacket. Failure to do so makes you responsible for anything that grows.

Diana Thompson, one of five women who spoke at the conference, made some good points about the family court system, and she did not blame feminism to make them:
  • I’ve seen many of the grievances men and father’s face; blocked visitation and unenforced visitation orders, move-away moms who use geography to drive father’s out of their children’s lives, acceptance by the court of false accusations of domestic violence or child abuser, especially as a basis for denying custody or even contact between the father and child.
  • Our current family court system is very adversarial. The only winner being the billion dollar divorce industry paid for by our children, even though study after study shows that children without fathers are at higher risk for social pathology such as: criminality, teen pregnancy, and drug use and there’s many more.
Again, these are very valid points. The system is broken and the people who are getting rich off of this system, who are invested in keeping it broken, are the divorce lawyers.

Another of the female speakers, Suzanne Venker, made some points I have often made on this blog - the television and film industry routinely portrays men and fathers as idiots.
  • The lack of respect for men is palpable. The message coming from the media, Hollywood, and America’s universities, is that men are superfluous at best, dangerous at worst.
  • America routinely paints a portrait of the idiot husband whose wife is smarter and more capable than he. That is a war!
But then, Dr. Helen Smith has to go and say something stupid:
  • We’ve seen women with increased reproductive freedom, married men often require a note from their wives before a doctor will even perform a vasectomy.
I have never heard of this happening, and I know several men who have had this procedure. But what I have heard about, over and over, is how doctors (always male) will refuse to do a tubal ligation for a woman under 40, because she's "going to change her mind" and want kids. How disrespectful. If a woman says she does not want kids, or is through having kids, then the doctor needs to respect her wishes. She's an adult, she can make adult decisions.

One of the few speakers who genuinely seems to be an idiot was Mike Buchanan, who wants a "Men's Rights Party" in British politics. But he goes off the rails more than the rest of the speakers:
  • We had for more than 30 years across much of the developed world, unholy alliances between states and radical feminism.
  • Now radical feminism is without doubt a female supremacy ideology that’s driven by misandry; the hatred for men and boys.
  • Legislation is routinely drafted to advantage women and disadvantage men.
  • Boys are being relentlessly disadvantaged by an evermore feminized education system.
  • Apparently, we need more female engineers. I’ve never quite worked out why.
  • It’s time to end divorce as a route to financial enrichment.
  • We’re calling for compulsory paternity testing at birth, so at long last we’ll find out just what the rate is.
The only point here that has any truth to it is that boys ARE being disadvantaged by a feminized educational system. Women greatly outnumber men as teachers in the earliest school grades, and this the age at which boys are being given ADHD meds are alarming rates. Even worse, a lot of schools have done away with recess - and if you want to make it hard for boys to learn, don't let them run around and burn off energy.

There are a lot of areas in which I am in agreement with the MRAs that there are problems and we need to fix them. But I refuse to associate with them because of their penchant for rage and vitriol. That is not how change gets done.

I have aligned myself with an "equal rights for all people" agenda, a belief in equality that sees gender as only one variable among many. And because I support equal rights for women (and men), mothers take me more seriously when I speak about the need for boys to burn off energy before sitting down to do homework, or that it's okay if your son learns how to express his emotions rather than act them out.

If we move away from the truly radical feminists on one side and the truly radical MRAs on the other side, the remaining 90% of us have much more in common than we do in difference. If we start from that place of common interest, we can affect some meaningful change. 

If you want to read more about the conference from a variety of sources, here are some links.
And two from the Hatewatch blog at the Southern Poverty Law Center:

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