[I should say at the outset that I’m not myself an MRA (‘Men’s Rights Activist’), nor do I have any interest whatsoever in the issues pertaining to ‘Men’s Rights’. My only purpose in this post is to ask why it is that MRAs are so maligned simply because they are MRAs.]
I have discovered in the last year or so that there is such a thing as a ‘Men’s Rights’ movement and that it is viewed with contempt by the majority of those who know about it. In fact, the term ‘MRA’ is often used as an insult to imply that somebody is a sexist, an anti-feminist, a misogynist – even if they are not really involved with ‘Men’s Rights’. If someone dares to identify as an MRA, they are detested and marginalised. This seems wrong to me. I see no reason to scorn an MRA if all we know about them is that they are an MRA.
I think we can make a prima facie case for why MRAs should be tolerated. The argument is as follows:
- If there are at least some instances of discrimination against any group, then it is acceptable to have activists representing that group (to fight the discrimination).
- There are at least some instances of discrimination against men.
- Therefore, it is acceptable to have activists representing men.
The argument is logically valid, i.e. the conclusion is entailed by the first and second premise. But is it sound? I think that the second premise is very likely to be true, as it seems implausible that men are never discriminated against. Perhaps the most controversial premise is the first, and that is attacked in the first objection to my argument that I will consider.
Objection 1: Sexist discrimination affects women far more that it affects men.
From what I’ve seen, this is the most frequent objection to MRAs. Women have it far worse, so we should fight for feminism rather than ‘Men’s Rights’. It is of course true to say that women have it far worse when it comes to sexism. However, there seems to be an assumption in this objection that I do not agree with; the idea that there should only be advocates for the group most discriminated against. That would mean that we should not try to fight sexism in the West, since sexism in the Middle East is far worse. Or, we should not campaign for secularism since there are starving children in the world. The case against MRAs, if it is to be a strong one should not depend upon such a counter-intuitive assumption, even if we think that there are reasons for thinking that it is true.
A fortiori, having a proportionate number of MRAs opposing discrimination against men means that there is support for anyone who is being discriminated against on the basis of their male gender. This seems to be preferable to simply having no activists for a particular issue, even if it is a relatively small one.
Objection 2: MRAs are sexist.
If it could be shown that MRAs are always sexist, then I think that is a good reason to frown upon them. However, the sexism in the ‘Men’s Rights’ movement is surely contingent on the views of those particular MRAs. All we could do is list examples of MRAs who have shown themselves to be sexist (and there certainly does seem to be an abundance of examples; see for instance here). The trouble is, however many examples we show, it does not mean that the next MRA we come across would not join us in denouncing the sexism on display. They would not be guilty of sexism by association, simply because they also happen to be MRAs. Even if they had posted on the same website, it does not follow that they would agree with everything written on that site, just as if they speak at a Catholic university it would not follow that they were themselves a Catholic (wink wink)!
If an MRA is sexist, then we should oppose their sexism. They ought to be maligned for being sexist, not for being an MRA. Perhaps MRAism implies sexism in some way, but I don’t know of any argument for this.
In closing, I want to offer a further reason for why being an MRA should be an acceptable choice, and this relates to the first objection. There are lots of causes in the world worth fighting for. We all make decisions about what battles we want to fight. Some fight poverty. Some fight religion. Some fight diseases. Some fight for freedom of expression. Some fight against the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre. There might be all sorts of reasons for why we choose one cause rather than another. I care about free speech because I value the free exchange of ideas, and the human right to express our innermost thoughts. Someone might fight against cults because they were once a member of one and have realised how dangerous they can be. Some might raise money for hospice care to show gratitude for hospice care given to a loved one. Some may choose to fight for ‘Men’s Rights’ after having access to their children restricted.
We may not have the same passion for each other’s chosen battles, but unless they are doing something harmful we should not hate them for choosing something different to fight for.
I would appreciate any comments, especially objections to my view that I haven’t thought about. This is a touchy subject so please keep the comments civil, and attack ideas – not people!