Something happened this month that’s made me think a lot about the men’s rights movement. I’ve been thinking about how deeply I loathe them, and how, for all its failings, feminism remains one of the most important tools in navigating my own gender.
Ironically, the thing that triggered this was a massive ethical failure by a prominent feminist site, The Establishment. You may have read the basics on Niki’s blog or elsewhere: The Establishment reprinted an article by Laci Raye, in which the author talks about her failing sex life with her husband. Talking about bed death is fine; most relationships face that in one way or another. But Raye very clearly describes herself coercing her husband into sex. She even describes being able to see how unpleasant it was for him. The Establishment did not respond well when it was pointed out that they had uncritically published a piece of rape apology:
As of this writing, they’ve taken the piece down and, the closest they’ve come to addressing the concerns about the piece is a bland, diplomatic statement on their Facebook page1:
This weekend, one of our editors cross-posted a piece without putting the proper time and care into it, and we sincerely apologize. You are right, sex without consent is rape. We should not have published anything that paints the nonconsensual sex described in the essay as anything but. The item has since been removed from our site.
This job requires us to learn every single day, and we are grateful to our readers for making us not only more conscientious and thoughtful editors, but more conscientious and thoughtful people.
If you’d like to continue this conversation, we look forward to hearing from you at getestablished(AT)theestablishment(DOT)co.
Thanks so much.
The Establishment Editors
At this point, I think that’s the best that we’re going to get from the editors at The Establishment. It’s been about two weeks now, and they seem to be satisfied to let the whole thing slip into comfortable oblivion.
You might not think that watching a major feminist publication act behave so poorly would make a cis man appreciate feminism more. You’d think that it would at least make me pause, and give the MRAs some credit for repeatedly bringing up woman-on-man rape, and calling feminists on their hypocrisy.
But all I could think of was how angry I was at MRAs for making the conversation difficult when it really needed to be had. They’ve acted as an obstacle to talking about sexual assaults on men, not a stimulant.
I didn’t notice The Establishment’s screw-up by myself. It was pointed out to me by a feminist — my dear friend Lizz.
Lizz sent me the link via instant message. She was furious about the article; her anger exceeded even mine. Almost immediately, she made the very point that MRAs accuse feminists of ignoring: That had Laci Raye been a man writing those same words about his wife, no one would have mistaken it for anything but rape.
In addition to confronting The Establishment directly on their Facebook page, Lizz pounded out a post that condemned the article and The Establishment‘s failure to deal with it in no uncertain terms. To my knowledge, it was the first one on the topic to hit the web. It’s certainly the most complete account I’ve seen.
When I’m that angry, I lose my ability to speak or write; my words become an incomprehensible tangle in my throat, or I just sit at the keyboard twitching. Lizz, fortunately, is the exact opposite. Her words were only more articulate for her anger. Her main point is extremely feminist:
It’s true that femmes/women are disproportionately the targets of assault and rape. In the effort to raise awareness, create support, and dismantle a society that wreaks violence against women in unfathomable numbers, it makes sense that this is a primary focus. But a crucial aspect of being anti-rape, anti-sexual assault, and pro-consent means absolutely not promoting sympathetic rapist narratives, regardless of gender.
MRAs love to talk about women raping men; along with false rape accusations against men, it’s almost guaranteed that MRAs will bring it up in any discussion about sexual assault. And therein lies the problem. They’ve made it not into an important topic of discussion, but a derailing tactic. For MRAs, the point is not to give male/masculine rape survivors the greater prominence in the cultural conversation that they need, but to discredit feminism. It’s become such a red flag that if you do want to start talking about men and masculine people who have been raped, the first thing you have to do is establish distance from the MRAs — especially when the perpetrator is a woman, as in this case.
That’s a huge problem; in some cases, it discourages bringing up the topic at all if you don’t want to sound like you’ve been hanging out at A Voice for Men in your spare time. And we do need to include it in our conversations about sexual assault. Every time a case hits the press about a female teacher who had sex with a male student, third-rate comedians and late night talk show hosts hit the airwaves with tired jokes about how the kid “scored” and lived out every teenage boy’s fantasy. Saturday Night Live did a particularly reprehensible skit in 2015 where the student smugly brags about how hot the sex was during his court testimony, flirting with the teacher and high-fiving the prosecutor the whole time.
You could start a whole conversation on gender based on that one genre of humor. It’s acceptable, but only within a very narrow window of sexuality. No network would have ever broadcast that skit with the genders reversed or with a male-male couple.
But MRAs aren’t interested in having that conversation. They are interested in getting feminists to shut up.
# # #
MRAs scare me, not only for the sake of my friends who are women or non-binary, but for my own sake. The men’s rights and alt-right movements are built around the worship of strength. There are alphas and betas, winners and losers.
I learned long ago to fear guys like that. I learned that on playgrounds before there was an internet; before the the redpillers existed; before one of my favorite kinds of hats had become tainted by pretension and misogyny. Before I was out of sixth grade, it was obvious that I couldn’t compete in those environments. The boys or men in those groups not only love strength, but they hate weakness. That’s the key to why, for all their bluster about men being abused or assaulted by women, there have been few MRA efforts to support or provide resources for male survivors. What greater demonstration of weakness could there be than a man who “allowed” himself to be dominated or hurt by a woman?
The staff of The Establishment may have shown feminism at its worst and most hypocritical, but Lizz, Niki, Jemima, and others showed it at its best. For me, the takeaway is this: If I were raped, regardless of the assailant’s gender, I could count on people like them having my back. I could go to them for refuge and healing and resources. I can’t say the same thing about the men’s rights movement, and when it comes time for cis men like myself to talk about masculinity in any serious way, that should be the difference between who we consider our friends.