The first International Conference on Men’s Issues in Detroit last week has given a facelift to a movement that, until recently, I mostly associated with misogynists and lunatics on pathetic internet forums for “pick-up artists” and mass murderers like Elliot Rodger–lonely men in the darker corners of the Internet.
However, most of the speakers on the first full day of the men’s rights conference were women.
One of these women was self-proclaimed “anti-feminist” Karen Straughan. Straughan is a blogger, known by her YouTube handle, GirlWritesWhat. She proudly stated in the beginning of her speech that she has been anti-feminist long before identifying as a men’s rights activist.
Straughan has short, cropped hair and is involved in the LGBTQ movement. She is quick to point this out, because she doesn’t want her fellow MRAs to judge her by these qualities. She says that although she is “not a feminine-presenting person,” she is certainly not a feminist. Why? Because feminism isn’t even an equality movement.
“Everything I read that comes from feminists is backwards, wrong … and comes from a set of unfalsifiable hypotheses.”
Straughan’s argument is essentially the same as most MRAs. She believes that feminism is rooted in a desire to oppress men. She cites examples from history, such as the Seneca Falls Convention, where 40 men showed up to speak and were told they could only listen. She repeatedly states that women are persuasive and powerful—and that this is a problem.
Many of her examples are anecdotal, dredged up from court rulings that took place centuries ago. She even cited an incident in Ancient Rome, when women protested a law that banned them from wearing multicolored dresses and more than two ounces of gold jewelry in public. According to Straughan, this demonstrated their powers of manipulation.
She mentions the White Feather Movement during World War I in England, where suffragettes pinned white feathers to men who were seen out without a military uniform—thus branding them as cowards. One particularly unsubstantial anecdote was of a young boy who was forced to resign from the military in WWI after he was discovered to be underage. The young boy was walking home, recently returned from the war, when a suffragette found him and pinned the dreaded white feather on his uniform. The boy was apparently so shamed by this woman for his status as a deserter that he immediately reenlisted.
According to Straughan’s logic, this one vague story should be enough to prove that women are manipulative and powerful. Although I couldn’t find anything online to substantiate this story, I did find some information on the White Feather Movement. Surprisingly, it was not as one-sided as Straughan would like us to think. While some suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst were extremists and took part in shaming soldiers who did not enlist, many others did not. Emmeline’s daughter, Sylvia Pankhurst, made a name for herself as a suffragette who campaigned wholeheartedly against the draft.
One of Straughan’s most thorough examples is based on a 1910 New York Times article written by an anti-suffragette. It discusses the changing laws regarding property rights, alimony, and divorce. The article is essentially lamenting “the loss of privileges the men had over the properties of their wives and children.”
Again, some of Straughan’s points are valid. It appears that this particular court case was unfair, and left the husband financially responsible for his children despite the fact that his wife made more money. She cites various cases from the same time where men unfairly lost custody of their children. However, nearly every one of Straughan’s valid examples is from the Victorian era. Why isn’t she talking about more recent laws?
Is it because the percentage of divorce cases that end up with equal custody granted to both parents has recently doubled?
Or is it because, according to Reuters, more than half of divorce lawyers in the country are seeing an increase in mothers paying child support?
Alton Abramowitz, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told Reuters why more women were being given more financial responsibility.
“The glass ceiling has been pierced and more and more women have taken over the financial responsibilities and have been saddled with them as well,” said Abramowitz. “It is a fact of the way our society has evolved over the last number of years.”
Straughan manipulates feminist history–and global history–throughout her speech. The glaring irony is that she claims feminism is rooted in lies, hypocrisy, and propaganda. She has a rigid opinion of an ever-changing movement. Honestly, I don’t think she is a bigot, or a hateful person. She is clearly a woman with a hunger for social justice, which is why I find it strange that she also aligns with the LGBTQ movement. It seems she either has no idea what feminism is, or has a skewed perception of men’s rights. Because true feminism—like every other movement promoting equality—is not about denying men equal rights.
We have come a long way from the suffragettes. And if Straughan and other MRAs want to define feminism by the actions of women who have been dead for over a century, so be it. Men have committed some of the worst atrocities in history. I don’t hold it against their gender. And I’m still a feminist.
Towards the end of her speech, Straughan mentions the “1 is 2 Many” campaign against sexual assault with disdain.
“The power that women have, that women have always had,” Straughan said, “Is the power to convince Barack Obama, Joe Biden, David Beckham … all of these male celebrities, that one woman assaulted is too many.”
Out of context, this statement might sound empowering. However, in the video, it’s clear from her body language and tone that this is not the case. She looks and sounds outraged at the fact that these men could possibly be supporting such a cause.
Why would anyone—let alone a woman, but anyone—be upset that men are supporting a campaign against violence? Because society still has a long way to go when it comes to taking male victims seriously? It’s bizarre that anyone interested in equality would take the stance of, “If I can’t have it my way, no one can.” This does not further male equality, it makes them look stubborn and insane.
My goal while watching and analyzing Straughan’s speech was to try and understand the MRA movement from a woman’s perspective. Though she was eloquent at times, the message was as scattered and incoherent as Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. She ended the speech talking about how she’s called Honey Badger because of that YouTube video about the honey badger that “doesn’t give a shit.” Like the honey badger, Straughan says, she does not give a shit about her critics.
Yet what is the men’s rights movement, if throughout an entire 35-minute speech, Karen Straughan spoke only about feminism? She failed to mention any specific principles. She might not give a shit what some feminist site has to say, and that’s fine.
But her lack of substance leaves me with no better understanding of her “movement” except that it is based solely on a hatred of feminism.
The men’s rights movement kind of reminds me of when white people cry reversed racism, or express outrage that there is not a “White History Month.”
Men have been the dominant sex for centuries when it comes to having rights and power over women. The history of human life on this planet has been a men’s rights movement. What do men need so desperately to defend? What basic human rights are being taken away? The conference has not shed light on any grave injustices for men. Instead, it has been a cesspool for bitter individuals who want to find something to blame for their problems–why their divorce didn’t go as planned, or why they didn’t get that promotion. Feminists are as good of a scapegoat as any.
Men’s rights activists are concerned because their gender is losing power and control. Feminism began because we did not have any. And today, it is about so much more than a right to vote. It is about being able to walk down the street in peace. It is about not having to put up with sexual advances from our boss just to keep our job. In some countries, it is still legal for men to beat their wives. Yet men’s rights activists are upset about having to pay alimony?
Although Louis CK is not a feminist (although maybe he is, I don’t know) one of his jokes really captures this sentiment. He’s talking about the courage women must have to go out on dates with men.
“How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.”
He goes on to say about men, “You know what our number one threat is? Heart disease.”
There is no point in trying to explain to an MRA that their logic is flawed. They don’t give a shit. Luckily, as Straughan pointed out, the rest of the world does.