The one where I need help understanding why MRAs don’t become feminists

The International Conference on Men's Issues

I have to confess that I’ve never paid much attention to “Men’s Rights Activists.” By “not much” I mean “none at all and why would I do that to myself.” Even before I identified as a feminist, the whole concept of an MRA seemed silly. Our entire society is centered around guaranteeing the rights of cisgender hetero-identified men, with a corrupted definition of “rights” that has included the ability to oppress. What exactly is an MRA fighting for?

Apparently, there are issues MRAs care deeply about, where they believe men have been disadvantaged. OK. Sure. I’ll bite. Talk to me MRAs. Tell me what’s on your mind.

“Men’s rights activists have a long list of grievances,” writes MSNBC’s Adam Serwer. He reported from the First International Conference on Men’s Issues, the very conference that came under a lot of heat after the Elliot Rodger shooting rampage. “They say fathers have to navigate a family court system that unfairly privileges mothers in divorce,” he continues, “and that boys are falling behind in education. They worry about high unemployment among men and the fact that men are more likely to commit suicide. They argue that domestic and sexual violence against men is underplayed by the media, and that men are unfairly stereotyped as violent sexual predators. These are all fruits of a society where women are valued and protected, while men are not.”

So… some of those aren’t completely unreasonable grievances. In fact, some of them are really serious issues that need to be addressed (I do wonder which men they’re talking about with regards to high unemployment, because something tells me it isn’t about black men). There also isn’t an issue among this bunch that wouldn’t be solved by undoing patriarchy/misogyny/sexism and redefining masculinity/manhood.

Start with jobs/unemployment. Jessica Roy at TIME points out “Men and women were hit unevenly by the recession. Women recovered job losses this spring. Men did not.” But the recovery is also characterized by replacing relatively well-paying jobs with low-wage work. Part of the reason women have outpaced men in getting those jobs is that women laborers are devalued. Low-wage work is women’s work, and vice versa. That’s not a disadvantage for men; that’s capitalism and sexism screwing us all.

There’s also the issue of “domestic and sexual violence against men [being] underplayed by the media.” No, we don’t talk much about men being victims of domestic or intimate partner sexual violence. And yes, part of the reason is that men don’t come forward to speak about these issues. There is shame and stigma. But that shame and stigma is born out of the idea that if they come forward they will have their manhood called into question, that they are suddenly “less than” for having been abused. They’re adhering to the strictures of masculinity that would have them deny experiencing any pain.

(We also don’t discuss intimate partner violence experienced by men at the hands of women because there isn’t the same history of using that violence as a means of subjugation. Violence against women is a form of social control used to ensure male domination. The same can’t be said for the inverse.)

I’m not well-versed in family law and custody battles, but it’s true that in my own life I’ve seen women be awarded custody of children after a divorce more often than men. But I think that has more to do with the role that we assign fatherhood and motherhood. We believe mothers to be nurturers and caregivers, while fathers are supposed to provide discipline and financial support. With that in mind, it only makes sense to award custody to mothers, because a father can write a check from anywhere on the planet. Now, if we were to redefine manhood… See where I’m going with this?

And I simply don’t believe men are stereotyped as sexual predators. I believe men are taught not to respect women’s bodily autonomy, that women exist solely for their sexual pleasure, and that rape/sexual assault have absolutely nothing to do with sex but are an assertion of power.

But again, all of the grievances expressed here by MRAs can be solved by undoing patriarchy/misogyny/sexism and redefining masculinity/manhood. Which… are all goals of feminism. So why aren’t MRAs feminists?

“”The vast majority of female students alleging rape on campus are actually voicing buyer’s remorse, from alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky lines of consent on both sides. It’s true! It’s their get-out-of-guilt-free card. Like Monopoly!””

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. This has absolutely nothing to do with men’s rights. They just really, really hate women.


MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian,, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon.

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