Kathryn Joyce, whose writing on crisis pregnancy centers we covered here, has written another groundbreaking article, this time about the growing power of the “men’s rights” movement.
Joyce explains that men’s rights advocates’ (MRAs) primary complaints concern the current status of domestic violence law in the United States, which they believe discriminates against innocent fathers, and in doing so, impinges on their civil rights. A statement from one of these organizations, RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting), goes as far as to suggest that “domestic violence laws represent the largest roll-back in Americans’ civil rights since the Jim Crow era!”
Although these groups have long been recognized as a sort of lunatic fringe, and admittedly, their rhetoric is hard to take seriously, Joyce points out that these groups have recently been “racking up very real”—and rather scary—accomplishments. She writes,
In 2008, the organization claimed to have blocked passage of four federal domestic-violence bills, among them an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to international scope and a grant to support lawyers in pro bono domestic-violence work. Members of this coalition have gotten themselves onto drafting committees for VAWA’s 2011 reauthorization. Local groups in West Virginia and California have also had important successes, criminalizing false claims of domestic violence in custody cases, and winning rulings that women-only shelters are discriminatory.
Joyce argues that they’ve managed this by presenting a new, more “polished” image to the world. They’ve scaled down their rhetoric, organized, and now present their cause as wanting nothing more than equality, and as being “innocent victims, ‘just one 911 call away’ from losing everything they have earned and loved.” This message seems to be effective—even while many in their ranks are still convicted batterers.
One of their attention-grabbing claims is that men and women experience domestic violence at equal rates. MRAs defend this claim by citing a study done by Miles Straus, suggesting that men are victims of domestic violence in 45-50% of cases. However, Joyce notes that this study has been criticized for being “cherry-picked,” “taken out of context,” and for ignoring crucial distinctions between types of violence, for example, equating a woman pushing her husband in self-defense with a husband pushing his wife down the stairs. Many of their other claims have similarly been proven misguided by researchers and critics, which makes the fact that these groups are actually gaining political ground all the more befuddling.
However, these groups are actually quite dangerous beyond their political agenda. Jack Straton, member of the Sexual Assault Task Force, spells out this danger:
“The biggest concern…is not the wasted effort on a false issue,” writes Straton, but the encouragement given to batterers to consider themselves the victimized party. “Arming these men with warped statistics to fuel their already warped worldview is unethical, irresponsible, and quite simply lethal.”
Joyce writes that other critics suggest the tactics used by MRAs are similar to those of abusers themselves in that they minimize existing violence, call it mutual, and discredit victims. As many individuals in these groups only understand themselves as victims, a serious threat of vigilante justice is becoming imminent. This is because, as Joyce writes, “[w]ithin the ranks of the men’s rights movement, vigilante ‘resisters’ are regularly nominated and lionized for acts of violence perceived to be in opposition to a feminist status quo.” In more extreme MRA circles, the glorification of these ‘resisters’ included Pittsburgh’s George Sodini, who in March opened up fire in a women’s fitness class, killing three. Instead of blaming misogyny and an unsound mind for instances like these, MRAs suggest that these acts are somehow understandable reactions to feminism, and the way that men are undervalued and emasculated in this society. In other words, violence perpetuated by men against women is somehow women’s fault.
While acts such as these are not explicitly encouraged by all MRAs, a quote from Mark Rosenthal on the topic makes it clear that they are not exactly discouraged either: “In any movement, there is going to be a reasonable voice and people who are so hurt, who are so injured by the injustices, that they can’t afford to step back and try to take their emotions under control. But no movement is going to get anywhere without extremists.”
Joyce has again provided the public with an impressive piece of journalism. Although these groups parade under the rhetoric of ‘equal rights,’ Joyce’s examples show that their goals also suggest a desire to strip away women’s rights, perpetuate misogyny, and normalize violence again women.