The MRA movement has consistently gained attention for its controversial position in a world where feminism is becoming more and more status quo. From ‘GamerGate’, to the deep dark realms of 4chan, their voices are emerging in the age of the internet, more often than not in a reactionary and aggressive form. At its lightest, the MRA ideology purports to support the interests of men, at it’s darkest, it’s a movement associated with misogyny and anti-feminist hatred.
In a search to find out the truth behind the MRA movement, we decided to speak to Ally Fogg, a professional journalist who believes that a distinction needs to be made between “Men’s Rights Activists” and those who are concerned with gender-specific issues facing men globally. We also spoke to Janet Bloomfield, who can be found writing for the popular Male Rights website ‘A Voice for Men,’ and is perhaps best known for fronting and popularising the successful hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism. Both represent varying views associated with the movement, and perhaps most surprisingly, aren’t both male.When I first contacted Ally, he was quick to assert that he does not identify as a Men’s Rights Activist – and indeed considers himself to be highly critical of the movement. He does, however, acknowledge that there are a range of cultural, social and political issues which affect men and boys specifically. In fact, Ally believes that part of the success of Men’s Rights Activism is that their claims are valid and justifiable, that “men and boys in contemporary society face a wide range of gender specific problems and issues. Everything from male suicide and mental health issues to boy’s underachievement in schools and male victimization within violent crime”. However, Ally’s observation of the Men’s Rights Movement has lead him to conclude that their ideology comes in two parts. The first part of this ideology involves acknowledging and discussing issues which affect men in specific ways – such as “militarized cultures” which “value men based on their capacity for violence”. This part of their argument, Ally suggests is “undeniably, patently and unarguably true” and he goes on to assert that, as a society, we don’t pay as much attention to these issues as we should. However, Ally is also of the opinion that there is a second aspect to the Male Rights “agenda,” this being that “those problems are primarily, or in some cases entirely, caused by feminism”. Ally refers to this conclusion as “patent nonsense” which “doesn’t stand up to a moment’s examination”. As someone who advocates the discussion and promotion of all issues relating to injustice, Ally believes that Male Rights Activists [or “MRAs”] are actually harming the cause of those who are genuinely interested in men’s issues through their misuse or misappropriation of these causes as a way of promoting fundamentally misogynist and anti-feminist ideas.
He highlighted a problem which often occurs when we talk about the Men’s Rights Movement, which is that it essentially becomes very difficult to separate “what we are stating [that] is nonsense and rubbish, and what isn’t”. As a result, many attempts to dismiss or criticize the Male Rights Movement – something which is often done in response to its perceived misogynist elements and anti-feminist sentiment – also become synonymous with a dismissal of those crucial social issues which Ally values so highly. “There’s a temptation – particularly on the feminist side – to dismiss MRAs by dismissing both sides of the equation” Ally says. “For example, people minimize the extent of male victimization in domestic violence, they will dismiss the issues of men’s mental health.” it is this hostility towards MRAs that Ally feels is often misplaced, resulting in the dismissal of important social issues.
We asked Ally Fogg if he thought there were any alternatives for those who are interested in men’s issues but don’t wish to identify with the Men’s Rights Movement. He admitted that “because of the history and success of feminism, there’s a temptation to think we need to apply the same kind of model to men’s issues.” However, “there are lots of ways that we can be involved without necessarily joining a larger movement.” Ally’s view is that large “mass movements” are not always the most effective or beneficial solution to every social issue or injustice. Just because it worked for feminism, doesn’t mean it necessarily has to work for men’s issues also. However, Ally’s stresses that “we do have to be aware that social models of masculinity are at the heart of so much of this,” paying attention to the fact that “when people talk about “gender issues” they tend to think of it as “women’s issues”, and that the two things are often interchangeable and if something is a gender problem then it must be a women’s problem.” He states that believing this kind of dismissive attitude towards male-specific gender issues is exactly the attitude that benefits organizations like ‘A Voice for Men,’ whom Ally believes promote dangerous messages whilst appearing to address social issues that very few others are willing to tackle. “What I would like to see is more people being prepared to recognise and take steps towards addressing some of the many male-specific issues in society”. Unfortunately, Ally also believes that “there is a real hostility amongst some feminists towards the idea of men getting together and discussing their own problems” which he believes is partly due to the poor example MRAs provide for this process – “so often in the past it has lead down a path where men, as is the case in the Male Rights Movement, get together and decide that in order to solve all their problems what we need to do is stomp all over women again.”
“when people talk about “gender issues” they tend to think of it as “women’s issues”, and that the two things are often interchangeable and if something is a gender problem then it must be a women’s problem.”
When asked about the motivations that surround his own work and writing, Ally is adamant that his goal is to “speak up for the people who need support, help and advocacy. If there are people who have been assaulted, raped or abused – I will do what I can to support them. I don’t stop to think whether they’re male or female.” He finishes by telling me “I really want Men’s Rights Activists to read my work” in the hopes that he might be able to “offer an alternative to the quite poisonous ideology of the Men’s Rights Movement”.
Sitting firmly on the other side of the spectrum is Janet Bloomfield, some who firmly embraces the title. “It took me a long time to embrace it” she said, but she adopts the label as something which allows her to be “a proxy for my son, for my brothers, for all men who are out there.” She believes that within today’s legal system “it is actually men who are in need of rights”.
We spoke about the controversial relationship between Men’s Rights and feminism, to which Janet agrees with although she is “profoundly grateful to those Second-Wave feminists for giving women the ability to decide whether or not we want to be mothers and to decide when we want to be mothers; this right now needs to be extended to all people.” Janet believes that in order for gender equality to be realised we need to start addressing injustices facing all genders and that feminism is ultimately focused on the rights of one gender. For Janet, feminism has neglected some of the most crucial social issues “like shared parenting as a legal presumption. Do men and women have the legal right to be presumed equally good parents?” Janet self-identifies as “anti-feminist”.
I asked Janet how she felt about the accusations made by individuals like Ally who believe her movement is fundamentally misogynistic; she disagrees on the basis that “there’s just so many women involved now”. She thinks that the “misogynist” label is something applied to MRAs primarily because they’re critical of feminism: “feminists are the ones who are standing in our way, they are the principle opponents of men’s equality. Look at Emma Watson’s ‘He for She’ speech – “Men need to stand up and protest violence against women and girls”. Well, why is violence against boys okay? Why doesn’t that factor in?” Janet thinks MRAs are often wrongly branded as misogynists for saying things like “women can be violent against men and boys too”.
Recently there’s been a media fascination with the women of the Male Rights Movement, with many pointing to them as evidence that the movement can’t be misogynistic. Although she is happy for the opportunity to act as an ambassador for the movement, Janet does not see her role in this light. She believes “your role within the movement doesn’t have much to do with gender, it’s about which specific issues you’re tackling” adding “I don’t really feel that my gender has anything to do with how I’m valued, appreciated or evaluated within the Men’s Rights Movement”.
I also asked how she felt about Ally’s evaluation of the Men’s Rights agenda as double faceted; with a primary focus on identifying male-specific social issues and a secondary focus on blaming feminists for these issues. Her response was “I think that’s where Ally gets confused”. For example, “I don’t think you’re going to find anyone who argues that feminism “causes” male suicide. That’s preposterous. How does feminism cause men to kill themselves?” She goes on to give examples of her own thought process. “Things like the breakdown of the nuclear family contribute to tragically high male suicide rate. Many fathers who go through divorce only get to see their children every second weekend. They go from this family environment where they live with their kids and all of a sudden WHAM! You get to see your children 4 days a month. Imagine if that were being done to women? How would that affect the female suicide rates?” For Janet, the obvious conclusion is “while we’re not saying feminism caused these issues, we are saying that they’re standing in the way of some solutions – such as shared parenting and the right to choose parenthood”.
It’s clear that the movement is diverse and populated with many strong voices, voices that both promote and denounce Male Rights Activism. I can’t envision a near future where the Male Rights Movement ceases to be controversial, but I also can’t envisage one where it ceases – at least in some areas – to be relevant.
Photographs: kellybarnhill.wordpress.com, @AllyFogg, Janet Bloomfield, clipartbest.com, blog.prezzi.com.