MRAs, White Ribbon, Dr Ahmed and Clementine Ford
The recent advances in the addressing of domestic abuse and violence by both men and women has been heartening, and for once it seems this discussion is open and on the table for all to add their opinions to. But from this openness of discussion has come with it a tide of outrage and hate that, until it became mainstream, I had no idea about. This is the phenomenon of Mens Rights Activists, or MRAs, and it is possibly the most misguided cause I’ve seen. But before I tell you why, let’s get a little background.
I am a staunch supporter of women’s rights and gender equality. If I have a shred of credibility to my name, this is the one thing that I stand firm on. This is because for centuries men have written laws and used religious excuses to steer the conversations of society worldwide, and have, either purposefully or as a matter of course, pushed the voices of their female counterparts underground, or simply swept them aside as if they have no merit. This is deeply ingrained in our societies, and is bolstered by religious dogma and cultural fetishism, such as the covering of women’s bodies because of shame and guilt associated with male lust.
Worldwide, women are likely to work harder and be paid less. They are also likely to, along with their jobs, be responsible for all the home duties in their household. In overly religious and politically unstable areas such as The Middle East, women bear the brunt of violence in the household. The gender pay gap still exists, and can be as high as a 20% difference between men and women who carry out the same role in a job. Whether conscious or not, this owes its roots to two ideas: 1) Women’s traditional role as keepers of the family and home, and 2) The perceived instability of women in the workplace because they may decide to have children and leave their job to pursue family life. Sexual violence is still largely a problem for women, though there are some cases where men are the victims (either at the hands of a man or woman), and domestic violence is usually perpetrated by man against women and children.
Why are the rights of women so important? Studies have shown that the empowerment of women in developing nations is not only beneficial to all economically, but in all aspects of life. And to this end, Dr Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation said, in her article “Equal rights and opportunities for women and girls essential for better health”:
Equality can be measured against the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the UNUDHR, a document which outlines what rights every human should have (though it’s not always adhered to). I know not everybody treats the UNUDHR with respect. Some see it as an attempt to undermine the privileges that they enjoy on a daily basis, and others see it as a pipe-dream which can never be met. I see it as a benchmark by which we can measure our successes as a human species, and while it may not be perfect, it’s far better than plodding along as we are currently, in denial of the facts. Inequality, while much has been done to address it, is still the elephant in the room, the societal bugbear that rears its ugly head every time the conversation of women’s rights is brought up.
As always seems the way however, all this focus on women’s rights and movements to fix the problems faced by women has irked some people, in particular men. Commonly portrayed as a cry of “WHAT ABOUT ME?”, MRAs have decided that not only do they feel left out of the conversations, but that progress toward equality has actually harmed them. MRAs are not simply asking for equality, they are stating that the movement toward equality has swung too far in the opposite direction, and is now actively harming men.
Commonly some of the reasons cited for MRAs movement are:
– women commit domestic abuse too, only they do it to their children so it goes unreported.
– men get raped too, in fact 40% of rape cases are perpetrated by women.
– loss of jobs due to the empowerment of women, thereby “feminising” the men.
– causes like the White Ribbon campaign focus only on women.
– I don’t know how to act because my traditional gender role as a man is being threatened.
Some of these claims may have some merit. Men do face issues, and support programs are few and far between for men. Ironically it is for the same reasons that women are subjected to gender inequality that causes the lack of support for men, who are told by their peers they need to “be strong” and “suck it up” like a man.
In another stroke of irony, White Ribbon ambassador Dr Tanveer Ahmed wrote an opinion piece in The Australian on February 9th of this year titled “Men forgotten in violence debate”. Far from words asking for equality and an end to violence against women, which is what White Ribbon is based around, Dr Ahmed instead embarked on a seemingly reasoned approach to the subject, but claiming that men are not part of the debate, and that men are violent because of a “feminising” of their cultures. From the article:
It goes on:
Boys will be boys, I guess, unless they become women.
The article reads like an anti-feminist manifesto. Journalist and commentator Clementine Ford wrote an answer to Dr Ahmed’s piece the following day in Daily Life, which outlines why his message is not only flawed, but is dangerous to progress. From the article:
And herein lies the rub. It really is about the power of men over women. While I support White Ribbon insomuch that it gets men involved in the process of eliminating violence against women, Dr Ahmed’s words here do much damage to the reputation of the organisation, and make it appear farcical, something which they can’t afford if they wish to actually make a difference. Ford goes on to say:
And herein lies the gold. If men continue to blame their own inability to cope with the shift en gender politics, they only have themselves to blame because they are actually upholding the system which has wronged them. It’s difficult to get your head around when you are deeply entrenched in it, but the problem with the system we are in is actually the system itself.
It would seem that much of what MRAs blame women for is actually an inability to cope with their own situations. Paul Elam is a great example of this. And while it may be true that there are more support services for women in crisis than for men, one reason for this is the system that tells men not to seek help, or face the possibility of being seen as weak.
Most interactions I’ve had with MRAs have been aggressive. Much of what they say has been driven by a deep-seated frustration. Many of their frustrations are real, but many their tactics are just plain abusive. One good thing to come from MRAs is the fact that we are discussing the problems faced by both men and women in a quest to better understand, and only good can come from this. But as always, we must remain skeptical of any fantastical claims, lest we become reactivists, rather than activists.