Posted by: hellonhairylegs | June 19, 2009

Thoughts on MRAs

I try not to think about MRAs and “masculinists” too much, given their painful inability to see the forest from the trees, but Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville got me thinking about the arguments MRAs make. In short, if there is a single decent MRA point to be made that is not also a feminist point, or a point with a feminist solution, I’ll eat my keyboard.

MRA arguments tend to fall into three categories, arguments that are demonstrably false (which I have ignored for the purpose of this post), arguments that are true but narrow to the point of being misleading, and arguments that are based on demonising feminists for something that is the fault of patriarchy.

The narrow arguments are incredibly frustrating, because they generally take statistics completely out of context. An example of this is their reaction to the news that in many Western countries more women attend university than men. While that fact may cause panic at MRA headquarters, over at the Feminist HQ it quite a different story. We look at the gender differentials in labour and see a huge pay disparity, with women often shunted into the pink ghetto. In universities the senior positions are held by a disproportionate number of men, as is senior management in the public and private sectors. So when it becomes apparent that more girls are entering university than boys, that’s one of our small silver linings on a very dark cloud, and when MRAs complain about it, calling for “true equality” they’re saying that all we deserve is the cloud, and that we’re being uppity by expecting more. If they really want to a lower percentage of women to enter university they could work towards a more woman-friendly environment in trade jobs that don’t require degrees, or work towards an equal pay system where women don’t have to be more qualified than men to get the same wage.

Their other other arguments are also based on their superficial understanding of what equality constitutes. “What’s all this fuss about Violence Against Women?” they ask, totally forgetting the backbreaking amounts of energy activists have poured into making the issue an issue at all, “What about Violence Against Men?” is their constant refrain, ignoring that men are the ones perpetrating the majority of violent crime (and that feminists are attempting to deconstruct masculinity so violence isn’t quite so omnipresent).

When women have the same economic, social and political power men have, when men stop perpetrating violence against women in shocking numbers, then I’ll talk to masculinists and their ilk with a straight face. Until then (or until they can come up with facts so stunning that I eat my keyboard) they can stop pretending to be anything more than immature men who whine the moment that a fraction of their privilege is stripped away.



  1. There’s this hilarious blog called “It’s Not All Mary Poppins” which is written by a child care provider for toddlers. The part that’s really amazing is reading it and realizing how much MRAs sound like the toddlers, and, in fact, the toddlers often display superior mental capabilities.

  2. Yes, and it makes me sad for all the people (male and female) who are out there doing good work for male victims of male violence, addressing men’s shorter lifespans and suicide risks, and men’s propensity for alcohol abuse and self harm. There are gender-specific issues that affect men (especially poor and rural men) but the way to address these issues is not by knocking down women. The way to helping women is not by knocking down men, either, but by knocking down patriarchy…unfortunately, the MRA men are so wrapped up in their narrative of self-pity and what they “deserve” that all they do is attack.

  3. Great post. It annoys me when people fail to understand that feminism isn’t necessarily women vs men. What about reframing socially imposed models of gender, why don’t some men understand that that’s in their interest too?

    Although, an elementary question for you: what do you say to the idiots who say feminism has gone to far because there are women only gyms? I get emails from a well-known MRA in my city who constantly bangs on about it. I have just run out of ways to tell him he’s an idiot and I’d be interested in the view of the feminist blogosphere.

  4. @shinynewcoin It’s pretty much the classic argument for women only spaces. The hoydens had a thread about it here. Given the objectifying crap women have to put up with at co-ed gyms from men eager to prove their masculinity a woman only gym seems personally reasonable. If co-ed spaces weren’t hostile woman only gyms wouldn’t be needed, and needless to say if the gender binary didn’t exist, the woman only gyms wouldn’t either. 🙂

  5. Great post!

    I love how MRAs care about violence against men only when they can use it to attempt to undermine feminism. It’s so easy for them to criticize us for focusing on violence against women, but the other 364 days of the year, they aren’t doing a damn thing to address violence against men- mostly because, as you said, that would involve creating a culture in which masculinity is not defined by domination and aggression and allows for the expression of emotions in a healthy way. They’re content to care about violence against men so long as it doesn’t require leaving the chair in front of their computer monitor.

    All of the problems that they perceive to be the result of feminism are actually the result of resistance to feminism.

  6. ‘Tis true plainjane. I’m just disappointed that none of them have come out of the woodwork to tell me exactly why I’m wrong.

  7. I’ve been thinking about MRAs a lot too, lately, for some reason. Since some knob quoted Warren Farrell to me as a kind of GOTCHA you evil ball-breaking feminazi!
    It’s true, they should all be feminists, but their inner misogyny prevents them seeing it and I’m convinced that they are much less about men’s issues than about hatin’ on women and still being resentful that feminism made it a crime to rape their wives.

    How they think that citing the fact that many of them will savage and violate each other for no apparent reason as WELL AS women, is an argument against VAW awareness, is way beyond me.

  8. A cracker story on Yahoo news today should make you happy:

    Strangely enough they don’t mention the overall rise in recorded instances of domestic violence – over the same period by the same stats organisation – with 14306 in 1999 and 23159 instances in 2007…

  9. Simon, did you not just read the whole Violence Against Men thing? I’m going to ask you to actually make a point, because I can’t decipher what you’re trying to say.

  10. I think there are some valid criticisms to be leveled at “MRAs”. Many of them are, indeed, rightwing apologists for a retrograde view of gender. However, it seems to me the label is often used as an attack to discredit valid criticisms of feminist orthodoxy, much the same way the label “communist” has been used to discredit valid criticisms of capitalism or imperialism.

    We look at the gender differentials in labour and see a huge pay disparity, with women often shunted into the pink ghetto.

    The pay disparity isn’t nearly as huge as some feminists portray it as being. This report commissioned by the federal government demonstrates that women with the same qualifications and in the same job make at least 93%-95% of what men make. (It’s conceivable that women make 100% of what men make, but the data which combines both the longitudinal and occupational aspects of employment don’t exist which could demonstrate whether or not this is true.) The perceived disparities between men’s and women’s wages are due to such things as differing occupation choices and job tenure (i.e. women more often stepping away from the rat race to bear and raise children, or opting for safer and less physically demanding jobs than some men are willing to take).

    Interestingly, this study from Britain (it’s a .pdf) shows that single women actually make a little more than single men, and starting salaries for women are also slightly higher than those for men. (Overall, men make more than women, likely for the same non-gender reasons they do in the U.S., i.e. job tenure and occupational choice.)

    The question of whether women are “shunted” into the pink ghetto is an interesting one. One might also ask to what extent men are “shunted” into the physically demanding and often enormously risky occupations they opt for (men are eight times more likely to be killed on the job than women). I admit I am unaware of a feminist solution to this issue. I’ve never seen a mainstream feminist demanding that garbage collector jobs be distributed equally between men and women, for example. Nor have I ever seen a feminist solution to the differing rates of workplace fatalities between men and women. Have you?

  11. One might also ask to what extent men are “shunted” into the physically demanding and often enormously risky occupations they opt for (men are eight times more likely to be killed on the job than women).

    I do ask that. Men are first-class citizens, therefore they have the right to take dangerous, higher status jobs than women (which is the feminist point behind your issue, if you missed it). I don’t think there should be an enforced dispersal of jobs equally, rather a cultural change so women are supported in atmospheres that are traditionally misogynist. Also, the skill paths for getting these jobs need to be open to women, with a special effort made to make sure women don’t drop out because of harassment and socialisation. Lot’s of these jobs need apprenticeships and expertise that women can’t just waltz into.

    And on the job mortality, I’m wondering if that includes prostitution, which is the most dangerous “job” available. Also, feminists as a whole support unions (once they’ve started to support women) which push for higher safety standards. Feminists are part of the liberal movement in the “Thank a Liberal” sense.

    Part of making equal wage a reality is to treat women who “opt out” of the workforce for a few years better than they are currently treated. Re: the choice of occupation. Why is it that jobs that are overwhelmingly female get paid less? The feminization of a job roughly corresponds to the money earned. A common cited example is the difference in average wage between child car workers and mechanics. World wide women do two thirds of labour and get ten percent of the money earned. When women “opt out” of the workforce it isn’t just to sip martinis, it is do a low status, vitally necessary, unpaid job, otherwise known as mothering. Women are not paid a fraction of what they contribute. Getting men to shoulder some of that burden is part of feminism, and if that results in less men being offered dangerous jobs, well that’s just a bonus.

    Also, feminist orthodoxy? ROFL, I don’t think we agree enough on anything, or have enough of a unified front to make anything orthodox 😛 (Forgive me if I missed the point of your post, I’m too tired to think at the moment.)

  12. I appreciate your respectful response, HOHL. I agree with some of your points, but strongly disagree with some others.

    Would you like me to continue with this discussion? I’m more than happy to; I’m asking because your comments policy suggests your appetite for these kinds of exchanges is limited.

  13. BG- When I wrote the post I was spoiling for a fight, but at the moment I can’t be arsed to have an argument with someone who works against feminism, which despite some of its flaws, is still a positive force working towards worthy goals.

  14. OK. (Just FTR, I support many of feminism’s worthy goals, though I understand why my critical stance towards it might lead you to see me as ‘working against it’.)

  15. […] on Hairy Legs is an intelligent gynocentric feminist with strong opinions with whom I had a brief but respectful exchange about MRAs. (I hesitate to label her a radical feminist only because I’m not sure she […]

  16. MRAs almost invariably fail to realise that gender roles aren’t a zero sum game. (I’ll confess, I feel the same way about some feminists, too.) There are huge value sinks in society/socialisation, where one gender or the other (or both!) get the short end of the stick, and the long end is just thrown away.

    To use the example above, it’s certainly true that we , as a society, don’t take violence against men seriously. And while we take violence against women a little more seriously, we mostly try to ignore it in the hopes it’ll go away (or that if we don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist. Not exactly sure.) But being the perpetrator of violence/abuse isn’t distributed randomly in the population, it’s concentrated in relatively few individuals. Whereas victimhood is fairly dispersed (even fairly egalitarianly across gender, though women are mostly victims of sexual violence, and men mostly victims of nonsexual violence.) Even though most perpetrators of violence (both sexual and non-sexual) are men, far more men are victims of violence than perpetrators. This statement is even truer of women, who’re even less likely to be perpetrators. It doesn’t benefit the bulk of either class the way we treat violence, but people are just so used to zero sum games!

    In fairness to the MRAs, they’ve had less time to think about it. (But they’ve probably not worked as hard it, either). On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to reach out to MRAs either! (And it’s certainly possible at least some of them are flatly dishonest.) And it should probably be more obvious to men that society’s fucking over women than the reverse, since the former is generally more egregious.

    Reading a lot of feminist writing, I get struck again and again by how if I disagree instinctively with something, and really go back and pin down what puts me off, it’s always a description of men’s experiences, which ends up ringing false. The writers make the same mistake, I think, that if women are getting screwed over, men must be benefitting. Why put it past society to screw over women (or men, but probably more often women) for nobody’s benefit?

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