You know it. I know it. Many of them, deep down, know it too.
I’m talking about Men’s Rights Activists. They suck like the gravitational field of a neutron star.
I’ve written about them a fair bit, starting off with a viral piece for TIME Magazine that was praised on CNN Television, and finishing off with a viral piece for my blog that resulted in threats of violence from MRAs. There were a few other pieces in between, but I didn’t write the greatest exposé of MRAs. I believe the best takedown of this group of misogynists was written by J.F. Sargent over at Cracked.com.
While a humor site, Cracked often does good work involving in-depth research. In this case, Sargent went deep down the rabbit hole and uncovered many disturbing things about the MRA movement. His piece is well worth reading.
I, Sargent, and many others have endeavored to expose the toxic slew of misogyny that is MRA, and we’ve done a good job. MRAs are widely recognized as women-hating losers who don’t actually care about the causes they profess to rally around. We’ve done the job well enough that a new trend seems to be popping up where guys walk, talk and quack like MRAs, but proclaim that they’re not MRA because the “movement” has received the public tarnishing it deserves (the horrible “Return of Kings” site being but one example). Want to rapidly become a pariah? Proclaim to be MRA.
But in so thoroughly exposing these douchebags we’ve created a problem.
MRAs have appropriated some real issues (issues that they don’t actually care about and have never done anything to alleviate) in order to spread anti-women hatred. Sargent’s piece looked at a very popular subreddit called the Red Pill and found that their “Fundamental Beliefs” were not about problems faced by men, but rather a ranting screed about how much they hate women.
Again, there is ample proof that MRAs don’t give a shit about issues men face. They never have. They just proclaim to in order to justify their hatred of women. Now that MRAs have been thoroughly exposed for sucking, that’s created a problem specifically regarding those troubles.
What’s the worst thing about MRAs? It’s not that they made fedoras uncool. It’s not even their misogynistic messages. Such anti-women hatred has been around for a long time in myriad forms. MRA just created a club where guys could circle-jerk about it. If MRA champions such as Paul Elam, founder of the truly awful “A Voice for Men” website, never existed we’d still have no shortage of men using the internet to vilify women. Misogyny would continue to thrive without MRA.
No, the worst thing MRAs ever did was making it more difficult to talk about the problems that men have to deal with.
MRAs have lied with statistics and made a lot of bullshit claims both about men and women, but underlying that all there are still some problems that are unique to men. What’s more, there are dilemmas that are primarily faced by women and receive a lot of attention as such, but they are also faced by men (albeit to a lesser degree) and receive very little attention.
Unfortunately, because problems that men face have become associated with MRA, when someone is legitimately concerned about these troubles it is difficult to discuss publicly because the dark cloud of MRA hangs over it. A lot of people view it as misogynistic “what about the men” kind of thinking.
As an example, last summer I had an article published about male eating disorders. It received a lot of praise from men and women alike, but at the same time there was a sizeable voice of “women have it worse.” Yes, they do, but there is no such thing as the suffering Olympics.
Both physiologically and psychologically (the latter due to a culture of viewing attractive women as prizes to be won) the situation is different for women, and therefore eating disorders are far more prevalent for the female gender. And it gets talked about a lot more in regards to women as a result. Nevertheless, just because it’s more prevalent in women doesn’t mean it does not exist for men. It does exist, and we’re afraid to talk about it, and there is greater stigma associated with it for men. Part of this is patriarchal values that assert we’re just supposed to suck it up. But another part is that when you bring up how eating disorders affect men it’s suddenly associated with MRA-what-about-the-men thinking.
Recently I posted an article on my Facebook page that was published last year in TIME that was about how body dysmorphic disorder can affect men. Colloquially known as “bigorexia,” the piece was about the male quest for more muscle, and how an entire culture promoted by fitness magazines and supplement companies has utilized buff and ripped movie heroes to put forth an “ideal” physique that men should aspire to.
Yes, we know it’s worse for women. We know women have faced body issues to a much more significant degree. That doesn’t mean it can’t also exist for men. Again: no such thing as the suffering Olympics. If there was, then it would be okay to say things like not to worry about hungry children in North America because there is far more starvation in Africa, or that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with feminism in the western hemisphere because in the middle east women have it much worse.
But some think suffering is a competitive event, because when I posted the “bigorexia” piece there were negative comments that this wasn’t something we should “cry about” and that we needed to “Call the WAH-mbulance” because women suffer from this more than men do. I guess those people didn’t notice that I’ve written numerous times about the eating disorder promoting and body shaming culture that is specifically targeted at women, because I share one article about how some men face similar problems and it gets cut down.
MRAs have been marginalized, and deservedly so, but unfortunately it seems as though some real issues that men face have been marginalized along with them. It is time to realize that such difficulties are NOT actually associated with MRA. The MRAs have just unethically co-opted them for the purpose of spreading misogyny. Yes, we can continue to expose the bullshit that is MRA, or we can decide to ignore them, because they really are just a bunch of WFLs. Either is fine.
But what we can’t do is continue to ignore people in pain, regardless of gender, because there is no such thing as the suffering Olympics.
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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.