(Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answered questions after a Pentagon report showed a sharp increase in sexual assaults in the military. The AP called it an “epidemic.” Image source: AP)
Which gender suffers most from sexism and sexual predation?
Ask a policeman or a social worker; delve into the social science literature and the answer will be unambiguous.
But ask a men’s rights activist (MRA), and you will learn that “misandry” — the hatred of men by women, or, the “dehumanization of the male sex. … The view of males as non-human, not of intrinsic worth” as the much-trafficked men’s rights website A Voice for Men puts it — is perhaps the defining principle of the world.
|Men’s rights activists cite studies that “prove” that “men are the overwhelming majority of rape victims.” Women, not men, are the aggressors.
Last month, the Spectator ran an article by Alison Fairbrother that described how a men’s rights group, specifically SAVE (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments), had worked to undermine the Violence Against Women Act because, among other reasons, it ignored the problem of violence against men.
Upon VAWA’s reauthorization, SAVE took a victory lap, giving itself full credit for VAWA’s new “Inclusion Mandate.”
Though its title still refers exclusively to women, the act’s text, at least, is gender neutral. It now reads:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity….sexual orientation, or disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act.”
“If sex segregation or sex-specific programming is necessary to the essential operation of a program, nothing in this paragraph shall prevent any such program or activity from consideration of an individual’s sex. In such circumstances, grantees may meet the requirements of this paragraph by providing comparable services to individuals who cannot be provided with the sex-segregated or sex-specific programming.”
But victory or not, the fury that drives extremist MRAs has not abated.
“Look on the bright side concerning reauthorization of VAWA,” a commenter at A Voice for Men wrote, the day the Act was passed by Congress. “Our current circumstances in a feminist totalitarian police state reveal the truth….We all know that most women at shelters are more abusive than their male partners.” The author of an open letter to feminists published at A Voice for Men a few weeks later protested that VAWA “does NOT contain gender neutral language,” adding:
“I have heard of countless cases of a man getting assaulted repeatedly by his wife…calling the police, his wife admitting to what she did, and him getting arrested even though his wife is completely unharmed and he is FUCKING BLEEDING.”
While Robert O’Hara (SAVE’s legislative director and A Voice for Men’s news director) acknowledged that VAWA’s reauthorization marked “a great leap forward for those who challenge the feminist narrative of gender violence,” he rued the fact that “social conservatives have the same problems addressing the truth about intimate-partner violence that feminists do” — the truth, as his organization sees it, being that more men than women are victims of partner abuse. A Voice for Men cites studies that prove that “men are the overwhelming majority of rape victims” as well.
When the thoroughgoing anti-feminist and right-wing ideologue Phyllis Schlafly deplored VAWA back in 2011 for its stereotyping of men as batterers and women as victims and its failures to recognize “the mountain of evidence that women initiate physical violence nearly as often as men” and to “provide services for men who are victims of domestic violence,” she didn’t really believe that men were the weaker sex. She was turning liberalism’s fair-minded values against it, in a kind of rhetorical ju jitsu.
|Looking at the Pentagon report, it’s hard to blame all that man-on-man rape on feminism.|
But when an extreme MRA argues that sexism’s true victims are men, as often as not he is looking to justify and vindicate his own abiding feelings of victimization. The angriest of the angry rank and file MRAs are driven not so much by ideology as by the Gnostic certainty that they have recognized a stunning truth that the rest of the world is blind to.
Just as a white supremacist knows for a certainty that white people are an oppressed minority, or a Holocaust denier will insist that the Nazis were actually controlled by the Jews, extreme MRAs believe that feminists are grinding men under their heels. Domestic violence exists, they say, but most of its victims are men. Sexism exists in the workplace, but its victims are also men, who die in far more industrial accidents than women.
In a week that saw the Air Force Lt. Colonel in charge of sexual assault prevention arrested for groping and the release of a Pentagon report that documented a sharp spike in the number of sexual assaults between service members in the last two years (19,000 cases in 2011, of which 3,192 were reported; 26,000 cases in 2012, and just 3,374 reported), the “Manosphere” has been surprisingly quiet. A short string on the Reddit Men’s Rights channel attracted some comments about how military women make false rape accusations to avoid being demoted for their own negligent behavior, but the tone was mostly subdued.
It is perhaps ironic, because though a far greater percentage of women soldiers than men report sexual abuse, more male than female soldiers are victimized according to the Pentagon’s own statistics (in 2010 there were 10,700 male victims and 8,600 female victims). According to a 2010 report, “the majority (96%) of women indicated the offender was male and the offender acted alone (76%). Men were as likely to indicate the offender was female (40%) as male (35%); a majority indicated the offender acted alone (71%).” It would almost be the holy grail of proof of male victimization — if it weren’t for the fact that it also documents so much male abuse against women.
And it’s hard to blame all that man-on-man rape on feminism.
In men’s rights no less than women’s rights, the personal is political. Many of the men who come to the movement have had traumatic and financially ruinous divorces; some were raised by violent mothers; many have lost custody (or control) of their children. Men are falsely accused of rape and abuse; some, Lord knows, have experienced spousal abuse themselves—women batterers do exist, after all, and not all men’s rights activists are extremists and misogynists.
But the angriest and most hateful among them do tend to see the world through a paranoid lens.
Arthur Goldwag is the author of Isms & Ologies; Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, and most recently The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. Follow him at @ArthurGoldwag and @WashSpec.