The men’s rights movement as it exists today began in the 1970s (similar movements have existed as early as the 1920s, but were mostly very short-lived), as an off-shoot from the men’s liberation movement, which had essentially acted as a male auxiliary to feminism. There were two factions – one that was primarily pro-feminism, and another which was explicitly anti-feminist. More modern men’s rights spaces are more or less entirely populated by the latter school of thought, and frequently showcase blatant and virulent misogyny, sometimes to the extent of believing that ‘female privilege’ exists.
While most feminists do not agree with MRA ideologies at all, sadly many give them far more benefit of the doubt than they ultimately deserve. They are often described as ‘missing the point’, and that any example of discrimination they cite is because of patriarchy. In fact, many claimed instances of ‘men being discriminated against’ simply do not align with reality – if not necessarily outright made up, their claims are often heavily distorted to the point that any truth it may have had becomes irrelevant. Here are just a few examples of myths commonly supported by MRAs:
Myth #1: Men are discriminated against by law courts, especially with regards to being granted custody of children
This statement is incorrect, and becomes clear if one looks at the situation a little more closely. Sticking specifically with the child custody example, it is indeed true that the mother is usually granted custody. What usually is not mentioned, however, is the fact that the majority of custody disputes (over three-quarters of them, in fact) are settled out of court. In other words, in most cases both parents agree that the mother should be the one who looks after the children. This makes it obvious that women receiving custody is not evidence of ‘male oppression’ at all – it is, instead, evidence that both parents agree that this is what is best for their children (which is linked to the mother being seen as the ‘natural’ caregiver by society). When the father actively fights for custody, he is granted it roughly 70% of the time (which sadly remains true even when the father is abusive). So mothers aren’t really favoured in courts at all – when the father doesn’t have custody, it’s usually (though admittedly, not always) because he doesn’t want it.
Regarding discrimination by law courts in general, claiming that laws created and enforced by (white upper-class) men benefit women is patently ridiculous. On average, men do receive higher prison sentences than women – however, this is a case of false equivalency. Men, by and large, are much more likely to be imprisoned for violent crimes, which carry a higher sentence. The majority of women who are imprisoned have committed non-violent crimes such as theft and fraud, which carry lighter sentences. In fact, men often have an edge over women because, on average, they are more likely to have the money and resources necessary to fight against their sentences. This is why, for instance, men who have murdered their girlfriends/wives, if they have a decent lawyer, can often have the charge brought down to manslaughter rather than murder, and thus will only spend a few years in prison. Women, by contrast, are less likely to have the means to do this, and are often given a full life sentence, even though over 80% of cases of women murdering men are acts of self-defense. Briefly revisiting the case of men seeking custody, it’s not unheard of for men with sufficient monetary resources to deliberately delay court meetings and proceedings as much as possible, because they know that their spouse have less money than they do, and will not be able to hold out for long. So even if the law isn’t explicitly in favour of men, it unambiguously favours those with money and class privilege, which are privileges that a man is more likely to have over a woman than vice versa.
Myth #2: Men have no reproductive rights
This argument is utterly absurd on every level. Cisgender men are the only people in society that have full control of their reproductive abilities – women are continuously targeted by having their right to abortion restricted in many areas. Conversely, many women are forcibly sterilised even today (especially those in prison, a disproportionate amount of whom are Black and Hispanic), which also violates their reproductive autonomy.
At their worst, some MRAs will argue that they should have a say in whether or not their partner has an abortion or not. Hopefully it is clear how disgusting such an assertion is. Cisgender women and CAFAB (coercively assigned female at birth) trans people are the ones who have to carry the unborn child for nine months, give or take, coupled with all the various effects on their physical and mental health that result from this, and then they have to give birth to the child. The person who provided the sperm has zero right to decide what the pregnant person can and can’t do with their body – this is the very basis of bodily autonomy which everyone has a right to. And as for the argument that men should be able to opt out of paying child support, that is a textbook case of not taking responsibility for one’s actions – if it’s their child, it is their responsibility to support that child (which sadly, often doesn’t happen in reality). It really is that simple.
Occasionally, examples will be given of women who steal a man’s sperm without his permission, impregnate themselves, and then sue him for child support. However, cases like this are incredibly rare, and moreover, the idea that there is a significant proportion of women out there who want to have children solely to trap men (because clearly their lives revolve around him – he’s just that special, right?) is absurd and incredibly misogynistic.
Moreover, there are plenty of options available to cisgender men who do not want children, which are usually much safer than the options available for women. There are vasectomies, there are condoms, and there are new methods of male reproductive control with even greater efficiency being researched heavily. The assertion that men lack reproductive rights is laughable at best.
Myth #3 – Men are depicted more negatively in the media than women
Another claim completely at odds with reality. Never mind the fact that over 80% of protagonists in films and TV shows are men. Never mind the fact that men are seen as the default in society, to their point where their presence not being centred is seen as a deviation from the norm. Never mind that the majority of female characters are still defined by how they relate to men (almost 40% of top-grossing films every year don’t pass the Bechdel Test, which is really the bare minimum regarding female representation). Never mind that even if women did receive better representation than men, over 80% of screenwriters, directors etc. are all male, and over 95% of people at the top level of these industries are men, and so if men were depicted negatively, this is because that is how men want them to be depicted, not women.
But let’s ignore that for a moment. What MRAs usually refer back to is the classic sitcom cliché of the father figure being a foolish jerk who gets everything wrong, and the mother being the down-to-earth one who has to set things straight. Ignoring the implication that it’s a woman’s prerogative to keep men in line (which is a very misogynistic ideal), it is important to note where the ‘women as wiser’ trope stems from. In fact, this trope was initially intended to be subversive. In decades past, it was taken for granted that men were more knowledgeable and capable than women. The idea that a woman could be more intelligent than a man was seen as ridiculous, and therefore humorous. This stuck, and given that men are still seen as more capable than women by society, it can’t be said that the humour of the situation doesn’t still have clear roots in misogyny.
There are countless other examples of the above which ostensibly paint women in a more positive light, but in reality are hugely misogynistic. Long story short, female representation isn’t nearly as good as MRAs claim.
Myth #4 – Feminists are only interested in parity with top-paying jobs
This claim is usually used in the context of men being far more likely to suffer workplace deaths and injuries than women. This is undeniable – men are more likely to be working in dangerous jobs than women. However, the vast majority of MRAs fail to consider why fewer women are in these lines of work. For decades, women have been shut out of these jobs… by men. Even to this day, women who express an interest in doing manual/industrial work are often told that they wouldn’t have a chance and to pursue a different career instead. Those that persist and apply for them anyway are turned down by men, almost always in favour of a male applicant. The notion that women are to blame for not being accepted into the more dangerous fields that MRAs often cite is unfair on every level, and woefully lacking in any sort of critical analysis.
Feminists want women to be assessed fairly on the basis of merit for any job they apply for. As things stand, that isn’t happening anywhere. Women don’t do ‘dangerous jobs’ because men aren’t employing them to do these jobs.
Myth #5 – There are no shelters/support services for men who have been raped and abused
In fairness, this myth does have some element of truth to it. It’s absolutely true that men who have been abused and/or raped are regularly dismissed and silenced, and all too often aren’t given the support they need, and this is an injustice that needs to be corrected. However, there is usually the implication that female victims, by contrast, are less likely to be dismissed and silenced when they speak about their abuse – this simply isn’t true. Under rape culture, rape and abuse in general are trivialised, and at worst outright ignored or even condoned – this is something that affects everyone, but disproportionately women.
Consequently, many areas do lack the necessary resources for male survivors. However, the same is true for survivors in general – existing shelters and support services are often heavily over-stretched, and frequently fail those who have been suffered abuse from someone of the same gender. Although shelters specifically for men are low in number (because over 80% of abuse/rape is directed against women), as a general rule, areas that have resources for female survivors will also have resources for male survivors.
Furthermore, this is often trotted out when feminists mention women-only resources, pointing out that this isn’t fair because men suffer abuse and rape as well. Yet there’s no reason why, for instance, they couldn’t set up their own men-only resources. All genders deserve support, but that doesn’t mean that a particular group has to cater to everyone. Though given some of the incredibly rape culture-infused things MRAs have done, and the lack of other MRAs calling them out for it (the “Don’t Be That Girl” posters in particular), it’s questionable how much they actually care about ending rape and abuse…
Myth #6 – The health care system is biased against men
This claim is particularly bizarre. Usually, it is justified by citing that more money is spent on breast cancer than on prostate cancer. Ignoring that breast cancer can affect anyone, rather than prostate cancer, which can only potentially affect half the population, and therefore warrants a larger amount of research, there are many examples of issues specific to (cisgender) men receiving much more funding than funding for issues specific to women – the huge amount of money put into Viagra, for instance. Furthermore, it is important to note that medical research is, by default, geared towards cisgender male bodies. For example, the commonly cited signs of a heart attack, in particular chest pain, are always those associated with male bodies. Women are, in fact, more likely to suffer jaw or back pain than chest pain during a heart attack, yet many people don’t know this because heart attack victims portrayed in the media and training are always men – this can, and does, have fatal consequences. This is just one instance of many where women’s healthcare needs are overlooked in favour of men’s.
Overall, this myth is fairly easily deconstructed simply by looking at the data on healthcare spending available – men are the ones favoured by the medical system, not women.
Myth #7 – The draft means that men are in much more danger than women
‘The draft’ is perhaps the single most common justification trotted out by the MRM – men are conscripted into military service, whereas women are not; this is argued to be a form of discrimination specifically aimed at men. However, this idea is erroneous for several reasons.
First of all, it is worth noting that many of the men who bring up this argument live in countries which no longer have conscription. The vast majority of the Western world, China, India, and several countries in South America and Africa no longer enforce compulsory military service.
Secondly, while most feminists would agree that conscription should not be in place, women can hardly be blamed for its enforcement, given that, again, the majority of politicians and people in positions of power are men – conscription was introduced by men and enforced by men. In fact, conscription is more often than not classist rather than sexist against men, given that those men with lots of class privilege and power are often able to evade it.
Thirdly, it can hardly be said that women get off lightly when it comes to warfare. In the war in Iraq, for example, 90% of victims are civilians, rather than soldiers. Because of conscription, the overwhelming majority of these civilians will be women and children. Then there are, of course, the horrific issues of war rape being used as a means of humiliation and control of the enemy. In many ways, women in these cases face a higher risk than men, not a lower risk – the men, at the very least, are usually provided with some means to defend themselves.
So while conscription definitely shouldn’t be supported, pretending that this in any way benefits women, or that women have much power to change it, does no one any favours.
Long story short, most of the examples of discrimination they cite are, in fact, not true at all. Of the handful of examples that are true, they are either heavily misconstrued and distorted, or they are heavily exaggerated. Men can and should fight for these issues, but the concept of a “men’s rights movement” comparable to feminism is ridiculous – men already hold almost all of the power in society; they should exact change through these means rather than through a separate men’s movement.