When it comes to gender, many feel strongly about the need for equality, just as others feel that there is no such thing as gender inequality. Those who identify as feminists today face a slew of prejudices, among which are the ideas that feminists are anti-male, radical, or less feminine than other women because of their insistence that gender equality has not yet been achieved. While feminists are often maligned by the general population, another movement has begun that elicits perhaps even stronger reactions: the men’s human rights movement. A Voice for Men (AVfM) is an online community of those identifying as activists for this cause. At first glance, the purported mission of the group—equality between sexes—is not a disagreeable one; it would be as narrow-minded to say that there are no societal problems facing men as it would be to say that other types of discrimination have become extinct. However, upon examining the site and its forums, it becomes clear that AVfM’s discussions contradict the organization’s stated purpose. In addition to being strongly sexist and anti-feminist, the AVfM community approaches what they believe to be men’s rights in a way that is, in fact, damaging to men.
The earliest identifiable contradictions on AVfM are those which undermine the site’s and organization’s mission statement. As stated on the AVfM website directly, the following three items are some of the broadest on the list of AVfM’s goals:
- Promote a culture that values equal treatment under the law for all human beings.
- Facilitate a new social contract between men and women, leading to mutual respect, accountability and expectation.
- AVFM’s sole ideology is compassion for men and boys that is equal to that of women and any other identified group. (Mission Statement).
These are worthy goals, but the site and forum posters do not follow through on them. There is a distinctive culture among some members of the AVfM community, part of which is that many users criticize women, feminism, and occasionally each other. Though there are various sections of the site, the area that most clearly displays this culture is the discussion forum. There is a specific category of forums designated as the place for new users to become acquainted with the site, its mission, and other community members. This is where much of the site’s culture is established. A value espoused by AVfM members here is the idea of proving oneself. As the user sammich heist declares in the twenty-fourth post,
Everyone has to prove themselves. Men knows [sic] this and expect it. Women however often demand to be accepted and even worshipped for no reason other than having a vagina. Number of times I heard a woman say “I shouldn’t have to prove myself” uh, sorry toots, your vaj card isn’t accepted currency here. (“A Message to Female Newbies”).
Other users display this value as well, including the original poster who says, “This is a place where everyone takes personal responsibility for their actions. Get used to it” (realityisabitch, “A Message to Female Newbies”). Each user has a reputation score displayed on any forums on which they post or comment.
Members on the AVfM forums create an online persona through the frequency and ubiquity of postings of their beliefs. These personas are partially achieved through signatures that some users attach to their comments. User Shadizar is recorded as having made over 1500 posts and is a self-described “Post Whore…” This user’s signature is “Logic trumps ignorance, but emotion retards edification.” On the thread titled “Hello” within the “Introduce Yourself” category, Shadizar engages in an aggressive back-and-forth argument with Eric7, a newer user. Eric7 wrote, “It’s simple. The only way—and I do mean only way—to remove sexism against both sexes is to make them equal.” Shadizar replied:
Excuse me while I laugh hysterically for a moment… You may as well suggest removing racism against all races to make them equal. Or, how about sexuality, to make all sexuals equals. Look, discrimination is something we’re unlikely to eradicate; the issue is who gets to discriminate to what extent, and who doesn’t, and just who gets to call what discrimination. The Americans have an amendment for this, now which one was it… oh yeah, the first one, free speech. (“Hello”).
Through the frequency and content of posts, Shadizar characterizes himself as a strong advocate for men’s rights, as well as being stubborn, belligerent, and unwilling to be open to others’ ideas.
The most glaring example of hypocrisy in the forums is the language used to demean men, particularly male feminists. Various AVfM users vilify groups whom they believe to have harmed men in some way; however, many of these same users actually harm men in their posts. The term “manginas” is used by various users for male feminists, and one user states that “Male feminists are pussies” (onca747, “A Message to Female Newbies”). Yet another states that “White knights, manginas, and male feminists are a different quantity” (WontStepUp, “A Message to Female Newbies”). These users fail to see that, in using language like this, they are committing the same crimes they accuse others of committing. By using terms like “manginas” for male feminists, the users are attempting to demean and emasculate these men. This prejudice creates more doubt regarding the credibility of AVfM’s mission statement – they say they have “compassion for men and boys” but it would seem that notion is only true for men whose beliefs align with theirs.
Additionally, although many in the AVfM community frequently and strongly express the problems they have with generalizing men, many users make sweeping generalizations about women, again contradicting their purported values in an absurdly bold fashion. In a forum post addressed specifically to new female users of the site, “A Message to Female Newbies,” a veteran female user informs them that the acronyms “NAWALT” and “NAFALT” are not welcome on AVfM and explains that these acronyms mean “not all women are like that” and “not all feminists are like that,” respectively. She endorses these harmful generalizations when she asserts that “All feminists ARE like that” and “All women ARE like that,”.Theoretically, these acronyms would illustrate that one’s generalizations about women could be incorrect or not completely true, but the user realityisabitch says up front that such defenses of women or feminists are invalid (“A Message To Female Newbies”). User Shadizar goes further than criticizing feminists to openly criticize all women: “Last I checked, women didn’t give a damn enough to consider men HAD rights, or should have right[s], or that they ever had rights” (“Hello”). These sentiments are common among many users in the forums although they contradict what AVfM claims to be its mission statement.
The forum category “Relationships & Dating” includes many discussions that reveal the collective attitude of the majority of AVfM users toward relationships. Among the threads perused for this ethnography, the discussions of relationships were almost exclusively heteronormative. The discussions of relationships focused on relationships of AVfM users with women, presuming that their male users are heterosexual. This was interesting in that heteronormativity could be limiting and even damaging to gay users and to the perceptions of gay men in general. This is yet another instance of AVfM contradicting, albeit unintentionally, its mission of supporting men. In attempting to aid men through the “Relationships & Dating” threads, users are actually upholding the traditional and limiting standard of heteronormativity.
Furthermore, nearly all of the comments in the “Relationships and Dating” category promote distrust of women in relationships. User Robben states that “marriage involves you giving her absolute power to ruin you at a moments [sic] notice” (“For those of you that still believe a pre-nup will protect you”). In response to one user’s query as to what marriage is, user RetiredLawyer says the following:
Marriage is a trap. A fool’s paradise. Man enters into marriage with the intent and expectation of providing a comfortable life style for his wife. It is an effort borne out of love and affection. However, when the marriage dissolves, as 50% do, the law fashions, of that love and affection, a gun which it then points at the head of that man and robs him of his property, his earnings, and his future for the benefit of his soon to be ex-wife. (“What do you think marriage is?”).
Not only is this post inherently sexist, but it also displays the same cognitive dissonance seen in the heteronormative discussions meant to “help” men. In trying to make a strong statement about how marriage disadvantages a husband, RetiredLawyer actually reinforces ideals that would make this true. He upholds the ideal that men are naturally the providers within a marriage, and that they get married with the intention of materially providing for a woman. If this is the basis of a marriage, it is no wonder that the marriage would end and result in a grabbing of property. By propagating these ideas, RetiredLawyer perpetuates the very problem he is complaining about. This post also removes all the responsibility for maintaining a marriage from men and places all of the blame for a failed marriage on women. Although at first glance this supports men to an absurd degree, the sexist views on marriage and relationships damage the institution in which both men and women participate. Also, because this post blames the legal system for helping a woman supposedly rob her ex-husband of what is rightfully his, it diverts attention from the deeper societal problems that challenge males such as the aforementioned traditional gender role of men as providers. This post is a typical example of many users’ views on marriage, and it displays the counter-productive nature of a vast amount of the site’s discussions.
This distrustful view of women as being malicious is reinforced in the list of tips under the tab “Self Protection.” These tips include advice on how men can keep themselves from becoming victims of opportunistic women, particularly those who may falsely accuse men of rape. In the item advising “Do not get involved with single mothers,” the list explains the following:
A woman who chose to have, or to raise a child without a father, deeming him unnecessary, inconvenient or simply of insufficient utility demonstrates terrible, selfish values. In such cases, single motherhood demonstrates the conception of men as sperm donors and child support payers, NOT husbands & fathers. (“Self Protection”).
This list of tips advises men to keep copies of documents, film interactions when possible and voice record not only their phone calls with significant others, but also discussions after sex to prove it was consensual (“Self Protection”). These tips suggest that AVfM does not believe men’s rights will be won in addition to women’s rights but rather at the expense of them. To record so much without another’s knowledge precludes the possibility of a genuine, healthy and trusting relationship. Promotion of such strong distrust of all women drives the idea that males are morally, and perhaps even intellectually, superior. The list of tips ends with the recommendation to “Just buy a whore” (Self Protection). Neither of these constitutes “mutual respect” nor “equal treatment” as the mission statement claims. The degradation of women here, presented as something that will protect men, makes it difficult to take AVfM seriously and also attempts to legitimize discrimination based on gender.
Other sections of the site continue to reinforce disturbing threats to human rights. Tom Golden, the author of an article featured on the AVfM site, speaks to how troubling it is that boys are raped as children. However, in forums, users claim that the statistic about how many women are sexually assaulted is a lie, or as user ScreachingDragon calls it, “such a bullshit joke” (“Hi I’m a rapist”). Members of AVfM diminish the sexual assault of women while the site demands that everyone take seriously the sexual assault of men. This undermines their own arguments as well as the wellbeing of the wider community. This “us versus them” mindset is limiting and harmful. Diminishing the significance of anyone’s sexual assault tacitly condones rape, which contributes to rape culture. Rape is absolutely not an issue unique to men. By isolating themselves and trying to separate women’s rapes from men’s, AVfM has virtually no constructive effect and supports the very issue they criticize.
Contradictions are rampant in the AVfM website and its forums, specifically with regards to the mission statement, posts, and individuals’ own expressions of beliefs. These weaken the community’s own argument, making it less credible and less productive. It is important to note that not all AVfM users are like the ones described in this essay. There are defenses of marriage, homosexuality, and even some women found among the posts, but the fact remains that sexism and anti-feminism are among the most prevalent values on the site. AVfM is not alone in its quest for men’s rights. The AVfM site, whose forums boast almost 6000 users, includes links to related sites, news articles, information about the group’s radio show, and even tee shirts denouncing feminism. However, neither men nor women are the sole victims of gender-based prejudices. AVfM acts as if men are the only victims and victims at the hands of women. As a society, we have forgotten the wellbeing of men and boys if we say that they have no further need for justice. However, we have forgotten women even more when we claim the same for them because, in many arenas, greater injustice faces women than they do for men. Women are systemically marginalized, raped, abused, blamed for their own sexual assaults, burdened with unrealistic societal expectations, forced into marriage, prostituted, and objectified. The existence of AVfM indicates that there is indeed injustice facing men, but it is also an indicator that the overwhelming injustices encountered by women can be and are being ignored by many.
Those claiming to be fighting for equal rights in the forums of AVfM are proverbially building with one hand and tearing down with the other. This reveals a deeper misunderstanding of equality and its requisite elements. The crusade of the men’s rights activists on AVfM is an underdeveloped and incomplete one relying on hate, sexism, and generalizations. In supporting sexism against women, AVfM supports and continues to perpetuate the same institution that has caused the problems they are protesting. It is deeply ineffective to use sexism to combat sexism. If it continues this way, the alleged men’s rights movement will not succeed in any respect except for further limiting the rights of people everywhere.
“A Message to Female Newbies.” A Voice for Men. 2013. Web.
A Voice for Men. Web. <http://www.avoiceformen.com/>.
“For those of You Who Still Think a Pre-Nup Will Protect You.” A Voice for Men, 2013. Web.
Golden, Tom. “Boys raped more often than girls.” A Voice for Men. November
12, 2013 2013. Web. <http://www.avoiceformen.com/misandry/boys-raped
Hello., 2013. Web. 25 Nov 2013.
Hi i’m a Rapist., 2013. Web.
“Mission Statement.” A Voice for Men.
“Self Protection.” A Voice for Men. Web. <http://www.avoiceformen.com/policies
“What do You Think Marriage is?” A Voice for Men. Web.