The bad publicity bonanza for Men’s Rights activists continues — and it couldn’t happen to a worse group of people.
Yesterday, the Daily Beast published a long-awaited piece on the Men’s Rights movement, and it’s a doozy. If you’re a regular reader of this site, trust me, you’ll want to read the whole thing, like now. The piece, by R. Tod Kelly, is long — some 6000 words — but worth it.
It’s mostly on the money, but with a few notable flaws.
Here’s what it gets right:
1) It captures the pervasive misogyny of the Men’s Rights movement in general, and of A Voice for Men in particular.
2) In an extended section, it profiles AVFM’s John Hembling, and tears apart some of his most blatant lies — including the now legendary box-cutter incident, in which Hembling claims to have stared down a mob of 20-30 feminists brandishing boxcutters.
As Kelly notes:
Vancouver police records show that there was indeed an altercation in September of 2012 between Hembling and others seeking to tear down men’s rights posters. However, according to the police, Hembling was arguing with two or three people, not being accosted by a “mob” of any size. When questioned by the authorities, neither Hembling nor witnesses mentioned seeing any weapons. …
Curiously enough, Hembling actually videotaped the events and had his AV4M Radio partner Karen Straughan post it online. The discussion with the police has been conveniently edited out, but the rest of the video clearly matches police records and not Hembling’s story. There are only a few young men taking down Hembling’s posters, and the video shows them choosing to ignore him except when he engages them in conversation. One of the men is seen using a box cutter to take down the flyers, but at no time does he use it as a weapon, raise his voice, or threaten Hembling in any way.
Kelly found some troubling, er, discrepancies in another story told by Hembling. Kelly writes:
According to Hembling, sometime around 1995 he was on his way home at 2:00 am after working a night shift when he came upon [a sexual] assault in progress. He says he used his steel-toed boots as weapons to chase off the perpetrator. When the victim was too distraught to speak with him, Hembling says he contacted the police, waited until they arrived, and then quietly left without speaking to them. He says they later tracked him down at his home, where he gave a statement.
It’s hard to know whether this event actually occurred or not. There is no record—at least, not in the Vancouver police files—of Hembling being a material witness to a rape, and police blotters from that time period do not show a crime that matches Hembling’s description. However, this does not necessarily mean the event did not occur. Vancouver police did not fully computerize their data until 2002, and it is possible the police never reported the incident. Hembling claims the incident took place at a specific hospital, where he says he worked as a contractor for 18 months. The address he gives, however, is for a different hospital in a completely different part of the city. This raises the curious question of whether Hembling forget the name of the hospital he contracted with for 18 months, or whether he forget what part of the city he worked in for that same period of time. The real truth of the matter is anyone’s guess, because Hembling wouldn’t comment to The Beast on that or any other matter.
In other words: Cool story, bro.
3) Another thing the story gets right: it makes clear just how little the Men’s Rights movement does to actually help men — and how in many ways it can actually be terribly damaging to men who need real help. As Kelly writes,
the movement’s radicals might … do … immediate damage to those who most desperately need the MRM to succeed.
“When we talk about recovery from trauma and abuse, there were two things that helped me,” says Chris Anderson, executive director of the male-victim advocacy group Male Survivor and a sexual abuse survivor himself. “The first was realizing that I’m not alone; the second was hearing that recovery was possible.” Anderson is quick to dissociate himself from the men’s rights movement: “In [the MRM] people get that first message, that they’re not alone. I don’t know that they ever get the second message. And when they don’t get that second message, it turns into an endless feedback loop and eventually they say, ‘Oh my God, all of society is f**ked.’”
Indeed, Kelly writes:
It is telling to note that of the professional male-victim advocacy organizations I spoke with, every single one specifically asked that I not allow readers to think they were in any way related to the MRM.
But there are also some things that I think the article gets wrong.
1) I think it gives Men’s Rights activists way too much credit for their supposed good intentions. While there are some MRAs who do seem to be motivated at least in part by a sincere desire to help men, most of the MRAs I’ve encountered in the 3 years of doing this blog have clearly been motivated primarily by anger and hatred of feminists — and women in general. They don’t really seem to give a shit about doing anything to actually improve the lives of men — and the paucity of their accomplishments reflects this. In its relatively brief lifespan, AVFM has raised many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Has it set up any shelters or hotlines or helplines for men? Not a one.
2) It wildly exaggerates the importance of Hembling to the MRM — especially ironic given that Hembling has been more or less AWOL in recent months, producing only a few short videos and one article for AVFM.
3) It paints a picture of The Spearhead’s WF Price as a Men’s Rights “moderate.” Really? While it’s true that Price is not an AVFM-style hothead given to rants about “fucking your shit up,” his views are anything but moderate. This is a guy who thinks higher education is wasted on women, who blames the epidemic of rape in the armed forces on women, who celebrated one Mothers Day with a vicious transphobic rant, who once used the tragic death of a woman who’d just graduated from college to argue that “after 25, women are just wasting time.” He published posts on why women’s suffrage is a bad idea. Plus, have you met his commenters?
I was, however, kind of amazed to learn that Price is married … and to a feminist. No, really.
4) The article, while solidly researched, contains some small errors and simplifications that will no doubt give MRAs and others the excuse they need to dismiss the whole thing. Kelly refers to Reddit subreddits as Reddit “threads!” He refers to Matt Forney as an MRA! Oh no!
Still, whatever its flaws, this is an important piece, and one that tells a lot of truth about the Men’s Rights movement. Again — go read it!