The jig is up. I and my collaborators have kept it secret for a long time now, but for reasons I will explain in a moment, I feel I need to come clean about this now, before it is too late:
I created Paul Elam.
That is: “Paul Elam” is a character created and developed by me and my friend Paul Henderson, an amazing improvisatory actor who has taken on the task of playing “Elam” in YouTube Videos, radio shows, and on a few occasions in the real world as well.
I first came up with the character of “Paul Elam” — “Elam” is just “male” spelled backwards — some seven years ago after reading Warren Farrell’s Myth of Male Power and wondering what an updated version of Farrell would look like today as a YouTube ranter. I brought the idea to my friend Paul Henderson, a feminist comedian who was already doing an “angry white man” character in his comedy act.
After a bit of workshopping, we created “Paul Elam” and his “Happy Misogynist” YouTube channel. I wrote the scripts, and Henderson read them out. As time went on and as Henderson got more into his new alter ego, he began adding bits of dialogue of his own. Sometimes when he got too deep into his character of “Paul Elam” he started to scare me a little.
After some success on YouTube and at Men’s News Daily, we decided to set up A Voice for Men. Shortly afterwards I set up Man Boobz, mainly as a way to promote AVFM and generate traffic for “Elam’s” site.
Since then, things have just snowballed. Henderson put me in touch with an amazing group of Canadian improv comedians called the Pouteenagers and the characters of Girl Writes What, John The Other, Typhon Blue, and DannyBoy were born.
Not all of those at AVFM are in on the gag. Dean Esmay for example, is completely sincere, as are most of the recent additions to the AVFM roster.
Up until about a month ago, the whole “Paul Elam”/A Voice for Men project seemed to be going swimmingly, generating buzz — and even a good deal of cash, much of which we have been donating to an assortment of feminist charities.
We kept piling absurdity on absurdity — like adding “human” to “men’s rights activist” to become “men’s human rights activist” — but no one ever guessed that it was all an elaborate prank! We were prepared to let the whole thing run for at least another year, getting sillier and sillier, before fessing up in a joint press conference with me and “Elam.”
But something terrible seems to have happened to my old friend Paul Henderson. After 7 years of playing “Paul Elam,” he seems to have become lost in the character he and I have created. Paul Henderson, in other words, has become Paul Elam.
He used to joke with April Fulieu, our makeup wiz, about how horrified he was each time he looked in the mirror and saw “Elam” staring back at him. But after we shot the last video with him he refused to let April take the makeup off, and when she went to tell me about this he fled out the back door of the studio.
We haven’t heard from him since. At least not as Paul Henderson.
I’m not sure what to do. He’s changed all the passwords on the AVFM server, so I can’t shut it down from my end, and I haven’t been able to contact any of the Pouteenagers either. I worry they too may have gone over to the dark side as well.
I can only hope that by posting this I can give him the wake-up call he needs – or at least arouse enough suspicion that the “sincere” AVFMers will confront him and possibly jar him back to reality.
Those of you who have been waiting with bated breath to hear what the “editors” of our favorite men’s rights hate site, A Voice for Men, think of the Occidental College fiasco can now unbate their breath, as AVFM head boy Paul Elam has stepped forward to explain it all to us in a post that contains quite possibly the most ridiculous two sentences ever written about higher education:
This has to be my favorite quote to come out of the whole Occidental College fiasco; it’s staggering in its moral blindness and fanaticism and its complete lack of self-awareness. It also captures well the peculiarly self-defeating quality of so much Men’s Rights rhetoric and, er, “activism.”
But Hembling thinks it’s the perfect time to cheer on the false accusers amongst the MRAs.
That’s right: apparently jealous of all the attention Reddit MRAs have gotten for their cloddish “activism,” he’s decided to jump aboard this train — after it’s left the station, derailed, and fallen into a ravine.
Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power, published twenty years ago, defined much of the agenda for what’s become the contemporary Men’s Rights movement. If you hear a Men’s Rights activist prattle on about “male disposability”or “death professions” or complain about draft registration (even though the draft itself has been dead for decades), you’ve got Farrell to thank, or blame.
So when Farrell decided to release a new ebook edition of his most famous book, it was perhaps not all that surprising that he decided to turn to the folks at A Voice for Men, probably the most influential Men’s Rights site around, for advice on a picture to use for a new cover.
But what was surprising was the pictures he asked the AVFMers to choose from, three sexually charged, and slightly NSFW, pics highlighting what Farrell evidently sees as the key female challenges to male power: their vaginas, tits and ass.
Let’s say — speaking hypothetically here — that you’re the head of what is probably the most prominent Men’s Rights website. A major national publication has just done a piece on the MRM. While sympathetic towards many of the issues MRAs sometimes talk about, the piece highlights the misogyny within the movement — focusing particularly on some of the hateful stuff that regularly appears on your website.
The piece also contains an extended profile of your site’s “Editor In Chief,” which portrays him as someone who, while having a certain charisma, is an angry, paranoid fanatic and a compulsive liar. The piece ends by suggesting that “radicals” like those on your website are doing your movement more harm than good, and notes that those who are doing the real work of helping men in need don’t want anything to do with the Men’s Rights movement.
Well, if you’re Paul Elam of A Voice for Men, you celebrate, because in the midst of all this, the author of the piece calls you “the closest thing the movement has to a rock star.” No, really.
Those interested in the psychology of narcissistic self-delusion may wish to set aside some time to watch the video below, in which the three dudes at the top of the A Voice for Men masthead — Paul Elam, John Hembling, and Dean Esmay — discuss R. Tod Kelly’s recent piece about the Men’s Rights movement.
I took the time to watch the whole thing the other night — well, to listen to it while playing Candy Crush, to be completely honest — and it is filled with astonishing moments. For those who don’t have the time or psychic energy to listen to the whole thing, I will provide some details below.
The tone of the video is, overall, one of jocularity; three very self-satisfied guys basking in self-praise and talking shit about women they hate.
The two most revealing moments come relatively early on in the more than hour-long video; if you watch nothing else in this video, make sure to watch these.
At 9:25 Dean brings up Kelly’s characterization of Elam as a “rock star.” (Technically, Kelly called him “the closest thing to a rock star” in the MRM, but let’s not split hairs.) Elam responds with some of the least convincing false modesty I think I’ve ever seen; it’s clear he’s pleased as punch. Just watch it.
Several minutes later, starting at about 12:22, the gang moves on to Kelly’s characterization of Hembling as a “superstar.” (Technically, Kelly said that Hembling was “well on his way to being [the MRM’s] first superstar,” but what’s a little hyperbole amongst friends?) Like Elam, Hembling affects a certain false modesty, pretending to be oh-shucks embarrassed by the attention, but he too is bursting with pride.
At one point he makes a reference to a famous line from Monty Python’s Life of Brian — “He’s not the messiah! He’s a very naughty boy!” — suggesting that he may have convinced himself that Kelly has proclaimed him not just a superstar but Jesus Christ Superstar.
Hembling — who is the A Voice for Menner that Kelly portrayed as a fanatic who seems to have more than a little bit of trouble with the truth — never really addresses Kelly’s accounts of some of his most dubious claims — his story of being confronted by a mob of boxcutter-weilding feminists, which seems to have been a largely peaceful encounter with a tiny handful of activists who did nothing more threatening than taking down some posters; and his story of intervening to stop a rape in progress, which appears to be a complete fabrication.
But, at about 23 minutes into the discussion, he does address — sort of — an infamous old video of his in which he declared that “I … don’t give a fuck about rape victims any more.” Hembling’s explanation is a little less than coherent, and seems to consist of three main assertions.
He did it a long time ago, when he had very few subscribers, and when he didn’t even really think of himself as a Men’s Rights activist, no wait, he probably did think of himself that way.
It was “hyperbolic parody” — a rather strange way to describe an angry video that contains not one element of parody at all.
Evil feminists goaded him into it by calling him a rape apologist.
Despite all this, he doesn’t really renounce or apologize for the video.
Elam, for his part, seems to think that Hembling is being much too apologetic. At about 27:30 he jumps into the discussion, defending Hembling’s video.“We’re not the world’s unpaid bodyguards,” he declares. After mocking 20/20 correspondent Elizabeth Vargas for telling him that she would intervene if she saw a rape in progress, he announces:
I don’t find it particularly hyperbolic for a man to say I’m not going to give a damn about female rape victims any more. They have tons of money, of law enforcement, of special programs funded by government, of social consciousness; schools have Take Back the Night rallies, everything you can possibly think of …
I stand behind John for making that video. I don’t know if I would take it down. I don’t blame him for doing it.
At about 35 minutes into the video, the three move on to talking about some of the women that internet misogynists — some of them Men’s Rights activists, many of them not — have targeted for harassment in recent years, most notably Anita Sarkeesian, known for her videos critiquing sexist tropes in the video games, and feminist “skepchick” Rebecca Watson, who’s been harassed for several years for the crime of once complaining about a dude who propositioned her in an elevator at 4 AM. .
The Daily Beast article touched briefly on the harassment directed at Watson, and AVFM’s contribution to the hostile climate she faced and still faces online; as Kelly points out, Elam described her as a “lying whore” and Hembling made several distinctly misleading videos about her. And while Kelly didn’t mention Sarkeesian, she is apparently going to be a central focus of the upcoming 20/20 story about the Manosphere.
The three AVFMers spout such a bunch of malignant nonsense on the topic of these women and the harassment they have faced that I feel it necessary to quote them at length.
At about 37 minutes in, the three are discussing Sarkeesian when one of them — my notes aren’t clear — brings up a favorite anti-Sarkeesian talking point: that she went onto 4chan to publicize her videos. At this point an indignant Dean Esmay launches into a rant:
Anyone who knows anything about 4chan knows that the whole culture on 4chan is that people love insulting each other, and insulting everything in the popular culture, and you win on 4chan by being the most offensive person. So just by going on 4chan you’re looking for that. You are asking for it. … And I don’t mean that in the “she was asking for it” [sense] but she was!
Aside from the victim blaming, there is one other big problem with this argument: it doesn’t seem to be, you know, true. When I looked into this claim, the only “evidence” I could find was this thread on 4chan in which someone using the name of Anita Sarkeesian promotes her Kickstarter. But this “Anita Sarkeesian” explicitly says that they’re NOT actually Sarkeesian, and throughout the comments they refer to her in third person.
Back to the AVFM video, where Esmay is continuing his rant:
Esmay: And furthermore Anita Sarkeesian had a long history of closing comments on her videos so that no one who wanted to argue with her could rebut her, but amazingly when she started the kickstarter campaign she opened the gates and allowed all the commentary.
Elam: Just a coinicidence, I’m sure, Dean.
Esmay: Just a coinicidence. So anybody who ever had any anger at her suddenly had an outlet. She created a damsel in distress situation for herself.
That’s right. Closing her comments was an act of evil manipulation, leading to pent-up angry dude anger. And opening the comments up was an act of manipulation, by giving the angry dudes an outlet. Because clearly she wanted nothing more than to be harassed endlessly by angry dudes on the internet. Because women totally love that shit.
“But in any case,” Esmay asks,”is there a shred of evidence that that was mostly Men’s Rights Advocatists?”
Yes, he really says “advocatists.”
I don’t know about the “mostly, but there’s certainly plenty of hints that suggest MRAs were pretty heavily involved in the anti-Sarkeesian harassment. Like, for example, the fact that there have been 70 posts about Sarkeesian posted to the Men’s Rights subreddit, many of them receiving hundreds of upvotes and inspiring hundreds of comments of which most can be assumed to be hostile, at least based on the rather large sampling of them I’ve read over the months. And AVFM, while not quite this active on the anti-Sarkeesian front, did run as assortment of its own posts on the subject, with titles like “Anita Sarkeesian and the feminist war on facts” (a bit ironic, that) and “Anita Sarkeesian: still a moneygrubbing liar” (some irony there too, huh?).
Elam, for his part, claims there’s “no shred of evidence” that any of the “supposed threats” that Sarkeesian, Watson, or a particular red-haired Canadian activist AVFM has been fixated on came from MRAs. Well, given that a lot of these sorts of threats are, you know, anonymous, that is a little hard to prove, though when I looked at people making nasty and threatening remarks about the red-haired activist on YouTube I found that (at least in the cases of those I was able to find out any information about them) a significant minority of them seemed to be MRAs or at least regular readers of MRA and/or manosphere blogs — and/or to be fans of the misogynistic asshole who calls himself the Amazing Atheist, a noxious YouTube personality that A Voice for Men has celebrated and linked to on more than a few occasions.
And then there‘s Elam‘s characterization of Watson as a “lying whore,” a characterization he is more than happy to repeat several times on the video.
At about 41 minutes in, Hembling then tells an assortment of untruths about the now infamous elevatorgate incident that led to years of harassment directed at Watson. Having just had some of his most famous untruths publicly exposed to a national audience, you would think Hembling might want to be a bit more careful about his factchecking. Nope.
Hembling: There was a convention in Ireland I believe, where late at night in the hotel convention center she got on an elevator after being in the bar quite late and someone from the convention approached her in the elevator and said “I think you’re very interesting and attractive and would you like to come and have coffee in my room, which is obviously code for let’s get naked and hump.
[At this point Elam lets out a cackle[
Hembling: Obviously he was drunk, possibly blind drunk.
Elam: [Laughs uproariously] It was Irish coffee.
Hembling: Watson then went online and did a video admonishing the male members of the atheist community, of which she was a part, “guys don’t do that,” and characterized this conversation in the elevator as if it was some sort of great, terrible, frightening threat, and crafted her victimhood out of that, and essentially used that story to launch a professional speaking career on the atheist circuit.
Cool story, except for the fact that Watson actually did none of those things beyond the bit about saying “guys, don’t do that.” Here’s a transcript of what she actually did say, which I found here in about 30 seconds by typing the words “rebecca watson transcript elevatorgete video” — typo and all — into a very helpful internet site you may have heard of called Google. Watson was mentioning how much she had enjoyed talking to everyone after her presentation at the conference
except for the one man who, um, didn’t really grasp, I think, what I was saying on the panel…? Because, um, at the bar later that night—actually, at four in the morning—um, we were at the hotel bar, 4am, I said, you know, “I’ve had enough, guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed,” uh, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”
Um. Just a word to the wise here, guys: Uhhhh, don’t do that. Um, you know. [laughs] Uh, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4am, in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and—don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.
That’s it. Being propositioned by a guy alone in an elevator at 4 AM made her feel “incredibly uncomfortable.” No elevation of the proposition into a “great, terrible, frightening threat.” No elaborate narrative of victimhood. Just her saying: hey, this makes me uncomfortable. The reaction to these remarks are what caused the Elevatorgate shitstorm, which is evidently still ongoing, as evidenced by Mr. Hembling’s desire to retell the — false — narrative of the evil Watson.
Indeed, Hembling actually thinks that the incident never happened, because Watson never named the dude. And so Watson’s seemingly innocent remarks, at the end of an informal, unscripted video, were apparently part of her secret master plan to take over the atheist universe.
It’s just a story to further this narrative of victimhood that Watson used to launch this speaking career and make herself supposedly famous and important.
Projection ain’t just something they do in movie theaters.
Enjoy your time in the limelight, fellas! You’re really, truly not doing yourself or your ostensible movement any favors. Maybe someday you will realize this. But probably not.
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 thatHembling has been more or less AWOL in recent months, producing only a few short videos and one article for AVFM.
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!
Several months ago, you may recall, feminist activists got Facebook to agree to remove blatant sexist hate speech from its site — much to the chagrin of many Men’s Rights Activists, like Paul Elam of A Voice for Men, who declared, in a post filled with alarmist rhetoric, that “feminist ideologues are co-opting Facebook, and they will root out any and all opposition to their worldview.” AVFM’s John Hembling, meanwhile, denounced the feminist activists as “fascists.”
Ever since then, Men’s Rights activists have been playing a game of “gotcha” with Facebook, trying to prove that the hate-speech monitors there only care about misogynist hate speech, and don’t actually care about hate speech directed at men. Every few days, it seems, there is a new thread in the Men’s Rights subreddit purporting to document this alleged “double standard.”
But I would like to suggest an alternate hypothesis, which also fits the anecdotal data provided thus far by the MRAs, and provide an additional piece of anecdotal evidence that supports my theory and undercuts theirs.
My hypothesis is that Facebook is shitty at recognizing and dealing with hate speech and harassment, no matter whom it’s aimed at.
We should not ever break the law. Rather, we should advocate , through lawful land constitutional processes, to have the law changed so that it is legal to kill [name redacted by DF]. Alternatively, we should, where legal, request that [name redacted by DF] kill herself. Relevant laws should be changed so that suicide, and advocating suicide, is legal.
The Skepchick bloggers reported the page to Facebook for its obvious violations of the site’s harassment policies.
And they received this reply from Facebook (I’ve covered up the blogger’s name):
I think it’s fair to say that if Facebook can’t recognize a page calling for the literal murder of someone as harassment there is something very wrong with its system for dealing with harassment and hate speech.
The page has since been taken down, though it’s not clear if it was removed by Facebook or by the original anonymous Facebooker.
Today, some comedy, in the form of an 8 minute excerpt from what was apparently an hour-and-a-half “debate” between John “The Other” Hembling, noted Men’s Human Rights Activist from A Voice For Human Men, and some dude from Manhood Academy, a Men’s Rights site that’s actually a teensy bit more obnoxious than AVFM, although in a much less interesting way.
It’s NSFW, unless you’re wearing headphones, due to salty language and near-constant anti-woman slurs.
In case you haven’t listened to enough of JohnTheOther to instantly recognize his irritating voice, he is — uncharacteristically — the quieter of the two, er, debaters here, and a little bit on the defensive.
Thanks to the intrepid work of new commenter Thal, we now have a transcript!
I‘ve been traveling, so I’m a bit late getting to the whole “Don’t Be That Girl” poster controversy in Edmonton. For those of you who don’t already know all about it: A group called Men’s Rights Edmonton, closely associated with our favorite Men’s Rights hate site A Voice for Men, has been putting up some pretty obnoxious posters parodying an anti-rape poster campaign called “Don’t Be That Guy,” turning the anti-date rape message into one that targets alleged false accusers of rape.
There were a lot of ridiculous answers to that question, but one of the most ridiculous (and one of the most highly upvoted) responses came from our old friend John Hembling, the blabby Canadian videoblogger and A Voice for Men “Editor in Chief” also known for some dopey reason as John The Other. He explained: