It’s a sad fact of the internet that many things done in earnest end up as hideous parodies of the original cause. The term ‘meninist’ could be found circa 2001 on feminism.org, simply referring to male feminists. The word really exploded this year, however, after the account @MeninistTweet came on to the scene to “satirise” modern feminism. Armed with such cutting-edge humour as ““new year new me” nah you’re still a hoe”, the Twitter account has amassed 537,000 followers – just 1,000 fewer than Oasis and roughly 10,000 more than Nike Store Europe.
The reaction from the media has been varied, though The Telegraph saw fit to publish a piece titled “Will 2015 be the year of meninism?” The article offers the popularity of @MeninistTweet as a step forward for ‘positive masculinity’. “Strip away the jock-strap humour and some meninists are talking about the issues that matter: male suicide, violence against men, disproportionate male prison sentences for the same crime, fathers’ rights and the perceived injustices of divorce courts.” There is nothing ignoble about trying to tackle any of these issues: they are societal problems which shouldn’t be downplayed and which have a very real effect on many lives. There is a real problem with meninism, however, in its approach from the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) – an angle of attack which allows sexist tendencies to exert too much control over an important debate.
The MRM is not terribly notable in the UK when it comes to anti-feminist groups, but it has gained a stronger online presence over the last few years. It’s an umbrella term, really, covering a wide number of groups around the world which see men’s rights as being infringed upon – this, in a nutshell, is to what meninism objects. Some facets of the MRM identity would be quite laudable under other circumstances: an objection to the traditional image of masculinity to which men are forced to conform, for example, or a desire to give parity in the armed forces. Yet when Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) bring up such legitimate grievances, they typically squander whatever credibility they have by using them to bash women. “Women get off too easily in the military”; “women use men for their own ends”; “women ride by in life whilst men have to work”: it’s a dialectic of forced victimhood for the most part, destroying legitimate arguments in over-dramatic and self-indulgent acts (take, for example, Fathers4Justice and their acts of vandalism).
Outside of the UK, however, MRAs have gained considerable traction offline. India plays host to the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), an MRM group which “fights for men’s human rights and seeks to protect men and their families from Govt sponsored undemocratic social experiments.” SIFF doesn’t put all the blame on women. They also complain about the “Alpha males” – the nigh-idealised 1% who “use women against men, most often in exchange for favour including sexual favours or just simply female attention.” Feminists, it continues, “are intellectually challenged individuals [and] are also extremely ungrateful people, who never get satisfied with any improvement in condition of women” (such improvement, it helpfully adds, is “due to technology, which mostly men created.”) Women are thus both stupid, ungrateful, and the pawns of the alpha males. For a nation which boasts about respect for mothers and daughters, we still have a lot to learn: the number of comments on web forums which remark on men being ‘controlled’ by the sexuality of cunning women speaks volumes.
But India is not the only place where the MRM is making ground – nor is it the only one where women are still seen as dominating through sexuality. The horrors of the Santa Barbara murders perpetrated by Elliot Rodger opened the world’s eyes to the existence of PUAHate (Pick-Up Artists Hate) and ‘incels’, involuntary celibates – also known as single men. A member of both communities, Rodger blamed Pick-Up Artists (PUAs) for cheating him of what he saw as his birth-right: women. These women were fools to be stolen by PUAs and other men, ignoring Rodger’s own personal pleasure. It is the ideology of the Pick-Up Artist but from the opposite perspective, the ‘losing’ one. This, in the end, is to what the MRM all too often boils down. MRAs may reject the hyper-masculine ideals of the Dan Bilzerians and Return of Kings, but they still place sex as the ultimate goal – and they still view themselves as women’s teleos. ‘Females’ supposedly exist solely for the sexual fulfilment of the male populace, and in not dating incels, they are failing in their duty. From this logic descends the whole ‘nice guy’ ideology and the friend-zone and so many other constructs which make women into purely sexual items, to be won over through niceness. Like the seductress concept in India, MRAs see the with-holding of relationships and sex as being fundamentally unfair. Rather than viewing women as fully-fledged entities, they deconstruct them to a terrifying level.
Even if meninism separates itself from the negative masculine ideals of the PUA community, it’s hard to not see it as little more than an extension of the MRM. There are major issues with how we perceive men, and social media can help create a meaningful discussion – but not when it’s derived from such a toxic culture. Like PUAs, the MRM ignores the attempts feminism has made to break down gender boundaries. It thrives instead upon the extremist fringe, upon imagined misandry, and upon social constructs of masculinity to which many feminists objects – and uses them to validate general misogyny. It is a movement too invested in a sexist world-view to really help anyone.
Let’s rethink masculinity, let’s question why men are committing suicide in higher numbers, let’s discuss why false rape accusations occur– but let’s not go in from the MRM side. We need to talk, but we don’t need the centuries-old belief that women are intellectually inferior in the room.