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Time for the Men's Rights Movement to Grow Some

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Anyone who has ever taken to the streets as part of campaigns to stop violence against women (increasingly relevant after a new Alberta survey purports to reveal that one in 10 men think it's OK to hit a woman if she makes him angry), has probably come across the following argument: Where are all the campaigns to stop violence against men? For many who have yet to stumble upon the heated forums, blog rants, and protests that embellish the heart of this argument -- this may be your first foray into the men's rights movement.

You might then wonder what the movement wants and be compelled to do some research. Divorce settlement equality, better laws to stop violence against men by women, better custody laws... the list goes on. Some of these are very reasonable requests -- and in many cases, the MRM has been quite effective in achieving its goals. Some of the movement's more notable successes include "The Innocence Project," an organization that works to exonerate individuals who have been wrongly convicted of rape or otherwise, and "Just Detention International," an organization that works to end prison rape.

These emblems of progress represent all the good the MRM could accomplish if it wasn't stymied by one simple premise -- MRM doesn't want to work with feminist groups.

That the MRM began in the late 70s, primarily as a reaction to the successes of the feminist movement, should serve as the first flicker in the quest to determine why it exists in the first place. Though some of the more radical feminists of the era may have popularized the stereotype that this second-wave was "man-hating," this attitude towards feminists as oppressors seems to have sidelined the fact that the actual equality goals of feminism ought to be in the MRM's interest as well.

Ask any feminist and they'll be sure to tell you that the fight for equality includes men (or just ask anyone who knows what the word equality means). To reference a more recent example, one may turn to the successful "Rape is Rape" campaign. Led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, it managed to garner enough support to have the FBI change its archaic definition of "forcible rape" to one that includes women who have been raped by means other than physical force, and to one that now includes the rape of men.

Yet there are still those who believe that feminists are to blame for the so-called oppression of men. Famous men's rights activist, David Shackleton, once directly attributed feminism and its demasculinization of boys to the deepest evil in society. He even went so far as comparing feminism to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Fast forwarding to the social-networking age, one of the most popular MRM online spots is "A Voice for Men" -- a website that right off the bat lists categories such as "feminist lies" and "featured offenders" (who are all women). It even notes in its info section: "Men's organizing on their own behalf (successfully anyway) is, despite a century of feminist propaganda and claptrap, an extreme rarity."

This general mistrust of feminism, one that can be found throughout other popular MRM hotspots online (the subreddit /r/MensRights includes a thread in their information section entitled "brainwashing techniques of feminism") is why, in the 21st century, it's hard to take the movement seriously. Of note, both of these sites have recently been listed by Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups.

Whereas feminism has evolved to embrace the fight for the rights of all genders, races, and sexualities, the MRM loses traction when its members, as noted above, reinforce the worst stereotypes of masculinity rather than promote the issues it shares in common with feminism.

The spirit of such exclusive thinking can most prominently be seen in the headline dominating attacks on women's health care. Though right-wingers have been doing all they can for a while to close Planned Parenthoods and deny women necessary health coverage, Rush Limbaugh's remark of calling a student, who spoke in favour of Obama's policy on birth control, a "slut," seems to have awoken the nation to the fact that feminism isn't irrelevant (or a scheme for women to gain the upper hand in the "gender equality war") -- but that discrimination against women still very much exists.

To expand this point, don't forget about the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time since it was originally signed in 1994, was not renewed. In 2008, MRM group RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) actually succeeded at blocking an expansion of this bill which would have improved it internationally, providing foreign aid to help prevent worldwide abuse and exploitation.

Calling VAWA "one of the most harmful pieces of social legislation ever passed in the United States," RADAR's shortsighted actions seem to best sum up the worst of the MRM -- "If we can't have something that benefits us, then no one can."

The question then, that feminists are likely to ask about MRM, is whether the movement is even looking for equality or if the whole thing is simply a guise to facilitate misogynistic tendencies. Judging from the anti-woman/anti-feminist sentiments that seem to entrench the most popular MRM online hangouts, one would presume the latter. And Alberta's men in the aforementioned survey, 52 per cent of whom seem to believe that women are capable of leaving violent relationships if they really want to, seem to be an appropriate sample of this "Us vs. Them" mentality.

Of course, there are concerns of the MRM that should rightfully be investigated. For the first time, women outnumber men in universities -- striving to figure out just why men are faring much more poorly in the education system should be high on the agenda. But searching for solutions to helping those men is not the same as creating barriers to stop the women who are succeeding. If this point is ignored then developments, like those in Hanna Rosen's TED video talk, which charts the rise of women in society, will only inspire anger, rather than applause.