Revised and expanded, 26 May 2007

The "men's rights movement" is an absurdity, based on a big lie. It is — by design — a slap in the face to women everywhere. There is little more galling to a person with a boot crushing her throat than to hear the owner of that boot calling her an oppressor.

This technique — transforming the oppressed into the oppressor — is not an innovation of the "men's movement". In fact, it is an old standard. The colonists in North America, whilst exterminating the indigenous population, complained in their Declaration of Independence of "the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." The Nazis claimed to be rising up against Jewish oppression. White supremacist groups have long claimed to be oppressed by the very racial and ethnic groups they victimise. Iraq, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Cuba, we have been told, have all, at some point or other been ready to invade the United States and take all we have.

The genius of this particular big lie is that working class men, like poor white people, the colonists of North America, working class Germans, and fundamentalists of various stripes, do indeed suffer oppression. Working class men, for example, have seen their wages stagnate or decrease, their jobs exported, their unions decimated, and their control over their own lives substantially lessened. No big lie functions without one undeniably true element.

Why, one might ask, is this particular big lie such a popular one? It's been used throughout history. Ultimately, the answer lies not in what is pointed out by the "oppressed as oppressor" theme, but what it ignores. Big lies such as that of the "men's rights movement" acknowledge and deplore the reality of oppression, while directing the justified anger and resistance toward someone — anyone — other than its actual agent. This makes the lie particularly serviceable to power. The oppressed, thus, are led to kick downwards rather than upwards, and power doesn't have to change hands.

By this ideological legerdemain, the modest gains made by women over the centuries become proof that women are the oppressor and men the oppressed, thus killing two birds with one stone. Women's progress toward equality is attacked (and subjected to rollback) while the power that oppresses both men and women is preserved.

Of course working-class and poor men are oppressed. What is conveniently left out of this account is that women are also oppressed, indeed doubly oppressed. Women, like poor and working class men, are oppressed by rich and powerful men, as well as by poor and working class men. Women bear the brunt of the convergence of class inequality and gender inequality. Thus, poverty affects more women than men, and the majority of the poor are women. Women, particularly working-class women (the majority), are segregated into so-called "pink collar" jobs that often do the same work as jobs reserved primarily for men, but make substantially less money. The difference between men's and women's social reality, however, is that men become much less the victim and more the agent of oppression, the higher they rise in the socioeconomic hierarchy. Women, on the other hand, continue to suffer gender-based oppression even if they are not largely subject to class-based oppression. As Mona Harrington in Women Lawyers correctly points out, sexual harrassment in particular actually increases as women move up in corporate hierarchies to occupy domains traditionally reserved to men.

Fascinated by the very existence of such a movement, I decided to do some research on these brave voices in the wilderness who struggle against the ignominious oppression that men have suffered since time immemorial at the hands of women.

Here are some of the more important battles being waged in the struggle for men's equality.

Stopping the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women: In a dual role, the Men's Movement opposes the Convention because it is not "what women want." For example, Article 1 of the Convention requires "equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. In fact, the standard by which the "elimination of discrimination against women" is measured is "equality with men." Such radical legislation will certainly be the end of us. The Men's Movement uses its unique understanding that women prefer to be subordinate to arrive at the insight that the "real victims" of sex discrimination in Afghanistan are men.

The Fight Against Feminine Evil: Feminine Evil, according to Men's Movement author and self-proclaimed "thinker" David Shackleton, is "closely analogous to the historical rise of Nazism in Germany. The resulting human misery and destruction is already massive, and seems likely to exceed that of WWII." Shackleton goes on to discuss the feminist paradise of 1950s family structure:

"{Women} are stepping into {power} roles as men are retreating and becoming wimpish. I grew up in a family like that. My mother ruled, and my father said 'yes'. That's very common--almost a stereotype for post-World War II marriages."

Immediately after World War II, according to Shackleton, "the mother became the parent who effectively wielded 'the power that mattered'."

"Feminism," Shackleton warns us, "is an evil ideology." "If feminism is indeed an ideology which is exploiting a ubiquitous 'mother wound', then the forms it has taken will exactly match and repeat the feminine forms of child abuse, just as Nazism matched the German masculine mode." This "evil" is illustrated by the feminist demand that women have the right to get an abortion, which is "not {a right} that men ever had." Yes, the untold story of men who get pregnant and can't obtain a legal abortion because of the evil feminists, who have limited this right to women for no other reason than that men can't get pregnant. Perhaps, taking this cue from the "men's rights movement", feminists should be demanding that women be given the right to get a vasectomy. Fair's fair.

Feminism is also evil because there is no discrimination against women anymore:

What about in other areas? In men's areas of traditional responsibility, the real equality issues -- the right to vote, laws against gender discrimination in employment, in salary, in housing, in access to professional roles--were addressed years ago.

The Men's Movement has a true talent for hyperbole, as evidenced by these paragraphs to the end of Shackleton's screed, which actually says that feminists are worse than the Nazis:

I can only guess how long this process will take: probably at least twenty years. Comparing it to the situation in Nazi Germany, two things stand out. The first is that the mother wound is deeper than the father wound, because our relationship with out mother is the first and deepest relationship we make. That, of course, is why we did the father work first--it was easier. And so the working out of the mother wound will be harder and more distressing, and perhaps require more suffering before we are finished with it. And the second thing is that there are no "allies" waiting in the wings to save us. We must do what Nazi Germany was unable to do: we must find the resources to recognize and to battle this evil from within our own culture, even while still possessed and blinded by the power of our mother wound. I don't know how we will do it, but I see no alternative.

I realize, as I write these words, that most will deny them, that it is no small thing for us to recognize the truth about the system that we are immersed in. It is as difficult as recognizing the truth about our families. Indeed, it is recognizing the truth about our families. This is not comfortably remote, like Nazism is now for most of us, but archetypally powerful in our psyches right now. It is significant, perhaps, that there was no effective resistance to Nazism within Germany, from the beginning to the end of the Third Reich. Consider what that means. Despite all of the atrocities, the loss of personal freedoms, the social and political abuses, and the massive financial and personal costs of the war, Nazism yet enjoyed apparent popular support throughout Germany until the end. Clearly, it satisfied a vital need. That is the kind of challenge that I believe we are facing.

Having had a look at some of the intellectual heavy hitters of the Men's Movement, let's look at some of the specific claims made by the movement, according to the original write-up on this subject.

"Custody laws and family courts are often stacked against men. It is rare that a man will win custody over a woman, even if it is shown that the father is the better parent.

This is, of course, ludicrous. "Actually, fathers do not do all that badly, vis-a-vis mothers, when they contest custody. Here, estimates vary widely, but it appears that in formally contested cases, women get custody only about half the time, or less." See e.g. Comparing Race and Sex Discrimination in Custody Cases, 28 Hofstra L. J. 877, 886 n.49. (noting also double standards applied against women in custody disputes)The courts have tended to prefer joint custody arrangements where feasible. Indeed, in the California study, men received some form of custody, ranging from sole custody to joint custody, 54.7% of the time. Similarly, in Utah, fathers prevailed and obtained joint custody in 51% of cases. Clearly, men are not getting disproportionately cut out of custody arrangements.

Since the specific claim is that "family courts are stacked against men," and that women "win" custody in a "disproportionate" number of cases, the statistics quoted above refer only to those cases in which custody is contested. There is a general policy in favour of accepting stipulations and agreed entries in custody cases without significant judicial inquiry. If there is no dispute, the system generally will rubber stamp the agreement. Thus, noncontested custody statistics are irrelevant.

It is exactly this flaw that inheres in plebius' use of statistics gathered by the CDC for the period of 1989-1990. Apart from the fact that the statistics cover only one year, no indication is given as to whether noncontested custody arrangements are included.

Starting with 1989 data collection, statistics were collected on physical custody of children involved in divorce. In 1990 the wife was awarded custody of the children 72 percent of the time in divorces in which custody was awarded. Joint custody was the second most common arrangement (16 percent), while husbands were awarded custody in 9 percent of divorces in 1990. Statistical information is obtained directly from the divorce certificates that are collected by the Vital Records Office from each State and the District of Columbia.

It is also worth noting that there are a number of other factors to take into account. For one thing, the primary caregiver for children is overwhelmingly the mother; given that the legal standard for custody decisions is "the best interests of the child", it is therefore unsurprising that courts would prefer to provide the children with the stability of the caregiver to whom they are accustomed, rather than thrusting upon them — in addition to the possible trauma of the divorce itself — the loss of one of the most important relationships in their lives. For another thing, as discussed below, domestic abuse — whether physical, sexual, and whether directed against the spouse or the children — is overwhelmingly committed by men. Furthermore, men often don't want custody to begin with, whether out of a desire to maintain stability in their children's lives or out of lack of interest. Given the lopsided realities of child caregiving and domestic abuse, it would be quite remarkable (not to say, disturbing) indeed if custody decisions were exactly 50/50.

More worrisome, however, is the worldview that underlies this complaint of the "men's rights movement". The underlying view of the child custody decision in play here is fundamentally childish, treating the decision of who is to care for a small human being as if it were a simple matter of resolving competing claims to property. Child custody does not — or should not, in any case — primarily turn on the right of one or the other parent to take possession of a child. Unlike equitable distribution issues — who gets the house, the cars, the stock portfolio, etc. — a child has rights and interests that must be taken into account in deciding who is to raise her. Children are not assets to be divvied up "fairly".

Since, according to the available data, fathers end up with some form of custody at least half of the time, we need not waste more time with the next contention ("Most importantly {sic}, though, is the treatment of non-custodial parents, who tend to be disproportionately male.")

The movement does not disavow the existance of domestic violence - just the way that feminists represent it. The movement points out that 30 years of studies have shown that domestic violence, contrary to what feminists have made common knowledge, is equally the province of men and women as abuser. As such, laws and policies that are predominately {sic} favorable to women in regards {sic} to domestic violence need to be changed.

According to the American Medical Association:

Both the NVAWS and the NCVS also provide data on intimate partner violence for men. In the NVAWS, parallel data were collected for 8000 men and 8000 women specifically to facilitate comparisons. The results indicate that about half again {sic} as many men as women had been physically assaulted in the previous 12 months; 3.15 million men had been physically assaulted and 90,000 raped. However, for men, such incidents were less likely to be the result of intimate partner violence. According to respondents to the NVAWS, only about one quarter of physically assaulted men (835,000) were by attacked by an intimate partner in that period. (The number of reported intimate partner rapes of males was too small to make reliable estimates.)

The NCVS similarly shows that men were less likely to be victims of intimate partner violence. The 1998 survey found about 157,000 cases of intimate partner violence directed against men. Like women, about two thirds of the cases of intimate partner violence were simple assaults. For men, most of the remaining cases were aggravated assaults whereas women were at substantial risk of rape and robbery by their intimate partners. The overall rate of intimate partner violence for men was about 146 cases per 100,000, which was about one fifth the rate for women (767 per 100,000). The figure for men has remained rather stable throughout the period 1993 to 1998, while for women the rate has declined about 21%.

Murder by an intimate partner is a rare event for both men and women, with 0.5 cases per 100,000 men and 0.8 cases per 100,000 women. At the same time, intimate partner homicide made up only 4% of the murders of men but fully one third of the murders of women. This pattern holds across all types of violence as reported in the NCVS: women are more likely to be victimized by a nonstranger—a friend, family member, or intimate partner—than men, who are more likely to experience violence at the hands of a stranger.

Report 7 of the Council on Scientific Affairs, Violence Between Intimates

Similarly hard to take seriously is the Movement's call for

Sexual Harassment Reform: While nobody is disputing that quid pro quo sexual harassment is wrong, the movement takes issue with laws that define sexual harassment as the creation of "hostile work environments". Such laws cast a chill over the workplace, as stray comments to the wrong person may be taken as harassment, and could cost a person their job. In addition, such laws are unfair as they protect only one segment of society from a problem while allowing others to be subjected to the same problem - after all, hostility is NOT just subject to gender differences, but can be based on all sorts of differences.

The movement seeks here to have laws that allow for nebulous and subjective definitions of sexual harassment repealed, while keeping the laws regarding
quid pro quo harassment intact.

It's rather difficult to know where to start on this one. However, the definition of a hostile work environment might be a worthwile starting point:

{I}n order to be actionable under the statute, a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so. We directed courts to determine whether an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive by "looking at all the circumstances," including the "frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance." Most recently, we explained that Title VII does not prohibit "genuine but innocuous differences in the ways men and women routinely interact with members of the same sex and of the opposite sex." A recurring point in these opinions is that "simple teasing," offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the "terms and conditions of employment."

These standards for judging hostility are sufficiently demanding to ensure that Title VII does not become a "general civility code." Properly applied, they will filter out complaints attacking "the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language, gender-related jokes, and occasional teasing." We have made it clear that conduct must be extreme to amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment, and the Courts of Appeals have heeded this view.

Farragher v. Boca Raton
, 524 U.S. 775, 787-788 (1998)

In other words, a "hostile work environment" must (1) be both perceived by the plaintiff and by a "reasonable person" as hostile , (2) be sufficiently severe and pervasive as to change the "terms and conditions of employment." Only then will sexual harrassment be deemed sufficient to create a "hostile work environment." Stray comments and run-of-the-mill banter simply don't cut it.

But wouldn't we be better off doing away with this "hostile work environment" stuff and sticking to easy-to-prove quid pro quo harrassment claims?

The answer to the above question is yes, if, by "we," you mean "persons who enjoy sexually abusing coworkers but have nothing employment-related to offer in return." Quid pro quo sexual harrassment describes the case in which a coworker, usually a supervisor, makes an employment-related benefit, such as a promotion, conditioned on sexual favours, or threatens the plaintiff with an employment-related detriment, such as a demotion, for failure to perform such sexual favours.

However, for everyone else, limiting sexual harrassment to quid pro quo situations would severely limit their protection under federal antidiscrimination law. The typical case of hostile work environment sexual harrassment is hardly "nebulous." Usually, it involves a coworker or supervisor repeatedly, over a long period of time, making unwanted sexual advances toward the plaintiff, uninvitedly touching the plaintiff's erogenous zones, and/or forcibly raping the plaintiff with the knowledge and acquiescence of the employer. Certainly, imposing liability on companies that tolerate such treatment of their employees does "chill" some workplace behaviour, but I don't think we're any worse off for making employers reluctant to condone sexual assault.

It's also been argued that "hostile work environment" sexual harrassment should be eliminated not because of what the law says, but because of what employers think it says. This is what is meant by the "de facto" definition of "sexual harrassment." This is a rather curious argument. If employers are getting the law wrong as it is, the obvious solution would be to educate them. Changing the law won't help if people don't understand it anyway.

To sum it up, the "Men's Rights Movement" has a lot of balls.

POSTSCRIPT:It's been suggested that my remarks on sexual harrassment suggest that there is no sexual harrassment of men or that, when it does occur, it is not a serious matter. I'd like to make clear that I was responding simply to the proposal that we legalise non-quid pro quo sexual harrassment of both genders (sexual harrassment laws protect men, too). Obviously, men are sometimes the victims of sexual harrassment, and there is certainly nothing to be gained from eliminating remedies for sexual harrassment that protect men and women.