I am amazed to see that an online echo chamber of hatred has managed to gain a mountain of mixed attention, while a group of well-funded pro-lifers who picket an abortion clinic for the express purpose of sexually harassing women in the streets has not. I am referring, of course, to the postering campaign for “men’s rights”, which stirred up a lot of emotion and controversy. And incited me to a critical breach of sarcasm.
Well, somehow or other, a freelance writer emerged to investigate the matter and interview someone about it for OpenFile.ca. The writer, Derek Bedry, found one of my female friends, who invited a mutual female friend of ours along for the interview after I volunteered to join in. We met at a coffee shop just a block away from the highly controversial construction site where at least a couple of conflicts have erupted between MRAs, a few of my friends, and construction workers at the site. He was very courteous, attentive, and professional, and did not attempt to twist what we had to say in any particular manner while asking us follow-up questions. I was actually worried that some of what I said might be taken wildly out of context, and republished in a misleading manner. But that actually didn’t happen:
“It’s really just an echo chamber of misogyny and hatred of women in general,” said Jamie James, who has sparred with Vancouver MRA members in the blogosphere. “This self-victimization that women are evil and trying to tear down men, when you confront these ideas, people sometimes realize that isn’t what they meant when they said they support this movement.”
It didn’t take long before one of the locally run websites published an article attacking Bedry’s journalistic integrity, even going so far as to claim that a photo of a friend of mine tearing down an MRM poster is of Derek Bedry “manufacturing” the news he’s reporting. Because Bedry acknowledges in the above article that both Marc Lepine and Anders Breivik committed terrorist acts fueled by a hatred of women and a radical political opposition to feminism — the very sort of rhetoric and dogma espoused by the voices and activists of the men’s rights movement — MRAs decided to target him first for trolling and then for smearing. But it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to conclude that Lepine and Breivik are linked, through their misogynist and anti-feminist political beliefs, to the movement that promotes the very same dogmatic beliefs that pushed both men (who were already at the brink of a complete breakdown) to pick up a gun and shoot women.
It’s the men’s rights movement. It’s full of rhetoric that blames feminists for patriarchy, and women for problems created and maintained by men discriminating against women. It doesn’t matter that the men’s rights movement doesn’t explicitly promote violence as an answer to anything, because their words incite both non-violent persons to non-violent acts (such as postering an entire street with denials of misogyny), and those who are already violently predisposed to pick up a gun or start building bombs.
Does that mean that individual men’s rights activists are to blame for the actions of a man they never even knew about until he had committed a terrorist act? Fuck no. Don’t be absurd. Does it mean that as a collective, they are partially to blame, for having promoted hatred that would embolden such a man to the point that he actually wrote an anti-feminist manifesto as part of his suicide note on the morning of his murder spree? Yes it fucking does! Is the FBI going to bust the door down in the Houston home of a men’s rights activist when a random terrorist leaves an anti-feminist-manifesto-suicide-note in the wake of murdering dozens of people before taking his own life in Montreal or Oslo? No. But are people going to be even more angry with every individual men’s rights activist if they flat-out deny the existence of a connection instead of being as responsible as they are arrogant, by acknowledging that what happened is a tragedy and that the ideas they espouse are contributing to tragedies like these? Yes. Are people going to hammer on this point (among many, many other grievances) until men’s rights activists get the memo and change the fucking record? Goddamnit, yes. Yes, we fucking will.
It’s just like how erotica will incite both non-violent persons to non-violent internal and external behaviours (such as a guilt complex for jerking off alone, or for cheating on an established sexual partner), and violently predisposed persons to violent internal and external behaviours (such as seeking out a gradual escalation in the magnitude of depicted violence, or acting out in increasingly violent behaviours towards sexual partners). Does anyone hold the “porn industry” partially to blame for violent sexual assaults against women; and the existence of a dominant set of cultural beliefs that assert that if a woman is raped, she’s either lying or asked for it? You fucking bet they do! Is anyone going to arrest Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt the next time a murderer’s home is searched and found to contain towers of Playboy and Hustler magazines? No. Are people going to be even angrier with them than they already are, when they fail to acknowledge the tragedy, but instead (when pressed) deny the link between violence against women and the publications they own which explicitly aim to objectify women? Yes! And will people continue to hammer on these points among many, many other grievances, until the porn industry changes the way it depicts sexuality? Goddamnit, yes. Yes, we fucking will.
Some feminists will outright oppose all erotica and pornography, arguing that it objectifies women (e.g., Andrea Dworkin — see how William Parent rebukes this claim, by reading a book about feminist philosophy some time). Some feminists will say “Wait a second. Sex workers are women too,” and try to offer viable and safe alternatives for sex workers to continue to work in the industry, but with the end goal of producing erotica and pornography that empowers women instead of objectifying them. See also: the difference between a sex-negative feminist and a sex-positive feminist.
And like the feminist “sex wars” struggles, some feminists will want to permanently censor men’s rights activists and the rhetoric of their movement, while some would prefer to give them just enough rope to hang themselves with. This brings me back to Derek Bedry and the interview I participated in, about these posters. As a group, we considered and discussed the potential benefits, alternatives, and harms associated with going to the press when the posters first emerged. And as a group, we could not reach a consensus. While some argued that any attention we help cast on the men’s rights movement is just feeding the trolls, others (myself included) argued that it is to a much greater benefit that they are exposed for the trolls they are while alternative arguments are offered concerning what feminism is really about. Ultimately, none of us tipped the press off, because we couldn’t agree. They found us anyway:
And like our disagreements over whether or not to tip the press off, we disagreed about how to address the posters. While some argued in favour of tearing them down, painting and writing over them, and/or postering right over them; others (myself included) argued in favour of leaving them up and postering next to them. While some argued in favour of very lengthy and even technical or scientific facts on our posters, others (myself included) argued in favour of very concise and even sarcastic statements on our posters. Ultimately, we used all of these tactics (among others), because we couldn’t agree. And then one of my friends decided to invite a couple of local men’s rights activists to a debate panel for a moderated discussion of whether or not feminism has gone “too far”, before successfully confirming any feminist speakers of the female sex.
She received hate mail and threats by private messages (which she will be reporting to police); and was publicly bullied, shamed, and silenced by a number of my friends and fellow activists. There was talk of boycotting and picketing the space in which the debate was to be held, and she was accused of perpetrating misogyny and hate-mongering by the very act of positing the question, “Has feminism gone too far?” and confirming the first two speakers for the affirmative side of the debate — a total panel of six people was being planned for the event: three for the affirmative (i.e., it’s gone too far), and three for the negative (i.e., it hasn’t gone too far as a whole; if anything, it hasn’t gone far enough). While some argued that this was creating a space to allow the airing of hatred, some (myself included) argued that this was creating an opportunity to give the affirmative side just enough rope to hang itself with (e.g., it’s now illegal to menstruate in Arizona because personhood begins at ovulation — how the fuck has feminism gone too far?) The event organizer has since cancelled it and deleted the event page itself.
Ultimately, what happened is exactly what men’s rights activists wanted to happen (what they would have done if we hadn’t beat them to it): feminists attacked each other* and shut down the opportunity to engage with local members of the men’s rights movement. Some made absolutely absurd arguments, showing any MRA who was watching that we don’t know how to respectfully disagree. And now they can complain that we aren’t committed to freedom of speech, too, or that we don’t respect democracy, and that we go too far to ensure that the men’s rights arguments are never heard. We’ve become our own trolls. Why do we even need MRAs if this is how we’re going to handle a debate we’re not interested in attending? Especially one which was clearly for the benefit of the greater public, not the feminist community members who have already heard the men’s rights arguments and know that the answer to the question being asked is a resounding NO.
* Update: Since it seems unclear to some of the feminists who were involved in passionate disagreements on the event page, let me make this as clear as possible. These conversations — the bullying, the silencing, the shaming — were happening all over Facebook. Many people were engaged in these attacks, and many (though not all) of them self-identify as feminists. Rest assured, word spread far and wide, and what I have stated is not a criticism of individual people, but of behaviours that represent a fairly serious problem.
But fear not! Jezebel’s own anti-joke chicken was on top of this too, smearing my friend’s name and making sure anyone else who wants to can continue to send her threats and hate mail, by linking her full name to her Facebook profile. The best part is, she didn’t even have all her facts straight before writing this time (not like she did the last time I felt compelled to include a reference to her in my writing, either). She just enthusiastically paints my friend as a hate-monger who had exactly zero plans of providing a balanced debate with female and feminist speakers. I’m just so glad that I suddenly seem like I’m doing a more professional job than an established writer at a well-known blog. So glad, I could punch a puppy. Thanks for that, Katie.