Should men embrace feminism?

Just recently I’ve been marshalling my thoughts about the male view of feminism. Should men engage with feminism, take an active part in it, even call themselves feminists? I’ve come to this topic at least partly as a result of a bizarre, distressing sequence of events that happened to me over the past year.

First off, I’ll present a dissenting view. Stuart Sorensen is a blogger with whom I rarely disagree. His training resources and opinion pieces on mental health are of consistently high quality, and he is clearly a very decent guy who cares passionately about improving the care received by people who use mental health services. But if I agree with him on mental health, I have to disagree with his views on feminism.

I support the rights of all people but because of reactions such as this I and a great many men cannot support feminism. This is not because I disagree with womens’ rights but because I cannot & will not ally myself with this sort of bigoted, superficial reasoning.

At its heart feminism has some very laudable aims which I do support. But I’ll never call myself feminist because I don’t want my support for reasonable political principles to be hijacked by those who seem determined to maintain a divide between the sexes.

In all fairness to Sorensen, his view on feminism has been coloured by an unpleasant experience where he’d been falsely accused of domestic abuse by a former partner. Also to be fair, the feminist movement does have its nasty extremes. Only last week, there was an uproar on Twitter about the RadFem2012 conference, which plans not only to ban men from the premises, but also transgender women who were born as men. A classic case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.

I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to any demonisation of men (or transgender people, for that matter). I don’t think men have to apologise for being men, and I certainly don’t think men accused of abuse should be considered guilty until proven innocent. But feminism is a broad church, not a narrow ideology. If I would reject the bigots of RadFem2012, I would also accept that certain branches of feminism contain little, if anything, that I would disagree with. Sex-positive feminism, for example, echoes a lot of my views on gender, sexuality and censorship.

I suspect, ultimately, my disagreement with Stuart Sorensen may amount to little more than a semantic debate about what does or doesn’t constitute feminism, rather than any dispute about how people should be treated.

If it was a nasty set of events that propelled Sorensen away from feminism, it was an equally unpleasant experience that has recently drawn me towards it. A couple of years ago I was editing a group blog called Mental Nurse, which had developed a reputation (which I like to think was deserved) for campaigning for the rights of people with mental health problems, and for challenging stigma. At the time that the site closed in March 2011, it was one of the UK’s most popular mental health blogs.

In August 2010, somebody e-mailed me a link to an article about borderline personality disorder, written by an American psychologist. The tone of the article shocked me.

Cluster B’s aren’t “mentally ill” like Schizophrenics and Bipolars are mentally ill. Schizophrenics and Bipolars can’t control their bizarre thoughts, behaviors, impulses and/or hallucinations without medication and deserve our compassion and sympathy. Many self-identified BPD’s and other Cluster B’s plaintively bleat the following statements with great regularity:

“But I can’t help the way I am!”

“I didn’t ask to be BPD!” (Reminds me of a disaffected teen shouting, “I didn’t ask to be born!” Yeah, well, you’re here now, so what’re you gonna do about it?)….

Instead, let’s call them what they are; sociopaths. All the Cluster B disorders are just similar flavors of sociopathy. Giving Cluster B individuals and their ilk the protective cloak of “mental illness” provides them with a “get out of jail free card” and allays our existential dilemma on the concept of evil. Instead, we tell ourselves, “She has problems. She’s sick. We have to be patient and understanding.”…

There’s a lobby of BPD activists who want the psychiatric community to change the term “Borderline Personality Disorder” to Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. Aside from having to edit all of my previous posts, I say a rose by any other name would still have nasty, hooky little thorns. Pardon my language, but I think the terms crazy asshole, mean jerk, toxic person or bad person are better than diagnostic labels. Why? Because everyone knows that you should avoid crazy assholes at all costs and whenever possible.

This is stigma. Pure and simple. And against a very vulnerable group of people. I don’t believe people with borderline personality disorder are simply bad people. As a CAMHS practioner, I’m a strong believer in early interventions, getting them into therapy at a young age to help them to develop the coping skills in order to function with life.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the psychologist in question was part of what’s come to be known as the “Manosphere”. They go by various names – the Mens Rights Movement, Mens Rights Activists, Men Going Their Own Way. They advance a view that men are emasculated in contemporary society, by feminism, by false allegations of rape and so on. The psychologist’s rant against borderline personality disorder was intended as a warning about the dangers of manipulative or deceitful female partners.

Whatever one thinks about such a viewpoint, these Mens Rights Activists (MRAs for short) have an unfortunate tendency to come out with statements can be, quite frankly, vile, to an extent that they have come to the attention of anti-hate organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

There are literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums devoted to attacking virtually all women (or, at least, Westernized ones)…While some of them voice legitimate and sometimes disturbing complaints about the treatment of men, what is most remarkable is the misogynistic tone that pervades so many. Women are routinely maligned as sluts, gold-diggers, temptresses and worse; overly sympathetic men are dubbed “manginas”; and police and other officials are called their armed enablers.

For an eye-opening (and frequently hilarious) primer on the antics of the Manosphere, I highly recommend David Futrelle’s Manboobz (Warning: possible abuse triggers) blog, which documents and mocks online misogyny.

I didn’t know about the wider Manosphere back then. I just knew that I was reading a spectacularly hateful article by a self-proclaimed mental health professional. Some British women attempted to debate with the psychologist on her (yes, her – the Manosphere has a Women’s Auxiliary) blog, and got some very obnoxious replies for their trouble.

As tends to happen when a bunch of British people come across a bunch of Americans being not only very nasty but also with a total lack of self-awareness, the result was a minor explosion of mickey-taking, on the Mental Nurse site, on other blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter. After Mental Nurse started being described by the MRAs as “the primary enabler site”, several people amended their Facebook profiles to read “Mental Nurse is my primary enabler”. Admittedly some of the ridiculing did become rather juvenile and silly, but no worse than many of the regular Twitterstorms that erupt whenever somebody says or does something offensive.

A couple of months later, when we’d by and large forgotten all about it, the Mental Nurse site got an e-mail from a UK solicitor, who had been hired by the psychologist, demanding damages and information about various people who she held responsible, including me. We then did what most people do when they get a legal nastygram – we bricked ourselves and backed down on the spot. All references to the psychologist were removed from the site, we e-mailed other people to warn them to take stuff down, and then my co-editor e-mailed the solicitor asking him for an update on the situation. We got no reply.

No response? Fair enough, we’ve had a nasty letter intended to scare us and scour her Google rankings of anything negative about her. That seems to be the end of it.

Or that’s what we thought.

What followed was a long saga in which the psychologist – initially entirely unkown to any of us – went to extraordinary and expensive lengths to track down the people who had ridiculed her views – sending solicitors letters to domain providers, hiring bailiffs to go to peoples’ homes, obtaining court orders for internet providers to reveal peoples’ addresses.

In February 2011 she found someone, and submitted a court claim against him. Bizarrely, the defendant was in Scotland, but the claim was submitted in England. It was struck out on the spot on jurisdiction grounds, and never went to court.

The defendant was concerned that she might try again to sue him in Scotland, and decided to write to her solicitor and offer a settlement. He had taken legal advice and been assured that she had no case. Even so, the eye-watering amounts of money needed to fight civil litigation mean that it’s not at all unusual for people with good defences to cave in rather than risk being bankrupted by the cost of fighting.

Fast forward to June – I and two other people got e-mails from the defendant. The claimant wanted our personal details as a condition of settlement. Did we consent to our details being handed over? We all wrote back refusing consent.

In July, one of the other two people got a letter from her solicitor to his. It transpired the identities had been passed to her as demanded. I don’t blame the guy for doing so. He was just trying to protect himself and his family. To his credit, there was one identity that he didn’t reveal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s the person who he regarded as the most vulnerable if publicly outed.

This second defendant was entitled to Legal Aid, and so was able to fight. There was a court hearing, and the judge ruled that the psychologist’s claim was so riddled with errors (both factual and procedural) that she would have to re-draft it, pay for wasted court time and also pay a deposit sufficient to cover the defence costs if she were to lose. Predictably, she never showed up to the next hearing, and that was that.

She now owes an absolutely ridiculous sum of money in legal costs. Naturally I would never indulge in Schadenfreude.

By encountering this woman and her MRA goons, I feel like I’ve stared hate in the eyes. I’ve had nearly a year of living in fear, experiencing anxiety, nightmares, thinking every estate agent that parked up on my street was a bailiff hired to look for me.

Hate needs to be challenged. This mens rights “movement” is an affront not just to women but to common human decency. That is why I now think it’s right that men should align themselves with feminism.

Do I think there should be a Mens Auxiliary of the kind imagined by Valerie Solanas, in which men are expected to repeat, “I am a turd, a lowly, abject turd”? No. Men are entitled to proudly and unapologetically be men. Just not at the expense of women.

For feminism to truly succeed, there needs to be a cognitive and behavioural shift in men. We need to be willing to challenge assumptions, both in ourselves and others. I commend Manboobz author David Futrelle for doing exactly that, in a very educational and entertaining way.

I’ll say it now. I am Zarathustra, I am a man, and I am a feminist. To the psychologist who’s occupied my mind so much over this past year, I say this. I owe this conversion to you.

18 thoughts on “Should men embrace feminism?

  1. Hi Zarathustra. You wrote..

    ” For feminism to truly succeed, there needs to be a cognitive and behavioural shift in men. We need to be willing to challenge assumptions, both in ourselves and others. I commend Manboobz author David Futrelle for doing exactly that, in a very educational and entertaining way.”
    I would put it a little differently….

    ‘For equality & human rights for all to succeed we all need to come together and challenge any and every excuse that may be used to divide humanity.’

    Feminism seems to me to be an unnecessart subdivision that risks dividing the larger human rights & equality movement. I believe in equality which, in my view makes feminism as unnecessary as the mens’ movement you described.

    Why can’t we just be happy with human rights & leave the divisive sectarianism behind us.

    • Hi Stuart

      As suggested earlier, I don’t actually think the difference of opinion is any kind of disagreement about how people should be treated. More a semantic disagreement about the wording.

      However the way one wants to word it, I suspect that we’re both against hate and discrimination.

  2. Wonderful and thoughtful post Zarathustra which explains a few things like why your previous blog ceased to continue.

    On feminism and any other sort of ism, discrimination is the key but so too is the label and getting rid of the label does not get rid of the discrimination. Defining who we are as individuals helps us to make sense of our own little worlds, labelling ourselves in such a way makes us all vulnerable but proud to be who we are. Stuart and I ( who I know and deeply respect most of his views and ideas) have disagreed on this point before. So will not try to prove it again.

    Feminism simply makes us aware that people can have different views ( and needs) and more importantly that each and every one of us have a human right to express our ideas and needs however distasteful they might be. If you deny the voice you deny the choice.

    Feminism represents a group of people who believe that women have been denied a voice in the past, and have campaigned often with their lives, for a better future for women across the world. Using an umbrella term like discrimination runs the risk of those who cannot shout loudest not being heard at all. We can see this from where small charities become large corporate organisations, blocking out any other groups from obtaining funding. They often morph into corporate/big society speak very quickly so that they eventually present themselves no differently to the organisations they set out to oppose. Yes they still oppose discrimination but they have lost the voice of the people they originally set out to represent – Peter Beresford has done a lot of work on this within mental health service user involvement.

  3. The Men’s Rights Movement can get a room with the RadFems, and the rest of us can combine Feminism with all the other ism‘s and make out like a 1970’s Coca Cola advertisement.

  4. Thanks for this. It’s a great post. Agree with politicalnurse too here. Thanks.

  5. I was sorry you backed down, it only encourages sociopaths, sorry Cluster Bs, like Dr **** to sue on spec. – it’s a very common strategy adopted in the USA by the financially and ethically bankrupt, rather like stealing the leprecauns’ crock of gold. As with those who rip off the Little People, those who adopt this despicable practice can end up in severe pain. In the case of this psychologist, unless she coughs up 20 grand she is liable to be arrested for Contempt of Court should she re-enter this country. Still, I can understand why you took what appeared to be the cautious path. The trouble is, the blackmailer always comes back for more. I noted various cyber problems with Mental Nurse at the time and tended to attribute them to disciples of our Dear Little Friend with or without her direct knowledge.

    But look here, Dr Psyvychologist is a woman, or so she claims. But she t’rerats’
    members of the manosphere (or wimposphere, maybe) for money. How does that work out? Hmm, very dodgy, I’d say.

    BTW if spelling or punctuation have gone wonky in the second partf this post I apologise. WordPress has put my details on top of the text so I’m guessing.

    BTW2. “childish?” Nah, bloody hilarious!

    • See what I mean? I was trying to type ‘treats’. Still, maybe sho does t’rerat’ people as well. It’s obviously a new therapy I hadn’t heard of before. 😉

    • Better than US dollars. It’s c. $34,000. It could rise on further battles. First-time around I worked it out after 2mg Loraz and 7.5mg of Zopi, as about $50,000. I didn’t show my working – no idea how I came up with the figure.

      Backing down? No. I am one of those annoying little people that think we know the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. And write letters to the editor of the Telegraph to remind them.

      She was wrong – not grand enough to be called evil; a capitalised Bad fits. She needed to be stood-up to – in her own words “When you allow a narcissistic woman to determine reality, you’re letting one of the inmates take control of the asylum”.

      I already have enough incompetents staffing my psychiatric ward and the ginger would clash terribly with the light blue and eau-de-nile of the walls.

      juvenile and silly – Since we are, in terms of majority consensual reality, all nutters, this should not have come as a surprise to you.

  6. Ah, so my nosiness is finally satisfied. The internet is a mad, mad place sometimes.
    On the feminism thing…I believe in equality between men and women. I do think sometimes men have a hard time. I think women are more likely to have a hard time. I think, that as an allegedly thinking person I should support equal treatment for all. I’m not really bothered whether we use the term feminism or another, although for handy shorthand I would say I am a feminist.
    I try to stay away from men’s rights things as I find them rather horrible really. The language and tone used when describing women makes me ill. While not as extreme as the MRAs (although there is some overlap) you find misogyny alive and well in the Christian community too – which is another problem I struggle with.
    Anyway, Z, glad I’ve found your blog.

    • Could you consider describing yourself as ‘inclusive’ or ‘fair-minded’ instead?
      Don’t waste too much time trying to square human rights with the Abrahamic religions. The Old Testament (which the NT supports) is all about using the bronze age God of war to justify discrimination, control, slavery and other forms of abuse & violent ethnic cleansing.

      Ironically my lack of mysogyny was one of the reason I rejected Christianity

      • Nah, that’s Baal. Much of the OT is about the choice between relating to God as a master (‘baal’) of slaves or as a tender lover (‘ishi’). Yes, sure, people get it wrong. That’s because they’re people. 🙂

  7. Awesome piece.

    In my experience, the MRA position is one of misplaced blame. Men are in many ways emasculated in society, but not by feminists. Men emasculate each other (and themselves) far more effectively than women ever could. It’s ironic that this emasculation actually is driven mostly by patriarchal notions of masculinity as being about power and aggression – the very things feminists are fighting. If only they could see the wood from the trees, they would recognise a common enemy.

  8. Hello to you all on this site,
    We are all born equal, so there should be no need for labels.

  9. Pingback: Boys and Girls Come Out To Play | It's Just a Ride

  10. Pingback: Psychosis vs Dissociation | At the Mountains of Madness

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