What's wrong with men's rights?

Sunday 23 October, 12.00 - 13.00 , Frobisher 4-6 Gender Wars

In Association With:

Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

19 November is International Men’s Day. Last year in the UK this was the focus of a headline-grabbing spat in parliament and a major university controversy. More broadly, a nascent men’s rights movement, with men’s support groups, demands for a men’s minister, and its own ‘meninist’ theory attempting to draw attention to a variety of woes specifically afflicting men. Significantly, it is now moving beyond the margins to be taken seriously. MRAs (men’s rights activists) raise reasonable concerns about high male suicide rate, men’s shorter life expectancy and the negative portrayals of fathers, men and boys in adverts etc, as well as the underachievement of white, working-class boys. Dylan Jones, in his new book Manxiety, talks of a world in which ‘men feel slighted…Diminished by feminists, mocked by their peers and ridiculed by the media’. Some go further, alleging that the state has become explicitly ‘anti-male’; that the feminist establishment ‘hates men’.

Critics are scathing. No sooner had male students at the University of York successfully campaigned for a campus event to mark International Men’s Day last year, when a backlash began. Hundreds of academics and students signed an open letter declaring: ‘We believe that men’s issues cannot be approached in the same way as unfairness and discrimination towards women, because women are structurally unequal to men’. When Conservative MP for Shipley Philip Davies, ‘in the spirit of gender equality’, pitched a debate on men’s issues in parliament last year, Labour MP Jess Phillips burst out laughing. It is argued that rather than men really being ‘left behind’ by an increasingly feminised society, the men’s rights lobby is over-reacting to a welcome redressing of the balance of the sexes. Others complain that MRAS as simply playing Oppression Olympics in an attempt to beat feminism at its own game, less a backlash against feminism than its mirror image. Meanwhile, the much vaunted Beta Rebellion of disturbed and withdrawn young male introverts, loners and nerds, with their sub-culture of ‘internet, killing zombies, movies, music, reading’ is seen by some as a corrective to a damaging idealised masculinity, while others see only anti-feminist online abuse and misogynist trolling.

Could it be time for a men’s movement that encourages men to ‘fight back’ or are claims that men are being downtrodden exaggerated?  Are traditional notions of ‘masculinity’ the real problem, with too much pressure applied to men to be robust and emotionally closed down? In an age in which women’s equality is finally being realised should we really be worried if men – who once uncritically accepted their label as the intrinsically superior sex -  appear to be lagging behind? How should people interested in equality understand and relate to the rise of men’s rights activism?