Explainer: What's an MRA?

From time to time, it's good to remember that not everyone knows the lingo of the feminist and pro-feminist folks here at the Village of Shakes. In an ongoing quest to educate our readership, I want to take the time to explain a term I've thrown around liberally: MRA.

What is an MRA?

He's a Men's Rights Activist, part of the broader Men's Rights Movement. He--

Wait, wait. "Men's Rights Movement?"

Yes.

Is that like the "National Association for the Advancement of White People" or the folks who think the Christian Right is oppressed?

Yes, the Men's Rights Movement is the same kind of animal. All of these groups share a common worldview, that the traditionally oppressed groups, be they women, minorities, or non-Christians, have somehow seized control of the country and are systematically denying the straight, white, Christian men their rights.

That's insane!

Well, yes, but don't ignore the reason for the pushback: men's traditional privileges really are under attack. It's just that these rights, like the right to beat and rape your wife with impunity, are anathema to a truly free and equitable society.

So they agitate for the right to rape and assault?

Not in so many words. But the MRAs do certainly seem preoccupied by the loss of that privilege. Look at the Glenn Sacks/Helen Smith interview we talked about early this week. It was all about how the Violence Against Women Act is a debacle for men, because, they say, men get sent to jail unfairly in domestic disputes. VAWA is a traditional hobby-horse for the MRA set.

Does this explain the obsession with the Duke Rape Case?

Yep. The Duke Rape Case is a rallying cry because, according to the MRAs, it proves that men are constantly being falsely accused of rape. Never mind that in this case, charges were dropped -- it's proof of a biased system, according to the MRAs, which is why they believe that women should be charged for rape allegations that don't result in convictions.

What?!? Wouldn't that radically curtail the number of real reports of rape that women make?

Well, yes. That's the point. It's the same reason that any discussion of date rape or contraception is instantly decried as "legislating sex" and "requiring a contract for touching." MRAs would like the option of putting a toe (or other body part) over the line once in a while without fear that they'll end up going to jail.

So are MRAs concerned about anything other than raping and beating women?

Oh, sure -- they also don't want to pay child support. There's a huge segment of MRAdom that's fed by divorced men angry that their ex got custody of the kids, and now they have to fork over money to support them.

Why would that be?

Well, for some men, it's the "she's taking my money" thing. They would have been much more comfortable in the 1800s when all marital property belonged to the man of the house, and divorce meant penury for the woman. Now assets are divided evenly, and the custodial parent gets support to pay for the kids. And the custodial parent is usually the mother.

Well, that is sort of unfair. Shouldn't it fall equally?

In a truly just and equitable society, it would. But we don't live in a truly just and equitable society. Women end up as the primary caregiver most of the time. And the custody system is designed to favor the primary caregiver in awarding custody. If men were more often the primary caregivers, they would more often win custody.

You mentioned divorced families. What about unmarried men who father children?

Well, funny you should mention that. The MRAs are big into the Choice for Men concept.

What is that?

They believe that men should be able to opt out of being fathers to a child if they want to.

Wha--?

Yeah, I know. Their argument is that women can get abortions, but men don't have control of pregnancy after their semen leaves their bodies, so men should have an abortion-like option of legally terminating paternity in order to get out of paying child support.

But--but--don't women actually go through pregnancy?

Ah, yes, but you're applying logic. The law right now says that what happens in your body is your business. I'm free to go get a vasectomy if I want to avoid fathering any more children, for example. But a fetus is contained inside a woman; if that ever changes, I suppose men would have the right to abortions for any children they carry to term. But given that child support is for the child, not for the mother, it seems a bit ridiculous to give men an opt-out clause.

You brought up abortion--I'm guessing the MRAs aren't exactly pro-choice, are they?

They're pro-choice for men. They think, by and large, that abortion is fine, if it gets them out of fatherhood when they want to, and they think, by and large, that abortion is evil if it keeps them from being fathers when they want to. They're big fans of spousal notification laws, and as you can see by the "Choice for Men" rhetoric, they're also big fans of having the legal system help them manipulate women into terminating pregnancies that they would otherwise carry to term.

So is there anything that the MRAs have a legitimate point on?

They're right about the fact that society in general views a "successful father" as a guy who brings home the bacon, not a guy who cares for his kids. Of course, for most MRA's, that's just a way of complaining about child support, but they're right that the law struggles to balance the interests of both parents in child custody cases. (Of course, as Liss reminded me, while women are usually given physical custody, in contested cases men have a better-than-even chance of getting some form of custody. And while joint physical custody is rare, joint legal custody is the norm in all but a few cases, contested or no.)

Of course, if fathers are undervalued as caregivers, it's for the same reason that women are undervalued as employees -- because neither fits the model of what men and women are "supposed to do."

How do you solve that?

With the novel idea that men and women should be able to map out their own destinies, free from being directed on what they're "supposed to do." It's a political ideology called "feminism." The MRAs with legitimate gripes would be well-served to embrace feminism. But given the overall hatred of women woven into the fabric of the movement, I won't hold my breath.

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