When many people think of the men’s rights movement, the image that springs to mind is lonely men lurking in chat rooms and railing against women. But in recent years, a group of brash, witty female activists has taken up the cause. And some of them are emerging as the movement’s leading voices. It may seem counterintuitive that women would be helping drive the conversation about a movement that’s fighting anti-male discrimination and campaigning fiercely against feminism. But according to Dean Esmay of the men’s rights organization A Voice for Men, the fact that they shatter expectations is what makes them such good emissaries. “People want to believe we’re a bunch of sad, pathetic losers who can’t get laid and are just bitter because our wives left us,” Esmay explains. “The very presence of women in the movement creates cognitive dissonance.” Often, he adds, this dissonance makes people more receptive than they otherwise would be.
Who are these women men’s rights activists? And why do the embrace a movement that some see as blatantly misogynistic? Below is a rundown of key players. A few of them, including Janet Bloomfield, who was the focus of a recent in Vice News article, have been in the spotlight recently. Others are virtually unknown to the mainstream, but within the movement they’re seen as luminaries.
Karen Straughan: The YouTube Sensation
Karen Straughan Illustrated by Alison Tieman, courtesy of A Voice for Men
In late 2011, Straughan, a foul-mouthed fortysomething Canadian waitress and mother of three, sat down at her kitchen table and began ruminating about the sexes: “I keep hearing from the feminist camp that femaleness has always been undervalued. But I’ve always contended that it’s the exact opposite…If it comes down to a man and a woman in a burning building and you can only save one, the expectation is that you choose the woman every single time. So honestly, whose humanity are we placing above whose?” She then posted a video of her talk on YouTube, where it has racked up more than a million views.
Straughan, who has a brazen air and a taste for ribbed tank tops (a.k.a. “wife beaters”), has since become one of the most visible faces of the men’s rights movement. She has nearly 70,000 YouTube subscribers. Often, she says, she gets emails from men around the world who stumble on her videos and spend hours on end binge watching. The firebrand vlogger, who wrote erotic fiction as a sideline before getting involved in men’s rights, also helped launch the Honey Badger Brigade, a ragtag group of female men’s rights activists. This summer, when protesters threatened to shut down A Voice for Men’s first conference in Detroit, the Honey Badgers collected more than $8,000 in donations and flew to Motor City to act as “human shields.” The Honey Badgers also produce an online radio show, covering men’s issues and geek culture. Recent topics include false rape allegations, the treatment of military veterans, and “the shit feminists say.”
Erin Pizzey Illustrated by Alison Tieman, courtesy of A Voice for Men
Pizzey, a 75-year-old British author and anti-domestic-violence advocate, traces her interest in men’s rights back to her own childhood and years of brutal beatings from her mother. She later went on to found England’s first shelter for battered women. Pizzey maintains that most of the victims who sought refuge there were themselves violent. She came to believe that women deserved a share of the blame for domestic abuse and that the fledgling feminist movement unfairly demonized men by casting them as the sole aggressors. “This huge edifice of radical feminism made this about ‘patriarchy’ rather that human relationships,” she says. “In the process, it pulled the whole discussion away from the needs of people in violent families.”
Pizzey eventually began offering shelter to battered men while crusading against feminism, which she dubs “the Evil Empire.” After a bomb scare and a string of death threats, in 1979 she fled to the United States, where she helped set up domestic-violence shelters in 21 cities. She also worked with lawyers to defend men claiming they had been falsely accused of rape and domestic violence—an endeavor she funded by writing adventure novels. Pizzey later embraced nonfiction, and wrote frequently for British newspapers, such as the Daily Mail (sample headline: “Why I loathe feminism…and believe it will ultimately destroy the family”). She also traveled the world speaking to battered men’s groups. Today, she is editor-at-large of A Voice for Men, and a hero of the men’s rights movement. She feels very much in her element. “For many years, I was this lone voice, and I was hated for it,” she explains. “Now, you just don’t feel quite so lonely.”
Janet Bloomfield: The Social-Media Provocateur
Bloomfield has landed in the spotlight recently as a driving force behind Women Against Feminism, a social-media campaign featuring photos of women with scraps of paper listing their reasons for rejecting feminism. Since the week before last, when the campaign went viral, Bloomfield—a thirtysomething homemaker and doctoral candidate—has been making the network rounds, with interviews on ABC, the BBC, and NBC’s Today Show.
Bloomfield, who lives somewhere in Canada (she keeps her location and the names of her three children secret to shield them from harassment), is an unlikely champion for men’s rights. In college, she studied film theory, and learned to view the world through a feminist lens. But after giving birth to her first child, she decided to stay home and was shocked by the reaction from other women. “It wasn’t so much the disdain for my choice or the idea that I wasted my education,” she says. “It was that they treated me like I was crazy to rely on my husband—as if somewhere lurking inside of him was a sex-starved monster who would toss me out like trash.” Bloomberg began trading letters with her friend, Pixie, who was camped out in the hospital after giving birth to a critically ill baby boy and believed the intensive care staff was treating the sick baby girls more tenderly. Their letters soon morphed into grumbling about the lot of boys and the treatment of stay-at-home moms.
After immersing themselves in the men’s rights blogosphere, in 2012, the pair launched the in-your-face blog, JudgyBitch.com. Bloomfield’s anti-feminist screeds, piled with obscenities and inflammatory theories about rape and domestic violence, made a splash in the men’s rights circles, and the following year she began writing for A Voice for Men, where she now manages social media. She’s also broken into mainstream news and opinion sites, including Thought Catalog, which recently published Bloomfield’s essay, “I’m an Anti-Sexist, Liberal Doctoral Student, Wife, and Mother Who Supports the Men’s Rights Movement Over Feminism, Here’s Why.”
For much of her career, Venker followed the path blazed by her aunt, the anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly. In 2011, the pair even cowrote a book, The Flipside of Feminism, arguing that freedom and power have only made women unhappy. But their paths began to diverge the following year when Venker, who in addition to authoring books is a frequent Fox News commentator, published a column on FoxNews.com called “The War on Men.” It made the case that men were opting out of marriage because career-minded women had lost their womanly qualities and become angry and competitive. And it urged women to “surrender to their nature—their femininity” if they wanted to find husbands. Predictably, the piece went viral, stirring up a whirlwind of criticism. But Venker was also flooded with grateful emails from male readers. “Men were writing to say, ‘Thank you, thank you!’” she recalls. “‘Finally, somebody gets it!’” Inspired by the outpouring, Venker launch the men’s rights blog Women for Men and shifted the focus of her own commentary to men’s issues. In her recent FoxNews.com columns, Venker argues that white men face oppression “unlike anything American women have faced,” andclaims that men’s “success in fields such as medicine, engineering and technology have done more to liberate women from the constraints of their former lives than a busload of feminists could ever hope to do.” She also maintains that surrendering to male power is an “aphrodisiac” that “grants women access to the deepest parts of a man’s soul.”
In 1969, Cools took part in a supposedly peaceful sit-in to protest racism at a Montreal university. It ended up exploding into one of the most violent student riots in Canada’s history, with protesters setting fires and tossing computers out of windows. Cools, who was sentenced to four months in prison but later pardoned, went on to found one of Canada’s first shelters for battered women. Then, in 1984, the Barbados native became the first black person ever to serve in the Canadian Senate.
According to the Globe and Mail, “Women’s groups applauded the addition of a minority firebrand to the chamber of dozy old white men.” Her belief that domestic violence was a two-way street later put her at odds with the feminist movement, but many Canadians embraced her ideas. In 1995, when Cools told an International Women’s Day gathering that “behind every abusing husband is an abusing mother,” she was inundated with grateful handwritten letters. Many of them were from people who had been abused by their mothers or men claiming they had been falsely accused of domestic violence during divorce proceedings.
Galvanized, Cools—a Liberal Party member turned independent—helped launch a parliamentary committee that traveled the country holding emotional standing-room-only hearings on child custody laws. Critics branded it the “politically incorrect committee” because it heard testimony from hundreds of men, grandparents, and second wives, who spoke tearfully about being cut off from children by a legal system that they alleged favored mothers. For Cools, who lost two siblings to childhood illness, their stories hit close to home. “I understood very early in life what it meant for parents to lose a child,” she told the National Post in the late 1990s. “I’ve always known a parent cannot recover from that. And this is why I will not tolerate the thought of any parent taking a child away from another parent.”
The committee’s final report recommended rewriting custody laws to ensure both parents access to the children and making false domestic violence allegations a crime. Despite overwhelming public support, a decade and a half later, Cools is still fighting to bring these proposals to fruition. Her dogged struggle has won her adoration in men’s rights circles—so much so that A Voice for Men invited the regal, silver-haired septuagenarian to deliver the first speech at its inaugural conference. “The cause that before you and the things that you fight for are valid and just,” Cools told the gathering. “I am on the home stretch of my public career, so you and younger soldiers must come. I encourage soldiers to arm themselves, and to put on battle gear, because it is a fight.”
Throughout the ongoing debate over Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement, a common theme has emerged among many of Hobby Lobby’s supporters: the idea that ensuring access to affordable birth control is harmful to society because it leads to promiscuity and infidelity. Several right-wing groups filed amicus briefs in favor of the crafts chain arguing that women simply shouldn’t be having consequence-free sex. But where exactly does this idea come from? One research paper offers a theory.
According to new research published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, the attitude that women shouldn’t be having sex can at least partly be traced back to the idea that women are supposed to be economically dependent on men. The researchers suggest that this link may drive conservative religious communities’ insistence on sexual purity.
After surveying Americans about their attitudes toward promiscuity — asking them whether they agreed with statements like “It is fine for a woman to have sex with a man she has just met, if they both want to” — the researchers also asked them whether they believed women tend to rely on income from their male partner. They found that the people who believe that casual sex is wrong also tend to believe that women need a partner to support them financially. Within that worldview, sex outside of a serious monogamous relationship is simply too risky. If women don’t have “paternity certainty,” then how will they know who they need to rely on to support them and their future child?
“The beliefs may persist due to cultural evolutionary adaptive lag, that is, because the environment has changed faster than the moral system,” the paper concludes. “Religious and conservative moral systems may be anti-promiscuity because they themselves arose in environments where females depended heavily on male investment.”
In response to the right-wing claims that women who support Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate are “sluts” who want the government to fund their sex lives, many birth control proponents have focused on the medical reasons that women need access to contraception. But there’s also a growing push to confront the deep-seated resistance to acknowledging women’s sex lives. “Women like sex. Stop making ‘health’ excuses for why we use birth control,” feminist writer Jessica Valenti argues in a Guardian column published this week.
On top of the changing societal norms that ensure women don’t actually have to be guided by “paternity certainy” anymore, there’s also scientific evidence that increasing access to birth control doesn’t have any relationship to promiscuity. A large study published in the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal earlier this year found that giving women access to no-cost contraception doesn’t lead them to make riskier sexual choices. The researchers noted their results should dispel social conservatives’ fears that the risk of pregnancy is “the only thing standing between women and promiscuity.”
The host of Fox & Friends on Sunday fell for an Internet hoax that feminists had hatched a plot for bringing down Father’s Day, and possibly “ending men” altogether. As Death and Taxes reported on Friday, pranksters at the website 4Chan had created…
More than 40 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first passed by the U.S. Congress, an Illinois state senator is taking another crack at getting her colleagues in Springfield to adopt the provision that would enshrine in the U.S. Constitution the idea that rights can’t be abridged on account of sex.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the proposed amendment is still relevant today given the ongoing debates about equal pay, abortion rights and other issues on which women are fighting for equality.
And she said it’s symbolically important to “get Illinois off the list” of 15 states that have not yet adopted the proposed amendment. The other holdouts are mostly traditionally more conservative states in the southern and western parts of the country.
"Illinois has been in the forefront of equal rights," Steans said. "I think this is some unfinished business, an opportunity to right a historic wrong."
Steans has supported proposals for the General Assembly to adopt the amendment in previous years, without success.
The amendment appeared to die in 1982 after only 35 states passed it by the deadline that Congress set after adopting it in 1972. That was three short of the 38 needed to amend the Constitution. Supporters of the amendment are now pushing a “three state solution,” arguing the 1982 deadline should not apply. If three more states pass it, the supporters will try to make the case that there is no need for the U.S. Congress to start the amendment process over.
Steans’ proposal is scheduled to get a hearing on Wednesday, she said.
The American Enterprise Institute’s “Factual Feminist” podcast declared this week that while sexual assault on campus is a genuine problem, a “rape culture crusade” is a counter-productive and hysterical “solution” to it. In the podcast…
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) on Wednesday opposed the National Women’s History Museum by connecting it to “eugenics” and same-sex marriage. During a House debate on whether or not Congress should appoint a commission to study how to move forward…
Fox New host Andrea Tantaros on Wednesday asserted that “feminism is to blame” for the recent news that boys were not performing well in school. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that the Washington research group Third Way had found…
I’m a teenage girl who has been reading about you quite a bit in the news lately. It seems to me that you have absolutely no idea what women of my generation are all about. I can understand that because I often deal with older people who think that their generation is superior and my generation is the worst thing ever just because we’re different. Really though, I think since you want to be all up in the public eye, it would really do you a lot of good to understand things from the perspective of one of the young women who will be taking over this country soon.
I’ve been thinking about how I can explain what feminism means to my generation in a way you might not have thought of before. I wanted to try to work from something we have in common, and it’s been kind of hard to find something I have in common with you. Then, it came to me. I bet you wear a bra.
I was reading recently about a company called Yellowberry that was started by a young woman because she took her younger sister bra shopping and her sister didn’t like any of the choices. None of the bras fit her, and she felt the selections were too sexual. So she started a line of bras so that girls would have more options. As for myself, I shop at Victoria’s Secret. It’s not because I want to be sexy or have any grand delusions of looking like one of their models. I shop there because they have different styles of bras so I can find something I think is pretty that fits me. I don’t know where you shop for your bras, but I bet you have a favorite one. I bet you have that one bra that’s comfortable and goes with just about everything. I bet the last thing you were thinking about when you bought that bra was what a man would think about it.
Well, making choices in our lives as young women is kind of like finding that favorite bra. Not all of us are going to fit into the same kind and not all of us are going to find the same style attractive. We all deserve to have as many choices as possible, and as women, we shouldn’t be judging the choices made by other women. Choosing a bra is a very personal choice and is none of anyone else’s business. We should be, as women, looking for ways we can expand the choices both for ourselves and other women, just as Megan Grassell did when she started Yellowberry. Equality doesn’t mean women will all make the same choice. It means women will be treated the same no matter what choices they make.
This brings us to the idea you have that women shouldn’t have equal pay because it will make it more difficult for them to find husbands. What you’re doing is attempting to limit my choices, and I don’t appreciate that. Let’s get one thing straight here. When I’m thinking about what kind of career I want to have, it’s a lot like shopping for a bra. I want to find something that fits me and appeals to me, and I’m not thinking about pleasing a man. Anyone who wants to be my partner in life is going to have to truly respect me, appreciate me for who I am, and honor the choices I make.
What you’re doing, Ms. Schlafly, is contributing to something very disturbing I see happening with some of the teenage girls I know. At a time in their lives when they should be free, independent, and exploring and preparing for the possibilities they have in the future, many of them are worried about getting or keeping a boyfriend. There are young women my age who are extremely smart but they hide it because they get messages from women like you that if they are too smart or successful, boys won’t like them. They get messages from women like you that pleasing a man should be their number one goal. You’re contributing to making young women uncomfortable when they go bra shopping because they’ve learned to analyze every choice based on what other people will think instead of having the freedom and confidence to choose what’s best for them.
I’m going to continue the work my mother and my grandmothers started, the work you have fought so hard against. I’m going to work to help get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratified in my lifetime. Once this is done, it’s going to take some time to undo a lot of the damage women like you have caused. It’s going to take time for society to evolve once women finally have the equality we deserve. But I believe that my daughters will look at history and see women like you the same way I see women who tried to prevent us from getting the right to vote. I believe that bra shopping is going to be a lot easier for my daughters than it is for girls today.
Lauren Rankin, a freelance writer who focuses on issues of reproductive justice, doesn’t always keep track of her new Twitter followers. But one recently caught her eye.
“A couple weeks ago I noticed that one of Cosmo’s editors, Lori Fradkin, followed me on Twitter… At the time I thought, Cosmo? That’s kind of weird, since I mainly write about reproductive rights,” Rankin recounted.
Then, a couple days later, Rankin was added to a list serv that receives periodic emails about Cosmopolitan.com’s latest reproductive rights coverage — topics ranging from abortion clinic harassment, to the new law in Texas that’s forcing abortion clinics to close, to combating abortion stigma.
For instance, in an article that went up at the beginning of last week, an OB-GYN practicing in Texas explains what it’s like to provide health care in a state that’s enacted so many harsh restrictions on abortion, which can force some women to resort to dangerous options. “My first hysterectomy as a resident was on a 16-year-old who had an illegal abortion. Her pelvis was nothing but pus,” the piece begins.
Rankin said she’s been heartened by the site’s “legitimate strides” to include more coverage of abortion policy, and impressed that the editorial staff seems to be making a concerted effort to connect with writers who are already working in this issue space. So she emailed Fradkin directly to offer to write for the site, too. She’s published two pieces — one on a middle school’s potentially sexist dress code, and another on a bill in Tennessee that’s seeking to criminalize pregnant women — so far. And Rankin isn’t the only feminist writer who now has a Cosmo byline. Jill Filipovic, a columnist for the Guardian and a blogger at Feministe, has also published severalpieces about reproductive rights on Cosmopolitan.com.
“It all comes down to one core value, which is that we are unequivocally for women’s rights. It’s that simple,” Cosmopolitan.com’s editor, Amy Odell, told ThinkProgress when asked about the apparent editorial shift. “We believe every woman should have access to safe, affordable health care, and when that right is threatened, we’re not afraid to tackle those threats head-on.”
Rankin’s interaction with Cosmo’s staff appears to be part of the site’s new strategy. Odell explained that Lori Fradkin, who was hired at the new features editor at the end of last year, has been working on building up a team of writers who can tell “powerful stories” about the impacts of legislative attacks on women’s rights. Rather than publishing straight reports on new abortion restrictions, Cosmo is primarily attempting to find a way to tell personal stories their readers can connect with.
“The reception has been incredible — it’s been enormously gratifying to see such high engagement with our audience around these issues,” Odell said. “One challenge of working on the internet, as all of we online editors know, is getting people to care about hard news as opposed to what Kim Kardashian wore an hour ago. Of course we’re happy to keep readers filled in on what Kim Kardashian is wearing, but we do see stronger social engagement and traffic on stories about women who get harassed at abortion clinics by protesters.”
But Cosmo’s persistent focus on the issue, and recruitment of freelance writers who are real experts in the space, is something new. It also has the potential to spread abortion rights far beyond the audiences that currently read about that topic. “It’s such a mainstream magazine that could help reach people who might not be aware of the onslaught of attacks,” Rankin pointed out.
And maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. Despite the perception that women’s magazines and websites never tackle serious stories, publications that cover fashion and beauty also produce content on a wide range of more hard-hitting subjects. It’s also not hard to see why outlets like Cosmo might be interested in experimenting. As magazine sales are slumping, Cosmo is probably trying hard to engage its growing base of digital readers with fresh strategies and new angles.
There are also some signs that the brand is becoming more aware of its reputation for silly sex tips, and is now embracing more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to that content. Ramping up the policy coverage could fit into a larger tonal shift for the publication.
If Cosmo continues to take more of an explicitly feminist approach on issues like abortion, will other magazines follow? If that content really does end up engaging readers better than celebrity news, as Odell suggests, it’s a real possibility that could end up influencing pop culture as a whole. Celebrity women are notorious for shying away from the “feminist” label, but as the movement continues to become more mainstream — for better and for worse — that might not remain the case. Beyoncé has done a lot to reclaim that ground lately, and Cosmo seems to be ready to do its part too.
“I can’t speak for other magazines, but at Cosmo, we are for women’s rights and that’s why it’s so important for us to talk about cases of those rights being infringed upon,” Odell said.
Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly said today in her radio bulletin that the “the peculiar ideology of the feminists” is harming boys because it is encouraging “girls to enter boys’ fields” of study and employment. Apparently, some fields are reserved for boys, who Schlafly laments now “dislike school and have less interest in attending college” due to the nefarious actions of “a powerful network of feminists.”
“The feminists are at war with Mother Nature, and Mother Nature keeps winning, so the feminists are constantly angry at what they call patriarchy,” Schlafly added.
She also expressed concern about the emergence of a game called “Circle of Friends.” But as Slate’s Amanda Hess explains, “Circle of Friends” is just another name for freeze tag.
National Review Online (NRO) has a problem with feminism and how it’s embodied by Democratic women running for office like Sandra Fluke and Texas State Senator Wendy Davis.
NRO roving correspondentKevin D. Williamson penned a February 6 column decrying modern feminism, which he defined as, “Feminism is the words ’I Want!’ in the mouths of three or more women, provided they’re the right kind of women.”
According to Williamson, feminism is now a “career path,” where cunning politicians can succeed by “defending the position favored more heavily by women than by men [which] becomes, through the magic of feminist rhetoric, anti-woman, even part of a ‘war on women.’” In other words, a policy that appears to be anti-woman may simply be an innocuous proposal with disparate support among the genders that’s become tainted by feminist rhetoric.
The author’s examples of such conniving feminist politicians were California state senate candidate Sandra Fluke and Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, populartargets in the conservative media sphere as of late. “Whatever Sandra Fluke is up to, you can be sure she’s looking for somebody else to pay for it,” Williamson wrote, summarizing her 2012 congressional testimony in support of contraception coverage in health plans as a petulant “‘I WANT!’”
Davis, who conducted a filibuster against Texas’s new abortion restrictions in June 2013, Williamson accused of “thwarting the interests of a majority of those women she is campaigning to govern,” painting her as an opportunist.
Indeed, Williamson’s post is full of invective, but low on the facts regarding the very events he highlights as revealing the “Feminist Mystique.”
The Washington Post reports that a chapter from Pearce’s new book emphasizes wives and husbands each have roles in the household, and the wife’s role is obedience. “The husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else,” Pearce writes. “The wife’s submission is not a matter of superior versus inferior; rather, it is self-imposed as a matter of obedience to the Lord and of love for her husband.”