Karen Straughan: Presentation to the International Conference on Men’s Issues 2014

We will over the next few weeks present full transcripts of all the presentations at the International Conference on Men’s Issues 2014. Here we bring you Karen Straughan’s speech, the second speech from Day 2, Saturday, June 28, 2014. Our thanks once again to Rick Westlake for doing the bulk of the work of this transcription. —DE

 (Attila Vinczer)

Ladies and gentlemen, our next presenter is Karen Straughan, one of the most prominent women in the Men’s Rights Movement. Karen blogs, writes, and posts on her YouTube channel, “Girl Writes What,” and has been actively speaking about men’s issues since 2010. Karen debated Naomi Wolf at a Free State New Hampshire symposium, and has spoken at libertarian conferences across Canada and the United States. She hosts a weekly Honey Badger Radio show with Hannah Wallen and Alison Tieman. Most of her videos take place in her kitchen.

Karen has spoken to university students across Canada, and some of her videos are used to teach classes in evolutionary psychology, and applied psychology, and other classes. She has appeared on CBC, CTV, Global News, the Peter Schiff Show, and the Tom Leykis Show, and has been quoted in newspapers across North America.

She is the mother of three children: two sons and a daughter. She is a member of the GLBQ community. Her most famous video is “Feminism and the Disposable Male,” which has been viewed over one million times on YouTube and has been subtitled and translated into languages around the world. She has a very dumb dog named George; he’s—she’s a well-intentioned dog but still pretty dumb.

Put your hands together for Karen Straughan.

(Applause. Karen Straughan takes the podium.)

Oh … Attila, I don’t know if this is on. Is it? Are you sure? … Okay. Excellent.

My name is Karen, and I am an anti-feminist.

I know, the short hair and the comfortable shoes really gave it away. But … yes; and I was an anti-femin—I was a non-feminist my entire life. And I was an anti-feminist before I even discovered this movement. I considered myself an anti-feminist before considering myself a men’s rights activist. I am first and foremost anti-feminist.

And a lot of people ask me, “How on earth can you be an anti-feminist? You are a member of the LGBTQ community; you are a divorced mother who struggles to support her children; you are not a feminine-presenting woman by any means; you are the quintessential feminist!” And I tell them, well, one of the reasons I am an anti-feminist is because everything that I read that comes from feminists … is backwards. It’s wrong. It’s upside down.

And I just want to clarify that I don’t consider feminism to be a movement for equality; I don’t consider it to be a goal, or a set of goals; I consider it to be a set of hypotheses, not even theories, right? Hypotheses that are unfalsifiable, that are as predictive of what’s going to happen as a coin-toss—not even, not even that predictive. And we are basing public policy on this set of hypotheses. We are basing entire branches of academia on this set of unfalsifiable, unproven hypotheses; hypotheses that can never be proven, right? They can never be demonstrated, and they have never been demonstrated.

And I am going to take a little bit of an issue with something that Warren said—I am! I know! Because so many people that I talk to, they say that, well, the first wave of feminism, that was about justice. The first wave of feminism was about equality. And I’m not going to argue that there was not a need for some assertion of the rights of women, as our sociopolitical and economic climate and our technological advancement changed. We needed an assertion of the rights of women.

But … you go all the way back to Seneca Falls and the Declaration of Sentiments, and as Warren said, we do not need a movement that blames men. It was 1848, and 40 men showed up at Seneca Falls. Forty men wanted to attend that historic conference. And they were told … they were turned away at first; and when they persisted, they were told, “Okay, you can come in, but you need to sit over there in the back and you need to stay quiet.”

And then, the list of grievances, the bullet-pointed list of grievances, was—it was worthy of the most radical and insane Tumblr feminist out there. Okay. And every single one of those bullet points began not with the word “the system,” not with the word “the law,” with the word “He.” HE. “The history of mankind has been a series of usurpations, by man, of women.” Right … “A series of oppressions, by man, against women.” And this, and every single bullet point … He has done this. He has deprived us of this. He has attacked us in this way. He has oppressed us—in their words, quote: “He has oppressed us, on all sides.” He has … with the goal of tyranny, complete tyranny, against woman, against womankind.

So the history of feminism, all the way back to the beginning, was a history of blaming men. And when you look at the history of how they reformed the system, how feminism reformed the system … I’m going to actually just open this up, and I’m going to read … Ahem. I’m going to read a little bit of an article that was published in The New York Times in 1910, and it was an article by an anti-suffragette woman, in response to a previous article by a suffragette lawyer; her name was Mrs. Harriett Johnston-Wood. And Harriett Johnston-Wood was complaining that the law regarding property, and the law regarding child custody, was unfair to women.

And, ah, Mrs. Scott, the anti-suffragette, set the record straight. She said these complaints are meaningless, if you do not take into account the entirety of the set of laws. She says, “It seems desirable, even necessary, to correct two misstatements made in ‘Laws Discriminating Against Women in the State of New York,’ by attorney-at-law Mrs. Harriett M. Johnston-Wood, as quoted in the Times of March 26th. Mrs. Johnston-Wood says, ‘A wife cannot make a binding contract with her husband, to pay her for services within or without their household.’

“In Section 51 of the Domestic Relation Law, 1909, we read: ‘A married woman has all the rights, in respect to property, real and personal, and the acquisition, use, employment, use, and disposition thereof, to make contracts in respect thereto with any person, including her husband, and to carry on any business, trade, or occupation, and to exercise all powers and enjoy all rights in respect thereto, and in respect to her contracts, and be liable on such contracts as if she were unmarried; but a husband and wife cannot contract to dissolve the marriage, or to relieve the husband of his liability to support his wife.

“Again, Mrs. Johnston-Wood says, ‘The father’s right to the custody of the child is paramount.’ I suppose she refers to Section 80 of the Domestic Relations Law, but she omits to quote, and, therefore, fails to make it clear, that when ‘a minor child shall acquire real property, the guardianship of his property belongs first to the father, and second, if there be no father, to the mother.’ Section 81, however, deals with the child, and not his property, and that declares: ‘A married woman is a joint guardian of her children, with her husband, with equal powers, rights, and duties in regard to them.’ And ‘Either the father or the mother may in the lifetime of them both, by last will duly executed, appoint the other guardian of the person and property of such child during its minority.’

“It is not less desirable and necessary to correct the general impression made Mrs. Johnston-Wood in her compilation of laws regarding women and labeled as discriminating against them, because unless any set of laws is considered as a whole we get those half-truths which are always dangerously deceptive.”

This is not my—these are not my words. I just found them. Actually, Robert St. Estephe found them, and I am grateful to him for that.

“Because the husband and father was and is responsible for the subsistence of his wife and family therefore he was recognized as logically the proper person to administer and inherit the property of the family”—including the child. “But as time wore away the barriers raised for protection became coercive between the family and the world; as individual life began to call women out of the home, and property amassed by the wife was claimed by the husband and used sometimes for his benefit rather than hers, the gradual changes began to take place which have in the last 30 or 40 years entirely changed the relation of the wife toward property and the guardianship of her children. This change has all been in the favor of the wife and mother, and one after another the privileges which men had over the property of their wives and the guardianship of their children have not only been lost but many of them have been actually reversed.” That’ll be the Tender Years Doctrine. “The legal relations are as though they were unmarried, excepting marriage. The wife cannot release the husband from the obligation to support her.

“For over thirty years—” already, in 1910, for over 30 years—“a woman has been able to hold and enjoy her separate property, however acquired, even when it had been given by her husband, freed from any interference or control by him, and from all liability for his debts. A husband is, however, liable for necessaries purchased by his wife and also for money given his wife by a third person to purchase necessaries, and he is bound to support her and her children without regard to her individual or separate estate. Even when a separation occurs—” and this is really crucial because divorce was extremely hard to come by; and so when families, when couples, split up, they were separated, but they could not divorce unless one was at fault … “Even when a separation occurs a husband is compelled through the payment of alimony to continue to support his wife, nothing short of infidelity on her part and consequent divorce relieving him of that liability. No obligation, however, to furnish necessities to a husband rests upon the wife under any circumstances whatever.

“Mrs. Johnston-Wood complains that a woman cannot make a binding contract with her husband to be paid for her services. But she does not have to do so. He is obliged to support her, but she can go into any business she pleases, keep all the profits, and still demand support from him. A husband has no claim against his wife’s estate for having supported her, but if she supports him, as by keeping a boarding house, and he acknowledges the debt, she has a valid claim for reimbursement against his estate.”

What Mrs. Scott was getting at, in this article, was that between the publishing of the Declaration of Sentiments and New York State’s state of law, family law, in 1910, all of the coverture privileges, all of the coverture rights, for men, disappeared; and all of the coverture protections for women remained in place. And one of the really horrible things, because—I was asked yesterday, can you give me a brief history of the Men’s Rights Movement, and I think that the journalist was really implying that maybe it was something that started in, you know, 2008 …

There were alimony reform movements in the 1910s and 20s, because men—because they could not obtain a divorce, but their wife had decided she doesn’t want to live with him any more; and so she would move out, and he would be responsible indefinitely for every single necessity that she had, even if she had more property than him. He was not entitled to any of that property; he had no right to touch it. She was entitled to his support until the day they divorced; and if it was his fault that they divorced, she was entitled to his support for life, or until she remarried. And there were men who were stuck in the limbo of legal separation, without hope of divorce; and their wives refused to come home. And they were stuck, paying, sometimes—you know, paying out the wazoo—to support women who were enjoying the single lifestyle while still being legally married to their husband.

Feminists of 1910 believed these laws were “unfair to women” because a wife—here’s the thing—because a wife, this wife, who enjoyed full rights of property within marriage as an individual; her property was not marital property, her property was not shared property, it was her own property as an individual, and her family, her children, had no claim to it, her husband had no claim to it, it could not be used legally to support their household … she did not have an equal right over the family property, and the family’s income; in other words, she did not have an equal right, a 50% right, to administer her husband’s property and income. He got to choose, unless the court forced him; he got to choose how he would keep his wife with the income and the property that he owned, that was “the family property.”

And they considered these laws unfair because women, though they were equal custodians of their children, the father, who had the sole financial liability to support these children, he was the one who controlled the child’s income and property. And when you’re talking 1910, and you’re talking children of age 12 going to work—right? Children of age 10, having jobs? They didn’t go to school. They had jobs. And it was the father’s job to make sure they were fed and sheltered and provided-for. I really think it is logical that that child’s income and property would be administered by the person with the responsibility to feed and shelter the child.

And at this point, in New York State, the Tender Years Doctrine was already in place. The Tender Years Doctrine—this is another completely, completely unfair thing. I mean, when I was asked at the Q&A in, at Ryerson, “When do you think feminism went wrong?” And I said, Well, can you clarify it—’cause like, what was the first unfair thing they brought about, or when did they completely lose their minds? Because it’s never been fair.

Under “patriarchy,” right, under the old system, the traditional system, fathers got custody of the children after divorce or separation. And the reason they got custody is because they had the sole job and liability of feeding and sheltering them. And early women’s activists, notably Carolyn Norton, decided that her happiness and the happiness of mothers were not served by this. And she convinced the legal system in the UK, and then it spread across the western world. She convinced them that “children of tender years”—so, a child that was basically not old enough to go out and get a job, okay—“children of tender years belong with their mother.” But there was no financial liability on their mother to support those children. That liability remained on the father.

And even though you had to prove fault back then, even though you had to prove you were getting divorced for a reason—a good reason—the divorce rate, which had remained constant for centuries, increased 15-fold in just 50 years after this became the legal norm. Fifteen-fold in 50 years, when women got the kids but not the bills.

Across the English-speaking world, similar reforms have been made, were made, regarding women’s rights to hold property in marriage. In one glaring example that was published in the Milwaukee Journal in 1912 … it was the story of a UK suffragette whose husband, Mark Wilkes, was in prison; he was in prison for tax evasion. Now, Mrs. Wilkes claimed that “it was a grand idea that would get all kinds of attention to the Suffragette cause,” that her husband was in jail; her husband, a schoolteacher, was rotting in jail. What was he in jail for? He could not afford to pay the income tax, and the property tax, on his wife’s income and property.

Suffragettes of the time, she said, were generally women of property, women of wealth; and she hoped that other suffragettes would follow suit, and refuse to pay their income taxes, because the man, being responsible for all of the necessaries of her life, was of course responsible, according to the income tax act in the UK, responsible for paying any taxes owing by his wife, on her income and her property.

And—yeah, it was just a wonderful deal for that guy. And the fact that this woman would use the imprisonment of her husband, when she could afford to free him, to further the suffragette cause—I think it really shows the mentality of some of the women in that first wave, that we have been taught, all our lives, to think were so incredibly noble. That they had the most just of causes.

Now, there’s another one of the bullet points in the Declaration of Sentiments: “He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of which she had no voice.” Tell that to the women involved in the abolitionist movement. In fact, feminists today often credit the Women’s Lobby for the abolition of slavery. Slavery! They will literally say, “If it weren’t for women, and organization of women back then, the abolitionist movement would not have been successful.” And I believe they’re right. I really do because women are extremely good at appealing to the government to get things done.

I have seen examples as far back as Rome, ancient Rome, where women, who felt that they were being unjustly discriminated against, gathered in front of the Senate and protested until the laws were changed. There was one law —it was during a war—women were limited, they could not wear a multicolored dress, and they were not allowed to wear more than two ounces of gold jewelry in public. And they felt that this was unjust and unfair. And once the war was over, they went and they protested and the law was changed. The law was repealed. They’re very, very good at convincing the government to do things.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union might have something to say about this bullet point: “He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of which she had no voice.” The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and other women activists, were instrumental in the prohibition of alcohol.

Now, the grievance that men have excluded women from the elective franchise—that declaration, in the Declaration of Sentiments, ignores the fact that for the vast majority of history, men did not have elective franchise. Men have not always denied her “her inalienable right” to elective franchise; nobody has denied her an inalienable right to the elective franchise because the elective franchise is not an “inalienable right.” It’s a privilege granted by government. You don’t have a right, just from being born—you have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; you don’t have an automatic right to vote, just for being a human being.

And the period between which all men got the vote and all women got the vote—or, at least, all White men and all White women—in some countries, it was as much as 50 years, and in others it was as little as 10. It was a recent-enough—male, universal male suffrage was a recent-enough development—for it to be considered “fashionable,” as well as just. A number of UK suffragettes felt that women deserved the vote, and men did not; and they put out posters saying, “Men should not vote, they’re only good for war.” Okay … they’re only good for war. And there was one poster that gave examples of what a woman could be, and not have the vote: she could be a mayor, she could be a teacher, she could be a nurse, she could be a lawyer, she could be all of these things and not have the vote. And what men could be, and not lose the vote: he could be a slave-owner, he could be a drunkard, he could be a lunatic, and he could be unfit for military service.

And anybody who has any kind of nuanced understanding of the expansion of the franchise will know that the vote—voter rights—was intimately tied to military service. Intimately tied. In 1918, a group of anarchists brought a Supreme Court challenge; they claimed that the draft was unconstitutional because it represented involuntary servitude. And the Supreme Court’s decision was that the draft was indeed constitutional, and this was their justification: “It may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the reciprocal obligation of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right to compel it. To do more than state the proposition is absolutely unnecessary, in view of the practical illustration afforded by the almost-universal legislation to that effect, now in force.” In other words, men purchased their rights, as citizens, through a reciprocal obligation to serve in the military if they were needed.

Two years after that decision came down from SCOTUS, women got the vote, obligation-free. Two years later. And this was at the tail end of a war that killed millions of men on all sides. Ten million men, on all sides; many of them drafted.

In Canada, we were very progressive. We included in our conscription legislation an addendum that lowered the voting age to 18, from 21 to 18, for anyone currently or previously serving in the military. Way to go, Canada. Right? If you’re old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to have a say in it, right? And 2,000 military nurses were among the first women in Canada who were allowed to vote. And the other women in Canada who were allowed to vote, before universal female suffrage was enacted, were women who were voting on behalf of their male relatives serving overseas.

The vote and the military service have always been intimately connected. At least it was until women’s suffrage. And you can even see that the suffragettes understood that, because many of the suffragettes campaigned for conscription —in favor of conscription—during World War I. And others participated in something called the White Feather Campaign, which was a campaign where young girls, any time they saw a man—maybe even a boy over the age of 15—if they saw him in public, and he was not in military dress, they would pin a White Feather of Cowardice to his lapel and publicly shame him for not enlisting.

One story I was reading on a website, the history of the White Feather Campaign: one father recounted the story of his 15-year-old son, who had been sent home from the front for being underage when they discovered that he was not 18. He was walking through town, and a woman pinned a white feather on him. He had only been home two weeks. She pinned the white feather on him, and in the 20 minutes it took for that child to walk across a bridge, he decided to re-enlist.

This is the power that women have. This is the power that women have always had. And this power is the power to convince Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, and David Beckham, and Patrick Stewart, and—all of these male celebrities —NBA players—all of these male celebrities to participate in the “1 Is 2 Many” campaign. “One is too many. One woman assaulted by her partner is too many, right? So step up, men. Step up, man up, you know; interfere, get involved, right? Don’t let other men do this to women.” All the while, these powerful men are ignoring the fact that domestic violence is not a gendered issue.

And if you ask, if you go by the surveys and “1 in 2 women will be assaulted,” or “sexually assaulted,”in her lifetime, as the Canadian Women’s Foundation claims, possibly erroneously—if you were to ask men, in fact, I think if you were to ask any boy over the age of 12, the number would be “1 in 1.” One in one. And no one gives a shit. Nobody does.

I’m an anti-feminist because feminism has been poisoned right from the start. And they’ve been lying to us, right from the start. E. Belfort Bax, who was a socialist Marxist, and he described something that he called—because he understood that there were some women within his movement that wanted genuine equality; and then there were other women, and he called them “sentimental feminists.” And you can read history theses, written in 1908 and 1911, and they’re still applicable today! Almost all of the points in them are still applicable today. And you could almost—reading his material, you can almost see him kind of going, “I don’t understand why people believe this!”

These women are claiming that women are more harshly treated than men, by the criminal justice system; and they’re jailed for way, way longer sentences than men are. All the evidence points to the exact opposite! And people believe them! And it’s—I don’t know whether it’s a pretty face, I don’t know whether it’s just because we’re women and we can convince people; but I think it is a huge, huge power that we have, as women. And it’s really time that some of us stepped up and started to use it responsibly.

(Applause, followed by a “whoop” from one of the Honey Badgers.)

Calm down! Oh, my goodness … well, you know …

And I just wanted to say that, because a lot of people have asked me, where did the name “Honey Badger” come from? It’s an amusing story, and, people on YouTube, you can search it. It’s a video, and the narrator of this video is … flamboyant. And it just shows some random clips of a honey badger, from a National Geographic special. And this honey badger is digging through a bees’ nest, and getting stung all over himself because he wants the bee larvae and the honey … and he’s getting bitten by a cobra, and he just passes out for a minute or two, and then he wakes up and staggers back over to the snake, and keeps eating … and all the while, this narrator is going, “Omigod, he’s being stung, like, a billion times … Honey badger don’t care, honey badger don’t give a shit!”

The honey badger is widely renowned as one of the most fearless and intelligent animals on the planet. And somebody—I forget who, maybe it was Doctor Tara?—suggested that we … we don’t care, we don’t give a shit. We women in this movement. You can say whatever the hell you want about us; call us misogynist, rape-enabling, domestic-violence apologizing, women-hating—you know, anything. Call me what you want. I’m an anti-feminist. I am an anti-feminist, and I don’t give a shit!

Thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me speak.

(Aside to Attila Vinczer: “Well, Erin told me, don’t worry about your speech, just wing it! And I took her advice, and it was just like … Wow!”)

(Karen steps down. Attila Vinczer takes the podium.)

Karen, I loved that! … Doesn’t “no” mean “yes”?

Ladies and gentlemen, at this point in time, we’re going to take a short 10-minute break …

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