Conference reflections: A young woman becomes an MRA

“Deleting me because I disagreed with you?” I typed on Facebook. I had politely disagreed with her post that men reading and talking about the Elliot Rodger shooting should just “Shut Up.” She had then deleted both my comments and her friendship with me, writing, “Deleting you because you are part of the problem and have a skewed vision of feminism. Knowing a woman who could be so horrifyingly altered in the head is not something I want to be a part of.” She then continued, “People like you are the reason we need feminism.”

People who disagree with feminist censorship are the reason we need feminism? That doesn’t seem logical, I thought.

Before that day, I hadn’t thought of myself as an “anti-feminist,” mostly because I didn’t really care about gender issues. But this encounter, along with others like it, changed me. After feeling the heat of hatred and censorship from college classmates and female colleagues, I drove to Detroit to find refuge.

I didn’t know what to expect, so (as I often do) I had a knife in my boot.

I walked into the center for Veterans of Foreign Wars, handed my ID to security, and was smilingly directed to a buffet of A Voice for Men–branded buttons, bookmarks, chapsticks, T-shirts, and event programs.

I was surprised to see that the first three speakers were women, but that wasn’t the biggest surprise for me. Having learned about the men’s rights movement only through online sources—MRA YouTube channels, blogs, and forums as well as media coverage of the movement—I was expecting some solid, reasoned arguments, but I was also expecting a lot of complaining, immaturity, and anger. What I found instead decisively converted me into a Men’s Rights Activist.

1. That VFW center was the ultimate “safe space.”

Even as a new person and a woman, I didn’t come close to feeling out of place or uncomfortable. Instead, I enjoyed lively, free dialogue with people of all ages about all topics: gender, politics, philosophy, work, and movies. There were times when I disagreed fundamentally with people (e.g., about the feasibility of anarchy), but never did I or anyone else raise a voice. I didn’t hear a single ad hominem remark the entire weekend. This wasn’t the MRM I’d read about—this was a joining of ideas that made me, a graduate student, salivate.

2. The conference was about compassion.

Contrary to the image of bitter ex-husbands portrayed in the media, the men at the conference were not “out to get” their ex-wives. Again and again, the story I heard was, “I don’t resent her. I want to keep paying child support. I just want to see my kids.” When these forbidden fathers said their children’s names, their faces lit up with happiness but also contracted with strain.

I listened to a story about going to jail to avoid Vietnam—and how that was almost as bad. I listened to the stories of sons who had lost their fathers or been unjustly separated from them by cruel mothers.

I don’t have any kids, I’ve never gone to war, and my parents are happily married. But I have never felt more empathy than I did during those two days.

3. The MRM loves women.

I’ve never been a feminist because I’ve always felt in my gut that feminism doesn’t like men. My suspicion was confirmed by Karen Straughan’s thoughtful analysis of the topic, but even if I didn’t believe that feminism hates men, I realized that the MRM loves women more than feminism loves men.

This was the realization that sealed the deal—it would be impossible for a rational person who attended the AVfM conference to believe that the MRM is a woman-hating movement. To the contrary, when Warren Farrell was asked what he thought was most important to the future of men’s rights activism, he said, especially for the men in the movement, “to partner with a woman who has compassion for you and for men.”

As media commenters have noted, an anti-Hillary Clinton comment gained thunderous applause from the crowd. But what they failed to note is that perhaps the loudest applause of the conference came after Canadian Senator Anne Cools said, “Men have been the protectors of women for centuries.”

The audience cheered, “Yes!” and “That’s right!”

The man beside me said softly, “And we won’t stop.”

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