First and second wave of the men’s rights movement

Mirriam-Webster MOVEMENT
a : tendency, trend
b : a series of organized activities working toward an objective.

The Farlex Free Dictionary MOVEMENT
a. A series of actions and events taking place over a period of time and working
to foster a principle or policy: e.g. a movement toward world peace.
b. A tendency or trend: e.g. a movement toward larger kitchens.

The First Wave of the Men’s Rights Movement:

The Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) consists of groups or individuals fighting for improved social and legal rights for men. Historically these groups have consisted of men and women who agitated for corrections to anti-male laws, the reinforcement of men’s right to live traditional or alternative male roles if they so chose, and to challenge the growing misandry that was attacking that freedom of choice via its manipulation of the social and legal environment. The accompanying and no less important of its aims has been to challenge the gynocentric customs rooted in mainstream culture which have reinforced sexist attitudes.

The following is a small sampling of men’s rights initiatives constituting the first wave of the men’s rights movement, a list that could be easily expanded into thousands of initiatives by the diligent researcher. Bear in mind that although we are talking of a single MRM, it is more accurately defined as the aggregate of separate MRM initiatives:

A long newspaper article entitled A Word for Men’s Rights is published in Putnam’s Monthly, which discusses sexist laws that oppressed men and benefited women, including the practice of frivolous, unjustified lawsuits for supposed breach of marriage promise.
A Mr. Todd proposes a “Men’s Rights Conference” be held in response to exaggerations of the women’s rights movement.
Article entitled Women’s and Men’s Rights appeared in the 1875 volume Historic and literary miscellany by G.M.D. Bloss
Ernest Belfort Bax, England, writes his first major commentary on gynocentrism and misandry, ‘Some Bourgeois Idols; Or Ideals, Reals, and Shams.’
New York Alimony Club (informal)
Ernest Belfort Bax, England, co-authors book, The Legal Subjection of Men (Twentieth Century Press).
Anti-Bardell Bachelor Band, Atlanta Georgia. Formed to fight against a national campaign headed by activist Charlotte Smith (Women’s Rescue League) to promote a tax on bachelors. Another, similar effort was made by the Hoboken Bachelor’s Club in Hoboken, New Jersey.
League for Men’s Rights formed by Mr. William Austin in London. The movement is reported in newspapers of the time as a “Men’s Rights Movement”.
Ernest Belfort Bax, England, republishes his 1896 book, The Legal Subjection of Men (New Age Press)
Anti-Alimony Association, New York
Ernest Belfort Bax, England, writes a landmark book ‘The Fraud of Feminism’ in which he called feminism a fraud and discussed “female privilege”
Anti-alimony leader: George Esterling – Denver, Colorado
Samuel Reid, “Alimony Sam,” the “alimony martyr” of California
Men’s Rights organizations formed Bund für Männerrechte, Vienna, founded by Sigurd von Hoeberth (Höberth) and Leopold Kornblüh in March 1926. In January 1927 the Bund split into two organizations circa: Aequitas (Hoeberth), Justicia (Kornblueh); journal “Self-Defense”
Themisverbandes (Men’s Rights organization for female members, Sigurd Höberth von Schwarzthal). The founding of this organization led to a schism in Bund January
Aequitas Weltbund für Männerrechte (Aequitas Word Federation for Men’s Rights) (international), Vienna, following a schism in Bund für Männerrechte (Federation for Men’s Rights). This was Sigurd Hoeberth’s new organization for men’s rights which welcomed female members.
Justitia Verein für Männer und Familienrecht (Justitia Society for Men’s Rights and Family Rights), Vienna, founded by Leopold Kornblüh following a schism in Bund für Männerrechte (Federation for Men’s Rights). This group did not allow female members.
Alimony Club of Illinois, Society of Disgruntled Alimony Payers, Chicago, founded by Dr. Vernon B. Cooley and second wife, Mrs. Bessie Cooley
Alimony Payers Protective Association, led by Robert Gilbert Ecob
Milwaukee Alimony Club, Wisconsin
Fifty-Fifty League, London; manifesto “The Sex War”
Tibet Men’s Rights organization (name of org. unknown), founded by Amouki
‘World’s League for the Rights of Men’ formed in the UK, advocating for male issues, and holding an anti-“ultra-feminist” stance. The League had chapters in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, and other Continental centres.
D. A. M. Association, Kansas City, Missouri, founded by French L. Nelson
National Sociological League, Dr. Alexander Dallek, executive secretary
Organization “The Modern Men’s Rights Movement” (formation date unknown) publishes broadsheet, The Gauntlet outlining goals for gender equality and “emancipation of man from feminist domination.”
Alimony Club of New York County (Adolph Wodiska) (cited Jan. 9, 1932)
Ohio Alimony Association, Cleveland
National Divorce Reform League, Theodore Apstein (cited Feb. 14, 1933)
“Men’s rights” org ‘1933 Men’s Association’ started by lieutenant colonel R. A. Broughton, England
Alimony Reform League, New York
Divorce Racket Busters (incorporated 1961 as U.S.A. Divorce Reform, Inc.) – California – Reuben Kidd. This initiative continued to operate into the late 1960’s.
Esther Vilar publishes Der Drissierte Mann’ (The Manipulated Man) in Germany, and subsequently in English in 1972.
Coalition of American Divorce Reform Elements, founded by Richard Doyle
Lone Fathers Association established in Australia by Barry Williams- still running.
Men’s Rights Association formed by Richard Doyle
Richard Doyle publishes ‘The Rape of the Male’.
Men’s Rights Incorperated (MR Inc.) founded by Frederic Hayward and David Ault. David Ault also started the ‘Men’s Rights ERA,’ a project of MR Inc., which lobbied for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and promoted the benefit of the ERA for increasing men’s rights. MR. Inc. operated until the year 2010 (communication with Mr. Hayward).
Free Men Inc. was founded in Columbia, Maryland, spawning several chapters over the following years, which eventually merged to form the National Coalition of Free Men (now known as the National Coalition for Men).
Richard Doyle founded Men’s Equality Now International (MEN International) in 1977 and edited its newsletter, “The Liberator” until 2004.
Coalition Organized For Parental Equality formed.
The mythopoetic men’s movement refers to a loose collection of organizations active in men’s work since the early 1980s.
Texas Fathers for Equal Rights formed.
Professor Thomas Oaster director of the Missouri Center for Men’s Studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, established the first International Men’s Conference in Kansas which was attended in 1992-1994 by men and women from all continents. He also inaugurated the first International Men’s Day on February 7, 1992 – an event that is now celebrated in over 70 countries.
Warren Farrell publishes the landmark book The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex, which reiterates many of the men’s issues published at the beginning of the century by the Ernest Belfort Bax.

After the publication of Warren Farrell’s book The Myth of Male Power in 1993, men’s rights initiatives proliferated until the formation of A Voice for Men in 2009 which represents the beginning of the second wave of the MRM.

The Second-Wave of the Men’s (Human) Rights Movement:

‘Men’s rights are human rights’ – rally, India 2014
‘Men’s rights are human rights’ – rally, India 2014

Founded by men’s rights advocate Paul Elam, A Voice for Men has become a global platform for promoting awareness of, and advocacy for men’s human rights issues,4 and is the largest organization of it’s kind to-date. While it continues to advocate for most of the traditional concerns of the MHRM, it has deepened its understanding of those concerns and sufficiently developed its approach to them to be considered a legitimate second wave of the movement. For example the second wave is:

  • Nationally and internationally networked (as opposed to the poorly networked 1st wave);
  • Inclusive of all: women, men, straight and gay, trans, white, black are actively involved (as opposed to predominant hetero white male of the 1st wave);
  • Strictly anti violence (as opposed to occasional violence tolerance of 1st wave)
  • Anti-domination of MRM by traditionalist assumptions (which dominated 1st wave);
  • Anti-domination by partisan politics (1st wave was dominated by right wing sentiment);
  • Inclusive of people of all faiths while having zero tolerance for proselytizers (1st wave had slight dominance by Western religion);
  • Are generally anti-feminist, anti-gynocentrism, and anti-misandry (in unison with the first wave) with the addition of being more broadly oriented to human rights principles;
  • Are more committed to building bridges between the MHRM and the general community (unlike 1st wave);
  • Have elaborated a more thorough socio-political history of misandry and gynocentrism (unlike the patchy attempts of 1st wave);
  • Have developed a more sophisticated discourse about sexual/psychological/social/political issues to inform the basis of the MRM (more than 1st wave)
  • Focuses it’s activism on changing cultural narratives over lobbying officials to change laws (first wave), based on the principle that laws are usually altered to align with prevailing cultural expectations.

In contrast to lobbying legislators and requesting reforms to misandric laws (activism characterizing the first wave), the second wave has seen activism shift toward “changing the cultural dialogue” on social and mainstream media, with the understanding that laws governing gendered expectations are eventually brought into line with the prevailing cultural expectations.5

The principles of the second wave of the MHRM are not limited to the activities of A Voice for Men, and the signature principles first promoted by AVfM have migrated into the general discourse about men’s issues; principles such as inclusiveness, creating a wider and greater number of options for men, and an open acceptance of a variety of masculinities – including the rights of men to enjoy self-determination and to Go Their Own Way (MGTOW).

“Waves” of the Men’s Human Rights Movement:

The notion of ‘waves’ is familiar to us from first, second and third wave feminism. However our use of the term is not in any way related to the content or structure of feminist waves and is used here for metaphorical convenience as in ‘waves of soldiers’ or ‘waves of emotion’ to connote a surge of activity that is unique and yet related to another surge of activity.1

For the concept of ‘waves’ I employ the philosophical perspective of Alfred North Whitehead over Hegel. Hegel developed a progressivist dialectic model: eg. → thesis (gynocentrism) → antithesis (men’s rights activism) → synthesis (equality for all). This is the progressivist model implied by Bax and also by Farrell who describes a similar evolutionary theme in his writings: eg. → Women’s movement → men’s movement → gender transition movement.

The benefit of Whitehead’s approach is that it is a process philosophy like Hegel’s but, unlike Hegel, he insists that we do not leave the past behind us – we do not “progress” in the dialectical fashion described by Hegel. Whitehead proposes, rather, that the past always remains with us and informs all developments in the present. Thus by thinking with Whitehead’s philosophy the Men’s Rights Movement continues to undergo waves of activity, but they are not essentially “progressivist” waves.


[1] Peter Wright, Welcome to the Second Wave (January 25, 2013)
[2] Robert St. Estephe, The Unknown History of Misandry
[3] Paul Elam, Entering a new ERA (January 30, 2013)
[4] Mission Statement of A Voice for Men (August 2014)
[5] Paul Elam, Changing The Cultural Narrative (July 2015)

Feature image by James Brandon

Recommended Content

%d bloggers like this: