The media fallout from the International Conference on Men’s Issues has been pretty well dealt with on A Voice for Men. The usual nonsense from Salon, Time, Jessica Roy, MSNBC, Adam Serwer, Alex Wagner, and the like have been duly skewered for their all-too-predictable dishonesty—and their obvious fear of a rising men’s issues movement that challenges their prejudices and their unquestioning acceptance of the dominant cultural narrative. But there’s at least one more to discuss: Monica Hesse’s article on the conference that appeared in The Washington Post.
If you want to write a hatchet job on anyone, Hesse’s article would make a good template. Her first mission was to attack the people at the conference, which means depicting them as shallow, angry, hypersensitive, self-involved losers. Having established, in her readers’ minds, the debased nature of conference speakers and attendees, the rest was simple. The actual issues could be caricatured because who would be interested in the concerns of deadbeats with the emotional maturity of children? The balance consisted of verbal swipes at one person or another, one issue or another, ever so slightly leavened with—and this is important to any hatchet job—a few kind words.
So she began her article thus:
The feminists hadn’t shown up yet, but they could, at any moment, with their protest signs and screaming.
See what I mean? Presumably we were all cowering in fear at the prospect of a few feminists showing up with signs. By itself that might not have convinced anyone, but Hesse was careful to add to her portrait of men’s issues advocates as frightened, paranoid little boys. Hesse also failed to mention that these things had happened before and that what looked like reliable sources had indicated such protests and worse were threatened this time as well. Mention of any of this could easily be omitted–and so she did. Instead, in her next couple of paragraphs she referred to attendees’ perception of the world as a “dangerous place” for men and men being “under threat of attack.” She called the tone of the conference one of “paranoia and anger.” She called the MRAs there “misfit boys and damaged men.” If that didn’t convince readers what creeps these men’s issues advocates are, nothing would.
Having laid the prejudicial groundwork, Hesse was free to marginalize the issues. Issues that took the speakers two days to elucidate, Hesse skipped through like tiptoeing through the tulips. My own presentation merited six words. Senator Ann Cools got none, and Mike Buchanan only a single clause. Warren Farrell’s speech was presented to Post readers as an 18-word quotation.
Indeed, rather than engage with any of the issues, on which speakers talked in such depth and detail, Hesse for the most part ignored them altogether. Instead, her article reflects mostly interviews with usually anonymous attendees, i.e., another tactic of the hatchet job. That anonymity means we can’t compare her quotations with a factual record. So, unlike the speakers, whose presentations appear on YouTube and elsewhere, we have to take Hesse’s word for it that they said what she claims.
It’s a curious way to cover a conference. After all, you’d think readers might want to know what the issues are, how they’re viewed, and why. But Hesse carefully avoided that, the better to control the message she was offering Washington Post readers.
But she wasn’t comfortable with simply mischaracterizing speakers and attendees or limiting readers’ information on the issues. Hesse went on to feed her readers a diet of falsehoods and misleading claims. For example, she claimed that no one at the conference mentioned that custodial mothers are more likely to live in poverty than are custodial fathers, but I, in fact, devoted a significant portion of my presentation to exactly that.
Likewise, she wrote, “A Voice for Men said the hotel was issued death threats by feminists for agreeing to hold the conference.…” In fact, it was the hotel management that said that on hotel stationery. She wrote that Paul Elam’s writings have been referred to as “hate speech” but declined to say by whom, preferring to let readers conclude that her reference in the next clause to the Southern Poverty Law Center meant it was the SPLC that had done so. It never has, and SPLC’s researcher on the men’s movement has stated flatly that AVfM is not a hate group, but Hesse didn’t let her readers know this.
She used the same tactic in describing Paul’s years-old “Bash a Violent Bitch” piece, writing, “He says he was being satirical.” That, of course, was Hesse’s way of suggesting to her readers that Paul wrote a piece championing male violence against women and then cravenly backtracked, claiming it to be satire. No Washington Post reader will know from Hesse’s piece that Paul originally labelled the article satire or that the Jezebel piece he satirized explicitly lauded female domestic violence against males. And they’ll never know Hesse’s astonishing hypocrisy of criticizing Paul’s satirical piece that’s anti-violence while shielding the feminist article that unapologetically applauded women’s violence against men.
I mentioned that Hesse failed to engage with the issues. Often that’s the case when an opponent of those issues doesn’t have a valid counter-argument to make, which I suspect is the case with Monica Hesse. That impression is reinforced by the few times she did try to engage with the issues. Her efforts were so weak and poorly thought out that it’s no surprise that she didn’t do more of it.
The said “engagement” invariably came in a “yes, but” format. So, when her unnamed interlocutors mentioned being financially ravaged by ex-wives in divorce proceedings, Hesse’s “but” was her false claim that no one mentioned the greater rates of custodial-mother poverty. Of course I had done exactly that, and other presenters at the conference have mentioned it many times in their careers.
More importantly, since non-custodial mothers are far less likely to be ordered to pay child support, are ordered to pay less than are fathers, and pay less of what they owe, their poverty rates can’t be ascribed to divorce courts but to their own behavior. Women generally work less at paid employment than do men and tend to work at lower-paying jobs. In short, the things that explain the wage gap generally also explain the wage gap between custodial mothers and fathers. Needless to say, Hesse mentioned none of that.
Presenters used historical laws as “proof” that women have always had special privileges — access to their husband’s bank accounts, for example — but didn’t mention that during the aforementioned time period, women didn’t legally have the right to vote.
Did Hesse notice that her example of female “oppression” is also an example of female privilege? Women didn’t have the right to vote in part for one of the primary reasons it was granted to men by the 15th Amendment in 1870. Men are subject to military conscription and slaughter on the battlefield and their voting rights have been explicitly connected to that. (Indeed, they still are to a large extent.) Women’s first privilege came in having no duty of military service, which helps explain their lack of voting rights. Their second came in 1920 when they got the right to vote without the obligation to lay down their lives. It’s not apparent that Hesse knows any of this.
Participants lambasted the media for deliberately ignoring the high percentage of male rape victims — 38 percent — and also lambasted Slate journalist Hanna Rosin for writing a “misandric” book about the “end of men” — but didn’t note that Rosin recently wrote a lengthy article about the high percentage of male rape victims.
From where I sit, Rosin’s work is among the worst of the contemporary feminist natterers. As a matter of course, her work is misandric and dishonest, sometimes laughably so. But, irrespective of what one thinks of Rosin, according to Hesse, since she wrote a single piece about male rape victims, all else should be forgiven and forgotten. Of course, Paul Elam isn’t entitled to the same consideration from her for some reason. According to Monica Hesse’s thinking, one good turn makes up for a thousand malicious ones, at least when the person is a feminist.
At almost every turn, Hesse opted for the belittling and the denigrating over the respectful. So every speaker she quoted except Farrell had his/her words taken out of context in order to represent them in a negative light. Almost every detail of the conference, its attendees, and its venue was selected for its negative qualities. No person mentioned escaped some form of censure, either blatant or sneaky. Commonly accepted terms such as parental alienation were placed in quotation marks to suggest inauthenticity. Humor was presented as serious. Men’s real pain was belittled. (See the coda below.)
Women? There are a great many highly qualified and dedicated women among men’s issues advocates. But Washington Post readers don’t know that because, with the exception of mentioning that five of the 15 speakers were women and briefly quoting two speakers, Hesse all but totally overlooked the female attendees. She neither interviewed them, counted them, nor mentioned their presence. It’s that feminist thing of silencing women who fail to agree with feminism.
In short, Hesse’s piece is standard agitprop and a pretty good “how-to” manual for a hatchet job. It paints supporters of men’s issues as deadbeats and losers who are so balled up in their own little problems that they can’t see how women suffer and wouldn’t care if they could. The many legitimate issues raised at the conference were either ignored, misrepresented, or “answered” with arguments that don’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny.
So I called Hesse. I was pleasantly surprised at her willingness to talk, and found her defensive but far from the shrieking monster we see so often on feminist websites. We spoke for 40 minutes, and she invariably answered my questions and tried to give context to what she was doing and why.
That said, her defense of her article was hardly persuasive. But her reason for not engaging with the issues was fair enough: she writes for the “Lifestyle” section and her assignment was to give readers “the experience” of being at the conference, not its content. Plus, she didn’t have unlimited space in which to write, so she couldn’t deal in-depth with the issues and said that to favor one issue at the expense of the others wouldn’t give readers a fair idea of what went on. That, of course, doesn’t explain her abortive efforts to engage with the issues she chose, but was fair as far as it went.
Her efforts went downhill from there. What was her basis for calling the conference “an island of misfit boys and damaged men?” Well, she thought some of the men there had been damaged by some of life’s experiences, which is undeniably true. And “island of misfit boys” is a play on words. Just how that justifies using it to describe adult men and women, she didn’t explain. But referring to people such as Warren Farrell, Tom Golden, Mike Buchanan, Carnell Smith, much less Erin Pizzey, Karen Straughan, Barbara Kay, et al. that way is both inaccurate and, of course, intentionally belittling. Did she consider the phrase denigrating? She did not.
Hesse described the conference as a “wounded echo chamber of nebulous statistics.” Which statistics did she consider “nebulous?” She couldn’t say; she didn’t have her notes, but again they were ones cited not by speakers but by her unnamed interviewees.
She wrote that some issues were “not unsympathetic,” but that when conference-goers spoke about them, “they sound like they could be feminists.” So, I wondered, which feminist organizations was she referring to. Oh, she wasn’t talking about feminist organizations, just feminists. Who? She thought for a bit and then cited Sheryl Sandberg, but no one else. Could she think of any feminist or feminist organization that is active on behalf of men’s issues? She couldn’t. When I pointed out that feminism’s unbroken tradition of opposing any and all legislation to improve fathers’ rights tends to contradict her claim, she responded, “I’m not going to debate that.”
Elam online is an uncaged coil of rage, whose violent diatribes have been categorized as hate speech, earning his site a mention in a 2012 Southern Poverty Law Center intelligence report about misogynistic sites.
Could she understand how many people would conclude from that statement that it was the SPLC that had characterized Elam’s words as “hate speech.” She said it wasn’t her intention, but only claimed that others have used the term. Which others? She refused to say.
Her article claimed that no one had mentioned the higher rates of poverty for custodial mothers than custodial fathers. When I pointed out that I had done just that more than once, she said she must have been out of the room.
When I pointed out that her description of Paul’s “Bash a Violent Bitch” misleads readers, she said she thought his piece was “poorly done satire.” When I wondered why she would take aim at a piece that was plainly satire while giving a pass to the Jezebel article that frankly applauded female violence against males, Hesse said, “That could be a fair point,” but that she would “have to think about that.”
Did she find her article to be a fair and balanced description of the conference and the people there? She did. According to her, mine was the only negative feedback she received, and the conference attendees who emailed her said they thought she’d been fair. Comments to the piece show an altogether different analysis, but we didn’t get into that.
On the telephone, Hesse claimed speakers at the conference cherry-picked our statistics, so I asked her to give examples. She criticized Senator Cools’s presentation but offered no examples of cherry-picked statistics.
She complained that the conference was one-sided, that it failed to provide context for the many problems besetting men and boys. By that she meant feminist context, so I asked her if she believed that feminists have applied her rule to themselves, i.e., always given the male, or non-feminist, point of view. Her response? “I think they do more and more,” but offered no specifics and claimed to know nothing of feminism “in the 60s and 70s” because “I wasn’t even born then.”
Overall, Monica Hesse on the telephone failed to live up to the stereotype of the misandric feminist. She came across as neither doctrinaire nor steeped in the sort of absurd notions about men and women we so often get from run-of-the-mill anti-reality feminists. She seemed genuine; she seemed sincere. She didn’t think she’d done a hatchet job on individuals, a conference, or a movement.
How is that possible? Of course she may have just been putting up a front, but I don’t think so. How can her beliefs about her piece possibly square with the fact that, by any rational standard, it’s a hatchet job, a shallow, close-to-defamatory exercise in promoting the perception of men’s issues and their advocates as undeserving of respect?
My conclusion is that she’s probably absorbed gender feminist narratives for so long that she truly thinks they’re the norm, that a different construction of reality is, intellectually, an alien species. I believe she’s so imbued with misandric culture that using phrases such as “misfit boys and damaged men” to describe her superiors (Cools, Golden, Farrell, Smith, Pizzey, et. al.) both in intellect and in achievement truly doesn’t seem strange to her. I think her all but invariable marginalizing of men, the conference, and the movement is simply routine for her; she’s seen it so often she doesn’t recognize it for what it is. Like a hoarder whose house fills up with junk, she no longer recognizes the junk concepts that fill her mind, crowding out everything else.
In short, I conclude that Hesse believes herself to exemplify NAFALT. She’s one of those feminists we’re supposed to respect for their sincerity and their thoughtfulness, both of which terms truly describe the Monica Hesse with whom I spoke. She’s one of those feminists who is in fact sincerely and thoughtfully blind to their own misandry and knee-jerk resistance to non-feminist/anti-feminist notions. She’s a person who can say, and honestly believe, that she requires “the other side” to be given a fair hearing while identifying with a movement that’s always done the opposite. For her, feminism is a prison beyond whose walls she can’t see and whose yard she believes to be the whole world.
Such, at any rate, is my take on her.
And so, in an attempt to jar her out of her feminist complacency, I made it clear how her article comes across. I explained to her that I try to be fact-based and logical, that I’m not a hot head who jumps to conclusions, that I take people and their work as they come. I told her that I was astonished that she views her piece as fair. I told her I regarded it as very poor and a classic example of disinformation. I said,
I would tell you that, from the very first sentence on through, almost without exception, your aim is to denigrate the people and the issues.
She responded by saying that she’d spoken with men there who made statements “of really horrifying misogyny” but didn’t quote them in the article “because I didn’t think they were representative of the larger group.”
To which I said, in essence, “The fact your piece could have been worse doesn’t mean it was good enough.”
I don’t think she took my criticism well, but possibly she didn’t reject it outright.
One of the speakers at the conference was Terrence Popp, an Army veteran of two tours of duty overseas. His topic was the many family court issues facing mostly male veterans returning from overseas deployments. Here’s how Hesse could have accurately and respectfully described him and his presentation.
Army veteran and recipient of two Purple Hearts, Sergeant Terrence Popp illustrated his presentation with a deeply moving multiple award-winning short film about veterans’ harsh treatment by family courts that drives many to suicide. Popp then revealed that this film was a re-enactment of his own planned suicide, which he had only aborted when four days before he was to kill himself, one of his close friends and comrades in the military killed himself first. Popp is part of an organization, SecondClassCitizen.org, that tracks divorce among veterans. It finds that 90% of vets get divorced within five years of returning to this country and most lose their children, based on thousands of interviews of these veterans. Due to military regulations prohibiting individuals speaking on behalf of the Army, Popp emphasized that his remarks were his and not the Army’s.
But here is what Hesse actually wrote:
“One presenter, a military veteran speaking on the treatment of veterans returning from war, put up a PowerPoint slide alleging that 70 percent of men returning from war get divorced, and 90 percent do so within five years. When asked about the source of this statistic, he said, “That particular statistic is from my personal observations. I’m just speaking here as a dude.”
One dude speaking to a roomful of like-minded dudes, who reinforce rather than challenge one another’s world views.”
See what I mean about what non-ideological reporting would look like, and what asking questions of presenters would look like, versus what Monica Hesse did?
Oh by the way, one final note: Terrence Popp did not use PowerPoint for anything. One can only conclude that Monica Hesse of The Washington Post either didn’t watch the video or she watched it and it made so little impression upon her she could only remember it as a nonexistent PowerPoint slide. We contacted Popp before running this piece on The Washington Post‘s hatchet job, and he affirmed that not only did Monica Hesse ask him no questions, either during or after the conference, but neither has any other member of the press contacted him about his presentation or his statistics—other than A Voice for Men and The Honey Badger Brigade.
May we politely suggest that someone at The Washington Post, or any other of our once-great press organs, do a little more investigation on this issue? Or any of the other issues covered at the conference? It might be a start on redemption from hatchet jobs like this.
Editorial note: If you agree with the assessment that Hesse egregiously misreported to and misled Washington Post readers, you can register (hopefully civil) complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. —DE