I was genuinely surprised and excited when Martin McKenzie-Murray contacted me from The Saturday Paper online. I’ve never known a McKenzie-Murray, I’d never heard of The Saturday Paper, and I’ve never been to Australia, though I’ve seen pictures. I was also, of course, a little apprehensive when someone with little knowledge of the men’s movement asked for an e-mail interview exchange. However, I readily accepted because of my preference for writing on hot-button issues, as opposed to any other sort of discussion about them. I’ve also never done a written interview before. Furthermore, his picture was cute.
I grew more wary when I read the content of some of his articles – not because I found myself in much disagreement – but because it was clear that he was used to reporting or commentating on a wide range of issues not including the men’s movement. In spite of mild misgivings, I dived in.
To say that I am disappointed in the end result is to understate. However, I am not surprised nor upset. I could tell by some of his questions that he had a different operating premise from mine, and that his premises would have to be dealt with in a longer exchange that I would not be interested in having.
As the end result is this nasty article that puts me in a tent with alleged misogynists, I am actually gladdened that someone with obvious writing talent has so completely misrepresented a worldwide phenomenon. The article doesn’t need to be taken down here and it won’t be. It takes itself down. All I have to do is give you one example, and not very far into the article.
McKenzie-Murray’s first quote from me is accurate as far as what I wrote: concerning more violent deaths, shorter life spans, higher suicides, and more public mocking and shaming for men; but read on for his conclusion:
“It is difficult – nay, impossible – to succinctly present the philosophy of men’s rights activists, because there doesn’t appear to be a center. Rather, it’s a jumble of resentments – some lofty but most deeply personal and idiosyncratic [emphasis mine].”
In spite of the fact that I’m not dead yet, have not suffered from a violent crime, have not been seriously publicly mocked or shamed, or many of the other extensive things I listed, I have jumped on to a bunch of resentments:
“Look there! That building is on fire! I was just in there! There’s at least 15 more people in there!”
“Hey, why the resentment?”
There is no point in nit-picking at garbage. You can read for yourself how an otherwise decent and seemingly studious writer, who never fails to point out the supposed contradictions inherent in the men’s movement, goes right on to contradict himself. Anyone who thinks he does not is free to point out in detail in the comments section here. It is not the intention of this article to pick apart where I was not adequately represented. (At least I was accurately quoted.) It is the intention of this post simply to give readers the full body of my e-mail exchange with McKenzie-Murray, edited for seamless reading, chronology of questions, Americanized spelling, and nothing more.
MM: What’s your story? How did you come to be a men’s rights activist? Is it recent conversion–or something that’s been with you all along?
BR: I came into the men’s movement slowly over time, beginning back in the 1990s as a college student in what’s called “reparative therapy,” where a man tries to lose his sexual attraction to other men and increase his interest in the opposite sex. As you can tell from my snarky comments in my own articles, that didn’t go over so well. What did happen was that I spent a lot of time in the library researching issues surrounding masculinity. I did not become an activist. What happened was that I lost my taste for what I refer to as “cultural misandry,” which is based on two criteria:
- Men are utilitarian.
- Men are disposable.
[I did not come up with the phrase “cultural misandry”, but I fail to find exactly where I first read it.] I began looking at the “straight” men on campus with a great deal more sympathy and increasing interest. What I get out of any “activism” is chiefly the opportunity to write about masculinity, which is an issue that becomes more important to me with every passing day of my life.
MM: What was your relationship like with your parents? Did it influence your later path? How?
BR: My parents are dear to me, and my feelings towards them have always been friendly. They raised me to be Mormon. They hoped for me to be married with children. I honestly sought after these things to no avail. Now that I no longer believe in God, and have gone through a sea change in how I view society, the world, and the universe itself; I find that those early influences are consciously distant, but that good and bad in those early relationships is something you take with you. That is something you either use to learn about yourself in relation to everyone else and accept and love yourself; or you let it drag you along. In short, I was raised to respect and put my trust in all sorts of earthly authorities. Now I find most established authority distasteful, so I get to spend mid-life working my own, new, unique way through society and its expectations.
MM: What other influences have exercised themselves on your philosophy? Many advocates like yourself reference Warren Farrell, for example.
BR: As far as the men’s movement is concerned, I would credit a great many authors whose names I don’t remember from those library stacks. (Ironically, I would have to thank a great many reparative therapists among them.) The main source of men’s social issues that galvanized me was, as it is for many others, the writings of Angry Harry, who is considered the father of the online men’s movement. For other social issues, I would have to credit the writings of John Taylor Gatto and Alice Miller, who both got closer to the root of all our ills by writing about the influence of government schooling (Gatto) and childhood trauma (Miller).
MM: The more sober spokesmen cite genuine equality as a goal, and the pernicious effects of identity politics on such a goal. Where do you stand on this interpretation?
BR: Well, I don’t know that I’m a sober spokesman, then, because equality, as I see that it is currently used, is politically loaded and based on a fraudulent idea: that you can not only organize society using coercion but also by treating men and women the same. Not only do I not believe in the equality of the sexes, but I do not believe in the equality of any other individual or group of individuals within either sex. This does not mean that I believe that any individual or group is superior to any other. I lost the last of that sort of thinking when I left Mormonism behind. I believe that society is self-organizing, and that within the terms set by that principle are addressed a great many issues with which the equality types are concerned.
What those who believe in equality are saying, however, is: How is it possible for a woman to tie up the courts, the media, and the personal lives of a great many innocent people back at Duke University in 2006 with an outright fabrication of rape, including no witnesses and no evidence? Such a scenario would not have happened if the sexes were reversed. That’s an example of the inequality before the law that people within the movement can see.
MM: An argument often cited is that the goal is genuine equality–but I’ve seen fairly obvious examples of misogyny in online comments. Is this fair? Are you a broad church, meaning that advocates come at this with varying levels of legitimacy?
BR: Charges of misogyny will continue to be made as long as millions go on believing that feminism is about helping women who need help and nothing more. We live in a world where men have a shorter life expectancy; where men are imprisoned far more often and for longer; where men are far more likely to die on the job; where men hold almost exclusively the top ten deadliest jobs in the world; where less men graduate from school; where there are less men in the workforce; where battered men can find no shelter; where the homeless are composed almost entirely of men; where there is lots of government money for female-specific health concerns and virtually none for men; where men are laughed at as imbeciles or sneered at as villains throughout entertainment; where more men in prison are raped than women not imprisoned; and people think we need to be concerned about suspect misogyny.
The men’s movement, as I see it, is an intellectual shift in the evolution of human thought on par with various other historical social movements, and will ultimately overtake feminism by peaceful means. There are men the world over walking away peacefully to do things their own way: in Japan, in Sweden, in Australia, in America, in Brazil, In India, each for their own reasons and following their own inspiration.
MM: An example of the previous: A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam has said some incredibly incendiary things. Things that might be construed as misogynistic and incitements to violence. (For e.g. saying last year that October should be “Bash a Violent Bitch Month”). Where do you stand on this kind of rhetorical militancy? Is it helpful, or not?
BR: Anyone who thinks after reading Elam’s words that he advocates for any violent solutions must also think that Jonathan Swift was in favor of eating children.
MM: I assume from your answers that “reparative therapy” was something you rejected. Can you tell me what this therapy entailed? Did it spring from your Mormonism? And what was your journey in embracing your sexuality?
BR: Yes, I reject reparative therapy along with Mormonism, and it was my access to this therapy from within a Mormon university that introduced me to the idea of change. For the most part, reparative therapy by the 1990s no longer involved revulsion or electroshock therapy (inducing vomiting in or electrocuting the subject while showing the subject gay porn). I was not tortured. Instead, we spent a great deal of time on family issues and talked about the lack of male bonding in my personal life. The premise of change may have been pointless, but it introduced me to the idea of exploring masculinity. Since I consider myself a masculine entity, the idea of finding out more about myself was intriguing.
However, ultimately the therapy was a waste of time as I now believe it is premised on many wrong ideas about men and masculinity. After reparative therapy I had simply given up on the idea of having a relationship with a woman, but I still believed in the church. Finally I stopped believing altogether and was able to fully accept myself as I am. Mormonism is about a constant drive to perfection. Now I am free to be imperfect and figure things out for myself.
MM: You talk about this triggering spells in the library, studying. Can you explicitly link your experience with reparative therapy to your studious quest around masculinity?
BR: Yes, that is the case. I would not have started reading so many books about men if I had not started reparative therapy. There lies the irony.
MM: You believe that society is self-organizing: doesn’t that mean, then, that men can choose to be in the dangerous professions, or leave school earlier, etc.? If not, what forces are at work here?
BR: I believe that society can and will organize itself. It is obvious to me that, like dogs and certain other species, humans are naturally social creatures. However, we do not live in a completely self-organized society. As we become technologically more advanced, I feel that we as a species are learning ever more about our true selves. I suspect it will seem silly to future humans to be arguing over pointless lawmaking and political positioning.
Society, however, is currently coercively organized. Men living in disadvantaged parts of the world find themselves lacking a great many opportunities. Hence, they accept dangerous work and drop out of school to try to find what little they believe is better. It’s hard to organize yourself when you’ve had your mind organized for you by so many outside influences, and when resources are hogged by wealthy people who bid the favors of world governments.
MM: Regarding violence against men–it’s mostly committed by men, right? The common denominator in most violence is men. Doesn’t this demand some sort of gendered framework?
BR: Violence against men by men does not reduce the seriousness of the violence, does not sufficiently explain it, and does not lead to the conclusion that violence is overwhelmingly a male phenomenon; nor should it exclude the violence done against men by women, the violence done against women by women, or the violence done against children by women. There’s violence that gets reported and violence that goes on behind the scenes. More than half of child abusers and half of sex abusers are women. A significant portion of intimate-partner violence is female-initiated.
Beyond those considerations, there is a great deal of violence done by men that is on behalf of women and that meets with their approval, everything from “Support the Troops” bumper stickers to defending a woman’s honor in a bar fight. Men, not women, are called upon to do the violence of society when the state deems it necessary, and then those same men are expected to turn it all off when told to stop. Male boxers, ultimate fighters, and American football players are lauded for their violent abilities, and then we are surprised when these same men are guilty of some violent crime. In short, society asks an awful lot of men and then is surprised when negative consequences stemming from what is asked are manifest. At the same time, they fall mute upon the violence perpetrated by females.
MM: Finally, regarding misogyny: there is a mix of voices–some thoughtful, some not–but in spending much time in online forums and reading many articles and open letters, I’ve detected an enormous amount of vitriol, misogyny and bitterness. Do you deny that the MRA scene is not seriously touched by this?
BR: An enormous amount of vitriol? I probably haven’t been to those websites. I took down Return of Kings in an article I wrote last year, which claims to be a site on board with the men’s movement but appears to be nothing more than a website built for hyper-heterosexualized men (alpha-male-wannabes); yet even at that site I do not see anything worth being concerned about. What I see in comments at various sites has more to do with anger and hurt. You must remember that a lot of these men have had their lives destroyed in family court. There are bound to be harsh words.
And that was it. I enjoyed the process of writing and explaining. It’s a pity that none of that pleasure showed up in McKenzie-Murray’s article, which, I suppose, means it didn’t even puncture his brain. Regardless, I’d like to thank Marty for essentially giving me my latest article. In a barrel.