Messaging and “moderation” in the men’s community

The following is a slightly modified piece that was originally performed as a video response to Barbarossaaaa, who recently commented on others on YouTube advocating making the men’s movement more “inclusive” and saying it has an “image problem.” Barbarossaaaa was rather skeptical of the idea, and basically said “carve out your own space and be whoever you want to be,” and noted that more hateful men’s advocates and men going their own way didn’t bother him.

This is something that has torn at me for a long time, and to an extent still does. In early 2002, which means about 11 12 years ago now, I started writing a weblog. I gave it a stupid name that was supposed to be a joke, “Dean’s World,” ironically and very loosely sort of based on the “Wayne’s World” movie that had been popular and that name stuck because to my shock it got very very popular. Possibly Barbarossa might even relate to this a little, because while there’s nothing wrong with being called Barbarossa if he ever decides “I don’t want to be Barbarossa anymore, I want to be known as something else,” he almost can’t do that without tearing everything up and starting over.

Anyway, I got stuck with “Dean’s World” and at one time I was up to about 20,000 daily visits, something like 100, 150 thousand daily hits, I got contacted by university professors, political campaigns, the Library of Congress archived part of my blog for the 2004 elections, and so on. It was big.

I mention all this for two reasons. Not to brag, because frankly it’s not that much to brag about anymore. It’s not as popular as it used to be by any means. I mention it first because a lot of the community thinks I’m new to men’s issues. Second, because that experience of being popular and having written on a lot of things taught me some bitter lessons. To make a long story short: I wrote on many things on that blog over the years, many many things: politics, history, religion, science, and many other things. But one of them was always, from the beginning, men’s issues. The issue of domestic violence was always closest to my heart, but other issues like men having rights in reproduction, the way poor men get marginalized, father’s rights, and so on were also always there.

And what I consistently noticed over more than ten years of writing is that when I would write on other subjects, I would get a whole whole lot of attention, but whenever I bothered writing anything on men’s or boys’ issues, 99% of the time I got complete silence. Or maybe one or two supportive or critical comments.

I would also try at times to have conversations with feminists, and talk to them, and while a few were reasonable most were either contemptuously dismissive or even outright bullying and nasty.

I read Warren Farrell‘s The Myth of Male Power around the time it came out, and that’s been almost 20 years ago now, and it effected me. But what impact did it have on the larger world? Nothing that I could tell.

When I finally decided to join the guys over at A Voice for Men, where I’m Managing Editor now, it was a hard thing for me to do. I had to do some soul searching. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been involved in online discourse for about 30 years, been blogging for about 12, been writing on and off on men’s issues for multiple decades if you count my pre-blogging days when I would sometimes venture into online debates, and I finally had to swallow this pill: being nice doesn’t work.

I will repeat this for emphasis: being nice, polite, and civil–it does not work.

Nobody listens, nobody cares.

Even if they do politely agree with you all they give you is quiet agreement but then they do nothing. Or they change the subject to try to minimize, or equalize. So if some woman faces street harassment once in a while, or guys occasionally make sexist remarks about women in the workplace, why that’s just exactly the same as men having no reproductive rights to speak of (beyond the right to have sex), debtor’s prison for guys who can’t make their child support and alimony payment because they’re destitute, workplace deaths, higher suicide rates, higher homelessness rates, parental alienation which disproportionately effects fathers and their children, genital mutilation… I don’t know what’s worse, having people deny these problems exist, or the people who acknowledge them but try to equalize or marginalize them so women’s issues are “just as bad” or, even more annoyingly, try to say “but it’s getting better now.”

No, it isn’t fucking getting better, not on most of these things. On most of them, it’s getting worse. In too many ways to count.

When I joined AVfM, I had a tearing at my conscience because even though in 30 years of online discourse I’ve occasionally lost my shit and said some blistering things, I’ve usually apologized for that. I don’t like getting in people’s faces, and the older I get the less I like doing that. And I’ll usually try to apologize if someone points out that I’ve been over-the-top rude. Sometimes if someone consistently pushes my buttons, or if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I get rude. I’m not a saint, but that’s just not my preferred style. I’m sure you’ll run into a few people online who only remember the times I was rude to them in particular, but really honestly, most of the time, I’d rather just be calm and rational and give people the benefit of the doubt.

But I’ve sadly noticed it appears that the only way to get attention on men’s and boys’ issues is to get in people’s faces and say “fuck you motherfuckers,” and mean it. Then they at least wake the fuck up. And so when I get people, even close friends, telling me they think we Men’s Rights Advocates need to tone down our message, I always say the same thing:

For decades now there have been people talking and writing about these things, including some very very thoughtful, learned, intelligent, and famous people, and we have gotten nowhere. In fact, of trends that people like Erin Pizzey and Warren Farrell first started identifying 20, even 30 or 40 years ago, a few have gotten a little better but most of them have either stayed the same or gotten worse, some dramatically worse. So my real question for these people who say we need to tone it down is this:

“You tell me what works better than getting rude, because being rude has consistently shown better results than being nice and kind and pleasant and rational has.”

Well, rational still matters. But, nice and kind and pleasant? Not so much.

All that said, I’m going to somewhat contradict myself: when you open yourself up to being angry and provocative, you can open yourself up to bringing in people you really don’t want to bring in. You’ll get associated with people you don’t want to associate with. For example, while I have nothing against everyone in the Pickup Artist/Game community, I have no interest in associating with those people at all, and I think much of what they’re doing is selling snake oil: for shy guys who aren’t good with girls, “we have the magic formula for you!” Yeah, maybe some of that works but whatever. There’s also this idiot called Dmitri “the Lover” who is pretty obviously a fake men’s advocate, or ought to be considered one, because he’s got this web site that appears to go back a few years and this asshole writes that men have a right to rape women and slap them around if they get mouthy and a bunch of other stupid shit like that–if you don’t believe me just Google him, I’m not giving you any links.

There’s also the occasional commenter who shows up on my channel, or other channels, or places like Reddit, or A Voice for Men or my blog, saying really outrageous shit. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that they’re trolls, or sock puppets for radical feminists. In fact I’d be willing to bet you money that Dave Futrelle and other feminists often use sock puppet accounts to say outrageous shit to try to prove that men’s advocates are all misogynists, woman-haters, angry white people and all that.

In fact that “white” part really bothers me. “White?” Really? How racist are you that you think these issues are white people’s issues? No. Sorry, if anything, when it comes to men’s issues, men of color tend to have it a little worse, but even then that’s just a general trend. Race hasn’t got much to do with it. We as men have issues that we face as men, period, it doesn’t matter what our color is. But anyway, we get all these stereotypes about us, and I think if we don’t address them, there are people who might otherwise listen to us, who won’t if they believe the stereotypes.

I’m a big believer in the theory that you can never convince 100% of people of anything. No matter what your position. You probably can’t get 100% of the population to be against paedophilia, there’s probably a tenth of a percent of the general public that thinks that’s no big deal. If I advocated wiping out all life on Earth there’d be someone somewhere who thought that was a great idea. There’s just nothing you can ever get 100% agreement or disagreement on.

So the goal of any movement is not to persuade everybody, it’s to get enough people to get enough critical mass to change things.

Some raise the point that Men’s Rights Advocates haven’t gotten any legislation passed. But I don’t think that’s looking at it in a fair manner. One of the first things you must do with any successful movement is build enough critical mass to get legislation passed. That takes time, organization, and effort.

For example, in the United States, slavery was ended effectively in 1865. Arguably, with the passage of the 14th amendment around that era, black people should have gotten all their full civil rights within fairly short order after that. But they didn’t, did they? They didn’t have their full civil rights until about a hundred years later; I’d say that with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that’s when you can say they fully had the same civil and legal rights as whites. That doesn’t mean everything became equal or racism went away, it just meant all the same rights under the law were extended equally to everybody, formally anyway, even though there’s still disparities and discrimination.

So by my math that took ONE HUNDRED YEARS from the end of slavery.

Do I think the men’s movement is going to need a century? No. I think we’re moving faster than that. But it’s still going to take time. And what we’re seeing right now is a period of amazing growth in the men’s movement. And growth will be fractious and include some pain.

To my way of looking at the history of political movements, when you see factions and schisms develop, that’s usually a sign of one of two things: the movement is falling apart, or, it is growing. And I’m pretty convinced that we are in a growth phase right now. In fact I think we’re growing like crazy, and crazy growth means that schisms and arguments are going to happen, and some people are going to be left behind or have to go off on their own direction. And so far as I’m concerned, that is OK.

Even if you look at the history of the civil rights movement in America for black people just as an example, you had the followers of Martin Luther King, you had the followers of Malcom X, and you had the followers of other groups like the Congress of Racial Equality, and the the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which had been around a lot longer than any of those others had been (longer than most of those other people had been alive in fact), and more. You don’t need one umbrella group, nor do you need everyone in your movement to agree on everything.

Just comparing Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, there was a huge difference between those two men in their personal styles and even their stated goals. So a certain amount of fractiousness is OK.

My view is that the men’s movement’s had its Martin Luther King figures for a long time, in people like Warren Farrell and Erin Pizzey. What it hasn’t had is its Malcolm X type figures, which basically scare people because they’re rude and in your face. They’re not violent, they never advocate violence, but, they won’t back down. They won’t be nice, they won’t be ginger in their language, because they calculate that “nice” doesn’t work. They calculate that “blunt” is what works.

But, all of that said, in embracing the idea that there are going to be rude and abrasive people, and that rude and abrasive is needed, I have to get back to it: if you want a coherent movement, rather than just individuals all doing their own thing, you must have the ability to say, “This person or set of ideas does not represent us or our values at all.” And you must be able to stick to that. You must be able to say things like, for example, “You hate homosexuals? Sorry, we’re not on board with that, and you’re not part of our party here. You can make your points to somebody else, we’re not hanging out with you.”

You have to also be able to do one other thing: you have to be able to say not just what you’re against. You have to be able to say what you’re for. One of the things that consistently frustrates me about some men’s rights people is that they seem to think that just criticizing feminists or arguing with feminists is going to do anything all by itself. I’m sorry, but it’s not. As many have noted, it’s not even clear exactly what feminism is. Is conservative traditionalism “the other feminism,” as some people claim? Maybe. I think both are flip sides of the same coin, and the actual coin is male disposability. Which to me means the ultimate enemy isn’t feminism, it’s male disposability, and misandry, and the whole set of attitudes that go along with male disposability and misandry.

Furthermore, let’s say you and I agree that the ultimate problem is male disposability–maybe we don’t, but let’s just pretend that we agree on that, and that this and misandry are the real root problem. Once again, what have we done but said we’re against that? Great, we’re against male disposability. As it happens, I’m willing to bet we’re both also against mass starvation, and bad music, and mass murder, and bad weather, and bad breath. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that we’re all against those things. But so what?

What are we for exactly? What am I for? Maybe you’re not for all the same things I am, but I think if we don’t say what we’re for, all we’re doing is complaining. If you can’t say what you’re for, only what you’re against, you can only get so far with any kind of activism.

Especially on something like this. What are you going to do, ban feminism? If you believe in free speech, you can’t do that, and what good would it do? Male disposability won’t go away anyway. So if you’re going to be an activist, you have to stake out a position on specific things you’re for. Like, “we’re for the right of men to say ‘I won’t be a father. You’re pregnant? I don’t feel ready to be a father, I want to sign paperwork right now that says I give this child up for adoption, it’s up to you whether or not you have it but I will not be that child’s father.” That is a right men should have. We probably a agree that’s a right men should have, but we ought to be able to say that.

We should be able to say that if you make a proven false allegation of domestic violence you should get a criminal penalty for that. We should be able to call for aolishing debtor’s prison: no more putting men (or women for that matter, to whatever extent it happens) in jail because they can’t make these draconian support payments. We abolished debtor’s prison in this country a long time ago, except for men caught in the family court meatgrinder.

Those are specific things you have to stake out a position on and say “Yes, these are the things we’re for. We’re not just ‘against feminism,’ we’re for changing THIS to THIS.”

Otherwise you don’t have a movement, you’re just complaining.

And image starts to matter. Once you are in the business of trying to persuade the general public to change their perceptions, and to get legislation changed, you are going to have to be prepared to “clean house,” at least a little, and identify people or positions that are anathema to you. You just have to. You cannot have an effective Men’s Rights Movement and have in your ranks someone whose basic position is that feminism is a Jewish plot to undermine white Christian men (and yes, there really are fringe loons who say that, they’re a tiny minority but they exist). I mean, I’m sorry, you just can’t have them as part of your group and have the wider electorate take you seriously. You can’t take someone like a Fred Phelps with his “God Hates Fags” bullshit and let him on the bus with you. (He’s not on our bus, but the point is, you can’t cozy up with such people.) You really have to be able to say “Look, we have a big tent here, we have room for a lot of opinions and ideas, but here’s some things that we’re going to have to show you the door on. You can go do whatever activism you want but you’re not a part of what we’re doing or what we’re about.”

And when someone says to you, “aren’t you just worried about the problems of straight white middle aged men?” you have to really have the power to say NO, WE CARE ABOUT ALL MEN AND BOYS OF ALL RACES, CREEDS, COLORS, ORIENTATIONS, WHATEVER, and be willing to say that loud and clear.

I’m even willing to concede that of the problems men face, they probably affect men of different races more, in the aggregate anyway. At least in the United States, black men probably face a lot of these issues harder than white men do, in the aggregate; there are more fatherless families in the black community than the white community for example, at least the last time I looked at the statistics. But that doesn’t mean that the white or brown family that’s fatherless automatically has it better. The bottom line is that by dividing us up by race, they minimize us. It’s racist, really.

Genital mutilation is not a black vs. white issue. Father’s and children’s rights are not a black versus white issue. The opponents of men’s rights constantly try to divide us up by race, and we need to be able to stop them from doing that.

Not that there are many, but I’ve seen the occasional “men’s rights” guy who’s a racist, and I need to be able to say “sorry, I’m not with you.” We need to be able to do that, I think, if we’re going to persuade people and get away from the stereotypes they make about us. For a movement, we have to be able to say “No, we care about all men and boys of all races, creeds, colors, orientations, whatever,” so we make it clear to others not just what we’re against but what we’re for.

Being “against feminism” is incredibly easy, and in American political terms it’s particularly easy: half of America already views feminism with contempt. You can bash feminists all day in right-wing Republican circles and they’ll give you polite applause or enthusiastic fist pumps. But they embrace chivalry and male disposability. So they’re no more friends to men and boys than the radical feminists are. Plus it just alienates people who might otherwise listen to our message on men’s and boys’ issues.

This is why I fully support efforts to shape a message that is “inclusive,” but I mean inclusive of the sense of “these are the things we care about, and if you care about them and are willing to work on them we want you, as long as you don’t try sneaking in some other bullshit about hating this or that other race or sex or group or whatever.”

Me? I want a big tent approach, but I think we do need to still have bouncers at the door, who say, “keep your swastika armbands and your other bullshit out of here.”

And we need to be able to identify idiots and moles who aren’t for real. I am entirely certain, because I see it all the time on places like A Voice for Men, where someone shows up trying to make an idiot comment–someone who is pretty transparently a radial feminist trying to pretend to be a men’s rights actvist–saying some inflammatory bullshit about how all women are bitches who should be men’s property or other things like that. They’re fake, they aren’t real, they’re sockpuppets for radfems. And they need to be shown the door. Or even on the off-chance that they’re real, they still need to be shown the door.

At least, that’s how we do it at A Voice for Men. How you do it on your channel or your own blog sites or whatever, that’s up to you.

Still, as the movement has grown, we have seen actual real world results. Various men’s and father’s activist groups have gotten some things done at the local level that I’ve seen with my own eyes; a father’s rights group in America recently hosted debates between judicial candidates running for family court office. That would be unthinkable 10, even 5 years ago. And while we haven’t changed any legislation at the Federal level in the US, we have groups like SAVE who are actively lobbying congress as we speak, actually at least meeting with Senators and Representatives, and while they haven’t gotten major legislation passed, they have had an impact on the debates affecting things like the Violence Against Women Act. In other types of politics, just on A Voice for Men we helped get a false accuser named TIffany Marie Smith arrested and helped get two innocent men out of jail, and we’ve helped publicly identify thugs who used violence and vandalism to try to stop Warren Farrell from speaking and got the men’s movement coverage in major newspapers because of it. We embarrassed judges in West Virginia and Maine, we helped efforts to get a prosecutor disbarred in Maine, and more.

Agree with any of those particulars or not, that’s activism that has made a measurable difference. Not as big a difference as we’d like, but it IS a difference, and it’s momentum we can build on.

So it’s my belief that as a growing movement, we need to have internal debates, we need to also be able to step up and say “look, these here are not our values,” and also, “look, these here are our values (or are at least consistent with them).”

This is why some of us are working now on a document that among other things spells out some broad consensus items that we think most people in the men’s movement probably support. It is not a “manifesto,” but it’s a list of specific items we think most Men’s Rights Advocates probably mostly agree with. The Wooly Bumblebee–who, full disclosure, is a friend–was helpful in a specific campaign we did late last year to contact hundreds of elected officials, and has also helped raise money for A Voice for Men, which definitely is an activist site. She has helped with that document, as have some others. By posting this, I’m inviting everyone reading or listening to have a look at that document and give your comments. I invite you and your viewers to look at it and comment on it.

And that by the way is comments. Looking at the document does not mean you agree with everything in it, or anything in it, or that you’ve signed onto it, or any of that. Merely, you gave it a look and gave input and thoughts. I invite anyone with an interest to have a look; if you’re interested just message me your email address.

I believe we need to at least be able to say, “Look, this group or this person, that isn’t me or us or what we stand for,” and I also do believe we have to go beyond saying “we’re against X, Y, and Z, we’re for A, B, an C.” I think the more of that we have, the more effective our actual activism can be.

So that invitation is open to anyone who wants in. Just send me a message and say “Sure I’ll have a look, here’s my email address” and you can have a look.

We need to be able in a movement to say what and who we’re for as well as against. On the other hand, in a healthy growing movement, there should always be debate, and if there were always lockstep agreement, that would be a bad sign.

So anyway, anyone who sends me an email address can have a look. It is not a manifesto, it is not something you must sign onto, it’s more of an effort to define not just the things we’re against, but what we’re generally for.

I think that’s enough for now. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in giving feedback on the document. There’s nothing secret about it, it’s open for scrutiny even from critics.

The original audio of this piece is available on YouTube here. The invitation is open to anyone else who would like to see the document, just drop me a note here and I’ll send you an email.–DE

Note: all images taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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