Just recently I’ve been marshalling my thoughts about the male view of feminism. Should men engage with feminism, take an active part in it, even call themselves feminists? I’ve come to this topic at least partly as a result of a bizarre, distressing sequence of events that happened to me over the past year.
First off, I’ll present a dissenting view. Stuart Sorensen is a blogger with whom I rarely disagree. His training resources and opinion pieces on mental health are of consistently high quality, and he is clearly a very decent guy who cares passionately about improving the care received by people who use mental health services. But if I agree with him on mental health, I have to disagree with his views on feminism.
I support the rights of all people but because of reactions such as this I and a great many men cannot support feminism. This is not because I disagree with womens’ rights but because I cannot & will not ally myself with this sort of bigoted, superficial reasoning.
At its heart feminism has some very laudable aims which I do support. But I’ll never call myself feminist because I don’t want my support for reasonable political principles to be hijacked by those who seem determined to maintain a divide between the sexes.
In all fairness to Sorensen, his view on feminism has been coloured by an unpleasant experience where he’d been falsely accused of domestic abuse by a former partner. Also to be fair, the feminist movement does have its nasty extremes. Only last week, there was an uproar on Twitter about the RadFem2012 conference, which plans not only to ban men from the premises, but also transgender women who were born as men. A classic case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.
I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to any demonisation of men (or transgender people, for that matter). I don’t think men have to apologise for being men, and I certainly don’t think men accused of abuse should be considered guilty until proven innocent. But feminism is a broad church, not a narrow ideology. If I would reject the bigots of RadFem2012, I would also accept that certain branches of feminism contain little, if anything, that I would disagree with. Sex-positive feminism, for example, echoes a lot of my views on gender, sexuality and censorship.
I suspect, ultimately, my disagreement with Stuart Sorensen may amount to little more than a semantic debate about what does or doesn’t constitute feminism, rather than any dispute about how people should be treated.
If it was a nasty set of events that propelled Sorensen away from feminism, it was an equally unpleasant experience that has recently drawn me towards it. A couple of years ago I was editing a group blog called Mental Nurse, which had developed a reputation (which I like to think was deserved) for campaigning for the rights of people with mental health problems, and for challenging stigma. At the time that the site closed in March 2011, it was one of the UK’s most popular mental health blogs.
In August 2010, somebody e-mailed me a link to an article about borderline personality disorder, written by an American psychologist. The tone of the article shocked me.
Cluster B’s aren’t “mentally ill” like Schizophrenics and Bipolars are mentally ill. Schizophrenics and Bipolars can’t control their bizarre thoughts, behaviors, impulses and/or hallucinations without medication and deserve our compassion and sympathy. Many self-identified BPD’s and other Cluster B’s plaintively bleat the following statements with great regularity:
“But I can’t help the way I am!”
“I didn’t ask to be BPD!” (Reminds me of a disaffected teen shouting, “I didn’t ask to be born!” Yeah, well, you’re here now, so what’re you gonna do about it?)….
Instead, let’s call them what they are; sociopaths. All the Cluster B disorders are just similar flavors of sociopathy. Giving Cluster B individuals and their ilk the protective cloak of “mental illness” provides them with a “get out of jail free card” and allays our existential dilemma on the concept of evil. Instead, we tell ourselves, “She has problems. She’s sick. We have to be patient and understanding.”…
There’s a lobby of BPD activists who want the psychiatric community to change the term “Borderline Personality Disorder” to Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. Aside from having to edit all of my previous posts, I say a rose by any other name would still have nasty, hooky little thorns. Pardon my language, but I think the terms crazy asshole, mean jerk, toxic person or bad person are better than diagnostic labels. Why? Because everyone knows that you should avoid crazy assholes at all costs and whenever possible.
This is stigma. Pure and simple. And against a very vulnerable group of people. I don’t believe people with borderline personality disorder are simply bad people. As a CAMHS practioner, I’m a strong believer in early interventions, getting them into therapy at a young age to help them to develop the coping skills in order to function with life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the psychologist in question was part of what’s come to be known as the “Manosphere”. They go by various names – the Mens Rights Movement, Mens Rights Activists, Men Going Their Own Way. They advance a view that men are emasculated in contemporary society, by feminism, by false allegations of rape and so on. The psychologist’s rant against borderline personality disorder was intended as a warning about the dangers of manipulative or deceitful female partners.
Whatever one thinks about such a viewpoint, these Mens Rights Activists (MRAs for short) have an unfortunate tendency to come out with statements can be, quite frankly, vile, to an extent that they have come to the attention of anti-hate organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
There are literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums devoted to attacking virtually all women (or, at least, Westernized ones)…While some of them voice legitimate and sometimes disturbing complaints about the treatment of men, what is most remarkable is the misogynistic tone that pervades so many. Women are routinely maligned as sluts, gold-diggers, temptresses and worse; overly sympathetic men are dubbed “manginas”; and police and other officials are called their armed enablers.
For an eye-opening (and frequently hilarious) primer on the antics of the Manosphere, I highly recommend David Futrelle’s Manboobz (Warning: possible abuse triggers) blog, which documents and mocks online misogyny.
I didn’t know about the wider Manosphere back then. I just knew that I was reading a spectacularly hateful article by a self-proclaimed mental health professional. Some British women attempted to debate with the psychologist on her (yes, her – the Manosphere has a Women’s Auxiliary) blog, and got some very obnoxious replies for their trouble.
As tends to happen when a bunch of British people come across a bunch of Americans being not only very nasty but also with a total lack of self-awareness, the result was a minor explosion of mickey-taking, on the Mental Nurse site, on other blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter. After Mental Nurse started being described by the MRAs as “the primary enabler site”, several people amended their Facebook profiles to read “Mental Nurse is my primary enabler”. Admittedly some of the ridiculing did become rather juvenile and silly, but no worse than many of the regular Twitterstorms that erupt whenever somebody says or does something offensive.
A couple of months later, when we’d by and large forgotten all about it, the Mental Nurse site got an e-mail from a UK solicitor, who had been hired by the psychologist, demanding damages and information about various people who she held responsible, including me. We then did what most people do when they get a legal nastygram – we bricked ourselves and backed down on the spot. All references to the psychologist were removed from the site, we e-mailed other people to warn them to take stuff down, and then my co-editor e-mailed the solicitor asking him for an update on the situation. We got no reply.
No response? Fair enough, we’ve had a nasty letter intended to scare us and scour her Google rankings of anything negative about her. That seems to be the end of it.
Or that’s what we thought.
What followed was a long saga in which the psychologist – initially entirely unkown to any of us – went to extraordinary and expensive lengths to track down the people who had ridiculed her views – sending solicitors letters to domain providers, hiring bailiffs to go to peoples’ homes, obtaining court orders for internet providers to reveal peoples’ addresses.
In February 2011 she found someone, and submitted a court claim against him. Bizarrely, the defendant was in Scotland, but the claim was submitted in England. It was struck out on the spot on jurisdiction grounds, and never went to court.
The defendant was concerned that she might try again to sue him in Scotland, and decided to write to her solicitor and offer a settlement. He had taken legal advice and been assured that she had no case. Even so, the eye-watering amounts of money needed to fight civil litigation mean that it’s not at all unusual for people with good defences to cave in rather than risk being bankrupted by the cost of fighting.
Fast forward to June – I and two other people got e-mails from the defendant. The claimant wanted our personal details as a condition of settlement. Did we consent to our details being handed over? We all wrote back refusing consent.
In July, one of the other two people got a letter from her solicitor to his. It transpired the identities had been passed to her as demanded. I don’t blame the guy for doing so. He was just trying to protect himself and his family. To his credit, there was one identity that he didn’t reveal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s the person who he regarded as the most vulnerable if publicly outed.
This second defendant was entitled to Legal Aid, and so was able to fight. There was a court hearing, and the judge ruled that the psychologist’s claim was so riddled with errors (both factual and procedural) that she would have to re-draft it, pay for wasted court time and also pay a deposit sufficient to cover the defence costs if she were to lose. Predictably, she never showed up to the next hearing, and that was that.
She now owes an absolutely ridiculous sum of money in legal costs. Naturally I would never indulge in Schadenfreude.
By encountering this woman and her MRA goons, I feel like I’ve stared hate in the eyes. I’ve had nearly a year of living in fear, experiencing anxiety, nightmares, thinking every estate agent that parked up on my street was a bailiff hired to look for me.
Hate needs to be challenged. This mens rights “movement” is an affront not just to women but to common human decency. That is why I now think it’s right that men should align themselves with feminism.
Do I think there should be a Mens Auxiliary of the kind imagined by Valerie Solanas, in which men are expected to repeat, “I am a turd, a lowly, abject turd”? No. Men are entitled to proudly and unapologetically be men. Just not at the expense of women.
For feminism to truly succeed, there needs to be a cognitive and behavioural shift in men. We need to be willing to challenge assumptions, both in ourselves and others. I commend Manboobz author David Futrelle for doing exactly that, in a very educational and entertaining way.
I’ll say it now. I am Zarathustra, I am a man, and I am a feminist. To the psychologist who’s occupied my mind so much over this past year, I say this. I owe this conversion to you.