Men without Parties

        7/28/15

I haven’t seen too many comments on the new essays I’ve posted since resurfacing.  This may, of course, largely be because hardly anybody noticed or cared – but it also might be because the new stuff has given my old audience the impression that I came out of retirement merely to throw them under the bus.  I apologize if anyone got that impression – my mood and manner may have changed while I was incommunicado, but my opinions mostly haven’t.  I’m still concerned about overreach by the illogical forces in American society (and yes, religion and PC are still tied as Public Enemies #1); I’ve just been trying to chill out when it comes to spotting threats everywhere and going through life in 24/7 rant mode.

I don’t identify myself as an MRA, and never have, though I can certainly see how the first few years of essays on this site might have given people that impression.  But the facts are that this term didn’t even exist when I started The 1585, and that I bailed for a couple of years because I didn’t want to be associated with it after it did start to gain ground.  Although I reject the sobriquet, however, I do still see myself in the types of guys who become MRAs and feel a responsibility for them, because it seems to me that we have a lot in common when it comes to our concerns, our life experiences, and – for better or worse – our personalities.

So, without being either for or against them, here is a thing I have noticed.

Unless this is your first day on the internet, you don’t need to be provided with any background about what the typical MRA is like:  He is white, straight, upper-middle-class, right on the line between masculine and nerdy, politically Libertarian or at least Libertarian-ish, and he is very often (for some reason, which I think I have figured out, and which I will explain later) an atheist (indeed, a lot of MRAs are internet-rage double-dippers, dividing their time roughly equally between arguing with feminists in one thread and with Christians in another).

You are also probably already familiar with their hit list of grievances:  anti-male bias in divorces and custody battles, an alleged “epidemic” of false rape accusations, circumcision, declining numbers of male college graduates, and negative male stereotypes on TV seem to be the big ones.  (For the purposes of this essay, I am not even getting into “internet nice guy” stuff about not being able to get laid, as I am trying to keep MRAs-proper distinct here from PUAs, OmegaVirginRevolters, and the like.)

The thing I have noticed (as promised above) is that the demographic identity of the typical MRA doesn’t line up very logically with the issues that the community most vociferously addresses.

Discrimination in custody battles disproportionately affects Black and Latino men – so why don’t we see nearly as many Black and Latino MRAs?  Circumcision (obviously) disproportionately affects Jewish men, so why aren’t there more Jewish MRAs?  Groundless suspicions of pedophilia being directed at men who work with children are disproportionately aimed at gay men, and yet there are virtually no gay MRAs.  The stereotype that pops up in every sitcom and commercial of the bumbling “doofus dad” who basically counts as one of the children and needs the guidance of his wife to find and tie his own shoes is a favorite target of MRA chat-room ire, but most MRAs are unmarried and childless.  The people who suffer most from runaway unemployment in blue-collar fields are overwhelmingly male, but you don’t see a lot of hardhat types in the MRA community: the bearded and fedoraed guy who has become the movement’s stereotypical face presumably went to college, and he even talks like it, co-opting the terminology and references of the feminist movement in a way that only a decently well educated person would be able to do.

In short, I’ve noticed that, although MRAs address issues that affect men, the men who identify as MRAs are typically not drawn from the ranks of the specific types of men that these issues predominantly affect.

Before anyone blows up, be advised that this is not a “call-out.”  I don’t think this is necessarily a damning observation, just an interesting one.  And there may be a fairly obvious (i.e., boring) explanation in the fact that people who spend most of their time arguing on the internet tend not to have ties and obligations to other things in life (such as a family, or four different minimum-wage jobs).  I realize that the “they are overwhelmingly white, young, childless/unmarried, and upper-middle-class” argument could be leveled just as accurately against the feminists on Jezebel.

This certainly explains the phenomenon to some extent.  However, I do think there is another, more complex (i.e., interesting) explanation to be found here.

The explanation is that MRAism isn’t about how bad your life is – it’s about how bad your life might get if this or that were to happen.

Here is an interesting fact:  Contrary to what you’d expect, suicide rates don’t go up after a big disaster that affects an entire nation or community.  During a war in which a population is extremely deprived or endangered (e.g., London during the Blitz), or after a horrific, psychologically scarring event (e.g., America in the aftermath of 9/11), suicides actually go way, way down.  As bad as they make us feel, terrible things that happen to “all of us” bring people together instead of making them feel isolated, and suicide isn’t something that happens when someone feels bad – it’s something that happens when someone feels bad and alone.  (NOTE:  If this statistic is actually not true, don’t blame me; blame the episode of Criminal Minds I heard it on.)

What does this have to do with MRAs?  A lot, if I’m right, and I think I am.  (Which was pointless to add, if you think about it, since of course I think I’m right if I’m bothering to write the essay.  If I thought I was wrong about it, in fact, then this wouldn’t even be the thing I think – the very phenomenon of thinking I’m wrong would ipso facto mean that I had begun to think something else instead.  But it sounded good.)

The key here is that MRAs don’t just feel bad.  They feel bad and alone.

American society in the 21st century has been an uninterrupted culture war the whole time.  The internet has been the “terrible new weapon” of this war, just like poison gas was in the First World War or the atomic bomb in the Second.  Virtually every week for the last decade and a half, a politician, celebrity, or regular person thereby rocketed to celebrity (be it welcome or unwelcome) has “gotten in trouble” for saying or doing something “controversial.”  Immediately, and in predictable fashion, roughly one half of the country has then taken to their keyboards to defend the person, while the other rough half of the country did likewise to condemn him or her.

The important part is the “predictable fashion.”  When Republican Politician, Homophobic Business Owner, Offensive Joke Teller, or Christian Person gets in trouble, the conservatives will defend and the liberals attack.  When Democratic Politician, Insulted Nonwhite Person, Fired Over Sexy Pictures Woman, or Any Religion Besides Christian Person gets in trouble, the liberals will defend and the conservatives attack.

At this point, pretty much anybody can count on being attacked by one half of the population or the other.  The bright side, for most people, is that they can also count on being defended by the other half.

Emphasis on most people.

My theory, in brief, is that I don’t think the MRA community is really about “Men’s Rights,” whatever that term might mean.  I think “MRA” is (whether its adherents know it or not) an umbrella term for a community-for-the-sake-of-community of people who feel like (be this accurate or not), if they ever “got in trouble” for something, they would be attacked by everybody instead of attacked by only one half of the country and defended by the other half.

This explains the relative absence of MRAs who also identify as members of any other minority or special-interest group.  Jewish men don’t need to be MRAs because, as members of a minority religion, they would be defended by liberals if they ever “got in trouble.”  Blacks and Latinos don’t need to be MRAs because, as People of Color, so would they.  Christian men can count on the conservatives to take their part, as can nondivorced husbands and fathers who fall under the protection of the political right’s raging boner for “family.”  Working-class men in blue-collar fields, as hosed as they get by the right wing economically, are still supported by conservatives philosophically because they are traditionally masculine. 

Be advised, I’m not saying that Christians or blue-collar men aren’t ever sexist or even actively antifeminist – only that such a man would likely defend his antifeminist views simply by calling himself a Christian or a “Real Man” rather than self-applying the term “MRA” itself.  The latter term, as I’m in the process of trying to argue, is mainly used by men who aren’t in a position to use any other excuse for their beliefs and behavior.  Though he was antifeminist to a literally murderous extent, remember that John Russell Houser, the perpetrator of the Trainwreck shootings in Lafayette, Louisiana last week, identified himself as a Christian, not as an MRA.  I point this out not in an effort to “clear” the MRA community of association with the shootings, but only to make a point about how different types of antifeminists think of themselves.

The word outlaw didn’t originally mean “criminal,” but referred instead to someone who, as punishment for a crime, was sentenced to a life outside of the law’s protection – i.e., someone else who committed an offense against this person would not be punished.  This must have felt pretty scary and terrible.  And I think this is the feeling at the heart of the MRA community, even possibly extending to the wider Troll community:  The feeling of having been absent on the day when the rest of the country picked teams for the culture war – on not being able to count on any and all possible future slights against them being “policed” by one half of the country or the other.

At this point in the argument – if they haven’t already – many liberals are probably more than ready to object “What are you talking about?  These guys are straight white males, and so they’ll be defended by the conservatives, duh!”  I think the flaw in this reasoning is that conservatives don’t actually defend all straight white males:  They defend straight white males who are also Christian and/or traditionally masculine (ideally both).

Remember back at the beginning, when I pointed out that most MRAs are atheists and nerds?  There you go.  Sure, as straight white males, they were born into an identity that could have entitled them to the protection of the right wing, but they “outlawed” themselves by rejecting Christianity and/or sucking at sports (and let’s remind ourselves here that, regardless of the paths they took afterward, the first thing was admirable and the second thing couldn’t be helped).

If you yourself happen to be either a cisgender female or a trans man who was still living as female in childhood, you may be inclined to roll your eyes at the “sucking at sports” thing, but please do not underestimate the profound impact that athletic prowess – or the lack of it – has on the psychological development of boys in this society.  Once a boy begins socializing with other boys, the very first thing he learns about himself and his status in relation to them is whether he can or can’t run faster than they do – followed closely by awareness of his prowess at knocking them down, and of his skill at catching or throwing the ball in ball-based games (the boys who are not merely bad at catching or throwing, but who are actually “afraid of” the ball, are the absolute lowest on the totem pole – a status that does not change until college at the earliest).

Yes, girls also run around and play ball games with one another – but, to the best of my knowledge, girls’ intragender social standing is not based primarily on their respective skills at these activities, even in early childhood.

Subsequent to those early indicators of likely eventual athletic prowess, the second important thing that most boys learn about themselves is whether they are popular with girls.  Granted, kids in elementary school aren’t actually hooking up or going on dates – but regardless, by second or third grade it is common knowledge which boys a lot of the girls have crushes on and which boys none of the girls have crushes on.  The boys may not care yet, and a majority of them may even still think that girls are “gross,” but there is still a vague sense that the boys who get crushed on by the girls are “better” than the boys who don’t.  The opinions of girls can still function as an indicator of male status even at an age before actual interaction with them is prized or even permissible.

Though many MRAs lift weights or engage in other traditionally masculine activities now, as adults, I would be very surprised if any significant percentage of them were star athletes in childhood.  From what I have observed while lurking on their message boards these past few years, the psychology of the typical MRA positively reeks of “playing catch-up.”  Once again, please understand that I am not “calling them out” when I say this.  Do not confuse this essay with PUAs trying to weed out who is or is not a “true alpha.”  I don’t do that, and I don’t even believe that “alpha males” exist in human society in the true sense (although the term is useful as a descriptor of a certain personality type).

I also think it would be dangerously off-base to fall into the trap of assuming that MRAs are merely “losers” who are “compensating” for having been considered insufficiently masculine in childhood.  The use of that taunt may be tempting to those who hate them, but I think it’s a vast oversimplification.  As I’ve said already, I think the MRA identity is primarily about the absence of a peer group, or of a political column you can count on to “have your back.”  Certainly, no-one will disagree that jocks can also be sexist jerks, but adoption of an avowed MRA identity is less attractive to jocks because they already have a peer group (“sports guys”), one which remains intact even into middle age, when they merely transition from being men who play sports into being men who watch and talk about sports.

This brings us to a paradox.  I think I have worked out a resolution to that paradox, and that this resolution might be the most illuminating thing that has yet been said about the rise of the MRA movement.

But first, the paradox.

If, as I have argued, the mode MRA is, in addition to his other defining characteristics, almost necessarily an atheist, and the primary motivating factor in the formation of an avowed MRA identity is the painfully felt absence of a peer group, then this begs the question:  Why don’t they just stick to being atheists, and have that be their peer group?  After all, there was a big atheist movement that was really popular only a few years ago.

Exactly.  There was one.  Whatever happened to that?

Well, as I argued in this essay a few weeks back, a few things happened there.  One thing that took a lot of steam out of the atheist movement is the simple fact that George W. Bush isn’t president anymore, so there aren’t as many high-profile things for atheists to complain about.  Another, possibly even more important, thing was the allegations made by several female atheists of sexual harassment at TAM and the World Atheist Convention in the early years of this decade.  I am neither disputing nor supporting these allegations at this time, only pointing out that they – along with the insistence of many female atheists that the movement should focus more on concern for the victims of religion’s negative propensities than on “out-debating” believers vis--vis the veracity of scripture – had a splintering effect on the united atheist movement for which many atheists, whether fairly or unfairly, still blame feminists/women.  I think a lot of white male atheists felt an initial twinge of joy and vindication at the prospect of being able to say “I’m an oppressed minority too, and so I get to be part of the liberal good guys now,” and see liberal feminists as having told them, in essence, “You can’t sit with us.”

There is a third thing, though.  It’s something that, as far as I know, hasn’t yet explicitly been brought up, and I think it may have more to do with the slow transformation of so many atheists into MRAs than either of the first two things, or even than both of them combined.  It’s so simple that I can’t believe I’m the first one to think of it.  But sometimes the most obvious explanations are the hardest for people to see, precisely for this reason.

The third thing is that Christians aren’t nearly as much fun to debate as Feminists.

I’m totally and completely serious.  I think that most MRAs are, first and foremost, Logic Fanboys.  And I think they started off wanting (admirably) to debate religious fundamentalists, since those people are both the most dangerous and the most wrong.  But the problem is, it isn’t very much fun to argue with those people.  They’re so stupid that it’s a lot like hunting an animal that’s already dead.  Where is the sport?  The glory?  Plus, the incipient MRAs felt stabbed in the back to begin with by so many female skeptics telling them that they should focus on being nice instead of kicking ass in debates (“um, thanks for telling us that we’re not supposed to do, like, the one thing that we’re good at”), and then the various “elevator incidents” and whatnot at the atheist conventions were the last straw.  Male atheists started arguing with feminists.  And once that happened, there was no going back for a lot of them, because they had finally gotten a taste of what it was like to debate an educated person who knows how to do something in an argument besides dump cut/pasted Bible quotes on you, tell you you’re going to hell, and log off.

I could say more, but I’ll save it for another piece.  This essay was supposed to be an analysis of how we all got here, who we all are, and what we’re all dealing with, and I’ve done that.  I do think something needs to change, though, and quickly too:  There’s an election coming up next year, one of the candidates is going to be a woman, and the other one, whoever he is, is going to be a lunatic.  I think most MRAs are liberals at heart, and have only temporarily forgotten that.  I believe that when most MRAs dream, they dream not of smashing feminism, but of smashing religious fundamentalists.  I am convinced that this was their original goal, and that they thought they would become heroes for doing it, and that they only got pissed at the feminists because they felt like the feminists were tying their hands.  (And feminists, let’s be honest, you were tying their hands a little bit, come on now.)  Indeed, an examination of many MRA blogs and YouTube channels reveals that, when they’re not screaming at feminists, they’re leftist about virtually everything else: not just against the fundies, but also against the gun nuts and the racists and the plutocrats, and even in agreement with the feminists about mainstream women’s issues like abortion and birth control (remember, I mean MRAs as distinct from PUAs, who are overwhelmingly conservative).

If any self-identified MRAs made it all the way to the end of this essay, then I honestly thank you for your good sportsmanship, and I want to close by saying that I think a lot of your complaints have merit.  As for your plan to address them by leaving YouTube comments in which you tell random women to kill themselves…  Well, for now, let’s just call that odd.  Yes, that will do.  It was an odd decision, is what that was.

It may not be like hunting an animal that’s already dead, but it’s an awful lot like shooting a wolf from a helicopter.



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