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A Look Inside The Infamous Men’s Rights Movement

The MRM may be known today for its radical, anti-feminist rhetoric, but it certainly didn’t start out that way.

The ongoing inflammatory diatribes emanating from the radical men's rights movement (MRM) have been a cause for concern, particularly following the recent # womenagainstfeminism campaign which saw radical MRM groups unleash a scathing  misogynist-fueled attack on feminists.  

Not only have such incidents diminished the group's chance of being taken seriously as a meaningful social movement, but have tended to drown out the voices of the more moderate and pro-feminist men’s groups fighting important social issues that affect men, such as sexual abuse in prisons, child custody rights, lack of shelter for homeless men and high rates of workplace fatalities. 

But, it wasn’t always this way. Many would be surprised to learn that the men’s rights movement sprung up in the 1970s led by pro-feminist males in response to second-wave feminism. Surrounded by feminists and interested in supporting feminist ideas, these men recognized their power and privilege and through a critical lens began to challenge the notion of “traditional masculinity” and the dominant model of manhood by working with one another.

Led by Warren Farrell, a pro-feminist educator who served on the New York Board of the  National Organization for Women (NOW), the movement began to form consciousness-raising groups in support of feminist ideas. In the ‘70s, Farrell who was seen as one of the first leading males thinkers on women’s rights, wrote his famous book,  The Liberated Man from a feminist perspective where he paralleled male and female experiences and introduced the idea of alternative family/work arrangements promoting women at work and male caregivers.

Essentially, the pro-feminist men rejected society’s strict expectations of gender roles, which they believed hindered men’s ability to express themselves emotionally and intimately. Gender was merely a social construction rather than a biological issue and therefore oppressive to both sexes.

As the ideology evolved in the ‘70s, the movement began to branch off into various strands with the  pro-feminist movement at one end and the emergence of groups that began to focus their male attention on what they thought was male oppression, which became the forerunners of some of today’s more extreme versions. At that point, something extraordinary happened. Warren Farrell did a surprise backflip and abandoned his previous position as a pro-feminist to go on to lead what would later become the modern pro-men’s movement, which became principally focused on men’s oppression and discrimination.  

Why did Farrell turn his back on feminism? According to a 1997 interview, Farrell said he had a falling out with NOW over its stance against the presumption of joint custody for children: “I couldn't believe the people I thought were pioneers in equality were saying that women should have the first option to have children or not to have children—that children should not have equal rights to their dad,” Farrell told  ManWeb.

Farrell went on to write the controversial novel, The Myth of Male Power, where he renounced his prior feminist stance and argued that women are the true power holders in society through their role as primary carer and nurturer of children and that men are the “disposable sex” — their power is merely an illusion. He challenged the belief that patriarchal societies make rules that benefit men at the expense of women and spoke of how men were severely disadvantaged and oppressed with regard to parenting restrictions, domestic violence and conscription.

While his book produced much criticism in feminist circles, Farrell’s ideology began to catch on in the “ manosphere” and men’s rights activism or MRA started to gained some momentum, particularly the  father’s rights movement which focused on discrimination against men with regard to child custody and divorce. The father’s groups began to lobby for laws that would make joint custody the default custody arrangement in the interests of both father and child.

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