The Creepy Misogynist Movement That's Making Conservatives Even More Sexist
Denying that sexism is a real problem is a standard talking point on the right these days. But recently, it seems that simply denying the existence of sexism is not enough. Instead, conservatives on Fox News and other right-wing outlets seem to want to take it a step further, arguing that, in 21st-century America, women are actually oppressing men. It’s similar to the long-standing habit of many on the right to declare themselves victims of “reverse racism.”
In this case, many of the tropes and obsessions come directly from a fringe, online movement that calls itself “men’s rights activism." MRA rhetoric is notable for being intensely paranoid, seeing women as a subversive group that is out to get men. They argue that feminism--particularly feminism that addresses the problem of violence against women--is not an egalitarian movement as advertised, but a darkly evil movement that invents the problems of sexism, rape and domestic violence in order to gain power over men. It’s all very silly and hard to take seriously, except that some of the rhetorical gambits of MRAs are actually being trotted out by supposedly mainstream conservatives. The result is that the already misogynist right is getting even more misogynist.
The influence of MRA thinking was all over the recent story of Missouri state legislator Rick Brattin, who introduced a bill that would require women to get permission from the man who impregnated them in order to get an abortion. The story was notable not just because this runs counter to what the mainstream anti-choice movement prefers to do--their line now is that they want to restrict abortion to “protect” women--but also because Brattin’s explanations of his thinking were pure MRA paranoia and misogyny.
Brattin argued that men are the real victims of reproductive oppression and that his bill was just evening the score, by claiming men in Missouri are not allowed to get vasectomies without their wives permission. (Never mind that his bill would go well beyond that, giving a man the power to force a woman to give birth even if she had only had sex with him once.) There is no such law in Missouri, and it’s possible that Brattin confused his doctor’s personal choice to ask for wives to sign off, with an actual law. But regardless of how cognizant he is of what actually happened to him, his argument was crystal-clear: Women are oppressing men and taking away their basic bodily autonomy, and so it’s only “fair” for men to get to do the same to women.
Brattin also trotted out the idea, made famous in 2012 by his fellow Missourian Todd Akin, that women frequently lie about rape in order to cover up their sexual indiscretions. Explaining that he would graciously allow rape victims not to be forced into childbirth by rapists, Brattin told Mother Jones, “It has to be a legitimate rape,” using Akin’s election-losing offensive phrasing.
No big surprise there that a man who believes women oppress men would be a “rape truther.” The notion that women frequently lie about rape in order to control and oppress men is one of the predominant obsessions of MRAs, one that is leaking into mainstream conservative media. As I wrote on Alternet last week, recent weeks have seen an explosion of conservatives making paranoid claims that widespread rape is nothing but a hoax concocted by wicked feminists in order to seize power, though how that works exactly is rarely explained.
In fact, rape trutherism has become such a big deal amongst mainstream conservatives that a full-blown rape truther was named Misinformer of the Year by Media Matters. George Will is, in many ways, considered the gold standard of mainstream conservatism, appearing as a columnist in a respectable publication (the Washington Post) and appearing regularly on Sunday morning talk shows. Despite this, Will is an avid mainstreamer of the fringe idea that men are being victimized by a nascent matriarchy that finds its currency in accusing random innocent men of rape. Painting both men and colleges as victims of the ever-powerful and shadowy feminist cabal in his Washington Post column, Will wrote, “that when [colleges] make [rape] victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”
The implication was clear: Feminists are conquering men and universities, one false rape accusation at a time. The evidence on offer for this was nothing.
Rush Limbaugh is an important gauge to measure what is becoming mainstream rhetoric on the right. He has also lurched more toward this paranoid thinking about women taking over the world. One of Limbaugh’s favorite new words is “chickify,” wherein he argues that once worthy institutions are being ruined because women are supposedly taking them over. Limbaugh sees impending matriarchy in every corner. Feminists have “chickified” universities with--you guessed it--false rape accusations and have run men off campus.
Limbaugh frets relentlessly about the NFL being “chickifed,” claiming that male emotion, breast cancer awareness, and concussion prevention in the sport are all signs that women have taken over and are ruining it. (Despite women supposedly controlling the NFL, they still seem suspiciously absent from the ranks of owners, players, and coaches.) Caring about gay people is supposedly evidence that the news is “chickified,” Letting women have jobs shows the whole culture is “chickified.”
Sure, in the real world, women still make 78 cents to a man’s dollar, but listening to Rush Limbaugh, you’d think men aren’t allowed to leave the house without female escort.
Even Fox News is getting in on the game, which is how you know this is not going to be a fringe thing anymore, but is totally mainstream conservative thinking. The entire premise of the new show “Outnumbered” on Fox--where one male guest is paired with four female hosts--is to create the impression that men are a beleaguered minority, barely allowed to speak around their female overlords. Unsurprisingly, many of the male guests play this narrative up.
But beyond men nervously joking about being beat down by all the ladies, the show is a regular conduit for all sorts of paranoid garbage about women oppressing men. The show did an episode about street harassment where the narrative was that women are trying to oppress and control male sexuality by speaking out against harassment. Women were also accused of oppressing boys in school and depriving them of a full education. The show also accused feminists of trying to end Father’s Day, a completely paranoid fantasy. Guest Susan Patton said feminists aren’t “just interested in ending Father's Day, they're interested in ending men.” Even just this month, guest Pete Hegseth argued that Hillary Clinton’s only rationale to voters for the presidency is, “That she's a woman.”
Never mind that we’ve never had a female president in our entire history; on Fox News, women have so much power that merely being a woman wins you the presidency.
Unfortunately, the ludicrousness of all this is unlikely to do much to rein it in. Conservatives are capable of ignoring all sorts of real-world evidence in order to stick by their self-serving beliefs: global warming isn’t real, police don’t discriminate against black people, voter fraud is a real problem, and being on welfare means living high on the hog. If they want to believe we live in a matriarchy where men are oppressed, any evidence showing otherwise is unlikely to make a difference.