‘Feminism is cancer’: the angry backlash against our reporting on the men’s rights movement

(OpenDemocracy) – Men’s rights activists (MRAs) met in London last month at one of the largest gatherings of anti-feminists in the world. 50.50’s dispatch from the conference aroused an angry backlash, as MRAs mobilised their supporters to try to discredit our report and drown out any positive response to it.

They left hundreds of comments under the article and on social media – which run from the misguided but sincere, through foolish and provocative to misleading, abusive, and hateful. They show what we’re up against, and reflect the abuse that women journalists so often face online.

In this case, conference organisers emailed participants to encourage them to attack the dispatch. Many apparently obliged.

We read their comments, so you don’t have to. If you’re sick of hateful vitriol, take this as a content warning.

Countless commenters have left vehemently and explicitly anti-feminist messages, calling us “rabid feminists,” “crazy feminists” and “feminist bullies.”

Several comments were deleted by openDemocracy’s moderators because they made personal attacks on the article’s author, against our guidelines for commenters on the website.

One of these deleted comments asked, about our reporter: “Am I the only one who… thought: ‘something have to be done to keep such monster and her ilks away from male children and boys’?”

Another deleted comment said: “Why do you hate baby males, Lara? Baby males are innocent and weak, baby males can’t beat you, Lara.”

Yet another was left by Paul Elam, founder of the US ‘Voice for Men’ movement who rallies against ‘false’ rape accusations and family courts that he says favour women. His deleted comment said: “Feminism is Cancer.”

Screenshot of comment from Paul Elam. Photo: Nandini Archer. OpenDemocracy

The same comment, “feminism is cancer”, was posted by another user called ‘Kronk’ (this was also deleted). On Twitter, @JuliusConrad88 also tagged our dispatch with the hashtag #feminismiscancer.

Others have taken the opportunity to make (unoriginal) objectifying comments about feminists. On Twitter, @AlanEngland4 said: “Many so-called feminist gatherings are not pretty either; it’s the three-day stubble which gets me!”

Still other commenters have been downright nasty. @bonedagger said on Twitter, about our reporter:

“I don’t know how she did it either. That bold, brave pathfinder. Incredible stuff. She could have been eaten alive or anything. I’m surprised she wasn’t gang-raped and thrown into the Thames to drown.”

Watching it unfold, I was particularly struck by how coordinated and quick the backlash against this dispatch was, and how certain themes were repeated in comments. Some of these I want to respond to directly.

Several people asserted that women were, in fact, welcome and present at the conference. (We know; women attendees featured in the dispatch, and in our new podcast episode on this movement).

MRAs and their supporters insisted that the international conference on men’s issues our reporter attended was diverse. ‘Kaarefog’ commented:

“By the way – I think I remember that one of the men selling food was black. I am not quite sure, but I think so. So maybe not all men in the breakout room at that point of time were white.”

Mike Buchanan himself, organiser of the conference, and founder of the Justice for Men and Boys British anti-feminist political party, added:

“Yes, he was. Likewise one of the security men. Though none of this matters. I have never encountered sexism, racism, ageism, or homophobia, in the men’s rights movement. Such bigotry is anathema to MRAs.”

Considering Mike Buchanan is a white, straight cis-male, it comes as no shock that he’s never encountered these forms of discrimination.

And as a woman of colour, I’d also remark that if you notice two black men working in service jobs at a conference, this is not a sign of diversity, but more likely, a rather hierarchical system of labour.

Screenshot of tweet from @bonedagger. Photo: Nandini Archer. OpenDemocracy

A common theme in comments has been anger towards the situation of men and boys globally, with some citing domestic violence against men, male circumcision, deaths from industrial accidents and suicide rates.

“How often are men told they need to be in touch with their emotions, but not anger of course,” said a commenter called ‘Omnia Incendent.’

We haven’t suggested that men shouldn’t be angry. But if anger is directed in an abusive and oppressive way toward women, rather than toward gender norms which impact both men and women, then it’s hateful, and not okay.

Mike Buchanan said in another comment:

“But of course men of ALL ages – not just young men – should be furious at the state’s assaults on their human rights, almost all of which are designed to privilege women and girls.”

My take on this: whether it’s control over women’s bodies, the sexualisation of women, the gender pay gap, harassment walking home at night, domestic homicide, or child marriage, it’s clear that male privilege is an essential building block of most societies.

That said, rigid norms which enforce a gender binary or toxic masculinities can, of course, harm men and boys as well, and many feminists work tirelessly to address these forms and impacts of oppression too.

@Azeraph wrote on Twitter, about our reporter’s dispatch on the men’s rights movement: “All I got from this article was threatened woman reaction.”

Yet, the over 100 comments on this article, among many others on social media, suggest a different story – that MRAs and their supporters are the ones feeling threatened, by feminism and gains in women’s rights.

If the aim of their coordinated attack was to discredit 50.50’s dispatch, their tactics and insults has rather shown us, again, why many perceive this movement as sexist, misogynistic and hateful in the first place.

This report prepared by NANDINI ARCHER for OpenDemocracy

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