If you’ve been listening to The Non-Prophets in the past year (and if not, why not??) then you already know that we are no fans of the so called “Men’s Rights” movement. Occasionally the MRA movement might support a worthwhile principle purely by accident, but in practice it is primarily a movement which is to gender as White Pride groups are to race. The civil rights activist organization Southern Poverty Law Center classifies several MRA sites as hate groups.
My wife and I were chatting last night about some statistics I saw recently. As this post on Stephanie Zvan’s blog notes, MRA’s [edit: surveyed on Reddit, so a heavily self-selected sample] are approximately:
- 92% male
- 87% white
- 35% aged 17-20 (estimated overall median age 20)
- 70% no religion
The fact that so many MRA’s are with us in the non-religion crowd should be, in my view, hugely embarrassing to atheists. Numbers higher on the page imply that the “no religion” number may be as high as 94%, but I’ll go with the reduced 70% number, which is still pretty disproportionate to the number of non-religious people overall. 16% of the general United States population consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.
So most MRA’s are irreligious, which doesn’t mean that most irreligious people are MRA’s. For example, if 16% of the population are atheists, and .16% of the population are MRA, then they could be 100% irreligious and still represent only 1% of of that group. But still: ick.
Why should this be the case? Here’s a point that I think should not be overlooked: Misogyny is straight up baked into some (not all) religious groups. Consider the Quiverfull cult, for instance. You don’t find a subgroup of Quiverfull supporters specifically formed to argue that women should be more respectful of men. You don’t need one, because the whole group is about that, and the religious justification for it. As Vyckie Garrison sums it up, “Men are to be leaders, teachers, initiators, protectors and providers. Women are created to be ‘helpmeets’ to the men in authority over them (husbands, fathers, older brothers) ~ they are to be submissive and yielding.”
Within the context of Quiverfull, both men and women generally accept the principles that women are naturally subservient to men. If you live in a bubble of people who agree with this, “men’s rights” isn’t an issue to be tackled separately; it’s part and parcel of an overarching religious outlook.
Similarly, when Tracie and I wrote about attending a liberal Muslim church in Austin, we noticed that their views about women were substantially less awful than your typical Islamic fundamentalist, but they still assume everybody is on board with the idea that women can’t do everything that men do. It’s in the Qur’an, so it’s hard to toss that aside lightly without challenging more of the fundamentals.
But say you’re a man, and you still hold to the idea that women should be subservient to men, but you don’t have the religious infrastructure to back up that belief. Let’s say you think it’s a terrible idea for women to vote (hi, Ann Coulter!), or you accept that there is a gender pay gap but you believe that’s just fine (kisses, Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn!) or you just think that women are awful sluts because they sometimes have sex for fun (yoohoo Rush Limbaugh, you sexy beast!). Suppose you believe all those things, but you don’t think you can get away with saying it “just because the Bible said so.” What’s a guy to do? In that case, maybe you should ask your physician if the MRA movement is right for you.
It’s in these groups that you can find aid and comfort for the idea that the oppression of women is not only good and right, but it’s got some kind of veneer of scientific respectiability! Fundamentalists and hardcore conservatives may complain all the time about the “feminization” of society (otherwise known as “the increasingly equal status that women strive for, and sometimes succeed in getting”), but they are aiming this criticism largely outside their own in-group; they’re criticizing the rest of the world of godless feminists and wussified libdems. But the MRA movement — well, that’s what you get if you want to claim the mantle of atheism, or even “humanism” (after a fashion) but you have no other outlet where you have any hope of being taken seriously.
So I’m not proud of the fact that MRA’s are mostly our irreligious brethren. But if I had to take a stab at why that might be so — that’s my hypothesis. The agnostic/atheist/unaffiliated sphere is the main area where you find subgroups that still want to keep women down, but don’t have the broad social support to do it.