Mother Jones sought answers to the burning questions who is Warren Farrell, and why? He’s a former feminist who became a mover and shaker of the men’s rights movement, which in a way is all you need to know. (Other sufficiencies of that type: people who are pillars of the white people’s rights movement, or the movement for straight liberation, or the union of rich people who own the means of production.)
For some, the “manosphere” offers a place to air real grievances about issues such as bias in family courts or sexual abuse suffered by men. But it also has spawned a network of activists and sites that take Farrell’s ideology in a disturbing direction. Men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol. Participants argue that false allegations of rape and domestic abuse are rampant, or that shelters for battered women are a financial scam. Others rail against women for being independent or sexually promiscuous.
So we now live in a world awash in frank unapologetic hatred of women.
These ideas have given rise to aggressive tactics and rhetoric. The National Coalition for Men—whose board of advisers includes Farrell—has fought to cut off state funding for domestic-violence programs if men aren’t included. A Voice for Men’s founder, Paul Elam, who is a friend and protégé of Farrell’s, has justified violence against women and written that some of them “walk through life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH—PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.” Other activists have published names of women they consider enemies and have praised online stalkers, such as the “Gamergate” mobs who bombard feminist critics with rape and death threats.
And they make Warren Farrell look reasonable. They do him the favor of moving the Overton window so that it’s right in front of him.
Elam pairs his big-tent approach with brazen, in-your-face rhetoric. When video surfaced last September of NFL star Ray Rice punching out his fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator, Elam argued that Rice was justified because she had lunged at him (though he suggested Rice shouldn’t have hit her so hard). Elam has also dubbed October “Bash a Violent Bitch Month” and declared that men who are physically attacked by women should “beat the living shit out of them.”
“I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open-handed pop on the face to get them to settle down,” he wrote on his website. “I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles. And then make them clean up the mess.”
Elam says it was satire, and also that violent rhetoric is the only way to get anyone’s attention, and also that he wasn’t even in the building that day.
But such rhetoric could lead to violence, warns Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups. “When you have a movement pumping out nasty propaganda, it invariably finds fertile ground in the mind of someone like Elliot Rodger or the man behind the 1989 Montreal massacre,” she says, referring to 25-year-old Marc Lépine, a misogynist who shot 14 women to death at a university.
Beirich cited a third example: mass murderer Anders Breivik, who carried out attacks on a government building and summer camp in Norway in 2011, killing 77 children and adults. Breivik wrote a manifesto that seized on men’s rights ideology—he declared that fathers had become “disposable,” that women use their “erotic capital” to “manipulate” men, and that the media turns men into a “touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.” Men’s rights activist Peter Andrew Nolan, who runs a site called Crimes Against Fathers, praised Breivik, suggesting he was “a hero.”
Cue 40 thousand MRAs accusing Heidi Beirich of hate speech.
Following Elliot Rodger’s murder rampage last May, Farrell and the men’s rights movement drew attention like never before. There is no evidence that Rodger (or other killers) had any ties to Farrell, Elam, or men’s rights organizations. But commentators highlighted Rodger’s focus on the Pickup Artist sceneand his ideas about women and their sexual dominion over men. “They think like beasts,” he wrote.
Conservatives rushed in to defend the men’s movement: Helen Smith, who blogs for the website PJ Media, argued that “feminists and their supporters who block funding and education going to boys’ and men’s issues” may have been to blame for Rodger’s attack. After the protesters showed up at the Hilton DoubleTree in Detroit, Fox News suggested their goal was “muzzling” men. “Feminists are up in arms, calling a men’s conference a hate group even though it included all races and sexes,” said morning show host Steve Doocy, pointing to the diverse community Elam had built. “So who are the ones being intolerant?” An opinion piece on cnn.com by Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer who has spoken up for Rush Limbaugh, violent video games, and the pornography industry, suggested that A Voice for Men had endured protests and threats simply because it had the “audacity to question certain issues from a man’s perspective.”
Uh huh. That’s all Elliot Rodger and Anders Breivik did, too. Sure.
Missing from that coverage were the group’s fierce tactics, which have continued unabated. In October, with vicious misogyny raging online around the Gamergate controversy, feminist pop-culture critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled a talk at Utah State University after administrators received an email threatening “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” A Voice for Men responded with an essay asserting that the email’s author was in fact a feminist posing as a men’s rights activist, and insinuating that Sarkeesian stood to profit from the episode.
And we saw the reaction when the Harvard Humanists declared her Humanist of the Year. That award is being presented right now as I type, at a sold-out event that was moved to a larger venue because of the demand for tickets.