Free Thoughts #4: Uneasy Allies

One of the creepiest things resulting from the apparently growing conflict between radical-feminists and the trans community is periodic agreements and alliances between trans women and MRAs (“mens rights advocates”).

The MRAs absolutely love this, because it, to them, confirms everything they’ve been claiming (erroneously) about feminism itself. That feminism is a “female supremacist” movement full of angry, hateful bigots who want to advance their cause by harming everyone else. To them, the branches of radical-feminism organizing things like the RadFem2012 conference are simply the natural logical extension of feminism itself. Feminism distilled to its essential nature.

This is obviously in conflict with the perspective most trans-feminists take, that such forms of radical-feminism are, in fact, deeply anti-feminist in their principles.

Regardless, when you’re up against as scary, dangerous and threatening a force as a united hate group who specifically have you as their primary target, are actively petitioning governments to strip you of your human rights and medical autonomy, are successfully publishing in mainstream university presses, and somehow maintain a semblance of credibility in the public eye despite their blatantly discriminatory agenda, it’s hard to turn against a group of people offering help in stopping them.

When Sheila Jeffreys was barred from speaking at RadFem2012, and Conway Hall eventually pulled its approval for the conference being held there, many MRAs attempted to take credit for the success, denying the intense work and involvement of numerous trans activists.

It’s not exactly surprising. They were using trans women as a means to advance their own agenda and grant it credibility.

You see, to the MRAs, these kinds of circumstances where they work together with the trans community in criticizing radical-feminism, they’re not “alliances” between disparate groups. To them, we fall under their own agenda. To them, halting radical-feminist hatred of trans women is a men’s rights issue.


It’s the Brony attitude. Persecution of femininity or gender variance amongst AMAB people is not, according to this mentality, an issue of femmephobia, cissexism or variant misogyny. Instead, it’s simply something they can point to to support the notion that men are actually the persecuted class in society. They focus on the assigned sex of the individual while ignoring that the violence and persecution is based in “feminine” or otherwise female-coded expression of gender.

“Well…well…well… guys get made of and beaten up for playing with ponies”, conveniently ignoring that it’s generally men doing the mocking and beating up, “while girls get to play with whatever toys they want! Therefore ‘female privilege’.”

Also conveniently ignoring that it’s the fact that masculine behaviours are perceived as stronger, better, and “only natural” for girls to want to pursue, while that which is “feminine”, coded as female, is seen as frivolous, weak, artificial and inferior, that leads to that disparity.

Leaving aside the fact that MRAs are exploiting trans and queer issues, through distorted simplifications of the gender dynamics at work, to help advance their inverted, bizarro world interpretation of sexism, there’s an even more dangerous reason we should avoid allying with them, beyond simply inadvertently supporting a misogynistic agenda.

While the rad-fems see us as enemies because they see us as male, the MRAs see us as worth fighting for, and part of their political agenda, because they also see us as male.

Do we really want to be seen allowing people campaigning to defend and maintain male privilege working on our behalf?

What does that suggest?

We might be able to somewhat more easily win isolated, circumstantial victories with the help of MRAs. But in collaborating with and trusting them, we surrender a considerably more important battle.



  1. says

    MRAs are all about co-opting whoever lets them score points against feminists. Other victims of these drive-by alliances include gay men (who are either awesome or cheaters for finding a way to ditch women), black men (who do face a racialized form of sexism, but MRAs always want to ignore the racism angle) and especially prisoner-rights advocates. Don’t worry, they’ll sson go back to forgetting that you exist except when you are needed for a punchline for a year or so until you become politically convenient again.

  2. Movius says

    It could always be seen as an opportunity to syphon off MRA sympathisers into a more sane position. Or as a starting point for one of those new-fangled “dialogue” things.

      • Movius says

        Thats why I said sympathisers and not ‘true believers’. Like all hate groups they thrive on being the only game in town on any particular issue. The more visible non-radfem/non-MRA individuals or gorups, the less likely the layperson is to associate with them.

        note: I actually agree with the bulk of this article and it could be applied to almost any political false-dichotomy.

  3. Onamission5 says

    This post explains a lot about some really mindboggling situations in which I have found myself. Thanks for the hefty portion of brain food, I will be pondering it for quite some time.

  4. says

    Hmmm, way to misread what’s actually going on. I don’t think there’s a broad alliance between trans activists and MRAs. There is definitely overlap there (especially in communities like YouTube that are more populist and less ideologically hardend than the feminist blogosphere), and a certain amount of dialoguing between less ideologically-motivated trans activists (eg, those that aren’t die-hard “trans feminists”) and more liberal/progressive MRAs. There’s overlap between these groups and the sex worker rights folks too. And considering the odiousness of the radical feminist agenda, why the hell not? There’s a common interest there, even if there may be disagreement on a bunch of other issues.

    And, really, MRAs are pretty far from the monolith they’re made out to be. They range from more or less liberal progressive types who reject the more pronounced anti-male attitudes in feminism (probably falling into the category of what the feminist blogosphere calls “liberal doodz”) to extreme right-wingers with the most retrograde views of women, gender, and sexual orientation imaginable. I’ll point out that nobody in the trans or sex worker camp is making any kind of alliances with the latter.

    I’ll point out that trans activism isn’t exactly a monolith either. It ranges from the unnamed people who made (probably temporary) alliances with MRAs to an emerging trans radical feminism represented by people like Lisa Millbank (who popped up on one of your comments thread the other day) to people like you who aren’t too keen on either.

    Also, quite honestly, I think your post here is representative of feminists who exaggerate the scale and influence of MRAdom as a way of shoring up the idea of feminists a put-upon and besieged minority. But in case you haven’t noticed, MRA is not exactly a movement with a lot of political influence. Care to name any MRA org with even a fraction of the influence of, say, NOW, AAUW, or Feminist Majority Foundation? How about naming any university department at all that’s devoted to a “men’s rights” perspective?

    • says

      I know that MRAs and trans-feminism are neither monolithic nor particularly powerful in scale and influence. The latter, however, is growing quite rapidly.

      I don’t see how that particularly impacts my point here, though. Groups don’t have to be large or monolithic to relate to one another, or for there to be uneasy tensions.

      My closing point about “MRAs see us as men” can certainly be read as making a broad, sweeping generalization. But I did intend for that to be taken with a grain of salt, as not 100% literal. There are some MRAs who do see us as men, some who see us as women, and many, I’m sure, who see us as neither one nor the other. What I’m getting at there is a hyperbole meant to nudge people in the direction of being mindful of what people’s motives are in “helping” us, and how superficially similar agendas can in fact emerge from vastly divergent viewpoints, that are very much in conflict, beneath the surface.

      On a different point,

      I totally think there’s overlap between trans-feminism and sex worker’s rights, and that’s an alliance I actually wholeheartedly support. I would LOVE to see trans-feminists and sex-worker feminists working closely together. I think we have a lot in common and a lot to offer each other (and of course there are lots of people who are both trans and sex workers). I also think trans people and people with disabilities also have a lot of overlap in their goals and various social issues they’re working against, or suffering from, and that could be another extremely useful cooperation.

      Trans people have for a long time be in an overt political alliance with lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and other people with various queer sexualities, due to overlapping forms and causes of oppression. I’d really like to see alliances with sex workers, PwD and other groups with overlapping concerns someday come to feel just as natural as LGBTQ cooperation.

      This wouldn’t just be a selfish, quid pro quo thing, either, like “I scratch your back you scratch mine”, but just a nice, basic, easy “we’re both being harmed by this particular mentality, so let’s work together to address it” kind of thing.

      I’ll be writing on this more very soon, but yes, absolutely you’re right that trans people can benefit from cooperating with other groups. I just don’t see MRAs as a group that either deserves our help, or who in any way have our best interests in mind. MRA is not a social justice movement, it’s a privilege-maintenance counter-movement.

      The “why the hell not?” is what I’m addressing in this post. That MRA supports philosophies and principles that are DIRECTLY harmful to trans people.

    • julian says

      They range from more or less liberal progressive types who reject the more pronounced anti-male attitudes in feminism



      But in case you haven’t noticed, MRA is not exactly a movement with a lot of political influence.

      Yes and no.

      While self identified MRA’s don’t have much political power, if you’ve followed right wing religious movements you’ll find ideology almost identical to that of your typical MRA (who is not, as you try to imply, a mostly well meaning person reacting to the radfems). Ignoring issues of sexual assault and rape when they deal with women, ignoring violence against women, pay disparity, reinforcement of gender norms through biology, it’s all there.

      Also, quite honestly, I think your post here is representative of feminists who exaggerate the scale and influence of MRAdom as a way of shoring up the idea of feminists a put-upon and besieged minority.

      Funny. I was just about to say I think your comment here is representative of the number of fools out there who’ll defend whomever so long as they can distance themselves from radfems in the process.

      • says

        Julian – You know, it’s pretty clear you’re just spoiling for a fight with that comment, but I’m not going to give you one. Your contempt is clear, and I can assure you it goes both ways.

        • says

          Speaking of spoiling for fights… that’s really not quite the tone I want here.

          You started with the condescending tone, iacb. Julian escalated. And now you’re escalating again. Knock it off.

          • says

            I’d take issue with the tone of #1 being condescending, so much as just disagreeing with seems to be a consensus politics here. As to what follows, since Julian is deescalating, of course, I am.

          • says

            Okay, see, making comments like “what so I’m not even allowed to disagree?!” kind of thing, that is condescending. And suggests that you’re the one “spoiling for a fight”.

          • says

            I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I said anywhere, but if I did, so what? That’s not condescension, that’s strong disagreement, and if anything a response to the condescending rhetoric of others.

            And I’ll point out that at this point you’re going into some *heavy* tone policing. Which there’s definitely a place for, but beyond a certain point, just serves as a cover for being thin-skinned, or otherwise being unable to take what one dishes out.

          • says

            Look, I don’t have time for this today. Just please try to be mindful not to be a jerk while expressing your perspectives. Disagreement is welcome, and some of your disagreements have led to interesting, worthwhile discussions here, but I actually do have a direct responsibility to “police” the tone here. I can promise I’ll be mindful of others’ tones as well, but yeah, it’s kinda one of my jobs here. So please just try to be friendly about things and give people a little benefit of the doubt and try not to come across as patronizing and hostile. Thanks.

  5. says

    “It could always be seen as an opportunity to syphon off MRA sympathisers into a more sane position. Or as a starting point for one of those new-fangled “dialogue” things.”

    Which is in fact the way I see it.

    • says

      I kind of agree with that: I agree that convincing some MRAs to be more reasonable is a good project. When I was first reading feminist works online, I kept running across the attitude wherein men would say “but sexism hurts men too” and women would say “true, great–we’re for equality for all, but if you care about men’s issues most, form your own groups and fight your own battles!” Usually shortened to WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ?

      I learned not to take that approach, because it actively rejects the role of men as allies and stakeholders in feminism. (Not that I place a priority on men in feminism, but I wouldn’t push back against men except for the ones who start demanding all the attention.) I don’t know about MRA circles as I never visit them, but when it comes to convincing men that men’s rights types should be able to work with feminists, there is already a place for this project. You’ll notice that No Seriously, What About The Menz is actually on Natalie’s blogroll right now, and though I often disagree with posts there, useful work gets done there along such lines.

      None of that makes this phenomenon, tying MRAs and trans feminists together over enmity to radfems, any less creepy or any more a good idea. Trans women are not fighting for their rights as “men”, they’re fighting for their rights as women. If anything, I think this has a high risk (and an existing record) of encouraging antifeminism in the trans women’s community, which would undo all this work that Natalie does to spread trans feminism. But that part I’m less sure about, because of my status as a cis ally/outsider.

      • says

        Well, there certainly IS a lot of anti-feminism in the trans community, which is something that really creeps me out a lot. And often times some trans women will DIRECTLY support MRA perspectives.

        So trans women are not by any means necessarily feminist. It totally boggles my mind how a trans woman could NOT be feminist, given how our circumstances makes it completely impossible to take gender for granted, or not perceive the way that privilege and oppression fall along axes of gender. And a great many of us have also experienced the direct sacrifice of male privilege, which makes its existence pretty impossible to ignore.

        (I acknowledge, though, that there are many trans women transitioned early in life and therefore don’t really have an experience of male privilege to hold in contrast to their experiences as women).

        Anyway, for me feminism seemed like the ONLY possible response to my transsexual experience, and as a trans woman specifically. But it does seem that for others, the response was to embrace anti-feminist principles, like MRA ideology (often fueled by their experiences of feminism being primarily the hostility of rad-fems, and also by lingering bitterness over ways that cis women so frequently take for granted so many things that trans women have had to fight for… a sort of “how can they possibly be COMPLAINING about what I’ve worked so hard to have?” attitude), or also HBS, transsexual seperatism, neo-essentialism (I’m coining that term as of this comment to describe the silly super-duper essentialist attitudes of many trans people that are based on gender identity and presentation rather than biological sex), internalized cissexism and other mentalities based on diving headfirst into archaic, patriarchy-supporting mentalities about what is and isn’t a “real” woman or “real” man.

        But… I’m not BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION the only trans woman (or trans man, or trans person) fighting for the trans community to recognize the importance of feminism to our struggle for rights and acceptance, or fighting for feminism to recognize how much trans-feminism has to offer the movement as a whole, and how trans rights ARE a women’s rights issue (and a men’s rights issue too) and recognize how these things are intertwined and dependent on each other, recognize that feminism needs to incorporate trans-feminism in order to move forward, and that without it won’t be ABLE to move forward.

        There are LOTS of awesome, badass trans-feminists out there. Really.

        If for any of you I’m the only trans-feminist you read, you’re seriously missing out on some GREAT ideas, writing, perspectives and dialogues.

        I don’t, by the way, think most MRAs are worth pursuing dialogue with. There are a select few who are genuine and sincere in their principles and values, and are HONESTLY working towards investigating how men and AMAB people are negatively impacted by present gender dynamics. But most are MRAs precisely BECAUSE they’re completely close-minded about gender already.

        • says

          Well, there certainly IS a lot of anti-feminism in the trans community, which is something that really creeps me out a lot.

          Well, yes, lots in the sex worker community as well. And considering the hurtful and condescending treatment by too many self-proclaimed feminists toward both trans people and sex workers, not exactly unwarranted, even if it does “creep you out”. And, honestly, when dealing with people who have been treated that way, pushing a “you really must support feminism” is a tad insensitive and not exactly likely to earn one respect. Just saying.

          • says

            It’s not about telling anyone they “must” support feminism, and I’m not pushing anything on any sex workers at all. What I try to do is encourage people to realize how feminism can support and empower THEM.

          • Bia says

            Hell there’s a lot of anti feminism among straight cis women as well.

            Nothing quite like telling your grandmother that you’re trans* and getting, “I don’t know why anyone would want to be a woman,” as a response.

        • says

          There is or was a trans woman MRA who comments/commented fairly frequently at Manboobz (I don’t read the comments enough anymore to know if she’s still there, I just got too tired of the trolls). When I first read one of her comments, I had to look at the comment, look at the name she was posting under, look at the comment again, click through the link in her name, go through her site, and back again to the comment.

          I just couldn’t understand why a trans woman would be an MRA. Does she want to be further repressed, or does she think she’ll be able to retain some privilege? The whole concept just blew my mind.

          But now that I think of it, it shouldn’t blow my mind. I suppose it’s no different than anti-feminist cis women.

          • says

            “I suppose it’s no different than anti-feminist cis women.”

            Bingo. I always figure, the more directly a system oppresses one, the more work one has to put in to keep justifying it.

            Oh right, I remember where I learned to put that idea into those words! From Crommunist: link (seriously check it out)

          • Joven says

            I know there was a trans-man commenter on Manboobz, and was basically flat out told by several MRAs that they didn’t really want anything to do with him. (after trying to recruit him earlier, before they found out he was trans.)

  6. Passerby says

    Well, that’s quite insulting. So I guess it can only be ‘stealing credit’ to support a cause that doesn’t directly benefit you – can’t possibly be that the MRAs in question genuinely believed in opposing sexual discrimination, nosiree. If only transpeople are allowed to be a part of pushing for trans rights, we’re going to lose by the numbers. There just aren’t that damn many of us.

    For the record, I believe in equality and fairness between the sexes, and while I still support individuals who believe in these things and call themselves feminists, I’ve given up on the word. I think the radfems have already won, and I, personally, am sick of staying where I’m not wanted. The feminism I was raised to believe in is called Men’s Rights movement today; I identify as an MRA because feminists, on the whole, react in anger when I oppose anything that benefits women over men. I *genuinely* believe in fighting anything that holds one gender up as ‘better’ over the other; that’s why I’m an MRA today.

    I’m sorry that my support for our cause offends you.

    • says

      I believe the only possible way you can look at the present distribution of power, money, status, privilege and opportunity along lines of gender and sex, and think that men are the disadvantaged group whose human rights are being threatened by the status quo, requires a massively distorted and biased worldview.

      Yes, men are adversely impacted by oppositional sexism. But oppositional sexism, once established, subjugates women as the secondary class. Women are adversely impacted by oppositional sexism AND misogyny.

      We have to “benefit women over men” in the struggle for equality because we are so, so, so far from the mark in terms of genuine equality. We are dealing with an intense legacy of discrimination, patriarchy and misogyny and still has horrific, real consequences for real women. Once that has been dealt with, which will take a long, long time, THEN I might be willing to hear complaints about “reverse sexism” or whatever. In the mean time, though, we need to, you know, actually do something about the actual problems, not just think we can make an “equalist” Utopia manifest by endlessly complaining about the few things we’re trying to do to cope with the fact that that’s NOT the world we live in.

      MRA is not about standing up for the rights of the disadvantaged. It is about clinging to power, and sobbing over lost privilege.

      That’s why the MRA movement disgusts me.

      And frankly? I think it’s bloody HILARIOUS when MRAs, Radfems and HBSers squabble, because you all stand for exactly the same thing.

      • Passerby says

        We have to “benefit women over men” in the struggle for equality because we are so, so, so far from the mark in terms of genuine equality. We are dealing with an intense legacy of discrimination, patriarchy and misogyny and still has horrific, real consequences for real women. Once that has been dealt with, which will take a long, long time, THEN I might be willing to hear complaints about “reverse sexism” or whatever.

        I guess this is where you and I part ways, then. I, too, believe there is a long, long legacy of discrimination against women, and misogyny *does* have intense, horrible consequences for many women today. That’s something I have always fought against, and something I will continue to fight against.

        But the feminism I was raised to believe in held that prizing one class of people over another was reprehensible, and that as feminists we had a moral duty to confront sexism, whenever and wherever we found it. I don’t think that duty goes away just because some of it is sexism against men, instead of sexism against women. I truly believe that we can never reach equality in one area by actively supporting inequality in another.

        I find it very telling that you refer to sexism against men as ‘reverse’ sexism, that you set it off in quotation marks as if it isn’t real, and that you follow up the mere mention of it with, “or whatever,” as if this were some trivial or unimportant thing. I don’t think we can afford to sit around and ignore misandry until some nebulous point in the future when misogyny has been done away with. Even if we can, we shouldn’t. Sexism is a horrible and destructive influence in our society, and if I learned anything in my years as a feminist, it was that there’s no excuse for just sitting back and accepting it.

        • says

          I’m not “ignoring” misandry. I’m well aware, as said, that men are adversely impacted by our current gender dynamics. But I have yet to hear a single credible argument as to why it is not appropriate for work towards better, more just and equitable and compassionate gender dynamics to focus on and prioritize women, given that women are currently facing oppression that makes misandry seem negligible in comparison. Also, work towards dismantling misogyny and ensuring women’s rights will ALSO ensure better treatment for men because that project ALSO demands dealing with oppositional sexism. The “misandry” that MRAs routinely point out is always, without fail, the flip side of a gender dynamic that is equally predicated on misogyny. For instance, the oft-cited child custody disparity is as much a product of the belief that women are “naturally” suited to domestic responsibility and “meant” for child-rearing as much as it is a product of the belief that men are not as suited for these roles. And quite often the alleged “misandry” is pretty much ENTIRELY a product of misogyny and femmephobia, such as the way boys and other AMAB children are more strictly (and often violently) reprimanded for having “feminine” interests than girls and AFAB children are for having “masculine” interests. That is due to the devaluation of women and femininity within the enforced binary structure, NOT “misandry”.

          MRA mentalities require very, very simplistic, zero-sum attitudes towards what sexism is and how it functions. For instance, you seem to think my point is that misandry can’t be addressed until we’re “done” handling misogyny. That’s absurd. The two are completely intertwined in the structures of oppositional sexism and gender binarism. You can’t really address one side of oppositional sexism without addressing the other. HOWEVER, AS SAID, while men and other AMAB are being harmed by oppositional sexism, women and AFAB are being harmed by oppositional sexism AND being positioned as the secondary class within the binary enforced by it.

          Gender rights are not a tug-of-war between men and women. One does not come at the expense of the other. And gender dynamics aren’t even a binary thing to begin with.

          And absolutely NO credible feminists make the point of “prizing” women over men, or supporting inequality. That’s not reality. That’s straw-feminism. At best, there are a few fringe feminists who genuinely belief in female supremacy, but they CERTAINLY don’t hold enough real world power that they’re the Powerful Matriarchy That Need To Be Fought For The Good Of The Poor Male Underdog. That’s just not the real world. Feminism can’t even be held accountable for the way men ARE disadvantaged or harmed in certain specific real world contexts. It is, in fact, patriarchy and gender binarism that is responsible for that. You know, the things feminism works against.

          Until you can approach me with a less simplistic, more realistic conception of how the social dynamics of gender work, I’m not interested in continuing this conversation.

    • says

      I’d be more inclined to believe MRAs were interested in equal right for trans people if I ever saw trans rights come up in a context where it wasn’t just a convenient way to discredit a radical feminist. (And by implication, all feminists, even though most don’t believe that.)

      • Passerby says

        You’re right, the Men’s Rights movement doesn’t do much in the way of trans rights activism – there’s a number of gaps where issues I think they should be concerned with go completely ignored. I’d like to think it’s due to MRM being such a new movement, and still getting its’ sea-legs before it expands to tackle other issues like trans rights. I could be wrong. And if the movement proves me wrong, then I’ll walk away from it, and not support those people anymore. Transsexual rights are some of the most important issues as far as determining what and whom I support politically.

        For what it’s worth, I have seen it brought up by MRAs to disprove the concept of gender difference being a pure social construction (as opposed to discrediting a feminist); that’s a long way from advocating for transpeople’s rights, but at least it’s something.

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