What should we call… Men’s Rights Advocates?

The term “Men’s Rights Advocate” and its shorthand, MRA, loom large in many feminist circles. The term is far less familiar to the general population and on its face, the connotations of “Men’s Rights Advocate” seem positive and wholly defensible. After all, patriarchy may bestow privilege upon men and boys (duh) but it also foists on them a variety of problems and sexist expectations worthy of an advocate’s attention. Unfortunately, the term does not honestly represent the modern project of men’s rights advocacy. While today’s MRAs (not necessarily cut from the same cloth as earlier iterations) rail against the sexism men and boys face, their chosen culprit is not patriarchy but feminism.

Men are not denied custody of their children because a sexist society and family law system deem child-rearing a woman’s domain. It’s feminists trying to make sure women take all the kids!!! Women don’t have an easier time getting laid [sometimes against their will, it bears noting] because men and boys are socially instructed by a patriarchal, heterosexist, cissexist culture to view them first and foremost as sexual objects. It’s those pesky feminists encouraging women to lord their sexual dominance over lonely men, muhahahahaha [evil feminist laugh]!!! Girls don’t perform better in the school system because social cues encourage them to be obedient and polite, while boys are encouraged to roughhouse and interrupt. It’s a teaching system brainwashed by feminists to ensure women’s supremacy!!!!

Okay that’s enough, but it should give you some idea of what most MRAs are really about, which is anti-feminism. Some sites and organizations make this agenda more obvious (see: A Voice for Men), while others (see: Canadian Association for Equality) push their agenda more insidiously by, say, hosting a speaker who has a history of calling date rape “exciting” and pontificating about the positive impacts of incest. In fact, A Voice for Men used facial recognition software to doxx and actively encourage the harassment of teenage women who protested this speaker’s appearance on the University of Toronto campus in late 2012. What ties the extreme and less-extreme groups together is their belief that feminism is a barrier to men and boys overcoming gender-based challenges and realizing their potential.

The truth is that men do face challenges in a world that, ironically, has largely been governed by men. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy for MRAs to make feminism the scapegoat – it seems illogical to presume that men are holding themselves back. But patriarchy isn’t one big, discrete, conscious decision. It’s the composite of zillions of decisions: conscious and unconscious, big and tiny, made by humans of all stripes including men, women and trans* people. Collectively these decisions hold back all genders in different ways, but men by far the least so. Their challenges are also counterbalanced by myriad privileges they accrue (often without noticing, because privilege is like that) for simply being guys. On the whole, men (in particular cis, white, straight, able-bodied men) occupy the position of greatest privilege on the gender spectrum.

Recently I got together with some feminists and feminist allies to discuss how to address a recent spread and intensification of anti-feminist activity in Canada, especially on post-secondary campuses. These men and organizations are not so much concerned with reclaiming men’s rights as they are with preserving men’s power and privilege. So we thought let’s call a spade a spade, scrap the “Men’s Rights Advocate” handle and call them Men’s Power Advocates. MPAs: they’re a thing.

Epilogue: Shout-out to the men’s organizations doing great work to challenge sexism and foster positive masculinity, including the White Ribbon Campaign.

What should we call… “trolling”?

ImageThere’s a problem I’ve been encountering a lot in my travels as an internet feminist. Sometimes the presently available language for describing a phenomenon is wholly inadequate, and sometimes the consequences are harmful. The internet has been going through a bit of a popular-use growth spurt in the last several years, and a lot of things (governance, commerce, the legal system) are struggling to catch up. Language is one of those things, so I’ve decided to start a series on my blog examining the phenomena I feel are begging for re-definition.

I think we’ve long since reached the point of linguistic inadequacy with the word “trolling”. It’s only gotten worse since the mainstream media picked up on the concept in its most rudimentary form. These days it seems like 75% of the time I see the word “trolling”, the context implies its meaning is something along the lines of “being mean on the internet” (um, nope.jpg).

So what do we talk about when we talk about trolling? I tend to think of trolling as provocation for provocation’s sake. In other words, intent is an important part of the definition, and a troll’s primary intent is to get a rise out of someone. Urban Dictionary, o holiest of internet linguistic tomes, backs me up on this one. (Worth noting: all the most popular Urban Dictionary definitions had a high number of downvotes as well as upvotes, suggesting that definitions of trolling are pretty contested terrain.) One of the most popular definitions of trolling says, among other things, “…trolling statements are never true or are ever meant to be construed as such” and “trolling isn’t simply harmful statements”.

THANK YOU, PERSON WHO WROTE THAT. In so many of the instances in which the popular press (and the general public) apply the label “trolling”, they’re referring to sincere statements from people who believe every word they’re saying. These alleged “trolls” have myriad intentions that may include getting a rise out of their target, but also include silencing their target, humiliating their target, inspiring fear or emotional distress in their target, etc etc etc. It’s not provocation merely for provocation’s sake, and the stakes are much higher.

The word “trolling” is not appropriate for these situations, and that’s largely why ye olde adage “Don’t feed the trolls” is such absolute bunk advice in these situations. If the person’s primary intent were to get a rise out of you, then sure, “feeding” that desire would probably be unwise. But what if the person’s primary intent is to silence you, to erase your voice and your presence from their jealously guarded spaces for online social interaction? Following the “don’t feed the trolls” advice would be giving them exactly what they wanted, wouldn’t it?

It’s one thing to erroneously apply the “trolling” label when referring to someone simply being a dick on the internet. I can live with that. But when we apply it to people who are spewing hateful things about people of colour, women, queer people, trans* people… When we apply it to people who orchestrate months-long campaigns of harassment intended to terrorize the target… When we apply it to people uttering death threats and rape threats… Well, we’re insulting the targets of this hatred and harassment, and I’d even go so far as to say we’re insulting THE PROUD INTERNET TRADITION of trolling itself.

I’d argue these kinds of behaviours shouldn’t be defined differently on the internet than they are offline. We don’t need special internet words for hate speech, harassment, or death threats. These words already exist. But to appease the many who seem hell-bent on calling this stuff “trolling”, would it be worthwhile to come up with a new expression for this kind of internet treachery? What should we call it? Tell me in the comments.