Just who are men's rights activists?

Top left, clockwise: Boys at school, girls in the army, 'no men' sign, close-up of a moustache

An increasingly vocal men's movement argues that anti-male discrimination is rife. Who are the activists and what do they want?

Feminists have spent decades trying to get equal pay and rights for women.

But while, in the West at least, discrimination against women is rigorously challenged, a growing band of men's rights activists say no such protection is afforded to men.

Many of these activists also believe that the media allow women to objectify and ridicule men in a way that would be unthinkable if the gender roles were reversed.

A new book argues that on a whole range of fronts - from government, the courts and schools - men are being discriminated against.

David Benatar, head of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, argues in his polemic The Second Sexism that across the world men are more likely to be conscripted into the military, be victims of violence, lose custody of their children, and take their own lives.

Notable activists

Two members of activist group Fathers for justice demonstrating

UK Activist group Fathers 4 Justice campaigns for men's rights for access to their children.

US organisation National Coalition for Men "raises awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys".

Save Indian Family Foundation is a men's rights group in India, engaging "primarily in supporting men trapped in false cases by women".

Custody law is perhaps the best-known area of men's rights activism, with images of divorced fathers scaling buildings in Batman suits familiar in the UK.

Benatar asserts that in most parts of the world custody rights cases are stacked firmly against men. "When the man is the primary care-giver his chances of winning custody are lower than when the woman is the primary care-giver.

"Even when the case is not contested by the mother, he's still not as likely to get custody as when the woman's claim is uncontested."

Education is another area where men are falling behind, the activists note. Tests in 2009 by the Programme for International Student Assessment showed that boys lagged a year behind girls at reading in every industrialised country. And women now make up the majority of undergraduates, Benatar says.

"When women are underrepresented as CEOs of companies that is deemed discrimination. But when boys are falling behind at school, when 90% of people in prison are male, there's never any thought given to whether men are discriminated against."

Start Quote

Aoirthoir An Broc

All men are worthy of respect. We don't believe in cultural definitions of men”

End Quote Aoirthoir An Broc Masculinist

If sexual equality is to be achieved then male discrimination must be taken as seriously as sexism against women, he argues.

Equal pay is the barometer in developed countries like the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, the gender pay gap is still pronounced within professions. Women earn on average £8,000 less than a man as lawyers, £14,000 less as a CEO and £9,000 less as a doctor.

But the picture may be changing. Last year the the Universities and Colleges Admission Service discovered that women aged 22-29 have overtaken men on pay for the first time. And a survey for the Chartered Management Institute found that female managers in their 20s were earning 2.1% more than their male counterparts.

Such controversies are feeding a sense that men need to set up their own support structures. The Men's Network, a charity in Brighton, aims to help "every man and boy in our city to fulfil his greatest potential".

Movember, a campaign in which men grow facial hair for a month, taps into a feeling among some men that male diseases like prostate and testicular cancer are not taken as seriously as women's.

Women in bras gather for Moonwalk breast cancer fundraising walk The popularity of breast cancer campaigns such as Moonwalk led to Movember for testicular cancer

As the old certainties break down, a masculinist movement claims men need their own equivalent to feminists.

Aoirthoir An Broc, founder of the International Association of Masculinists, says there are thousands of male activists in India fighting the country's unequal divorce laws.

An Broc, a web designer in Cleveland, Ohio, is planning to set up the first domestic violence shelter in the US for male victims. He says there's an assumption that women are always innocent and men the aggressor. In response he's coined the term "all men are good" to counter the negative perception.

"We say that all men are men, all men are good, all men are worthy of love and respect regardless of race, sexuality, religion. We don't believe in cultural definitions of men."

There's a cultural context, too. Some of the men's rights-type concerns echo those of feminists - male body image is a growing issue.

Graph showing pay across various occupations for men and women

And there are some who feel that while feminism has addressed discrimination against women, outdated attitudes towards men have not been tackled.

Tom Martin gained attention last year after suing the London School of Economics' gender studies department for sexism.

He says he was radicalised while working as a barman in a club in Soho. "I could see that male customers were being abused at every point," he says.

Men had to queue and often pay while women got in free. They were goaded by bouncers to leave, while women were treated with respect. But worst of all, he believes they were used by women to buy drinks.

But Martin says it is all about sex.

"Since the pill, women have been told they can and should be having orgasms. And because they haven't been, they categorise that as men's fault."

He concludes that "it's women's job to make themselves sexually happy, it's not a man's burden."

The psychologist Oliver James believes men are feeling "sexually threatened".

Where women rule the roost

Woman flexing bicep

Women are no longer reticent about sex or their expectations from a lover. Furthermore they are now more likely to evaluate a man's sexual performance in public and even deride men who "aren't particularly imaginative or clever" in bed, he argues.

For feminists the men's movement is more straightforward. "It's the same old point that feminism has gone too far," says Mail on Sunday columnist Suzanne Moore.

The continuing gender pay gap and the fact that men dominate senior positions in public life, show up where the real discrimination is, she argues. There are problems with the way boys are educated but "you can't make sweeping statements about all men being discriminated against", she says.

Kat Banyard, author of The Equality Illusion, says men make the mistake of fearing feminism when it offers them liberation from an outdated masculinity. "There's a belief that feminism is a zero sum game and that men are losing."

To argue that men are now the victims of the gender struggle is absurd, she says. "For thousands of years women were subjugated as second class citizens. We've just started to change that in the last two centuries and there's a long way to go. The men's activists are denying history."

Male rights campaigners have struggled to shed their "cranky" image, argues Tim Samuels, presenter of BBC Radio 5 live's Men's Hour.

Most men don't see themselves as part of a movement, Samuels says. But they do want to talk to each other with a greater emotional complexity than previous generations of men - "even if it's not like Oprah".

And whatever one thinks about the spectrum of men's rights activism, there are important issues, like the fact that young men are three times as likely to die by suicide as young women.

"The men's movement tends to be dismissed as blokes scaling buildings dressed as superman. Whereas the women's movement is given credibility," Samuels says.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Show me a current advert where a man isn't portrayed as either, incompetent, a techophobe, a wimp, lazy, sneaky, stupid & easy to fool. Plus the ads where barely naked men are shown in a way that women never would be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    There is at least some equality in these comments, with an equal number of both sexes using the article as a platform to vent bitterness over some past wrong by the opposite sex. Perhaps you should get over it and move on with your life instead of spouting the tired cliche of "All men/women are the same"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    @169. Rennition and @143 Will Blair

    Rape is a difficult issue. In my view the main area of descrimination in Rape cases is the annonimity. The man can be named while he is still just a suspect, in most cases where the woman's claim if false she can still not be named. The is wrong, the man should have annonimity until convicted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    I'm discriminated against until I'm allowed to answer 'yes' to the question 'does my bum look big in this?'

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Everyone needs to bear in mind that both sexes have arguments about how they have been subjected to some form of discrimination based on gender. We really shouldn't spend time and energy on saying how it is worse of for women/men because of........ instead we should be doing something to make all people equal. Remember that if there is war between the sexes then there'll be no people left!

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Yet more banging on about 'rights' rather than owning up to your own responsibilities. Everyone seems to be intent on pointing what the other group has got and how unfair it is rather than getting on with enriching their own life. People need to grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    LORDY O' LORDY! The sheer weight of comments from angst ridden members of both sexes. It's not a competition of who's best or most oppressed. The past is gone, retribution is no use. The only way forward is to work together as equals (physical attributes of the sexes do not have anything to do with equality, incidentally) Start working together or nothing will be achieved. Simple stuff, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    On TV if you see a man hitting a woman over the head with a wine bottle, it'll be in a drama. If you see a woman hitting a man over the head with a wine bottle, it'll be in a comedy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Judging by some of the comments made there is clearly a lot of built up frustration out there amongst men over the the treatment they receive which if the tables were turned would not be tolerated by women (or men).

    Question is when will the legislature learn to acknowledge this and act?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    141. 03colledge
    We left the hunter gather lifestyle 10 thousands years ago.
    Sadly the mindset is still with us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    143 Will Blair
    Counter that by the fact that if you do rape someone you'll very likely get away with it given the terrible rate of conviction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    In my view, anything that defines men and women as seperate groups is inherently sexist. If women are as capable as men then why are there hundreds of support groups for them in business, homelife, education...stop creating a minority out of a demographic that occupys 50% of the chart in the first place. Men aren't represented in such a fashion and it's that which creates this illusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    I agree with the comments about male specific cancers , Almost every week there's an article about progress in female cancers , yet hardly a peep about progress in male cancers .

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    "you can't make sweeping statements about all men being discriminated against", she argues.

    But you can make sweeping statements about women being discriminated against?

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Mens Rights?! Exactly what more rights do we men really need. Come on gents - being objective, we've got it pretty good!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    My mates wife had an affair, they split, she got the kids, the house, the car. In 22 years they were married she'd never worked whereas he worked all the hours God sent, but when it came to splitting the assets he got very little. The house is hers til the kids are 18.

    He had about £40k in the bank she didn't know about until after the split, she found out and went back for her half

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    135. So what if there are many only races? I never said I support that. In fact, I'm just as disappointed. Why shouldn't women be allowed to raise money for "male" cancers or vice versa?

    Interesting that instead of welcoming anyone who wants to raise money for charity, you make excuses for excluding them based on other groups doing something similar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Furthermore, there is also a bit of disparity in the "dating game" - caused by a combination of women making themselves look more attractive with make up and this perpetual rhetoric that all men are just after sex and they cheat etc So women gain the upper hand and can be more picky

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Where do I join up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    I want women to be treated as equally as men in all fields. In sport they should be made to play on equal terms and in the same leagues as men. All tennis tournaments should be of mixed gender. All Athletics competitions should be of mixed genders.and paid accordingly. They have no right to choose when they want to be judged equal.


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