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 199.

    Some of these comments seem completely bizarre. Some, men and women, post acknowledging male-discrimination; yet others, men and women, insist on "manning up," "growing a pair," or otherwise suggesting it is acceptable because [some specific example of sexism] is still rife.

    Discrimination is wrong; male or female. Our bodies may be biologically different, fine, but beyond that - why stereotype?

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    If you're an employer owning a marginally profitable business, would you employ a recently married 30 year old woman or a recently married 30 year old man with the same skill set? Fact is the man would an advantage on some level because he won't shortly go on maternity leave.

    It's not fair but it's also not men discriminating against women. The system doesn't support employers adequately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    It pleases me that the majority, both male and female, can see through the rubbish and simply want to be treated equally. It's a sad state of affairs when society has to be reminded that yes, domestic violence and sex attacks (including rape) are, in fact, committed against men, and are committed by women in about a third of cases. In an 'equal' society, we would already be conscious of this fact.

  • Comment number 196.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    re 164
    Can't have been much of a marriage if your mate salted away £40k without his wife knowing! Perhaps faults on boh sides?

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    There is an old philosophical conundrum:

    If a man speaks in the forest, and no woman is there to hear him, is he still wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    The women's rights comments seem to be stuck in the past.

    You can't hold men accountable for what other men did in hundreds or thousands of years of history.

    They're just pushing for greater rights, not equal rights. They've pushed too far and man's desire to please women is being taken advantage of. I'm in favor of equal rights for both sexes, but not special rights for one over the other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I wasn't making excuses or excluding anyone from fundraising, just pointing out these races existing. But I think using this as an arguement for 'equality' is missing the point of these type of races and why they were set-up.
    Race for Life, Run for Moore or Man on the Run are to promote a message about certain cancers to a specific group who are statistically at great risk of getting them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Very true about the adverts. They'd never get away with it if they tried to portray women in a similar manner. Don't buy the product that the company is advertising - it's as simple as that. And e-mail the company to tell them that you won't be buying their product purely because of their offensive advertising. It's the only way to change this approach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    As the old female adage has it "Women have many faults, but men have only two. Everything they say and everything they do"

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    @125 Laughinman
    "Society dramatically reduced opportunities for women in the past & that really is a fact!

    Society also reduced oppo's for men when their face or perhaps more importantly voice don't fit, this still happens today, even in this enlightened age mate, 'tis a fact that, er, I think, sure you'll put moi straight though eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    125: Until relatively recently, we weren't allowed to do stuff, like own property or vote, so we didn't get a choice about learning instruments, taking art lessons, etc. Marie Curie had to fight hard against the scientific establishment to be taken seriously because of her gender and Frida and the Brontes etc were only able to write and publish because the men in their lives allowed them too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    I once opened a door for a woman, only to be told "I don't let men open doors for me" to which I replied " I didn't open the door for you because you are a woman! I opened it because I'm a gentleman! On a more serious note "Loose women" as a TV program!! Come off it...that takes the buscuit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    I think some people are mistaking statistics for discrimination.
    Women earn less- fact
    Women are more likely to be raped- fact
    Men are more likely to commit violent crime- fact
    Women have been discriminated against for hundreds of years- fact

    I also find it amusing that men are upset that women talk about their sexual performance while men have been talking about women in that way for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Speaking as a criminologist i find it interesting that the proportion of men's prison places was made an issue here. While there is some convincing evidence that women sometimes receive less punitive sentences, men receiving 9 times more prison places is more easily explained by the fact that, as a gender, we commit significantly more crime than women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Assuming you're female, I'd suggest that your bum looking big was good thing.......... or is that a sexist comment.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    169. Rennition: Nonsense. The low conviction rate has more to do with a total lack of evidence due to the crime not being reported until no evidence exists. In the absence of evidence there can be no conviction, no matter what legal shenanigans are tried. The single thing that would make s difference is "Report the crime immediately" don't 'come forward' years later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    @151 "man" up? Hadn't you noticed the moment we do that we are accused of being testosterone fuelled bullies. Show a caring side and we are wimps. We are supposed to be strong and protective one minute, loving and caring the next, independent here, a family man there The trouble is only women know which version they want at any one time, we aren't allowed to but woe betide us if we get it wrong..

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Male rights activism should not be seen as competing with the excellent work done by female rights campaigners to stop women being treated as second class citizens. Male rights activism is dealing with the same issue but from the other end of the spectrum. The idea that one campaign is detrimental to the other is one that only bigots would espouse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Some facts:
    1. On the whole women are still the victims of the gender bias in society.
    2. There is certainly a case to answer for equality to work both ways and for men to be shown fairness too.
    3. Some voices for female equality do considerable harm to that cause by the way they generalise and alienate and criticise all men.


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