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 159.

    @125 LdashD

    "Men don't prevent women from inventing or innovating, women can and do paint & play instruments ...but they don't innovate, because innovation can't be taught, this isn't an opinion, it's a fact"
    LOL, you seem to think ending ridiculous assertions with "It's a fact" magically makes them true.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    103. Skeerbs
    " ... Oh the poor menz, unhappy that they now only have most of the power in society instead of all of it like they used to. I'll get out the world's smallest violin for you poor weak creatures ... "

    I'm not sure who these "menz" are that you talk of, and anyway, I'm not interested in how our grandparents behaved. I'm interested in the situation now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    It starts early..For example in Peppa Pig: Daddy pig is the one who makes the mistakes and looks stupid. Mummy pig always rescues him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    well perhaps you should try asking yourself why you might just learn why sexual discrimination is so bad. Women can take a knife to bed and murder their hudsband as he sleeps and get away with no prison time a man turns to the police or legal system for help and he will find a stone wall so what option left when the legal route is blocked and women are using and abusing men

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I think the point that struggles to come across is that Feminism was supposed to be about equality, not swapping the dominant position of one gender with another. There is no reason women should be paid less for doing the same job as men, but there is no reason why a man should be considered less capable of looking after a child. For example, my wife is a retail manager while I work in a nursery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Another example is the Galaxy Minstrels advert from a few months back where you have two young ladies sitting in theatre seats making various comments about the upcoming performance - which turns be a male strip show and the comments sexual innuendo! I complained to the ASA about this, pointing out that if the roles were reversed it would be completely unacceptable. No response!

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    I agree, there is a lot of sexism in this world. And not much of it against women.

    I am glad that this is being raised as a real issue on the BBC.

    Take a look at a woman's "gossip" magazine if you don't believe that men are being objectified and disrespected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    My big problem with male/female inequality in UK concerns genital mutilation of babies and young people. Circumcision of male children (on non-medical grounds) is allowed for males but the merest pin prick on the genitals of females is illegal.
    Please pester politicians to end unnecessary amputations of males.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    There's a hilarious irony going on here. Perhaps these guys should just man up, and stop playing the victim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    @31.j noble

    "not discrimination against men to imprison more men as long as they are guilty, but its discrimination against women if you dont let them try the high risk job."

    If you think mens risk taking is a good enough excuse for the higher prison population how on earth do you not see the lack of risk taking on womens part does not contribute to the lack of women in those jobs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Lady who lunches #37 - just out of interest did you not realise that the term "Lady who lunches" refers to a woman who has nothing better to do than socialise becuase she's living off of her husband's labours.

    And don't tell me that no longer happens, i know a number of ladies who lunch quite happy not to work and instead live off their husbands. And no not one of them "wasn't allowed" to work

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Ah, the battle of the sexes...thank god I'm gay and not involved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    This is all just a subset of the changes being instigated by the hated "PC brigade". But you probably already knew about that old chestnut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    136. gibbsy1987
    @NameNumber6, please tell me that is sarcasm, please!
    See what I mean.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Have you seen the latest galaxy minstrels advertisment. I think that is a good example of what this arctile is refering too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Moden day femenists don't want equality, they want superiority. Equality should be equality.

    Maternal and Peternal leave should be scrapped in place of parental leave (9 months total, they couple choose how to split it).

    If you can have women only gyms, there should be men only gyms.

    As someone said, if Loose Women can be aired so should an equally vile male equivalent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    One of the worst cases of male discrimination is false rape claims. If a woman claims she has raped, regardless of whether he has or not, he will have live the rest of his life being regarded as a rapist. This is because everyone assumes that the woman is automatically telling the truth. I'm not saying that men don't rape women at all, I'm talking about the after effects of the mere statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.


    There is no need for a "men's liberation" movement. What a totally stoopid idea. It's just paranoia.

    When your wife leaves you and takes your children away. Despite your stability, earning potential and loving your kids, you will NOT get custody.
    Thats not paranoi, that's well documented fact, and it's discrimination that ruinds childrens lives and families.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    People need to open their eyes and realise that men and women are made differently (biologically). They is clearly a biological reason for why men became the hunters (strength) and women become the housewives. Now instead if pushing for men and women to be the same, we should all be seeing that they are different, but still able to try whatever it is they wish to without discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    At the end of the day the "equality" and "equal rights" is redundant. For us to be equal, we need to be born equal and as everyone knows... Everyone is unique (Physical attributes, social class, education levels etc...) So equality is hence impossible. The term "equity" should be used in these scenarios. Meaning not the same for everyone (as people have different needs), but fairness for everyone.


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