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 219.

    I have promoted and employed many women in favor of men as quite honestly they get on withit and are flexible However I am now seeing women who think rights means they should haveeverything ahead of men
    Even my sister who is a head of a primary school and has 4 children thinks that education is skewed towards girls Men need to fight back esp in areas of children and jobs BBC Can we have mens hour?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    39 Minutes ago
    I have heard it all now.

    Look.... equal rights for females has been largely achieved. That is good.

    What the hell are these wimps going on about?
    Wimps! I rest my case

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.


    hey number 6 why should women get all the best jobs.

    'ang on we 'aven't got a number six, er, number9, are you in trouble?

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    As a teenager back in the 1970's and the time of DCI Gene Hunt. I brought my first car, my father gave this advice to me.

    "Son if its got t*ts or tyres its always going to give your problems"

    40 years on and he was right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    @200 - AndyC555. I try not to be an evil manipulative power crazed conspirator by doing housework and ironing. I can also mow the lawn, service the car, put up shelves and paint a wall. I have to as my wife works long hours...but she does get paid more than me. A fact I am very happy about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Isn't it a little ironic that feminists, who spend much of their time identifying examples and sources of gender bias, find it so inconceivable that discrimination may work the other way in certain circumstances?

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Advertising- Men are stupid
    Divorce: The Paul McCartney effect
    Custody: Women usually get the children, even when they don't, they are still treated as if they did.
    Health: One trip to a doctor's waiting room or hospital and you will soon see that men are an afterthought.
    Shops: Look at the floor-space dedicated to women's clothes compared to men's
    Schools: Try to find a male teacher
    etc etc etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    I had a conversation about this issue years ago with my girlfriend at the time. All I got back was the "poor you" answer...So I dumped her.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    You know what I am getting absolutely sick of hearing crap like this.

    Tell me one thing. Just ONE THING that women are better than men at.

    Obviously apart from impossible things like giving birth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    As a friend of mine once told his 11 year old daughter, who was teary because she couldn't get her own way:
    "Dry your eyes Princess. Zip up the man-skin and standby to cope".

  • Comment number 209.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    'Remember that if there is war between the sexes then there'll be no people left!'
    You're wrong, there was a gay bloke earlier who said he wasn't involved in gender warfare.......
    I've not thought this through, have I.???

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Sweetheart, darling, love; feminists contrived to regard these as deliberately demeaning and offensive, while wilfully ignoring the fact that women use the same expresssions to the same extent for the same reason; friendliness. Mrs, Miss, or Ms; call yourself whatever you like, but expecting a stranger to guess how you want to be addressed is farcically unreasonable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    For years now i've noticed how restrictive mens lives really are, we have to act, behave and dress a set way. Suggested by society and enforced by fearful men who reject anything different. I broke free from these pressures, it was not easy, i've been ridiculed a long the way, i've had to avoid violent situations. I don't want to live my life as a stereotype, nobody tells me what I "should" be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    this is an issue that needs to be addressed as both men and women face sexism in their own gender specific forms. This doesn't appear to be an attack on feminism. The comments of Kat Banyard and Suzanne Moore clearly show that certain feminists want more than equality. I'm all for equality, not the hard-line feminist version of equality which is as equally repulsive as male-chauvinism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    186. Flight Lieutenant Pink
    "Women have been discriminated against for hundreds of years- fact"
    This isn't revenge we are after!

    "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."

    Ha ha, and women haven't? women are far more graphic in their talk about men's performance than guys are about us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    I'm getting pretty sick of men being depicted as frustrated idiots in advertising.

    "So easy, even a MAN can do it" was permitted by the ASA. However, this wouldn't have been acceptable if roles were reversed and the woman was depicted as the happy moron being supervised by a condescending man.

    That women have been subservient for millennia does not mean men should now be punished in revenge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    This equality experiment isn't working.

    Its about time women stayed at home and raised the children, also free up a lot of the jobs for the young people coming out of University.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Do you think the Swiss regret giving women the vote in 1971 ?

    Was political emancipation here a mistake/thin edge of a wedge ?

    Or is this another useless Have Your Say,

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    It's odd that men are portrayed at times as evil manipulative power crazed conspirators in a world-wide campaign to keep women subjugated whilst also being portrayed as incapable of doing something as simple as loading a washing machine or doing the ironing without setting fire to something or falling out a window and having to be rescued by a woman.


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