Disruptions: Men’s Rights Activists & Social Justice Warriors

Now that last week’s meninist vs. feminist scandal has died down, we can reflect on the absurdity of the threat and the sincerity of the response.

Days after the “pick-up artist” meetings were announced over 60,000 people had signed an anti-Roosh V petition, and hundreds gathered in George Square to protest misogyny. Speeches came from women including journalist Vonny Moyes, campaigner and RISE candidate Cat Boyd, and Anna Hodgart of the TYCI collective. People took pictures of each other’s home-made signs, bought and sold copies of feminist zines like Artificial Womb, and handed out Rape Crisis leaflets to passers-by. Messages of solidarity were scrawled on the concrete in chalk. After a break to mingle, the crowd marched up and down Sauchiehall Street with speakers on wheels, chanting at crowds of lads on their way to bars and stopping traffic. The impromptu Reclaim the Night-style march channeled all the rage and excitement that had built up throughout the week, and garnered attention in the half hour before the police urged us to disperse.

Ash Charlton attended the rally representing Isabella Elder Feminist Society: “The peaceful protest was so much more than Glasgow objecting to one man. It really showed the people here coming together to take a stand against hateful speech, discrimination and misogyny. The crowd had a fantastic energy.”

Whether or not the followers of a blogger were meeting in our city didn’t matter. What the moment created was community, as poet and Green Party activist Elaine Gallagher commented: “The protest was cheerful, inclusive and intersectional. As a trans woman I felt welcome and included in a way that would be abhorred by the Return of Kings bigots.”

Irony was defined when the men’s rights activists cancelled their meet-ups due to “safety concerns”. It must be terrifying having your fragile masculinity confronted by blue-haired femi-nazis after you so playfully threaten to harass them. It’s flattering for us, really. #notallfeminazis

The backlash to Roosh sparked various reactions, including those who insisted that however abhorrent the misogyny, protesting it would only give the views undeserved attention and publicity. Ignoring them would sweep it all nicely under the rug so we could go back to pretending they only exist in cyber-space. Calling out misogyny should be constant, but activism must be on topic and timely to garner support. Any excuse to say no to rape culture, Glasgow grabs by the collar. Not all felt safe turning up to a potentially dangerous protest where they risked “retribution” from advocates of sexual assault, but those who organised the event deserve credit. Change is not achieved by asking nicely.

We know men already have rights. No matter how high male suicide rates are, we know it’s not feminism causing them. And we know that rape is categorically wrong. Why would we not protest? Alex Ternar from GU Amnesty said: “It’s unfortunate we still need people like Roosh to facilitate conversations about gender equality or how violence against women should not be tolerated, but it’s a step in the right direction. I have a lot of male friends who, while they do agree with our views, feel these are issues that concern only women and thus they have no place at such an event. These are issues that concern everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality and that was proven by the massive diversity of the people in George Square.”

Are we asking enough when we call for the elusive concept of equality? Philosopher and human rights activist Martha Nussbaum wrote: “Gender justice cannot be successfully pursued without limiting male freedom… In one sense feminists are indeed insisting on a restriction of liberty, on the grounds that certain liberties are inimical both to equalities and to women’s liberties and opportunities.”

That is exactly what MRAs are afraid of, that their birth-right male privilege is incompatible with women’s liberation. Instead of fighting to be equal with bigots, let’s recognise that neither of our current gender roles are sustainable options. The rhetoric of equality is friendly and attractive, imagining a world where we can erase differences like gender and be treated as blank slates. But the aim of the game must be equality in terms of liberation if we want to account for our differences and a history of gendered oppression; for example, through drastic affirmative action and limits on harmful free speech. If you ask me we should be instating full matriarchy in our society to compensate for everything up until this point. (Am I joking?)

Until then, feminists everywhere will keep this energy up. Call us easily-offended, call us hysterical, call it over-reacting. Living in this world is a safety concern for many but that hasn’t stopped us yet.

[Ellen MacAskill – @ejdmacaskill]

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