by Michael Flood, Ph.D.
Men have responded in complex and contradictory ways to
the profound changes of the last three decades, changes set in
motion by the women’s movements, changes in family
organization, economic and social shifts and other forces. Small
numbers of men have responded by mobilizing in support of
feminist goals, changing their own behavior and working with
women to shift gender relations in progressive directions.1 Yet
other men have mobilized in opposition to feminism and the
changes in gender with which it is associated, forming “men’s rights”
and “fathers’ rights” groups. An organized backlash to feminism is
now visible among men in Australia, as in most other Western
Organized resistance to feminism has existed for over a century,
but anti-feminist groups of men organized specifically on the basis
of their position as men (or as fathers) are more recent, appearing
only in the last 30 years. Such groups in Australia include the
Lone Fathers Association, the Men’s Rights Agency, the Men’s
Confraternity, Fathers Without Rights, the Shared Parenting
Council, Dads Against Discrimination, and many others. “Men’s
rights” groups overlap with “fathers’ rights” groups and with non-
custodial parents’ groups, whose members are often fathers. These
groups sometimes also have female members and even co-founders,
including ‘second wives’ and other family members of men who
have had some engagement with family law.2
262 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
Men as “victims”
Men’s rights men focus on the costs and destructiveness to men
of masculine roles. They dispute the feminist idea that men (or some
men) gain power and privilege in society, claiming that both women
and men are equally oppressed or limited or even that men are
oppressed by women. Men are “success objects”3 (like women are “sex
objects”) and burdened as providers, violence against men (through
war, work and by women) is endemic and socially tolerated, and men
are discriminated against in divorce and child custody proceedings.
As far as “men’s rights” are concerned, these men believe that men’s
right to a fair negotiation in child custody settlements, to a fair trial in
domestic violence cases, and to fair treatment in the media have all
been lost. Responsibility and blame for these problems is attributed
to women, the women’s movements and feminism.
Men’s rights and fathers’ rights advocates identify a wide range
of injustices and harms suffered by men. Males have been displaced
from the labor market, schools and universities, deprived of their
role as fathers, and are now regarded only as ‘gene pool and cash
machine’.4 Men are subject to discrimination in health and
government policy, boys are marginalized in a feminized schooling
system, and ‘misandrist’ (man-hating) depictions are rife in popular
culture. For some men’s rights men, feminism has largely achieved
its goals and women have more choices, while men are still stuck
in traditional masculine roles. Thus feminism was once a ‘human
liberation’ movement that now only looks after women. For others,
it never tried to liberate men, it has even tried to keep men in their
traditional roles e.g. as providers, and “feminazis” are involved in a
conspiracy to discriminate against men and cover up violence against
them.5 Men’s rights men share the goal of removing the social and
legal injustices faced by men, and for most the main obstacle to
achieving this is men’s unjust treatment at the hands of women
and feminists.6 For example, a submission to a recent government
enquiry by the “Institute of Men’s Studies”7 states that women
have “become the ruling elite” and that education “must be freed
from feminist shackles”.
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Both cultural and biological explanations are offered in the
discourses of men’s rights and fathers’ rights. For example, the
absence of male role models, particularly fathers, is offered as critical
in explaining boys’ poor academic performance and problematic
behaviors among adult males. But biological arguments are also
used to explain gender differences, male violence and aggressiveness,
and boys’ learning difficulties. Either biological differences explain
male behavior, or the failure to recognize and cater for them
accounts for poor outcomes for example among boys.8 Some men’s
rights advocates also argue that greater male power is natural, but
it has been usurped by women.9 As Alan Barron’s “Men’s Manifesto”
(2001) states, “We must vigorously defend the concept that male
domination/patriarchy is part of the natural order of things.”
The men in men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups are typically
in their forties and fifties, often divorced or separated, and nearly
always heterosexual. Participants often are very angry, bitter and
hurting (with good reason, they would say), and they often have
gone through deeply painful marriage breakups and custody
battles. Research among divorced men finds that some respond to
the stresses and turmoil of divorce by adopting a masculinist
discourse: they focus on their ‘rights’ and their victimization,
attempt to retain control over their former wives, and respond to
the undermining of their paternal authority with strategies of
parental and financial withdrawal.10 (On the other hand, some
divorced fathers prioritize relationships with their children, and
set aside differences with their ex-wives to ensure good co-parenting.)
Fathers’ rights groups make claims to a victim status, downplaying
any sense of men’s or non-custodial parents’ agency, making analogies
with oppressed groups such as Aborigines, and painting their
opponents as possessing enormous power.11 Research among Australian
men’s rights groups finds that participants have adopted a collective
identity in which they are “wounded by an aggressive feminism
and the loss of [their] place in the world, yearning for a ‘true’
masculinity in which [they are] both in touch with [their] feelings
and in control.”12 Ideas of “a damaged masculinity and unappreciated fatherhood” become central to their identities.
264 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
Some men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups have links to
conservative Christian organizations and support a traditional
patriarchal family as the only real and natural form of family.13 For
example, one of the key groups in Australia currently lobbying for
a rebuttable presumption of joint custody is the Shared Parenting
Council, a new coalition of fathers’ rights groups with links to
such conservative Christian groups as the Festival of Light. Another,
the National Fatherhood Forum, has close links to the Australian
Family Association, a conservative Christian and ‘pro-family’
organization. A handful of men’s and fathers’ rights groups do have
more flexible visions of family and gender relations. But most share
the common enemy of feminism, as well as gay and lesbian politics
and other progressive movements and ideals.
Men’s rights and fathers’ rights advocates do not accurately
represent the views of the majority of divorced and separated men.
While many men (and women) find the processes of divorce and
separation to be hurtful, only a minority subscribe to the aggressively
conservative agendas of anti-feminist men’s groups. In addition, there
are other fathers’ organizations which promote positive and collaborative
visions of men’s relations with women and children, such as Dads and
Daughters in the USA and FathersDirect in the United Kingdom.
In the popular debates which have accompanied the
destabilization of dominant constructions of masculinity, four broad
topics are most prominent: men’s health, boys’ education,
interpersonal violence, and fatherhood, family law and child
custody. Although men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups are
politically active in all four areas, the last two are particularly
important. In fact, the area of family law and custody may be a
primary focus above all else, in that it is often concerns related to
fathers, families and the legal regulation of divorce, separation and
custody which motivate fathers’ rights activity on violence.
Strategies and successes
Members of men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups use strategies
of service provision, lobbying and activism. They offer self-help
THE BATTLE AND BACKLASH RAGE ON
meetings, provide support for men undergoing separation, divorce
and family law proceedings, lobby local and national governments
to change policies and laws, and promote their views through
newsletters, websites and media campaigns. Fathers’ rights groups
have made particularly effective use of the public submissions
process in periods of family law reform.14 For example, of the six-
thousand or so submissions to the Joint Select Committee on
Certain Aspects of the Operation and Interpretation of Family Law
on Child Support (1994), 65 percent were by non-resident parents
or their spouses.15 A similar pattern is likely in the current
Australian government Inquiry Into Child Custody Arrangements
in the Event of Family Separation. Fathers’ rights groups also have
strong media advocates such as Bettina Arndt with regular columns
in the national press.
Some anti-feminist men’s groups adopt blunter, more hostile
and sometimes criminal strategies in pursuing their political
agendas. One tactic is to attack the existence of services for women
through legal action and media harassment. For example, individual
men in fathers’ rights groups in Australia have tried to use sex
discrimination legislation to allege that they were discriminated
against by domestic violence services. These efforts are motivated
by revenge and political hostility, rather than by a genuine desire
to establish services for male victims of domestic violence. In
Melbourne last year, a militant men’s group called the Blackshirts,
acting on behalf of men “harshly dealt with” by the Family Court,
terrorised recently separated women (and children) in their homes.
Wearing black paramilitary uniforms and black masks, the men
shouted accusations of sexual misconduct and moral corruption
through megaphones and letter-dropped neighbours.16 The Lone
Fathers Association and Parents Without Partners issued a joint
press release condemning such behaviour, but some groups go even
further. In 1996, a Brisbane newspaper alleged that a men’s rights
organisation had hired private investigators to track down members’
spouses and children hiding in domestic violence refuges, found
restricted information about domestic violence workers and revealed
confidential financial information about a domestic violence
266 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
centre.17 However, a three-month police investigation
recommended no action against the organization.18
Men’s and fathers’ rights networks across the world have made
extensive use of the Internet, and their presence is far greater than
that represented by the networks and constituencies which oppose
them. While this does not necessarily translate into influence on
either community perception or public policy, it does mean that
anti-feminist men can build substantial international communities
of support, have easy access to a wide range of publications ostensibly
substantiating their arguments, and can share strategies and tactical
tips. Masculinist websites echo the themes in men’s and fathers’
rights discourses in print media, but also display a more
unrestrained “discourse of hate, often violent and unchecked,
directed at women and feminists.”19
Where anti-feminist men’s and fathers’ groups in Australia have
had most policy success is in the area of family law. While overall
assessments of the influence of fathers’ rights groups vary, even among
fathers’ rights advocates themselves,20 there is no doubt that fathers’
rights groups have achieved important changes in both the practices
and popular perceptions of family law. Changes in family law made
in 1995, particularly the enshrining of children’s “right to contact”
with both parents, were driven by persistent lobbying by fathers’
rights groups. At the same time, in part because of efforts by such
groups as the National Women’s Justice Coalition, aspects of the final
version of the Family Law Reform Act 1995 were not to the liking of
the fathers’ rights groups.21 Over the last few years there have been
policy shifts in the distribution of family tax benefits for shared care,
advantaging non-resident/access parents (usually fathers) at direct cost
to the resident parents (usually mothers).22 Similarly, major changes
to the child support system have disadvantaged resident parents and
increased the control exerted by the non-resident parent.23
Since the 1995 changes in Australia, there has been no increase
in shared parenting among separated partners. On the other hand,
the ‘reforms’ have created greater scope for abusive non-resident
parents to harass the child’s primary caregiver and generated
increased disputes. An uncritical ‘pro-contact’ discourse pervades
THE BATTLE AND BACKLASH RAGE ON
the courts (and the media). It has meant in practice that children’s interests and welfare are being compromised, through heightened exposure to domestic violence by fathers and more awards of joint custody orders in the context of distrust and hostility between expartners. The legal changes also have intensified the pressure for shared residence arrangements, motivated by non-custodial parents’ desire to reduce child support liabilities.24
Fathers’ rights groups also have been relatively successful in
attracting informal government support and direct funding. In 1999
the federal government granted ongoing operational funding to the
Lone Fathers Association, while defunding the National Council for
Single Mothers and their Children. The latter was only reversed after
significant public outcry.25 Over the last five years, the national
President of the Lone Fathers Association has had contact with
powerful political figures of the kind only dreamed about by women’s
groups, such as the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister
for Family and Community Services and a range of Senators. Similarly,
prominent politicians have participated in events at Parliament House
this year held by the National Fatherhood Forum (dedicated to
“Turning the Tide of Fatherlessness in Australia”).
Men’s and fathers’ rights groups have had less success in their
attempts at direct participation in parliamentary politics. A cluster
of political parties asserting the politics of ‘angry white men’ were
evident in the 1998 federal (national) elections in Australia,
including fathers’ rights parties, right-wing parties opposing gun
control, and racist parties opposed to immigration and
multiculturalism, and these parties tended to support each other
in their group voting tickets.26 While men’s and fathers’ rights
parties won little of the vote, their platforms also received support
in the platform of the highly conservative One Nation party (which
gained 4.3 percent of the national vote in 2001).27
Revolts against justice
The political strength and influence of fathers’ rights groups
have been boosted by their confluence with socially conservative
268 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
government agendas. In Australia, the Federal Liberal government
has adopted tax, child support and other policies which provide
incentives for women to stay at home full-time and raise children,
while making participation in the paid workforce more difficult
for women.28 It has made it harder for maternity and paternity
leave, flexible working arrangements and protections against sex
discrimination to be included in workplace awards, removed
subsidies for community-based childcare centres and frozen
childcare assistance, and attempted to amend the Sex
Discrimination Act to allow discrimination on the basis of marital
status in granting access to in-vitro fertilisation. Prime Minister
John Howard has cultivated divisions between women in the
workforce and women at home, exploiting both ‘wedge politics’
and appeals to a ‘mainstream’ Australia.29
Discourses of fathers’ rights rely in part on the symbolic capital
generated by images of the “new fatherhood”.30 Fathers’ rights
advocates are able to draw on images of the nurturant father or
‘new dad’, as well as social scientific and legal support for the benefits
of paternal involvement in families (although the relationship
between father absence and children’s well-being is far more
complex than fathers’ rights groups claim31). But while the culture
of fatherhood has changed radically, the conduct has not, and
traditional divisions of labour persist in both parenting and
Anti-feminist men’s groups have ridden the wave of right-wing
backlashes against “political correctness” and efforts at social justice.
In Australia as in other Western countries, the 1980s and 1990s
saw the slowing down, or development of obstacles to, progress in
women’s equality and gender justice. Australia underwent an
economic and social restructuring, involving the winding back of
the welfare state and the increasing dominance of market economics
and economic rationalism. There have been at least three forms of
attack on gender justice, part of the “revolt against behaving fairly”:
justifications of social inequalities through biological determinism,
social Darwinism and Sociobiology; attacks on policies or principles
which have been a central part of feminist agendas such as equal
THE BATTLE AND BACKLASH RAGE ON
opportunity and affirmative action legislation; and claims of a repressive ideological regime of ‘political correctness’. Anti-feminist men’s groups are a fourth, and they have taken up such discourses themselves in asserting pro-sexist agendas.33
Men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups also have capitalised on
the growing community and governmental attention to ‘men’s issues’
and the increased willingness of state and federal governments to
fund services directed at men. In 1997 the federal government
allocated six million dollars to services associated with men and
family relationships, intended to “assist men manage a range of
relationship difficulties with partners and ex-partners, children and
step-children and to help organisations develop more sensitive and
responsive approaches to working with male clients”. This funding
continues at similar levels today, alongside the establishment of a
national phone line for men titled Men’s Line Australia. However,
while some funds address the constituencies for whom fathers’ rights
groups claim to speak, such as separated men and single fathers,
few if any have gone to organisations or services espousing overtly
anti-feminist men’s agendas. Fathers’ rights groups nevertheless
have been directly funded and have achieved important policy gains.
I’ve been calling these “men’s rights” and “fathers’ rights” groups,
because these are common descriptions and because some of the
groups use them themselves. “Anti-feminist” is also a useful
description for nearly all these groups. Another term is
“masculinist”, popular among American men’s rights men but in
less frequent use in Australia. More bluntly, men’s and fathers’
rights forces have sometimes been described as “pro-sexist” or the
“angry men’s movement”.
Men’s rights and fathers’ rights represent one form of
“masculinity politics”—“those mobilizations and struggles where
the meaning of masculine gender is at issue, and, with it, men’s
position in gender relations”.34 Three other forms of masculinity
politics currently visible include men’s groups and networks focused
270 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
on “men’s liberation” or “masculinity therapy”, spiritual or mythopoetic concerns, and pro-feminist and anti-patriarchal activism. In the past I have described all four forms collectively as “the men’s movement”,35 but this term is problematic insofar as it includes groups and agendas involving both the defence of men’s privilege and efforts to undo it.
The defence of patriarchal masculinity and the revalidation of
male identity are central to men’s and fathers’ rights agendas.
However, these projects also are visible in both men’s liberation
and mythopoetic men’s discourse, and shared with other reactionary
political forces such as white supremacist groups and the pro-gun
lobby.36 These forms of masculinity politics share further
commonalities. They offer essentialist and biologically determinist
accounts of gender, describe (white) men as under attack and now
the “real” victims, complain that men are being demasculinised
and feminised (turned into ‘wimps’ and ‘soft men’) by women and
feminism, venerate a mythical past, and argue that men must
reclaim their masculinity and usurp women’s power.37
Moreover, there is a general potential for men involved in men-
focused therapeutic projects of personal growth and healing to
adopt anti-feminist positions as their involvements shift to more
public and politicised agendas. This shift is exemplified for example
by the trajectory of prominent fathers’ rights spokesman Warren
Farrell. He was supportive of liberal feminism when he first
became involved in the American men’s movement, publishing
The Liberated Man in 1974, but by the time of his publication
of The Myth of Male Power (1993), and more recently Father
and Child Reunion (2001), his conservative shift had been
entrenched. Given that the men’s movement represents a
collective mobilisation by members of a privileged group, there
is always a danger that this activity will invite men to defend
and assert their shared interests and thus entrench patriarchal
privilege. At the same time, men can be motivated by interests
other than those associated with gender privilege, as men’s anti-
violence campaigns and other forms of progressive and pro-feminist
men’s activism demonstrate.38
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What’s wrong with men’s rights?
In general, “men’s rights” is an anti-feminist and sometimes misogynist (woman-hating) backlash. Its analysis is wrong, its strategies are misdirected and sometimes harmful, and ultimately it does not serve men well. There are legitimate aspects to the issues it raises, but they will not be addressed when surrounded by its hostile and sexist agendas.
Men’s rights claims are founded on a systematic denial of the
power and privilege which many men receive and exercise. They
ignore men’s dominance of powerful institutions and positions
(institutional power), men’s power in relationships (interpersonal
power), and cultural support for traditional masculine ideals and
attitudes and men’s dominance of cultural production (cultural
power). The fact is that, as Messner writes, “Men, as a group,
enjoy institutional privileges at the expense of women, as a group.”39
This is not to say all men are powerful and all women are powerless:
clearly neither is true, and some men are relatively powerless
(Aboriginal men being a good example) just as some women are
A typical reversal in men’s rights discourse is to recognise aspects
of men’s patriarchal privilege but to claim that this social power
carries burdens which thus outweigh its benefits. However, “it is a
strange twist to argue that men do not really have privilege and
power because they suffer from the effects of privilege and power”.40
Certainly there is a ‘price tag’ for men which comes with the
promise of public status and masculine privilege.41 But men’s pain
must be seen in the context of men’s institutional power. Indeed,
aspects of men’s pain such as men’s emotional brutality and men’s
lives of competition and distrust, confrontation and humiliation
in fact are necessary to the operations of this power.42
Some of the examples men’s rights advocates give of men’s
powerlessness or oppression (being sent off to war or killed in
factories) are in fact examples of some men’s powerlessness at the
hands of other men. Men’s rights ideologies fail to recognise
differences and power relations among men themselves, of race,
272 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
class and sexuality, and the crucial role of these in the injustices
which they attribute to men in general. Some of the examples
given of injustices or discriminations experienced by men (including
some at the hands of women) are legitimate examples, which must
be dealt with. For example, some men are unfairly treated in custody
and divorce matters. But men’s rights men wrongly use such
examples to make much grander claims, that men are oppressed
by women or that there is some kind of feminist conspiracy to
cover up abuse of men.
Fathers’ rights advocates have co-opted liberal feminist discourse
of gender “equality” and “rights”, but show more concern with
equality of their legal status than equality in their everyday
parenting. Their claims of discrimination in child custody decisions
exaggerate the disparity in awards of custody to women versus
men, neglect the ways in which custody decisions are shaped by
divisions of labour prior to divorce and separation, and ignore the
fact that in the vast majority of cases mothers end up with
responsibility for children by private arrangement with the father.43
They tend to ignore how work and family institutional relations
benefit them, both before and after divorce [and] focus entirely on
the economic and institutional costs that are attached to these
A Canadian study of fathers’ rights groups found that while
members portrayed themselves as caring, loving fathers who have
been denied their rights to equal custody and access to their
children, they did not want a larger role in the day-to-day
caregiving, but rather a larger role in decision-making related to
their children and ex-spouses’ lives.45 Fathers’ rights advocates seem
less interested in supporting children than in maintaining or
assuming control over their ex-spouses and the children.46 They
use the language of “shared parenting”, offering an ideal few could
dispute, but this goal is undermined by their acrimony towards
the custodial parent and their commitments to a patriarchal family
structure.47 In addition, their proposed solutions to child support
and contact issues often show insensitivity to children’s welfare
and involve one-sided restrictions on the custodial parent.48 Fathers’
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rights discourse conflates the interests of children and fathers and ignores the possibility of conflict between them. It even compromises children’s interests, in prioritising the prevention of false allegations of child abuse over safeguards for genuine victims of abuse and expressing sympathy for men “who are so distressed by their loss of access to the children they purportedly love that they murder the objects of their affection”.49
Men’s and fathers’ rights discourse is often characterised by a
blatant disregard for scholarly research and empirical evidence.50 For
example, discussions of fatherlessness in populist texts such as Popenoe’s
Life Without Father are characterised by the confusion of correlation
and causation, the reduction of multiple social variables to bivariate
associations, the highly selective use of research evidence, neglect of
contradictory or competing evidence, and treatment of small
differences as if they were gross and absolute.51 Similarly, Hoff
Sommers’ The War Against Boys, a well-known anti-feminist work on
boys and schooling, ignores the bulk of contemporary work on boys
and gender and bases its entire argument for feminist harms to boys
on speculation.52 In attempting to gain strategic advantage in family
law proceedings, fathers’ rights advocates have been content to deploy
fictional disorders such as “parental alienation syndrome”, a
“syndrome” unsupported by empirical data, not listed in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and never
recognised by the American Psychiatric Association.53
Some advocates for fathers’ rights use bogus statistics, with no
basis in fact, in asserting their political agendas. For example, the
idea that “Boys from a fatherless home are 14 times more likely to
commit rape” is one of a collection of claims about the consequences
of father absence repeated across men’s and fathers’ rights websites.
This “statistic” was constructed from the finding in a 1987 journal
article54 on typologies of rape that eighty percent of rapists
motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes. There
are five problems with the statistical extrapolation being performed
here. First, “80 percent of rapists” does not translate into boys
being “14 times more likely”.55 Second, the statistic shows
correlation, not causation. Both the absence of a father in a
274 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
household and children’s rates of rape perpetration may be shaped
by other factors, such as poverty, violence and drug use. Third,
this study among 108 convicted prisoners in Massachusetts cannot
be extrapolated to the population at large. Fourth, even if this
extrapolation were plausible, the claim takes no notice of changes
over time in fatherlessness, rape and a host of other social factors.
Fifth, according to the text, it is not 80 percent of all rapists, but
80 percent of rapists with a particular motivation. Thus, the source
for an alleged statistic endlessly circulated in 2003 turns out to be
an inaccurate and misleading extrapolation of a figure from an
article written a decade and a half ago.
Feminism is a movement and set of ideas to which many men’s
rights men show venomous and semi-hysterical hostility. They
mistakenly hear feminism’s anti-sexism or anti-patriarchy as anti-male
or “misandrist” (man-hating), and oddly enough, they fail to hear the
enormous hope for both women’s and men’s futures which feminism
embodies. Men’s rights men in fact offer a bizarre caricature of
feminism, a highly ignorant and selective misrepresentation. It is based
on gross stereotypes and long-standing sexist images of women as
ball-breaking and malicious. Most men’s rights writing shows almost
no acquaintance with the huge and diverse feminist literature now
available and with the feminist women and organisations in existence.
Sexist stereotypes also appear in fathers’ rights depictions of women as
ripping off men financially and as lying and vindictive mothers.56
Men’s and fathers’ rights men also respond with great hostility
to men supportive of feminism, typically accusing them of both
homosexuality and emasculation, in a neat illustration of the
assumptions about masculinity shaping men’s rights discourse. For
example, in response to my articles on the pro-feminist website
XYonline, one advocate wrote by e-mail that I was a “fucking faggot,
feminazi pussy licker”.
Hey presto, manifesto
How can we respond to men’s rights groups? While the standard battery of political strategies is relevant, here I focus on the particular role which pro-feminist men can play.
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(1) Assert a feminist-supportive men’s perspective.
Men with a concern for men’s issues and a sympathy for
feminism should be trying as hard as possible to take up space
in the public arena and to affect social and political relations.
We should be writing letters to the editor, lobbying politicians,
sending submissions, being interviewed, phoning talkback,
holding meetings, forming alliances, getting funding, doing
deals and shaking hands. One point of all this is to create an
alternative voice on gender issues that is specifically male. We
need to show that anti-feminist men do not speak for all men.
Of course it is essential that women take up as much space as
possible too. Indeed, men’s efforts should be conducted in
partnership with women, in part as a powerful and practical
demonstration of men’s and women’s shared interest in building
Speak to pain
(2) Take up men’s rights issues, but differently.
Men’s rights men so far have been far more effective than profeminist men in speaking to certain aspects of men’s lives. They rightly identify the pain, confusion and powerlessness which many men experience, although they misdiagnose it and thus misprescribe the cure. Let us acknowledge and tackle the ways in which men are hurt and disempowered, but not do this, as men’s rights does, at the expense of women or gender justice.
We need to take up the issues about which men’s rights men
are vocal, offering an alternative analysis of their character and
causes. We have to try to reach the men who otherwise might join
men’s rights organisations and in some cases who have their pain
turned into anti-women backlash. Doing so will be challenging,
and it may involve questioning aspects of the feminist-informed
analyses we have held so far. Yet a recognition of areas of men’s
pain and even disadvantage is compatible with a feminist
understanding (that is, an understanding based on a commitment
276 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
to gender equality and justice), but it may take some reworking for this compatibility to be realised.
Domestic violence for example is a crucial area for men’s rights
men. We have to acknowledge that yes, men are the victims of
violence. Women can and do perpetrate violence, and feminist
scholarship shows a growing attention to violence by women. But
boys and men are most at risk of violence from other boys and
men. Men’s rights men typically claim that men and women assault
each other at equal rates and with equal effects, and that an epidemic
of husband-battering is being ignored if not silenced. The
information with which to disprove these claims is readily
available,58 and we should have it at our fingertips.
Men’s rights claims and agendas must also be placed in their political context. On women’s violence for example, men’s rights agendas stem as much from political motives as they do from a genuine concern for male victims of violence. These men are using women’s alleged violence against men as a way of discrediting attempts to deal with men’s violence against women, particularly in relation to family law issues.59
Win/lose won’t work
(3) Show that men’s rights strategies in fact are harmful to men
Attacking services primarily for women is no way to gain services
for men. Men’s rights advocates have attacked women’s refuges
and women’s health centres, simultaneously while calling for either
parallel services for men (refuges, health centres, even an Office for
the Status of Men and Their Families60) or services for both men
There are at least four problems with such strategies. They
focus on the wrong target, they antagonise potential supporters,
they taint as backlash the need to address such men’s issues, and
they are based on a simplistic “You’ve got it, we want it too” logic
which may not provide the most appropriate services for men.
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For example, when it comes to the poor state of men’s health,
the problem is not women or the feminist health movement and
the organisations it worked to establish. Instead, we should be
tackling destructive notions of manhood, an economic system which
values profit and productivity over workers’ health, and the
ignorance of service providers. Women have been central to
advocacy for and the promotion of men’s health.61 To try to build
men’s health by taking away from women’s health is to shoot oneself
in the prostate, and is a betrayal of the principles on which a concern
for health should be based in the first place.
It is striking how often the things men’s rights men call for are
the mirror image of things established by three decades of women’s
movements. You’ve got a women’s refuge, we want a men’s refuge,
and so on. This “us too” approach won’t actually get men the most
appropriate services they need, because it is motivated more by a
knee-jerk logic of equality than by an informed appraisal of the
kinds of services men are going to use and like.
(4) Set up services.
Whether the issue is divorce or men’s health, we need to provide
constructive, accountable and professional services and resources
for men. If men who have gone through painful divorces and messy
custody proceedings, men who are hurting and confused, can find
access to such services, they will be able to work through this in
ways that are healthy and safe. Let us speak to the experience of
boys and men in such situations, but offer a different interpretation
of it and encourage a different resolution for it to those in men’s
Ask not what your country
I think pro-feminist men (myself included) have been too
quick to stereotype as committed woman-haters and sexist dinosaurs
all men who raise typical “men’s rights” issues. We have been
sometimes influenced by the dominant model of oppositional
278 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
politics, in which all such men are “enemies”, to be approached (if at all) with disdain, hostility and self-righteous zeal. We have focused sometimes on the negative and we have attributed motives to men’s actions which are not necessarily accurate. Such approaches limit our political effectiveness, making it very difficult for us to reach anyone but the almost-converted.
We will be better able to respond to men’s rights agendas if we
have a proper idea of the experiences, needs and fears of the men
who support them. This was brought home to me in a confrontation
with a very angry and hostile man, a men’s rights activist from
Melbourne. After two hours of talking, he told me of the effect on
him of having being sexually abused as a child by his mother and
another woman. I’ve also heard some men’s stories of their ex-wives
acting maliciously or dishonestly and of an unsupportive legal
system. I do not accept the wider conclusions that such men drew
from their experiences, and I assume too that for any one incident
(such as a custody battle) there will be multiple versions of what
happened. But if I want to reach such men at all, I have to accept
that what they describe is their reality for the moment. I have to
show that I have heard them, while continuing to assert an anti-
sexist and pro-feminist agenda and act with accountability and
I am very troubled by the organised anti-feminist men’s groups,
especially as they are making themselves heard in an increasingly
conservative political climate. It will be a continual challenge to
assert a gender-just perspective, in the presence of such groups
and of the ignorance or complicity of many men. This is the
challenge that faces us at the beginning of the twenty-first. I hope
that it can be taken up with passion, pride and courage.
THE BATTLE AND BACKLASH RAGE ON
40 Nghi Ly and Linda F. McCraig (2002). “National Hospital Ambulatory
Medical Care Survey: 2000 Outpatient Department Summary.” Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Center for Health Statistics. 4 June.
41 Johnson, supra, 40.
42 Johnson, supra, 53.
43 Johnson, supra,19 (italics in original, emphasis added).
44 Johnson, supra, 30.
Chapter Twenty-One Backlash: Angry men’s movements
by Michael Flood, Ph.D
3 Flood, Michael (2002) Frequently Asked Questions About Pro-Feminist
Men and Pro-Feminist Men’s Politics. URL: http://www.xyonline.net/misc/ pffaq.html.
2 Kaye, Miranda, and Julia Tolmie (1998a) Fathers’ Rights Groups in Australia
and Their Engagement With Issues of Family Law. Australian Journal of Family Law, 12(1), March. 22.
3 Farrell, Warren (1986) Why Men Are The Way They Are: The Male-Female
Dynamic. New York: McGraw-Hill.
4 Bouchard, Pierrette, Isabelle Boily and Marie-Claude Proulx (2003) School
Success by Gender: A Catalyst for the Masculinist Discourse. Ontario: Status of
Women Canada. 5-7, 26-33.
5 Clatterbaugh, Kenneth (1990) Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity:
Men, Women, and Politics in Modern Society. Colorado & Oxford: Westview
6 ibid. 73-74.
7 Despite the title, this organisation has no involvement in academic
scholarship on men and masculinities.
8 Bouchard et.al., op.cit. 35-36.
9 Clatterbaugh, op.cit. 81-82.
10 Arendell, Terry (1995) Fathers and Divorce. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
11 Kaye, Miranda, and Julia Tolmie (1998b) Discoursing Dads: The Rhetorical
Devices of Fathers’ Rights Groups. Melbourne University Law Review, 22.
340 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
12 Maddison, Sarah (1999) Private Men, Public Anger: The Men’s Rights
Movement in Australia. Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. 4(2),
13 Kaye & Tolmie 1998b, op. cit. 182-184.
14 Kaye & Tolmie 1998a, op. cit. 25.
15 Keebaugh, Shannon (2003) Discounting Care: Shared Care and Social
Security Policy. Australian Feminist Law Journal, Vol. 18, June. 175.
16 ”Threat to crack down on vigilante group.” The Age, 25 July 2002;
“Militants harassed woman, daughter.” The Canberra Times, 6 August 2002.
17 ”Deadly weapon”; “Men’s agency tracks beaten wives”, “Males network
linked with far-Right groups”, The Courier Mail, 17 August 1996.
18 ”Men’s group clear on spy counts”, The Courier Mail, 8 December 1996;
“Police end probe into men’s group”, The Courier Mail, 15 December 1996.
19 Bouchard et.al., op.cit. 3.
20 Kaye and Tolmie, 1998a, op.cit. 23-24.
21 ibid. 25.
22 Keebaugh, op.cit.
23 ibid. 175.
24 Rhoades, Helen, Reg Graycar, and Margaret Harrison (2002) The Family
Law Reform Act 1995: The first three years. University of Sydney & Family Court of Australia. 2-8.
25 Sawer, Marian (2002) In Safe Hands? Women in the 2001 election. In
John Warhurst and Marian Simms (eds) 2001: The Centenary Election. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. 255.
26 Sawer, Marian (2000) Women: Gender Wars in the Nineties. In Marian
Simms and John Warhurst (eds) Howard’s Agenda: The 1998 Australian
Election. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. 150-151.
27 Sawer 2002, op.cit. 255; Sawer 2000, op.cit. 149-151.
28 Sawer 2002, op.cit. 253-254.
29 Sawer 2000, op.cit. 152.
30 Maddison, op.cit. 45.
31 Sigle-Rushton, Wendy, and Sara McLanahan (2002) Father Absence and
Child Well-Being: A Critical Review (No. 2002-20). Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Wellbeing.
32 Russell, Graham, Lesley Barclay, Gay Edgecombe, Jenny Donovan, George
Habib, Helen Callaghan, and Quinn Pawson (1999) Fitting Fathers Into
THE BATTLE AND BACKLASH RAGE ON
Families: Men and the Fatherhood Role in Contemporary Australia. Canberra:
Commonwealth Dept of Family and Community Services. 3.
33 Kaplan, Gisela (1996) The Meagre Harvest: The Australian Women’s
Movement, 1950s-1990s. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. 153-166.
34 Connell, R.W. (1995) Masculinities. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. 205.
35 Flood, Michael (1998) Men’s Movements. Community Quarterly, No. 46,
June. URL: http://www.xyonline.net/Stateofthemovement.shtml.
36 Ferber, Abby L. (2000). Racial Warriors and Weekend Warriors: The
Construction of Masculinity in Mythopoetic and White Supremacist
Discourse. Men and Masculinities, 3(1), July, pp. 30-56; Connell 1995
37 Ferber, op.cit.
38 Flood, Michael (2001) Men Stopping Violence: Men’s Collective Anti-
Violence Activism and the Struggle for Gender Justice. Development, Vol.
44 No. 3. URL: http://www.xyonline.net/Mensantiviol.shtml.
39 Messner, Michael A (1997) Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements.
University of Southern California: Sage. 5.
40 Clatterbaugh, op.cit. 79.
41 Messner, op.cit. 6.
42 McLean, Chris (1996) The Politics of Men’s Pain. In Chris McLean, Maggie
Carey, and Cheryl White, (eds) Men’s Ways of Being. Boulder, Colorado:
Westview Press. 12.
43 Pease, Bob (2002) Men and Gender Relations. Melbourne: Tertiary Press, p.
36; Kaye & Tolmie 1998a, op. cit. 36.
44 Messner, op.cit. 47.
45 Bertoia, Carl and Janice Drakich (1993) The Fathers’ Rights Movement:
Contradictions in Rhetoric and Practice. Journal of Family Issues, 14(4).
46 Kaye & Tolmie 1998b, op. cit. 188-189.
47 Kaye & Tolmie 1998a, op. cit. 33-34.
48 ibid. 36-42.
49 Kaye & Tolmie 1998b, op. cit. 178-181.
50 Messner, op.cit. 42; Kaye & Tolmie 1998b, op. cit. 177-178.
51 Coltrane, Scott (1997) Scientific Half-Truths and Postmodern Parody in the
Family Values Debate. Contemporary Sociology, January, Vol. 26, Iss. 1; 8.
52 Connell, R.W (2001) Review: The War Against Boys: How Misguided
342 STACEY ELIN ROSSI
Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, by Christina Hoff Sommers. Men and Masculinities, 4(2), October. 209-211.
53 Kooklan, Paria (2002) The Parental Alienation Syndrome in the Family
Courts. In California National Organization for Women (Sheila Helm,
Helen Grieco, Sue Di Paola and Rachel Allen), California NOW Family
Court Report 2002. Sacramento, CA: California National Organization for
Women, p. 71. See also Bruch, Carol S (2001) Parental Alienation Syndrome
and Parental Alienation: Getting It Wrong in Child Custody Cases. Family
Law Quarterly, 527.
54 Knight, Raymond A., and Robert A. Prentky (1987) The Developmental
Antecedents and Adult Adaptations of Rapist Subtypes. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 14(4), December. 403-426.
55 In 1985, approximately 20 percent of children aged 0-17 in the US lived
with a single mother, according to Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan (2002. 54). If children from fatherless homes were proportionately represented among rapists, then they should be 20 percent of the population of rapists. So if 80 percent of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes, then children from fatherless homes are four, not 14, times more likely to commit (this type of) rape.
56 Kaye & Tolmie 1998b, op. cit. 184-188.
57 Flood 2001, op.cit.
58 Flood, Michael (1999) Claims About Husband Battering. DVIRC
Newsletter, Summer, Melbourne: Domestic Violence and Incest Resource
Centre, pp. 3-8. URL: http://www.xyonline.net/husbandbattering.shtml.;
Kimmel, Michael S. (2002) ‘Gender Symmetry’ in Domestic Violence: A
Substantive and Methodological Research Review. Violence Against Women,
59 Kaye & Tolmie 1998a, op. cit. 53-58.
60 Williams, Barry (2003) From the office of the National President. Lone
Fathers Association e-newsletter, June—July. URL: http://
www.lonefathers.com.au/junejuly03/page3.html. Accessed 5 August
61 Fletcher, Richard (1996) Testosterone Poisoning or Terminal Neglect? The
Men’s Health Issue. Parliamentary Research Service, Commonwealth of
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BACKLASH RAGE ON
Why Feminism Cannot
Copyright © 2004 by Stacey Elin Rossi.