The embittered asshole lobby exposed
So the news came out today that the FBI got a warning a month prior that Scott Roeder was a danger to Dr. George Tiller. The FBI disregarded the letter as not credible, for a number of reasons, including the fact that the guy who wrote it had no specifics. But it’s also likely that the FBI was annoyed because the letter came from a personal enemy of Roeder’s, a Mark Archer. Archer’s wife had a baby by Roeder after she married Archer, and Roeder had managed to secure visitation rights. For somewhat understandable reasons, Archer didn’t want Roeder visiting the little girl—the story implies that Archer is raising the little girl as his own, and the Archers want to get Roeder out of their life completely. Of course, the strategy of trying to run someone out of your life by getting him on a “no fly” list is unethical, but it seems that Archer was also freaked out by Roeder, who bragged to Archer’s wife that he wanted to blow up abortion clinics.
Now, I know the FBI probably gets a ton of people trying to use them in order to attack personal enemies, and as such, they probably just write most of this stuff right away. But since this letter was inspired by a custody dispute, I think perhaps they should have had more follow-up. Custody disputes should be a red flag for violence, in no small part because of the right wing’s growing interest in using child custody issues as a way to oppress and control women. The anti-choice movement attracts a lot of angry, bitter men with major masculinity issues and bitterness over divorce and the loss of control over the lives of specific women they feel they have a claim to, and that sort of thing needs to be taken into consideration when warnings like this are issued.
Of course, angry, violent, bitter men don’t need to go into anti-choice activism to work out their violent hatred of women, because now they have the “men’s rights” movement. And while individual MRAs (men’s rights activists) might be seriously anti-choice, the movement on the whole tends to be neutral on abortion, because they aren’t particularly anti-sex. Indeed, MRAs tend to be more concerned about the fact that men don’t have a right to force women to have abortions than the fact that legal abortion exists.
I bring this up, because Kathryn Joyce published the definitive article on the men’s rights movement last week. In it, she really carefully shows that while many men who are attracted to the MRA thing aren’t necessarily wife beaters, the movement exists because a lot of wife beaters can’t accept that they’ve lost control of their victims. Indeed, the MRA strategy of encouraging men to continue to find new, creative ways to sue their ex-wives is exactly the sort of thing that would attract wife beaters, who need a way to maintain power over their victims. Lawsuits that force the victim to continue showing up at court, hiring an attorney, etc. are a good way to keep some kind of control over a woman. Many family court observers call it “abuse by court”.
Kathryn spells out all the MRA tactics: denying the reality of domestic violence, using children and money as leverage to get their way with women, supporting rapists and making excuses for them, claiming that the real victims are men who get punished for beating their wives. Specifically, MRAs pull the same stunt that wife beaters do, which is blaming the victim. MRA “studies” trying to demonstrate that domestic violence isn’t gendered do so by folding any attempt by women at self-defense into the statistics, and conflating that with attacking someone. They also conflate slapping someone in the face once with the ongoing beating, berating, and mental destruction that is the pattern of abuse inflicted by batterers on their wives. (Not that it’s ever okay to slap, but there are huge differences that responsible researchers take into account.) Not that there’s no such thing as a female batterer, but responsible statistics show that it’s rare. And that makes sense—domestic violence is the direct result of a culture that teaches that women are servants for men. Some men with sadistic streaks are going to see that as license to break a specific woman down, to control her completely.
The bullying nature of the MRA movement initially marginalized them, but they’ve come around to learning to put a more charming face on the movement, and that has made them more effective, as Kathryn painstakingly demonstrates. Reading this, I was put in mind of the way that domestic abusers learn to be charming, so that their victims are disbelieved by friends and families, and therefore isolated. The abuser will put on one face for the public and one for his wife, and similarly, MRAs put on a smiley face for legislators and on talk radio shows, but when they go after people who call them out on their bullshit, the true ugliness comes out.
Which is why I was relieved to read this amazing quote from Michael Flood, really defining what you meet when you push back against MRAs.
In this, critics like Australian sociologist Michael Flood say that men’s rights movements reflect the tactics of domestic abusers themselves, minimizing existing violence, calling it mutual, and discrediting victims. MRA groups downplay national abuse rates, just as abusers downplay their personal battery; they wage campaigns dismissing most allegations as false, as abusers claim partners are lying about being hit; and they depict the violence as mutual—part of an epidemic of wife-on-husband abuse—as individual batterers rationalize their behavior by saying that the violence was reciprocal. Additionally, MRA groups’ predictions of future violence by fed-up men wronged by the family-law system seem an obvious additional correlation, with the threat of violence seemingly intended to intimidate a community, like a fearful spouse, into compliance.
On that last point, Kathryn marshals evidence of many MRAs suggesting that the George Sodini murders are the sort of thing that the U.S. deserves if we don’t start rolling back women’s rights, a claim that leaders were smart enough to come right out and make, though they certainly allowed dog whistles of support to come through in their statements. It does make sense that a movement largely constructed to protect batterers from the consequences of their behavior would be intrigued by the idea of random violence to scare people into rolling back feminist gains. Abusers know very well that random violence is the most effective tactic in turning a woman with self-esteem into a quivering pile of jelly who is afraid of her own shadow.
But what relieved me about reading that statement was the knowledge that those of us who’ve endured a massive amount of bullshit at the hands of MRAs have not done so in vain; people are paying attention, and believe us. Writing about the MRA movement is always fraught. On one hand, it’s important to push back against a movement that, in its various forms, wants de facto legalization of rape (through automatically prosecuting all victims when the case wasn’t proven by the prosecutor), to have cops refuse to arrest abusers and/or to arrest the woman who made the panicked call for help, for abusers to get automatic joint custody of their children (even in cases of sexual abuse of the children), and who want to make it easy for embittered, abusive men to continue to wage harassment campaigns against ex-wives. On the other hand, every time you write about it, a giant pile of shit comes down on your head, because as Flood notes, their political tactics resemble the tactics of wife beaters, for obvious reasons. Writing about this issue has resulted in threats aimed at me (including a caller on Glenn Sacks’ show giving the name of my employer out on air when I had a day job), and an unbelievable shit storm of comments and emails from men who never find an end of their energy reserves when they see a woman in sight that they’d like to beat down completely. And this happens to pretty much every feminist writer I know who’s tried to tackle the issue. Reading this article, I knew exactly what would happen, and indeed, there are 132 comments on the post from men who are trying to gaslight the situation with lies and randomly fucked up behavior.
Of course, the tactics only work on targets who give the assholes the benefit of the doubt, such as women that have the misfortune of falling in love with abusers who put on a charming face during courtship. If you’re a feminist predisposed to see through their shit, it’s exhausting, but it’s not usually going to get into your head. So I’m not trying to garner sympathy here, just pointing out that Flood has a perfect read on the situation. My concern, like Kathryn’s, is that the MRA tactics of giving women hell on a one-to-one basis while putting on a charming face during lobbying is extremely effective. Just as domestic violence victims face a wall of disbelief from friends and family when they reach out for help, these tactics are often effective on convincing the (mostly male) people in power that the MRAs are just nice, charming guys, while the feminists exposing the truth about MRAs must be crazy.