At the International Conference on Men’s Issues – London 2016

Elena Rider July 24, 2016 15
At the International Conference on Men’s Issues – London 2016

Google the term MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) and you’ll get more results than you’ll know what to do with, mostly telling you what evil misogynists they are. There is not time for me to cover all of that here, so instead I’ll say this and leave you to do the research and make up your own mind:

A few years ago, appalled by the bias and bigotry of modern feminism I decided to start a blog and needed help. In those days the MRAs were pretty much the only people out there who could offer me advice. I reached out and found a community of women and men, all of whom were supportive, helpful and concerned for my safety. It’s a scene I’m still proud to call myself a part of, and it includes people of every skin colour, LBGT people and trans women, all willing to undertake a task that brings with it all kinds of risk because they believe that modern society discriminates against men and boys in many ways.

This is not just a Sisyphean task. It is a dangerous task. So the gathering of some of the movement’s most influential voices is not to be undertaken lightly. The last conference – held in Detroit – was fraught with threats and sabotage and eventually had to be moved to a different venue at the last minute. It’s no secret that there are many who just don’t want men’s issues to be discussed outside a feminist framework and who will go to great lengths to silence those who see the world differently. But their tactics have changed – there was no trouble this year. Probably because these activists have realised all the protest videos make them look awful, and have a Streisand effect at the same time.

The conference ran from Friday 8 – Sunday 10 July and some attendees (myself included) were a little apprehensive, but the event’s organisers (Justice for Men and Boys UK, run by Mike Buchanan) had done a great job of finding a no nonsense venue and not attracting the wrong kind of attention. By the time I arrived (I could only make it to the Sunday) people had realised there were not going to be any protestors. Oh, and for any appalled feminists reading right now, yes, there were more men present than women, but I felt absolutely safe and welcomed – as I imagine did the lady who brought her baby and sat there breastfeeding while nobody batted an eyelid. Sorry to disappoint, Mary Sue.

Talking to people who had been there over the weekend, it seemed that of the speakers I missed on the first two days the real standout was Anil Kumar, who spoke about how his organisation Save Indian Family Foundation has been successful in setting up networks of men’s support groups across India.

His speech has not been put online just yet but here he is giving an interview about attending the conference:

I imagine many of you will be wondering why India would need activism for men. Well, unfortunately the need is most desperate. Many laws brought in to protect women from genuine threats are ill-conceived and open to abuse. If you’re interested in the subject you might want to look at this TedX talk by Deepika Bhardwaj, who campaigns tirelessly against India’s gender biased laws.

Another speaker I missed was the immortal Erin Pizzey. The woman – now a 77-year-old pensioner in a wheelchair – who set up the first women’s refuge in the world in the 1970s and was forced out of the Refuge movement (which she essentially founded) because she does not see domestic violence as a gendered issue. Her speeches are always incredible and eye opening, and I defy anyone to witness the love and respect she commands from the men’s movement and call them misogynists.

Here she is doing her thing:

Erin’s compassion for men who have been treated unfairly also came across on the day I attended, when Mark Pearson, the man accused of sexually assaulting an actress when he brushed past her at Waterloo station, spoke. He was found innocent after a year of legal hell, and his defence demonstrated that CCTV footage of the incident had been slowed down to make it look like he’d had double the amount of time to assault the woman. He was terribly nervous, but he stood up and spoke about what it was like to have police burst into his home early one morning and refuse to tell him what he was being accused of while he was being questioned. The case took months to come to trial but in the end the jury took only 90 minutes to clear him. Erin Pizzey had supported him through much of the ordeal, which he described as Kafkaesque.

Another speaker everyone needs to know about is arch anti-feminist Karen Straughn, AKA Girl Writes What, who spoke about ‘Toxic Femininity’ (and before you ask, no sane person would come up with that term if the feminists weren’t so excited about all their ‘toxic masculinity’ theories). In my humble opinion, Karen is the most important person on the internet right now. Her speeches and videos are razor sharp and argue her point with a clarity and wit that few speakers possess, and she’s terribly good at coming back when asked difficult questions. Her stuff is also so original that despite the fact she does not have a degree some of the videos she makes in her kitchen are being used by lecturers who want to be able to teach the other side of the feminist argument. I’d say that the best thing someone who cares about these issues can do is to support her via PayPal, because with her talent she shouldn’t be spending time on anything else.

For me the absolute standout of the day was Josh O’Brien, a British undergraduate Sociology and Political Science student who runs a YouTube channel where he criticises feminist ideology with much aplomb. He was interviewed for Reggie Yates’ ‘Extreme UK’ documentary (of course they didn’t tell him it was called that) where the fact that he had a box of tissues by his bed was used against him.

He spoke of the bravery that people in the men’s rights community need to access if they are to speak out. It’s an issue I’ve faced myself as a non feminist who wants to make my voice heard but doesn’t want to be treated with the contempt faced by many of those already out there (this isn’t me being dramatic – I’ve been for coffee with academics who’ve had their careers ruined because they had the wrong opinions). Josh pointed out how every time we turn down TV and radio appearances (as I have done several times) it makes it easier for them to fill the screen with outrageous people who do not represent the men’s movement and pretend we’re a bunch of extremists. I felt a bit ashamed that a 19-year-old who hasn’t finished university yet is willing to take that kind of risk when I won’t, but also very inspired. I shed a wee tear.

Paul Elam who runs the website A Voice for Men which helped to put the conference together finished by saying that five years ago it would have been impossible for us all to have come together to talk of the injustices facing men and boys in this way. With young people like Josh O’Brien speaking out I’m not surprised.

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