This was my second time attending the ICMI, and my second piece on the topic for The Backbencher. As I do not wish to repeat myself too much I would advise anyone coming to this topic for the first time to have a look at my piece on the 2016 conference, where I explain how as a non-feminist woman I came to know many members of the men’s right’s community and over the course of several years have found it to be very welcoming and supportive of women, ethnic minorities, LGBT people and the disabled, all of whom were represented at this year’s conference and treated just like everyone else. I also saw zero Trump hats.
One thing I do want to repeat from my coverage of the last time the event was held is that the task of speaking out for the rights of men and boys is a thankless and dangerous one. As one of the conference speakers put it ‘There are no Brownie points to be had in talking about male disadvantage. There is no moral cachet in doing so. You will meet only with condemnation. Quite possibly accusations of misogyny’. Every person speaking – and many of those attending – was taking an amount of risk, personal, social or professional by being there (I say more on this in my last piece also).
The protestors didn’t show up last year, and nor did they this time. Thy seem to have realised that crazy scenes like this don’t make them look good, and just draw attention to groups and individuals who have so many facts and figures to back up what they say it’s far better to keep people’s attention on other things by organising women’s conferences on the same dates. Videos of all the speeches go online eventually, so they can cherry pick their sound bites without having to buy a ticket anyway. Last year the only thing they seized upon was the fact that MP Philip Davies – while talking about some serious disadvantages faced by men in the criminal justice system – had dared to accuse feminists of wanting to have their cake and eat it, which made The Guardian very upset and resulted in lots of women doing their duty for their gender by taking pictures of themselves eating cake and posting them on the internet.
This year, it seems there was one self described representative of ‘feminist media’ present who continued the tradition of daftness by writing a piece implying that the conference was one step away from being an all-white sausage fest. How did she do this? Well, for a ‘brief moment’, as everyone was making their way to a talk that was about to begin, she was the only woman among white men in the room outside. Keeping tabs on exactly how many people of your gender and race are in the room at any given moment – what an excellent use of time and energy.
As it has in the past, the conference attracted a diverse group of people. Many women were present and gave talks, and a lady who I met there breastfeeding in 2016 – and who has since become a friend – was there breastfeeding again. I’m sure my feminist readers will be delighted to hear that many of those evil MRAs were queuing up to cuddle and coo over her newborn. The aforementioned feminist journalist – Lara Whyte – failed to mention this in her article, despite having spoken to and even taken a selfie with her.
The audience and speakers were ethnically diverse, and included LGBT people and disabled individuals. I made an effort to speak to as many women as I could and several had the same story – they had eventually found the men’s movement because their professions were affected by feminist policy and dominance to an extent that it was stopping them from doing their jobs properly – this from women in fields such as psychology, journalism and the public sector. I was only able to attend on the Saturday (the conference ran Friday 20-Sunday 22 July) but each day was opened or introduced by a female speaker and a strong theme that emerged across the talks was the role that women can play in getting society to pay attention to the ways men are left behind and also in calling out ideological assumptions that facilitate this.
Cassie Jaye whose documentary about the Men’s Rights Movement The Red Pill was released in October 2016 also attended – much to the chagrin of Lara Whyte. She started out as a feminist thinking she was embarking on a Louis Theroux style documentary making process where she’d be able to let the crazy speak for itself. It turned into a journey that led to her renouncing her feminism, changing her view of gender relations and being ostracised by the women’s movement, as I have written about before. She asked compassionate questions of some of the speakers who described harrowing stories of being abused by female partners and was made very welcome by a community who see her as possibly the only journalist who has treated them fairly and honestly. Here she is giving an interview at the conference:
The schedule also included a screening of American Circumcision, a 2017 documentary about the modern circumcision debate. Highly compelling, it takes a look at the ‘Intactivist’ movement – and how it has been led for many years by women such as Marilyn Milos, who has campaigned against the practice since witnessing the procedure as a nurse in the 1980s. The fact that boys are not protected from genital interference in countries such as the US and UK really is one of the most shocking arguments against the theory that society is driven by male privilege; it’s something the other side of the argument can only scoff at, rather than confront. Even so there was an air of optimism on the issue – when Steven Svoboda (Executive Director of the organisation Attorneys for the Rights of the Child) spoke he seemed clear that it’s only a matter of time before equal rights are achieved on this issue.
Another important highlight from the first day of the conference seems to have been Professor Eric Anderson – introduced as an American academic who has become the UK’s most prolific and most-cited masculinities scholar. His speech saw him make an ideological shift, and argue for the necessity of examining men’s issues outside of the feminist lens. This may not sound particularly dramatic, but it’s something that the academic wing of the feminist movement will go to any lengths to prevent. Most attendees agreed that while some of his ideas may have been slightly at odds with the opinions of many present it was important and valuable to welcome perspectives on how men can be helped that are an end in themselves rather than existing to push political ideologies. That new voices like his are emerging and finding a community of academics and activists to support them is a sign of the importance of conferences like this one.