The men's rights movement (MRM) continues to grow in size, but politically is deeply flawed.
The average men's rights activist (MRA) is hostile to feminism. And yet he also agrees fundamentally with the feminist agenda.
This leads to the odd situation of feminists arriving at MRA websites, liking what they read, proposing a grand alliance with the MRM, before being angrily chased away by the MRAs.
How has this situation come about? It seems to me that there are two major wings of the MRM. The first is a liberal one. There are now plenty of men involved in the MRM who describe themselves not only as "very liberal" but even as being radically left-liberal.
These men, understandably, don't like the way that men are portrayed as being privileged oppressors (i.e. bad guys) on the mainstream, feminist left. Rather than rethinking leftist politics, they respond by pointing to areas in which it is men who are treated unequally.
There's the usual range of liberal attitudes amongst these men. Some of the more right-liberal ones limit themselves to calls for procedural equality. But others are more radical and want to follow through more consistently with the liberal ideal of making gender not matter.
It's therefore often assumed at MRM sites that masculinity is an oppressive construct; that the aim of the MRM is to liberate men from masculinity; that society should be strictly gender neutral, including in parental roles and in having women drafted into combat roles; and that feminist countries like Sweden are the models for the rest of the world to follow.
The second wing of the MRM are the male separatists (who call themselves "men going their own way" or MGTOW).
These are men who have grown up in an age of female individualism. Their experience is of a society which is geared toward maximising female autonomy, whether it's in terms of education, careers or family.
They have been particularly burned when it comes to relationships. Some of them have lost out in the divorce courts. Some of them are men whose female peers have been "liberated" to waste their 20s chasing a few alpha guys. For these reasons they are not very trusting of, or sympathetic toward, women.
How do men react to female individualism? One way (the traditionalist way) is to criticise a radical individualism, for both sexes, as socially destructive. But the male separatists don't do this. They respond instead by trying to imagine an individualism of their own.
How can men lead a more individualistic, autonomous life? How, in other words, do men "go their own way"? Above all, by not marrying. The male separatists vary a bit here. Some want to shack up with non-Western women (there is much hostility to white/Western women). Others promote the idea of occasional sexual encounters. Others don't want any contact at all.
In order to persuade men not to marry, the male separatists push the idea that men are harmed by marriage. They also portray women in very negative terms (gold diggers, sluts etc).
It ends up sounding uncannily like the feminism of the 1970s, but with the sexes reversed. In the 1970s, it was feminists who thought marriage was oppressive to women, who promoted separatist solutions, and who therefore painted men in the most unflattering light possible.
The liberal and the separatist MRAs get along quite well, as both groups are committed to the idea of male autonomy or individualism. The separatists aren't quite as motivated by the aim of deconstructing masculinity. Even so, they've managed to find common ground with the liberals here, since they believe that "manning up" means having to take on the responsibility of being a husband and father - which they fundamentally reject.
Both groups also react vehemently against the idea of chivalry. The liberals see it as being one reason why equality hasn't been fully implemented; they believe that conservative judges treat women more favourably on chivalrous grounds. The separatists believe that chivalry encourages men to make sacrifices for women, which cuts right across the separatist aim of men living for themselves alone. Conservatives and traditionalists are blamed for perpetuating chivalry and holding back men's rights.
Oddly, there are MRAs who are concerned about the presence of traditionalists within the movement. They believe that traditionalists will rob the MRM of respectability.
It's more likely, though, that it's the liberal/separatist alliance which will hold back the MRM from going mainstream. Just how mainstream did the radical separatist feminists become, even with the backing of the liberal establishment? Weren't they correctly perceived by nearly all men, and by many women, to be man-hating types without a realistic political program?
Where does the current strategy of the MRM get men? What are those men who want relationships with women, and children of their own, to do? You hear MRAs talk about sex with robots, or hiring surrogates to have children without the need for a wife, or developing affectionate male companionship, or hiring prostitutes. It just sounds desperate and unrealistic.
And will the average man gravitate toward a movement which takes just as grim a view of masculinity as the feminists have done?
And consider this. For years feminists have complained that men haven't gotten with the program. Feminists believe that careers are the ultimate in achieving female autonomy, but that women are restricted in pursuing careers by the fact that men haven't abandoned masculinity quickly enough. Too many men, complain the feminists, are still working away in careers rather than accepting androgynous roles and devoting themselves to childcare and keeping house.
The feminist message has fallen on deaf ears. So the latest feminist strategy has been to get men themselves to spread the message. More and more it is male feminists who are pushing the feminist line to men.
But feminists needn't have worried. Because it is now an "anti-feminist" men's rights movement which is doing all the heavy lifting for them. It is the MRM which is getting men to accept the idea that being a provider is oppressive to men; that society should be gender neutral and accept the idea of men as nurturers; that men should reject masculine norms of behaviour and so on.
It's a problem I've seen over and over. People feel the oppressive effect of liberal changes to society. They get motivated to act politically. But political clarity is lacking and so they end up trying to cure liberalism by adopting some more radical form of liberalism. And so nothing changes, despite all the expenditure of energy.
So what should traditionalists do? I think we have to accept, realistically, that the men's rights movement is likely to go the wrong way, just like feminism did (maybe MGTOW should be renamed MGTWW - "men going the wrong way").
But I don't think we should abandon it. The MRAs are, at least, open to criticisms of feminism. So there's an opportunity to make principled criticisms of feminism at MRA sites. And we will be the only alternative at such sites for those men who identify positively with masculinity.
We won't be part of the mainstream, but we can put forward a different approach. I'll outline some of the arguments I think we should be making at MRA sites in a future post.
Update: A reader has reminded me of some MRM sites which are not liberal/separatist politically. I do believe my post accurately describes the trends at some of the larger, influential sites, but perhaps I should have recognised the existence of a third, generally non-liberal strand of thought within the MRM.