Is this the best they can do?

Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ) finally got around to publishing an article on the Men’s Conference A Voice for Men organized and hosted last year. Better late than never, I guess, although you would expect a men’s magazine to be a little more active when it comes to men’s issues. The writer, Jeff Sharlet, identifies himself as the husband of a Women’s Studies professor, so we can probably infer pretty accurately what his sexual politics are. And that’s what makes this article interesting – for a hit piece it is surprisingly feeble. He engages in a list of desperate gimmicks to make his point and even then he can’t find much to actually criticize, so he resorts to innuendo and mischaracterization. He starts off by presenting Albert Calabrese, an advocate for lowering the age of consent to 12 (which it functionally is for boys raped by their female teachers, but that’s another discussion) as somehow representative of the movement, when in fact he and his sort were purposely excluded from the conference. Putting Calabrese’s picture at the beginning of the article serves to obscure that inconvenient little fact. So Sharlet is not above sleazy misrepresentation. Here’s another one of his tricks:

For Dan Moore, whose MRA name is Factory, the red pill was a revelation in stages. First, he says, his wife cheated on him. Then she wanted him to know it. “She’d laugh at me.” His low point: lying on the floor in a fetal curl while she stood over him mocking him. He says she had a butcher knife in her hand. (She denies this. All of it.)

Because of course abusers holding butcher knives over their spouse are the soul of probity, aren’t they? What possible reason could Moore’s wife have to lie about a thing like that? But Sharlet’s intent is clear, to discredit the victim and his claim of victimization, and thereby cast doubt on claims in the MRM about the gender parity of IPV. This next trick is a little more subtle, because it takes cover under plausible deniability:

He says his talk of “the business end of a right hook” and women who are “freaking begging” to be raped is simply his version of Malcolm’s “by any means necessary.” To wit: Elam’s proposal to make October “Bash a Violent Bitch Month,” in which men should take the women who abuse them “by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.” Elam describes such language as satire. Then again, one evening in a bar, he tells me that he stands by every word he says.

Now it’s hard to see how advocating for targets of IPV, such as the men Elam is referring to here, to defend themselves against a coward preying on their forbearance, could be objected to unless you advocate the kind of female privilege, the power to attack without any fear of defense, that Elam is objecting to. And how hard is it to understand that someone might use hyberbolic or exaggerated language to state a position he actually holds? But Sharlet attempts to spin Elam’s remarks as doubletalk. Now for the attempt to look reasonable and then turn the opponent’s argument against him:

They have evidence. Men, particularly poor and working-class men, are cannon fodder abroad and expendable labor at home, trapped beneath a glass floor in jobs nobody really wants—farm workers, roofers, garbagemen—and injured at far higher rates than women. Imprisoned at far higher rates, too, and more often the victims of violent crime. Men get hit by women nearly as often as the other way around (even if the damage done is decidedly one-sided). And there is almost no refuge for battered men, unless you count homeless shelters. Men, meanwhile, by far make up the largest contingent of homeless people. The irony of the men’s rights movement is that its critique, its focus on the constraints of gender, is essentially a feminist one.

If it truly is a feminist argument, how is it that so few feminists are making it? If it is a feminist argument, how does it accord with concepts like “male privilege”, and why do feminist allow self-serving talking points like “male privilege” to drown out the discussion of disadvantaged men? Maybe it’s misogynist to hold feminist to their stated beliefs, or rather the beliefs they claim to hold when confronted and we should just move along quietly.

Sharlet is not out of tricks yet. Next he turns his attention to Sage Gerard and his interaction with a woman named Blair who came to the conference to find out what it was all about. Sharlet portrays the whole thing as some kind of sleazy, predatory seduction. There are a couple of things going on here. First, if this kind of demonization of sexuality were aimed at a woman, there would be a name for it: slut-shaming. How is that acceptable to aim at a man, unless you cling to sexist double standards? Second – and speaking of sexist double standards, what is portraying Gerard as making all the moves and Blair as passively enduring them if not a reinforcement of the patriarchal hyperagency’/hypoagency dyad. And finally, there is nothing in the article to suggest Sharlet actually observed any of this, that this portrayal is not a complete fabrication. And if he really did observe all this, that some pretty creepy voyeuristic behavior.

He’s not done yet. He moves on to the Honey Badgers and portrays them as humorless obsessives , because that’s just how much a male feminist respects women and their opinions.

This is Sharlet’s main misrepresentation, and it underlies everything he says in his article – he thinks the MRM is a backlash against women. The shallowest research into – well, AVfM would have been a good start – would have have made it clear that every issue the MRM addresses is a man problem, is a problem of a chivalrous, white knighting social structures that consists of men valuing women above other men. Women get dragged along, women may find ways to turn it to their advantage, but there’s a reason feminists call this benevolent sexism. The MRM calls it female privilege. That would have been immediately obvious to anyone actually interested in the subject he was writing an article about.

And don’t miss the comment section. What a bloodbath – probably nothing GQ imagined in a million years. For a men’s magazine that is a pretty sad failure to keep abreast of men’s issues and the men’s movement.

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  • Uranus

    I’m not an MRA, but I seem to agree with a lot of MRA advocacy. I just don’t want to be a part of gendered movement, but I was at a men’s rights protest in my country, as it was for clear injustice. What is rather sad is that I so rarely see an intelligent attack on MRA, one that doesn’t rely on strawmen, ad hominem and every other logical fallacy. Those people seem to confuse being condescending with being intelligent. Acting like you’re above me doesn’t mean you’re above me.

    Even sadder is that one doesn’t need to rely on strawmen and ad hominems to destroy feminism – I can just list facts about popular feminist initiatives. I don’t even need to employ intelligence or wit to destroy a feminist argument. It’s gotten so bad with me, that I see being a MRA as a positive quality of a woman, and being a feminist as a huge red flag, especially if she doesn’t wow me instantly with intelligence. MRA women are just fun and feminist women are just bitter.

    I can’t believe this guy actually thinks that an average intelligent man will say that he stands by something he wrote as satire literally. In my time, I’ve said a lot of horrible jokes. I stand by my words, and my jokes – the intention is to be funny and outrageous. I don’t think this guy knows how dishonest he is in this “gotcha” article. Every conclusion is “A HA! I GOT YOU MRAs!” It’s just… stupid and I hate that the opposition of MRAs that I see is always just idiots.

    • Ginkgo

      “but I was at a men’s rights protest in my country, as it was for clear injustice.”
      This happens and it’s a big problem because it confuses the public about the MRM. It has taken a few years and a lot of work, mainly on the part of Paul and his slice of the movement, to separate themselves from the tradcon neo-patriarchalists on one side and the PUAs on the other, That kind fo thing is the opposite of help.
      Can you give any details? What country, what did the speakers say, that kind of thing?

      • Uranus

        It’s in Bulgaria, there were two protests over the course of one year, about our law system allowing mothers to steal kids away from their fathers and they can’t see them, or hear from them, they can’t do anything. It’s almost impossible for them to even fight in court for visitation rights. The speakers didn’t speak, for the lack of a better phrase, “MRA narrative”, more like they spoke about what clear and outrageous injustice this is. But I still feel a need I should mention I was at a protest for the rights of men.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the honey badgers somehow inspired the people to have this protest, because Karen is now somewhat famous in my country and the protests happened some time after I started seeing more and more people from my country share her work.

        • Ginkgo

          Okay, now I follow.
          Movements arise when the conditions are ripe. When the conditions are ripe the movement breaks out everywhere, almost spontaneously. That’s why we see these demonstrations and this advocacy in South America, in eastern Europe and in India simultaneously.

  • ghebert

    Part of me wonders if these feminists believe they are actually correct in what they are saying or if they know they’re wrong bit hope no one will fact-check them?

    • Ginkgo

      A blend of both – never underestimate the power of moral superiority to blind a person to reality – but it only matters because of the second. People give them a pass, mostly out of deference. that may be sexist chivalric deference, or some kind of sense of solidarity, but it’s deference.

  • Phil Ford

    Sharlet…. an anagram for Le Shart!

    • Ginkgo

      Who is Le Shart? I have a feeling I am going to enjoy the explanation.

      • Phil Ford

        It’s French for “The Shart”.

        • Ginkgo

          I still don’t get it. Sorry. But it looks like “shat’ and that’s accurate enough

          • Phil Ford

            I think you need to Google shart

          • Paul

            Apt!