Mother Jones recently published a profile by Mariah Blake on the “Men’s Rights Movement” and the man at the center of the movement, Warren Farrell. As Blake details in her article, Farrell claimed his place at the center of the Men’s Rights Movement after publishing The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex. In the book, Farrell argues that modern society imposes gender-based norms on men that are grounded in long-outdated notions of men as hunters and warriors. Instead, Farrell argues that the modern world should reorient its expectations of men to focus on each individual’s fulfillment and happiness, as Farrell argues women have accomplished.
Although the ethos of Farrell’s work seems innocuous enough, the details that Blake conveys about the Men’s Rights Movement are much more troubling. In writing the piece, Blake attended the inaugural conference of the Movement. Blake writes that she participated in a workshop focused on the sacrifices men make The attendees—overwhelming male—recounted stories about how their fathers suffered while working at textile mills, on power lines, or at the IRS while harboring a long-denied desire to be a writer. At the end of the workshop, Farrell had Blake, a woman, stand in front of the room and interview the attendees about the reasons for their involvement in the Movement. Blake details in her article one man who stated that he became involved after his wife falsely accused him of domestic violence, an allegation he claims caused him to spend six months in prison.
As a man, I have a limited amount of sympathy for Farrell’s laments. Our society undoubtedly has gender stereotypes for men just as it does for women, and many of those, such as that men are or should be the primary breadwinner, are out-of-step with today’s reality. It is also certainly the case that many men are mistreated in today’s society. In fact, many of the people I know who have suffered the most in today’s society are men. Still, the Men’s Rights Movement seems wrongheaded at best, and hateful at worst. There is a critical difference between a man who is being mistreated and being mistreated because you are a man. It’s a distinction that seems lost on many of the attendees Blake encountered at the Men’s Rights Movement conference.
The workshop attendees who detailed the sacrifices their fathers made in their careers seem genuinely moved by each other’s stories, but they’re stories of human suffering, not that of a particular gender or minority group. Both genders make sacrifices and work difficult, mind-numbing jobs. If the attendees at Farrell’s conference were really moved to tears by the stories about the sacrifices their fathers made in the workplace, they should become advocates for policies such as flexible work schedules and remote work options that make the modern work-place more friendly to families and, frankly, more friendly to humans. To the extent that they’re concerned about the plight of the modern working class, which seems to be an undertone in many of their stories, their energy would be better spent advocating for better wages and lower taxes for low-income workers than focusing on some made-up notion of sexual leverage that they claim women exert over men.
As a civil rights lawyer who frequently litigates gender-discrimination cases, I can attest that Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, and other civil rights laws continue to be strong forces in the fight for gender equality, particularly in the workplace. These laws, however, were enacted, in part, to address the centuries of discrimination that women suffered because of their gender. With regard to the ills that Farrell and his followers lament, such problems aren’t going to be addressed by claiming gender discrimination where there is none. Instead, such misguided efforts needlessly detract from the very real gender discrimination that persists in today’s society and hinders those same followers from addressing the multitude of other challenges facing our modern world. Further, legitimate gender discrimination suits benefit all of a company’s employees because those suits address systemic problems that negatively affect an entire workforce, such as faulty performance metrics and promotion policies that only favor employees with personal connections.