Society Magazine

Seeing The Feminist Light: An Ex-MRA Tells His Story

Posted on the 03 August 2012 by Weekwoman @WeekWoman

And Feminism said ‘Let there be light’. And there was Feminist light. And the MRA saw the feminist light, that it was good.

I’m a man, in his late twenties (actually 30 this year but shhh!) who is proud to call himself a feminist. I am fairly new to being a feminist, still Seeing The Feminist Light: An Ex-MRA Tells His Storyhave a lot to learn, still make mistakes – for which I am grateful for correction. I eventually want to play a much more active role in feminism.

But I haven’t always been that way – quite the reverse. And this piece goes into how I was opposed to feminism, why and where it came from, and what so dramatically changed those views. I am not a writer, but I am writing this for two reasons: first, because I was kindly asked to, and second, and more selfishly, because I could do with venting it out in a process of self-help and understanding.

I would like to begin by pointing out that I do not change my opinions or beliefs easily, especially in politics; in fact, I take politics more seriously than football, and if you knew me, you’d know I’d find it easier to change my species than change my football team! But something changed – or rather a few factors came together to change them. I also want to say that I am having great difficulty writing this piece. Not because I haven’t written like this for some time (I’m a designer: I draw, I don’t write!), but because I’m having to revisit beliefs I once held, things I’ve said to friends or others, posted on the net, read and thought. I’m finding it tough, but I think it has to be done with brutal honesty. Some of the things I’ll write are awful, but I won’t shy away from admitting that was me. I can’t believe some of the things I’ve said or believed, but I’d rather be honest. I will cringe immensely from what I’m about to write, I’m not sure if you can die from cringing, but I think I’ll come close. Actually, cringe might not be the right word, ashamed would be more appropriate. The scary thing is, I don’t think my old views are that different to many boys and men today.

Anyway, here goes…

Feminists Wanted More Than Equality

For much of my adult life, I had always misunderstood feminism, and as a consequence was deeply opposed to it. I spurned, turned my nose up at feminism, at their stories, articles or opinions. It was all “man-hating, misandric feminazi” bullshit. Feminists were the bigots, only interested in their own entitlements at the expense of men; they wanted to make women more equal then men. It was easy to spot too; all you had to do was look around, see the perks women got, were entitled to as a result of feminism. See how men were undermined, made to feel guilty for being male. From job entitlements; family laws and rights; expectation of men to protect and serve women financially and emotionally, to disparity in suicide rates of men; male healthcare; and the increasing number of girls outperforming boys in education. It was clear men were under attack from all fronts. It was clear women were getting help and a ‘leg up’ in every walk of society, while boys and men were being left behind in a wake of guilt and oppression. A simplistic way of looking at things, but simplistic is always the first way to look at something, because it’s easy; because it can avoid getting to the real route of the problem and acknowledging anything to do with privilege. I mean, hey, feminists just wanted equality added to still receiving the perks of chivalry; they wanted more than equality.

I remember how I talked to male friends throughout university and beyond about women, or, as I referred to them then, girls. I’d never treated a ‘girl’ badly, but then there was always an undercurrent of “us versus them”. They were objects, even if I loved them, and maybe they me (on rare occasions, I grant you!). The debate of consent often came up; we saw any law emphasizing consent as an attack on “lads being lads” (God I’m cringing writing this out). We joked how “we’d need to get ‘em to sign a contract before we had sex” how all the power’s now given to a girl. And yes, more often than not, the myth that if a girl woke up the next morning, regretted a one-night stand, she would just have to cry rape and the man would be guilty until proven innocent. It was another attack on men. That was how many of us viewed it, and that was what we thought of it.

Feminism Was to Blame For Destructive Male Stereotypes

You could see misandry in the media too, just take a look at advertisements on the TV, men were always made to look ridiculous, against a wise and in control woman – men were made to feel stupid and incompetent. Yet that was acceptable, as was violence against men perpetrated by women; I’d argue “could you imagine if the gender roles were reversed, they’d never allow that” and I’d naturally blame feminism for it. The “lets throw rocks at boys” t-shirt debate was feminism’s fault: man-hating at its worst. Look at how men’s bodies were objectified in adverts and on TV, whereas the same objectification of women would always be met with opposition from feminists. I’d argue how misandric programmes like ‘Loose Women’ were allowed; yet anything male orientated would never be allowed. I hadn’t bought a ‘lad’s magazine’ for a fair few years, but I always defended their existence, again countering any feminist argument against them with “what about female magazines that have half naked or naked men in them.” Any articles or columns in newspapers or magazines slightly alluding to making women’s rights an issue was simply “feminist bullshit”, even if, deep down, I may have agreed with it; my hatred was stronger than my reasoning. To me, it was one rule for women, and another entirely different and unfair rule for men. Feminism’s fault, entirely. It was so obvious.

Feminists Lacked Humour and Logic…

My anti-feminism crossed over into all walks of my life too; I’m a huge football fan, and about a year or so ago Sian Massey became the first female referee assistant in a Premiership match. The appointment was shrouded in controversy, not because of anything she did (actually preformed very well and made correct decisions) but because of the off-air comments made by Sky Sports presents Andy Gray and Richard Keys; whose misogynistic comments were nothing new to those behind the camera; but they were caught out by microphones being left on this time. I fiercely defended them and their “lads banter” (another cringe). Most of it was done online, but I would claim it was just the way lads talk to each other, it wasn’t offensive, and you women need to get a sense of humour. The defence went further, why were women allowed to officiate the men’s games when women had their own leagues, it was feminism and political correctness gone too far; is nothing sacred for men to have just as their own? There was even a group on Facebook I had joined, just to express my anger at the two presenters being sacked, and the unfair advantage given to Sian Massey. It was a hotbed of misogyny and sexist jokes. And I told plenty of them too; I had no problem with sexist jokes, they simply played on the stereotypes of each gender, nothing more. Women should just get over them like men had gotten over jokes made about them. For every sexist joke aimed at women, there is a joke relating to men too. Stereotypes should be embraced and accepted, rather than fought against.

On the subject of jokes…this next bit really hurts to write; genuinely hurts to write. I feel so ashamed by this part I wasn’t going to include it. Not least because a few of the most valued people I follow on twitter are survivors. But, again, I think it needs to be included. I have defended and used rape jokes and used references to rape in casual conversation. I never saw any problem with them. They were no worse than a racist joke, and, as a half caste Asian/white person, if I could see the funny side of a racist joke, then women should be able to take a rape joke and see the funny side of it. Humour should cover all topics, no matter how uncomfortable, and if you don’t like it, don’t listen to them. No humour should be banned or oppressed.

I used the jokes in casual conversation between friends (I despair to think what any female friends genuinely thought of them) and online too. I laughed when I heard them, memorised them and spread them myself. I’ve heard them at comedy clubs and laughed, on the TV, in songs, in all forms of media and never saw why anyone would be offended. Like I said, if you were offended by it, you should get over yourself and get a sense of humour; leave us men, and women in some cases, alone to have and express our humour. It was a no brainer, right?

In casual conversation, the word ‘rape’ was never seen as anything more than a word – it would often be used to describe any number of incidents or events where one would find oneself in a bad situation: “I can’t go out tonight mate, that last phone bill raped me, I’m skint” or, more often: “United are gonna rape [insert opposing football team] at the weekend”.

This type of casual conversation, of reducing the horror of rape to describe something as trivial as football, was commonplace amongst my friendship goup. It was nothing out of the ordinary.  Although I obviously recognised it as a horrific crime, I thought it no more than any other crime like murder, severe muggings and other violent crimes; I’m still staggered that I ever thought like this.

I used to work in a hospital as a porter during and for a while after I finished University. I suppose on rough estimate, 70% of the staff were female, but the portering side was almost exclusively male. And it bred casual sexism on many occasions, even if none of us was being intentionally sexist or misogynistic; we perpetuated gendered stereotypes often without realising it. Although we all had upmost and a mutual respect for all female staff, medical or otherwise, there were incidents when difficulties arose, and the problem wasn’t caused by a misunderstanding or miscommunication, it was “women’s logic”. And that was to blame, rather than a human error that could’ve been caused by either gender. This blaming of problems on gender differences rather than getting to the actual root of them probably explains why, while gender stereotyping still exists, so many problems remain unresolvable. But at the time, it was just, lads will be lads and women will do their own thing – never the twain shall meet, and that’s how it should stay.

…And ‘Male Feminists’ Just Want To Get Laid

Men who were feminists were traitors; they were just pretending to be feminists to get laid. This was obvious, because, if a man agreed with feminists, if they were friendly or treated a woman with respect and equality, she should owe him somehow – usually with sex, as of course, that is why we men interact with women. Anything else, and she’d “friendzoned” the man. Male feminists were either gay or had ulterior motives; they were “manginas”.

How I Came To Think Like This: My Childhood

So where did all this hatred and misunderstanding come from? I look back and see several reasons dating right back to childhood up to experiences of school, university and work.

My parents divorced when I was very young, and my Mum brought me up on her own, while holding down a fulltime nursing job. An incredibly demanding and draining job, while having to bring me up is absolutely no easy task! So it’s strange that I felt like this.

I saw my Dad frequently at weekends or on holidays (when he moved down South miles from me). And I think his influence is partly where my sense of what I now recognise as patriarchy and male privilege stems from. My Dad is Hindu, and in his culture, even more than most, the men rule the household. Anything feminine is weak and nothing to be proud of. Femininity is for women, who could never handle the power of being masculine. No, masculinity was something to uphold and be proud of, something far greater than femininity. Its very strange how that came to be in my mind, but looking back it’s quite clear. My Dad would often say, from such a young age (4 or 5 years old) that if I’d done something wrong, I was “like a girl”, acting like one, being like one. If I ate slowly (I always did at that age!) then I was “eating like a girl”, if I got upset “ you’re not a girl are you?” and the old chestnut “a girl could do it better than you” making me make sure no girl ever beat me, a boy!

It’s amazing how it starts so early, how we’re made to fit into gender roles from such an early age. Blue for boys, pink for girls; and if the two crossed, a girl would be a ‘tomboy’ and a boy would be ridiculed as ‘feminine’ or ‘gay’. Watching my Dad as head of the household was the first introduction I’d had to patriarchy, although it would take me decades to realise this. Of course, I never gave it a name at the time, it was just how things were, nothing more. This set up my beliefs and behaviour for my life up until recently. Astonishing really.

How I Came To Think Like This: Relationships

I’ve always had good relationships with women, whether they be colleagues, bosses, friends, family or in relationships, but that isn’t anything to do with feminism; I believe feminism comes from deep principles and understanding. Any man can be pleasant on the outside, but still hold sexist and misogynistic feelings deep down. I should know.

A feeling of failure is often at the root of hatred and bigotry, as are misunderstanding and miscommunication. I look at past relationships and see how bitter experiences, when seen through the prism of gender stereotypes enabled me to extrapolate one relationship breakdown to statements like  “all women are like that”, “women cannot be trusted”, or even in the heat of the moment, “I hate all women”.

I also subscribed to the idea of the “friendzone” – a myth that almost every male I know still believes. It is a patriarchal belief that, if a man is respectful, friendly and genuine with a woman, that woman, by default, should be sexually/romantically interested in the man. Any rejection is called “friendzoning”. A man showing the same degree of friendliness he would fellow male friends is ‘owed’ by women. And the payment should be in the form of sex. I have been guilty of using the friendzone terminology to explain rejection, when of course the reality was that the woman valued my friendship more. And lest we forget, under patriarchal gender roles and the shadow of male privilege, rejection is something to be ashamed of – not ‘man’ enough.

And Then I Discovered MRAs

I found myself in the all too familiar position of being a graduate struggling for meaningful work in my field. But a job opportunity arose which allowed me to move to London. On moving there I left an existing job to try and raise my own small business, while working low paid jobs to keep ends meeting. However, despite a strong start, it coincided with the recession and work became scarce. A spiral developed and living arrangements became very difficult: rising rent and cost of living, added to deteriorating health. And it was at this point I started to take notice of the MRA movement. The idea that men were unworthy deadbeats if they had little money, success or a stable career played on my mind. MRAs claimed that women wanted equality, while still demanding the perks of what I now realise are patriarchal gender roles. Women still expected men to pick up the bill, to be the breadwinner, to provide and pay for their lifestyle: to still be chivalrous. I equated that to my situation, and wrongly blamed feminism for feeling like a failure. I became annoyed that my situation was preventing me from succeeding. I became blinded and bitter and blamed things that were never to blame for my situation. I would eventually come to realise that if there was any blaming to be done, it was of patriarchal gender roles. Nothing else.

Success shouldn’t be measured by material, fortune or power, but in a patriarchal society it is. The gender role to be provider, hunter, is laid at the feet of men and if a man doesn’t fulfil that role then he isn’t a man. I’ve always had a good set of friends around me, we were never ashamed or felt awkward about talking about feelings or all that teen angst! It’s always been this way and continues that way now; I think it shows a side which gender roles don’t accept as being associated with men. But despite this friendship group, I nevertheless grew up with the pressure of conforming to my stereotypical gender identity. So when I read about MRAs and how feminism was damaging to men, how it was just a form of bigotry to hate men, it was music to my ears. Finally, someone to blame for both the pressure I felt to be a ‘real man’, and the failure of my business.

But Then I Discovered Feminism – Real Feminism

So what was it that changed my beliefs so dramatically? What was the catalyst for the sudden change and realisation? Well, not an awful lot has changed in my life if honest; aside from moving back up North. I’m not a millionaire (actually, I’m still pretty much skint!), I don’t have a great career or business and my life isn’t suddenly wonderfully full of happiness!

But something did change in me. I started to reassess my life and why things weren’t great. I didn’t understand the hatred of anti-feminists or MRAs any more than I actually understood feminism itself. So I decided to start asking questions, start reading and begin to understand. I read blogs, websites, books. I asked questions on social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter. I must have come across as such a privileged fool at first, thinking he knows more about feminism then feminists! Although I wanted to learn, it was difficult for me to acknowledge privilege and recognise patriarchy. Luckily, they were patient!

My politics have always been left leaning and liberal. I have always believed all people were born equal. And the more I learnt about feminism, the more I realised I was more in line with its beliefs and principles than I could ever have thought.

My Understanding of White Privilege Helped Me to Understand Male Privilege

The biggest catalyst of all however came when I read about male privilege. It struck a deep chord with me. As I said earlier, I am of mixed race: white and Asian. I grew up in a very white-dominated area of the country and I’ve always experienced casual racism, right from my very first days at school to recent occurrences. It was pretty bad at the beginning, but I had always considered myself fairly lucky. I had great friends around me, and I’d always considered abuse as galvanising. However, my friends were all white English, so in some circumstances, it was difficult for them to understand what racism meant to me. I’d always been aware of a white privilege (even if I didn’t refer to it as that), buts it’s difficult to explain it to some, as many are in denial. The idea that having a slur against a white person is equal to a racial slur against a non-white person is absurd (we’ve recently witnessed white privilege being denied in court, as a footballer claiming being called “an English c***” is just as abusive as his calling a fellow black player a “black c***”. Laughable, at best.), but deniers of white privilege use that argument. Maybe it is because they are uncomfortable with acknowledging that privilege.

This white privilege is exactly how I see male privilege. The idea that sexism toward a male is in any way as damaging as sexism toward a female, or that misandry (if it exists) is somehow the equivalent of misogyny, is absurd given the privilege males are given just by their gender.  As a result of male privilege, the objectification of women in society is far more damaging than any objectification of men. In fact, objectification of men is usually to show men how to be “men”; it is another form of patriarchy and gender roles. The objectification of women still alludes to the belief that women are objects for men to own, use and abuse; that is misogyny.

I used to believe that the glass ceiling that women faced in the workplace never actually existed – it was merely in their minds. But then I considered the glass ceiling non-white people face; although you can break through it, it is unusual for a non-white person to rise very high in certain fields. Who was I then, a man, to suggest that glass ceiling didn’t exist for women? It clearly does. We see every time a woman breaks that glass ceiling, how her gender is referred to; yet a man in the equivalent position requires no reference to his gender, because it is not unusual. It is considered normal. It’s as if society says, “Well done, even you, a woman, can do this job”. This is male privilege in action.

Men can face sexism, but it is just not the same as what a woman experiences. In the same way, a man can be raped, but a man will never know the everyday fear a woman faces from rape. I’ve read a fair amount on the fear of rape that women face – and not just every time they step out alone, because contrary to appalling rape myths, the vast majority of victims know their attacker. It is exactly this reason why I am so appalled that I once considered a casual rape joke or using the word ‘rape’ for trivial complaints acceptable. I can only apologise and do my best to pull it up when I see or hear it; looking at you, Tosh and Boyle.

It’s taken me a while to get to grips with male privilege, but I’m happy I have. I recognise it and know when it becomes damaging (which is almost always, even if subconsciously). I’m comfortable admitting it, but certainly not comfortable that it exists in the first place.

Seeing Misogyny Everywhere

I began to see how much work feminism still has to do. I watched a programme recently on sexism in football and I was ashamed to think I was once one of those sexists. The songs, chants, the casual sexism aimed at females. I see it so clearly now. My views have obviously changed entirely. I have no issue with female referees in the men’s game; I’d like to see a female manager being given a chance in the men’s league too, because there’s no reason why they can’t. I think it would be more beneficial to society and feminism if the women’s game was given more funding and exposure. A few years ago, I read how the football team I follow had disbanded, in a very ungracious manner, the women’s team. I am still disgusted at this, especially from one of the most successful and rich clubs in the world.

I see the misogyny in the media so clearly now too. Its unbelievable how I ever missed it in the first place; hindsight is wonderful! The objectification of women is alarmingly common and accepted.

But more alarmingly, we see certain news stories gaining more publicity than others, especially rape stories. I remember on a few occasions reading about false rape claims, especially those involving footballers. These get main headlines and front pages, and results in men thinking false rape claims are commonplace; and that victims are to blame or are lying. That’s not even touching on lad’s mags. At one time, I’d have defended their right to exist; now I think at minimum they should have an adult age limit or just not be printed at all. They serve no purpose other than to perpetuate misogyny. I used to buy the odd few as a teenager, and although I never really thought they had an effect on the way I thought, perhaps they did. Subtly it would make me objectify women, to see them as purely objects. It is also full of reinforcing gender stereotypes and roles for both men and women; damaging to young minds still growing and developing.

Realising That Patriarchy Damages Men As Well As Women

I understand now how patriarchy works, how the gender roles it creates cause much of the damage men blame on feminism. The idea that men are stronger, wiser and should provide for women is a patriarchal belief, not a feminist belief. Feminism fights these gender roles. The idea that women are ‘homemakers’ (with no other choice) and men go out to work while the woman raises the family is patriarchy. The old MRA/anti-feminist argument of feminists wanting chivalry along with equal rights falls apart when you examine where chivalry came from. The best argument they usually use is the “women and children first” as their example of chivalry; usually from that of a sinking ship. The myth is that it was maritime law, and that it was used to benefit women. Its most famous and last occurrence was its use on the Titanic. It actually started from HMS Birkenhead, and was called the ‘Birkenhead Drill’ and kept by men as tradition as “the distinguished thing for men to do”. So in fact it wasn’t a result of women’s wishes or feminists, men created it in a patriarchal society, upholding gender roles. Men were stronger and therefore were there to protect women, as they were incapable of looking after themselves. Once again, feminism fights this patriarchy and its out-dated gender assumptions.

MRAs try to claim they fight for fathers’ rights too. This is the biggest myth of all. Courts still favour women in custody battles because patriarchy makes women the primary carer; and men next to irrelevant when it comes to raising a family. It is once again patriarchy that causes this discrimination, and something that feminism fights against. MRAs fighting against feminism results in upholding patriarchy and its gender roles; it therefore actually fights against fathers’ rights. But then, that’s not really surprising: MRAs are anti-feminists and nothing more. They are set up solely to undermine feminism and are nothing more than a hate group. If MRAs were actually fighting for men’s rights, they’d be called something else: they’d be called feminists!

I’m not going to go into everything I believe about feminism, we’ll be here forever more, and you’re probably bored enough already of me! But I will say that I have been reading, tweeting, listening and reading again about feminism and I truly believe this is where my political beliefs lie. I am a lefty, but feminism grabs me more. Yes, it benefits me as it quashes patriarchy. Yes, it benefits me because understanding male privilege helps with the struggles I’ve had with white privilege. Yes, it benefits me because I detest gender roles and I like to wear pink and eyeliner! But its more than that, it’s a set of principles, of equality and of not making any person, male or female, an object for anyone else to use or abuse. It is eye opening and I wish I’d found it earlier; my friends are probably sick of me going on about it, but I’m not going to stop!

I do laugh when I see MRA/anti-feminist trolls perpetuating myths I used to believe, or those shitty kitchen jokes. I also laugh when people question my sexuality when I say I am a feminist, like believing in equality for both genders makes me homosexual somehow. “Mangina” and other slurs, don’t bother me, they just come across as a desperate argument. And as for feminists having no humour you must be kidding me! They have the best sense of humour I know! The persistent accusation that I am only a feminist in order to ‘get laid’ still annoys me, because it is illustrative of male privilege – the idea that my agreement with and respect towards women somehow makes them owe me something. No feminist, male or female, owes me anything. Ever. I believe in feminism because it benefits all of society. I am quite content with my principles.

So there we have it, how I began as an anti-feminist then realised maybe I was a feminist underneath after all. I turned it around and am now proud to be a feminist. I still have a long way to go, a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes to make; but hopefully with some help, my understanding and knowledge will grow. Feminism is forever evolving, and just like racial equality, once one hurdle is conquered, quickly another one approaches that must be overcome.

I don’t want a medal, or praise or anything for becoming a feminist. I just want people to understand that it’s education and communication that make people realise the benefits of feminism. When boys, girls, men and women are brought up in the doctrines of patriarchy, and gender roles are forced upon us from such an early age, it is difficult to break free. It is difficult to oppose and fight a system you don’t even realise exists. That doesn’t excuse bigotry or misogyny, and we must continue to fight against that at every turn. I am just so happy I asked questions and understood feminism; with a bit (a lot!) more knowledge, I hope to carry on and become more involved. Whether I continue to write badly or just preach to others who knows?!

I’ll leave you with a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Geothe:

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Thanks for taking the time to read


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