author – activist – faculty – mom
NBC’s Brian Williams claimed to have been shot down in a helicopter in Iraq. Last week that lie was exposed by one of the men on the aircraft, and Williams has apologized for his “mistake in recalling.” Shortly thereafter, hilarious memes appeared, including Brian Williams “misremembering” landing on the moon, sitting at Martin Luther King’s feet for the “I Have A Dream” speech, riding in a car with Tupac, and inventing Sesame Street. Yet, while the Twitterverse has been publicly shaming him with the #BrianWilliamsMisremembers hashtag, I can’t help but draw a connection to the Men’s Rights Movement.
According to a recent Mother Jones article, the movement began with deep connections to feminism. Men’s Rights movement leader Warren Farrell was once embraced by Gloria Steinem. However, the movement eventually split with feminism. Instead of pushing an agenda of human rights for all, regardless of gender (which is certainly my understanding of feminism) and a critique of the systematic subjugation of women, the Men’s Rights Movement claims that men are the primary victims of gender discrimination, “casualties of a society that relies on their sacrifices while ignoring their suffering.” And, in fact, Brian Williams’ actions are a perfect example of this dynamic. A powerful, wealthy man appropriates the sacrifice and suffering of other, less powerful men.
In 2003, President George W. Bush (who was never in the military) arrived in a plane that landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. He then posed in a flight suit with actual pilots under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Like Williams, Bush was guilty of stealing glory in the war in Iraq. Not only was the notion of an accomplished mission completely untrue from a military standpoint, but it also created a fraudulent visual narrative during his presidency by posing in a war hero’s uniform on an aircraft carrier. Like Williams, these privileged, sheltered men want the valor of heroism without facing any of the actual danger. This is particularly painful when veterans, who are predominantly male, have historically been treated so poorly when they return to the US after their military service.
Men like Bush, who represent the 1%, routinely exploit and mistreat other men. In blue collar or body-based work, from war to manual labor, these privileged men keep their hands clean, but profit from other men’s dirty work. So the Men’s Movement is accurate when pointing out that the majority of men are exploited and oppressed. And they are also correct that this oppression is based on their gender.
Indeed, with endless examples like Bush and Williams, I would argue that grievances about sacrifice and exploitation of the Men’s Rights Movement have a very valid basis. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, many men in the movement have decided to target women, and particularly female sexuality with their most vicious hatred. One such man, Paul Elam, is known for his infamous quote that some women go around “with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.” Elam was the focus of a recent BuzzFeedNEWS article, “How Men’s Rights Leader Paul Elam Turned Being A Deadbeat Dad Into A Moneymaking Movement.” The article painstakingly documented the lies and hypocrisy of his rhetoric towards women. According to the article, “Elam relinquished his parental rights in court and refused to pay child support.” 25 years later, he told his daughter “he was sorry he had failed her,” yet he reportedly rails against “a family court system rigged against dutiful fathers.” According to BuzzFeed, “Elam calls [his organization] ‘the largest men’s human rights group of its kind anywhere,’ though it does few of the things human rights groups typically do. It provides no services, offers no legal aid, and litigates no cases. It does not regularly lobby lawmakers, advise candidates, produce public policy proposals or original research…[instead, it] focuses on ‘bringing attention to injustices’ by ‘pushing for a change in the dialogue’ and publicizing the plight of men mistreated by society.” Which really amounts to Elam mouthing off. According to his daughter, “If they were focused on legislation, or even just creating an open dialogue, I could see a true validity for what they are doing, but they haven’t done that. They have no intentions of actually creating a solution. It’s been almost 10 years and they have nothing to show for it.” She goes on to say, “Here you have men asking him for advice on how to get kids back, and he doesn’t say, ‘I was a really shit dad and a drug addict and I hate women and I’m not going to talk about my estranged kids…’” Further, Elam’s organization “is a for-profit limited liability corporation…Asked repeatedly by BuzzFeed News how the donations were spent…Elam said, ‘It’s none of your fucking business.'” Later, he confirmed that “every dollar goes right in my pocket.” Elam is like the mirror image of Williams and Bush; they want to play heroes when they aren’t. Elam wants to play victim when he’s not.
Elam can get rich off of an oppressed constituency that is hungry to hear its concerns articulated. Elam is exploiting men’s desire to be heard and validated, even as he takes their money under false pretenses. And instead of directing their anger towards making change, he inflames his constituency’s misogyny. It is far easier to join in the systematic scapegoating and attacking of women’s sexuality and agency than to take the risky path of challenging the wealthy and powerful men who actually run things. And it’s easier to take their money and mouth off that fight for justice for poor and working class men. Which makes these leaders in the Men’s Rights Movement just as cowardly and exploitative as men like Brian Williams.