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The rise of the men’s rights movement

Women are right to be fearful of the growing popularity of online misogynists like Daryush Valizadeh and Jordan Peterson, says MAEVE MACKINNON

LET’S talk sobering statistics. Tens of thousands of men visit message boards which promote online male misogynist radicalisation. 

Often under the banner of “men’s rights,” the movement is promoted by a collection of writers and YouTube broadcasters spreading reactionary and anti-feminist propaganda. Male misogynist online activity has also been linked to a number of terrorist attacks since 2011. 

Six months ago, I discovered a worrying trend emerging on social media within my contacts — social media shares of YouTube lectures featuring bloggers and authors such as Jordan Peterson, spouting reactionary and anti-feminist arguments. 

My question is, in an age of increased awareness around gender equality, why have these ideas resurfaced? Who and what fuels it?

One of the more extreme elements are the “incels” (short for involuntarily celibate) — an online community of men on internet forums such as Reddit who discuss the overthrowing of feminism, plot violence and rape against women and in some instances commit mass murder. These cases are, thankfully, rare.

Much more concerning due to their online prominence are video bloggers-turned-authors such as Daryush Valizadeh and Paul Elam. 

Elam is founder of A Voice For Men website — listed by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in its 2012 issue entitled The Year in Hate and Extremism in a section called Misogyny: The Sites. He also suggested October should be branded Bash a Violent Bitch Month.

Valizadeh has published 15 self-help books and broadcast videos that suggest state-sanctioned rape and misogyny so blatantly that sanctions imposed on him include bans on his book sales by PayPal and Amazon and a travel visa denied by Australia. 

Some 58,000 people signed a petition to ban Valizadeh from speaking in Scotland and 92,000 people signed to ban him from Britain.

But individuals promoting such overt misogyny are not the real danger here.

In the case of Jordan Peterson, ex-professor-turned-YouTube-blogger, his 1,490,430 followers on YouTube largely stem from sales of his bestselling self-help book, 12 Rules for Life and his numerous self-help video lectures.

Frequently described by his fans as an alternative “freethinker,” he appears, superficially at least, to be a charismatic lecturer and writer. 

But according to many sources, including The New York Times, his radicalism masks a thinly veiled reactionary political agenda.

Peterson’s teachings seem relatively innocuous at first glance, until you get into the nitty-gritty of his arguments. His relatively new-found popularity and wealth was kick-started by a YouTube series in September 2016 entitled Professor Against Political Correctness. 

According to the Guardian, “Peterson was troubled by two developments — a federal amendment to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act; and his university’s plans for mandatory anti-bias training. Starting from there, he railed against Marxism, human rights organisations, HR departments and ‘an underground apparatus of radical left political motivations’ forcing gender-neutral pronouns on him.” 

His ideology unfolds as a grand conspiracy theory awash with contradictions and, crucially, a staggering level of anti-Marxist rhetoric. 

His true colours are exposed in his two-and-a-half-hour lecture, “Identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.” Peterson’s dismissal of the idea of white, male privilege and indeed inequality serves as a tool he believes is designed to enable the Marxist-postmodernist forces to seize control of the state. 

He characterises progressiveness, which he terms, “postmodern neo-Marxism,” as totalitarian and evil. It’s not difficult to draw parallels between this term and the nazi conspiracy theory “cultural Marxism,” whereby Marxist intellectuals apparently plotted to destroy the West.

His equating of masculinity with order and feminity as representing chaos, illustrated by tales of female witchcraft, Biblical allegories (Eve and the snake, anyone?) and other ancient traditions, are particularly troubling, not least given the number of followers who seem unable to see past his intellectual spin masking blatantly reactionary views.

Grinnell College in Iowa observed in an article titled Subcultures and Sociology: “Without regard to how systemic oppression works, MRAs [men’s rights activists] flip feminist narratives, often using liberal, progressive, or even logical and scientific-sounding language to spread anti-feminist ideas.”

In the last few years gender inequality has frequently hit the headlines and seeped into public debate. We’ve seen the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 and various coalition groups tackling pay inequality. 

In terms of reproductive rights, the Republic of Ireland voted to legalise abortion last year. The New York Times famously helped to blow the lid off the Harvey Weinstein workplace abuse scandal, empowering movements such as #TimesUp and #MeToo to help call time on sexual harassment and abuse within the film industry. These are big gains for 2018, but we cannot be complacent.

Today our gateway to the world is the internet. Much of our socialisation takes place on social media and dating apps, pornography is now easy to access, “fact-checking” on general knowledge has become so unreliable on social media sites that specific search engines have been set up in order to deal with the number of “fake news” stories that work their way into our news feeds.

How do we therefore discern fact from fiction?

In an environment so unregulated, doesn’t the real danger to society, in fact, stem from prominent individuals who are able to appeal in a much more subtle and sophisticated manner to those who believe they have been betrayed by social progress, whereby their fears and suspicions are heightened to react against other, more marginalised groups?

Europe appears to have a short memory when it comes to fascism. We are seeing the rapid rise of far-right politics across Europe. 

This summer one of Donald Trump’s most dangerous aides, Steve Bannon, toured Europe promoting a far-right agenda on behalf of the US. 

Peterson tours Europe this month, appearing in Glasgow on October 27. To date he has sold out venues in Dublin, Amsterdam, Helskini, Stockholm and Oslo. Let’s ensure Britain doesn’t sell out in accepting his reversal of progress.



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