The first time I saw the term 'Men's Rights Activist' I did a double-take, as I had difficulty believing that such a thing could possibly exist. It's one of those terms that eats its own tail with its inherent ridiculousness, like 'Dolphin Swimming Coach'. Such a farcical concept was clearly not one worth investing my time and curiosity in so I let it lie. But I kept seeing it here and there and my curiosity grew ever more, erm, curious. Earlier this week I punched Men's Rights into Google and discovered, to my astonishment, that is an actual "thing" that exists and not some huge piss-take. There are activists, think-tanks and speakers across the globe devoted to the issue.
It turns out that where men are concerned, centuries of dominating business, politics, religion, law, economics, academia, the military, sport and entertainment just isn't enough. Men's Rights Activists (MRA for short, because you need a catchy acronym these days if you want people to take you seriously) seek to address and discuss discrimination and inequality suffered by the male population in everyday life. I guess this all started when some guy was bursting for the loo and maybe the Gents was too busy or closed for cleaning so he had to use the Ladies and got told off for it. "I'm not standing for this!", he thought, "I should be able to piss where I like! Who do these ovary-wielding oppressors think they are?!" Then he and his mates got together and held a meeting in a fort made entirely from cushions while holding torches under their chins and decided they were all tired of being turned away from women's toilets. And lo, a proud new era in civil rights began.
One of the most high-profile examples of MRA is Fathers For Justice, a campaign group dedicated to equal parenting rights. They used to dress up in superhero costumes and scale buildings in their deeply serious and not-at-all-desperate-for-publicity campaign stunts. Apparently they all wear suits now because they want to be taken more seriously (maybe you should have started doing that from the beginning, Daddy-O) and there are now several splinter groups with names like "Fathers 4 Justice" and "Real Fathers For Justice" because no-one can agree on the best way to achieve equal rights for parents if you're a dad who skips child support payments or has been charged with domestic violence . If these chaps really want the same parenting rights as mothers then maybe they should undergo radical surgery that enables them to bear children. They'd probably wuss out though, like these two guys in that YouTube video who were put through a birth simulation (Google it if you don't believe me).
Another bastion of MRA is David Benatar, head of philosophy at the University of Cape Town. He's even written a book on the subject, entitled The Second Sexism. In an interview with the BBC last year, Mr Benatar referred to recent figures on education as proof of his theory. Tests in 2009 by the Programme for International Student Assessment showed that boys lagged a year behind girls at reading in every industrialised country. And women now make up the majority of undergraduates."When women are underrepresented as CEOs of companies that is deemed discrimination," he bleats, "But when boys are falling behind at school, when 90% of people in prison are male, there's never any thought given to whether men are discriminated against." Maybe boys are just a bit more thick, Dave, ever considered that? Also I'm not sure how the correlation between being turned down for a job interview and doing time for rape/murder/robbery exemplifies gender bias, but perhaps that's why I'm just some monkey on a laptop and David Benatar is top brass at a major South African university.
Another stirling example of male solidarity is the US-based National Coalition For Men, a "non-profit educational organisation that raises awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys." They've totally got a point, just look at how many female Presidents the United States of America has had recently! If you take a wander around their website then you can see these fruitcakes blather on about topics like "Anti-Male Media Bias" and "Genital Integrity". I was particularly disappointed at the latter because at first I thought that was some awesome industrial metal band but it turned out to be some claptrap about dongs and foreskins and stuff. Buzzkill.
It would be easy to write off Men's Rights activism as some sort of kooky fringe movement if it weren't so deeply insulting, to both men and women. A handful of statistics says it all: figures obtained last year from the Chartered Management Institute show the average salary for men in the UK in 2012 was £40, 325. For women, it was £30, 265. You, as they say, do the math. Last year's reshuffle of the Government cabinet reduced the number of women cabinet ministers from five to four. Of the top 200 companies in the world, almost half have entirely male executives. Only six had a female CEO. You can argue as much as you want about tokenism but however you slice it, it is still very much a man's world. Unless, of course, you're a delusionist living in some make-believe fantasy land. It's very difficult to defend the rights of a gender that, last I checked, had the monopoly on those rights in the first place.