In the wake of the Portland train stabbings that left two men dead and one seriously wounded after they tried to stop a white supremacist from harassing several women, Paul Elam — still probably the best-known Men’s Rights Activist online — posted a tweet that spoke volumes — not about the incident itself, but about the utter moral bankruptcy of the Men’s Rights movement.
When other Tweeters objected, Elam doubled down and began spewing insults — aimed not just at his critics but at the murdered men themselves.
In one tweet, he suggested that the victims themselves were the cause of the violence that left them dead.
In his capacity as a leader of what is essentially a hate movement, Elam has said many terrible things over the years — from his post suggesting that women who go home with men without wanting to have sex with them are “damn near demanding” to be raped” to a short story offering an apologia for — indeed, a glorification of — domestic abuse. These tweets, I think, rank up there with his most reprehensible writings, for two main reasons.
First, as many observers have noted, it was not “chivalry” that killed these men. It was an angry and hateful man with a knife who was harassing women on a train.
Elam thinks it unfair that the tenets of chivalry call upon men to protect women — why should men have to serve as unpaid bodyguards for women, he has often asked? What he doesn’t like to talk about is that these volunteer bodyguards aren’t protecting women from bears — there aren’t a lot of those in my neighborhood — but in the overwhelming majority of cases from other men.
There are a lot of problematic things about “white knights,” as Elam insists upon calling them, but the plain fact is that the “good men” that Elam castigates as terminally stupid would be out of a job if there weren’t so many bad men around harassing and abusing women.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Elam is essentially declaring war on the very thing that sets us apart from brute nature — our ability to feel empathy for others, including people unlike ourselves. A man standing up for a woman who’s being harassed may or may not be engaging in an act of chivalry but it is certainly an act of altruism and basic human solidarity. It’s driven by the same empathetic and altruistic impulse that led so many non-Muslims here in the US to rush to their nearest airports to protest Trump’s Muslim ban.
This sort of cross-cultural solidarity is pretty much the only thing that can save our country from the hatred and meanness that is Trumpism. We need more empathy, not less.
Elam would rather we raise our sons not to feel this sort of empathy towards women. That’s bad enough. But he’s not the only MRA with an empathy problem. And it isn’t confined to his feelings about women.
It’s not just that MRAs are indifferent towards, if not actively hostile, towards women; they lack empathy towards boys and men as well. Indeed, in one notorious post (archived here; I wrote about it here), Elam literally told the “troubled men” who have turned to A Voice For Men for help to ““go fucking bother someone else with your problems” if they weren’t donating money to his site, which is to say him, as he keeps the donations for himself.
Even though he seems to have taken in literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations over the years, he’s never bothered to even try to set up, say, a hotline for men. Instead, he’s set himself up as a sort of ersatz internet therapist for men — he has no actual training as a therapist — literally charging the “troubled men” he claims to be an advocate for $90 an hour to talk to him on Skype.
But he’s not the only MRA who combines a hatred for women with an utter lack of interest in doing anything altruistic for their fellow men.
In the first few years of second wave feminism in the late 60s and early 70s, feminist activists set up shelters and women’s centers and countless other entities designed to benefit women in desperate need of help. In the seven years I’ve been covering the Men;s Rights movement, MRAs haven’t even set up a single hotline, much less a functional men’s shelter. The only notable MRA, er, victory? Being so obnoxious they’ve convinced numerous media sites to shut down their formerly MRA-infested comments sections.
It’s no wonder MRAs feel such hostility towards real heroes. They’re only heroes in their own minds.