Men's rights has now found a mainstream voice in Tory MP Philip DaviesJonathan Rodriguez

Tomorrow, 17th November, the House of Commons will hold a debate on International Men’s Day, led by Conservative MP Philip Davies. If that day doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone: unlike International Women’s Day, which dates back to the early 20th century, and is organised by the UN and other major world organisations, International Men’s Day has only recently arisen, and is largely celebrated by a small, scattered collection of self-styled ‘men’s rights’ groups. These groups vary slightly in their beliefs, but they’re united by the view that men are being victimised by society simply for being male, and that the feminist movement is further holding them back. Philip Davies, for example, gained notoriety this August for lashing out at “feminist zealots” who “want women to have their cake and eat it”.

According to its official global website, International Men’s Day is a day “for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions…while highlighting the discrimination against them”. You might be scratching your head, thinking: “aren’t men’s achievements and contributions celebrated enough already?” Well, not to men’s rights activists (or MRAs). It might be true that the vast majority of celebrated figures in human history, from writers to politicians to scientists, have been male, and it might be true that men continue to occupy the most powerful positions in society, but to MRAs, men are being downtrodden by a politically correct elite.

Visit any popular men’s rights website and you’ll find a litany of complaints: lamentations that society is becoming “feminised”, irate jabs at feminist campaigners and writers, and a whole host of other issues that you probably haven’t even heard of. One frustration that MRAs have, for example, is “creep-shaming” – when a guy tries to come onto a girl and she turns him down by calling him a “creep”. Of course, calling someone a creep is often a legitimate and justified response to sexual harassment, but MRAs characterise this as an example of misandry (the male equivalent of misogyny). In the minds of MRAs, sexual harassment is actually a totally overblown feminist issue, designed to shame men about their masculinity, and the real problem is false claims of sexual harassment and rape, which are apparently rampant.

Ironically, the movement’s desperate attempts to preserve masculinity will only end up hurting the people it is trying to help: men. Look at an issue like male suicide, for example. Contrary to what you might think, the prevalence of male suicide isn’t because men are more likely to be suicidal than women. In fact, not only are women more likely to be suicidal and to suffer from depression, they’re also almost twice as likely to attempt suicide as men. Instead, one of the main reasons that men are more likely to succeed in killing themselves is their choice of more aggressive and immediate – in other words, more masculine – methods. While, according to the Office for National Statistics, the most common suicide method for women is poisoning, the most common for men is hanging.

And that’s not the only way that masculinity harms men. Studies have shown that masculine men are more likely to die from diabetes, to risk cancer, to display sexual entitlement, to commit violent crime – one survey even suggests that bearded men are more likely to be misogynistic. If MRAs really wanted to fight against problems like male suicide, they would be fighting against the pressures of masculinity that encourage men to be violent, impulsive and reckless, instead of complaining about feminism.

Other claims made by MRAs, such as the aforementioned argument about false rape accusations, are just patently untrue. A 2005 Home Office study of false allegations found that the proportion of rape claims made to the police that could be classified as false was just three per cent. A later report by the Crown Prosecution Service found that in a period of 17 months, despite over 5,600 prosecutions for rape, there were just 35 prosecutions for false allegations of rape, and many of those prosecutions involved vulnerable people – young people, people with mental health problems, people who weren’t raped but were probably victims of another crime. Considering the fact that being a survivor of sexual violence already carries an enormous amount of stigma, and that only 15 per cent of women who suffer such violence actually report the incident to the police in the first place, it seems incalculably cruel to try to and fabricate the notion that many of those reports are false, a line of argument that will only further deter future survivors from coming forward.

Despite the twisted illogic of their arguments, however, MRAs haven’t given up, and here in the UK they’ve fought tooth-and-nail against campaigns to raise awareness of sexual assault and promote a better understanding of consent. For example, a popular British men’s rights website, insideMAN, argues that consent workshops, which are now compulsory at many Cambridge colleges, are “deeply uncomfortable and emotionally painful” for young men. Yes: despite sexual violence being rife in Cambridge, with a 2014 CUSU report having revealed that three quarters of students had experienced sexual harassment, apparently the most important thing is that we don’t hurt men’s feelings.

Herein lies the true danger of the men’s rights movement. It’s easy to laugh at MRAs’ more ridiculous statements, but the reality is that men’s rights activism is a legitimate political force in the UK and elsewhere, and its reactionary rhetoric is very appealing to young men who feel threatened by social change. The fact that Parliament is giving the movement legitimacy should concern us all, and we need to be finding ways to combat this kind of reactionism – otherwise, we might end up taking one step forward and two steps back

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