My prior experiences with pro-feminist male spaces has not been positive. After almost 15 years of online activity, I have yet to find a single pro-feminist male space that does not devolve into protecting feminism at all costs. Many of these spaces advertise that they welcome all men and want to hear men’s stories. Yet most of them heavily moderate comments and often block or ban anyone who questions feminism. Rather than including a multitude of men’s voices, these spaces often become echo chambers that constantly repeat feminist mantras while never addressing the issue’s men face.
When I read about /r/MensLib, a pro-feminist male-centric space, I suspected that it would be more of the same. To be clear, I did approach the sub with an open mind. I did not want to prejudge them by assuming that because every prior example I know of turned into an anti-male hug box that their sub would be the same. Yet they did not make it easy to give them the benefit of doubt. From their sidebar:
Think that men sometimes get a raw deal, but don’t want to associate with outright misogynists? Want to discuss men’s issues, but feel like the MRM shoots itself in the foot by obsessing over feminism and SJWs instead?
Welcome to /r/MensLib.
This is a community for discussing men’s issues in a way that promotes men both as individuals and as a group, without demonizing women, feminists, or proponents of social justice. We advocate for constructive solutions to problems men face, including promoting personal wellness, developing healthy relationships, and directing efforts to social and legal obstacles to male health and actualization. We recognize that men’s issues often intersect with race, sexual orientation and identity, disability, and socioeconomic status, and encourage open discussion of these considerations.
That kind of sentiment, especially the attacks on the men’s rights movement and critics of feminism, seeps into every part of the subreddit. While the moderators claim that they “don’t require you to identify as a feminist, as long as you can engage with our approach in good faith and abide by our civility guidelines,” what they mean is “general feminist concepts are integral to that discussion […] [and] if you’re confused by certain terms, we’ll refer you to other resources – but this isn’t the place to debate terminology.”
In other words, if you question feminism or feminist theory in any way, you are not welcome. This makes sense if the intention of the space were to only discuss feminism. However, if the intention is to “create a space for men to discuss male-specific issues and methods for promoting men’s health and well-being,” there is no way to do this without including men who either dislike or reject feminism since the majority of men do not identify as feminists or support the ideology. If one wishes to discuss men’s issues, one must include the men may disagree.
Nevertheless, I wanted to be fair and give the sub a chance. The problem was that after going back and reading the posts from /r/Men’sLib inception, I found little to bank on. For every comment thread that acknowledged the legitimacy of men’s issues, there were bannings, comment deletions, and pointless attacks on the men’s rights movement. There are examples of this behavior, which also came with the obligatory men’s rights movement bashing.
I eventually decided to comment on the sub, fully expecting to be banned once I critiqued the feminist analysis. What prompted my comments was the over-emphasis on feminism rather than any discussion about men’s actual issues.
I observed that over the sub’s existence, the community quickly culled out any non-feminist voices. What was left were people who largely only wanted to talk about feminism, feminist theory, and the negatives of masculinity. For example, the commenters were far more interested in discussing “toxic masculinity” than acknowledging that as a society we ignore female-on-male sexual violence. A similar situation occurred with the discussion of “rape culture” and its supposed impact on male victims. Rather than address what actually happens to men, the feminists wanted to discuss the theory.
Then there are the bizarre back-patting threads in which the feminists congratulate themselves for recognizing a problem men and boys face, despite decades of evidence that feminists could not have been less concerned with these issues. The most galling was one in which the regulars applauded Sweden’s first medical center for male rape victims, yet none of them mentioned that the center opened in 2015. There are dozens of medical centers in Sweden that treat female victims that have existed for decades, and yet this feminist-run country only decided to assist male victims a few weeks ago.
This kind of blind spot is terrifying on its own, yet what makes it much worse is that it is combined with what appears to be a genuine interest (and potential concern) for men’s issues, utter ignorance about those issues, dislike of any critical analysis of feminist concepts, a hatred of men’s rights activists and advocates for male victims, and an assumption that disagreement equals acting in bad faith.
That brings me to my recent banning. I did not expect to last very long in the sub given the moderators dislike of non-feminists and rejection of any criticism. What I found most curious was the reason for the banning. According to the moderators:
You weren’t banned for expressing opinions about your own survivor experiences. You were banned because you constantly use your survivor status as a smokescreen for bashing any article that has a whiff of feminist theory in it, which is not good-faith engagement with our approach to these issues.
The comment in question was a response to an anti-male article featured on the sub. I stated:
I found this to be a rather typical article, complete with the “bad things never happen to men” arguments one sees in progressive spaces. I do not know how it helps or encourages men to speak about their issues by telling them “Who is going to talk these guys out of their self-delusion?”
When you want people to listen to you, consider your ideas, and, most importantly, believe you want to support them, it is usually best not to begin and end by insulting them.
Just once I would like to see one of these articles that does not attack masculinity or suggest being falsely accused of a crime is not bad.
Regarding the latter, as someone who has experienced unwanted sexual encounters as a child, I am also tired of people using that experience as the definitive “worst thing that can ever happen.” It is not the worst thing that can ever happen. There are worse things that can happen. There are certainly worse things that have happened to me, and things that I would gladly trade another 14 years of abuse for to prevent happening.
There are also things that can hurt you as bad as rape. If one cannot fathom how having your entire life upended and everyone you know thinking you are the vilest person to ever live and wanting nothing to do with you could be traumatizing, it would be best to speak to someone who had that experience rather than assert “it’s not as bad as rape.”
That was it. I fail to see how I used my experiences as a smokescreen. I previously criticized feminist concepts without mentioning my experiences at all. The point of mentioning my experiences was to give credibility to my position. I experienced sexual violence, so I have a point of reference from which to make comparisons.
What bothers me more are the numerous deleted comments, particularly one in which a moderator stated:
This comment was removed for two reasons: 1) With all due respect to your experience, it’s just your experience. Disregarding the entire article because the author has had a different experience isn’t good-faith engagement with the ideas presented. 2) The author’s point had nothing to do with ignoring what you call “female privilege,” but was actually about the intersection of gender, race, and socioeconomic status among men. There’s no way to interpret your turning the conversation into “male privilege being some golden ticket that allows access to all the best things in life” as anything but derailment.
The moderator (the same one who banned me and previously deleted my comments on another thread) accuses this person of dismissing the author’s opinions because he had a different experience as the moderator himself dismisses the commenter’s opinion because they had a different experience.
Of course, we cannot determine whether the commenter stated anything close to what the moderator accuses because the comment was removed. That is a rather common tactic among feminists and progressives, however, let us set that aside.
The most glaring issue here is that the comment was removed and the commenter potentially banned for sharing their experience.
How is that not a violation of the sub’s own policy instructing people not to “call other submitters’ personal stories of trauma into question?” How is does this show “this is a community for support and solutions?” How is this an example of “[assuming] good faith and [adopting] a sympathetic approach when members open up about personal hardships?”
Again, we do not know what the person said, however, we can look at my comment and hazard a guess that it may have been as equally benign.
I would love for the sub to prove me wrong and show that they are concerned about men’s issues rather than just bashing men’s rights activists, patting feminists on the back for finally acknowledging men’s issues, and banning male victims who share inconvenient stories. Unfortunately, /r/MensLib looks very much like the Good Men Project from a few years ago.
My takeaway from this is that while some of those participating on the subreddit do genuinely care about men’s issues and want to help men, those running it appear primarily concerned with co-opting men’s issues in an effort to silence the men’s rights movement and push a feminist agenda. They are uninformed about the issues men face, only interested in feminist commentary, and dislike anyone who presents the mildest critique of feminist concepts.
My recommendation is that if you are a male survivor or anyone supportive of men’s issues, be aware of space you are entering should you participate on the sub. While they are not completely hostile to non-feminists and male survivors, they are not exactly allies.