Protest Saturday: Misogynistic MRA Conference in Detroit

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.01.59 AMThis Saturday, a group of protesters in Detroit will rally in Grand Circus Park and march to the Doubletree Hotel, demanding that the hotel cancel the upcoming Conference for Men’s Issues. The conference, hosted by well-known men’s right’s organization A Voice For Men (AVfM) is set to take place at the hotel from June 26th-28th, and many Detroit-area residents are concerned about the organization’s hatred toward women.

Men’s right’s activists (called MRAs for short) have long been notorious in feminist circles, but have become the focus of more widespread attention in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s misogynist rampage, which left six dead last month in California. Rodger himself was engaged with MRA communities online, particularly those known as “PUAhate” and other “incel” (for “involuntarily celibate”) forums, filled with men like Rodger who are angry and bitter about women’s refusal to have sex with them. Rodger left behind a 140-page manifesto and a YouTube video filled with the same kind of toxic anger toward women that is commonplace on MRA blogs and forums.

Leaders in the men’s right’s movement claim that their movement—and the conference—are intended to address issues facing men, yet their focus is primarily on blaming and harassing women. Paul Elam, founder of A Voice for Men, once declared that October should be “Bash a Violent Bitch Month.” He has claimed that women are “freaking begging” to be raped. He blogged, addressing feminist writer Jaclyn Friedman, “I find you, as a feminist, to be a loathsome, vile piece of human garbage. I find you so pernicious and repugnant that the idea of fucking your shit up gives me an erection.” In 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified A Voice For Men in a publication titled “The Year in Hate and Extremism.” It is understandable, to the say the least, that feminists and other residents are concerned about Elam and his followers converging in Detroit, and have at the time of this writing gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition urging Doubletree to cancel the event.

Of course MRAs have responded to news of the protest the way they respond to everything: by harassing women. From the moment the Facebook event page went live, men involved with and sympathetic to AVfM were harassing individuals as they RSVP’d for the protest, with some unsurprisingly going so far as to threaten violence against anyone who attempted to interfere with the conference. At least one woman involved with organizing the march and rally was targeted in a classic MRA fashion, when Jonathan Taylor posted her name and email on the Voice for Men blog. Taylor accused Emma Howland-Bolton, a fifth grade public-school teacher, of being responsible for (unconfirmed) bomb and death threats against the hotel, as well as being unfairly biased against her male students. Other MRAs have since contacted Howland-Bolton’s workplace and the Detroit superintendent of schools in an attempt to have her fired.

Howland-Bolton told me via email,

When A Voice for Men started targeting me, publishing my personal information online—my picture, email, place of work—I guess I was flabbergasted. But I guess it’s not surprising that they acted in such an irrational manner. Sexism is irrational. Misogyny is irrational. So a male supremacist hate group like A Voice for Men that embraces sexism and misogyny is also going to be irrational. They make no effort to be coherent, to connect to reality. In fact, they can’t. You cannot connect to reality if your beliefs are predicated on the assumption that, simply by virtue of your gender, you are superior to another person.

Ironically, while they have been hard at work harassing and threatening women, AVfM has also been doing the other thing they excel at: playing the victim. Elam claims to have received a letter from hotel officials warning the conference organizers that the hotel has been receiving threats, and that “the threats have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and and other guests as well as damage to the property.” Neither hotel staff nor the Detroit Police have been able to offer any confirmation of the threats, but that hasn’t stopped Elam from using this as a fundraising opportunity; A Voice for Men has successfully raised $29,000 to cover additional security costs, an expense that Elam suggested should be covered by feminists.

Some organizers of Saturday’s protest are understandably fearful of potential violent retaliation from AVfM supporters, and are discussing ways to ensure that the peaceful march and rally are held in as safe of spaces as possible—safe both from physical harm and emotional trauma. For women who have survived domestic and sexual violence, it is particularly unsettling to confront men who excuse and even advocate for such violence. But Detroit’s feminist activists refuse to be silenced by fear, and continue to hold out hope that this culture of toxic masculinity can be changed.

To support the protest from afar, activists in Detroit ask that people sign and share the petition against Doubletree, and join the Twitter campaign at #noMRA.

Photo courtesy of zakonslike via Creative Commons 2.0.

Angi Becker Stevens‘ writing has appeared such places as Salon, AlterNet, RH Reality Check, XOJane and PolicyMic.
Her debut collection of short fiction is forthcoming from Aqueous Books.


  1. This is very scary! These men belong in the middle east with the taliban. This type of organization is the same as a terrorist group and should be treated as such. As are gangs and Nazi Youth and the KKK. I am all for freedom of speech but not when it sends a message of hate and violence. This needs to stop, NOW!!! Be safe out there ladies and never give up!!!!

    • Yuval Levnetal says:

      As a proud Muslim, I find that saying “These men belong in the middle east” is very Islamophobic.

      • As a proud athiest, I agree that Jeanette saying “These men belong in the middle east” is extremely Islamophobic. I don’t even need to be of that religious belief to find the statement offensive.

        • Michelle says:

          I’m offended for Muslims, I thought we were fighting for women’s rights not openly hating on religious groups. What is wrong with you people? I’m ashamed to even call you a feminist Jeanette!

  2. Paul Muriello says:

    Jesus, that “begging to be raped” article from Elam is just repugnant. Who do we get in touch with if we want to protest in person?

  3. DeutschundMusik says:

    I can’t support de-platforming anyone as I’ve seen so many feminist events de-platformed recently. But I think the conference, its speakers, and its impact must be looked at very carefully. It is fair to point out that the host, A Voice for Men, may be using the conference to rehabilitate itself and to obfuscate its status as a misogynistic SPLC hatewatch site. Thus, even if the speakers avoid the “gutteral hatred” the SPLC noted and concentrate on moderate issues, they are still drawing in people who do not know the organization’s vicious history. Looking at the event from a psychological point of view, one gets the feeling that it is the Patriarchy openly presenting itself and saying “we’re back”. Maybe this is why the event seem so dangerous to many.

  4. One of the problems we have in our country now is that we no longer know the difference between what qualifies as free speech and what is really just plain old fashioned home grown terrorism. We hold up our Constituional Amendment allowing for “free speech” to such a ridiculous degree that we’ve blurred the lines between what is bona fide dangerous terrorism. We’re over-the-top concerned with stifling a person(s) right to opinion and belief system that we find the need to preserve dangerous terrorism all in the name of democratic free speech. HATE IS NOT free speech. Hate, threats, violence & threats of violence are not free speech. Organizations whose message is to suppress, oppress, instill fear & threaten are not organizations that should enjoy life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. The lines are blurred. If one groups message & mantra is a danger & threat to any part of our popularion, whether that’s minorities, women, children, Muslims etc. they shouldn’t be legally permitted to gather, organize and get away with teaching & recruiting members to join in their tactics against another group. They should be shit down, Screw free speech if it calls for hurting others because you don’t like something about them. Women haters – what they really need is NOT free speech. They need free therpay.

  5. Kristine says:

    Let’s please just ignore them.
    This one of the few times that I think push-back will do more harm than good. AVFM thrives on manufacturing outrage and perceived persecution and relies on it to garner publicity and donations.
    This is one of the rare occasions they’ll come out from behind their keyboards and go to a small to moderately attended event where the usual suspects just spout the same crap they do on youtube. After the event Paul Elam will talk it up, hailing it as an earth shattering success, no initiatives or programs that help men will be implemented and it’ll be back to business as usual in the “manosphere”.
    They want counter-protesters there (and video of confrontations with them) because they need keep the rage fuelled and detract from the fact it’s a lacklustre event that’s preaching to the converted and will never engage in any sort of tangible action that helps men in the real world.
    The MRA “international” rally in Canada awhile back just attracted a handful of dudes (who no offense, looked like what you’d imagine a group of MRAs would look like) that didn’t have much to say, standing around holding signs. The only video from the event that received any attention online is when they were arguing with a LGBT group that were counter-protesting.
    With no manufactured controversy or a perceived enemy to fight with, the event will get little publicity and be forgotten about quickly. With the best thing coming out the event being a token fundraising drive for charity or something (which your local pub probably does better).

    • Jenny T says:

      Kristine, I coudn’t agree with you more than I do now.

      I think that overreacting on this events only leads to us lossing credibility, and I think we should stop making it easy for those who wants to discredit our movement.

  6. Why do they have to come to Detroit, stay out of Michigan misogynist.

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