Protest Saturday: Misogynistic MRA Conference in Detroit

This 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 is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in many print and online literary magazines, in addition to being anthologized in Best of the Web 2010 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her non-fiction has appeared online RH Reality Check, AlterNet, Common Dreams, and Socialist Worker. As a member of The Organization for a Free Society, she participates in a variety of activist work for social justice.