The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that, among other things, tracks the activities of hate groups across the country, has added two male supremacy organizations to its list.
SPLC will now monitor A Voice for Men, a group based in Houston, and Return of Kings, a group based in Washington, D.C., as part of its Hatewatch program. This is the first time SPLC has included so-called men’s rights activists in the ongoing project and designated their organizations as hate groups, although SPLC first began tracking men’s rights groups in 2012. “The vilification of women by these groups,” SPLC declared in an announcement, “makes them no different than other groups that demean entire populations, such as the LGBT community, Muslims or Jews, based on their inherent characteristics.”
SPLC’s decision arose from the striking similarities their researchers noted between these groups and white nationalist groups, which have been re-invigorated since President Trump’s election. “It became clear that they treat women the same way that white nationalist groups treat minorities—by demeaning them and describing all women as a group as lesser beings,” intelligence project director Heidi Beirich said. “Often, the language is just awful, calling all women bitches and worse. So this year, in the two cases where what we were tracking functioned as groups, we added them to the list.”
Men’s rights communities often overlap with other hateful communities, such as neo-Nazi groups and white nationalists. They were also at the forefront of the #GamerGate attacks on prominent women in gaming and media, including Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian and developer Zoe Quinn. In 2014, a mass shooting in Isla Vista was carried out by a man who espoused male supremacist talking points.
Men’s rights groups are established largely in response to perceptions of men as victims of an oppressive society that, according to pro-men’s rights Redditors, empowers women and not men with social capital. This perception stems largely from a frustration from men that women have the power to deny them sex. Recognition of prominent men’s rights groups as hate groups comes at a critical time in our nation’s history—one in which the President himself has repeatedly espoused the idea that diversity and inclusion are detrimental to white men’s rights and opportunities. In the Trump era, when someone who said on tape that men can “grab” and “do anything” to women, with or without their consent, sits in the Oval Office, these groups have arguably become more empowered than ever.
Of course, Trump’s language, policies and behavior that could easily contribute to legitimizing male supremacy hate groups is not limited to the notorious Access Hollywood tape. In the wake of a white supremacist gathering that left dozens injured and one dead in Charlottesville last year, Trump himself recited white nationalist talking points. Earlier that year, Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, met with men’s rights activists. Trump’s demands around military staffing come down, largely, to an attempt to cleanse the military of all but cisgender men—prior to his proposed bans on trans people in the military as president, he suggested women should not serve on Twitter as a civilian. He has repeatedly defended and even protected men accused of sexual abuse. His promises to restore an older, traditional time—when white men were empowered and all women were subjugated—were likely all music to the ears of men’s rights activists.
These groups foster and feed into dangerous narratives of hypermasculinity. In their glorification of traditional toughness, and in portraying women as oppressive figures and themselves as merely fighting back for their right to be men, violence is not only commodified but also celebrated. In far too many cases, the results of inflated hypermasculinity escalate into violence—just consider the correlation between gun violence and domestic abuse. And on an individual, less grandiose scale, men’s rights groups also significantly attack survivors of sexual assault by leading attacks on their credibility, and painting them as harmful to men.
Celebrations of traditional masculinity by men like Trump—of “toughness” as an excuse to decry marginalized voices as excessive, weak “political correctness”—not only threaten women and other marginalized communities, but also the very foundations of democracy. The categorization of speech as “political correctness” is a mechanism used to silence and invalidate that speech, suggesting that it is irrelevant and even that it violates the free speech of sexist, racist, intolerant men by daring to hold them accountable for what they say and do and the harm it may cause individuals, communities and entire societies.
According to SPLC, in this regard, their rise and emboldenment could have some relationship with the current presidential administration. “I can’t speak to what has happened since the election, but they have access to this administration that didn’t exist before,” Beirich said of men’s rights groups and their relationship with the White House. “You may remember the Betsy DeVos hearing on sexual assault included these types of organizations.” These groups have arguably received legitimacy and implicit support by a presidential administration that has not only met with them, but also shifted policy to favor their demands for survivors to be held to higher, unrealistic and often damaging standards. The Education Department’s reversal of Obama-era Title IX policy will deny many survivors justice—and the men’s rights groups empowered by that decision are largely founded on the idea of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies, an idea that unsettlingly trivializes rape and assault.
It seems worth noting that men’s rights and pro-masculinity groups differ dramatically from masculinity scholars, who holistically assess masculinity, the expectations of it and the rejection of men who don’t conform exactly to it. Hypermasculinity and its consequences for women, for male and female survivors of sexual assault, should be studied and discussed—just not how male supremacy groups opt to do so.
The power and harm of men’s rights groups, today, seem to have only grown more potent. SPLC’s recognition of male supremacy groups that stereotype, attack and dehumanize women couldn’t have come sooner—and marks a crucial step toward protecting women and democratic society in an age of renewed political power vested in fringe ideology.