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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
When “Quiverfull” author Kathryn Joyce interviewed blogger Bernard Chapin, he insisted on addressing her as “Feminist E.” You see, Joyce explains, “he never uses real names for feminists, who are wicked and who men ‘must verbally oppose … until our flesh oxidizes into dust.’” Now, Chapin’s slight isn’t particularly unexpected coming from a voice in the “men’s rights” movement, a loosely organized coalition of individuals and organizations that believe feminist-influenced society is oppressing men.
But the movement’s bizarre fringe is nothing new, as Joyce reminds us in an in-depth Double X article. What’s really frightening is the impact men’s rights activists (MRAs) are having on mainstream politics. As more reasonable-sounding leaders and organizations emerge, groups arguing “that false [domestic abuse] allegations are rampant, that a feminist-run court system fraudulently separates innocent fathers from children, that battered women’s shelters are running a racket that funnels federal dollars to feminists, that domestic-violence laws give cover to cagey mail-order brides seeking Green Cards, and finally, that men are victims of an unrecognized epidemic of violence at the hands of abusive wives” are facing unprecedented success. Joyce reports that a group called RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) claims responsibility for blocking four federal domestic violence bills. And with the help of organizations like Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, MRAs are beginning to find a place under conservatism’s big, reactionary tent.
The more moderate men’s rights movement also features some high-profile “converts.” Joyce introduces us to Glenn Sacks, a popular fathers’ rights radio host and writer who she describes as “a former feminist and abortion-clinic defender.” Dismissive of the Bernard Chapins of the world, he’s working toward the comparatively modest goals of increasing shared custody and lightening divorced dads’ child-support obligations during the recession.
What’s so wrong with those goals, you may well wonder. As Joyce illustrates, the issues MRAs are pushing are much more complex than they seem. For instance, divorcing parents are usually able to work out custody agreements on their own. Only 15 percent of cases go to court, and, of those, half involve domestic abuse. Tragically, even in those instances, mothers don’t always have the upper hand. A common family-court defense of fathers whose children testify that they are abusive is something called “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” “a medically unrecognized diagnosis that suggests mothers have poisoned their children into making false accusations against their fathers.” Joyce tells the story of Genia Shockome, a woman who spent 30 days in jail and whose husband was awarded full custody of their children, despite the fact that his abuse had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. Incredibly, Shockome’s story doesn’t end there: After criticizing the judge’s decision in print, her attorney was slapped with a five-year suspension.
As for MRAs’ accusations, inspired by deeply flawed studies, that men and women are equally likely to commit domestic abuse, well, the numbers speak for themselves: “While some men certainly are victims of female domestic violence, advocates say the number is closer to 3 percent to 4 percent, rather than the 45 percent to 50 percent RADAR claims.” Toward the end of her piece, Joyce makes a particularly fascinating point about MRAs’ domestic violence arguments:
Critics like Australian sociologist Michael Flood say that men’s rights movements reflect the tactics of domestic abusers themselves, minimizing existing violence, calling it mutual, and discrediting victims. MRA groups downplay national abuse rates, just as abusers downplay their personal battery; they wage campaigns dismissing most allegations as false, as abusers claim partners are lying about being hit; and they depict the violence as mutual—part of an epidemic of wife-on-husband abuse—as individual batterers rationalize their behavior by saying that the violence was reciprocal. Additionally, MRA groups’ predictions of future violence by fed-up men wronged by the family-law system seem an obvious additional correlation, with the threat of violence seemingly intended to intimidate a community, like a fearful spouse, into compliance.
So, what do we do about the increasingly mainstream men’s rights movement and the worrisome gains it has made? Personally, I’m torn. It’s certainly chilling to hear Sacks empathize (albeit ambivalently) with men like George Sodini, the deeply misogynist Pittsburgh gym shooter, telling Joyce that “the cataclysmic things I’m seeing done to men, it’s always my fear that one of these guys is going to do something terrible. I don’t want to say that, like, I condone it or that it’s OK, but it’s just the reality.” But I also realize that the more marginalized these groups feel, the more extreme (and potentially violent) they become. With that in mind, do we go to war, or do we try and hear MRAs out? Is there common ground to be found, or is the new men’s rights movement nothing more than the old men’s rights movement with a fancy haircut and a flashy suit?
UPDATE: Glenn Sacks wrote to tell us that he feels misrepresented in our post and Kathryn Joyce’s article. He wants to clarify that he does not defend George Sodini.
Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet. More Judy Berman.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)