By Eliot Metherell
Are men’s rights not worth the time?
Men’s rights activists, MRAs, have attracted a great deal of controversy from some fields in recent years. The rising prominence of men’s sheds and spaces for men to engage with male issues – from self-esteem and depression to relationship troubles and male bonding – has drawn substantial criticism, not least from antagonistic elements within feminist movements. The promotion of male ‘rights’ is more accurately called the attempt to address inequalities within the law and society which adversely affect men; the very existence of which inequalities is often disputed.
Men are not a vulnerable group in society. By and large, they represent half the population and are employed in higher paying sectors of the workforce. Yet money does not buy happiness and male happiness is a subject which is often taken for granted. Real men do not cry, real men provide for their families, real men do not complain, real men sip some cement and harden up. MRAs seek to address the discrepancy in the way that male and female happiness is treated by institutions in society; you would be hard pressed to find a university in Australia which does not offer a room only for women, where they can discuss their problems and find comfort around people with whom they share a unique connection through gender, and you would be equally hard pressed to find a university which offers a room for men to do the same. Recently the University of Sydney Union denied that space to men on campus by blocking a move to establish a men’s shed, this was the same USU that spoke of women’s rooms as a fundamental right for female students. Suicide, depression, relationship breakdown and a thousand other mental health issues touch men in the same way that they touch women but it is only men who are socialised into the belief that the solution is to toughen up and it is only men who are told that they don’t deserve a space to discuss these issues with people of their own gender.
Courts are another space where MRAs have focused their efforts. Child custody orders have long been a realm where men have suffered, ordered in most cases to pay for equal maintenance of their child yet denied custody in over 80% of cases on the back of an outdated socio-legal view that mothers are naturally the best caregivers. The devastating effects of denying a parent the right to live with their child are not limited to one gender or the other and it is undeniable that women are the favoured party in family courts across the country when it comes time to make that decision.
Beyond family breakdown, courts around the world punish men more than women for the same crime. One study from Sonja Starr, professor of law at the University of Michigan, found that after controlling for the type of offence, criminal record and other characteristics, men received 63% longer sentences in average and women were twice as likely to avoid prison altogether. The discrepancy between male and female prison sentences is six times greater than the discrepancy between black and white offenders. Let that sink in; if you think that there is a problem with how black people and white people are treated comparatively in courts, that problem pales when compared to the way men and women are treated.
Men’s rights activists, fighting for male equality in the law and society, are demonised as backwards-looking chauvinists and misogynists, most commonly by the very women who are seeking the same level of equality for themselves through feminism. The name calling on both sides is petty, the need for action is real.