Last year, a mixed martial arts fighting star known as War Machine allegedly beat up his ex-girlfriend, adult performer Christy Mack. In a statement released on Twitter shortly after the accident, Mack said that War Machine, who legally changed his name from Jonathan Koppenhaver to that of Iron Man's superhero sidekick, broke into her home in Las Vegas. He reportedly beat up a friend of hers who was also in the residence, and then, turning his fury on Mack, broke 18 bones around her eyes, broke her nose in several places, shattered several of her teeth, fractured her rib, stabbed her repeatedly with a kitchen knife, ruptured her liver with a savage kick to the torso, and attempted to rape her. He's expected to go on trial for attempted murder in September.
The attack was shocking for its brutality, as well as the week-long police manhunt that followed, but it also brought renewed attention to War Machine's previous stint in the slammer for felony assault. The last time War Machine was in jail, he maintained a prison blog by handwriting letters to a friend, who typed out the missives and posted them online. For people looking at what may have motivated War Machine to do something so heinous — other than the fact hurting other people is literally his job — one post in particular stood out:
The oppression of MEN is worse than oppression of Jews in Nazi germany, worse than the slavery of Blacks in early America … I'm not exaggerating either. Every Jew & every Black man, both in jail and those who have managed to avoid it, will attest to what I have just wrote … Being a MAN is BALLS not brawn!
So don't think you were too weak or small to be the MAN I'm talking about. So many of you ARE MEN but you got trapped by the oppressor. Every time you fight the urge to tell your wife 'NO!' or you tell your son, 'Don't punch the bully, go tell instead,' YOU ARE LETTING THE OPPRESSOR WIN!
Think on it … P.S. Before people cry about me comparing the oppression of MEN to the Holocaust and slavery, let me illustrate a few things. The oppressor has learned from history that dead bodies attract too much attention to what's going on, or YES, there would be millions of dead MEN! They'd love that quick fix!
In order to be elusive and to have longevity, the oppressor has learned to kill MEN while their bodies remain alive. And with your 'spirit extinguished' you're nothing but a fucking zombie, a shell of a man, waiting to die. And THAT is just as bad as death itself. The animals at the zoo are as good as dead just as we are, the MEN in America.
For the uninitiated, War Machine's rant seemed like the ravings of someone dealing with serious anger issues lashing out at anything and everything. But to others, the post was a way to connect the MMA star with a school of thought that's bubbling in dark corners of the internet for years — the men's rights movement.
Every many will realize it- sooner than later- MMA Fighter : Men’s Oppression Is ‘Worse Than Slavery’ http://t.co/qNWdc7mEZQ
— Mens Rights Movement (@MensMrm) August 23, 2014
But the real story is far more complicated than that. For their part, many other men's rights activists decry what War Machine did — with the noted exception of Daryush Valizadeh, better known as Roosh V, one of the most visible and extreme men's rights activists. As it turns out, War Machine isn't held up as a spokesman for men's rights. His complaints about men not being able to be the macho psychopaths nature intended them to be aren't even really central to the movement's concerns. But his frustration about a society that appears to be slanted against men: This is a nexus commonality.
At its core, men's rights is a reaction against feminism, a direct attack on the results of the feminist movement. But in that reaction, the movement is allowing a group of people — largely young, white, single, and heterosexual men — to develop a shared class consciousness, to realize that the anti-feminist opinions they've felt afraid to say aloud are shared by others, to find a voice for these opinions outside of the standard Democrat-Republican political structure within which they have never felt entirely comfortable.
Coming together in places like Reddit's r/MensRights community, the men's right movement has spent recent years growing into one of the most polarizing forces on the internet, and increasingly, they're trying to get organized.
Online anti-feminism is having something of a moment. In May 2014, University of California, Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger left behind a video that reminded many observers of sentiments professed by some in the men's rights movement. Likewise, the rage-filled joystick jockeys of Gamergate fought tooth-and-nail against the introduction of any sort of feminist criticism of video games and its assorted culture.
While arguments against feminism are nothing new — conservative talking heads like Rush Limbaugh have amassed fortunes railing against "feminazis" for decades — these events, though only tangentially related, have brought significant mainstream attention to the specific online men's rights community. Yet, few seemed to have actually entered these communities and asked organizers who they are and why they do what they do.
When I first reached out to the moderators of the r/MensRights subreddit, I told them I wasn't interested in writing a hit piece. Those pieces have already been written, and any reader who wishes to decide whether or not the movement is full of terrible misogynists or a group of people with legitimate societal grievances will be able to figure that out for themselves after about 30 seconds of scanning the headlines on subreddit's front page.
I also wasn't interested in a full-throated defense of men's rights. The movement's core set of beliefs are deeply controversial and extremely problematic. As much as the faux-objectivity of the "view from nowhere" is, in many ways, just as slanted a polemical broadside, there's a lot of value in simply trying to figure out who these people are and precisely what it is they want.
These types of disclaimers are rarely necessary.
I write about Reddit moderators on a regular basis — even ones, like the volunteers who run r/TripSit, who are exclusively dedicated to promoting activities like tripping your face off on illegal drugs. But the people who run r/MensRights seemed especially likely to be skeptical of someone prying into their personal lives to find out what makes them want to spend a significant portion of their time fostering a community that, while relatively obscure, is almost universally loathed outside of its own small, albeit rapidly growing, circle of adherents.
Reddit's management has done an absolutely terrible job of dealing with the harassment of its users by trolls. While most of the attention has been paid to the bevy of threats directed at women and people of color, white dudes with controversial views aren't immune. Moderators of r/MensRights claim to have been doxed, meaning their personal information (real name, address, phone number, etc.) has been posted online, or have had their employers called in attempts to get them fired — although the mods weren't able to provide direct evidence of this, citing that the incident happened several years ago and that Reddit's search function is terrible. Most r/MensRights mods keep entirely separate Reddit accounts for their r/MensRights activities. It's difficult to link their Reddit activity to their personal lives.
Nevertheless, the mods decided to tell me a little bit about themselves. One in particular, going by the handle sillymod, gave the most insight about what would lead someone into men's rights activism.
"I grew up believing that I was a feminist. My parents divorced when I was young, and my single mother supported and raised two kids," sillymod wrote in a message. "She had a hard life, and believed both in empowering women and that violence and aggression were male traits (and any woman portraying such traits was a product of the men in their lives). This was understandable, considering the violence towards women she had seen in her lifetime, and the rape she had experienced — such experiences have an obviously drastic effect on people."
He saw women as vulnerable and delicate, and as a result, he recounted always feeling uncomfortable around them. "I was so afraid to harm women accidentally or contribute to what society was doing to them, that I was very socially awkward around women," he noted.
At the same time, it was never a view with which he was entirely comfortable. Sillymod took classes in feminist theory in college but felt like he was constantly shot down whenever he raised objections to what he was reading or how he saw his classmates applying what they were learning in the real world. He recalls once being "berated by a feminist" who wanted to start a scholarship program for women in science for insisting that a number of similar scholarship programs already existed and that she could probably make a bigger difference by volunteering at one of those rather starting something new.
Whether or not this advice came unsolicited is almost beside the point. This feeling of being shut down in real-life conversations about women's issues by calls of sexism is one that came up again and again.
"In college, I replied to someone who wrote that the vast majority of domestic violence was committed by men, and therefore all men must help to stop domestic violence," recalled MRmod3, another moderator of the r/MensRights subreddit. "I said that was in fact not true, and that men are not responsible for the actions of other men, anymore than women are responsible for other women. … In response, I was called [a] misogynist [who was] writing 'hate speech.'"
When people like sillymod and MRmod3 first wandered into r/MensRights, they found a place where, even if everyone didn't hold the exact same views as they did, they could at least strongly criticize a broadly drawn definition of feminism without having their opinions and evidence challenged in a way that made them feel like they were terrible people.
It was also a place where, in many instances, they could read other people opening up about the very same issues they were also dealing with in their own lives.
"The issues that really spoke to me about the men's rights movement were that people accepted that women could be violent, too; that it wasn't always men's fault," sillymod explained. "My experience with people claiming to be feminists … was that men-on-women violence was men's fault, men-on-men violence was men's fault, women-on-women violence was men's fault, and women-on-men violence was men's fault. I had internalized that view, due to feminist rhetoric, and it had seriously damaged me.
"The whole time, the secret I was hiding, was that an adult woman in a position of authority had sexually molested me as a child, repeatedly — and my experience with feminism had taught me to believe that it was either my fault, or the fault of the men in society," he continued. "Thus, I hated men. Within the common feminist view, it seems, women aren't responsible for their own actions, their actions were a byproduct of a patriarchal society."