Women’s education rates and income are going up. Violence against women is going down. The attacks on reproductive rights are escalating, but that’s in part in response to the fact that women themselves, especially younger women, are increasingly comfortable with the belief that they are the decider when it comes to what happens to their uterus.In many ways, the argument that women should be fully equal to men has won in the public discourse. Sure, a lot of people still fight against equality, but they often pretend that it’s about something else—fetal life, religious liberty, women’s “choice” to make less money—because even they know openly stating the belief that women are a subclass of people put here to serve men tends not to go over very well with a general audience.
However, there’s one growing trend that, while it’s hard to really get an idea of its size, should be a cause for concern: The number of men online creating communities dedicated to advancing the plain old, unvarnished misogynist belief that men deserve to control women. On “men’s rights” forums and “revenge porn” sites, groups of men are gathering together to find reinforcement for the plain old abusive belief that women who make their own choices about who to sleep with and who to marry are evil, and that allowing women this most basic of freedom is somehow oppressive to men. That there are many men who feel this way is no big surprise, particularly to anyone who knows the extent of domestic violence in this country, violence that is usually rooted in just this belief about male entitlement over women’s bodies. But the fact that they have found each other online and are pumping each other up and feeling more and more empowered by the minute in their ludicrous beliefs should be a major cause for concern.
Two stories from this week show exactly how true it is that these communities are about crafting the belief that women “oppress” men by wanting to be the masters of our own bodies instead of ceding that control over to men. In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the arrest of Kevin Bollaert, who is being hit with 31 charges of conspiracy, identity theft, and extortion for running a “revenge porn” site. “Revenge porn” is a nasty little subset of the Internet where men take naked pictures they usually obtained during the course of a consensual relationship, and they post them against a woman’s will in order to humiliate and harass her. Often, as was the case with Bollaert’s site, the woman’s name, location, and social media information is also provided so that the men who use the site can more effectively harass her.
The name “revenge porn” really points to the fact that this is about establishing the claim that men own women, and women do not get to say no. The men justify putting up the pictures as a form of “revenge.” Revenge for what? Well, usually for something as simple as dumping him. In some cases, the men try to beef up their claim of a right to vengeance by citing cheating or some other relationship infraction. It doesn’t really matter. You have a right to dump someone if they cheat on you, but the belief that you are “owed” the right to “revenge” by stalking and humiliating them is rooted in the belief that you own them and their bodies, and what they choose to do with their bodies somehow is a violation of your rights. While there are (reportedly) a few “revenge porn” pictures of men floating out there, by and large this is a violation enacted by men on women, and reinforced by an Internet community that assures these men they deserve to hurt and abuse women because those women are making choices with their own lives of which the men do not approve.
Similarly, David Futrelle of the site Man Boobz, which is set up to track and mock the “men’s rights” movement, recently discovered that the site A Voice For Men (AVFM) was debating what cover Warren Farrell, who is a sort of godfather to the movement, should put on his e-book arguing that, contrary to feminist claims, it’s men who are the real oppressed gender. All three cover ideas were of sexy women. Paul Elam, the site’s founder, explained the idea behind putting a sexy woman on the cover of a book arguing that men are oppressed: “Imagine the juxtaposition of the title, “Myth of Male Power” over one of these images. The cover alone will challenge the idea of male power in men and women alike on a gut level.”
The argument, which went over like gangbusters on the website, couldn’t be more obvious: Men are oppressed because there are women they find sexually attractive who are sexually unavailable. And that this is the real oppression, and not all that feminist jibber-jabber about rape, domestic violence, abortion bans, and pay inequity. Indeed, that women are actively oppressing men because women don’t accede to demands to have sex with any man just because he wants it.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that there’s no website where women are arguing they’re oppressed because they can’t snap their fingers and have Alexander Skaasrsgard or Ryan Gosling waiting in bed for them. For the anger and vitriol and whining at AVFM to make any sense, you have to assume that men are the rightful owners of women’s bodies. The right of a woman to determine when she has sex and with whom is perceived in these circles as a theft by women of something that rightfully belongs to men. Without this sense that they’re entitled to have sex with a woman regardless of her opinion of the matter, the anger and rage and sense of “oppression” at the mere sight of a woman’s sexualized body makes no kind of sense at all.
Again, there’s nothing new about men who have it into their heads that they are entitled to control women and women are somehow oppressing them by declining sex or declining a relationship with them. Every day women are stalked, raped, and beaten in this country by men who use physical and sexual violence as a form of control over women. The problem here is that these online communities have become refuges for men who want to retain this belief in opposition to a culture that’s rapidly embracing the idea that the owner of a woman’s body really can only be the woman herself. It allows these angry men to coach each other to believe that they’re fighting against a big, mean world that’s stealing the female flesh they’re entitled to control, and to persist with the delusion that they’re oppressed because they can’t have everything they want. As with the increasing attacks on reproductive rights, it would do feminists well to know that women’s increasing control over our own bodies is going to face opposition, and be prepared for a long and ugly fight.