(Not this kind of MRA)
Kyosuke was kind enough to post an article about MRAs, and I got to thinking— why do MRAs even exist? Why am I a feminist man, but not an MRA? What could have led me there?
Here's my armchair sociological argument on what led to the existence of the MRA movement, why we should care, and what we can do about it. I'd LOVE to have people tell me what I'm right and wrong about, and to discuss this further.
MRAs are the byproduct of the same social constructs that lead to misogyny
I think this one is pretty obvious, no? Many of the so-called "MRAs" (most? nearly all?) are men who are marginalized by society in one way or another. I'm not saying this is an "excuse," but it seems to be an underlying characteristic of many of these men. And part of the reason so many of them are socially marginalized is because they do not meet the social standard in one way or another. I've seen this countless times, and I believe that there is a trend. (I do not have a large data set, but I think it would trend that way.)
The problem with these men is that they're not really mad at women (like they think), they're mad at society for pushing them to the margins, and women and feminism make wonderful scapegoats. Thankfully, as I'll argue later, this can be an opportunity.
I suspect in the past these men would have simply been seen as "malcontents" or simply ignored, but the internet gives them a powerful platform from which to spread their message. These men aren't new so much as they're only now able to be seen. I also suspect that in the past, many of these men would have been members of organizations that targeted Irish or non-whites because it's the same kind of scapegoating behavior. They're modern Know Nothings, basically.
This is why MRAs worry me: they're not the disease. They're a symptom. Trying to stamp out MRA thinking without addressing the core issue is like treating a bacterial fever with painkillers. It doesn't fix anything.
Why I didn't fall to MRA bullshit
When I try to understand MRAs, I try to understand why MRAs even happen. And then I wonder, "why didn't I end up an MRA?" I think a few things kept me from going that route:
1. Strong sense of social justice- I was raised with a very strong sense of social justice. My family taught me that everyone should be treated on their own merits. I was given "girl toys" as a boy because I was encouraged to explore all facets of my interests. Nobody in my family ever teased me for liking to sew or being interested in crafts. In other words, my family taught me that I should treat others how I wished to be treated.
2. I always had a strong social circle- I was never without friends, even at my most awkward. I never had to go online to find friends. I was taught very early on to make friends and how to keep them.
3. Strong sense of self- I have a reasonably strong sense of self, and I don't see any reason why supporting others to meet their goals will hurt me. I don't believe that life is zero sum because it's never been zero sum for me. I've only been made more successful by supporting those around me.
I notice that many MRAs lack the three above traits or experiences. They tend to have poor senses of social justice, they tend to be socially isolated, and they tend to have poor senses of self (often tied to external factors like video games or other hobbies.)
And, again, these are things that feminism often addresses: social justice, strong social capital, and increasing self-worth. Therefore, we see the pity that these men are driven to such an intellectually bankrupt movement— the movement that actually cares about them is the one they actively fight.
But even then, I admit that I was rather poorly educated in feminism in school, and only gained hints and pieces of it from sociology classes. It has largely been through the internet that I've better learned what feminism actually argues for. And if someone generally interested in social justice can end up largely unaware, what about people who weren't even taught to care?
What we can do about it
Here's where it gets tricky: not much. At least not directly. Most MRAs are pretty much impossible to bring into the fold. They're too bitter, too angry, and too emotionally misshapen to rehabilitate. The best solution remains to make social change a primary goal. Addressing underlying issues like overly defined notions of gender will go a long way to helping the future iterations of these men to be comfortable with themselves and who they are.
As much as I'm guilty of teasing MRAs, it doesn't help. It really doesn't. Ignore them. Social outcasts want attention, and sites like this give them the attention that they want. By getting into arguments with them we only accomplish to further fuel their fire. It's not worth it. I have nothing against debating serious, legitimate issues— and I'll very often go against the grain on this site much to my own detriment. But when I get a hardcore MRA on my doorstep I close the door.
Here's a big one: stop making fun of "forever alones." This one is tough, because they're like the kernels of MRAs that grow into shit trees, but they are the first stage in the cancer we need to kill. Just because a person is lonely and socially stunted doesn't mean that they are bad. Teaching is hard, and sometimes won't pay off, but it's worth trying.
Finally: don't let them get to you. They will not win. They are on the losing side of history, and they will lose. In the end, just remember that they hold no sway over you. That little "x" on the comment box is very conveniently placed for a reason!