Mike Buchanan, speaking at the 2018 International Conference on Men's Issues. Copyright: Mike Buchanan, 2018. All rights reserved.
Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia gathered in London last weekend for the fourth International Conference on Men’s Issues, organised by Mike Buchanan, the founder of a fringe, anti-feminist British political party called ‘Justice for Men and Boys’.
Two hundred delegates attended the three-day event from a record 24 different countries, making it one of the movement’s biggest yet. “It’s the largest gathering of the men’s rights movement in the world, certainly, in terms of a men’s issue conference that is very clearly anti-feminist, there’s nothing like us in the world,” Buchanan told 50.50.
I spent considerable time trying to convince Buchanan I was not the feminist my previously published work might make me seem, before he’d consent to allow me to attend the gathering – or even tell me its location. Burrowed in the far reaches of London’s Excel centre, security at the meeting was tight; I needed my passport to get past a burly man wearing a Trump 2020 cap.
“It’s the largest gathering of the men’s rights movement… very clearly anti-feminist. There’s nothing like us in the world.”
Last year, Buchanan tried to organise a similar conference in Birmingham Football Club, but the venue cancelled it after a football blogger wrote about its “sinister undertones.” There’s also the risk of women’s rights campaigners protesting outside but, Buchanan says, whenever feminists protest, “it’s a PR disaster for them. It reveals how driven by hatred they are.”
Several women attended and spoke at the event, but in a smaller breakout room ahead of the keynote speech by Karen Straughan – a Canadian YouTuber (with almost 200,000 subscribers) and, in Buchanan’s words, “the most important anti-feminist in the world” – I was, briefly, the only woman in a room of entirely white men.
I was close enough to the front of the main room to clearly see the graphic images of a baby being circumcised and a number of posters disparaging different high profile women and feminists as ‘whiny’, ‘gormless’ or ‘toxic’.
Posters disparaging high-profile women inside the conference. Credit: Lara Whyte/Copyright: Justice for Men and Boys.
Male circumcision – or male genital mutilation (MGM) as the MRAs call it – is one of several rallying points within this movement. On Saturday, a video showing circumcisions was screened. A horror story of a procedure gone wrong is also one of the supposed ‘turning points’ in the faux-journalistic journey undertaken by Cassie Jaye for her film, The Red Pill.
This film has been banned from cinemas in Australia for being “misogynistic propaganda” but it remains on Amazon Prime. Jaye attended the conference with her husband and was treated like a celebrity; all of the younger MRAs 50.50 spoke to said it was her film that got them initially involved in the movement, and many of the men self-identify as ‘Red Pillers’.
The Red Pill “misogynistic propaganda” film was banned from cinemas in Australia. It remains on Amazon Prime.
Straughan’s talk – ‘Why women must consign feminism to the dustpan of history – was a peculiar mix of personal anecdotes, riffs on “female privilege” and “gynocentrism” and the odd scattering of decontextualised fact. She said women need to “give up their privileges” and take up their obligations to men. “Is there only a handful of us women who love their men?” she asked the crowd, which gave her a standing ovation.
Paul Elam, founder of the website A Voice For Men in the USA, joined via video link. After a speech in which he described women as “opportunistic parasites in the lives of men”, he was greeted to rapturous applause.
“Society piles complete and total responsibility on men for its existence” he said. “Almost all the sacrifice, of blood and sweat and of life that is required to keep the world turning, to keep us living in relative comfort and safety, is male sacrifice. Women won’t do it. Women can’t do it.”
The de facto leader of the MRA movement, Elam is listed as a purveyor of “male supremacy” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), “a hateful ideology advocating for the subjugation of women.” He is perhaps best known for declaring October “Bash a Violent Bitch Month”, in a blog post he later claimed was satire to draw attention to violence against men.
An anti-circumcision protest in 2015, Texas. Photo: Bloodstained Men & Frends/Flickr. CC BY 2.0. Some rights reserved.
The list of MRA grievances is long but, like any extremist movement, there are a few uncomfortable truths spurning the fury. These include the low attainment of some boys in schools; male suicide as a leading killer of men under 50 in the UK; higher levels of women entering higher education in some countries (‘female supremacy,’ as the MRAs call it); male circumcision, or MGM, and the lack of provision for male victims of domestic violence.
No two delegates willing to speak to me gave the same reason for their involvement in this movement. One from Oslo said he felt that he was being “thought controlled” in his native, gender equality-loving Norway. “We are sacrificing the truth,” he said. “Going in the wrong direction.”
“I’ve got two young boys now and I am quite worried about the future they will have,” one delegate, Luke from the UK (who would not give me his surname), said. He described his children “growing up in an education system, a workplace system that kind of disenfranchises them.”
That men are disenfranchised by women was accepted as fact by all of the delegates and speakers I listened to. Their fury and frustration was palpable, at times distressing. This anger and what appeared to be their shared mourning of an idealised past could be why the men’s rights movement has been described as a “gateway drug” to the alt-right.
“Male supremacy was fundamental to the foundation of the racist ‘alt-right,’ notes a recent SPLC report. “It is characterised by angry rants blaming feminism for the decline of Western civilisation and deriding feminists as “Social Justice Warriors”.
“Male supremacy was fundamental to the foundation of the racist ‘alt-right.’”
One young Scandinavian attendee, who wouldn’t go on the record for an interview, nevertheless stayed to debate with me the “disaster” of London’s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan, the “courage” of US President Donald Trump, and how his country was being “destroyed” by “dangerous immigration”.
There was much quoting of research and statistics -- but similar to the propaganda film The Red Pill, sourcing was light, or cherry-picked. It became exasperating: facts on everything from domestic abuse, violence against women, the extent of the gender pay gap were rejected and derided as part of the “feminist tissue of lies”, in Buchanan’s words.
Truth and lies and, in particular, how lies are used against men, was a running theme of the event. “Every feminist claim has been debunked a thousand times” according to Buchanan. “There is not one feminist narrative that is not one of five things -- a baseless conspiracy theory, like patriarchy, a fantasy, a lie, a delusion or a myth.”
Assembled delegates at the Men’s Rights Conference in the London’s Excel Centre. Picture credit: Justice for Men and Boys.
MRAs get their truths from YouTube, which Australian activist Brian Moloney described as his “gateway drug” to this movement and “a very male environment.” Buchanan added: “The internet has been a energetic enabler of our movement for men’s rights – just like it has with other movements.”
Oliver Hoffman, founder of an Austrian men’s rights party called Männerpartei, talked openly about how MRAs should work with white nationalists, and two US MRAs told 50.50 that they believed these movements were linked (but were unhappy about this).
Buchanan flat out denied such links when I presented them to him. “I know your organisation gets money from George Soros; the left utterly dominates the mainstream media, so the narrative is anyone to the right of Jeremy Corbyn is a Nazi and far-right,” he said. “The idea that there’s any connection between the far right and the men’s rights movement is just nonsense.”
“Young men should be furious,” Buchanan told me. “When you actually understand how the world is stacked against you, anger is a really reasonable response. Frankly there should be a lot more anger. Men should be marching on parliament in their millions.”
Additional reporting by Adam Bychawski and Camille Mijola.