June 18, 2019

Whatever Happened to the "Men’s Lib" Movement

“Early last year, in the thick of the #MeToo maelstrom, my boyfriend offhandedly said to me, “Men need consciousness-raising groups.” Rape and harassment were dominating the news cycle, it’d never been clearer that even dudes we know and love might be abusers, and yet conversations about it with his guy friends were stilted, brief, and rarely personal. Men needed a space among other men they trusted to address their own hostility toward women, he argued, however latent; where they could work out the ways the patriarchy was hurting them, too; where they could really talk about their feelings. He wished there was a way to demand more engagement among men, to push them further than just smiling, nodding and continuing to do whatever they wanted in their personal lives.

At the time, the notion seemed impossible to imagine—most people publicly talking were women, many saying a version of “Shut up and listen,” with most men following suit (and paying the consequences when they ran their mouths). But it turns out a men’s movement like the one my boyfriend imagined did exist in some form, back when Second Wave feminism was first starting to gain steam. For a handful of years in the 1970s, there was a minor but visible “men’s liberation” movement. Unlike the modern Men’s Rights movement, they were ostensibly in favor of women’s liberation and forged alliances with prominent feminists, though their intentions remained diffuse and difficult to decipher. Men’s liberation groups formed at a specific time in American history when radical energy was in the air, the concept of “authenticity” was the highest form of enlightenment, and men across the country were confronted with their newly liberated wives and girlfriends.

Fifty years later, the closest we have to widespread men’s consciousness-raising sessions are in the annals of incel subreddits, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) forums, and YouTube comment threads under Jordan Peterson videos—many of them oozing with anger, resentment, and sometimes violence towards women. And while the rhetoric of today’s groups is more blatantly anti-feminist, their roots can be traced back to these 1970s “men’s libbers.” One of those men, in particular, eventually wrote the “MRA Bible” that inspired Paul Elam, who would go on to found the flagship MRA website A Voice for Men. This is the story of the few years when men tried to spark a parallel, pro-feminist movement linking the personal to the political, with varying levels of success—only for it to go very, very wrong.”

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