Mar 23 2012
Legislation restricting the rights of women to independently make healthcare choices continues to be introduced in state legislatures at a dizzying pace, accompanied by debates that reveal attitudes about women that harken to a much earlier era. This week, the Idaho state senate debated proposed legislation requiring any women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound first, even if the pregnancy was the result of a rape. Idaho State Senator Chuck Winder suggested such exemptions encourage women to lie. Winder said, “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape.” Winder’s implication that women are duplicitous caused an outcry, and he backtracked from the comment. However the belief that women cannot be trusted has support in the growing community of the so-called men’s and father’s rights movement.
An article in the current issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report exposes the “man-o-sphere” through which this backlash to feminism finds a voice, and the real-life acts of violence that appear to have links to the hate found online. Hundreds of websites, blogs and chatrooms are devoted to rants about feminism and rage filled tirades against domestic violence laws and the family court system. Women, specifically Western women, are blamed for oppressing men through false accusations of abuse and rape, through divorce, and for generally demanding equality in the social and legal realms. Author of the report Arthur Goldwag writes that virtual threats of violence against women online appear to have real world consequences. The case exemplifying the link between belief and action is that of Tom Ball, a leader of the Fatherhood Coalition, who hit his 4-year-old daughter in the mouth and found himself entangled in child custody and child support battles. Last year, he lit himself on fire outside of a New Hampshire courthouse. Ball left a suicide note calling for a male insurrection. He wrote, “[t]he federal government declared a war on men. It is time, boys, to give them a taste of war.”
GUEST: Mark Potok is one of the country’s leading experts on extremist movements and is the editor-in-chief of the SPLC’s award-winning, quarterly journal, the Intelligence Report, its Hatewatch blog, and its investigative reports
Read Arthur Goldwag’s article here.
Read Mark Potok’s article co-written with Evelyn Schlatter here.
Kolhatkar: Welcome to Uprising, Mark.
Potok: Well it’s a pleasure to be here.
Kolhatkar: So the legislation that we are seeing moving through many state legislatures, including the one in Idaho, seem to have a similar sentiment to the so-called men’s movement. Just as an example, Idaho State Senator Chuck Winder suggested that an exemption from the law that I mentioned was being debated would encourage women to lie on exemption in the case of rape. He said: Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes to a physician with a rape issue the physician will indeed ask her about her marriage. Was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by rape? Does this sort of exemplify the kind of attitude we see in the so-called men’s movement, that women are assumed to be lying about abuse?
Potok: Certainly in a big hunk of that world, in the so-called “manosphere” world. I guess to be fair, we should say that there are, I think, undoubtedly people in the men’s rights movement or the Fathers’ Rights Movement, whatever you call it, who are genuinely interested in real issues. I think it’s obviously true that men are not always treated well in the family courts and certainly with a history of the assumption being that the child goes to the mother barring all other things being equal. That said, yes, I found it simply astounding the stuff that we ran across on these websites, the real viscousness that was out there. We had an incredible reaction to the story in terms of some really nasty things that have been written about how this is really a civil rights movement. But the reality is that what these people say, or certainly a great many of them, are things like men are victimized just as much as by women as vice versa if not more so. They make claims that as many as half or even more more of all reported rapes are fake; they’re not true. These are evil women who are simply making these statements in order to defame men, or to win in custody cases, and that kind of thing.
When you look at the actual facts?I did a story to go with Arthur’s story, a colleague and I did, looking at the facts, and it’s not even close to true. The best studies suggest that false rape allegations run somewhere from about two and six point five percent, and that is very comparable to false reports of all other crimes. These people have a very strange view of the world. They think that wicked feminists have ginned up a fake portrait of our society as a so-called patriarchy and that this is a construct in order to demonize men and to hurt them.
Kolhatkar: Now it’s amazing to see some of the things that have been described in this report, but some of it sounds like in the language used in these online forums?is reflected in people like Rush Limbaugh, who uses the term “femi-Nazi” constantly. So do you see these sentiments reflected more and more in the mainstream media?
Potok: Oh, I think absolutely. You’re certainly right. When Limbaugh made his comments, we were just about to publish this piece.
Kolhatkar: These are the comments about the Georgetown University student: calling her a slut?
Potok: Yeah, and calling her a prostitute, and as everyone listening knows, it got much worse than that.
It talked about she should give in her sex tapes and so on if the public was paying for her contraception and what-have-you. In a sense, Limbaugh’s comments helped draw a lot of attention to what we wrote. It was almost like a promotional thing. Yes, we called the story A War on Women, and this was before Democrats started describing what Republicans are doing, and I think with some justification, as precisely that, a war on women.
Kolhatkar: Now this report specifically points out that the so-called men’s movement picks on western women, and there’s this emphasis on women who are considered stereotypically submissive as being a better alternative to western women, women who are Asian or South American. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Potok: That’s right because, of course, this movement is closely allied, at least in a general sense, with those people who go to places like South America or Asia looking for women from societies where women basically act more submissive to men. So I think that’s certainly true.
Another aspect of this world that we write about is the world of so-called pick-up artists, some of whom are I think are essentially benign, but some of whom are really viscous; they’re really woman-haters. We write about one in particular, a guy named Roosh Vörek, who writes these incredibly nasty books about how to pick up women and then talks about women in ways that I can’t discuss on the air without getting you in trouble with the FCC. The language is fairly amazing.
And they have a whole set of strange words, a whole kind of language that goes with their world. For instance, they call men who identify as feminists or in some other way essentially stand up for women or suggest that women are not oppressing men “menginas.” In a way this is club-house-for-young-boys stuff, in another way it’s really quite viscous. And as you mention in the introduction, this kind of ideology, if we can even dignify it with that word, has consequences. A lot of these men, or a certain number these men, went out and engaged in massacres of women. We point out that really the first shots of this war were fired in Montreal. And I’m sure people will remember back in I think it was the early ’80s when a man walked into an engineering school in Montreal, lined up a bunch of women who were in a class there, kicked all the men out of the class, and proceeded to murder 14 women because as he said, feminists were destroying his life. And these women studying to be engineers obviously were feminists and had to die.
Kolhatkar: So Mark what about the child custody battles that result from domestic violence cases? What are the ways in which some of the folks from this so-called Men’s Movement have made strides in furthering their agenda?
Potok: Well they have pushed this diagnosis, which is not a real diagnosis, of a so-called parental alienation syndrome. The idea basically is that well when the kids that we share custody of or who we are fighting over go to stay at the ex-wife’s house, she is busy filling their heads with how evil the husband is and that this ultimately?at least this is the claim, not supported by much evidence, incidentally?that then those kids go out, and they’ll tell the family court judge that their father molested them, or beat them up, and that kind of thing.
The case you mentioned with Thomas Ball, the man who lit himself on fire?it was actually in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts–is a remarkable case because he wrote a huge manifesto about how men should attack police stations, and throw Molotov cocktails, and he was so oppressed, and yet he seemed utterly blind to what had gotten him into this whole cycle, which was he basically smacked his four-year-old daughter in the mouth because he was angered because she licked his hand when he was putting her to bed. He smacked her in the mouth hard enough to draw quite a bit of blood, and he doesn’t understand why that got him into any kind of trouble.
Kolhatkar: Well Mark Potok, where can listeners get ahold of this report?
Potok: It’s online at http://www.splcenter.org.
Kolhatkar: We’ll link to that from our website later today.
Thanks as always, Mark Potok, for joining us.
Special thanks to Paul Orezco for transcribing this interview.