While it would seem that the manosphere is exclusively the domain of miserable white men, there’s a surprising number of women among it, too. And so, throughout this week, we will present you with six features that explore the lives and beliefs of these women, from femcels to Honey Badgers: Who are they? What have they experienced in life to end up cavorting with men who — to varying degrees — deny their humanity? And why do we know so little about them?
It’s early afternoon on a frigid day in Edmonton, and I’m sitting inside Coliseum Steaks & Pizza, a browning bastion of Canadian gastronomy where silent septuagenarians shovel French fries into their mouths in lieu of conversation. A steak restaurant isn’t where I’d originally planned to meet infamous Men’s Rights Activist Karen Straughan, but given that her back door is frozen shut, her drains are mysteriously clogged and there’s a table saw in her dining room taking a breather between renovations, her suggestion that we meet somewhere other than her place sounds just fine. I barely have time to decide what to order before the door opens and a gust of Arctic air blows a small woman in a puffy black jacket inside. I recognize her immediately from the T-shirts, iPhone cases and fan art she’s plastered on — as the female “face” of the Men’s Rights Movement, Straughan’s now iconic image is everywhere.
With her short, cropped hair, makeup-free face and signature “wife-beater” tank, it would be easy to mistake her for a certified second-wave feminazi, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Though she’s collected, articulate and motherly in person (she’s got three kids), Straughan is a vicious and outspoken anti-feminist and polemicist who believes feminism is a sick, harmful ideology that infantilizes women and disadvantages men. She attacks the issue from all angles on her blog Owning Your Shit and her ever-popular YouTube channel GirlWritesWhat, where her 215,000 subscribers tune in to hear her dissections of everything from the hypocrisy of female objectification — “Why is it deemed perfectly okay for women to objectify David Beckham, while men who waggle their eyebrows at pretty young women are considered pigs?” — to the “bullshit” of male privilege. She’s also a founding member of the Honey Badger Brigade, a website and podcast she started with fellow anti-feminists Alison Tieman and Hannah Wallen that has 10,000 monthly listeners and discusses men’s rights, feminism and pop culture from an “anti-woke” perspective.
Straughan provides commentary that sheds light on the legal and social issues men often face, but it’s her less PC moments she’s known for most. In the past, she’s suggested that domestic violence is correlated with “foreplay, orgasm and post-coital bliss,” that marriage has become “too risky” for men and, over lunch, that women have a responsibility for preventing their own rapes (an assertion recently echoed by Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno to defend his behavior). For this, she’s been kicked off Twitter, called a “domestic abuse and rape apologist” and accused of misogyny more times than she can count.
Not that she cares. Unflappable and seemingly impervious to criticism, Straughan has often claimed she “doesn’t give a shit” what people think about her — if they want to believe she hates women and encourages rape, let them. As long as she’s calling attention to the myriad ways feminism supposedly endangers us all, it doesn’t matter to her how she comes across.
For the uninitiated, the Men’s Rights Movement is a loose, unofficial federation that disputes the idea that only men have power and privilege in society. Many men’s rights activists (MRAs) believe that men are equally — if not more — oppressed than women, and argue that the rise of modern feminism has created unfair social systems and unjust laws that subjugate all genders in dangerous ways.
To the average MRA, men are burdened as providers, discriminated against in divorce and child custody proceedings, ignored as victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and unfairly villainized as the sole perpetrators of both. Many feel that laws that benefit women have displaced them from the labor market and the education system, stripped them of their roles as fathers and reduced them to nothing more than sperm donors and ATMs. They’re concerned about the disproportionately high rates of workplace death, murder, suicide and homelessness for men; angry that infant boys are subject to forced circumcision while girls are not; and on the whole, collectively furious that in a post #MeToo era, false rape accusations against men seem to be rising, with little consequence to the women who make them.
Tour any men’s rights subreddit, blog or website — Paul Elam’s A Voice for Men (AVFM) is the most notorious — and you’ll see that most MRAs feel expendable, like their needs, experiences and opinions are no longer valid, and like they’re in on a secret the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge: That men are the victims in a biased society that’s always favored the rights and interests of women over theirs.
But not all MRAs believe that men are oppressed victims. Some, like Straughan and Tieman, simply don’t buy the idea that one gender is oppressed more than the other. That’s their fundamental beef with feminism, actually: While most people see it as an empowering ideology responsible for imbuing women with equal rights and social agency, MRAs interpret it as flawed dogma that insists that women are the powerless, eternal subjugates of men; we refuse to acknowledge when women fuck up, but can barely wait to point the finger at men.
As such, Straughan is very good at pointing that finger of blame back in the female direction. If feminists put down “Nice Guys” who are angry about being friendzoned, she’ll argue that they’re merely afraid to admit that they prefer men who “don’t necessarily respect [them] 24/7.” If people pick on men for late-life bachelorhood and their growing resistance to marriage, she’ll say of course they’re still single — women’s standards have become impossibly high. If any mortal among us dares to suggest that men might have more power and privilege than women — like when it comes to earning 18 percent more in every occupation there’s reliable earnings data in — she’ll opine how, when a ship is sinking or a building is burning, it’s “women and children first,” never men.
Moreover, when she says something that either absolves men of blame or paints them as the victims of a bias, she melts the heart of her fanbase, who react to her with awe and adoration. “To be important to society, a woman merely has to be,” she says in her much-cited video “Feminism and the Disposable Male,” which has been viewed 1.6 million times. “A man has to do in order for his life to have any meaning to anyone but himself.”
“I am stunned,” one of her YouTube subscribers commented in 2018. “This is the first time in my 34 years that I have ever heard a woman speak as if I am not just a resource.”
“Her videos kept me grounded, sort of,” says a fan of hers on a Reddit thread I posted about women in the men’s rights movement. “I put my plans of suicide on hold and, eventually, gave them up altogether.”
Straughan is articulate and dedicated, so it would be unfair to attribute her popularity, influence and apparent suicide deterrancy solely to her gender (it’s not any woman who could do what she does, after all). But at the same time, she might not have gotten this far in the movement without it. “When men complain about the issues they face, it’s construed as hate speech,” she says, dunking her French fries in ketchup and then gravy. “If you complain about the erosion of due-process rights in sexual assault and domestic violence cases, you get accused of wanting to make rape and domestic violence legal.” On the other hand, women aren’t only “allowed,” but expected to complain. They have the privilege of being the “trusted voice” on gender issues, she explains, so when they speak up, people listen. A redditor sums it up: “Karen Straughan is a core reason why internet MRAism took off; the fact that she’s a woman only helps out the movement.”
To the casual observer, it might seem crazy that the human emblem of men’s rights would be a woman, and yet another example of men creating problems and expecting women to solve them. But to those familiar with the movement, a female mascot makes perfect sense. According to Elam — an admittedly belligerent MRA who Bloomberg recently named the movement’s “unofficial leader” — women have supported men’s rights since day one, and a growing number of anti-feminists like Straughan and Tieman continue to do so today (both he and Straughan estimate about 10 percent of their base is female).
That’s not totally surprising — there have always been small groups of women who’ve campaigned against feminist causes like women’s suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive rights (just as there have been many men who’ve supported so-called “female issues”). But when I ask MRAs why women might buy into a movement that seems to conveniently ignore historical and contemporary instances of female oppression — Tieman tells me she doesn’t agree that “men oppress women anywhere, anytime” in “any culture” — I get a surprisingly kumbaya answer: Men’s rights is about equality.
Er, at least it started out that way. In the 1970s, the men’s liberation movement sprung up amongst men and women interested in rewriting traditional gender roles and challenging assumptions about who and what men could be. A contemporary of feminism, the two ideologies co-existed in peaceful harmony for years, each working toward what feminist Andrea Dworkin referred to in her 1983 book Right Wing Women as “one standard of dignity, indivisible by sex.” (According to GQ, Elam would later call Dworkin a “300-plus-pound basilisk of man-hate” who just “wanted to be raped.”)
As time went on, though, feminism and men’s rights began to diverge. The more educated, employed and financially independent women became, and the greater influence they started to have in politics and the media, the easier it was for the men’s rights camp to argue that feminism had achieved its goals and the fight for women’s equality was no longer needed. They began to see the strides women were making as an overreach of the “equality” they’d already created and they doubled down on their defense of patriarchal gender roles as a defense. By the 1990s, the movement had taken on a notably contrarian stance that aligned more with past movements like the Federation for Men’s Rights, which formed in Vienna in 1926 to “combat all excesses of women’s emancipation.”
In 1993, Warren Farrell (a one-time feminist who many consider to be the father of men’s rights) published a book called The Myth of Male Power in which he argued that the perception of men as powerful and privileged was false and that it was them, not women, who were the real oppressed gender. This idea was pure inspiration to men like Elam, who, along with a new generation of MRAs, began to aim their spears not at gender roles, but at the beast of feminism, without which they insisted — and continue to insist — that everything would be better. This, of course, is in spite of the fact that many of the inequities men face are enforced by other men, not feminists. To name a few: The draft, which many MRAs cite as the ultimate gender asymmetry, was conceived of and enacted by male politicians. The Violence Against Women Act, which does a notably poor job at protecting men, was authored by Joe Biden and his male colleague Orrin Hatch. Meanwhile, traditional gender roles that prohibit male emotion and encourage violence were created by men and are often encouraged man-to-man.
Today, the movement is disparate, leaderless and ideologically all over the place because, as a redditor so eloquently explains, “A lot of the talking points and beliefs held here are still brutally rejected by society as a whole, and not many people are willing to put their neck on the line and drop their anonymity to voice their concern about men’s issues in public.” That’s probably because the ones that are have given the movement a sour reputation with an undeniably misogynistic bent. Take, for example, a few of A Voice for Men’s more clickbait-y headlines. There’s “Can Harvey Weinstein Get a Fair Trial?”, “October Is the Fifth Annual Bash a Violent Bitch Month” and “When Is It Okay to Punch Your Wife?” At one point, Elam had a doxxing project called Register-Her.com, a now-defunct website modeled after a sex-offender registry where he published the personal information of “lying bitches” who either disagreed with him or committed an offense against a man.
On the female end of things, Janet Bloomfield, an MRA who is widely considered to be among the most extreme, has published articles on her blog Judgy Bitch such as, “The World’s Most Retarded Feminist: I Have Found Her” and “Why Are Feminist Women So Fucking Pathetic?” Thus, when Elam says things like, “I love women. Tell the world I love women!” on a recent phone call, it’s not particularly convincing given the evidence above.
Still, most MRAs insist they’re only responding to the vitriol spewed at them by feminists who refuse to look past the headlines and read what they’re actually saying. They’re perfectly pro-women, they say; all they’re asking for is equality under the law. For that reason, they tend to resent being lumped into the “manosphere,” an online genus of largely misogynistic men’s groups that can’t seem to make up their mind between ignoring women and exterminating them (incels, red-pillers, pick-up artists and Men Going Their Own Way are all part of this sect). Yet though the general consensus among academics and the media is that MRAs are the more mild and subdued members of manosphere culture — Reddit’s various MRA subs are relatively genial compared to these other groups — there’s still the sense, that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) puts it, while they “voice legitimate and sometimes disturbing complaints about the treatment of men, what is most remarkable is the misogynistic tone that pervades so many.” Because of that, the SPLC recently classified A Voice for Men — which both Straughan and Tieman have written for — as a “male supremacist hate group.”
Members are offended by this classification, and point to some of their more reasonable arguments to defend against it: There are far too few domestic violence shelters for men; male rape victims can be required to pay child support if their rapist gets pregnant (even if they were minors when it happened); and the majority of rape victims in the military are thought to be men who are too afraid to come forward. Then there are the disproportionately long sentences men are given compared to women for the same crime and the concerning amount of acceptance we have toward female perpetrators of domestic violence.
Elam says that when MRAs try to talk about these issues in a calm, rational way, they’re “severely patted on the head and ignored,” accused of whining, written off as basement-dwelling neckbeards or given the ol’ toxic masculinity treatment and told to “suck it up.” Part of that, of course, may be because the inequities they’re referring to don’t happen in a vacuum — they happen in the context of inequities of women, people of color, impoverished people, queer people, trans people, disabled people and anyone else who has historically been marginalized. It’s hard for people to direct their sympathy and attention to a group of people who have not only historically had the most power and privilege but been the ones regulating the power of everyone else — though MRAs would argue men’s power and privilege is falsely inflated and no more influential than anyone else’s. As a result, their tactic is to be extra loud and controversial in order to be heard. “Without that rhetoric, none of this would have happened,” says Elam. “Do I regret saying that if a man hits a woman after she’s been beating on him then it’s not assault, it’s self-defense? I don’t. That was simply to generate enough outrage to get clicks.”
And it did. But in the process, he also shot himself in the foot. His reputation as an extremist has stuck — as have the reputations of other well-known, bull-in-a-china-shop MRAs like John Hembling — rendering his opinion and knowledge inaccessible to the those who can’t quite wrap their heads around his claims that chivalry kills people or that women are biologically predisposed to cheat on their beta husbands because they treat them with respect (and are, therefore, cucks).
That’s where Straughan, Tieman and the rest of the (mostly female) Honey Badger Brigade come in (there’s a token guy named Brian on the podcast). Named after the viral video of the “crazy, nasty-ass honey badger” who “doesn’t give a shit,” they’ve developed a critical, effective arm of the men’s rights machine that uses their femalenesses as a loudspeaker to amplify the voices of men, take down feminism and put the tired idea that men are villains and women are victims to rest. (If you ever want to hear about women behaving as badly as men, try this episode on for size.)
Crucially, the Honey Badger Brigade and its followers seem to market themselves with a certain approachability that’s absent in more male-centric MRA spaces (this very non-threatening video of several of them having what looks to be a nice ladies’ day at the beach would be a prime example). But while they’re hardly docile, Straughan says this also means they’re not viewed as extreme as A Voice for Men or some of the other male-run MRA projects. “Nobody really finds the things that I say particularly extreme,” she says. “I don’t think anybody finds most of the things that Alison or Hannah say particularly extreme, either. They just find the idea that we exist extreme.”
Part of that, I’m guessing, is because the Honey Badgers have a knack for making bristly issues palatable. In person and online, Straughan is funny and gregarious with a killer deadpan and a knack for storytelling that helps mask the bitter taste of some of her opinions and anecdotes. Once, she tells me, she almost took “disgraced right-wing troll” Milo Yiannopoulos for a pony ride. He called her “darling” at a journalism conference in Florida and joked that if she played her cards right, she might be his “once a year.” “Every now and then, he has sex with a woman to just to remind himself how much he hates it,” she says. “He’s lovely, really.”
Despite the fact that I’m well aware of Yiannopoulos’ many bigotries (he’s a neo-Nazi), there’s something about her self-assured composure and the gently chiding “mother knows best” tone of her voice that lulls me into a false state of assuredness about what she’s saying, and I find myself listening to her more outlandish statements — like adolescent boys are more affected by sexual abuse than girls because they’re more emotionally vulnerable and constitute a different type of victim — as if I were watching Maury, not about to fact-check everything she says.
Why? Well, the truth is that she’s a woman. I trust her more. I intrinsically feel more comfortable talking with her about these issues than I would a man. MRAs might jump on that as an example of “benevolent sexism,” or gender bias against men, but I’ll cop to it — as Tieman points out, most of us are socialized to see women as the compassionate moral barometers of society (thanks, Bible), so when we hear them talk about right and wrong and good versus evil, we tend to trust their opinions more than men’s. Having witnessed that effect first-hand, it suddenly becomes clear why Straughan, Tieman and Elam all agree that in many cases, women make more influential MRAs than men. “Unfortunately, men have no voice in this arena,” says a redditor on r/mensrights. “If men say anything, they’re called crybabies, whiners, incels, neckbeards living in their mother’s basement, etc… So since we can’t speak for ourselves, if we don’t have some women speaking for us, we would have no voice at all.”
The only question is what kind of woman would. When faced with a movement whose most prominent voices have called for a “Dumb Fucking Whore Registry,” whose members have pondered lowering the age of consent to 12 and who have written that some women “walk through life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH — PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads,” it’s fair to ask: What would possibly compel a woman to put men’s rights first?
One way to answer that question would be to ask someone on the outside, someone who knows a lot about anti-feminist women. Michael Flood is a pro-feminist, gender and sexuality researcher and professor of sociology the Queensland University of Technology who Straughan calls her “biggest detractor.” If you ask him, some women might go the men’s rights route because it allows them to make a “patriarchal bargain,” meaning that they “accept patriarchal gender roles that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power they can wrest from the system.” Because they’re such convincing proponents, they might be harder to judge as misogynistic (that would mean they hate themselves) and may therefore receive “disproportionate media attention because of this.” Similarly, they might get an unusual amount of support from male MRA advocates, who see them as doing God’s work for them. Looking across the table at Straughan, that part, at least, appears to check out.
Naturally, exactly zero Honey Badgers see it that way, as a colorfully worded email I receive from Straughan after our meeting explains, and most of them vehemently reject the idea that their affiliations have anything to with pleasing the patriarchy at all. So, rather than take someone else’s word for it, I pose the question directly to Straughan, Tieman and another Honey Badger — an equally fascinating camgirl named Anna Cherry — who offer to share not just their beliefs with me, but where they came from.
For her part, Straughan was raised just east of Edmonton in a sleepy suburb called Sherwood Park. Her mother was a “super tomboy” who scraped concrete in a bikini and boots, and her father was a mechanic whose motto was “If there’s no blood, it doesn’t hurt.” He taught her to butter floor tiles and run coaxial cables through a wall, proud of the way his youngest daughter’s interest in “guy things” seemed to be turning her into a “dirty old man in the making.” Both he and her mother spent years teaching her how to fix and build everything they could, and she learned at an early age how valuable self-sufficiency could be.
Her family was close and her home life was happy, but she and her two older sisters liked to play rough. As a trio, they were more interested in punching than princesses, so by the time she got to grade school, she was prepared for whatever adolescent fight club it had in store. One day, she noticed that a bully was breaking blocks of ice over her friend Carl’s head, so she walked up to him and coldcocked him in the side of the face. The blow took him by surprise, so he swung around and decked her right back (more than once, for posterity). But when she returned home bloody and bruised, her mom didn’t panic or blame the bully. “What did you think would happen?” she asked as she dabbed Straughan’s wounds with Mercurochrome. “If he really starts picking on you, I’ll talk to his mom, but I’m not going to call her just because he hit back after you hit him first.”
That sentiment stuck — it was one of the first times she realized that sometimes, people do bad things as a reaction to bad things that are done to them. Later in life, some would interpret this an apparent sympathy for male rapists — who she suggests are merely reacting to being abused themselves (usually by women). But at the time, what her mother meant was this: “Pick your battles, and then fight them.”
The sexual assault she experienced a few years later would not be one of these. When she was 14, she was walking to the corner store with her dog when she ran into a pair of neighborhood boys hanging out at a nearby playground. She knew they were trouble, but she also knew they’d have cigarettes, so she tied up her dog and asked if she could bum one. Within a few moments, they were groping her, trying to pull her shirt over her head as they fumbled for her zipper in the dark. But when a passerby noticed the scuffle and started to walk toward them, they got rattled and ran off.
It was jarring, but the first thought Straughan had afterward was, “Well, that was dumb.” Why would she have stopped to talk to them when she knew they were dangerous? Why would she have tied up her dog when it could have protected her? Almost immediately, she blamed herself (a very common reaction for sexual assault and rape victims that’s actually been correlated with revictimization). “I was being bad,” she remembers, taking a sip of wine. “I was an idiot. It was just a bad judgment all around on my part.”
She blamed them too, of course — her actions didn’t excuse what they did — but she walked away with the distinct feeling that it was everyone’s fault, not just the boys’. “I don’t know why, but I didn’t really experience deep trauma from that,” she says, explaining that she never identified with the term “victim.” “All I really experienced was the feeling of, ‘Phew, that was a close call.’ And I’ll never repeat those mistakes again. Acknowledging that I made mistakes actually made me feel safe.”
Flashing forward again, that same idea — that women have some responsibility in preventing their assault and that affirmative consent laws have gone too far (a controversial belief shared by Camille Paglia, who sparked outrage after suggesting it was “ridiculous” that anyone would wait to report their rape) — would lead to more accusations of rape apology and victim-blaming, but she’s clung to that calling card because it helps drive one of MRAs’ most central arguments: That feminism subjugates women by keeping them locked in a perpetual, fear-based “victim mindset” (she has a whole YouTube playlist about this).
“Feminists want you to think that there’s nothing you can do to prevent rape because it could happen at any moment and any man could be a rapist,” she says. “You can’t feel safe walking home alone at night. That’s a horrible thing to do to women, to give them that idea. It makes it so they’re always afraid. They think they have no agency; that they’re just people things happen to. Well, I don’t think that gives women the credit they deserve. I don’t think women give women the credit they deserve.”
Why, though, sweat what feminists think so much? Anyone can care about an issue and engage in some light social media warfare around it, but why give your image, name and nearly all your valuable time to defend it?
To this, she shrugs, shakes her head and sits back in her chair like she’s still trying to figure it out herself. I try to pull the armchair psychoanalyst card and ask her if it had to do with how she was raised, but after a moment of deeper thought, she replies: “Because someone was wrong on the internet.”
My blank stare eggs her on. “I’m looking at issues like rape and domestic violence, and I’m seeing that they’re going both ways,” she says. “Men do it. Women do it. They do it for pretty similar reasons, and to each other. People generally see these things as crimes that only men commit in order to control and subordinate women because ‘patriarchy,’ but that’s completely bogus. How are you going to solve a problem if you completely misdiagnose it?”
To her, “solving the problem” would mean restoring due process to key areas of the law like paternity rights and in rape trials and domestic violence proceedings. It’s not like she’s looking for “stonings, or anything like that,” but she says a return to a sort of Ten-Commandments style of justice where women are held as accountable for their actions as men (particularly in the “thou shalt not bear false witness category”) would work for her. “Even if we’re not going to put women in jail when they do it, they should at least be named and shamed,” she says. If they’re granted more leniency than men, or if we blindly side with them, we do nothing but fuel the fire of binary gender roles that say women are weak and need special help. To Straughan, that isn’t equality. That isn’t “owning your shit,” as it were. That’s just more proof of the problem.
I meet Alison Tieman in Canada, too. This time, it’s at an airport hotel in Saskatoon, the frozen “Paris of the Prairie,” and the closest city within driving distance of Kelvington, the tiny town where she and her husband Jonathan live. They’ve driven three hours through the ice fog to meet me, and the three of us sit in a booth drinking Earl Grey tea. Small and demure, Tieman has piercing eyes and a posture that seems to fold in on itself as she cups her mug in thought. As our conversation evolves, her body language changes. She sits up, turns toward me and starts to talk with her hands, her passion becoming clear as she begins to tell me why she’s quit her job to make this movement her life.
Currently, she’s the control center of the Honey Badger Brigade, the head honcho at Honey Badger Radio and the main strategist for both. According to The Walrus, the show rakes in about $10,000 a month from supporters; enough to keep her and a couple of staff members afloat. The audience has been growing, but lately, she’s been focused on a more humanitarian goal: developing strategies to overcome the “mental health issues that result from framing men’s identity as villainous and women’s as victims of men.” To do so, Tieman runs a private Discord channel for MRAs and other men who use it as a sort of group therapy to talk about the issues they feel demonized for voicing in their everyday lives.
The biggest problem, she says, is that they have “zero self-worth.” They don’t feel they have the “right” to have emotions about the perceived injustices they face or the assumptions people make about them, and so, she spends a great deal of time helping them untangle their feelings and giving them a space to process them. “I know feminists have this attitude that it’s all angry men,” she says. “But the guys that I’m dealing with, they aren’t angry. They’re just so deep in this shame and self-loathing… They’re not even at the point of anger.”
To her, it’s absolutely essential that there be spaces like the Honey Badger universe that give them some light. Otherwise, she says, you run the risk of isolating them so much that they go the way of Elliot Rodger, Alek Minassian or any number of the other incels or red-pillers who have gone off the deep end. “It doesn’t help to continue to ostracize people who are in that head space,” she says. “I’ve had guys tell me that they were going toward that headspace, and [Honey Badger Radio] actually turned them away from it. They felt like they were finally being heard, and they finally could express the pain of what it was, before it became this toxic mess.”
Through that process, many of them are able to get their depression under control, gain the confidence to hunt for jobs and improve their communication skills, all of which play the functional role of increasing their productivity in society. “HBR was the first place I heard more than greeting-card sentiments about the goodness of men,” says iainmf, a r/mensrights moderator. “Hearing someone thoughtfully and genuinely describing what they like about men was like eating a full meal after being malnourished for the longest time.”
Picking apart men’s internalized shame is an interesting life’s work for someone who grew up the way Tieman did. Like Straughan, she was fiercely independent, but with one key difference: Her mother was a hardcore feminist, and so was she. A stint at an all-girls’ boarding school when she was 15 only intensified that, and she came home obsessed with the idea of equality and with the crosshairs of her attention focused on the issue of the draft. “I felt that it was really critical that women also be expected to serve the state in the same way [as men],” she says. “I can’t in good conscience say, ‘Well, I deserve all the rights of a man,’ if that’s something that [only] they have to face as a citizen. How can I say that I’m a full citizen if I don’t also face that?”
Detractors will say the draft is yet another cherry-picked argument MRAs use to demonstrate the supposed oppression of men — Canada hasn’t had one since World War II and doesn’t appear to be going that way anytime soon, so it’s not exactly a pressing issue — but to Tieman, it’s one of the most salient examples of inequality against men, and the one that ignited her interest in men’s rights. “We treat their sacrifice as expendable,” she says, echoing a sentiment Straughan discusses in “Feminism and the Disposable Male.”
Around the same time, her mother’s relationship to feminism started to devolve. Though she was one of the core founders of Calgary’s original Take Back the Night March in 1975, she was fired from the radical feminist magazine she worked for her. Her father was also a target — when he’d volunteer to make drinks at feminist rallies, a number of lesbian separatists refused to even touch the drinks he made. “They didn’t want to have any kind of interaction with men,” she says. “Eventually, [her mom] was like, ‘I can’t handle these people,’ and just sort of left the community.”
But before she did, she, like Straughan’s mother, imparted a lesson: If you’re going to fight for equality, you’d better be prepared to act on it. “If men are going to be expected to do something, I’m also going to do that thing because that’s how equality is embodied,” Tieman says. “That’s the standard I’ve held myself to my whole life.”
Even though she’s written things just as controversial as Straughan — like that feeling undesirable to a woman is the most “profound rejection one human being can muster for another” and that’s what rapists must “endure,” for example — she sees what she’s doing with the Honey Badgers as something that’s making a real difference in the name of equality. “I want to use my actions to affect a goal or improve the world,” she says. “Men’s rights are a way to do that as a woman. In a lot of really real ways, fighting for men’s rights — or at least talking to men in ways that men don’t get to talk — is for everybody. You’re not doing this because you’re subjugating yourself as a woman. You’re doing it because it benefits the larger society.”
Cherry, a 32-year-old Sacramento camgirl, cosplayer and YouTuber who orbits the Honey Badgers and has appeared on their podcast but isn’t part of the core group, has a bit of a different take: Feminism has ruined sex and relationships. That’s not her only reason for joining the men’s rights movement or opposing feminism — she also believes it “infantilizes women” and that both women and men have “absurd privilege and power” yet only men acknowledge it — but as a sex worker, it’s the one she comes across the most frequently.
A lot of her days are spent talking to and performing for men online. Often, these men are nude, occasionally masturbating, and at times, revealing sensitive or taboo desires to her that they’ve been too ashamed to reveal to anyone else. This means that she has a unique window into the minds of men in their most vulnerable and intimate states. If they’re willing to share what they’re thinking with her, then she, more than most people, is privy to the kind of confessions and conversation they feel they can only have with her (the exchange of money creates an expectation that they can be more free with their feelings, she explains). This is pretty standard for sex workers, who frequently report that their clients want to talk more than they want to fuck, but for Cherry, it’s cemented an image of men as ignored casualties of a culture that’s vilified them so much that it’s trickled into her work.
In her YouTube video “TROPES VS MEN Definitions: Patriarchy,” Cherry explains that the men she knows aren’t the ones that feminist narratives have supposedly used to push their agendas forward, and that, in her experience, they’re not power-hungry oppressors with no care or empathy toward women. “They’re depressed, alone, disenfranchised and devoid of accessible emotional outlets,” she says. “The cringe is practically nightmarish when played out, and I’ve even experienced a little of it through the camera…It’s bad enough most well-intentioned men are now unable to have playful jibes and teasing with women without worrying about ‘what is respectful.’” The only way for men to have success in dating, she says, is to be “a complete sociopath that ignores every request that women are putting out there. That’s a very bad situation.”
And while she admits that there are plenty of men who’d disagree with that characterization, she says their resistance is evidence that deep-seated gender roles are just making them act “tough” (or maybe they’re just not depressed or devoid of emotional outlets). Often, she councils them through their shame, listening with empathy when they need her to and performing for them when they don’t. These men have always been patient and kind to her, she says. In many ways, she does this for them.
“The prescription for male behavior given by feminism is literally a recipe for the worst possible version of sexuality,” she says, explaining that women are annoyed that men are treating them with “reverence” and “sensitivity” because, while chivalrous, it feels different than equality. “There’s literally no woman on earth who would associate the hottest sex of her life with being repeatedly asked, ‘Are you okay?’ Let’s be real here, 50 Shades didn’t sell a gazillion copies and was made into movies because women want to be asked for consent over and over.”
She doesn’t send over any data to support this theory, but she does send a tweet:
Per usual, there are some heavy-duty problems with that statement, starting with the fact that 50 Shades is almost universally considered to be a ridiculous, dangerous and inaccurate representation of BDSM (just ask anyone who practices it). The negative conflation of feminism with consent is also odd. MRAs are constantly arguing that women rape men far more than statistics show they do, partly because women are the expected arbiters of consent. But if consent is so awful, should women just stay the course, not ask men for consent at all and assume they want to fuck? Should men not negotiate sex with women because women don’t think it’s “hot”? Also, no one said asking for consent means “repeatedly” asking “are you okay?” over and over like a broken record you can’t unplug from a wall. To put the idea in people’s heads that consent is that clunky and undesirable isn’t only inaccurate, but it’s tantamount to telling them not to ask for it at all.
This, in particular, illustrates one of the more frustrating paradoxes of the men’s rights movement: Many of their brightest figureheads seem to be breaking gender stereotypes and reinforcing them at the same time. For nearly every thought-provoking revelation about the unacknowledged ways we disadvantage men, there seems to be a generalized, sensational inaccuracy that drowns it out completely.
The fact that it’s women’s voices that are most heard in the movement makes this even more of a contradiction. If everyone has their antennae tuned to the “morally trustworthy” broadcast streaming from Honey Badger HQ, isn’t it kind of a bad idea to suggest they act in the very ways that confirm their supposed villainy (act like a sociopath if you want chicks) or put them at risk of false (or real) rape accusations (don’t ask if she’s okay)? It would be short-sighted to characterize the entire movement this way, but the more notable examples are just as worthy of discussion as how little paid parental leave fathers get compared to mothers in many Western countries or that some MRAs are going to court over ladies’ nights and special discounts for women at bars and winning.
Back at Coliseum Steaks & Pizza, Straughan and I get ready to leave. We’ve been talking for hours and the place has cleared out, leaving nobody but our antsy waitress to overhear our flagrant, family unfriendly conversation. Straughan has just finished talking me through why there are probably far more false rape accusations than we think — Mark Pearson is a particularly egregious example — and is now on to a defense of the dubiously real 22 Convention, an upcoming “mansplaining” conference in Florida where manosphere men promise to make “natural born” women “great again” by helping them get back in touch with their “ancient, biological nature” (discounts are available for young women between the ages of 18 and 25). It might be total ridiculousness, she says, but it might also be necessary — if women can critique men and expect them to shape up, why can’t men do the same to women? “People are idiots,” she says.
I walk her out to her car and say goodbye. When she leaves, she’ll go home, feed her dogs and 17-year-old son, put her activist face back on and, like most nights, get back online where she says she’ll “criticize anyone for bad behavior.” A few days later, I log on to Reddit to see what she’s been up to and am happy to see that’s still true. “Make your own fucking arguments,” she says to a redditor who tries to get her to back him up in a conversation about female oppression. “I’m not your errand girl.”