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UPDATE: I Was A Men’s Rights Activist

Call us naive, but we told Edwin Hodge’s story mostly because we were curious. First: Did reformed men’s rights activists actually exist? And then: What did the world look like to them after they’d abandoned their vehemently anti-feminist ways? We couldn’t have found a more interesting subject than Hodge, a sweetheart of a convert who honestly and measuredly recounted the reasoning behind his change of heart. Unfortunately, the response to his new way of thinking wasn’t so measured.

The MRA backlash against Edwin Hodge was swift and fierce. Almost immediately after he told us his story of leaving behind the men’s rights movement to become a feminist scholar, his former MRA brethren mounted their counter-attack.

They excoriated him on social media, prompting him to delete his Reddit and Twitter accounts. They called him a liar, a “liberal cuck” and everything wrong with the university system. (Hodge is working toward his Ph.D. in sociology.) They inundated his employer with emails demanding that he be fired. At one point, he feared for his physical safety. “There were a couple of weeks where I was really, really nervous, because some kind soul from the MRA community posted my phone number and home address online,” Hodge says.

Fortunately, no one ever paid him a visit, and neither he nor his girlfriend were harmed physically. But Hodge remains shaken by the force of the reaction.

Sure, he anticipated some blowback. A former MRA himself, he was all too familiar with the group’s attitude toward dissenters, especially those who defect to feminism. But he expected his story would encourage other reformed MRAs to share their experiences and perhaps start a dialogue about how to best address the problems facing men. “Instead all I got was an avalanche of vitriol,” Hodge says. “There was not a single person who wanted to discuss with me in good faith.”

The irony is that in his initial story, Hodge says he left the men’s rights movement because it was fraught with “negativity, rage, hate, bitterness and fear.” Rather than proving him wrong, MRAs underscored his point.

The response to Hodge encapsulates what’s so maddening about the men’s rights movement in general. Some of the movement’s pet causes — lowering the suicide and depression rates among men; helping capable fathers regain or share custody of their children; alleviating the financial pressure that many men feel as providers — are worthwhile goals that most people can get behind. But these issues are too often shrouded behind counterproductive, rage-fueled cyberbullying. MRAs constantly complain about no one taking them and their causes seriously, yet fail to see how their antagonism contributes to their negative perception. And while they gripe about not being heard by the other side, many dismiss genuine efforts to engage.

Hodge’s testimonial has negatively affected his research, for instance. Hodge has made it his life’s work to study masculinity, particularly through the lens of the ideological movements men subscribe to. “I’m trying to understand the full scope of men’s groups, from MRAs to male feminists,” he says. But now many MRAs refuse to speak to him.

“That article was me telling my own narrative — a profoundly personal story that had little to do with the broader [men’s rights] movement,” Hodge says. “And it was interpreted as an all-out attack on anyone associated with the MRM.”

He adds, “If there’s any message I’d like to send to MRAs who might read this update, it’s that there are a great number of issues facing men and boys in North American society, and they demand to be examined and addressed. While there are no doubt a great many self-identified MRAs out there who want desperately to solve these issues, their voices are all too often drowned out by the angry shouts of the far more recognizable anti-feminist wing of the movement. And sadly, it seems the more vocal, hardline anti-feminist parts of the MRM seems to be gaining traction.”