I was molested at the Men’s Rights Conference [updated]
After weeks of hullabaloo, the controversial activist group A Voice for Men kicked off their first International Conference on Men’s Issues with what was to be an hour-long press conference in St. Clair Shores. The past few weeks have seen A Voice For Men announce Detroit as the host of their first International Conference on Men’s Issues, feminist protesters demand the cancellation of the event, and the relocation of conference from the downtown DoubleTree hotel to a Veterans’ hall in the sleepy suburbs. With so much Internet vitriol being spewed from both sides of the debate for weeks (“MRAs are misogynists!” say the feminists, “feminists hate men!” say the MRAs), I was ready for something of a clash to go down in St. Clair Shores.
As a straight-white-cisgender-heterosexual-male, I was open-minded about the conference — it’s kind of easy to cast straight-white-cisgender-heterosexual-males as the bad guys and also easy to (perhaps unfairly) imagine the International Conference on Men’s Issues as being a straight-white-cisgender-heterosexual-male-apolooza. The backlash against the conference seemed, to me, a little heavy-handed. To deny the MRAs the right to peaceably assemble would only vindicate their feelings of victimhood.
Imagine my complete and utter shock as I pulled up to the lakeside Veterans of Foreign Wars Bruce Post 1146 and not a single megaphone-wielding feminist protester was to be found. Anywhere. Not one. At first I wondered if maybe I drove to the wrong hall.
It seems to me that if you wanted your protest to be visible, you would make it a priority to go to a press conference. Reporters from various national media outlets were there, including TIME. Did the protesters feel they were victorious because of the venue change from Detroit? Will they appear once the conference proper starts this weekend? Are they already tired of this whole saga (like me)? Or maybe in this age of easy Internet slacktivism they wrote “#NoMRA” on a piece of paper, took a selfie while holding it, tweeted it, and felt like that was enough?
Part of the reason organizers said they relocated the conference was due to the fact that the Veterans’ Hall could hold more attendees — more than 300 had signed up so far, they said, and the previous venue could only accommodate 175. Again, maybe it was because it was only a press conference and not the conference proper, but there were not 300 people present. Maybe 30 tops.***
Everything seemed to be running a half hour behind schedule. I spent the time trying to explain the Trick Trick/Rick Ross beef to some curious out of state journalists — possibly the only topic I’m more sick of talking about than the MRAs.
It was at this point that I got molested at the Men’s Rights conference.
An older man came up to me and immediately complimented my hairy arms (a first). He then started telling me all this crazy shit, about how he was from California and he makes movies and he wants to take me to Malibu and loves hairy guys. Regardless of sexual orientation, it was pretty weird. People started filling up the seats around us and I didn’t want to make a scene, so I just politely accepted the compliment and tried to deflect. The dude kept petting my arms.*
That’s when I realized this is the kind of creepy shit women deal with … everywhere … every day. A part of me wondered if the feminists had planted this guy to hit on rape-apologizing MRAs to teach them a lesson about “rape culture.” If that is the case: well-played. Unfortunately I think I was just dealing with a garden-variety creep.
Finally one of the speakers did that thing that bands do at ill-attended gigs where they ask everyone to move to in and fill up the front. We had nowhere near filled up the conference hall. Then Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power, launched into a seminar about the problems boys and men face today.
It was a pretty bleak list, and frankly difficult to disagree with any of it. Boys have less educational opportunities than their fathers had. Girls outperform boys in school. With a lack of opportunities, boys, Farrell says, get their dopamine fix from winning at video games instead of succeeding in real life, and from watching porn instead of talking to real girls. Men who are unemployed can’t get married, men who have families have no choice but to be the breadwinners. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. Farrell even paraphrased feminist Betty Friedan’s “desire for something more,” but swapped the genders.
Hey, wait a minute. All of these problems stem from treating the sexes unequally. It would appear that despite all of their comments thread flame wars, MRAs and feminists are more or less fighting for the same things — gender equality. So why can’t they get along?
Farrell then told an anecdote where he met a man who was depressed by the fact that he couldn’t take time off from his job to be with his son — he was afraid to ask his wife if that was a possibility. It was only after talking to this man for an hour that Farrell realized he was talking to John Lennon.
One of the leaders of the MRA movement didn’t recognize a Beatle. And to think some people criticize the MRAs for being out of touch with the real world.
At this point, Mr. Malibu was getting too cozy** with me and though the allotted hour had passed, Farrell didn’t seem to be ending any time soon. I figured now would be a good time to split.
[*Edited Monday, June 30, 6:30 a.m.: Let's be perfectly clear — this guy was hitting on me. The very first thing he said to me was that he loves hairy guys and that he makes movies and wanted to take me to Malibu. At 3 p.m. At a press conference. Nobody should be hitting on anyone at 3 p.m. at a press conference.
**By "getting too cozy" I mean he was leaning into me as we were sitting listening to the speakers, physically touching me.
***Edited Saturday, July 5, 5:30 p.m.: According to organizer Dean Esmay, total attendance for the conference was over 250. A previous version of this article had stated the DoubleTree's capacity was 275; according to Esmay it was actually 175. The photo below, provided by Esmay, illustrates a more robust attendance once the conference had actually started.
It is also worth noting that video of all of the conference's speakers can be viewed here, so readers can make up their own mind about the International Conference on Men's Issues.]