The founder behind a looked-to group in the men’s rights activist (MRA) community used to identify as a feminist. “We really did need a revolution,” says Paul Elam, in a Skype interview. “But it had to involve both sexes.” Elam believes the feminist wave of the ’60s created women as oppressors over men: “Meet the new boss, meet the same boss.”
I spoke with Elam in August. I wanted a better understanding of the men’s rights movement and he seems to be the go-to guy for information. It was surprising to learn he once was a feminist, and that he and I agreed on some things—we both want gender equality. However, there are certain subjects, like rape and the wage gap, that we disagree on.
Before founding A Voice for Men (AVfM)—the group has been online since 2008— Elam worked in the mental health field. He says he was instrumental in starting programs for women with alcohol and drug dependency problems. Working there, he says he witnessed vitriol against men, blaming males while enabling women. He sums up the (apparent) message as: “By the way, you’re a scumbag because you have a penis.” The MRA says by 1993 he no longer considered himself a feminist.
Though Elam says the force behind AVfM is the need for reconciliation between the sexes, he does not deny the offensive tone of the group’s messages. “This [offensiveness] is the rough and necessary beginning,” says Elam. He says the traction will not cease until men’s issues are brought to the table. The men’s right activist (MRA) is clear in saying he wants media attention, but not necessarily its approval. The group has gotten attention from media like CBS News, The New York Times and Ms.
The Houston native says he will work with anyone who has gender equality on their agenda, though he knows Gloria Steinem won’t be knocking on his door. He says, despite sterotypes, MRAs aren’t all white males, over forty years old, divorced, living-in-their-parent’s-basement-losers. Elam says there are female and transgender writers on the site, and all of different racial and religious backgrounds. The group has a women-lead radio program, Honey Badger Radio.
Elam says the group isn’t anti-women, and says he knows “not all feminists are like that.” The website content, however, seems to send a different message: girls ruin video games, girls lie about rape—and that “the male gaze is desired by almost every woman who dolls herself up with makeup, as long as the gaze comes from a man with a fat wallet and nice car.”
And though Elam is firm in saying the group does not tolerate messages promoting violence against women, and such commenters are reprimanded, it’s hard to decipher what is considered violence against women in such a forum. When being interviewed Elam was kind, polite and courteous. It was an enjoyable chat. Yet his response to the University of British Columbia chant (“Y-O-U-N-G at UBC, we like ’em young, Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for go to jail.”) was, as written in a September 9 post: “I swear if I read one more outraged ‘report’—aka feverish, paranoid rant—that twists something stupid into ‘evidence’ of a ‘rape culture,’ I am going to just lose it.”
In theory, feminism and men’s rights activism have the same goal—equality—but it certainly isn’t playing out that way in practice.