The Masculine Mystique

“I don’t mind telling you,” he says, “I am no longer here to debate, or to reason, or to converse, or to hope you may be reached by logic or evidence. I AM HERE TO F–K YOUR SHIT UP.”

 

[Note: This is a short excerpt of a piece originally published in The Daily Beast. You can read the complete piece here.]

 

This summer, two competing Canadian rape-awareness campaigns began popping up on posters across Edmonton and Vancouver. The first, entitled ‘Don’t Be That Guy,’ warned young men that having sex with a woman too inebriated to give consent is considered lawful rape. One of the posters featured a picture of a girl passed out on a couch, with the tagline, “Just because she isn’t saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean she’s saying ‘yes’.” Police in both cities credit the campaign with a 10 percent reduction in rapes over the previous calendar year.

The second campaign is far more provocative.

Using the same images and graphics as the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign, ‘Don’t Be ThatGirl’ claims that many young women who engage in consensual sex later lie about having been raped. “Just because you regret a one-night stand doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual,” reads one poster. The campaign outraged anti-rape groups and law-enforcement officials alike; University of Alberta’s chair of gender and women’s studies Lise Gotell described ‘Don’t Be That Girl’ as a “deeply offensive… rape apologist campaign.”

‘Don’t Be That Girl’ was the brainchild of Men’s Rights Edmonton, a local advocacy group that is part of the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), one of the quirkiest, fastest-growing, and most frustrating civil-rights movements in the Western world today. After its initial media success, other MRM groups began promoting ‘Don’t Be That Girl.’ Paul Elam’s A Voice for Men (AV4M), the MRM’s largest and most visible on-line website, adopted the slogan as their meme of the summer, creating their own images and posts that urged women ‘Don’t Be That Lying Feminist,’ ‘Don’t Be That Bigot,’ ‘Don’t Be That Princess‘ and ‘Don’t Be That Bitch.’

Google “Men’s Right’s Movement” and you’ll come across a host of websites, Reddit threads and chat rooms dedicated to the cause. The most ambitious and influential is Elam’s AV4M. Under the tagline “Compassion For Men and Boys,” AV4M’s pages attract more than half a million page hits a month. In contrast to most other MRM websites, AV4M features female editors and a number of quality female writers. According to Elam, an independent film company is about to start work on a documentary about AV4M, and the site was featured on ABC’s 20/20 this weekend. Peers in the MRM movement quote no other site as often as AV4M; no other site is reviled as deeply by feminist bloggers. Loved or despised by seemingly everyone, Elam is the closest thing the movement has to a rock star. More importantly, Elam, who is now in his fifties, appears to have successfully named his successor: his Editor in Chief, John Hembling.

Most people we spoke with may have labeled Elam the “leader,” but Hembling is the one they talk about most. He is the movement’s most prolific writer. In addition, he co-hosts an online radio show and has produced hundreds of YouTube editorials. MRM members appreciate his combative style, exemplified in essays such as “Why Yes, I Am A Little Angry,” “Facebook Is Feminism’s Admission of Failure,” and “This Is Not A Negotiation And I Don’t Want Your Pussy.” His angry charisma even affects his personal appearance. When one looks at a still of Hembling, he appears somewhat common, with his short, stocky frame and calm, bespectacled expression. Watch him one of his many videos, however, and he transforms into a larger-than-life, sweeping figure. Even in video interviews where he is standing next to much taller men, Hembling somehow becomes the largest figure on camera. He once claimed to have spent two years being homeless before transforming himself into a respected computer programmer and web designer in Vancouver, B.C.

Hembling’s rise to the leadership of AV4M doesn’t come as a surprise to those who know him offline and are unconnected with the movement. They say a strong business acumen and entrepreneurial fire have always separated him from his peers. “Of all the people on our team, he was the hardest worker by far,” says one former business partner. “He’s an idea man and a problem solver,” says a long-time friend. “I can’t imagine there’s anything he couldn’t accomplish if he set his mind to it.” Unlike everyone else in the MRM that I spoke with, Hembling claims that there was no catalytic event—no nasty breakup, no traumatic childhood, no conniving ex-wife—that steered him to the movement. Rather, he says that he was attracted to it by its sheer intellectual merits. (For example, the theorythat women are “without the capacity for moral agency” and unable to grasp the concepts of “personal accountability, ethics, compassion or empathy,” which he suspects is hardwired into the X chromosome.)

In his posts for AV4M, Hembling likes to tell swashbuckling stories that have made him into something of a legend in the MRM. When people call him a “rape apologist” for making comments like “I don’t give a f–k about a woman being raped,” he trots out a story about heroically intervening to protect a female stranger from a sexual assault. When he’s accused of being overly paranoid for recommending that men secretly record phone conversations with anyone they are likely to have sex with, he turns around and talks about the time he fended off a mob of 20-30 feminists wielding box cutters. When his critics say he hates women, he points to the time he protected the identity of a woman who was threatened with violence by “self-identified feminists” merely for offering to debate the merits of feminism.

If Elam is the movement’s rock star, Hembling is well on his way to being its first superstar. Elam and other old-guard activists aren’t getting any younger, and almost every MRM member I spoke with (including those unaffiliated with AV4M) identifies Hembling as the person most likely to be leading the movement in the next decade. If so, it will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the MRM to influence public policy. More moderate MRM members are seeking ways to change public policy on issues that truly do infringe on men’s civil rights, especially the rights of low-income men. Hembling, on the other hand, sees the role of the MRM differently.

“I don’t mind telling you,’ he says, “I am no longer here to debate, or to reason, or to converse, or to hope you may be reached by logic or evidence.”

“I AM HERE TO F–K YOUR SHIT UP.”

 

*      *      *

 

Please read the article in its entirely here.

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