My History with the Men’s Rights Movement

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 For this activist man of a certain age (56), just hearing that there is a Men’s Human Rights Movement is music to my ears. This is a dream come true! Finally, men are standing together and fighting for their equal rights as men – it’s really happening! Those early years in the fight for men’s rights were cold and lonely, really just a few groups spread far and wide resulting in only sporadic success. Before the internet we had protests, meetings, newsletters, and in my case national talk show exposure, but even with that media boost, things were slow to catch fire. I think many men (and women) had ideas about men’s rights but could never connect or network.  Now we’ve grown into a real movement! It’s been a great ride to this point, going from early men’s rights groups to my own cable access show, and now proud men’s human rights YouTuber. With your permission, please allow me to indulge myself and take you on a journey of my life in the men’s rights movement.

My first thoughts about unfairness were in reaction to the mindset at the time, the ’80’s, that women were more caring and emotional. I’m more emotional than my wife, I thought, and I’m a man, so I started thinking about feminism and where men fit in. Then I got divorced and saw first hand how men and dads were treated by the state and family court. It seemed men also needed a movement, so when I heard this dynamic men’s rights activist on the radio I nearly jumped out of my skin! It was Mel Feit of the National Center for Men (NCM, founded in 1987) and he was organizing a rally at a war memorial in Manhattan on Veteran’s Day to protest the sexism of the male-only draft. WOW, I thought, I’ve got to be there! We had signs, we shouted slogans, and most of all I met Mel and Tony Nazzaro, some real hardcore MRAs. This was around 1990 and things were moving along nicely for NCM and NCFM (National Coalition of Free Men, now National Coalition For Men) formed in 1977.

But Mel Feit had special talents: he knew his facts and had his presentation down cold, and so he became the national face of the MRM, appearing on numerous talk shows, from Donahue to Oprah to Jerry Springer (when he had a serious show). I was active with NCM in its golden years, when talk shows were about issues, and a man who sometimes wore a skirt was cutting edge television. He came up with a “Consensual Sex Contract” that would help protect men from false accusations of rape and forced parenthood with a clause stating neither would force parenthood on the other. He also championed reproductive rights for men, at various times bringing lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs who wanted equal rights with women – the right not to be a parent.

No one could touch Mel in any discussion of men’s rights or feminism because he knew his facts and had a dramatic way of winning an argument. No talk show host or opposing feminist was prepared to counter Mel’s unequivocal logic and passionate presentation. Can you imagine the excitement watching Mel on Oprah – and national television – make a dramatic case for men’s reproductive rights? Millions watched… it was exhilarating! When I made appearances on these shows, usually speaking from the audience, I had people recognize me!

He was one of the few people to win an argument with Gloria Allred; he got Oprah to admit a woman could have many babies while collecting child support from each dad; on Jerry Springer Mel announced that he’d always wanted to do what he’d seen feminists do, so he stood up and announced “No woman will ever force me to be a father against my will.” He remarked on the lack of applause by the women in the audience when Springer took the bait and told Mel to “just say no and keep your pants on.” Mel responded: “Some of the arguments against abortion were meant to punish women for having sex; well you’ve resurrected that argument from its grave where it belongs and now you’re using it against men… and you know better than that.” To which, astonished, Springer muttered, “I don’t.” On the same show he asked Melinda Power of the Women’s Action Coalition point blank: “I’m going to make a strong pro-choice statement here – ‘no person should have the right to force another person to be a parent against his or her will’ – do you agree with that statement or not?”, to which she equivocates saying “it depends on what you mean by parent” and that men should still be “financially responsible.” Undeterred, he proclaims “most feminists when they say they’re pro-choice they’re lying to you, they’re pro-women not pro-choice and they think the term reproductive choice doesn’t apply to people with penises and that makes them anti…choice… hypocrites!” Man, you should’ve seen the look she gave him. On one show about rape he tried to explain the reasons why some men might do this, saying that some men lash out in a feeling of “powerlessness.” He certainly had this right as common sense tells you that a man who is committing rape or suicide is not a man who is feeling powerful or privileged.

He also was adamant that in most of his appearances he be allowed to wear a skirt, one of his in-your-face activism tactics. I loved that! His point was, of course, that women have choice of what to wear, he wanted the same choice. To Jackie Mason’s question on why he’s wearing a skirt he simply responds “I’m comfortable,” a point to which Jackie concedes. At one appearance of his I wore a skirt in the audience to support him, agreeing that men should also have fashion choice, but also to cheerfully invade formerly female-only territory. On one “Rolonda” he was on stage with noted DV researcher Murray Straus and George Gillilland (founded the 1st DV shelter for men in the US) debating Charlotte Watson of “My Sister’s Place” with Gillilland confronting Watson with statistics about lesbian and gays that refute her belief that men need to dominate and it’s women who are the only victims. Straus’ research shows that DV is perpetrated by men and women equally. Mel has also appeared on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, the Richard Bey Show, Montel Williams, the Jackie Mason Show (Mel debates Lynn Samuels!), Maury Povich, and more recently The View and Dr. Phil. I remember him debating Lisa Sliwa on the Morton Downey Jr. Show!

One MRA that I knew from NCM, Jim Whinston, (he’s still with them) had always espoused the rebuttable presumption of shared parenting, and in the event that a parent is uncooperative that parent loses custody. I mention him because one year he sent me a card with a cartoon on it that I still remember. It was “The Wizard of Id” and it starts with a messenger announcing to the King “There’s a men’s rights activist at the gate”, to which the King replies “It’s About Time!”

It was so exciting to watch Mel Feit on national TV. Here’s one great statement he made, on Oprah: “We men are going to get our right to reproductive freedom, because women’s choice depends on men’s support, and if we men don’t get this freedom, you’ll see how fast men withdraw their support for women’s choice. From now on, either both men and women will have choice, or no one will.”  He also told how in college he was revolted to see women protesting and claiming oppression while men were getting drafted and dying just for being men.

As membership director of the National Center for Men (NCM), I saw the many letters (no emails at the time) and phone calls we would get after a national show. Many letters came from inmates who sometimes poured out their hearts in tales of woe. We couldn’t help them directly, as you know, as an advocacy group. Our paid members from around the world received the monthly “Men’s Rights Report” that we mailed out from the makeshift office of Feit’s home. Mel hired an answering service to handle the calls we’d receive after one of his appearances. Each year he’d host the annual NCM Picnic, of which I attended just one, the last, an event that brought together the local MRAs and their families, and even the answering service ladies. The Picnic was at Jones Beach on LI, NY with barbeques, kites, and great fun. How much difference we made is hard to say – maybe we spurred some people on into activism, I know I was. I was also enthralled by Feit’s activism and felt lucky to be involved with him and his group. I think Mel formed NCM out of a parting of the ways with Tom Williamson, co-founder of NCFM, possibly relating to the skirt. I remember trying to get Tom Williamson and Naomi Penner (the other co-founder of NCFM) on my cable show, but Tom declined saying he was more or less retired and the Penner show never happened. Harry Crouch at NCFM.org has plenty of info on the early MRM.

We did many protests, some related to domestic violence. We brought our signs and T-shirts to one of those “Clothesline Projects” against DV. We somewhat agreed with their cause, but we were there to say that men are also victims and females are perpetrators. Some were stunned to see any opposing viewpoint, and some agreed that DV wasn’t a gender thing. At one of our protests at the MS Foundation in NYC against “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” (to point out the obvious hypocrisy of the whole idea) a camera crew and reporter interviewed me and others, who I later found out was from Fox and Michael Moore’s “TV Nation.”

So Fox calls me and wants to do a show about the men’s movement, and would I like to be included. Not knowing the show involved – I thought it could be a news piece – I jumped at the chance. They asked what I liked to do, planning to interview me while engaging in some interest of mine. I guess they sandbagged me. Instead of airing what I said at the protest, they tried to get me to say something stupid, which I didn’t. I say this in hindsight because the segment on “TV Nation” tried to discredit the men’s movement by interviewing me and two others, hoping we’d say something outlandish, which we didn’t. Only when it aired did I know it was Michael Moore’s show, as I never even spoke to him. He mostly trotted out the usual one-sided feminist statistics that say men were doing just fine and he did his best to ridicule the men’s movement and paint it as a bunch of angry white males. I think I made a couple of good statements, but all my reasoning went on the cutting room floor. The laugh is on them – I was in a Michael Moore production!

One memorable comment I made was from the audience on the “Rolonda” Watts show, I think the show was titled “Divorce Wars.” One guest told the tale of a controlling ex-husband who owed a lot of child support and was supposedly hiding assets. It was clear to me, if you just step back; I asked “What is the most precious thing to come out of your marriage?” to which she replied “The children” then I said further “You’re saying you’re the wronged party here while I say you’ve got the most important thing of all – your children.” Sure she had a beef, but talk about unrecognized female privilege. On the same show Mel shared the crowded stage with legal expert Jamie Colby, declaring that “while the husband’s role of providing continues after the divorce, the wife’s role ends. I’ve never heard of a judge ordering a woman receiving alimony to go to her ex-husband’s place to do the housework.” I always thought that was great insight. I mention Jamie Colby because years later I saw her as a newscaster on WPIX, then CNN, and now she has her own show on Fox News Channel and is an award winning journalist who got her B.A. when she was 14 and law degree at 22. She was an entertainment lawyer for a time and was Johnny Carson’s lawyer for his divorce.

Here’s a surreal story. Appearing on the “Rolonda” show as an audience commentator (I guess that would be a plant) arranged, of course by Mel Feit and NCM, I was surprised when I was escorted to the Green Room with the shows guests, getting the royal treatment as if I were a guest. I guess they wanted to be sure of some serious commentary from the audience, which I could definitely deliver. “Gender Wars” showcased couples with some problem or other and I met this guy Jack who was going on the show with his girlfriend. He said he was an actor who had just finished filming a movie about three Irish-American brothers, of which he played the eldest. So the show goes on and I make a really unmemorable comment from the audience. What’s cool is that guy Jack was the Jack in “The Brothers McMullen” Ed Burns’ first film and Sundance award winner and personal favorite of mine. He then went on to star in a Snickers commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhEQ066WDAA), while Connie Britton would go on to be an award-winning TV and movie actress.

All of this is the early ’90’s. On the show “Final Take” about sexual harassment, again from the audience, I ask Gloria Allred: “You say sexual harassment is in the eye of the victim. Well, would you agree with me if I said it was sexual harassment if I was offended by a woman wearing a low-cut blouse at the office? It is, in your book, up to me, right?” She waffled and didn’t give a straight answer, as only she could do. Another time I was booked as a guest on “The Charles Perez Show” but bumped into the audience when they realized I was more serious than sensational. Daytime talk television was no longer an outlet for serious discussion of important issues.

In the late ‘90’s I found NCFM and became active with them for many years. In 2002 I started broadcasting a local men’s rights talk show from Long Island, NY, which lasted for about four years. I tackled all the standard topics: circumcision, the draft, reproductive rights, divorce, paternity fraud, and many others. I remember airing the campaign song “Warren Farrell for Governor” written by NCFM member Mark Sutton when Farrell actually ran for CA governor. I had as a guest Steven Svoboda from the Attorneys for the Rights of the Child (ARC) and NCFM to do some shows on circumcision and men’s rights. I recorded an early NCFM-NY meeting for two shows. I had doctors, lawyers, activists, and regular people on the show to discuss men’s issues, as well as the occasional on location protest footage. Here are some links to that show and some protests and activism that I filmed (I’m the guy with the ponytail):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHNA85a6q5w Some NCFM members and I give the male perspective at this annual DV rally in NYC 2004.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCH7YSsjm5w  We attend a fathers’ rights rally in the Legislative Office Building in Albany where we heard encouraging speeches by some NY politicians and activists concerning fathers’ rights.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFA5L9vqZ7M NJ Town Meeting on Paternity Fraud; Highlight is a speech by Carnell Smith about paternity fraud. A MUST SEE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoyYwOd5hZk I demand an apology from Michael Moore for labeling me and the MRM “angry white men.”

One score I made was getting a letter published in the syndicated column “Single File” on the topic of men’s reproductive rights which was well received by Susan Deitz, saying “read his logic, and then REREAD it before passing judgment.” To my amazement, keeping this whole issue alive, my ex-wife gets her own letter published in rebuttal, taking it personal, which it wasn’t. Imagine seeing a letter in the paper signed “(your name here’s) Ex-Wife.”

On March 4th, 2013 some cool intactivists and I pulled off an amazing protest: we interrupted a Clinton Foundation Millennium Network talk at BAM in NY, standing and chanting “Stop Exploiting Africans” and “Circumcision Does Not Stop AIDS,” to protest the misguided efforts to circumcise millions of African men to stop AIDS, stunning the audience, Bill, Chelsea, and actor Ed Norton. Already there’s been good press on the internet about our “action” and a lot of intelligent comments. See intaction.org. or intactamerica.org or their Facebook page to see some photos and videos.

The plan was to attend the Clinton Foundation talk by buying tickets and sitting together in the orchestra and then donning the “Bloodstained Men” jumpsuits (white w/bloodstained crotch) while seated, then standing while zipping up the jumpsuits. Anthony on my right, the head Bloodstained Man, would nudge us to put on our suits and stand, holding hands in a spread-eagle position – to signify the strapping down of a baby boy – while he blew a whistle to get everyone’s attention, and then we’d start our chants. But midway through the talk, Anthony texted the guys – 7 total – that we were ditching the jumpsuit idea as the close quarters and darkness made that near impossible, but everything else was go at the next mention of “HIV” onstage. Then, we got the nudge and stood up, four of us, holding hands and started chanting “Stop Exploiting Africans” and “Circumcision Does Not Stop AIDS,” which we changed to “Condoms Not Cutting.” Bill Clinton responded with “OK, you guys had your chance to speak, now it’s my turn” and then cited the discredited 60% HIV reduction rate argument. We were still chanting but ready to exit so I took a parting shot, telling the Clintons that circumcising Africans would only encourage them NOT to use condoms and ultimately cause more AIDS deaths. We figured we’d made our point so we started our exit and to my amazement no one really was pushing us out but they did make sure that we all left the premises. We were elated how it all went, slapping each other on the back on the way out, glad to have made our point and not gotten arrested. We were, however, approached by what turned out to be two Secret Service agents who asked if we were anti-Clinton and if we had a leader or organization, to which I wasn’t volunteering any information. They were actually friendly and said they appreciated that we were well behaved and didn’t try to stay and cause trouble and mainly that we were simply a group of passionate activists.

But now with the internet the MHRM is finally getting the spotlight it deserves. Men (and women) now have a voice and are freely expressing their opinions about men’s rights. I always knew that eventually the truth had to come out, and now the beginnings of a tidal wave of MHRAs of all flavors are coming together and flooding the internet with their blogs, comments, radio shows and YouTube videos. I’m sure you notice also the lack of favorable comments to feminist blogs and articles – many are negative comments by insightful MHRAs. In the real world they don’t have a following, except for themselves. We’re also slowly creeping – probably the wrong word to use – into the mainstream media. This will only increase, as it did on the internet, because the will of the people and the truth itself cannot be hidden forever. I’m relieved to know that this movement is here to stay and growing everyday, and seeing the young MHRAs in our midst gladdens my heart that we’re on our way to justice and compassion for all.

 Check out my YouTube channel JerryTheother.

My vintage men’s rights cable show “The Men’s Forum” can be viewed at my YouTube channel buck dharma (see shows 45 and 46 for some talk show clips).

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