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Antifeminist men’s groups: An interview with Dr Michael Flood

For those with an interest in gender and men’s studies, Dr Michael Flood needs no introduction. His research and advocacy on issues such as domestic violence, male sexuality and pornography has attracted many admirers, but also the ire of anti-feminist men’s rights groups. Such groups range from mainstream men’s health and fathers’ groups, to those whose cyber-tactics often include abuse, intimidation and stalking, and whose online territory has been dubbed the ‘manosphere’.

Dr Flood recently presented a seminar at the Institute, He hits, she hits: Assessing debates regarding men’s and women’s experiences of domestic violence. After the seminar Rhys Price-Robertson, a Senior Research Officer at the Institute, had the opportunity to discuss antifeminist men’s groups with Dr Flood.

Rhys Price-Robertson: You’ve identified anti-feminist men’s groups as being advocates of gender-neutral approaches to domestic violence. Can you tell me what some of their main concerns are?

Michael Flood: There has been in Australia, for a long time, a kind of network of anti-feminist men’s groups. Some men’s rights groups focus on general issues of gender and violence and so on, and some have a particular focus on fathering and family law. And those men’s and fathers’ rights group overlap. I’ve described them as an anti-feminist backlash because of their views on women and gender and because of the political strategies they adopt.

And one of the issues they’ve taken up is the issue of domestic violence. Because it’s been a focus of women’s movements and feminist actors for a long time, it’s also been a focus of backlashes against those movements. These groups incorrectly claim that domestic violence is gender-symmetrical or that men are a large proportion of domestic violence victims and women are a significant proportion of perpetrators.

RP-R: Some of the media I’ve been looking at—such as articles that discuss the ‘manosphere’—has talked about an increase in the toxicity of the discussion on some the men’s rights websites. Have you noticed this?

MF: I think it’s going both ways. People have paid more attention, in the last year or two, to anti-feminist men’s websites. And some of those websites are incredibly toxic, venomous, and misogynist. That’s not new at all; that’s been around for a long time. I think there’s just been some attention to this as part of more general community attention to trolling and to the standards of political debate in Australia. So, there’s some ways in which the toxic tone of the ‘manosphere’—to use that term—is more visible than it was, but I actually think there are other ways in which some of those groups themselves are actually becoming less openly hostile in their rhetoric.

RP-R: How much of an influence do you think these groups are currently having on attempts to establish gender equality in Australia? Do you think they’re working against it?

MF: Look, they are. I mean, men’s and fathers’ rights groups have had some significant policy and community successes. So, for example, there’s been an increase in the proportion of people who believe that women going through custody battles often make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence in order to improve their case. According to a VicHealth survey published in 2009, almost half of Australians believe that myth. While I don’t think that fathers’ rights and men’s rights groups are the only source of that myth, they’ve certainly contributed to it. Likewise, I think they’ve helped to shift community opinion towards the belief that domestic violence is gender equal. So a greater proportion of the community—still a minority, but a greater proportion — believe that than they did a decade ago. Men’s and fathers’ rights groups have also had some successes in family law policy, and in various other areas. So I think they are one significant influence on community attitudes towards gender and on policies that relate to gender, violence, and so on. Their numbers are much smaller than they claim, and their influence isn’t overwhelming, but I think they’re one significant player in the policy and political field.

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