Feature image: Daisy Cousens.
As a fresh-faced 18-year-old Daisy Cousens left school firmly on board the feminism bandwagon. Like many millennial women she’d been seduced by what she now sees as an “entrenched victim mentality”, convinced the scales were tipped against her because of her sex. “I assumed I’d have to work twice as hard as men for half the recognition and that violent predators lurk around every street corner,” she says.
It took her years to discover she’d been duped. “I realised the feminist view did not reflect my life experiences. I grew suspicious. I couldn’t believe that somehow in Western society women were paid less than men or had fewer rights than men. And given my experience of men, I refused to believe there was an undercurrent of misogyny among all the wonderful men in my life,” says the 28-year-old, who is part of a growing global band of female activists speaking out about the demonisation of men. Some of the leading lights in this group will hit our shores next month to speak at an international men’s issues conference.
Cousens’s turnaround happened when she was working as a research assistant at the Menzies Research Centre, which led her to start asking questions. She found, for instance, that the much heralded “wage gap” largely could be explained by differences in men and women’s work and lifestyle choices. That was the beginning.
Cousens discovered a thriving online world questioning the feminist narrative and revealing the silencing of critical issues affecting men and boys. She’s now writing — mainly in The Spectator Australia and Quadrant — about what she sees as a “silent war on men”.
She is one of many women hosting screenings of Cassie Jaye’s controversial documentary The Red Pill, in which the young feminist filmmaker looks seriously at men’s issues and decides they warrant proper attention. Jaye renounced her feminism in protest against the way extremists were silencing discussion of such matters. Ironically Australia is the only country to ban a series of screenings in response to protests from small groups of feminists.
Cousens is confident of a full house for her screening, given the media coverage planned for Jaye’s appearance at the International Conference on Men’s Issues on the Gold Coast from Friday to June 12. The conference promises to be an interesting time for Cousens because, as a wannabe Honey Badger, she’ll also be meeting Karen Straughan and that’s as good as it gets.
Straughan, another speaker at ICMI, is one of the founders of the Honey Badger Brigade, a band of brash, witty female activists who’ve taken up the fight for a better deal for men and boys. Six years ago Straughan was a Canadian waitress and divorced mother of three who started blogging about how easy it would have been to use the family law system to destroy her ex-husband. She was astonished at how law and social institutions were stacked against men.
Straughan posted a blog (girlwriteswhat) that included this pithy summary of marriage today: “For women, marriage is all benefit and zero risk, and that’s why women are whining about men’s reluctance to tie the knot. But for men, it’s the other way around — no guaranteed benefit, and the kind of risk an adrenaline junkie would eschew.” Next came a YouTube video, Feminism and the Disposable Male, that has raked up more than 1.5 million views.
Through her social media activities, Straughan got to know other women interested in men’s issues, such as Alison Tieman who, with Straughan, started a Honey Badger radio show. Then there’s blogger Janet Bloomfield, whose take-no-prisoners writing style soon attracted a big audience for her JudgyBitch blog promoting “the radical notion that women are adults”.
When protesters threatened to shut down a men’s rights conference in Detroit in 2011, the Honey Badger Brigade flew in to act as “human shields”. It helps to have women involved because female activists can’t be dismissed as sad losers, suggests Straughan. “Men run the risk of being perceived as dangerous or threatening when speaking up,” she says, adding that male activists tend to be “mocked as whiny man-babies or dismissed as dangerous extremist reactionaries who want to make it legal to beat your wife”.
And the name Honey Badgers? That came from a funny YouTube video — The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger — that shows the vicious animal sticking its nose into bee-filled holes, gnawing on mice, tearing the heads off snakes and shaking off venomous cobra bites. It’s pretty silly, admits Straughan, but watch her shrug off the constant abuse she receives from feminists or reducing Naomi Wolf into a quivering heap on a television panel and you’ll see there’s something in it.
During Straughan’s visit to Sydney next month she will be appearing on Sky News’s Outsiders program, giving a talk at the Sydney Institute and doing a Q&A with viewers of Mark Latham’s Facebook page.
Then she’ll head up to the Gold Coast where she’ll join impressive speakers presenting at the men’s conference, including a striking number of women — such as Jaye, who is presenting a special screening of her movie.
Then there’s Erin Pizzey, world-renowned as the founder of Britain’s first women’s refuge, who back in the 1970s attracted the wrath of feminists by speaking out about women’s violence. Her determination to promote the truth about domestic violence — that it isn’t a gender issue — led to death threats, forcing her for a time to leave the country. She has been campaigning for more than 40 years about this vital social issue. Unfortunately ill-health has prevented Pizzey travelling and she’ll give her lecture via Skype.
Another Canadian speaker, Janice Fiamengo, is a professor of English literature whose hugely popular weekly YouTube program, The Fiamengo File, highlights the damaging impact of feminism in academe. She is scathing about women’s studies, which she believes has devolved into an intellectually incoherent and dishonest discipline replacing a callow set of slogans for real thought.
Local female men’s rights activists are excited about the chance to discuss with these luminaries how to get men’s issues on to the public agenda. Women such as Melbourne mental health advocate Rae Bonney, whose work with male-dominated workplaces reveals many of the contributors to the high male suicide rate, such as facing a biased family law system.
She says: “It’s both alarming and heartbreaking that so many of our social systems prevent men from getting the help and support they so desperately need. Every day I hear another story of a man who’s lost absolutely everything, often facing unproven accusations of violence and abuse.”
Bonney is on a high after hosting a recent Melbourne screening of The Red Pill, one of many I’ve organised through Fan-Force, a system that allows people to host local screenings of movies of their choice.
“We had nearly 200 people, including young women, couples and of course many men. There were a few tears and much applause before and after it ended. There’s a real sense that at last men’s issues are getting the attention they deserve,” says the delighted Bonney.
One real sign of a shift in the cultural dialogue is an upcoming event on ABC2’s Hack Live on June 20, Is Male Privilege Bullsh!t?, a debate where Jaye and various Honey Badgers will have a rare opportunity to show there are two sides to this story.