Father's Rights Trolling -- Business as Usual

By Trish Wilson, © 1998
All rights reserved by author

It seems that the dog days of August have had an effect on certain men's and fathers' rights activists. Makes 'em more irritable than usual.

A few weeks ago, a message was posted to acfc-l, which is the mailing list for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC), an especially nasty fathers' rights group. George Lewndowski, whose name I've never heard before, had forwarded a note to acfc-l complaining about one of my articles. Fathers' rights activists are prone to grumble about me for one reason or another, which I have always viewed with amusement.

No big deal. I'm used to complaints, and I usually don't pay them much heed. This complaint, however, proved to be loads of fun. Made the fathers' rights folk look like Dumb and Dumber.

The article in question was "Not the 'F' Word," which is in the Feminista archive. In a nutshell, it detailed propaganda techniques identified as far back as 1937. Those techniques are widely used by today's men's and fathers' rights groups. Why Lewndowski was up in arms over an article that was several months old was beyond me at the time, but I did find his lengthy complaint briefly entertaining. Lewndowski gave the URL to Feminista in the acfc-l message. I knew that the usual mass protest letters were coming. Didn't bother me. I informed the editor of what was going on, and told her not to worry about it.

I wasn't concerned, so I simply forgot about it at that point.

Little did I know the utter joy that was awaiting me.

Shortly thereafter, Dave Usher, of the Missouri ACFC Coalition, posted a rant to Feminista's message board complaining that, in his view, "[i]t is becoming increasingly impossible to swallow the kinds of political spins put on gender and family issues by" -- you guessed it -- "radical women's organizations and writers." I'm sure the regular readers of the message board are well aware of that post. I wasn't surprised at the post because men's and fathers' rights activists are prone to trolling feminist mailing lists and message board areas. This attack was nothing new. At the same time I received a few email flames denouncing my website, my "'F' Word" article, the entire Feminista website, and the feminist movement in general. The word "misandry" popped up repeatedly in these messages.

The entire scenario was becoming more and more amusing by the minute.

I've been aware of Usher's existence for quite some time. In his Feminista and acfc-l messages, he reiterated the usual men's and father's rights falsehoods, including the off-base insistence that men and women are equally abusive of each other. Women have also supposedly achieved the majority of their "equality goals, " so he insists it's men's turn to have the same chance to achieve "equality," particularly in the home.

Such a statement is nothing more than the usual patriarchal claim that feminism is no longer necessary because women have "made it," therefore it's time to turn all the attention towards men. This is also a poorly veiled attempt to both avoid child support payments and maintain control over ex-wives and ex-girlfriends through the court system.

Men in the fathers' rights movement [and the second wives and girlfriends who are foolish enough to support them] are not in the least interested in children's welfare, or in parenting. If they were, you'd see more attention paid to this subject while the men are still married to or involved with the mothers of their children. It isn't until the divorce or break-up is underway that these men suddenly want to become Superdad. The reason isn't because they want to be good fathers. It's because they want to walk away from the dead relationship with all the toys.

As I've said over and over again, decent fathers DO NOT join fathers' rights groups. Neither do decent women.

Usher had the gall to state that his claims regarding feminism had nothing to do with returning to "victorian-style" patriarchy. He even insisted that his "direct forebear" [sic], Elizabeth Cady Stanton, would approve of the "fruitful, productive resolution that will benefit everyone and give more women what they need and want. Many women of egalitarian, progressive mindsets have joined in this mission."

He didn't fool me. Not for one second.

What Usher didn't bother to tell anyone was that several years ago, he had created a Playboy Boycott Page, in which he demanded that upright, decent, manly men stop reading Playboy. Was this because the magazine objectified women? That it reduced women to meat whose sole purpose was to tend to men's sexual pleasure? That it promoted a patriarchal ideal of femininity and beauty that was not only physically impossible for most women to achieve without major surgery, but it was also downright unhealthy?

Nope. It was because, in his words,

Playboy MUST Stop Funding Radical Feminist Organizations, and Provide
Philanthropic Support for the Men's Rights Movement! ... Divorce and
illegitimacy means that women are "awarded", and men are "obliged".
Want to talk about personal responsibility?
We spell it M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E.
Want to talk about personal irresponsibility?
We spell it O-R-G-A-N-I-Z-E-D- -W-E-L-F-A-R-E- -S-T-A-T-E.

Uh-huh. That's right. Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be VERY proud.

Usher further claimed that "radical" women's organizations "further the erosion of fair social and economic rights of men in society." In a separate email to "Fathers' Manifesto," an especially dreadful men's/fathers' umbrella organization that, amongst other things, wants to see the repeal of women's right to vote, Usher agreed with the notion that men get "gang raped" in family court.

Yup. I'm sure Elizabeth Cady Stanton wouldn't hesitate to support Usher's ridiculous claims.

He is a "Fathers' Manifesto" signatory. For more information on that bunch, please see my article American Fathers: Equality or Patriarchy.

I brought all of this up in the message board area in my response to his complaint about my article. His answer was that he didn't understand what the Playboy boycott had to do with anything.

That final admission clarified everything for me. It did the same for plenty of other people who read the message board.

Things were quiet for a few days, except for the usual trolls, and I forgot about it again.

It wasn't quiet for long.

Following that exchange, Usher posted once again, but this time he crowed that "Not the 'F' Word" had been removed from the front page of the current issue. He had accused both Feminista and feminists in general of not standing behind what they say or do. With indignation he wrote that feminist organizations take "unsupportable positions on issue and make them vanish into thin air as soon as the insincerity is revealed."

There was one big problem with Usher's claim. "Not the 'F' Word" was never part of the previous issue of Feminista (Volume 2, Number 3/4). It was part of Volume 1, Number 9, which came out in early 1998. It's in the archive, and it isn't about to "vanish" any time soon.

Methinks some people should learn the proper use of search engines. I believe that may be the way Lewndowski found the article in the first place. He didn't bother to check the date.

The entire contents of Usher's "Playboy" and "rape" messages are available on my website. I've also included a brief synopsis of this entire scenario. I wrote to both Usher and ACFC to inform them of the major gaff. I received no response (didn't expect one), nor did I see a retraction of the crowing "those bitches were caught at their game" letter that appeared on acfc-l.

Not that I expected to see one.

Anyway, since "Not the 'F' Word" has received so much attention, the editor and I have decided that it's time to pull that piece out of the archive, and run it again. In a sense, it goes quite well with my current article about Internet writer's scams. Writer's scams bilk people out of their money. Patriarchal propaganda bilks everyone out of their freedom.

I know that in the great scheme of things that this entire brouhaha is very minor, but I did find it quite entertaining. I also saw it as a thumbnail sketch of the incorrigible behavior of those guys in the men's and fathers' rights movement. It's a little thing, but a very eye-opening little thing.

And now it's time to forget about it once again so that I may get on with my business.

Cheers, everyone!


The "F" Word

That's what feminism has been reduced to in the minds of many, including young women, the potential feminists of the next generation. How often have we heard young women make statements like "I believe in equal rights, but I'm not a feminist?" When asked if they want to be paid what they're worth in their chosen field, if they believe they have a right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, or if they have the right to a just treatment in divorce, they invariably say "yes." As we know, all of those desires are encompassed in feminism. When that fact is explained to these young women, they shuffle, eyes downcast, and say "yes, but I know I'm not a feminist. I like men. I'm not radical. I shave my legs." They don't want to call themselves "feminist" for fear that others will look at them as if they are an unidentified slimy blob that just plopped onto the pavement.

The stereotypical feminist is seen as a shriveled-up old hag of a woman who hates men and despises children. She dresses in unflattering, baggy clothes (Dockers come to mind), wears her hair in an unattractive short, mannish style, and doesn't shave her armpits. She doesn't bathe, and engages in questionable goddess worship that may involve the sacrifice of small animals or even children, preferably loud, obnoxious ones. If she isn't into that, she's an animal rights advocate who screams in pain every time she sees a woman wear a fur coat. She is labeled a lesbian in a derogatory manner, or she distains heterosexual sex as a distasteful activity. On the other hand, she may hop from bed to bed to bed, barely leaving skid marks in her path. If she finds one day that she's pregnant, no big deal. She'll just get an abortion.

Where the devil did these stereotypes comes from?

Feminism has always had a bad rap, which should be of no surprise to anyone because a social movement as powerful as feminism will be vehemently attacked by those most threatened by it. The preferred outcome is the destruction of the feminist movement. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, founded in 1937, identified the following basic propaganda devices, all of which are used by anti-feminist groups, to both denigrate feminism and to make the anti-feminist, patriarchal agenda appear much more positive than it actually is. These methods are:

1. False Connections - Testimonial

2. False Connections - Transfer

3. Special Appeals - Band Wagon

4. Special Appeals - Fear

5. Special Appeals - Plain Folk

6. Word Games - Euphemisms

7. Word Games - Name Calling

8. Word Games - Glittering Generalities

Feminism is debased on a regular basis on the men's and fathers' rights Internet websites and mailing lists. Newsgroups whose names that at first glance appear to encourage feminist discussion are nothing more than dumping grounds for angry men. In one post, patriarchy is compared to feminism, with patriarchy not only coming out far ahead but defining feminism as something it isn't. Fixed biological differences that have been discredited and outdated since the turn of the century are resurrected as fact. Patriarchy is defined as a set of cultural values and practices that balances sex roles with biology; evolved in a fixed evolutionary manner rather than by human choice, and provides males with a reason to settle down rather than kill, rape and pillage. The opinion that sex differences are biologically determined (as well as sanctioned by the Judeo-Christian God) is nothing new. However, these opinions are stated as fact with the added endorsement of people proclaimed to be experts. The Rev. Billy Sunday loudly proclaimed biological predetermination over one hundred years ago, and the popular, powerful preacher gave legitimacy to that view. Today, this same view is endorsed by Dr. James Dobson, of Focus On The Family. The human is not only reduced to biological preconditioning, that preconditioning has the stamp of God's blessing.

In dire contrast to patriarchy, feminism is described as an ideology that was established in order to change the social order in dictatorial fashion, which is reflected in anti-feminist accusations of feminism being fascist. Patriarchy is viewed as wrong and as the enemy of women. Feminism seeks "to establish social order by human plan rather than by evolution," an awkwardly-phrased statement indicating feminism is guaranteed to fail because it goes against nature. Following through on the biological predetermination stance, feminism disregards all biological differences between men and women except for those that affect reproduction. It advocates for men to make all of the changes in order to advance society, yet women are to remain fixed. Amazingly, the post said that feminism had much in common with religion, which is inaccurate in that religion supports biological predetermination whereas feminism does not.

A classic example of "Name-Calling " has been perpetrated by Rush Limbaugh, who introduced the slur "feminazi" into the American lexicon. He also claimed that feminists are ugly women who act the way they do because they can't get a man. Feminist equals fat and ugly, according to this point of view. The slurs "femmeroid" and "femminoid," although not as well-known, have been used in much the same manner as "feminazi."

The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions document) entitled "Feminist Myths and Dirty Tricks," which is commonly seen on newsgroups alt.mens-rights and, holds some of the answers to the question "where did these images come from?" The amazing thing about this FAQ is that it alleges "feminist myths and tricks that are frequently used to disrupt good discussions" that presumably take place in these forums. Men's and fathers' rights advocates are notorious for disrupting any form of discussion about feminism, domestic violence, and family law that take place on the Internet, within newsgroups, and on America Online. The most prevalent of men's rights myths are extolled in this FAQ as well as men's rights propaganda regarding exactly what feminism is supposed to be. "The Testimonial" is one particular technique used by these groups to denigrate feminism. Experts approved by the organizations are called forth to give a questionable point of view validity. The definitions of feminist point of view presented are not only blatant misrepresentations of feminism, men's rights advocates treat them as if they are accurate. These people are redefining and labeling the feminist movement itself.

According to the Institute for Propaganda Research, "Transfer" is a device by which "the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept." Research from the Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz book "Behind Closed Doors" has been purposefully misrepresented to insist that men and women are equally abusive of each other. Valid criticism has shown that the Conflict Tactic Scales used to tabulate individual, isolated incidents of physical abuse had not been taken in the context of the abusive incident or of the abusive relationship itself. The researchers had indicated that they did not know how many women who participated were acting in self defense. Research from the book was not meant to be transferred by fathers' and men's rights activists to support the falsehood that high numbers of "battered men" are the number one secret held by the feminist movement.

A slightly different version of "Transfer" is inherent in a newsgroup post entitled "How is femi-nazism in your area?" The attempt is made to link feminism to nazism, with the hope that association to the latter will vilify the former. Another propaganda technique, "Fear," was used in this Internet message. The author wishes to "compare the expected lifespan of the average man to that of the average woman. There's a huge gap there, almost seven years! Almost ten percent of men's lives! and it's no accident." Feminism supposedly causes men to live shorter lives, because "throughout history, until modern medicine devoted its efforts disproportionately to women, men lived longer than women, probably because evolution is so much more aggressive towards men." More of that "biology is destiny" and "evolution rules" predetermination hooey.

"Sex -biased death" has been a rallying cry of angry men since the 1970s. Feminists are held responsible for the cited 94-97% male job deaths. The statistics are questionable since no sources are quoted, although Warren Farrell has written on this subject in the past. These dreaded feminists allegedly have "lobbied for and gotten an extraordinary array of government-mandated financial transfers of money to themselves and to women in general, in both general and special circumstances, in effect enslaving men wholesale." Men are the number one victim of all violent crime, including murder, and feminists are held responsible because they "lobby for an ever-increasing slice of police resources to be dedicated to making women and women alone safe. Through their media anti-male campaigns, they are responsible for the anti-male hatred that bloats the number of murders of men." The fact that it is primarily men who are murdering and assaulting other men escapes this person's reasoning.

The distasteful condemnation of feminism by attempting to link it to Nazism occurs throughout the four-page rant, especially in the passage related to a common men's rights myth that men are "falsely convicted of crimes in horrendous numbers and murdered in jail, directly or indirectly through conditions and disease." The author continues with the astonishing claim that "this is essentially the same condition as Germany, where for trivial or imaginary crimes, Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Atheists, and others in large numbers were mixed in with real criminals. Don't kid yourself: the German people saw concentration camp inmates the same way the typical American views prison inmates: as criminals. How are Feminists responsible? They have lobbied for kangaroo court proceedings in sex trials of all types. They have lobbied for domestic violence prodecures [sic] that dispense with due process entirely. Through their media anti-male campaigns, they push for ever more anti-male police and judicial attitudes." Another negative version of transfer is likening feminists who work on child abuse issues as on a "witch hunt" for perpetrators, seeing child abusing, pedophilic men around every corner. The false accusations of abuse crowd has its own listserv entitled WITCHHNT, which takes its name directly from the Salem Witch Trials. Of course, those people, mostly male, who support the tenets of that crowd fail to see the irony in that most witches who were executed were women.

Women who support the patriarchy are heavily touted because it is assumed by many people that if a woman would support these kinds of ideals, then they must not be all that bad. Plus, many of these women tout themselves as being "true" feminists. Too many people believe it's a given that all women would support women's rights, or at the very least that all women would support ideals that would benefit other women. That's not necessarily the case. Anti-feminist women spout the very same myths, misinformation, and denigration as anti-feminist men. Anti-feminist groups are well aware of this fact, and they use it to their advantage. Newt Gingrich recognized the power in such imagery, and at a Republican Women's Leaders Summit he stated to a room full of Republican women supporters that for the public to hear the kinds of policies he was presenting come from a man, they wouldn't support it for a minute. They'd look at it with a skeptical and critical eye. However, to hear the same presentations come from a woman, well ... it would be much harder to turn away. A woman supporting programs that will damage women's welfare sugarcoats the inevitable destruction. After all, if a woman supports it, it can't be that bad.

Fathers' and men's rights darling Cathy Young, columnist for the Detroit News and member of the conservative Women's Freedom Network, states without citing sources that "despite gender-neutral laws in many jurisdictions, pro-maternal bias in custody cases remains widespread." The fact that in approximately 80% of all cases, mothers are awarded sole custody of the children does not indicate gender bias against men. Young neglects to mention the fact that nearly 90% of divorcing couples do not go to court, that most couples agree on their own that the mother had been doing the bulk of the childrearing from the day the children were born, and that she should continue, and that most fathers do not want custody. Anne Mitchell, founder of Fathers Rights and Equality Exchange, misconstrued Census Bureau documentation in order to give the impression that joint custody is the best choice for families because in over 90% of those cases, child support is paid in full. She fails to mention that joint custody accounted for only approximately 7% of all cases covered in that particular report, that child support amounts under such conditions (when they exist, since most often joint custody eliminates child support) tend to be very low and therefore much easier to pay, and that these people had fairly amicable divorces. They would have done well by their children regardless of the form of custody chosen. Joint custody in and of itself did not cause the increase in child support payment.

Within the FAQ is the astonishing notion, which has also been voiced by Warren Farrell, that "men work for and earn more money but women control more than 65% of US personal wealth, and spend 4 consumer dollars for every consumer dollar that men spend." The notion that women control US wealth because they may monopolize the Sears credit card is laughable. Wealth is not limited to how much a woman spent for couch and coffee table set or for the clothing in her closet. True wealth lies in real estate, blue chip stock, art, investments, and especially company fringe benefits such as stock options, pensions, company cars, business expense accounts, networking contacts, and club memberships that are available to far many more man than women. A lovely test of this alleged "wealth" is to see how much she walks away with after a divorce, especially following a marriage that lasted a decade or two. She certainly doesn't walk away with a great deal of personal wealth.

The FAQ derides feminists by claiming they believe the single largest cause of injury to a woman in the U.S. is domestic violence. The purpose of this statement is to minimize the debilitating effects of the widespread abuse of women. However, feminists have never said that domestic violence is the largest cause of injury to U. S. women. The largest cause of INTERPERSONAL INJURY to women who visit hospital emergency rooms is committed by an intimate partner, most often a husband, boyfriend, or former partner. This is much different than the original claim. The largest cause of interpersonal injury to a man is caused by strangers or acquaintances. (Source: The Dept. of Justice) The slight tweaking of the facts is very common amongst the men's rights groups so that they may insist feminism holds a stance it doesn't actually support, and then proceed to beat the hell out of it.

The myth labeled "the most cancerous myth of all" claims feminism takes the stance that "men (or white males) have it great. Men are well provided-for by society." This example of "The Band Wagon" technique submits as a feminist point of view one never held by feminism. Middle and upper class white males have more opportunity and access to power in this country than women, non-whites, and the lower classes of both sexes. However, even within non-whites and the lower classes, the hierarchy remains: men in those segments are accorded more opportunity and access than women. It's a fractal: the social set-ups of the larger groups reinforce the social set-ups of the smaller groups. Men are not "well provided-for by society." Big difference from the original claim.

This particular technique cannot act alone. "The Band Wagon" uses a combination of some of the other techniques, especially "Plain Folks," to give its disenfranchise audience a "we're in the same boat" message. The men's rights advocates who are threatened by feminism have chosen to define the movement in a way that supports their views. In using this technique, "... all of the artifices of flattery are used to harness the fears and hatreds, prejudices and biases, convictions and ideals common to a group. Thus is emotion made to push and pull us as members of a group onto a Band Wagon." The interesting thing is that these advocates believe that women are the ones who have it great and who are so well provided-for by society that they see women's societal gains as unfair and biased against men. Such is the talk of the disenfranchised who feel their power base is crumbling beneath them. It's no accident that men's and fathers rights groups continue to glorify Warren Farrell's "The Myth of Male Power." He is one of the "experts" oft cited to support these flimsy points of view in yet another version of "The Testimonial."

The combination of "The Band Wagon" and "Plain Folks" may have backfired on fathers' rights advocates. There are men who are unaware of the real agenda of the fathers' rights groups, and become involved due to the sweet, child-centered, and "family rights" supportive rhetoric in a group's printed literature or on a groups' Internet website. These groups attempt to appeal to plain folk by making them feel like part of a very special support group. Such literature falls under the heading of "glittering generalities," because the sweet talk is all surface glitter designed to attract attention of possible new members and those who have the political power to assist these groups to reach their goals, none of which have to do with the welfare of children or "family rights." There is no substance behind the glitter, but it sure does sound nice. The new male members, who are vulnerable due to recent separation and understandable confusion over the hoops and hurdles inherent in any divorce, are attracted to the glitter. They gladly pay membership dues, purchase tapes and books, attend conferences, listen to weekly lectures, all in the hope of getting some help. Very quickly, they find out that the glitter they first encountered quickly turns to tarnish. If these men are wise, they'll leave these groups and never look bad. Hopefully, they would not have lost a great deal of money in the process.

The claim is made in the FAQ that the opposite of "Feminists" is "men," which is far from the truth. Propaganda such as this has reached the mainstream media so that the general public not only believes that all feminists hate men, but that feminists have a low opinion of women in general as well.

An interesting statement follows the "opposite of Feminists is men" belief. The FAQ quotes a fictional man saying "I'm a male and I agree with the Feminists that [particular Feminist lie]." These men are seen as selling out their own; as being in "the perfect position to backstab men's rights." Either you're a man hated by Feminists, or your a pro-feminist man selling out other men. Stabbing them in the back. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

The "Euphamism" is often used to halt feminist discussion. This technique involves the "...attempt to pacify the audience in order to make an unpleasant reality more palatable. Feminists are confronted with the humanitarian notion that they should be fighting for "human" rights, not only "women's" rights. All of us need to get along and help each other. One version of this stopper includes statements that women already won equality. The hard work the second wave started in the 1970s has come to fruition. Now, it's time to help men. Help everybody. Of course, you're selfish if you refuse to believe and follow this creed. The fathers' rights movement is currently using "Euphamisms" by calling themselves "family rights advocates" or "children's advocates" rather than "father's rights advocates." The benevolent labels mask their unpalatable intentions. Men's rights advocates are doing the same when they refer to themselves as "human rights activists." This same technique was previously used by the anti-abortion movement during the time it changed its own title from "anti-abortion" to "pro-life."

Supposedly, feminists believe those who oppose them are "threatened by strong women." The major fallacy in this statement is the implication that there is only one branch of feminism. Feminism is a multi-faceted social movement. Not all feminists see each issue in the same light. The FAQ's stance is easily refuted by citing feminists who disagree with each other. These people certainly are not threatened by strong women. Indeed, they are strong women. It's necessary here to differentiate between real feminists and faux feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers, who coined the terms "equity feminist" and "gender feminist" (neither of which exists in real life) and the aforementioned Cathy Young.

It's obvious how the anti-feminist groups have helped create in the public's mind a dim view of feminism. Regretfully, women themselves have also done much to contribute to the distasteful image of feminism and to the destruction of the gains made by feminism.

There are plenty of women who sell out their own sisters. Groups such as the Independent Women's Forum, the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, and the Women's Freedom Network come to mind. Plenty of fathers' rights groups are headed by women, in particular the second wives groups and some of the noncustodial mothers groups. Those in the second wives groups support legislation that would allow their husbands to lower child support payments to children from previous marriages and relationships because she wants to start a new family with the man. They also support legislation that would force inclusion of the first wife's new husband's income as family income, thereby lowering the ex-husband's child support obligation. Of course, that leaves more money for the second wife and her new, previously married husband. The non-custodial mothers groups, which tend to be very small, are more difficult to identify, because some of them are populated by women who have lost custody to abusers, control freaks, and men who simply had more money at their disposal who could continue litigation until she was broke. Most of those women are not involved in any particular group. However, the largest and most famous non-custodial mothers group, Mothers Without Custody, was a fathers' rights group housed under the auspices of the Children's Rights Council. Mothers Without Custody most often was paired with Fathers' United For Equal Rights. Not all Mothers Without Custody groups are connected to fathers' rights groups, but most of them are.

Considering all the confusion and denigration generated by anti-feminists, it's no wonder young women are saying "I believe in women's rights, but I'm not a feminist." Hopefully, once they understand how various propaganda techniques have been used in an attempt to redefine and malign feminism, they will no longer fear using the word "feminism" to describe themselves and their values.

Special Citation

The Propaganda Analysis HomePage

This article is © 1998, Trish Wilson and may not be copied, reprinted, or otherwise used in any form without the express written permission of the author.
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