For most people who watch the surveillance tape showing NFL player Ray Rice strike then-fiancée (now-wife) Janay Palmer, what they view is an unambiguous domestic violence scene, a physical assault taking place by a large man against a smaller woman. First, Rice hits her, then she hits her head on a railing as she’s falling, and as she is knocked unconscious, Rice drags her limp body out.
But to members of the notorious Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), Ray Rice is the real victim. In a thread on Reddit called “Ray Rice: the elevator video,” which was parsed by Matt Saccaro at Salon, members of Men’s Rights argued that Rice was simply defending himself against Palmer’s first strike and didn’t deserve to lose his football contract: On Sept. 8, after NFL officials finally watched the knockout punch Rice delivered in the surveillance tape, the league announced that the Baltimore Ravens were suspending Rice’s contract indefinitely.
One Redditor wrote, “She hit him first. He backed away and she came at him again. Glad he didn’t get more in trouble.” “Something that struck me,” said another, “was that it wasn’t him hitting her that knocked her out, but him hitting her and her hitting the rail on the elevator that knocked her out,” which Saccaro calls “the handrail knocked her out” defense.
Saccaro says that the thread reveals a common logic of those who defend domestic abuse against women -- that the woman is to blame. "That’s the kind of logic MRMs are employing when they defend Ray Rice and other perpetrators of domestic abuse," says Saccaro, "And this is the kind of logic that female victims and survivors must deal with on a constant basis."
There were dissenting voices on the thread. For example, one commenter wrote, "Its [sic] one thing to defend yourself, its [sic] another to use self defense as an excuse to be over-the-top violent. Its [sic] pretty clear to me that his intent was to harm, not to defend his person." Another person was more succinct: "He should not view his fiancée like an opposing teams [sic] linebacker." But even some of those voices circles back to the perceived victimization of men. “Good that they got this evidence,” said one commenter. “Prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law for inexcusably violent behavior. Of course, it makes me wonder where the outrage is when a star does something like this to a man."
“The Men's Rights Movement,” wrote Anne Theriault on Huffington Post, “is a reactionary movement created specifically to counter feminism, and most (if not all) of their time and resources go toward silencing and marginalizing women.” What true feminism does, she and many argue, is in fact to question the kind of gender roles that oppress men as well as women: "Our patriarchal culture," she writes, "and its strictly enforced gender roles...happens to be exactly the same power structure that feminism is trying to take down."
What are the MRM's primary grievances? That feminism has given women rights at the expense of men, that women often come out ahead in child custody cases, that they more often than not falsely accuse men of rape, and that too much attention is paid to domestic abuse against women.
The Southern Poverty Law Organization, which usually tracks the activity of white supremacists and other hate groups, claims, in a report by NPR, that the men's rights movement “has attracted a ‘hard-line fringe’ who endorse violence and hatred against women.”
David Futrelle, a Chicago blogger who tracks MRM activity on his blog, We Hunted the Mammoth, agrees that the MRM movement has a misogyny problem. "Essentially,” he told NPR, ”the issues they bring up are little more than an excuse or an opportunity for them to attack women and blame women for pretty much everything that goes wrong in the world…The vast majority of men's rights activists don't actually seem to be that interested in doing anything about the issues that they talk about all the time."