If there was one activist movement that could do without losing any credibility for its own sake, it would probably be the men’s rights movement. And yet, in recent days, it appears that its activists have managed to squander much of their cause’s already limited reputation. Andrew Nolch, claiming to be fighting for men’s rights, defaced a memorial to comedian Eurydice Dixon, who was raped and murdered.
Dixon, a 22-year-old rising star, was attacked in June as she walked home from a gig in central Melbourne. A 19-year-old man was charged with her rape and murder after handing himself in to police. Since then, a memorial to Dixon was erected in Princes Park, the location where she was found dead and where a subsequent candle-lit vigil was held for her.
And for some obscure reason, Andrew Nolch reasoned that painting a 25m penis at the site of the memorial would be a constructive way to advance the cause of ‘men’s rights’.
At his sentencing, Nolch apologised for any hurt he had caused, yet attempted to justify his actions by claiming that Dixon’s murder had been turned into “one giant, political man-hating event”.
It is easy to label Nolch idiotic. Firstly, how could he think he was going to achieve any advancement to his chosen ‘cause’ of men’s rights by doing something that would of course paint his person as extremely puerile and petty? Secondly, what real connection was there between the rape and murder of a young woman and any situation where the so-called men’s rights are compromised?
The anger following Dixon’s murder came from the fact that women are still not safe when doing something as simple as walking home. Anger was directed towards the police, who issued a statement telling women to “be aware of their personal security” as though not being raped was their own responsibility.
How was any of this public outcry linked to what Nolch saw as his own personal drive for equality between the sexes?
However, this is why Nolch should not be simply disregarded. Although he seems like a man acting on nothing more than petulant and childish impulse, the fact that this impulse has been transformed into the guiding ideology of a movement is worrying.
A giant penis at the centre of a memorial to a rape victim is not just defacement. It is a threat. The fact that justice for men’s rights is so totally unconnected to justice in the first place is proven by Dixon. Andrew Nolch is simply an opportunist – one who sought not to make a stand for gender equality, but who instead revealed an intention to violate the rights of women.
Men’s rights movements have existed for well over a century. Austrian group The League For Men’s Rights, founded in 1926, claimed as its founding principle the need to “combat all the monstrosities that have come from the emancipation of women”. Even back in 1926, when women’s rights were considerably less advanced, men’s groups were forming in protest at women’s gains. Their most obvious purpose was not for the advancement of men’s rights, but to tackle any progress that women’s emancipation had brought about.
While modern-day men’s rights groups often hide behind claims of trying to fight for genuine equality between the sexes, it becomes quickly apparent that most simply seek to trample over the rights that women have won in the past century. Certainly, there are issues like the high male suicide rate, lower educational attainment among boys and the lack of awareness of domestic violence against men that do need addressing. But these issues are in no way solved by attacking women’s rights.
In fact, looking at articles posted on popular men’s rights websites such as A Voice for Men indicates that very little other than simple misogyny plays a part in most of the movement. Articles advocating the banning of Gender Studies as a discipline, insisting that female communication in a relationship is a cunning strategy to manipulate men and even declaring that female victims of domestic abuse are responsible for their plight are just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that many of the supposed campaigners for men’s rights intend only to push the role of women back by a few hundred years.
In some ways, it is easy to think these people are ludicrous and to feel certain that their ignorance and childishness will not render them a threat. But being complacent about people like this is what will ultimately allow them to grow.
Defacing a rape victim’s memorial is not the worst thing that someone associated with the men’s rights movement has done. Think of Alek Minassian and of Elliot Rodger. Both men went on killing sprees fuelled by their hatred of women whose attention they could not get. Connected to the Incel sub-culture, both men sought to legitimise their misogyny by framing it in a narrative of men’s rights.
And that is all that the ‘men’s rights’ movement currently does. Andrew Nolch gave a supreme demonstration of that, and this is something we need to remember because this movement could quickly become a lot more dangerous.
These men not only want to stop women from living in peace; they refuse to let them rest in peace too.