You've seen the video, right? The one with the vicious, weasel-skunk-fox hybrid sticking its nose into bee-filled holes, gnawing on mice, tearing the heads off snakes, and shaking off venomous cobra bites, waking up after a few minutes to return to eating its attacker? You know, the one that ends with, "Honey badger don't care. Honey badger don't give a shit"? If you're one the nearly 75 million people who've watched the YouTube sensation since it was posted in 2011, you may think you're familiar with this whole Honey Badger thing. You have no idea.
The women scattered across the U.S. and Canada who call themselves Honey Badgers have no true affiliation with the ferocious carnivorous mammals, nor with the viral nature mockumentary meme. They are, in fact, a group of concerned individuals who have banded together to stand up to a society that unfairly targets a segment of the population vulnerable simply because of its gender. That marginalized group? Men.
Just over a year ago, some of these women assembled in a hall at the Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, as part of an inaugural international conference on human rights. (They were supposed to meet at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Downtown Detroit, but plans changed last-minute because of reported threats by critics.) It was the first-annual International Conference on Men's Issues. "It was really fantastic for all of us to be in the same room together," says Janet Bloomfield, 36, one of the most prominent female faces of the men's rights movement. "The idea that the movement is comprised of a lot of angry white men who can't get laid is just simply not true—there were so many women!"
"The idea that the movement is comprised of a lot of angry white men who can't get laid is just simply not true—there were so many women!"
The women of the men's rights movement (AKA Honey Badgers, or, at their most organized, the Honey Badger Brigade) don't do so much picketing in the streets as much as they post on Reddit (/r/MensRights), tweet (#DontMancriminate), upload podcasts (Honey Badger Radio), and generally raise hell. Sample posts, headlines, and tweets by Honey Badgers include: "You weren't raped. You're a whore. Join the club"; "Going Mental: She Might Be a Crazy Bitch If … Red Flags!"; "The #feminist draft is fully operational. If you have a vagina or mangina youre [sic] forced to obey. #WomenAgainstFeminism."
In order to understand the vitriol, a bit of context about the men's rights movement is required. The movement is unofficially led by Paul Elam, the founder, publisher, and CEO of A Voice for Men (AVfM), a website launched in 2009 that provides a forum for all things sticking it to the (wo)man. From its mission statement: "AVfM regards gender ideologues and all other agents of misandry as a social malignancy...and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would klansmen, skinheads, neo-Nazis, or other purveyors of hate." The movement positions feminism as the enemy: Feminism convinced women of their victimization by men, sparking overreaction—from legislation to women-focused nonprofits—that has, in turn, turned men into victims. Or as a downloadable poster on AVfM reads alongside a photo of the Wicked Witch of the West: "Feminism: The same old Crazy Batshit!"
The movement positions feminism as the enemy.
AVfM, by the way, isn't the only website Elam has headed. There was also Register-Her, launched in 2011, an open-to-submissions wiki page with names and contact information of women believed to be "bigoted" against men and/or to have articulated feminist thought. It caught the wary eye of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit legal organization that monitors hateful and extremist groups in the U.S., which in a 2012 issue of its publication, Intelligence Report, included the site, along with AVfM, in a list of websites "thick with misogynistic attacks."
Warren Farrell, 72, is considered the father of the men's rights movement—although he asks while talking over the phone from his home in Mill Valley, California, not to be described as a "men's rights activist" ("I consider myself a human-rights person in favor of gender liberation"). It all began in the early 1970s, when Farrell became a major figure in second-wave feminism (think Gloria Steinem major—both were faces of the movement). His split began after a dispute with the National Organization for Women about its support of granting sole custody to mothers after divorce. "What we, as feminists, did is put men into the oppressor class and called it patriarchy," says Farrell, who went on to write his 1993 book, The Myth of Male Power, a foundational text in the movement.
"Men are dealing with forces that are new. There has never been a time before now where men and women have met on an equal plane," explains Kay S. Hymowitz, the Brooklyn-based author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. "And women are doing extremely well by most measures, and men, particularly working-class men, less so." Today, it appears, the idea of "male privilege" is more legend than reality.
Which is why the vocal majority of the men's movement followers are calling for such actions as the abolishment of the Violence Against Women Act, any gender-based affirmative action initiatives, and the Duluth Model, a program to reduce domestic violence against women—i.e., anything that helps women only. Intriguingly, and confusingly for us feminists, once you get past the trolling, there are actual not-crazy changes men's rights activists (MRAs) want to see: prohibiting circumcision of baby boys, domestic abuse aid for male victims, refining paternity rights.
Intriguingly, and confusingly for us feminists, once you get past the trolling, there are actual not-crazy changes men's rights activists (MRAs) want to see.
As it turns out, and as many a feminist will tell you, sometimes the best man for the job is a woman. And there are quite a few—Honey Badgers, all—who have had a lot of success in bringing attention and, more important (and scary), legitimacy to the MRA cause.
"Women in the movement are terribly important," says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC in Montgomery, Alabama. "What got the center interested was that so many men's rights Web pages were filled with absolutely vitriolic hatred directed at all women. The misogyny was just overwhelming...It's absolutely critical from their point of view to be able to point to women who supposedly agree with them—to be able to claim that they are not total women-haters."
It's unclear exactly how many women (or people, frankly) there are in the movement, but Bloomfield does some interesting math to help unofficially figure it out. "If we go to the men's rights subreddit," she says, "they have 117,000 subscribed members." She guesstimates that women comprise 10 to 15 percent of the commenters on her own pro-men's rights movement blog. And 15 percent of 117,000 is a lot, albeit an un-confirmable amount, of women. Whatever the number, the meek need not apply. This is a movement for animals of prey.
This explains how Bloomfield, whose sweet-mom-on-the-phone demeanor conjures up wholesome family images found only in cutesy commercials for breakfast foods, can run a blog titled JudgyBitch. "That's the nature of the beast," she says. "Having really polite, sane, calm, reasoned conversations when you're starting out as a blogger is not going to get you anywhere. It's clickbait, right?" See: her super-clickable 2012 post, "Ladies, there is a difference between flirting and cockteasing. One makes you fun and sassy, the other makes you a cunt, so stop doing it!" Click!
So who are the women behind the clickbait, and what's up with that name? "A friend proposed that we needed our own name to recognize us as being separate within the movement," explains Saskatchewan-based Alison Tieman, 37, a founder of the podcast series Honey Badger Radio and the MRA site Honey Badger Brigade. Tieman's interest in men's issues began at age 16 when her mother gave her a copy of The Princess at the Window: A New Gender Morality, a critique of contemporary feminism.
In college, she read "all of the literature I could find on men's issues" and eventually turned to the Internet, where she participated in forums on the topic. Something about "The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger" video seemed right. "The name just kind of stuck," says Karen Straughan. "Part of me thinks it's silly—but I guess it's sort of apt, and people like to draw funny pictures of honey badgers."
Straughan, a 44-year-old waitress in Alberta—who regularly posts content on her YouTube channel, Girl Writes What, and her blog, Owning Your Shit—explains that men run the risk of being perceived as dangerous or threatening when speaking up. "Women seem to have this ability to talk and not be seen as angry," she says, "to not be mocked as whiny man-babies and dismissed as dangerous extremist reactionaries who want to make it legal to beat your wife." (Straughan stumbled across the movement online five or six years ago: "Being that I have sons, and male family members whom I really care about, it really interested me.") Her YouTube channel has nearly 100 video uploads, several of her alone in front of a camera musing about some related topic like the disposability of men ("When it comes to the well-being of others," Straughan says in the video, "they come first, men come last...seats in lifeboats, being rescued from burning buildings, who gets to eat"). The other part is a sense of duty. "When I started, the response, particularly from men, was so overwhelming," she says. "I had men messaging me: 'When I watched your videos, that was the first time I cried in 20 years...' 'You made me decide not to commit suicide...' 'Thank you so much. For the last 10 years or so, I was really starting to hate women...'"
"I had men messaging me: 'When I watched your videos, that was the first time I cried in 20 years...' 'You made me decide not to commit suicide...'
Bloomfield, a former bank productivity analyst, juggles being a stay-at-home mom of three "deep in the woods in Northern Ontario" with her work as a writer and unofficial MRA spokesperson. She grew up on a farm, in a family organized by traditional gender roles, where she "could never buy that this was oppression or bad." A difficult relationship with her mother showed her that women are human—in other words, a woman has the capability to be just as terrible (or presumably, as not-terrible) as a man. Three years ago, she began her blog as a sort of inside joke with a close friend, but it quickly landed her in the manosphere with her take-no-prisoners style of writing about gender and culture. See: "The moment I knew feminism was a crock of shit."
There's also Tara Palmatier, 43, a West Coast–based clinical psychologist who counsels men "recovering from relationships with abusive women." When asked for examples of the domestic abuse men suffer, Palmatier scoffs, "Wow. Um...do you doubt that it happens? That women are capable of abusing others?...For a long time now, when the issue of male victims of domestic violence has been raised, they've been ridiculed, they've been mocked. No offense, but the media has a pretty big hand in that." None taken, but consider the evidence from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that states an overwhelming majority of domestic abuse victims (76 percent) are female—maybe that explains it.
Another hot-button Honey Badger conversation topic: the supposed myth of rape culture. "If you actually look at statistics, rape on college campuses is far, far less than the general population, yet it's being treated as if American universities are Darfur or the Congo," Palmatier says. "Do you really think parents would send their little precious daughters off to university if they thought that there was a chance that, just leaving their dormitory, they were going to get raped?" A 2014 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics says college-age women not enrolled in college are 1.2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than college-age women who attend college. While rape statistics are notoriously unreliable, that's not exactly a huge difference. Molly Dragiewicz, author of Equality With a Vengeance: Men's Rights Groups, Battered Women, and Antifeminist Backlash, points to another federally funded study, which paints a different picture. "It compared pre- and during college rape rates, which is one way of comparing college/non-college rates," Dragiewicz says. "It found higher rape rates during college than before."
Statistics tend to be a sticking point for Honey Badgers. Take, for instance, the wage gap. "It's an extremely misleading statistic," Kasandra Nagel, 23, says. "It's the average of all working women and all working men. It doesn't take into account things like personal choice." Nagel, a tween-faced brunette from Alberta (what is it about Canada?), identifies as anti-feminist and posts YouTube videos under the handle End Feminism, which are promoted on AVfM. "Every bit of research that looks at income inequality, not just in the U.S., but in other countries, finds there is a wage gap by sex," counters Dragiewicz. "The strategy the movement uses is cherry-picking statistics. You have to look at more than one study and at what the balance of the research does." Or, hell, just look around. How many women do you know who out-earn a man at a comparable job in the same field? Not to cherry-pick a statistic, but...even in a female-dominated field like nursing, men earn more than women, according to a March 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"The strategy the movement uses is cherry-picking statistics."
Despite the conviction with which they blog (not to mention the fearless nature of their namesake mascot), it's easy to understand why a Honey Badger might be reluctant to identify herself as such, or even to meet up in public. "Many of these women realize that they take a lot of guff from their women friends who think they are either crazy-nuts, or maybe that they can't get a guy and this is the only way they can do it, and they are ridiculed," says Farrell. "But they see something other women don't and have the courage to express it." Luckily, you can hide on the Internet. "I have not had backlash from friends over my anti-feminism," Bloomfield says, "but I haven't shared my online activities with a tremendous number of people."
Besides last year's conference, the Honey Badgers have only convened at smaller meet-ups, such as one at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo in April, where their time was cut short owing to an incident at a panel on women in comics. Per her own audio recording of the event, Tieman requested, and was permitted, to answer a rhetorically asked question for MRAs, arguably derailing the entire conversation. (They were kicked out shortly thereafter.) In July, there was a Honey Badger Brigade's Gamergate hangout in Vancouver (at a bar they didn't get kicked out of). The second-annual International Conference on Men's Issues was to take place in Houston this month—until organizers canceled it. The problem, they say, was an overextension of resources. The team behind the conference is the same behind AVfM, which recently launched a new site: An Ear for Men (a blog and "consulting service" for men).
"There's a little trepidation," Bloomfield says about planning smaller hangouts, referencing another recent Gamergate supporters' meet-up disrupted by a Twitter bomb threat. That's why, it turns out, Janet Bloomfield isn't actually "Janet Bloomfield." "It's a pseudonym," she explains after it's pointed out in an e-mail that she writes about "Janet" in the third person. "I chose an awkward, clunky one so people would think it was my real name."
"Our goal is to expand, to have more voices to actually discuss these issues."
In any case, names aren't essential to a Honey Badger's long-term goals, which are the same as her short-term ones: Make noise. "The Supreme Court used the Constitution both to deny and affirm gay rights, but the Constitution hasn't changed; the culture has," Bloomfield says. "That's what we are trying to do. Our goal is to expand, to have more voices to actually discuss these issues." And so, the blogging, tweeting, name-calling may just be the beginning.
But it'll be worth it, you'll see. One day, we'll live in a world where men finally have just as many rights as women. Now, if only that pesky feminism weren't in the way. But whatever. Honey badger don't care. Honey badger don't give a shit.
This article appears in the October issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands September 22.