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But they would lynch me." Men's rights activism has been in the undercurrent of American culture since at least the 1970s and has been largely explicit in its role as a backlash against feminism.The movement has neither a central platform nor any acclimated leaders, but the central themes are consistent: It is men, not women, who are oppressed.Eight-dollar tequila shots; polo shirts tucked in or dress shirts tucked out of pre-faded jeans; groups of guests emitting an oscillating screech from every booth."This is just, like, my neighborhood place," he tells me the first time we walk in the door. Definitely annoying." (Distinguishing them from the similarly well-highlighted, halter-topped women he shows me on Facebook as examples of what he's "into" requires some capacity for discernment I do not possess.) He has a different-colored polo on all three nights I see him. This isn't terribly uncommon: Men's rights activists exist who disdain that particular episode, if not for its virulence then for its celebration of men who prefer Dungeons and Dragons to Monday Night Football.Men are expected to work dangerous and difficult jobs in construction and agriculture.Beyond these overt disadvantages, they claim more subtle systemic disrespect from a culture increasingly focused on what they take to be feminine values, from emotional expressiveness to total sexual and reproductive liberation.He doesn't think much of feminism in general, or at least of what he says feminism became once the voting and the jobs and the abortion rights were sorted and the word became a dog whistle for "self-pity and sexism toward men." His name is Max — although it isn't, of course — and he is a men's rights activist.
"I'm not one of those guys who's obsessed," Max tells me on our first night together. But the caveat comes with some regret, as though Max wishes he were more involved in fighting the good fight. "When I was, like, 10 or whatever I'm sure I would've said I was a feminist if I'd known the word," Max says. And I guess in the way my mom means it, I still am. For her, feminism means ‘everybody is equal,' but if you said that now, these social justice warriors on Tumblr would call you a sexist and garbage and tell you to die. I thought feminist meant ‘women should be able to vote and have jobs,' which I'm obviously cool with." Max says he wasn't terribly unpopular in high school, but read more than was socially viable — most of it on the computer. The term "men's rights activist" wasn't one he encountered in those days; he still says he prefers thinking of himself as a "humanist." "Putting ‘men' right in the name is a deliberate response to feminism, I think.Four years after graduating, he has a solid entry-level job at an area financial institution."Plenty of women work there," he offers in the middle of a preliminary biographical rundown.It was only good luck that he lived in my city and was willing to talk.In the popular imagination, men's rights activists are "neckbeards": morbidly obese basement dwellers with a suspect affection for My Little Pony. (He has a brother, younger: "He goes to school in Seattle.
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"I'll make you a bet, hundred dollars," Max tells me the first night we hang out.