01/30/2013 12:06 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

Why Feminists Should Champion Mel Feit's Quest for Men's Liberation

Last year, on November 7, the inaugural editorial staff of Ms. celebrated the publication's 40th anniversary in New York City. Co-founding editors Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin took a moment to bask in the success of their revolutionary magazine and the strides women have made since its founding in 1972.

As the bash ensued, somewhere on Port Jefferson, Long Island, the leader of a different -- one might say, decidedly oppositional -- movement reflected on the far-less-starry successes his movement's had since its founding 25 years earlier on November 17, 1987.

His name is Mel Feit and he's the founder of the National Center for Men, a men's rights group based in Coram, New York.

"Men's rights," may sound oxymoronic -- and perverse, something akin to "white rights" -- but to Mel and his band of brothers, it's no joke. They believe men's equal rights are challenged by unfair child support obligations, a family law system that privileges mothers in child custody cases, the trivialization of female-on-male domestic violence, the cultural vilification of male sexuality, and social customs that impose an outdated (and crippling) expectation of masculinity on men.

The NCM has advanced its many causes through counseling services, helping men find family law experts, staging protests at women-only establishments and using the media to trumpet their movement.

While "movement" might overstate the influence these groups have--they comprise only a handful of organizations -- the idea of them nonetheless riles some feminists. Amanda Marcotte, author of It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments, offered these scorching words, which pretty much sum up feminism's response to these guys:

MRAs may have a handful of semi-accurate observations, but the fact that they blame feminists for men's problems and not patriarchy shows that they are not interested in real solutions. 'Men's rights,' a term that resembles 'white power' in its belligerence and pseudo-victimization, is a reactionary movement, and the propping up of a few pseudo-liberal leaders doesn't change that. There is already a movement for people of both genders who want to end stifling gender roles: It's called feminism.

As sympathetic as I am to Marcotte's points, my conversations with Mel over the years tell me that the story of men's rights is a bit more complicated and nuanced than my fellow feminists allow.

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