*Content warning: This article contains strong language and material which some readers may find offensive.
The planned protest popped up on Facebook feeds less than three weeks ago, calling on Australians to support men’s rights and “remind the men in our lives and men in Australia that their issues matter too and it is okay to be masculine”.
According to the March for Men page, male identity and masculinity are said to have been “attacked by the media, politicians and interest groups” in recent weeks, who have told Australians it’s “undesirable to be a man.”
The event will be held on August 25 and is being hosted by former Melbourne University journalism graduate and YouTube blogger Sydney Watson, known for her controversial and conservative views on gun laws, feminism, white privilege and support for Donald Trump. Her YouTube channel currently has over 30 thousand subscribers.
Watson told Dscribe: “The march grew as a response to the number of messages and emails I received from men and women who were distressed and unhappy about the way men were collectively being vilified in the media.”
This comes following the tragic death of Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne earlier this year which left the community outraged when Victorian Police urged women to take responsibility for their safety and was later criticised in popular media for insinuating victim-blaming. In response, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ posted, “Women don’t need to change their behaviour. Men do.”
Since its creation, the march has gained solid traction with more than 500 people posting on the event’s Facebook page that they’re ‘attending’ and another 2200 stating they’re ‘interested’.
In response to the march, a counter-protest has appeared on Facebook, also led predominantly by women and hosted by the National Union of Students (NUS) Women’s Department and co-hosted by Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, the National Union of Students LGBTI and Books not Bombs. Currently, there are 327 listed as ‘going’ and another 1000 ‘interested’.
The counter-protest has enraged many on the March for Men page who have vented their frustration, some even making direct threats to those organising or planning to attend the counter-protest.
Others blamed feminism and left-wing views for the perceived lack of support for men’s rights in larger society.
When speaking to Watson, she said she is working to remove the negative posts and the purpose of the march is not to “hate on women”. She believes, “It would be remiss to say there isn’t a level of disdain that people, like me, have for feminism.” She goes on to explain: “First and second-wave feminism did amazing things for women’s rights because there were genuine inequalities facing women at the time. However, many of us struggle to see feminism’s use or relevance in 2018.”
Before establishing the march, Watson shared videos on her YouTube channel titled ‘4 Reasons why feminism is full of hypocrisy’, ‘The #MeToo movement has ruined workplaces’ and ‘We need to teach men not to rape?’ to which she talked directly about the death of Eurydice Dixon and expressed her frustration with popular media and the Premier, labelling their argument as “stupid”. “My safety is my responsibility,” she said. “I don’t want to put any accountability on anyone else. Sure we can teach men not to rape or, alternatively, maybe we can give women the right to self-defence.”
Watson says her arguments have been twisted by what she dubs “the media, talking-heads and the regressive left”.
Watson said the march encompasses three core elements that she says show “solidarity between men and women, demonstrating that men’s issues are important too and showing love for the men and boys in our lives”.
A tradesman from Melbourne’s south-east suburbs and father of a 5-year old daughter, Nick Robson, says he’s planning to attend the march because he’s “very interested in seeing the overall outcome of the day”. “There is a lot of arguments thrown from both side of this and I’m trying to see where it will end up affecting my child’s future,” he says.
“I’ve seen friends lose everything including visiting rights to children due to a biased viewpoint from the courts on dads during divorce hearings,” he says. “I want equality of opportunity for everybody.”
“I don’t get why men and women feel the need to find something to fight about. The gender pay gap, that’s been disproven when you stop looking at averages or why all employees aren’t women, and the ‘men are all rapists or murderers’ smear campaign gets me and are my main concerns for the future,” he says.
In response to the negative comments on the Facebook event’s page, Watson says that whilst the page is monitored, the comments made are “representative of the (individual’s) own views.” And while she doesn’t support threats or violence towards the counter-protest she says, “I don’t blame people for being upset, I myself think the counter-protest is pretty offensive and odd. Standing up for men and gender solidarity is sexist, really?”
Women’s officer of the NUS, Kate Crossin, has been warned not to meet anybody in person before the rally for her own safety. She says the threats made don’t really work on her and that the union “has been involved in counter protests before and we’re not scared. We’re just cautious”.
Crossin says claims that the counter-protest doesn’t support men’s rights are “ridiculous”. “There are no serious organisations and movements out there who are calling for higher rates of male suicide or more men to have their children taken off them, that’s not what we’re doing.”
The problem she says the union has with the march is that it’s “not really getting to the face of the issue”. “We would absolutely support any sort of campaign or action that was actually addressing these issues and finding real ways to face them,” Crossin said.
“If this march was about the fact that there are very high incarceration rates of indigenous males in this country, and what we’re doing to fight, or about the rigid gender roles that come into play in the family court system that favours women as primary caregivers over men, that’s the stuff we know and support in our movement already.”
On the counter rally’s Facebook event page, the description states “Globally Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) have operated as a gateway drug for the alt-right. Their campaigns seek to enforce rigid gender norms, sexist stereotypes and violence toward women.”
Crossin says, “The march is just calling for a bunch of alt-right people to come out into the streets and have a bit of a yell about how men aren’t cared about.” She believes Watson is using the march to pedal her own agenda.
She also says the union is planning to contact Watson prior to the event and request a debate on either a campus or in a space that isn’t “surrounded by heated members of both sides to actually challenge each other’s opinions and have this fight over discourse”. She is doubtful that Watson will agree and says the union has made previous efforts to contact her in the past.
“People like Sydney really rely on her followers to get out there and have these fights and rely on really constructed and edited arguments,” she says. “Whether that’s in an online forum, a news article or news outlet where they have the ability to not be challenged as much as they would in a debate.”
In response, Watson says she hasn’t yet received any request for a debate and she previously drafted an email inviting them to the march but failed to send it.
The march will be at Federation Square, a popular location for previous demonstrations and events. Given the heightened sensitivity of the location due to past tragedies in the CBD, the police say they are taking precautions, being vigilant and on high alert to ensure the protest will remain civil.
Watson also says she is working closely with police to ensure the day runs smoothly.
In a public statement, Leading Senior Constable Lea-Taylor Bolton from the Victoria Police media unit said, “Public safety is our number one priority and there will be a strong police presence on the day to ensure the community is safe. We are equipped and well-prepared to deploy resources, respond and intervene where required.”
Recognising the legal right of individuals to engage in protest, Bolton says Victoria Police ask people do so in a “peaceful and respectful way to ensure there is no impact on others in the community”. “Victoria Police will not tolerate those who break the law or engage in antisocial behaviour,” she said.
If this article brings up any issues for you, you can find support through Lifeline, on 13 11 14 or MensLine on 1300 78 99 78.