‘There’s going to be civil war’
ON A drizzly Sunday in Sydney's inner-city suburb of Redfern, two young blokes sit outside a cafe and make awkward conversation.
They have never met before, but one thing unites them. They believe their masculinity is under threat, and it won't be long until "radical feminism" strips away their rights forever.
One of them is Adrian Johnson, the co-founder of a pressure group called Men's Rights Sydney (MRS). It meets once a month to plan how to stop this tide of women's rights activism, which some members claim will lead Australia into civil war.
The other bloke is a newcomer, who says he is concerned about a new NSW Government sexual consent campaign that tells young adults if they don't get a clear and verbal "yes" then they shouldn't be pushing forward in sexual encounters.
Mr Johnson tells me he's not expecting a big turnout at this month's meeting. That's because an estimated 500 to 1000 people gathered on the streets of Melbourne for the March for Men the previous day - and many of MRS's hardcore members flew down to make their voices heard.
The march was hailed as a "historic moment" for the men's rights movement by MRS member Adrian Smyth, who is so fresh from Melbourne he came straight to the meeting from the airport with his suitcase in tow.
Mr Johnson's fears of a turnout of two people - which is low even by the fringe group's standards - are soon allayed as we slid up the escalator up to the nearby Club Redfern.
Once we're there, the latecomers started to filter in and place their orders for an assortment of Chinese food at the nearby bar.
The issue that's on everyone's mind is the Melbourne rally and Mr Smyth is happy to give the group of six a run-down.
He describes the "b**tards in the press" not hearing him out and a spate of fiery arguments with "Antifa" counter-protesters, but overall he is pleased with how it panned out.
"People have been having these conversations (about men's rights) around water coolers for a lifetime and now they are coming out into the open," he said, seeming genuinely moved by the march.
But, as fried rice and soft drinks pile up around the lazy Susan, the group of six decide it's time to move on to "official business".
First on the agenda is a proposed underpants burning ceremony.
Channelling the bra burning protests of feminists in the 1960s, the six men discussed whether burning their undergarments was an appropriate response to a "ridiculous" awareness-raising stunt by Russian student Anna Dovgalyuk, who flashed her pants at commuters to raise awareness for "upskirting" laws in her homeland.
Some suggested a necktie might be more appropriate, but nevertheless, the idea was warmly received and put on the backburner for discussion at a later date. There was an update on their next big upcoming event on International Men's Day although it was announced, regrettably, that they had only sold 18 tickets.
They then proposed taking legal action against the student union, which had called them "neo-Nazis" in pamphlets leading up to Saturday's march.
Being associated with the far-right is taken as offensive by some in the group, which claims to welcome Aussies of all political strains. Some even claimed to have centre-left ideals.
Mr Johnson told me he was left-leaning, but this had become more difficult for him after incessant "name-calling" from the "far-left" over his men's rights beliefs.
Interestingly, members say women have also graced their monthly meetings on several occasions.
But moving back to "official business", the leadership spill was seen as an opportunity to shame pollies for alleged "sexist" slurs against men.
Once such contentious comment came from the NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward.
As the NSW Government announced a review of sexual consent laws in May, she told The Sydney Morning Herald: "You must explicitly ask for permission to have sex. If it's not an enthusiastic yes, then it's a no."
This enraged the group, who brainstormed banner ideas they could drive around Ms Goward's electorate of Goulburn on the back of a van to persuade voters not to vote for her.
One idea was a banner that read: "You are all rapists." Mr Smyth conceded this was a tad extreme.
They were even given homework: to find a "sexist" comment from a federal politician so they can be targeted in the event of an election.
This fed into a lengthy debate on this political hot potato: whether rape legislation had gone too far.
"It does sound like we're supporting rape," said one member, sounding concerned during the debate which, for a moment, turned tense.
"That's not what I'm saying at all," responded Mr Smyth, who suggested society should move away from "convicting people on he/she said evidence" - suggesting there should be a struggle for it to be considered rape in a court of law.
They attacked initiatives to encourage females into science, technology, engineering and maths education; aired controversial views on the Luke Lazurus rape case; and criticised Lisa Wilkinson after her impassioned plea following the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon.
Then there was the concept of the "mangina", which the group use to criticise men who support feminism. They explained the only reason men supported feminism was for sex.
However, they told me they were for women's rights too, just not to the "detriment of men's rights at the same time". Ultimately, they want an elected representative against "men's discrimination" at every level of government.
MRS member Alan Ward told news.com.au that, if men's rights were "continually eroded", Australia would be plunged into "civil war" because our economy would be destroyed by policies that "incentivise single parenting".
They attacked initiatives such as White Ribbon Australia, which attempt to raise awareness about violence and abuse towards women, arguing domestic violence affected men too.
However, they neglected to mention that the scale of violence towards Australian women was far graver. The White Ribbon statistics do not lie.
One in three women have experienced physical or sexual abuse by someone known to them.
One in five women have been stalked. The same number have been harassed in the workplace.
On average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner.
For indigenous women, the picture is even worse. They are 35 times more likely than the wider female population to be hospitalised due to family violence.
There's the issue of the gender pay gap, which even MRS members admitted was a problem (albeit arguing men should be "compensated" because they have shorter life expectancies).
Then, of course there's the global picture, in which millions of women live under oppressive religious theocracies and antiquated cultural systems that render them slaves or second-class citizens at best.
And, as the three-hour debate wrapped up, it was clear the six men were there that day for a range of reasons.
One had lost custody of his children in a legal battle and even lost his job for expressing his views on men's rights; another was just confused about how he should talk to women and approach relationships because of his disability.
These six men weren't the evil fascists they were made out to be by some; they were there because they felt alienated.
Society is moving towards a more equal Australia. But for these men, this progress compounds their personal frustrations and gives the impression the world is against them.
It gives them something to unite against and talk about about over Chinese food once a month.
And, this small, vocal minority of disenfranchised men is not going away. They will meet again soon for more chow mein, vigorous political debate and, just maybe, they will burn their underpants.
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