The ‘men’s rights’ pioneer who backs Hillary Clinton

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter
Hillary Clinton greets supporters at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, on May 16, 2016. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Hillary Clinton’s path-breaking bid for the presidency is facing resistance from men, especially white men, who are backing Republican rival Donald Trump in droves. Clinton is losing men to Trump by 11 points in a national poll out this week, and exit polling in the Democratic primaries shows that Clinton has done particularly poorly with white men so far, winning 44 percent of their vote on average compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 56 percent.

But Clinton is being offered help with her man problem from a very unlikely supporter.

Warren Farrell is the father of the men’s rights movement, and has dedicated his life’s work to countering the feminist message that we live in a patriarchal society where the rules are made by men to benefit men. In his 1993 book, “The Myth of Male Power,” he argued that women’s “sexual power” eclipsed any societal disadvantages they had, and that men were becoming the new subservient class in America, forced to chivalrously give up their seats to women while losing out to them in legal arenas such as child custody and domestic violence courts.

Farrell finds himself powerfully attracted to Trump’s provocative message on gender issues. He agrees with the former real estate tycoon that Clinton has been playing her “woman’s card” by devoting a significant part of her message to women’s issues, like the gender pay gap. He is also happy that Trump recently said women have it “better” today than men do, a core belief of men’s rights activists. “Most men feel today that their perspective on the world is being completely neglected,” Farrell said in an interview.

But Farrell, now in his 70s, is also a lifelong liberal who started out his career in gender issues as a feminist. (He was friends with Gloria Steinem and served on the board of the National Organization for Women before becoming disillusioned with feminism.) Farrell has also distanced himself from the misogyny of some in the men’s rights movement who mingle their ideas about men’s suffering with a belief that women are shallow and intellectually inferior to them. “It’s not about men’s rights for me; it’s about both sexes being able to hear each other and be there for each other,” Farrell said.

He’s also been a fan of Hillary Clinton for decades. At a New Year’s Eve party in 2006, he got to meet her and Bill Clinton, and pressed upon her his most recent book, “Why Men Earn More–And What Women Can Do About It.” In it, he argues that men earn fatter paychecks than women largely because of the professions they choose — not gender discrimination. “I gave that book directly to Hillary,” Farrell said. He’s donated the maximum allowable amount to her primary bid.

But like a lot of people in his movement, Farrell recoils at some of Clinton’s feminist rhetoric and fears that her winning the presidency will further fuel what he sees as men’s decline in power and status in society. “There’s a huge number of women who are feminists in their orientation who only look at the world the way Hillary is articulating it, and that is going to create even more of this rift that Trump is articulating,” Farrell said.

And yet, Farrell can’t fathom a Trump presidency, and says he “abhors” most of Trump’s policy positions. “I’d rather have somebody who doesn’t understand my issues who I believe will run a good economy, who I believe will be able to negotiate with the Mideast,” he said.

So Farrell and some of his ideological compatriots — including Mark Sherman, a retired psychology professor who writes about gender issues — are on a mission to educate the Clinton campaign about men. They have been lobbying Team Clinton to explicitly address men’s issues, which they believe would help her attract more male voters. They want her to talk about how men are doing worse than women in college attendance and in suicide rates, among other issues. (Both Sherman and Farrell are part of a bipartisan group that is lobbying the Obama administration to create a White House Council on Boys and Men to mirror the group it created for girls.)

“I do think for a lot of men, it does seem to us that we’re not a concern of hers,” Sherman said. “A lot of guys feel she’s just not talking to us.”

Warren Farrell and Hillary Clinton on New Year’s Eve in 2006. (Courtesy of Warren Farrell)

Farrell has pointed out that on a recent call with supporters, Clinton took five questions, all from women, and that at a recent fundraiser in San Francisco he attended, most of her introducers were women. “She needs to start saying things like, women need the support of fathers,” Farrell said.

Sherman, who hasn’t decided whether to back Clinton or Sanders, wrote to Amanda Renteria, Clinton’s national political director, in December to urge the former secretary of state to speak about men.

He included some suggested text for Clinton. “I have always been a champion for girls and women across the globe, and here at home, and I will continue to be,” Sherman suggested Clinton say. “But our boys and young men are not doing very well, and the role of fathers — who can make a huge difference in the lives of daughters as well as sons — has not been fully recognized and appreciated. Our nation’s future depends on how our families are doing, and that includes all of us.”

Renteria replied politely. “I know the Secretary agrees with you on the importance of boys and young men,” she said. “Truth is, her statements on women and girls seem to make the press, but she is always talking about families.”

Asked to comment on Farrell’s suggestions, Clinton spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the former secretary of state’s focus on “education, college affordability, criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, quality health care, and good-paying jobs” would help the lives of both men and women. “Hillary Clinton is committed to helping all Americans — male and female — reach their full potential,” she said.

So far, Clinton has not heeded her men’s rights supporters’ advice. And it’s unclear if it would make strategic sense for her to do so.

It’s true that her performance with men is worrisome, especially in a recent Quinnipiac poll of three swing states, where she won just a quarter of white men’s support in Florida. “Twenty-five percent of the vote is not real good,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Trump’s doing better among men than she’s doing among women. That’s the gender gap that doesn’t get talked about a lot.”

But national polls suggest that overall, Trump appears to be more underwater with women than Clinton is with men. She trails him with men by 11 points, but he’s behind her with women by 15 points.

Trump’s objective appears to be to run up the score, shoring up as much support among men as possible to counter Clinton’s advantage among women. He has cornered the market on men’s issues, playing his own “man card” of sorts. Earlier this month, he deflected attacks on his comments criticizing women for their appearance as “political correctness,” and said men are “petrified” to talk to women because someone could accuse them of raising their voice.

“Trump is playing a gender card,” said Susan J. Carroll, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “He’s playing to that feeling among some white men that other groups are getting more advantages and attention, and their lot has been declining.”

The problem with this strategy? Ten million more women than men voted in the last presidential election.

“The numbers aren’t on Trump’s side,” Carroll said.

That might help explain why, to Farrell’s chagrin, Clinton appears to be running up the score with women as Trump courts men. Clinton now yells, “Deal me in!” about Trump’s woman’s card critique on the stump, and her audiences cry the words out loud with her.

At a fundraiser Farrell attended earlier this month, the crowd went wild when Clinton said she planned to close the pay gap between men and women. “She said, ‘Wow, that’s always my biggest standing ovation,’” Farrell recalled.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the title of one of Farrell’s books.