When I decided to dive into the online world of MRA’s (Men’s Rights Activists), I knew that what I found would make me angry, make me laugh, and make me sad. The main question I ended with, though, was have any of these guys ever met an actual woman, much less an actual feminist?

For those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar, MRA is the most generic term for a loose conglomeration of dudes that feel that it is they, the men, who are truly oppressed by women, who use their wanton temptress ways to control men with their strategic deployment of vaginas towards everyone but these self-proclaimed “beta males.”

MRAs are by no means a monolith — there are many factions and MRA adjacent pockmarks of the internet, each with their own set of grievances. There are the PUAs (pick-up artists), who can’t muster enough personality to get laid and convince themselves they can manipulate women into sex. There are the incels (involuntary celibates) who are convinced women as a cabal have decided to exclude them from sexual life, rather than just acknowledge that women don’t want to date jerks. There are also the MGTOWs (Men Going Their Own Way) who have decided they should exit society rather than risk interaction with women. These various groups mix and mingle in largely unregulated communities such as Reddit and 4chan, complaining about their romantic failures with women, blaming their professional failures on “diversity,” and even contemplating enslaving women as brood mares in a manner not too dissimilar from The Handmaid’s Tale.

The typical MRA-given description of the archetypal ‘woman’ is narcissistic, manipulative, and abusive. Think Dangerous Liaisons. By the raw numbers, I would assume that at least a few of these sociopathic femme fatales must exist somewhere, but I’ve never come across one in the wild. Intriguingly, MRAs further profess that this sex criminal mastermind is simultaneously stupid enough to be manipulated into sex, and also incapable of succeeding in any profession requiring technical or leadership skills. MRAs are further convinced that most — if not all — claims of sexual abuse, assault, and/or harassment are false and that women are waiting to trap men and forever ruin their lives with calculated false accusations. While it is difficult to determine the exact numbers, according to research cited by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, roughly 2 to 8 percent of such claims are false, while 63 percent of victims never report their assault at all. No matter to MRAs — they dismiss any research that contradicts their world view as fake news; just further evidence of how deep the women-centric conspiracy really goes.

Take, for example, the now-infamous “Google Manifesto” that went viral in early August, which pulled most of its arguments from MRA ideologies and debunked evolutionary biology hailing from the Eugenics movements of the early 20th century. The author, who has since been fired from the company, argued that women were essentially biologically unfit to work at Google because neurotic lady brains can’t possibly be capable of leadership or proficiency in the realms of coding and engineering; he further argued that diversity and inclusion initiatives at Google would one day ruin the company. Psychologists have been trying to determine what, if any, differences exist between the male and female brain for quite some time. The most recent scholarship suggests that individual differences explain far more than differences across populations. According to a recent article in Wired magazine examining the science behind the Google author’s claims, gender accounts for only small variance in personality studies, and researchers still don’t understand if these variances are biological or social. The brain is plastic and changes throughout our lives based on a number of factors, some biological, some environmental. If only there was somewhere on the internet that this relatively simple search could have revealed the level of complexity in this field of study to the author before he hit ‘send’ on his screed and cost himself his career.

MRAs often cite such debunked pseudoscience to frame life as a test of mating fitness. MRAs divide themselves into groups like strong, aggressive, and attractive “alphas” that women want to mate with, and the more emotional, frail, and less romantically successful “betas.” In my time spelunking on the Reddit MRA board Red Pill (a reference to The Matrix, where one must choose to either take the blue pill and remain in ignorant bliss, or take the red pill and discover the world for what it really is), I saw countless references to women’s “Sexual Market Value,” typically a function of physical attractiveness and willingness to submit to traditional gender ideologies. MRAs claim that the scientific community has been infiltrated by feminists, who have conspired to discredit evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. Much like their white supremacist cousins (as there is significant overlap between race and gender-related hate), any information that challenges the MRA worldview is considered the result of a vast conspiracy trying to hide the ‘real truth’ in the interest of political correctness.

As vitriolic and even violent as many of these men are, many more simply feel jilted and want someone to blame for their own failings. They don’t feel they’ve been given their romantic and professional due. Some complain of women who treated them cruelly or unfairly in the past, blaming an entire gender for the actions of one person. Others are simply frustrated by cultural expectations that men often pay for dates. Still others feel unfairly treated by the court system in family matters, or that acts of domestic violence and sexual assault committed by women are more frequent than those committed by men, and under-prosecuted. Though there is significant evidence that men are more likely to commit violent acts, of course women can be guilty of these acts, and I think we can all agree that these acts of violence are wrong — regardless of the gender of the assailant or victim. In the same breath, they also claim that women are biologically determined to be caretakers of children and in need of male protection — both financially and physically. It seems lost on them that their own biases perpetuate the systems they claim are unfair to them, instead spiraling into deeper recesses of hate and misogyny.

Crucially, MRAs fail to realize that another “–ism” already exists to work on these problems: feminism. Most MRAs have a warped view of what feminism actually means, rather unsurprisingly. I’ve lost count of how many men who’ve never read a single feminist text have tried to explain to me that it is I, the well-read feminist, who misunderstands the fundamentals of the field. They furrow their brows and insist that feminists hate men and are conspiring to destroy masculinity. If feminism is about equality why not call it egalitarianism? This is essentially an “All Genders Matter” argument that misses the point just as far afield as “All Lives Matter” does. There is of course a wide range of feminist belief, from pay equality and career concerns to far fringes that resemble the MRA ideology more closely than they do mainstream feminism, but these are rare and largely obsolete in the modern era.

Feminists and MRAs agree that a parent’s gender should not be a factor in determining child custody because it only serves to perpetuate stereotypes of women as natural caretakers when courts prefer to grant primary custody to mothers. We also agree that domestic violence is wrong, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator, and that such acts should be prosecuted. We agree that abusing sexual power differentials is unacceptable when it happens to boys or to girls. We agree that men shouldn’t pay for every date — alternating works quite well. Regardless of what men may have heard about “feminazis” from right-wing radio or their bros, feminism is about just one thing: gender equality. The patriarchy (simply a system of internalized ideas — not some far-reaching conspiracy as some imagine) hurts men and boys, too. It teaches boys that they can’t show emotion and results in a higher male suicide rate because they face more pressure to succeed and have no acceptable outlet for their pain. It results in men needlessly dying of illnesses that should have been caught sooner if they’d sought treatment. It causes men to resort to violence when rage is the only emotion allowed.

Next time you meet a stranger in a bar that tells you that feminists are out to destroy men, tell them this for me: The truth is in individual difference, in neuropsychology and in society. If we can build a society where all genders can choose the life, career, and romantic future that suits them, without the sideways glances of friends, neighbors, parents and institutions, we’ll all be better off. The evolutionary biology perspective of caveman-like gender imperatives and social competition isn’t our destiny. Life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and no one else has to fail for you to succeed. Friends don’t let friends become Men’s Rights Activists.