Last Thursday, a gaggle of women demonstrated outside a building in Virginia where US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was speaking. Shouting slogans and brandishing placards that declared De Vos and Donald Trump were “standing up for rapists”, the women were protesting against DeVos’s determination to mitigate the excesses of the rape panic that has gripped American university campuses; and, also, they were bellowing their opposition to De Vos’s promise to insist on fair hearings and due process for anybody accused of sexual misdemeanours. Similar protests were repeated a thousand times on Twitter under the hashtag #StopBetsy.
There's no evidence that DeVos took any notice of that predictable and wearisome feminist hyperbole; but, for the first time, it looks as if women’s voices coming from an entirely different quarter may actually have had more influence on the Secretary's – and thus the government's – thinking and policies.
Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) was founded in 2013 by three mothers of sons who had been falsely accused of sexual misconduct at their respective colleges. Largely organised and run by women (even though the victims of the injustice they are campaigning against are mostly men), FACE has built a formidable legal case and established itself as a serious political presence in the US. Earlier this year, representatives of FACE – including their co-president, the steely California lawyer Cynthia Garrett – had a lengthy discussion in person with Betsy DeVos. After that meeting, Garrett was asked by Candice Jackson (the Education Secretary’s equalities enforcer) to provide a written opinion on recommendations concerning campus trials drawn up by the American Bar Association. In addition, FACE supplied other research, recommendations and stories from close to 100 of the families with whom they are in touch.
These may have included stories DeVos herself recounted in her speech last Thursday – such as the Amherst College student who was expelled for sexual assault, even though he had credible evidence that his accuser had assaulted him. Or the Colorado State University student, Grant Neal, who was accused of sexually assaulting a female sports trainer – but not by her. When questioned, the trainer said, "I'm fine and I wasn't raped." Nonetheless, university officials insisted that according to existing rules, it was up to them, not her, to decide whether she had been assaulted. Neal was deemed guilty and expelled.
Many of those appalling stories will have tallied with the terrible family tragedies we have heard ourselves in the UK – such as that of Karin Cheshire, aged 55, who hanged herself in July 2016 a year after her son 17 year-old Jay had hanged himself over false rape allegations. Or 21 year-old Louis Richardson, a Durham history undergrad and former head of the university’s debating society, who was cleared in 2016 of rape and sexual assault after suffering devastating years of suspicion and opprobrium.
On behalf of their sons, their grandsons and their husbands, women are demanding better treatment for boys in schools and for fathers in the family courts
If FACE’s dossier did influence Betty DeVos’s deliberations, it might be a sign that serious, systematic work may, at last, be supplanting the bluster and hyperbole of the demonstrators shrieking outside the building and on Twitter. Asked if members of FACE staged any kind of counter-demonstration in Virginia, Ms Garrett crisply replied: “holding placards is generally not how we operate”.
In my view, what happened last week in Virginia may be one of the most hopeful developments of recent times. Everybody who cares about equality and justice should rejoice but men, especially, should go down on their knees and offer up a heartfelt prayer of thanks. At last – perhaps for the first time in any Western democracy – we saw last week a woman in a powerful office of state acting, not on behalf of women’s sectional interests but neutrally, in the genderless service of justice. It just so happens in this case the beneficiaries are largely going to be men.
I have been longing to see something like this happen for at least 10 years. In 2006, I made a speech to the Equal Parenting Alliance saying that bodies like Fathers 4 Justice, Families need Fathers, the UK Men's Movement and Mankind had made very little difference to the laws, the courts, the conventions and the culture of our time because they had failed to enlist the support of powerful and influential women (that speech is reproduced in Sexual Impolitics).
Such was the hold of the gynocentric, feminist creed, I argued, that nobody would admit that inequalities could apply to men – no matter how obvious and incontestable the facts – if it was solely men who were pointing out those injustices. The automatic, knee-jerk response was invariably to jeer that there must be something wrong with those guys – they must be misogynistic woman-haters or suffer some inadequacy like having a little willy or being unable to get a girlfriend.
If, however, the protests and the arguments came from women – especially if those women were manifestly mature, educated, balanced and successful in their own lives – then no such philistine, sexist reaction would be possible. The only knee-jerk dismissal available is to sneer that such women must have “internalised their own misogyny”. Anybody who fancies their chances should try that line on Cynthia Garrett and see how it goes.
The mothers who have banded together in FACE are part of a growing worldwide movement consisting of women speaking on behalf of men. In the UK, they can be found among The Liberty Belles and Women against Feminism. In the US, they include Karen Straughan of girlwriteswhat (@girlwriteswhat ) and Cassie Jaye, maker of the ground-breaking documentary film The Red Pill.
On behalf of their sons, their grandsons and their husbands, these women are demanding better treatment for boys in schools and for fathers in the family courts. With nothing to gain for themselves, they are standing up against manifest injustice, just as the men of this country and the West, led by John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett, acted to repair the manifest inequalities and injustices in the position of nineteenth century women.
Men – and the world – now need ten million more such women to make their voices heard.