Gender Equality, as One Activist Points Out, Cuts Both Ways
By Fred Dickey
Originally published September 24, 2012
Here’s this San Diegan, Harry Crouch, who heads up the National Coalition for Men. He’s a fighter for men’s rights. As current perceptions go, that’s got bitter stamped all over it. It’s probably a safe bet, don’t you suppose, that he got a prom turndown from a cheerleader, lost a promotion to a woman or had a bad divorce and lost a custody fight?
Crouch says none of that happened. He had a divorce back in ’84, but he says it was amicable, and he’s friendly with his ex. He did endure a riotous melodrama with a violent girlfriend some 20 years ago in Alaska, but he says she was kind of crazy and he was just happy to put her in the rearview mirror. However, he says the incident opened his eyes to a broader issue of social justice.
Crouch is sitting in his headquarters office suite on C Street in downtown San Diego. It’s on the basement level of the Men’s Law Center, his landlord. Crouch is remembering how the girlfriend incident served as a catalyst for his activism. At the time, he was co-owner of a rehabilitation agency in Anchorage, Alaska.
“[One day] I was working with a group of about 20 people, a mixed group. Out of the blue, I asked, ‘How many of you guys have been abused by women?’ Every hand went up but one. I then asked, ‘How many of you women have hit or otherwise abused men?’ Every hand went up. I was flabbergasted.”
He continued: “In the early ’90s, they had established an Alaska commission on the status of women. I called the head of it to see if we could get some money for programs for abused men. She said, ‘Harry, it’ll be a cold day in hell before anyone gets a penny for programs for abused men.’ ”
And an activist was born.
Vocationally, Crouch has been sort of a freelancer. He’s been a rehabilitation agency owner, a contractor and an entrepreneur of billiard parlors, among other undertakings. “I’m a generalist-fixer-manager, whatever.”
Today, he’s the full-time president of his organization, from which he says he receives no salary, only expense reimbursement. So it is to the organization that I turn my attention.
Crouch tells me, “The National Coalition for Men is the oldest and largest men’s organization on the planet. It was founded in upstate New York in 1977, so this is our 35th anniversary. We have members all over the world. Our publication, ‘Transitions,’ is the oldest men’s journal on the planet. It’s on our website.”
As head of the coalition, he has strong opinions on virtually every subject in which he sees men as victims of political-media-social prejudice. But with no staff and meager resources, there’s not much the group can do about any of it except raise a voice that largely goes unheard. Crouch makes it clear that, personally, domestic-abuse unfairness is what fuels his activist motor.
“What is the present membership of your group?” I ask.
“We don’t talk about that.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“Years ago, the National Organization for Women got in trouble by talking about their membership, so I don’t go there.”
“How did it get in trouble?”
“They inflated numbers,” he replied.
“So, why can’t you just be accurate?”
“When you talk about membership and it becomes public, you get attacked either way, so I choose not to do it.”
“Can you give me a ballpark number?”
“It’s much more than you think it is, and much less than I’d like it to be.”
He adds, “I can tell you, though, that we have members throughout the United States and in several countries.”
“In how many states?”
“In virtually every state. I don’t think we have a member in North Dakota. We don’t have one in Hawaii; we had one in Hawaii.”
“How long have you been president?”
“I really don’t know. Uh, let me think. Four or five years.”
“Are you elected by annual convention?”
“Yes. It just happened again last week.”
“In San Diego?”
“Right here.” He gestures to the conference room in which we are sitting.
“How many on your board?”
“We had 10 members show up; there are 13. Two nonvoting … we must have 14.”
“On the board?”
“Somewhere in there, yeah.”
“How are they chosen?”
“By chapters, we have a few chapters.”
“Uh, I think eight, of which maybe five are really active.”
“What is your budget?”
“I don’t talk about that. Look, it can’t be much; we don’t have a paid staff, everyone’s a volunteer.”
Enough bloodletting. I’m starting to feel abusive myself, so I try to get to know him better.
“Do you have a relationship?” I ask.
“Like a girlfriend.”
“I don’t have time to date, and, uh, I’m 62!”
“How would you characterize your attitude toward women?”
“I’ve never thought of that question. I guess I would characterize my attitude toward women the same way I would characterize my attitude toward men, which is I don’t know how to answer that question,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a feminist. I’m an equitable feminist — men’s rights, women’s rights. There’s misogyny and there’s misandry.”
“I don’t know that second word,” I say.
“M-i-s-a-n-d-r-y. It means hatred of men.”
I take some pity on Crouch. He doesn’t have a staff to coach him and keep his feet on the ground. However, he says his organization enjoys IRS charity status and solicits donations. That means basic questions need to be asked.
Crouch’s focus is domestic violence, an issue on which he thinks the deck is obviously stacked against men. His primary evidence is the Violence Against Women Act; reauthorization of the 1994 law is stalled in Congress.
“The Violence Against Women Act is the hub of the women industry. It’s the hub. If you get rid of the notion that men are bad and women are good, that men beat women and women don’t beat men … everything falls apart. The lies just leave like bats coming out of a cage.”
Crouch asks rhetorically that if politicians and activists acknowledge that domestic violence against men is also common, why do they not change the act’s name so it is no longer gender-specific?
Crouch says he represents his coalition on the San Diego Domestic Violence Council, in which he proudly fills the role of contrarian, raising his voice against what he calls the “domestic violence industry.”
He takes sharp aim at the Family Justice Center, the creation of Casey Gwinn, the former San Diego city attorney. “San Diego is the domestic violence industry capital for the world.”
Crouch says his organization’s mission is a commitment to the removal of all harmful, gender-based stereotypes, especially as they adversely impact boys, men and the families that love them.
To say that Harry Crouch is the most authoritative voice raised in this country on behalf of men’s rights would not be encouraging to the movement, enfant though it is. However, there is a restlessness in the air that men and boys are getting the short end of the stick in some ways, and that means stronger voices will eventually emerge.
The other day, I was walking through Kennedy Airport in New York and noticed a rack promoting a book titled “The End of Men and the Rise of Women.” The name was obviously meant to be provocative, but that such a misandrous (to use Crouch’s word) title would be accepted without a shrug tells me something is out of whack. Imagine the storm if the genders in that title were reversed.
I’m just sayin’.
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.