All too often, I’ll be perusing the internet with some kind of goal in mind and I’ll get totally sidetracked on something that makes me say, “I can’t believe what I’m reading.” We all know that feeling — when you find something so jaw-droppingly silly that you simply cannot go back to what you were doing before. This week, that shocker for me was stumbling upon Paul Elam’s site, A Voice for Men, a blog dedicated to providing what is essentially a safe space for whiney men’s rights activists who don’t have their privilege in check.
I stumbled across this site via Reddit, and spent (read: wasted) a solid hour or two scouring the depths of this particular trash heap. As a feminist and political journalist, it was difficult to decide which of the articles on this site to tear into. However, I take particular offense with one because of the horrible representation of an issue that is so important but so stigmatized: mental illness.
There is already a negative stigma surrounding both women and men who suffer from mental illness. But this site takes it to a new level by seemingly acting like it is acceptable (and I use the term loosely) to attack and disparage women, particularly mothers, with mental illnesses.
Paul Elam’s disgusting article about how you should “never breed with a BPD woman” is just the latest salvo fired in this war against women with mental illness.
Deadbeat Dads of the World Unite on the Internet
Before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s take a look at the mind behind the latest attack — Paul Elam. This so-called “men’s rights activist” has turned his status as a deadbeat dad into a sad sort of crown and wears it as he runs his website, A Voice for Men. Elam has one daughter, whom he abandoned as a child, even going so far as relinquishing his parental rights so he didn’t have to pay child support.
A Voice for Men is the most popular men’s rights website online currently, and he uses it as a platform to attack women, feminism and basically anyone who doesn’t agree with his lopsided views. His views attract men who feel like they’ve been wronged by the courts, their spouses or the female population in general.
His hateful views are earning him a living, too. His tens of thousands of followers donate to his for-profit website, earning him potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. We don’t know exactly how much money he’s made off the site. When asked about his finances, his response was “none of your f****** business.”
An Attack on Women With Mental Illness
Before we launch into our breakdown of his latest atrocious piece, we’ll link Elam’s article here so you can read it for yourself. We do not endorse or support this site or its beliefs.
His latest despicable article attacks women with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, a mental illness that affects approximately four million people in the United States, or 1.6 percent of the population. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than men. Roughly 75 percent of the individuals diagnosed with BPD are female, though this may be due to the fact that men with BPD are often misdiagnosed with other mental illnesses like major depressive disorder or PTSD.
Paul Elam’s latest piece attacks women with this mental illness, specifically instructing his followers not to “breed with a BPD woman” — as if women are nothing more than breeders, and those with borderline personality disorder are somehow worth less than those that are neurotypical.
He cites a number of studies that claim women with borderline personality disorder have more instances of substance abuse and more cases of having their children referred to child protective services. This can easily be countered by other studies which show that substance abuse only becomes a problem when the patient has a history of these behaviors.
Stigmatization of Mental Illness
Elam’s article is just one piece in an enormous puzzle that encourages the demonization of individuals with mental illness. We see it everywhere: in the media, when irrational behavior is blamed first on mental illness, in Hollywood, where the bad guy almost always has a mental illness and the damsel in distress probably has depression. We even see it in medicine, where any mention of mental illness often gets you sequestered in a bare room where you can’t hurt yourself, even if what you came in for wasn’t related to your mental illness.
With so many outlets fostering a negative dialogue when it comes to mental illness, it’s no wonder why an individual like Elam can make his living perpetuating these hateful, harmful and misogynistic stereotypes.
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What Can We Do?
We may never find a way to silence negative voices like Elam’s and those who follow him — they’re entitled to their freedom of speech, just as we are, but that doesn’t mean that we have to sit back and accept this negative dialogue about ourselves, our gender or those who we care about. Approaching people like Elam directly isn’t effective, though. If anything, it gives them more fuel for their backwards arguments, so what can we do to change this narrative?
Two words: education and advocacy.
First, we need to improve our mental health education. Everyone, from school-aged children up, should know at least the basics about various mental illnesses. We’re not talking a full psychologist’s education or anything — just use education to dispel some of the negative information that’s coming from Hollywood, the media and trolls like Elam.
Second, we need to focus on advocacy for individuals with mental illness. Medical and mental healthcare should be made more accessible and the low-income programs should focus on more than just substance abuse. Simply making these resources more widely available can help dispel the negative stigma by making it just as normal to go to the doctor for depression as it is for the flu.
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We might not be able to silence trolls like Elam, but we can change the conversation. We have the power to alter the narrative and make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of their mental health or gender. By improving mental health education, we can take away the negative fuel that they use to tear down women and individuals with mental illness.
Don’t push mental illness under the rug or into the corner. Simply by talking about it, we can help to reduce the stigma and improve conditions for those with mental illnesses across the country.
[Featured Image: A person sitting at a restaurant booth. They have long blond hair and are wearing a black short-sleeved shirt. A plate is in front of them. Source: Vladimir Pustovit]