In this week’s muddled episode of Bones, forensic anthropologist Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her team investigate the murder of the male founder of men’s rights group Men Now. Although the series centers on a female murder-solving scientific genius, the feminists the victim feuded with are presented in the episode as more frightening and violent than the men’s rights activists themselves, despite one male activist advocating rape in the show, and the threats and murders spawned by the real-life men’s rights movement.
Instead of focusing on the hateful rhetoric of the male activists, Bones introduces a series of contemptible women starting with a vapid narcissist and ending with an iron-wielding murderess. “The Murder of the Meninist,” as the April 21 installment is titled, seems to argue that men’s rights activists — who say in the episode that a woman who dresses “like a slut” deserves to be raped — make some valid points.
Brennan is a character who, viewers have been told for 11 seasons, values reason and “objective truth” over what she perceives as dogma. Thus, it’s in her character that the scientist would agree with some of the MRA objectives — if an idea sounds logical to her, she will concur, no matter the source. It’s one thing that she agrees with the MRAs’ contention that women should be eligible for the draft and fathers should have equal custody of children in a divorce. What’s troubling, though, is the parade of nasty female stereotypes who clearly serve to explain the existence of MRAs in the first place. Because Men Now’s mission isn’t just about military service and child care — it’s also about how women are stupid bitches.
The first witness brought to the FBI is a vapid clerk at an auto parts store where the victim was a customer. She peppers her speech with “like” and we are cued to disdain her thanks to Special Agent Aubrey’s (John Boyd) rolling eyes. She giggles and describes the dead man’s disrespectful treatment of her: “The guy was a major wang. No, seriously, he was, like, our rudest customer ever — he used to always talk down to me cause I’m a girl, like I couldn’t possibly know anything about multi-port fuel injectors just cause I have a hoo-ha.” But then she asks Aubrey, “Do you mind if I take a selfie with you?” She takes two, and Aubrey scoffs. Yes, the victim treated this woman as if she was stupid, but Bones demonstrates that she is. So, can you blame him?
Next enters the victim’s materialistic ex-wife, who complains that her “cheap son of a bitch” ex-husband tried to reduce his alimony payments. “I really see you’re strapped for cash,” FBI Special Agent Booth (David Boreanaz) says sarcastically, surveying her large home.
When Booth and Brennan visit the victim’s office, a woman who works at Men Now informs them that female activists are a threat to their safety. “I cannot tell you how many times some feminazi shattered their windshields or keyed their cars,” Karen Walters (Lilli Birdsell) says. She said these acts happened so frequently that Paul Walters (David Shatraw) and the victim took to driving jalopies (a doctor later even admits to pummeling the victim’s car with a tire iron). Karen subsequently says that she wrote a speech about seeing the error of their ways that the employees of Men Now could recite to women during these conflicts: “That was a line that we would use whenever we had run-ins with angry feminists,” she said, describing the lie as “a lot less painful than having your face smashed in.” They were so afraid for their physical safety and they had so many confrontations with “angry feminists” that they were forced to prepare a contingency lie to protect themselves.
But outside of television, it’s typically women in that violent situation with angry men’s rights activists. For example, the Christian Science Monitor reported this month that video game developer Brianna Wu has to employ a security detail and was once forced to flee her home because of the unending barrage of graphic, specific threats she receives from “the Manosphere” due to the “Gamergate” and MRA movement.
Bones, however, would have you believe that men are right to be fearful of feminists.
Clearly revolted, Booth reads aloud the tweets of one feminist activist, in which she calls for the victim’s death; and when the woman who tweeted these vile things is approached by Booth and Brennan at a protest, she jumps to conclusions about why they’re there and willfully distorts the truth to further her own wage gap agenda. Because in the world of Bones, both MRAs and feminists are full of vitriol and fanatical nonsense. Women really do receive unfair preferential treatment — which we learn when Brennan punches a suspect for suggesting she needs a muzzle, with no fear of punishment. “If a male FBI consultant broke a suspect’s jaw, I imagine he’d be sitting in a jail cell by now,” says an incredulous intern.
And then there’s the little matter of the reveal that the victim’s wife killed him, with a hot iron no less, as if to align her with the imaginary feminist struggle to destroy men. Rather than seriously criticize the men’s rights movement, the show legitimizes it by doubly victimizing the men’s rights activist whose death sets the plot into motion: First, we learn he had been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of his then-wife and, second, we learn he was almost certainly murdered by that ex-wife.
Coupled with the conclusion of the mystery is the fact that the female characters in “The Murder of the Meninist” are stupid, greedy, conniving, and prone to violence, which gives still more legitimacy to the MRAs: Not only did they make some good points, but their ultimate point was correct too. It turns out lots of women are just as bad as they say, and the victim’s ex-wife really was a murderous harpy!
Throughout the episode, some characters investigating the case do pay lip service to the idea that MRAs are dangerous, misogynistic idealogues, although they repeatedly sway into disturbing calls for violence against them — another suggestion that the MRAs are right and they’re victims, too.
Brennan has the last word on the case: When Booth suggests that women unfairly receive more lenient treatment when they’re on trial for murder, she replies, “It’s bias like that which fuels the men’s rights movement.” So, ultimately, the show is saying that until women stop getting unfair preferential treatment in certain spheres, the men’s rights movement will continue.
Of course Brennan would see some of the MRAs’ points — it’s in her nature. And the show clearly wants to complicate the narrative around this movement: There is a stigma around male victims of domestic violence, and some women are, in fact, bad, dangerous people, and these are both potentially fruitful topics to explore. But instead of presenting a nuanced take on what men might be upset about, “The Murder of the Meninist” pulls a contrarian stunt by setting the viewer up to hate the victim, and then proving he was right about everything.
And, in an episode where Brennan aligns herself with feminism, it’s deeply disappointing to see her blame "women’s privileges" for the existence of MRAs when the more elegant explanation for their existence is "misogyny."