A cooler approach to men’s issues

York professor and Waterloo student deserve a closer look

The audience at Fiamengo's U of T lecture

A men’s issues event I reported on in March at the University of Toronto drew masked protesters who were there to intimidate people, city police there to keep things in order and it was, inevitably, delayed by a fire alarm. What followed was a rather lightweight critique of women’s studies from University of Ottawa professor Janice Fiamengo.

I was pleased that free speech prevailed, as it was by no means assured. A lecture a few months earlier hosted by the same men’s issues group, The Canadian Association for Equality, was almost shut down. Protesters accused professor Warren Farrell of “hate speech” for, among other things, his controversial views on date rape.

CAFE will host another provocative professor, Lionel Tiger, tonight in Toronto. That event will be at a private venue off campus where the group will raise funds for a men’s centre.

What I didn’t point out at the time of Fiamengo’s talk was my disappointment at how excessively emotional people dominated the Q&A session and the fact that Fiamengo didn’t offer much evidence to defend herself when challenged. Rather than debate, the Q&A turned into one person after another stating how they were victims of misogyny, homophobia or the family law system.

University taught me that one person’s experience is just that: one person’s experience. What’s needed to move forward on men’s issues—underachievement in education, higher rates of suicide and an apparent anti-male bias in family law—are calm debates that invoke actual research.

It was easy to leave Fiamengo’s talk or read media coverage of the Ryerson Student Union’s decision to block a men’s issues club and think there is no hope for advancing the discussion.

But there is. Some people who weren’t at Fiamengo’s talk have been doing their parts to advance male studies by focusing on disseminating research and moderating inclusive debates. Their approaches deserve more attention than they have received, so here’s a brief introduction.

Robert Kenedy, a York University sociology professor, has been studying men and masculinity since he was a graduate student in 1989. His approach involves interviewing hundreds of people before coming to conclusions. While his books on fathers aren’t bestsellers, they carry academic weight.

He’s hoping to gather and publish more research as an editor of New Male Studies, a journal he and colleagues launched last year. It’s not the same as Farrell’s and Fiamengo’s approaches.

“We’re not anti-feminist,” he explains. “We’re more interested in the positive issues of looking at men’s health [and] looking at fatherhood from a very constructive point of view.”

I’ve read several articles. Like many new journals, the submissions vary in quality. But it’s a start.

Kenedy has also done his part to moderate discussions on campus. In his seminar Men’s Movements: re-examing Masculinity, which ran from 1991 to 1997, he brought in a range of speakers from feminists to father’s rights advocates.

“I didn’t have an opinion,” he says, “because I wanted everyone to have a say.”

While his push for a new male studies course at York hasn’t yet been successful, he continues to teach a variety of perspectives on men and families in his introductory sociology classes.

Last fall, Kenedy facilitated a discussion group on men and masculinity at York, which he and a colleague moderated much like his classes. “We insist on everything being very inclusive,” he says. They talked about fathers, his pet subject, but also health and gay and transgender issues.

When people said dicey things, he reminded them of the need to maintain decorum and put forth evidence to back up claims. There was, unsurprisingly, a group of graduate students who tried to stop him from holding the initial discussion but they weren’t successful and the series went ahead.

Arjun Rudra, a 21-year-old legal studies major at the University of Waterloo, has a similar approach. He was surprised when a professor told him there are no male studies classes, “and never will be,” so he decided he will start a men’s issues group this fall. He had heard about similar clubs at the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph, and the one notoriously blocked at Ryerson.

Rudra sounds like the perfect facilitator. He is not personally aggrieved by divorce, nor is he anti-feminist and he says gender relations on campus are pretty good. He plans to reach out to the women’s centre and the Gay and Lesbian Organization on campus before his club begins.

That’s not to say he isn’t worried about a backlash. “A few of the people interested in joining me for this club backed out because they were worried about being called names,” he says.

But he plans to go ahead. He sees it as the right thing to do. “I think about my own son, if I ever have one,” he says. “I feel the discussions we have right now will help improve his future.”

A cooler approach to men’s issues

  1. The problem of starting men’s centres is that women fear the loss of funds and influence on campus. However, the advantages brought forth by having a men’s centre on campus are significant. The major problems men find themselves in are largely due to what our culture expects men to be. In order for men to change the culture must change as well, possibly by being first. There is a huge change occurring for men and boys because the culture is changing its expectations of males. You would never have expected to hear fifty years ago that a father was considering being a stay at home dad. You do now, even if only occasionally.
    People really need to chill out more and help be the change you want to see happen. Change your expectations.

  2. This is a stunningly ignorant article.

    • Why?

  3. Women fear violence, rape, and abuse at the hands of men far more often and more consistently than the latter fear the former, while living in a society where both genders incessantly criticize how they dress, how they carry themselves, how they act, and then deems them shallow and worthless when they actually try to meet those standards. Men, on the other hand, fear having their feelings hurt by women who, until recent decades, were incredibly marginalized. They are finally starting to approach a place of equality within society, but some men can’t seem to accept it because we’re still being fed the same sexist messages over and over that are harmful to all genders.

    It is only when women truly are equal that these “problems” that men are experiencing will also vanish. It can’t just stop at women being allowed to vote or wear pants or to actually have jobs; the mere concept of a frustrated “Look at all that we’ve given you; what more could you women want?!” still implies a serious power imbalance that a lot of people seem to agree with because of aforementioned messages that the media and other such places throw at everybody constantly.

    Gender equality is vital to solving all of these issues, both for men and women, but it needs to happen primarily with women, not with the men who have been the group in power for centuries. Gonna have to agree with Michael on this one. Gender equality is not “cool” or “hip”; it is necessary. It is our right. And, contrary to what most may think, it has not been achieved.

    Free speech does not equal smart speech.

    • where are women not equal aside from the minds of victim oriented feminists.

      By the way the U.S. Bureau of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, a credible source of information, indicate rape is 50 per 100,000. In decimals that is 0.0005. Feminist mythology notwithstanding, your comment about fear of rape borders on paranoia.

    • Emilie, to take your logic further, we should do nothing for others until our own lives are perfect. I don’t think people actually work that way. I don’t have to agree with everything you say in order to allow you to proceed, you have autonomy as a person and as a group.

      You say “Gender equality is vital to solving all of these issues, both for men and women, but it needs to happen primarily with women, not with the men who have been the group in power for centuries.” Right, but also wrong, a bicycle need two wheels. Part of feminist work is to bring the men along with us.

      As a card carrying feminist for over fifty years, I sometimes wish we could get feminist thinking out of the ivory tower and into the oxygen of the world. Don’t get me wrong, but by definition, academics and university students are priviliged people, I was one for six years, but they run the danger of becoming totally disengaged from the reality of their sisters on the ground. They read about it, talk about it, think about it,theorise and write about it; they don’t live it. If you want to know how badly this can go astray, just think about what Freud and his followers did to sex.
      I think it is fantastic that men want to have their own groups to think about issues and if we as feminists decide that they shouldn’t then we are a guilty of paternalistic, we know better, thinking as any other patriarch on the planet.

  4. Actually, the article is right on.

    Suicide rates between genders were equal in the 1950s and closer to four times that for men now — well documented — and clearly related to the lack of social support, and indeed the hostility, for men.

    Violence rates in dating on university campuses are much higher woman-on-man that the other way around — including sexual assault (which is now called rape even if it is not) — again readily available statistics from the long term domestic violence researchers such as Murray Straus.

    Unemployment is higher for men. Newly graduating women make more than men (for quite a while). Women’s life and job choices may affect that.

    University students who are children of divorce overwhelmingly (to the point of new unanimity) believe that fathers (and mothers) should be involved with their children on an equal basis. For those that are not seeing their dads, there is now enough statistics to show that the children of divorce have many more health problems and a lower life expectancy.

    I disagree with the comments above: it is not “smart” to throw children, or anyone, under the train for truly ignorant politics, enforced by keeping everyone ignorant.

  5. Emilie, where are your stats for women fearing rape and violence more than men? Do you have lived experience as a man (I`m assuming you’re a woman)? Men are more likely to be victims of violence and make up about 74% of homicides in Canada. Do you think if men are victimized more than women, by men, that it shouldn’t be an issue since it’s by men?

    Your fallacy comes from claiming that it is women who need to be equal, as if all the inequalities of gender belong to women needing to match up to men. More women in the board room? Why not advocate for more men in the class room? More men at home taking care of kids? How about more women tarring a roof in July? Inequalities go both ways. Saying women need to be equal to men, and that it is only women’s equality we should focus on is like a girl complaining that she wants to play with her brother’s Tonka trucks but not sharing her Barbies.

    “Gender equality is vital to solving all of these issues, both for men and women, but it needs to happen primarily with women, not with the men who have been the group in power for centuries. ”

    So your equality is more important than ours? There have been millions more men at the bottom than there have been at the top. Just because the King is a man doesn’t mean power rests with men. The King’s power came from the serf’s (often men) upon whose backs he lived. Stop looking at the King and saying “I wish it was me abusing all those men on the bottom”, start looking at all the men on the bottom and ask yourself how we can make people and society equal, not just women.

    • Well said

  6. The problem with men’s groups is that they’re often populated by men who want to see women “go back to the kitchen”, not equality. One only has to read the comments on the articles relating to this issue this week on the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star or the National Post.

    If men’s groups are going to exist, they need to be about equality for both genders, not about denigrating women.

    • You seem to equate anti-feminism with hating women. If that were true those women who are anti-feminist must hate their own gender.

      Conflating criticism of feminism, an ideology, not a gender, as anti-women is fallacious. Many men fancy themselves as feminists.

      One must learn to become a critical thinker.

    • How many men’s groups have you participated in?

    • How are comments on the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, or the National Post related to men’s groups? Those are comments on online sites. Is every comment against men a feminist comment? No. Neither is every comment that is misogynistic to be associated with the notion of men’s groups.

  7. The university is supposed to be where different viewpoints can be discussed and issues debated, with open research. Gender apartheid ideology is being adopted by universities and student unions, to silence opposing views and create intolerance. Men’s issues groups challenge that intolerant ideology and thus are violently opposed by gender bigots. Men’s issues groups are doing important work as it is only when both sides are heard from that extremism, lies and hate is truly revealed. Universities need to commit to facts, research and tolerance rather than ideology and suppression of groups that extremists don’t agree with.

  8. Colleges and Universities should be a place where students can openly research and discuss gender issues openly. However, not all allow issues regarding men and boys. Having hands on experience with this, my research about men and their families lead to a dismissal from future studies. Fortunately a Human Rights Commission favoured a section five complaint. The action from the College still leaves a black cloud over me. Why our educators treat people this way remains an enigma.

  9. Emilie, it is your own projection toward men which lead you to assume that the men’s movement is all about “fear of women.” It is obvious that you walk around believing you are some kind of expert on gender issues, so your complete ignorance of men’s issues is really just more proof of the need for men’s centers, men’s studies, etc. (If an expert like you is so ignorant, just imagine how ignorant the rest of society is.)

    There’s actually a long list of men’s issues which would be the Number One Priority of the “Equal” Rights Movement if they affected women as directly as they affect men. Obviously, I don’t have the room here, so I’ll just list one: health. If women died 5 years before men instead of 5 years after men, “gender genocide” would be in the news every day. As it is, even though more health funds go to women’s outreach, more research money go to women’s health, and men’s mortality is higher in virtually every category, health is still portrayed as a “women’s” issue.

    Let me also give some feedback on “fear of women.” Contrary to sexist stereotypes (feminists are very opposed to sexist stereotypes – except for when a stereotype is convenient for them), women are not the gentle innocent darlings who never abuse their power. So, yes, men fear women.

    We fear their power to strip us of children, jobs, our very liberty through false allegations. We fear their power to summon police, family members, boyfriends, and strangers to assault us in the name of chivalry and false allegations. And, every thing I just mentioned has happened to me at one time or another during my lifetime, so this is not just theory.

  10. Fear is an important weapon in the feminist arsenal. Their main theme since the 70′s is woman as victim. There are no shortage of compliant males who not only believe this but – even if they don’t – prefer the optics of compliance. Politicians are the majority in the latter group, followed by the judiciary and sundry other folks who like the idea of white knight chivalry. All they do is enable the trope women are always the victim, and by doing so are being patriarchal, acting as protectors. As a result feminists can use great influence and most importantly continue to get funding from a variety of sources, mostly from the taxpayer.

    When a group comes along that seems to disagree with the feminist mythology the more rabid and radical of them show up to demonstrate and break the law, while stifling free speech. It is like Pavlov’s dog. The bell in this case is men seeking equality.

    Ask a feminist why they do not support equal parenting if they are for equality of the genders. The answers will be of interest to any clear thinking person no matter what gender you are.

  11. Do not trust anyone who Justifies a means of Sexual Discrimination as a way to promote Sexual Equality. By reading this article and attached comments we seem to have a lot of people who we should not trust.

  12. @Mike: No, you are equating feminists with man haters. “One must learn to think critically”. Learn by your own words!

    Go read the posts I am talking about. They are clearly men who hate that women have rights. They believe that men are better than women. They do not believe in equality. that is the problem with men’s groups.

  13. It seems to me like there are some legit concerns and interesting issues surrounding men and masculinity that would be worth some study. However, it seems to me like those who approach men’s issues would have more success if they talked about those issues rather than spending so much effort:

    1. Minimizing the oppression that women face.
    2. Viciously lashing out against feminists
    3. Whining over the fact that in the past few decades women have gotten closer to equality in some areas
    4. Trying to make the absurd claim that women are oppressing men in society by… I don’t know, forcing men to earn just $1.30 or so for every dollar women earn. I don’t get it either.
    5. Saying dumb, Todd Akin level stuff about rape.

Sign in to comment.