A men’s centre at Simon Fraser University raises questions

For example, are gender-based ‘safe spaces’ needed?

by Josh Dehaas

A room of their own

Photograph by Brian Howell

Keenan Midgley played basketball, soccer, baseball and football. But it isn’t his athletic skill that has made him well-known on campus in Burnaby, B.C. It’s the budget he’s written as treasurer of the Simon Fraser Student Society. The fifth-year accounting student added funding that will carve out a special space on campus for guys. The men’s centre, assuming the budget passes a final vote, will get $30,000 next year. That’s the same amount that the women’s centre, started in 1974, will receive. The pending creation of the men-only space is the source of much discussion at Simon Fraser University. Since the news broke in April, many students have questioned whether the men deserve funding. Along with that, a debate has emerged over whether women—who make up 55 per cent of undergraduate students at SFU—still need their own women-only space.

The women’s centre is a 450-sq.-ft. space in a building near the centre of campus with couches, a kitchen and a library. It provides a place for students to discuss women’s issues, offers referrals to services like counselling and serves as a war room for campaigns, such as advocating for child care on campus. Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a professor in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies (GSWS), says the centre was important to the women’s movement in the 1970s when women were a minority of the student body and even more rare as professors. Today it’s important, she says, for its work fighting violence against women.

Midgley says men could benefit from a similar “safe space.” He says his gender deals with more suicides, alcoholism and drug abuse, and suffers negative stereotypes just like women do. “As a student society, we’re supposed to represent all undergraduates. I don’t think we’re currently doing that.”

Although the women’s centre’s coordinator declined to be interviewed, skepticism of the concept is evident in the centre’s FAQs. “Where is the men’s centre?” says a line atop that section of its website. “The simple answer is that the men’s centre is everywhere else,” it reads, before a paragraph that explains the justification for the women’s centre. Canadian society is “a man’s world,” female voices are oppressed in classes, and women feel threatened by drunken males at night, it reads. The website lists support for the idea of a “male allies project” that would “bring self-identified men together to talk about masculinity and its harmful effects.” Masculinity, it says, “denigrates women by making them into sexual objects, is homophobic, encourages violence, and discourages emotional expression.”

Those are the very stereotypes Midgley says the men’s centre’s users might discuss.

Still, it isn’t just the women’s centre that questions the funding. Joel Warren, who represents labour studies students on a council that advises the overall student society, says students should have been consulted before the budget went to the subcommittee for approval. “It was created top-down by fiat,” he says. Syeda Nayab Bukhari, a doctoral student in GSWS and user of the women’s centre, agrees. “There needs to be a proper needs assessment,” she says, adding that she’s concerned about how the centre would “incorporate race, class and gender.”

Midgley admits no men approached him asking for their own space. But, he argues, men are too shy to ask for support—something he knows from personal experience. Midgley lost his brother in an accident in Grade 12, and struggled with grief for years before opening up to his family. He didn’t seek help earlier, he says, “because of the social pressure to be that strong man and not show your weaknesses.” Psychologist Dan Bilsker, an SFU adjunct professor and expert in men’s health, says that Midgley is right, both about the need for a men’s centre and the fact that men are unlikely to create one on their own accord. “If you talked to most men and said, ‘Do you think there needs to be a separate centre?’ I suspect most would say ‘no’ or ‘I haven’t thought about it.’ ” But he thinks men would use it, if it’s done right. “Women are more likely to go for counselling or speak to friends for support. Men have a greater tendency to do things that are not so helpful, like drink more alcohol.”

Graham Templeton, the outgoing opinions editor at SFU’s student newspaper The Peak, doesn’t think the men’s centre would be capable of providing the support Midgley proposes. He offers the women’s centre as proof, noting that the centre refers women in crisis to the mental health professionals on campus. “What they end up doing is creating a little clubhouse, and that doesn’t justify the budget,” he says. But it isn’t just the cost that irks Templeton. As he sees it, the very premise of gender-based centres is insulting to the students of SFU. “Women are not marginalized on campus,” he says, “and neither are men—which is why the men’s centre is such a silly idea.”




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A men’s centre at Simon Fraser University raises questions

  1. Josh–What is an FAQ?

    • Frequently Asked Question
      Its a queery, like you.

      • A simply marvelous response :-)

  2. At a different university I had an amazing English prof once, she was talking to a class of 50 (I was 1 of only 3 males) about gender inequality and how in the 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, etc… Women were treated frankly, very poorly, and how now what she believed was happening is the reverse. She described it like a pendulum, on one side you have inequality against women, the other against men, and in the middle is the sweet spot of equality. She believes we’ve “swung” from inequality against women, to inequality against males, especially towards young children and young adults.
    I think she’s right.

    • Not sure I agree. Gendered oppression isn’t a continuum where it has to be one way or the other. Both genders suffer oppression, men in the 50s didn’t have it easy either, nor are women’s rights issues solved today.

    • But you’re working under the assumption that women were descriminated against in the first place, and in a way that men weren’t.

  3. Interesting to note how the Women Centre is so oppose to the idea of a Men Centre, it is all about power and who controls the university campus. Read the manifesto of the Women Centre at SFU and see for yourself, it is full of hate and stereotypes, playing up the victim ideology. Very unhealthy for a University I would not want to be at SFU with such Feminist ideology which openly discriminates against men and is found to be acceptable.

    • In fairness, it seems that the administration is supporting the move.

  4. I think women’s centre are opposing this because how the men’s centre is being framed comparatively. I work at the gender centre that use to be a women’s centre, our centre is open to all men, cis and trans, with the hope of discussing alternatives to hegemonic masculininities and discussing how such conceptions of masculinities impact all men. But when I saw posters around my campus for a men’s rights group (not SFU), that used language such as ‘men experience such and such MORE’ or one that suggested that the representation of men in popular culture is MORE harmful then that of women it frustrated me. By using more, or comparing the impacts of hegemonic gender ideals on men vs women not only does that go against our centre’s understanding of gender (non-binary and fluid) but it also invisibilizes the real experiences of women. Let’s no kid ourselves through ignoring the privilege cis-men (particular, white, middle class, able-bodied and hetero cis-men) receive in our society Let’s not forget how old this patriarchy is.


    • with the hope of discussing alternatives to hegemonic masculininities and discussing how such conceptions of masculinities impact all men. ”

      So what your gender center does is install male blame and guilt? It frames masculinity as defective and dangerous and in need of changing (or finding alternatives for), and you somehow feel this is a welcoming place for men, such as those who are suffering abuse at the hands of women?

      “one that suggested that the representation of men in popular culture is MORE harmful then that of women”

      You mean like your very own representation of masculinity as something bad and in need of an alternative? I’m curious, what sorts of feminine representation tells women that they are dangerous and destructive for no other reason than they are women? What sort of feminine representation exists that is worst than that? While I agree the victim Olympics model of endur discussion is a poor one, you need to realize you are part of the problem moreso than the solution, as you yourself participate in the very issue you claim to oppose.

      “but it also invisibilizes the real experiences of women.”

      So much for the victim Olympics being bad idea. I guess only women are allowed to blame the “i’m the bigger victim” game :/

      “Let’s no kid ourselves through ignoring the privilege cis-men ”

      Way to discriminate in style. If men receive any kind of privilege, as you claim eher, gay men and tras men, who can not generally be identified at a cursory glance, also benefit from those privileges. By excluding non cis men from your assertion, you demonstrates the assertion is nothing more than a talking piece, feminist rhetoric. This can further be demonstrated by the fact you will e unable to provide a concrete example that doesn’t rely entirely on patriarchy theory, presumptions, false or misrepresented statistic and extremely vague and unfounded presumptions.

      “Let’s not forget how old this patriarchy is.”

      And so because the feminist constructed “patriarchy” (as opposed to the actual, original definition) has allegedly been around so long that it is immpossible for it to have been bypassed? Because this feminist patriarchy is so old, we can’t possibly ever be rid of it and therefor, men can never suffer discrimination or oppression? Or are you trying to suggest turnabout is fair play? that it’s time for feminists to get their revenge for perceived past wrongs they themselves never suffered, against the men who have never actually done anything to them except support their rights so they could get to this point (are do you want to suggest that, in this theoretical patriarchy where only men rule for men’s benefit, women were somehow able to get to where they are today without those ruling men for men’s support?)

    • So you support a men’s center provided that they talk about how horrible men are and carefully minimise men’s issues in case they seem comparable to women’s… nice. I feel a bit bad for the women on SFU campus, their center appears to have become a feminist only clubhouse.

      • “So you support a men’s center provided that they talk about how horrible men are”

        LOL!!! Peter, I laughed so hard, I spat tea on my laptop you b*st*rd!! God that’s funny! Despite of a disturbing revelation(her line of thought) your summarization of her ultra-ridiculous views is very funny nonetheless.

  5. Reverse sexism? Reverse sexism is when sexism is used to the benefit of an individual. Affirmative action is deemed reverse sexism.

    One must ask why the term “reverse sexism” was then used in the title, is the idea that men can suffer from plain old ordinary sexism so unnatural, so impossible? that a distinguisher needs to be added to the term to differentiate the sexism men suffer compared to the sexism women suffer?

  6. In today’s world it’s acceptable to bash men because women had it bad in the past. This is feminist nonsense. Either we deserve equality or we don’t. Feminists can’t have it both ways and men have to stop putting up with the double standards. Boys teams have to accept girls, girls teams can keep boys out. Women can have private clubs, men can’t. Women literally get away with murder if they simply state the male partner was abusive (no proof necessary). My wife and I are equals. We respect each other and we don’t have any double standards because of our gender.

  7. The level that men are facing on campus is shocking. Just reading some of th quotes in this article made me cry.

  8. I think the feminists at STFU would support a Men’s Centre where men, for example, speak about their soullessness and their violent tendencies and vow to support looser definitions of sexual harassment so that more men can be punished for their crimes.

    Perhaps a Masculinity Penitence Re-education seminar series?

    A series on how to increase the stringency of Speech Codes on campus?

    A session where men take money from their bank accounts and give it to the Women’s Centre?

    A work camp where men can be forced to grow organic vegetables to be served at the Women’s Centre?

    All worthy goals.

    • Sure they would. At the time, they even said as much on their website (they likely still do)

  9. It’s been a year. I’d be interested to know how this men’s center is progressing. I can’t find anything on google about it though

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