Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

Men’s rights advocates demand closer look

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On Sept. 11, members of the men’s rights activist group Men’s Rights Edmonton helped establish Alberta’s second men’s activist group in Calgary. Men’s Rights Edmonton made national headlines recently with their “Don’t Be That Girl” advertising campaign, a response to the “Don’t Be That Guy” anti-date-rape posters distributed by Edmonton Police and partners. Men’s Rights Edmonton’s latest poster targets Lise Gotell, chair of Women’s and Gender studies at the University of Alberta. The posters display an image of Gotell with the caption “Theft isn’t black. Bank fraud isn’t Jewish. And rape isn’t male. Just because you’re paid to demonize men doesn’t mean rape is gendered. Don’t be that bigot.” Another poster depicts a woman drinking with male companions and reads, “Just because you regret a one night stand doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual.”

The arrival of Men’s Rights Calgary has become a lightning-rod issue. Although there are problems with the way certain male activists have conducted themselves, there is a clear and definite need for men’s advocacy in Calgary and elsewhere.

One of the difficulties in dealing with the legitimacy of men’s activism is the undeniable controversy associated with their activities. Although usually viewed as privileged over women, the shifting status of men in the last few decades has made them vulnerable in some ways. Unfortunately, the emotionally charged way that some men’s rights activists behave draws attention away from the real issues plaguing men. Instead of attracting sympathy for their cause, these men alienate themselves by angrily targeting the character of feminists rather than having a discussion. On the Men’s Rights Edmonton website, for example, sits a blog post titled “Men’s Rights Edmonton confronts fascists,” showcasing the image of two women caught taking down some men’s rights campaign posters. The blog requests assistance in revealing the identity of these women so that they can be charged with destruction of property. On one level, this is an understandably angry reaction. Imagine the controversy if women’s advocacy leaders caught men’s rights activists taking down feminist posters. But the blog post also reveals the movement’s juvenile fixations with petty mudslinging.

There have been numerous incidents where the identity of feminists targeted over perceived slights have been revealed to the pro-male activist community resulting in death and rape threats that have damaged both the psychological health of these women and the perception of men’s rights as a legitimate cause. The website A Voice For Men, which provides a forum for disgruntled men, posted a video of a women protesting a men’s rights event in April. The men’s rights group instigated a crusade against her, revealing her personal information and threatening her with violently sexual messages.

The cyberbullying mentality we have seen from factions of the men’s rights movement is particularly undiplomatic given that many anti-rape activists are involved in their communities because of oppressive experiences they have suffered. Personal attacks against their detractors have done the men’s rights community few public relations favours. However, ideologies do not entirely capture the complicated nature of personal beliefs, which then translate poorly into real-life actions. Much like feminism, we should not dismiss the reflections of an entire school of thought based on the actions of some of its members.

On the other hand, the animosity towards women reverberating throughout the men’s rights movement might be a cry for help that demands a closer look. A rage grows among many men towards women in North American society that is tainting men-women relationships. Media pundits like Jack Thompson have dismissed video games and media depictions of violence towards women as the culprits, but the hostility manifested through these mediums stems from genuine problems.

Fanatics have promoted a divisive attitude towards women’s and men’s rights, when we should focus on how to make the two compatible. Yes, women have suffered through the ages through pay inequality, abuse and lack of representation, but society should also acknowledge the difficulties that men face, which are often taken for granted.

According to a 2008 Calgary Homeless Foundation study, 78 per cent of homeless people in Calgary were men. The report goes on to say that women merit special consideration “due to vulnerability to violence.” But according to a Statistics Canada report for the same year, violent victimization was comparable between sexes. It might seem natural to assume that homeless women experience more violence based on behavioural stereotypes and physical differences between men and women. The reality is that men are subject to as much violence as women. While men are usually the perpetrators of violence, most people from both genders are peaceful. The data from reports on violence is also compromised by the fact that men are less likely to report violence against them, particularly if it’s domestic.

Although the male homeless in Calgary outnumber women nearly five to one, there are no shelters specifically dedicated to them. Women have several such refuges, such as the Calgary Women’s Emegency Shelter.

The Canadian Council on Learning conducted a meta analysis of gendered learning in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and found that there is a growing disparity between boys and girls in the education system. In Canada, girls outperform boys in school, especially with respect to reading. For much of the 20th century more men than women attended university. But this report states that since 2005 women compose 58 per cent of the post-secondary school population. The study infers that “boy culture,” inadequate pedagogy and physiological differences could be the cause of this inequality. The recommendations from this study include policies for classroom organization changes, new pedagogical approaches and examining broader social contexts that affect men’s self-image and values.

Masculinity is in a confused, self-contradictory place. Boys are still pressured by society to excel at physical pursuits, but are expected to sit still in classrooms. A number of books on gender and education, such as Christina Summers’s The War Against Boys suggest that boys are ill-suited for classrooms and the education system favours and rewards perceivedly feminine behaviours like listening and studying. Men still dominate the 15 most dangerous jobs, all of which are physically demanding but rarely pay well.

The suicide rate for men is nearly triple that of women. They have unfair stereotypes to overcome and unrealistic expectations to uphold. Men must be hyper-vigilant about how people perceive them when dealing with young children, especially young girls for fear of being accused of pedophilia. This could be why men rarely work in early childhood education or elementary schools.

Another area of concern for men are the expectations many women have in the dating arena. Many men feel like they are missing a set standard of etiquette for interacting with women, which has left them confused and frustrated. Traditionally, men are supposed to pay for dinner and hold doors open for women. When they fail to do so they may be labelled cheapskates and unchivalrous. However, many women refuse to let men pay for everything or anything. It’s impossible to summarize the nuances of current sexual and romantic relationships, but these shifting expectations coupled with hypermasculinity in entertainment media and the advancement of feminism have left men scratching their heads when it comes to the courtship ritual.

Navigating an environment where sexual equality but also chivalrous gestures are expected generates immense pressure on men. No wonder a growing segment of men have gone from confused to angry. It is also unsurprising that such men misguidedly attack feminism. While feminist theory promotes equality for all races, creeds and genders with an emphasis on the latter, many men’s rights activists feel that the movement has become corrupted by human failure and is now unfairly targeting their sex.

There is space to critically look at the ideologies and practices governing men’s and women’s rights movements. When men’s rights groups focus on issues that affect the well-being of men like homelessness, violence and education, they stand to gain more than when directing animosity towards a few women. Men’s rights groups are needed in our tumultuous social setting. The extremists in both camps should not detract from the importance of both genders working together to achieving compromise and harmony.