When the men come marching in

Photo by Sandman via YouTube

When I stood up to say that men don’t need a safe space at the “Are Men Obsolete?” talk at Ryerson last Thursday, I should have expected that nobody in the mostly male audience would want to hear it. I was shut down and yelled at almost immediately, and my attempts to defend myself were drowned out by angry shouts.

I shouldn’t have been surprised: Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) are notorious for silencing the voices of feminist women who question their motives. The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE)-organized talk was delivered by Karen Straughan, famous as the YouTube sensation GirlWritesWhat, and turned out to be horrible. What was marketed as a lecture to discuss men’s issues was really a MRA group in a feeble disguise.

Last year, three Ryerson students (two female, one male) attempted to start a men’s rights group on campus. It was rejected. The Ryerson Student Union adopted a new policy, which stated that the RSU rejects “[t]he concept of misandry as it ignores structural inequity that exist between men and women.” The people at this talk seemed upset because this policy implies that misandry isn’t a real thing.

According to their online resources, I gather that CAFE goes from school to school in an attempt to “recruit” MRAs and form men’s rights group branches in universities—with Ryerson as the latest school to be inundated by the group.

If I sound angry about this, it’s because I am—I am angry that Ryerson may have a men’s rights group because the name itself suggests that men do not have rights. I want men to acknowledge their privilege and the idea of this implies that men are victims, which they are not—not by a long shot.

I’m also angry because Ryerson paid for this talk. Surprised? I’m not; last April, Ryerson President Sheldon Levy had nothing to do with the RSU’s decision to stop the formation of an men’s rights group on campus, so I didn’t expect him to try to stop anything this time around. The CAFE meeting had been charged $1,600 (plus taxes) for security for hosting the event (as they had hired a copious amount of security guards and police), which Sheldon Levy decided to levy (mind the pun) and allowed the “administration” to “absorb” it. Meaning, actually, that Ryerson didn’t pay for this—you did.

Moving on: Karen Straughan is possibly the most backwards person I have ever heard speak. I’m sure her words meant everything to all the MRAs at the meeting, but to me, they were garbage. All she seemed to do (besides reinforce the idea that #misandry exists) was blame feminists/feminism, say that the word feminism was “poisoned beyond redemption” and dismiss all female feelings and anything women (except maybe herself) might have to say. When talking about women getting assaulted on Twitter—and reporting that and having that result in the men who assaulted them getting sentences—Karen said that women generally do not like anything that makes them feel “hurty inside.” Turns out that after years of oppression and harassment, the feelings women have can be neatly wrapped up in a single word: “hurty.”

Karen also dismissed the idea of transmisogyny. While not a word that she actually used in her lecture—because misogyny, obviously, isn’t a cultural institution but just something that makes women feel “hurty inside”—transmisogny is the general hatred of transwomen, often stemming from misogyny and the idea that women are lesser to men. Karen, though, suggested that “transphobia isn’t transphobia at all. It’s misandry.”

Obviously, she’s wrong. I feel bad for her; I feel bad that she, as a woman, has chosen to align herself with the men’s rights club. I feel bad because at one point, I probably would have agreed with a fair amount of what she said—not because I believed that men were lacking rights, but because I believed that women were inferior. This form of internalized misogyny is drummed into women from birth, so much that we are trained and taught to hate ourselves and our bodies before we go into double digits. I knew my body was an object before I turned 10. But I learned: In college, I learned about feminism and realized how wrong I was, but before that, I didn’t know. Karen probably means really well; but I’ve found most MRAs and the people who align themselves with the men’s rights movement are actually quite misogynistic and have had very limited exposure to feminism, and don’t understand what feminism really is.

These men are all obviously anti-feminist, unbeknownst that feminism cares about them. At least, my feminism does. (I, of course, do not speak for all feminists, but I believe that feminism cares about men.) See, all these issues that MRAs brought up are real: men are outnumbered by women in college enrollment, men do take their own lives more than women, etc. That said, things like expected masculinity and low college enrollment in fields like nursing aren’t caused by women, nor are they the fault of feminists. Rather, they’re the cause of the patriarchy—something feminism wants to dismantle.

Misogyny is not just a thing that varies from person to person (i.e. Billy is a misogynist, but Chris is not). It is a cultural institution that is built and exists inside every person, every part of the world. You might not outwardly loathe women, but misogyny still exists and women are still seen as less than men, as almost less than human. It’s 2014 and we’re still using women’s bodies to sell products, using women as basically living props in commercials. We still have an idea of the “perfect” female body and there are still debates about what a “real woman” looks like. Men love to counter this argument with pictures of He-Man, but men are never really expected to look that way. We accept that not all men will be muscular, buff Kens; a fat man does not suffer the same experience as a fat woman, who is shamed so much more for her body.  Eating disorder statistics are still disproportionately skewed towards women. The list goes on.

But it seems, in a way, that MRAs are staunchly opposed to the advances made by these women, those outside of their group. In fact, the men’s rights movement is borne out of men who are mad about the advances that feminism are making—and they view these advances as a threat on their powerful and privileged position in society. MRAs don’t want to share their power; they don’t want to be equal to women. They don’t realize that and they don’t know and I’ve found that they’re not willing to learn.

How can men ask for a safe space? It’s like asking for a safe space for white people. In my opinion, every space is safe for men. I don’t want to hear about men needing a safe space until I can walk down the street in a short skirt without getting yelled at, when I can hold hands with my girlfriend and not have guys come up and ask to take a picture with us, like we’re some kind of lesbian spectacle. I don’t want to hear about men needing a safe space when actual, marginalized members of society are still suffering– most at the hands of these men. I don’t want to hear about men “needing” a safe space when I still hold my keys between my knuckles as I walk home from the bus stop at night. Four of my friend are survivors of rape and sexual assault, and their rapists are the ones that need a safe space?

Levy, Straughan: You’ve disappointed me. We don’t need this on our campus.