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Men’s issues or misogyny? Controversial men’s group to discuss women’s studies

The University of Toronto Men's Issues Awareness Society is hosting a talk by a professor who will discuss why she believes feminism and women’s studies has created a “mean-spirited bias against men” in the humanities.

It will be the first public event held by the group since protesters tried to shut down a speech by their last guest lecturer, controversial author Warren Farrell, calling it “hate speech.”

University of Ottawa English professor Janice Fiamengo is scheduled to speak on March 7. Her talk is part of the growing activity of “men’s issues” groups, more commonly known men’s rights activists, on Canadian campuses.

Their issues include high suicide rates among men, violence and workplace death rates, boys falling behind girls in the education system and what they believe is unfair advantages mothers have over fathers in the family court system.

Men’s issues is a cause on the rise in Canada, said a spokesman for the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), an umbrella group for Men Issues Awareness clubs. “It’s something a lot of people are ready to talk about,” said Iain Dwyer.

CAFE has sponsored seven or eight campus groups—most set up in the last year—with more in the works at universities including the University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, University of Ottawa and off-campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver, said Dwyer.

The last time the University of Toronto Men's Issues Awareness Society held a talk, about 100 protesters, many affiliated with the campus union and socialist groups, barred the doors of the auditorium, shouted at the men who tried to get in and scuffled with police. Protesters argued Farrell’s talk would be hate speech and shouldn’t have been allowed on campus.

Eventually Farrell proceeded with his talk, but the attempt to stop him from speaking inspired Fiamengo to become a new advisor for CAFE.

“If that had been reversed, if that had been a feminist speaker coming in to talk about the disadvantages that girls face, and a bunch of mostly men had gathered around and tried to prevent young women from going to the event, and had screamed obscenities at them, it would have been front-page news,” Fiamengo said.

In her upcoming talk, Fiamengo will say that feminism has changed from the pursuit of equality to the pursuit of women’s power.

“It became about women’s power in certain areas and it came to represent men in very negative ways, as oppressive, as dominating, as violent, as discriminatory, as exclusionary,” she said. “It became about women’s victimization and their moral superiority as victims.”

Fiamengo believes that feminism, through the influence of women’s studies courses, has alienated young men in humanities courses.

“If I were a young man going through university, I couldn’t bear to sit through course after course drumming home that I am part of one half of the human race that is violent, responsible for the ills of the whole society,” she said. “In English, there are fewer and fewer young men and I can certainly see why.”

'They chose the wrong target'

Fiamengo’s argument misunderstands feminism, by assuming it casts the men in the classroom as villains, according to prominent Toronto feminist and activist Steph Guthrie.

“We’re talking about systemic issues, and yes individuals are part of it, but it’s not just men that are part of the problem,” she said. “It’s a system-level problem.”

Instead of targeting feminists as the problem, they should be targeting what feminists call 'the patriarchy' and become allies of feminists, said Guthrie.

The patriarchy isn’t just harmful for women, she said. It confines men to narrow gender roles, causing the very problems the men’s issues groups are trying to address.

“It’s upsetting, because a lot of people that get drawn into this movement, they have legitimate grievances. They’re feeling very alienated, they’re feeling very lost. This movement is peddling some nice, easy answers,” she said. “Those easy answers are going to leave a lot of people in the lurch.”

Instead, they should consider men’s organizations like White Ribbon campaign, which challenge sexism and foster a positive kind of masculinity, according to Guthrie.

Guthrie doesn’t agree with those who would try to stop the men’s issues groups from holding talks on university campuses. Instead, it’s better to go, listen to the speaker, ask hard questions and engage in a dialogue, she said.

Warren Farrell date rape and incest comments sparked protest

The heated protest greeting the last University of Toronto Men's Issues Awareness Society’s talk was sparked by the speaker’s controversial comments and has led to an ongoing Internet campaign against some of the female protesters.

Warren Farrell’s speech at the U of T was about problems confronting boys, including high suicide rates and problems in the school system, but the protest was centered on two other controversies. In his book The Myth of Male Power, Farrell cautions against putting men in jail for rape if women say “no” to sex, but give what he calls a “non-verbal” yes, such as kissing.

The second controversy is about a 1977 interview he did with Penthouse magazine. In the interview, he talks about a book he was working on that explored “positive” experiences of incest. It was never published.

After the Farrell protest, someone began identifying some of the women who protested and posting their photos, name and other identifying information about them on the website

The site is run by American-based men’s rights website called A Voice for Men and is dedicated to exposing women its contributors believe are false-rape accusers, murders and pedophiles.

The U of T protesters are identified as man-hating “bigots.”

Heather, a feminist and social justice advocate, says at least one of those young women has been exposed to online bullying and harassment. For that reason, she doesn’t want to see the Janice Fiamengo talk go forward. However, she doesn’t know if she will take place in any kind of protest because she fears the backlash.

Heather, who asked her last name be withheld because she doesn’t want to become a target for harassment, said she doesn’t think a talk criticizing women’s studies belongs at the University of Toronto.

“That in itself is disrespectful to all of the female students and staff at U of T,” she said.

So far, no groups have announced plans to protest Fiamengo’s talk.

"If a man ignoring a woman's verbal 'no' is committing date rape, then a woman who says ‘no’ with her verbal language but 'yes' with her body language is committing date fraud. And a woman who continues to be sexual even after she says 'no' is committing date lying… We have forgotten that before we called this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting.” From Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power

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