There's a fun new billboard sitting on the corner of Davenport and Avenue Road in Toronto. Rumour has it that if you stare at it long enough, ten dudes wearing "#meninist" sweatshirts will drop from the sky and yell at you about how the pay gap is a liberal myth.
Yesterday, men's rights activist group The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) unveiled its latest symptom of delusion in the form of 4-by-14-metre billboard. The ad features an enraged woman screaming at a cowering man while telling us in mismatched font: "HALF of domestic violence victims are men. NO domestic violence shelters are dedicated to us." It then urges Torontonians to join the conversation with a PR savvy hashtag: #LetsTalkMen.
My mind raced with questions when I first saw the billboard disseminate across Twitter. Why did what appears to be the eldest Hanson brother agree to be a part of this? Does the woman know she's literally berating a pop music icon?
The billboard is CAFE's response to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's new anti-sexual violence campaign that is one part of a much-needed update to Ontario's sexual education curriculum. Widely lauded as being progressive and honest, the video entitled "#WhoWillYouHelp" challenges bystanders to intervene in situations where they see examples of sexual violence.
The video, which is as ethnically diverse as the landscape of Canada, outlines four common scenarios of sexual violence including workplace harassment, sexting, and examples of young women being taken advantage of at both a party and a bar. In each scenario, the perpetrator is male and the bystanding audience is told that by remaining complacent, we are helping "him" and not "her."
This blatant male-shaming was simply too much for the good folks at the Canadian Association for Equality, who immediately slammed the campaign for being sexist and harmful. In its claim, the organization cites a 2009 Statistics Canada survey that presented almost equal rates of male and female spousal abuse. But the group omitted key information from the same survey, which also states that women were seven times more likely to fear for their lives during these abusive encounters.
Premier Wynne's campaign is focusing on common situations where Ontarians—particularly young Ontarians—can make a difference. Despite what MRAs would like you to believe, women are still the overwhelming victims of technology-based abuse, workplace harassment, and date rape: three of the four major scenarios highlighted in #WhoWillYouHelp.
It's absolutely important not to diminish the experience of men who have suffered domestic violence but nowhere in Wynne's campaign does it do that. It's widely acknowledged, by many feminists in particular, that male abuse victims face a unique set of barriers imposed by a culture that still values hyper-masculinity and teaches men not to be victims. In a statement to the National Post, Ontario Minister for Women's Issues Tracy MacCharles echoed the same sentiment and went one step further to assure critics that the Ontario government does fund the Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse program.
Predictably though, none of these larger cultural concerns about challenging masculinity are being addressed by the Men's Rights Movement, which instead chooses to focus its dialogue on painting men as possibly The Saddest People Ever.
In this dramatic CAFE video earnestly titled "The Disposable Man," we are faced with a man in some sort of torturous existential pain. He looks morose as the window of opportunity slams shut in his face through a series of vivid flashbacks. He ponders: That same window which opens with ease for so many others—women, minorities, gays, immigrants—why does the injustice of life keep it closed for him? He'll never know.
I initially assumed the video was a satire pointing out the absurdity of portraying a well-dressed white guy as society's most vulnerable member. But I've quickly learned that the Men's Rights Movements knows no bounds when selling its victim-complex doctrine to its members.
And although much of the MRA movement in Canada exists online with the occasional real-life blip, the numerous violent rampages against women should serve as a sordid reminder of the consequences of this mindset.
The #LetsTalkMen billboard only further proves that movements like CAFE, A Voice for Men, and men's rights groups in general are really only interested in one thing: shock value and recruitment. For example, their press release states that Wynne's campaign "ignores violence against men, gays, and lesbians…" and yet their website makes virtually no mention of LGBTQ advocacy or even links to any resources.
Combing through CAFE's site proved to be a tiring task. Their doctrine is an inconsistent patchwork of arbitrary statistics, theories, and ideologies—often conflicting—all matted together to create a disembodied political ideology with misogyny at its focal point.
Which is why, out of all of the parts of the billboard I found absurd and egregious, one thing bothered me the most. The female "abuser" is clearly not wearing a bra.
In other scenarios, that might not be a big deal (you do you girl), but it's obvious that in this case, the men at the CAFE are attempting to send a very clear message. They're implying that they believe women are excited, aroused even, when they are berating a man. It's a subtle but highly misogynistic message that paints women as sadistic, domineering, and downright cruel.
Despite its loaded implications, CAFE's latest stunt will likely prove to be only briefly successful. A live feed of their hashtag reveals a few depressing tweets about women ruining the world for men. But there are also a lot of rational people using the hashtag to start meaningful discussions about gender.
Typically, grand overtures are the hallmark of movements that are in trouble. And if CAFE's latest billboard tells us anything about the future of the MRA movement in Canada, it's that they're desperately craving attention.
One year from now, I predict we'll return to the corner of Avenue and Davenport and laugh hysterically about the time a bunch of dudes tried to convince us that the greatest threat to Canadian men was women.
Follow Neha Chandrachud on Twitter.