Some CAFE volunteers, including Dr. Silvia Merdrano (left). All photos via the author.
Remember the cloaked men's rights festival that was supposed to go down on the Toronto Islands last weekend, but which was cancelled due to overwhelming lack of support? Yes, well “Equality Day” kind of happened anyway, in the form of a demonstration near Yonge-Dundas Square. Right next to the Jesus freaks wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Fear God…Trust and Obey Jesus,” about 20 or so volunteers wearing signs that said “I support boys, men and families, ASK ME WHY” milled about on Sunday trying to attract stray ears.
The misleadingly-dubbed Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) organized the demonstration, which took place on the southwest corner outside of Toronto’s Eaton Centre. The organization’s title is misleading because by “equality,” they clearly mean “equality—for men.” I went to check it out and see what compels people to participate in an event like this. In summation, some of the concerns were worth discussing, including the widespread lack of emotional support systems for men in our society. Some of the concerns—as one might suspect—were not so reasonable.
The first man I spoke to, a tilley-hatted forty-something, curtly told me I could speak with their spokesperson if I wanted an explanation. The next was a friendly-faced, amiable 20-something.
“What really brought me here was originally custody issues,” he told me. He said he finds it upsetting that a majority of mothers get custody over their children in the event of a divorce, and that their dads need to be happy with every other weekend.
Suicide rates, he added, are four times as high for men as they are for women in Canada. He said as far as he can see, no one is addressing this. He also said when boys and men are bullied in schools; it’s not taken seriously, whereas it always is for women. And when men are raped, he says, there is no support system.
“Rape is a huge, huge issue for women, but it’s not addressed when it happens to men. It’s like ‘Man up, get over it, deal with it, be strong.’”
“The other issue, for me, is males in university—their rate is dropping. We need to look at why male enrollment rates are dropping. My understanding is that more and more men are being pushed into blue collar jobs, like plumbing.” He says the group is definitely not a men's rights group, and he is definitely not a men’s rights activist (MRA).
He says this is not a men’s rights group. But actually, that’s exactly what they are. CAFE has a long history of hosting talks about how men are systemically disadvantaged in the Western world.
Just a small FYI: Women are not trying to disenfranchise men simply by opting to go to university. Sorry, but it is not your right to make up the majority of a university population. Women are studying hard and getting into these institutions to pursue meaningful careers. No one is barring men from applying. In short, men, as a group, are not marginalized due to the fact that they are men, though there are issues, some of them very worthy of discussion, that disproportionately affect them.
Anyway, because the first dude I spoke with didn’t want to attach his name to any of this, I asked him where I could find the organizer of the event. He pointed to his left, to a man passing out fliers to volunteers from a knapsack. I walked over to say hi, and looked straight into the face of Justin Trottier, a long-time men’s rights campaigner. His involvement is very interesting, especially given this article NOW Magazine published last week. In it, over the phone, CAFE spokesperson Denise Fong answered questions with the help of a surnameless Justin in the background. She repeatedly denied it was Justin Trottier. Strange coincidence indeed, given the fact that the two are engaged. Trottier claimed he wasn’t actual the organizer and only gave me his first name. I repeatedly tried to convince him to talk to me, but I was met with the iciest glare and not a single comment. He told me he was simply busy volunteering.
Then I found Dr. Silvia Medrano, who is also part of CAFE, and writing her third book about “masculinities.” She says we don’t give men the option to express their feelings. We believe men have to be strong, so we can’t imagine them ever needing mental or emotional support.
“Men are taken for granted,” she says. “To be a man is to be important, and if you are important, you don’t need any help.”
“We are trying to [make men aware] that they need many things. They need support, emotional support.”
Still, other CAFE members showed up at the corner of Yonge and Dundas to talk about the violence men face…at the hands of women. Michael Abraham, who organized what he said was the first panel discussion on the topic in Canada, was one of them. He told me he was abused by his ex-wife, and found that to be a more occurrence than he would have thought. He started a support group for battered men. (The rate of intimate partner violence is four times higher in Canada for women than it is for men).
“I want you to know that we are not against women. We are not denying violence against women. We just want equality between genders. If women are involved with our organization, we can’t be against women, right?”
Well…I’m not too sure about that. Women have the capacity to get confused, too.
I’m wondering why people in this group, if they’re so down for equality, wouldn’t simply identify as feminists. There is a whole careful, nuanced, hard-fought framework in place already to address issues of inequality, and we want to challenge the ways in which patriarchy dictates to and harms men, too. They’re told they can’t share their feelings, or cry. They can’t be nurturing or fey. They must only be the strong-jawed, dictatorial winners of bread—always the hero, or the aggressor, and when they’re not those things—well, are they really men at all? This kind of ideology does nothing more than contribute to widespread violence and exacerbate the high rates of male suicide. Talking about it is important, but using the umbrella of a “men’s rights movement” is offensive. I ask these people why they don’t align themselves with feminism, which aims to challenge and dismantle patriarchy.
The nameless dude says he has participated in feminist conversations on inequality, but that he’s had mixed luck, which is part of what brought him to the street corner.
“I know the traditional way of looking at men needs to be broken down, just like it does for women. I have feminist friends that are pushing for an equal society. Then there are other feminist groups that just hate anything I have to say.”
He said he’d identify as a humanist, not as a feminist—but that he does get “encouragement and motivation” from the feminist movement. Maybe men, he says, will get as far as women when it comes to gaining recognition for their issues, since feminists were able to accomplish most of what they set out to do. (Not true. Still working on it, bruh).
Medrano says feminism may have been necessary in the beginning, but that now it’s been taken too far.
“Feminism was very good in the beginning, for women to get some rights. They had no vote, no rights, no property, no anything,” she says. “But now, we need to be supporting feminists to understand what men are feeling. Sometimes I realize that women try to get revenge over men, or to get the position that men used to have in the past. Or they try to be more powerful than men.”
I’m sorry but…since when was it a travesty for a woman to be more powerful than a man? I explain to them that women just want the same opportunities men have always had, and to be taken as seriously, not to eclipse men or to rule over them as unshakeable Amazon goddesses. Alsoto go out and not expect to be raped. I’m met largely with blank stares and vague upset.
It’s interesting that a group ostensibly so focused on equality is ignoring the wider cultural discussions shouting “no, notallmen, but yesall women.” If one really cared, you’d think that one would take part in those discussions rather choosing right now, in the aftermath of Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic killing spree, to discuss men’s university enrollment rates.
While the very notion of MRAs is farcical, some of the ideas within their campaign are crucial, and very much part of the feminist crusade. But instead of participating in feminist dialogues about tearing down harmful and oppressive structures, MRAs are hell bent on making the discussion into the kind of excessively childish competition that would go on amongst second graders. Actually, men have it worse in society! Oh yeah? You guys get raped a lot? Well, we have high suicide rates!
This is not, no pun intended, a game of tit for tat.
I’m left wondering ‘Why this divide?’ Is it because people don’t understand what feminism is? Do these people feel like they’re not invited into the feminist fold? Or do they just feel threatened, resenting women and the progress we’ve made? Do they hate women? I don’t know. Feminism, in all its diversity, is not perfect. Perhaps some of us could reexamine ourselves, extend an olive branch or two, and help shut down some of this toxicity in the process. Don’t get me wrong, I think much of what the MRAs have to say is utter derailing bullshit. “men’s rights movements” and “activists” blame feminists for their problems and largely just miss the point. And don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting feminists fall all over ourselves trying to cater to men’s feelings, only that maybe we might have more discussions about the ways in which we’re all harmed by patriarchy. Because it is cause for concern that men are expected to conform to a quintessentially masculine ideal. And the already existing feminist framework can help to rectify some of the damage that’s been done, if only we can come together. @sarratch