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What Happens When a Men’s Rights Music Festival Comes to Town?

It gets cancelled.

John Semley

When I asked Toronto musician and recording studio owner Gene Hughes, organizer of the freshly canceled Equality Day music festival at Toronto Island—organized in conjunction with the Canadian Association For Equality, an “equality” (read: men’s rights) group VICE has written about previously—if it’s in poor taste to host a men’s rights event in light of the “events of the past week” (read: Elliot Rodger’s misogyny-fuelled spree killing and the resultant anti-women fallout), he said he has no idea what I’m talking about.

“To tell you the truth, I’ve been living this festival 24/7. You’re referring to events in the US?” asked Hughes. “Was it over a divorce?”

On Sunday, June 1, Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island was supposed to host E-Day Island Fest, a daytime concert headlined by Ron Hawkins and Do Good Assassins and Spookey Ruben (best known for the 1995 yodel-pop single “These Days Are Old”). Artscape, the proprietors of the island venue, has since backed out as a host, noting in a Facebook post that the event’s political nature “contravenes our policy.”

I reached out to Spookey Ruben’s management to ask if their team understood E-Day was actually a men’s rights event. I was told that they had no idea. Likewise, BlogTO had credited E-Day as one of the top events of the weekend—until they presumably realized the event’s political agenda, and deleted their post.

The festival was meant to celebrate the first annual Equality Day, a made-up holiday that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) exist, given the organizer’s dubious activist bona fides and their loaded used of the word “equality.” Hughes told me that all the artists scheduled to perform at the concert are “on board” with the sorta-secret agenda, provided they read the event description. But a quick scan of the Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE) website reveals a program that’s oriented more around a specific type of “equality.”

CAFE’s mandate starts out innocently—even promisingly—enough, laying out the association’s commitment to “achieving equality for all Canadians, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family status, race, ethnicity, creed, age or disability.” But before long, like an innocuous back rub edging into full-on creepy territory, the rhetoric turns, stressing CAFE’s “current focus on the status, health and well-being of boys and men.” Among CAFE’s imagined “Areas of Concern” are father’s rights, legal biases against men, the “Boys Crises” (good name for a shitty oi! band) and, naturally, misandry (not a thing†), described as “hatred and contempt for men.” They’re even spearheading, as one of their “tangibles,” an International Day Against Misandry.

CAFE seems pretty careful when it comes to phrasing. There’s no mention of feminism. And the softer “men’s issues” stands in for the more common (and loaded, and ludicrous) “men’s rights.” But their backhandedness is even more disingenuous, with the warm-fuzzy concept of “equality” serving as shorthand for “increased equality for men.”

The E-Day website makes further attempts to cloak CAFE’s pro-men chest-beating, writing that Equality Day (which “falls neatly right between Mother’s day and Father’s day”). It also states support for Bill C560, a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott—known for his rampant championing of the pro-life movement—meant to revise Canada’s divorce laws to grant equal parenting rights. The bill has been criticized for privileging the rights of parents over those of children. It was defeated in Parliament on Wednesday. Hughes didn’t know this either. “Again, my head is in the sand,” he confesses. “But that’s not shocking to me. We need more time.” (Hughes was drawn to CAFE following his own court battle, where he vied for the right to see his children following a separation with their mother).

While there may be legitimate criticism about the Canadian Family Court system, gussying up what’s essentially a men’s rights (or “men’s issues”) shindig as an “Equality Day” skirts that line between the laughable and the totally sinister. The bogus, newspeak-ish oratory about “equality for all” is precisely the sort of misleading, deceitful rhetoric that has consolidated the power, privilege, rights, experience, and issues of men. But Hughes seems to view even acknowledging the structural differences in gender and identity as mere “genderism” (also not a thing, at least not in the way he’s implying). And despite it not even being a real idea, he regards genderism as being “as bad as racism.”

“I don’t like hanging out with people who are angry and have an ax to grind about a particular race, or a particular sexual orientation, or a particular gender,” he said. “Because it’s bullshit. Any intelligent person knows that.”

It’s telling that he mentions gender after race and sexual orientation, as if the concept of gendered oppression against men can somehow acquire residual voltage from association with legitimate concerns like racism and homophobia. It’s as revealing as CAFE’s play for continued men’s superiority as a form of “equality.” Like most of these men’s-rights types, they want everything and the grievance of not having enough.

It’s not long before Hughes’s ostensibly well-meaning agenda of just wanting to see his kids exploded into the kind of delusional grandiloquence that typifies so much of the men’s rights movement and adjacent strains of activism.

“When you’re on the vanguard of any kind of social movement, there’s always going to people that say, ‘You don’t have rights, how dare you stand up!’” he said. “That’s specific to any angle or any group. People said that about blacks, they said that about Jews, gays, whatever.”

Yes. “Whatever.”

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†:Incidentally, I’m a little troubled to find out that the version of Microsoft Word I’m typing in, like, right now no longer flags “misandry” as a non-word, despite it referring only to an imagined, made up concept. So I guess I’m forced to accept that misandry is, if only technically, a thing; though only in the same way that “unicorn” or “jackalope” are things—referring the things spilling out of the hazy ether of imagination.

Follow John Semley on Twitter.