In November of last year, the University of Toronto hosted a lecture by Dr Warren Farrell, a divisive figure who has been described simultaneously as a sage of the men’s movement and a rape apologist. On the night of the lecture, a group of students barred the doors of the lecture hall in protest while chanting, “No hate speech on campus!” Police were called, the situation was brought under control and the lecture went on as scheduled. Another lecture took place in March of this year, this time an overly critical look at feminist studies by Janice Fiamengo, in which she described the discipline as “intellectually incoherent and dishonest”. Again, protesters were on hand waving placards and this time a fire alarm was pulled but, once more, the event went on as scheduled.
These controversial lectures were organised by a student group called the Canadian Association for Equality or CAFE for short. CAFE has come under fire from student groups and media who not only disagree with their actions and ideology, but have associated them with the extreme, vitriolic American men’s rights website A Voice For Men. Where AVFM is upfront and open about its hatred for feminism and -ists, calling them “rape farmers”, CAFE takes aim at feminism with misleading information and careful rhetoric, barely ever using the word “feminist” itself.
CAFE has sprung up in several campuses across central Canada in the past year. They have groups on-site at universities in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa and Peterborough, as well as two Toronto organisations and off-campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver. Most recently, Ryerson University caught a controversial mix of praise and indignation for banning the group from their campus. CAFE claims to be “committed to achieving equality for all Canadians” and identifies as a human rights group that focuses on men’s issues. However, despite their claims or how they identify, the events that CAFE has been planning have been covered to an unusually extensive degree by A Voice For Men.
But who are A Voice For Men and why do they care about Canada? AVFM is run by a man named Paul Elam and provides a forum for vitriolic hatred against women and feminists. The website was once labelled a hate site by virus software Norton Symantec, which may have been a mistake – but isn’t completely unjust. Their coverage of CAFE-organised events includes extensive videos and articles about the Toronto lectures with a focus on painting event protesters as violent, loudmouth, radical feminists whose goal is to destroy the rights of men. They’ve even gone so far as to post an entire article on one of the protesters, featuring her full name, a picture of her face with the word “bigot” below, as well as screen shots of her Facebook and Twitter posts. They also added this girl to register-her.com, a website AVFM owns where they name women they allege to be bigots (whatever that means) and “female rapists”, the majority of whom are women accused of or found guilty of statutory rape. The website is less about men’s rights and more about anti-feminist ideas – and the imaginary monsters which those ideas create.
I spoke with Toronto’s own CAFE board member and spokesperson, Iain Dwyer. I asked him about the alleged association between CAFE and AVFM. He told me that although he is aware of AVFM, has spoken with website owner Paul Elam and has been a speaker on one of their radio shows, CAFE is not directly associated with AVFM. He claimed he didn’t agree with what AVFM was doing in relation to the lectures CAFE organised. However, when I asked why he hasn’t addressed that disapproval publically or on the CAFE site, he told me he has but couldn’t remember in what article he’d said such things. The only mention of A Voice For Men I could find on the CAFE website came from this article in which they accuse another media outlet of “quote mining”. I emailed him and asked for the exact article and did not receive a response.
Aside from any alleged association with AVFM, CAFE – while framing itself as a human rights group – presents arguments for men’s issues in a deceivingly meticulous way. For example, in a CAFE newsletter they claim that suicide rates in Canada are higher for men than they are for women, which is true. Yet they don’t mention that suicide attempts by women are three to four times higher and are often linked to sexual abuse. I asked Dwyer during our conversation why his group focuses only on the statistics of men if they’re trying to promote human rights and create equality. Dwyer told me he doesn’t see the statistics for women in these issues to be relevant. When I asked him if he thought maybe he might be addressing only part of the picture and not the whole, skewing facts to his fit his own perspective, he said, “I don’t think it’s that big a part of the picture.”
In regards to the women’s attempted suicide rate, he said that “part of the reason why the successful suicide rate for women is lower is that they are more willing to come forward and ask for help”. Which, if I might editorialise, makes no sense. If it were socially acceptable for women to come forward and ask for help, wouldn’t it follow that there would be less suicide attempts? If CAFE was concerned with human rights and equality, these things would be their concern as well. Their disconnect regarding this makes their “human rights” and “equality” claims suspicious.
On April 4th, CAFE organised a lecture by two speakers, Dr Katherine Young and Dr Paul Nathanson, titled, “From Misogyny to Misandry to Intersexual Dialogue,” in which the speakers were to discuss a supposed hatred for men inherent in our culture (basically the mirror opposite of misogyny) that they call “misandry”. I went to report on the lecture and you can see all the crazy photos I took at the top of this article. There was a good amount of tension because CAFE stated that the protesters were planning a “militant response”. There were many protesters there, however they weren’t centralised and only one contingent used the word militant: an anarchist website called Lynchpin. There was also a lot of paranoia on the side of men’s rights activists, as many of them walked around with video cameras – presumably in part to defend themselves in a court of law much like our Russian friends do with their dash-cams. The protesters did their job, interrupting the lecture by pulling the fire alarm and delaying it temporarily.
I counted roughly 60 people who stayed to attend the lecture after the impromptu fire drill, five of whom were women. I met some men who were ready to commend the speakers before the lecture started. I met some other men who were there because they were confused about how to be a man and were looking for discussions or answers. Then there were some other dudes who were there out of curiosity with no idea of what to expect. You can see the lecture in its entirety at this link, as well as the Q&A here, but here are some of the points made by the speakers:
- The fact that there is a Violence Against Women Act in the US is an example of how misandry exists because it assumes there is no violence against men, despite the fact that the act uses gender neutral language.
- Misandry can be subtle. As an example, it was pointed out that at the end of an episode of Antiques Roadshow a woman who couldn’t sell her portrait of a man said, “Well, I guess you can’t find a good man anywhere.”
- People who don’t accept the existence of misandry are described as alpha males who have jobs and are well off. It’s the people who are disenfranchised and vulnerable who accept the existence of misandry.
- When asked how women have power in society, these answers were given: Through the vote. They can work as professors and lawyers. They can be educated. They can take entry-level positions. There is power in the home. Women have the power to shame men.
When I walked into the lecture I was under the impression that we in the media should not give attention to CAFE, AVFM and men’s rights activists' or their ideas – since they’re really dumb. However, actually going to one of their lectures, I saw the growing presence of CAFE as a real problem in Toronto, and the rest of Canada, that needs addressing. We should be able to openly discuss aggression in men, male sexuality, cultural expectations, justice issues, et al, but groups like AVFM, CAFE and the speakers they schedule serve only to promote anti-feminist ideas and hatred of women at a time when rape and sexual abuse against women is a pervasive, cultural problem that requires immediate addressing.
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