U of O English professor Janice Fiamengo was among other panelists at the national men's rights conference held on Sept. 17. Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.
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U of O prof among panelists at national men’s rights conference

On Sept. 17, the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) hosted their first national conference at the Ottawa city hall, where they were met with opposition from the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM).

CAFE is a non-profit group that seeks to promote awareness of issues affecting the status, health, and general well-being of men and boys. CAFE believes that these issues have been overlooked due to a bigger emphasis being put on female equality and women’s rights, leading to an indifference towards the unique problems that affect men.

Some of the issues discussed at the conference were high suicide rates among men, domestic violence, work-related deaths, and what they believed to be discriminatory treatment against fathers in the family court system.

“For the past two years we have been providing support to men and their families through legal aid, peer support, counselling, and through the first ever abuse program for male domestic violence victims,” said CAFE CEO Justin Trottier.

Despite presenting itself as a moderate branch of the “men’s rights movement,” CAFE has received significant criticism for some of its views, particularly from feminist advocacy groups and university student unions.

On March 28, 2014, a CAFE conference at the U of O was interrupted by protesters who shouted and blasted horns at U of O professor Janice Fiamengo while she gave a speech on rape culture, leading the event organizers to call security.

Fiamengo also spoke at the Sept 17 event, and CAFE organizers had police stand guard outside the conference in order to keep protesters from the RSM out.

The RSM have stood in opposition to a variety of men’s rights activist (MRA) groups, and have condemned CAFE for what they believe is misogyny and hate speech. They call for CAFE and all other MRA groups to be banned from using public spaces for their events.

The RSM is particularly critical of Fiamengo, a self-proclaimed anti-feminist.

In a brochure at the conference Fiamengo wrote, “Given feminist insistence that campuses are hotbeds of rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of male violence against women—and given the unpleasant shame-filled environment thus created for male students—why not create male-only universities?”

Fiamengo has also received criticism for her claim that “women’s studies must die.”

In response to the criticism she has received, Fiamengo told the Fulcrum, “In our society, even to mention that men as a group have pressing problems exacerbated by gynocentrism tends to provoke incredulity, contempt, or fury.”

“Feminists tell us that feminism is about helping men too, but it hasn’t done a very good job of ameliorating (or even noticing) men’s mental health problems, high rate of suicide, significant homelessness, vastly differential treatment under the law, and declining participation in higher education.”

“If caring about men and rejecting feminist dogma about female victimization makes me a monster in some people’s view, I accept the designation with pride,” said Fiamengo.

RSM member Danik Norman spoke in opposition to CAFE, saying, “They call themselves for-equality, but they are really an anti-feminist organization. They will bring up legitimate men’s issues like mental health, suicide and stuff, but then their reasoning is that feminists are oppressing men.”

“They have a really skewed of what the cause of the issues really are,” said Norman.

Trottier told the Fulcrum about his views on the opposition his group receives, saying, “I don’t even call ourselves anti-feminist. I don’t define ourselves by what we’re against. We’re a pro-equality organization, we’re a pro human rights organization.”

Gareth Mandin, a graduate student from the U of O’s department of Feminist and Gender Studies spoke to the Fulcrum about CAFE and men’s rights groups, saying that they use  “‘men’s rights’ primarily as a front for their anti-feminism. This latter kind of group is about as necessary and legitimate as white pride is necessary and legitimate, which is to say not at all.”

Mandin believes that CAFE, and other similar men’s rights groups “should be denied spaces wherever possible, especially on university campus.”

According to Mandin, the “open dialogue” which men’s rights groups such as CAFE suggests often excludes some voices.

“Combine this with the ongoing intimidation of feminists by CAFE supporters through online surveillance and doxing, and we can see that spaces which took decades of feminist struggle to make safe and accessible are now quite literally under threat by the presence of MRA groups.”

Despite Fiamengo’s claims that feminism is doing a poor job of helping men, Mandin believes the opposite.

“Undoubtedly feminism does benefit men—it benefits men to unlearn misogyny and treat women and other gender-oppressed people as human beings—but we shouldn’t judge the merit of feminism according to whether or not it benefits those entitled men who demand that it benefit them.”

Mandin also notes that the issues brought up by men’s rights groups “have a storied history of study within the field of feminist and gender studies.”

Mandin believes that “students should learn more about this side of CAFE by actively involving themselves in the campaign MRAs Off Campus.”

With files from Graham Robertson.