On the eve of International Women’s Day, so-called men’s rights advocates at the University of Toronto hosted an event confronting women’s studies and academic feminism. This was a follow-up to their event in November featuring self-proclaimed ex-feminist Warren Farrell, author of the book the Myth of Male Power. Warren Farrell is best known for his statements about women making false accusations of rape and his argument that incest can be a positive experience, if only women were not socialized to be victims.
Men’s Rights Associations have sprung up at universities across southern Ontario, including Guelph, Waterloo, McMaster and multiple campuses in Toronto. Their main position is that the hardships of men have been caused by women, the women’s rights movement and in particular, feminists. They express this position with rhetoric ranging from downright reasonable-sounding to blatantly misogynistic, but by only focusing on the latter, we risk normalizing their fundamental message that feminism oppresses men. The exploitation and increased incarceration or suicide rates of men have not been created by feminism. Some of the supposed facts that they present, such as the prevalence of false rape accusations are simply untrue, but those about drop-out rates, incarceration and suicide of men often approximate truth. We do not need to negate these facts to contend with them, but instead, must place them in an accurate political context, that of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.
The emergence of these groups and the difficulties that we have faced organizing against them are not, as these misogynists claim, a symptom of a feminist movement on campuses gone-too-far, but a disturbing sign of the lack of radical feminist organizing in recent years. As of late, students and leftists have most often responded to issues of patriarchy through token lip service, and not organized responses. These misogynist organizations have seized on this organizing vacuum, so that we are now in a position where the historical fact of the systemic oppression of women is being challenged. As we began to organize a response to this most recent event, we had to confront the criticisms leveraged from our previous action – doors were blocked, there was a confrontation with the police, and vocal or militant women present at the demonstration were identified and targeted on the internet, harassed and threatened.
As with populist white supremacist organizations, these misogynist groups have relied heavily on arguments of free speech and the “reverse oppression” faced by the white man at the hands of organized marginalized groups. In some spaces, the debate was successfully reframed to be about the illegitimacy of militancy and the virtues of free speech. We should know to expect these arguments. With the administration siding with the misogynists, many organizing around this issue along liberal lines were visibly shaken. Many were afraid to confront the misogynists again, for fear of retaliation. Nevertheless, what must be done remains the same. We need to move towards reactivating a radical, militant feminist movement that can contend, not just with the backwards misogynists of the men’s rights movement, but with the issues that continue to affect women everyday on their campuses, from systemic oppression in male-dominated fields to the high prevalence of sexual assaults, not by turning to the police or the University administration, but through a militant organized resistance.