Gender discourse sparks tension

The debate on men’s issues and feminism remains hostile as critiques become personal

The Men’s Issues Awareness Society hosted a talk by professor Janice Fiamengo in March.
The Men’s Issues Awareness Society hosted a talk by professor Janice Fiamengo in March.
AVFM posters featuring professor Adèle Mercier.
AVFM posters featuring professor Adèle Mercier.

Before the alleged assault of a student, Janice Fiamengo’s anti-feminist talk and a poster campaign against a Queen’s professor, Mohammed Albaghdadi had no idea his new club would be so divisive.

Albaghdadi said he thought he would enjoy the support of most students when he and three other first-year students filed papers to ratify the Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) in January.

Instead, he was met with strong opposition and accusations of misogyny.

“I was surprised,” said Albaghdadi, ArtSci ’17. “I genuinely thought I was in the majority point of view.”

An ideological split between men’s issues advocates and feminist students erupted at Queen’s in March. Men’s issues groups like the MIAS have said they’ve been unfairly vilified for questioning feminist dogma.

Feminist organizations, meanwhile, have said they’re interested in addressing men’s issues, but the hostile rhetoric of men’s issues activists makes such discussion impossible.

Since its January ratification by the AMS, the MIAS survived an attempt to de-ratify the club through AMS Assembly on March 20 and hosted Janice Fiamengo’s “What’s Equality Got to Do With It?” talk at Ellis Hall on March 27.

At her talk, the University of Ottawa English professor argued that modern feminist theory suppresses discussion of men’s issues and uses the notion of “safe spaces” to limit free speech.

The talk was preceded by the alleged assault of Danielle d’Entremont — a fourth-year Queen’s student reportedly involved in opposition to MIAS — on the night of March 26. An assailant has yet to be identified.

Albaghdadi said he became interested in men’s issues after reading about double standards in hook-up culture and the effects of distant or missing fathers on the lives of boys.

“I noticed that there wasn’t any group focused on men,” he said. “I thought it was interesting that you don’t have somebody advocating for half the population.”

Albaghdadi said he isn’t anti-feminist, and that he agreed with everything Jaclyn Friedman said in a follow-up talk run by the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre in April.

Friedman, an American feminist writer and activist, argued that North American society treats sex as a commodity to be traded rather than a cooperative activity.

However, Albaghdadi said he disagrees with feminists who label all men as potential sexual predators.

The Toronto-based Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), which sponsored Fiamengo’s talk, calls the idea that only men can be the perpetrators of violence “gender profiling” on their website.

Albaghdadi said he finds CAFE reasonable, but thinks A Voice for Men (AVFM) is “pretty extreme.” A Houston-based men’s rights organization, AVFM ran a poster campaign in early April against Queen’s philosophy professor Adèle Mercier, in response to a letter to the editor written by Mercier and published in the Journal on April 3.

In the letter, Mercier wrote “men too are raped (and note that it is men who rape them).”

Mercier also commented on a March 31 letter to the editor, where she discussed statistics from the US Department of Justice on the sexual victimization of male inmates in juvenile facilities.

In response to another comment, she wrote: “You said: ‘95% of abused boys in juvenile facilities reported being attacked/coerced by female staff’. This is FALSE.”

Mercier then commented: “[T]he 95% that you cite is of MALE YOUTH who experience sexual misconduct involving FEMALE STAFF WITHOUT FORCE.”

The posters, which were plastered around campus by two AVFM representatives, featured a photo of Mercier’s face above the words “Rape Apologist”.

Albaghdadi said the poster campaign was childish, adding that it resembled the way he was attacked by feminist students on the Facebook event page for Fiamengo’s talk.

He said he disagrees with any tactic that attacks an individual rather than addressing an idea.

“It’s going to encourage even more people not to express their opinion,” he said.

A graduate student from the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre said it’s acceptable to disagree with feminism, but violent rhetoric is problematic.

The student requested anonymity due to concerns about being targeted and harassed online.

She said Fiamengo’s statements about sexual assault made students feel unsafe. During her talk, Fiamengo read out an excerpt from Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power.

In the passage, Farrell writes, “almost all single women acknowledge they have agreed to go back to a guy’s place ‘just to talk’ but were nevertheless responsive to his first kiss.”

“I think if you say kissing is consent, that rhetoric is violent,” the student said. “Just because I kissed you doesn’t mean that I have consented to you doing other things to my body.”

Dialogue on websites like AVFM’s can also be violent, she added.

One AVFM article posted on April 9 refers to a feminist activist as “Little Red Frothing Fornication Mouth” and compares feminists to Nazi German leaders.

“Hitler, Himmler, Hess, Goering, Speer and Goebbels could have learned a thing or three from feminism,” the AVFM post reads.

The graduate student, however, said the Friedman talk hosted by Levana wasn’t intended as a counter to Fiamengo’s speech.

“We wanted to just have a positive event that reaffirmed some things we all believe in,” she said. “We don’t want girls to be assaulted, we don’t want boys to be assaulted.” Some students allege that men’s issues advocates have harassed feminists on campus.

Kelsey, ArtSci ’14, said her name was posted on a men’s rights website after she commented in a Facebook thread about Friedman’s talk.

She requested that her last name be omitted from this story for fear that more of her personal information will be posted online.

Kelsey worked at the Sexual Health Resource Center this past year. Although she wasn’t on duty during Friedman’s talk, she provided informal trigger support for students after the event.

According to Kelsey, the atmosphere on campus and online during the week of Fiamengo’s event was negative and highly emotionally charged.

“Photos were posted, names were put up, there would be stalking or threatening emails being sent,” she said.

While she wanted to participate in conversations about feminism and men’s issues, Kelsey said she eventually found herself avoiding online debates.

“It’s your own personal safety — it’s your own decision about whether you want to engage with these things,” she said.

Men Who Like Feminism (MWLF), a Queen’s-based group established in 2012, said they want to avoid getting drawn into a hostile debate with men’s issues groups.

Aland Arseneault, who joined MWLF last September, said framing discussions as a battle between men’s issues groups and feminists reflects a conception of masculinity that is “toxic.”

Productive dialogues on men’s issues have appeared on campus before, he said, such as the Maskulinity summit held during Women’s Worth Week in March. The summit’s open panel allowed for discussion and debate without hostility, he said.

Men’s issues are important, he added, but the way they’re discussed must be different.

“When those dialogues become hostile and violent to others in the community … that’s when things get violent and when people get hurt,” Arseneault said.

AVFM, on the other hand, is explicitly anti-feminist — but founder and publisher Paul Elam said this doesn’t mean the group is anti-women.

Instead, Elam said, AVFM opposes anyone who approaches gender politics through an ideological lens rather than evidence-based study.

“I am talking about people who would promote information and literature painting women as the only victims of domestic violence and males as the only perpetrators,” Elam said. It’s a “horrific lie” that’s destructive for our culture, he said.

AVFM is an international organization, according to Elam, which is why they’re interested in the state of men’s issues worldwide, including in Kingston.

Elam said members of AVFM put up posters of Mercier out of a sense of moral obligation. “If I found out that there was a Klan meeting in my neighborhood that was enjoying social backing and support, I would speak out against it,” he said.

“We put up her poster because she was justifying and excusing and even making light of the sexual coercion of young male inmates by authority figures. That’s not acceptable.”

In 2011, AVFM created the website “register-her.com”, which listed the names and photographs of women that AVFM considered guilty of sexual assault, false rape accusations and bigotry.

It’s no longer run by AVFM, according to Elam. He declined to comment about the web domain’s current operations.

However, he said the rhetoric serves a purpose.

Polite discourse is good for “erudite discussions,” Elam said, but it won’t draw attention to issues that have been ignored for the past 100 years.

“It has never gained until we started expressing our anger. And that’s what makes people uncomfortable,” he said.

Our society is utterly resistant to the idea that men are human beings with problems, which makes such tactics necessary, he added.

“That’s why we had people beating [tambourines] and screaming people down [at the University of Ottawa in March] when Janice Fiamengo tried to address her concerns about modern feminism,” he said.

“We are dealing with bullying, controlling fascists.”

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