Hundreds of students packed into Ellis Hall auditorium Thursday night to listen to and debate Janice Fiamengo’s controversial men’s issues talk.
The talk, organized by the Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS), has been a cause for outcry from some members of the Queen’s community.
Last week, the group Opposition to the Misrepresentation of Men’s Issues and Feminism at Queen’s University attempted to have MIAS de-ratified as an AMS club.
The motion to de-ratify the club failed through a vote conducted by secret ballot. Several AMS members, such as ASUS President Scott Mason, said prior to the vote that they could not condemn the MIAS, as they had not run an event yet.
The MIAS, created and led by first-year student Mohammed Albaghdadi, launched the event along with their sponsor, the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE).
The talk, called “What’s Equality Got to Do With It? Men’s Issues and Feminism’s Double Standards,” featured speaker Fiamengo, currently an English professor at the University of Ottawa.
Fiamengo spoke for an hour, addressing what she believes to be men’s issues such as child custody rights, high suicide rate and sexual assault against men.
She said that patriarchy doesn’t exist, and that feminism creates a skewed vision of a past dominated by men.
“Maybe our vision of the past, a feminist-inflicted vision, needs to be re-thought,” she said in her talk. “Even if men had it really good in the past, whenever that was … why should any man suffer now? That’s not equality.” She said that universities censor speech on the premise of creating a “safe space”.
“Universities have been taken hostage by activists with totalitarian strategies, “she said. “Talk about safe spaces almost always becomes a tool to enforce compliance, and silence those who disagree.”
Fiamengo added that she had visited the Queen’s gender studies department website and found the wording in certain syllabi an attempt to “regulate” what students say.
During question period, Fiamengo fielded questions from students and faculty, including incoming Rector Mike Young and Queen’s philosophy professor Adèle Mercier.
Mercier said that a physical assault that occurred the night prior to the event influenced her decision to attend the talk.
“It was much worse than I expected it to be. I thought frankly it was academically garbage,” she said after the talk.
Mercier, who has taught at Queen’s for over 20 years, added that she hasn’t seen such a commotion on campus between feminism and men’s rights.
“I have never seen this before and that’s really why I came because I was worried, especially in light of this, betting that something untoward was going to happen,” she said.
Mercier said that Fiamengo didn’t present any facts or empirical evidence to reinforce her arguments.
“This was a kind of ideological rally and if that is what CAFE is about, then I certainly want nothing to do with them,” she said.
Wynne Baker, a St. Lawrence College student, said feminists in the audience don’t disagree with the men’s issues Fiamengo brought up, such as mental health stigma.
“I think if we work together it could have a lot of really beautiful results especially because modern day feminism really wants to move beyond gender norms,” she said.
“We have the same goals, we’re just not being allowed to realize it. In doing so, it’s created a barrier now I don’t know if we can get beyond it,” she added.
Albaghdadi, ArtSci ’17, said he was overall pleased with the behaviour of students at the event.
“This was exactly what I wanted – a discussion on campus,” he said. “People came up, asked a question, they gave their points, she gave her points … [it was] an academic discussion.”
Albaghadi said that CAFE funded the event, however, they don’t dictate how the club runs. He emphasized that the MIAS has no association with the men’s rights-associated CAFE Edmonton, a point which was discussed at AMS Assembly last week.
He said students shouldn’t be afraid to speak, even if an opinion isn’t the norm.
“When you speak your opinion, I know it sounds cliché, but you’re like a beacon of hope for others,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to speak what you believe in.”
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