Men’s Rights Groups – Skewing the Debate?

We’ve published about Men’s Rights Activists before, but the article on which we were commenting was about MRAs in the States. Leah McLaren, in a special article to the Globe and Mail, wrote a response to the Canadian Association for Equality. CAFE recently purchased a billboard ad at Avenue and Davenport in Toronto that proclaims:

Half of domestic violence victims are men.

No domestic violence shelters are dedicated to us.


(Side note: my solace in this is that the tax on the billboard advertisement will go to the Toronto Arts Council, which will distribute those funds to artists creating feminist work)

Taken in good faith building a domestic violence shelter for men is a commendable goal. Leah suggests in her article that a men’s shelter isn’t necessary – I disagree. I don’t see why a safe space shouldn’t be as readily available to men as it is to women. However, Leah does go on to point out that the statistic they’re using are misleading:

The billboard figure comes from a 2009 Statistics Canada report that found nearly half of self-reported domestic abuse victims are men. But it fails to point out that according to the same study, women were three times as likely to be victims of serious violence, such as being choked, sexually assaulted, beaten or threatened with a deadly weapon.”

As the title of this post suggests: I think these activists are skewing the debate. A brief glance at CAFE’s website  (hilariously the url for which is equalitycanada.com) demonstrates a that they are dedicated to offering healthy and useful resources to men. They have opened the Canadian Centre for Men and Families, which offers counselling services, employment resources, meditation classes, and discussions about gender and masculinity. Seems great. So why the misleading advertising? Why the woman on the billboard who looks disturbed.

I’m all for equality for men and women. I think that the charges levelled at the feminist movement about its being centred on  women’s has some ground. But considering that 70% of women are expected to be the victims of violence in their lifetimes, the wage gap in Canada is such that women make 74 cents to every dollar a man makes (2011 survey), or that only 21.1% of our elected government officials are women… well I’d say that feminists have enough of an uphill battle fighting for gender equality before tackling men’s issues as well. And if making room for women socially and in the workplace is a men’s rights activists issue then I can’t help but feel that I’ve come full circle to the idea that men are born with a privilege that women are not.

What I really take away from this is the the Men’s Rights Activists are seeking their own role models and leaders, they’re searching for the meaning of masculinity in a world that seemingly devalues it, and they generally seem to take issue with the idea that men are born privileged and women are not. It’s a relatively new movement, in terms of official organizations (the first was founded in 1926, of course this movement was objecting to women taking up space in the work force). Maybe the general social movement is shifting out of men’s favour. But until the playing field is truly equal and when I type “women bosses” into Google and one of the first auto-fill options isn’t “female bosses are the worst” I’d suggest to the MRAs out there that perhaps you have it a little better than you realize.


Originally published by The Globe and Mail on March 12, 2015. Written by Leah McLaren.


Leah McLaren: How men’s rights groups are distorting the debate about equality

CAFEDuring my pregnancy I had a little party joke. When people asked me, “Do you know what you’re having?” I’d rub my belly and say, “I’m having exactly what the world needs – a white male.”

Most people laughed, though a tiny minority did not. And that tiny minority were almost always privileged white males. Sometimes they were young, sometimes they were old, often they were recently divorced and a little, um, sensitive about it. In any case, they didn’t find it funny. A couple of them even narrowed their eyes and said ominous things like, “It’s not so easy to be a man in today’s world, you know.” And, “Isn’t that reverse discrimination?”

Now before I go on I want to make it absolutely clear: The vast majority of privileged white men – a tribe with whom I spend almost every second of my waking and sleeping life – got the joke. It was amusing because if you look around, you’ve probably noticed that for all our talk of diversity and equality, privileged white men are still running the joint. There are a few notable female exceptions, of course: Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, the Queen Elizabeth II and Lena Dunham (all of them white and privileged, natch). But I think that’s basically it.

I became intrigued by these men who seemed to see their maleness as a hindrance and a handicap rather than what it seemed to me: A non-transferable lifetime membership to the champagne-soaked VIP room of General Advantage.

I’m exaggerating. But all things being equal, in the great lottery of life, surely it’s a good thing to be born a man?

It’s difficult to deny this simple observation, if only because it is the empirical, statistical, plain-to-see truth. But a small and vocal minority do insist upon it.

In Canada, this group has a name: the deceptively huggable-sounding Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE). But their agenda is less pro-equality than pro-redressing what they see as a gender imbalance in the current debate about equality, namely the obvious: That women are more often the victims of sexism and abuse.

In CAFE’s topsy-turvy world view, men are the unsung victims while women are the covert oppressors. Their message is not about equality so much as it is a grandly deluded turning of the tables. And while their carefully written mandate claims to support “the status, health and well-being of boys and men,” in fact their actions do the opposite – by stoking anger and self-pity in the minds of a small and troubled minority. And that anger and self-pity – guess what it leads to? More hating on women. Which is exactly what we don’t need when it comes to the fight for equality.

CAFE goes to great lengths to keep their rhetoric innocuous (we’re not anti-women, is the general message, just pro-men). And it’s a tactic that has worked; they were granted official charity status by the Harper government last year. But look at the company they keep and you will see a darker picture emerge. They are actively supported by the U.S. organization A Voice For Men, the very openly misogynist men’s rights organization that coined the term “rape farmers” for feminists.

This week CAFE erected a controversial billboard on Davenport Road near Avenue Road in Toronto bearing the misleading message, “HALF of domestic violence victims are men. NO domestic violence shelters are dedicated to us,” with a photo of a woman resembling Linda Blair in The Exorcist shrieking at a terrorized man plugging his ears. At the bottom is a website for donations, which CAFE has said will be used to keep the billboard campaign going with hopes of expanding it to other cities, and eventually build a men’s shelter (not that there is any real demand for one).

The billboard figure comes from a 2009 Statistics Canada report that found nearly half of self-reported domestic abuse victims are men. But it fails to point out that according to the same study, women were three times as likely to be victims of serious violence, such as being choked, sexually assaulted, beaten or threatened with a deadly weapon. The idea that any sane person could look at that study and think, “Wow, poor men,” is beyond ludicrous.

Besides, a more recent study by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics found that women were the victims of almost 80 per cent of intimate partner violence reported to the police in 2013.

We know this stuff. Ask any cop or social worker and they will tell you the same thing: Female-perpetrated spousal and sexual abuse is relatively rare. As a result, it’s far from top of the list of Canada’s social problems (though obviously when it does happen it should be taken as seriously as any other form of domestic abuse).

Violence against women, on the other hand? A quick glance at the latest crime statistics will show you it is sadly endemic in our society.

This is why Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new campaign combatting male-on-female sexual assault and harrasment is so refreshing – even inspiring. Wynne’s government is sending a clear message: Sexual violence is predominantly a male-on-female issue. Its root cause is misogyny. It’s time we just admitted it.

The Canadian Association for Equality might insist that it’s simply trying to “rebalance” the debate in favour of male victims, but with their convenient bending of the truth they are simply skewing it.

I’m all for men and all for equality. But let’s stop joking around about the real problem here and do something to achieve it.