I first encountered the Canadian men’s rights movement directly when I was in Peterborough last November.

Some friends and associates of mine and I had driven from Toronto early one morning to attend the Policy Assembly of the Socialist Party of Ontario that was being held at Trent University. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the usual array of posters that litter the halls of any university. Among them were dozens of posters for what was a newly formed campus “Men’s Issues Awareness Society.”

The posters were juvenile in both presentation and content. They made a variety of claims, entirely out of context, that, simply put, attempted to make the case that not only are women no longer victims of systemic inequality, but also that the shoe is now on the other foot. It is men’s issues that are being “ignored” and it is men that are now allegedly facing discrimination. This “discrimination,” further, is being disregarded due to the influence of feminism in our society.

These claims, of course are absurd, a point to which I will return. However,  their very idiocy had the effect of making me not take the groups around this postering campaign seriously. That is a mistake. The “Men’s Rights Movement” needs to be taken very seriously, and many of its adherents and ideas are very dangerous.

The Canadian Association for Equality

The group behind the campus campaign is the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE). CAFE is an interesting group that bears greater scrutiny. They have been aggressively recruiting on college campuses and have at least several campus branches.

CAFE’s basic premise is simple. This is that men are now facing real and fundamental obstacles to “equality” and that men, as much as women, are unable to fully participate in society. In the case of CAFE they claim that this is due to “misandry,” which is their alleged counterpoint to misogyny. Misandry, of course, is the supposed “hatred” towards men that is now becoming, apparently, common in our society.

CAFE presents itself in a non-extremist way. It claims to be LGBT positive. It states that its mandate is being “committed to achieving equality for all Canadian men, women, girls and boys.” It asserts that it is not opposed to feminism, per se, but rather they “feel the public should be made aware of the existence and specifics of Men’s Issues and the fact that these issues are not isolated, but rather interconnected and part of a large societal pattern of discrimination, ignorance and harmful public policy that in many ways disadvantages boys and men.”

In other words, men are being discriminated against too.

The group works hard to present a pretense that women are also involved. They have videos that feature women as speakers, they have had such “luminaries” as Barbara Kay of the National Post speak at their events, and they have two women, including, apparently, a “Course Instructor and Research Co-ordinator” from Trent University’s Sociology Department whose “work began with an exploration of the psychological ‘disorder’ muscle dysmorphia and has reframed this as a sociological exploration of the connection between masculinity and muscularity” on their list of “Advisory Fellows”.

But even in this, the most “mainstream” attempt to recruit men and women from campuses, the lies and distortions immediately come out.

CAFE, whose primary outreach is on-campus activism, has a “newsletter” that one can download to distribute among one’s fellow students.

This newsletter makes a variety of claims, some more absurd than others. In the ridiculous category one gets comments like “Other than a couple of magazines on men’s health and fitness subjects, there’s not a whole lot in terms of men’s health awareness. Everyone seems to have men in their lives with health problems. But it seems that few are equipped with the tools and knowledge when it comes to addressing the challenges of men’s health.” This is apparently due to men working so hard in jobs women supposedly don’t do, as the next paragraphs claim.

The problem is that these issues have been studied at great length  (and yes, fellas, there are many magazines and publications devoted entirely to men’s health) and entire movements, such as the union movement, were founded to address these issues and to fight for these “forgotten” men. They are, in other words, issues that have nothing at all to do with gender, but rather with class and working conditions. If CAFE actually cared about better working conditions for male workers, it would encourage them to  join unions and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Some claims are even more specious. This newsletter, and it is a theme they come back to again and again in their propaganda, emphasizes the alleged “suicide gap” that supposedly shows that men are facing greater social pressures than women. Thus “Men kill themselves three times more often than women for all ages, but suicide is especially high for men in their teens and twenties.”

True, but once you realize that, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association,  “Women, however, make 3 to 4 times more suicide attempts than men do, and women are hospitalized in general hospitals for attempted suicide at 1.5 times the rate of men. Studies indicate that there is a significant correlation between a history of sexual abuse and the lifetime number of suicide attempts, and this correlation is twice as strong for women as for men”, the original statistic seems a lot less systemic than it first did.

As with many other things they claim, it is a distortion.

They also state, disingenuously, that boys suffer more bullying than girls.They site the CPHC Safe School Study as proof.

Yet, when you read the study, the story is not what CAFE presents it as.

When it came to LGBT harassment “Proportionally, boys were significantly more likely than girls to suffer this form of harassment, and they identified groups of other boys as the aggressors on most occasions. Groups of boys were also most likely to victimize girls in this manner, although female victims said that other girls were the aggressors in one-quarter of the cases”.

Additionally we find that “one in thirteen students reported that someone at school had made an unwelcome or crude comment about their body weekly. In a majority of these incidents, boys were identified as the aggressors of both male and female victims, and many more females reported harassment compared to males.”

This, frankly, changes the entire complexion of their “expose”. The reality is, as we all know, that men and boys are the aggressors in the vast majority of these incidents of bullying. 

And, as such, it remains an issue that has to do with violence and aggression by men and boys under patriarchy and has little to do with women, other than that they are its primary victims!

In addition, the fact that boys and men are the victims of boys and men’s violence does not mean that they are victims of anything other than male aggression and patriarchal notions regarding what constitutes male sexuality .

CAFE also minimizes women’s inequality generally. They make claims about the rise of women in universities and professions, but ignore the reality that women still make, as full-time workers, almost 30 per cent less than men as a whole, and make less hourly for similar jobs in almost all studied professions in Canada.

The CAFE Clones

While CAFE acts as the “moderate” front for “men’s rights” activism, their offshoots spare few punches. They are outright extremist and anti-woman, and they carry the posters and propaganda that we saw in Peterborough, and that CAFE carefully keeps off its site.

The Toronto Men’s Meetup group starts to show you more of what they are about.

In their very masthead they outright lie with claims like ” Men and women commit domestic abuse against each other at roughly equal rates (for every level of severity), yet there is 1 men’s shelter in all of Canada.”

Sounds good propaganda wise, but not true. In fact, of course, male violence against women is dramatically greater, and, as Statistics Canada proves, at the ultimate level of “severity,” namely death, men kill female partners at a rate well over two times the inverse.

But even at lower “levels of severity,” what they say is simply false. As Statistics Canada noted in a study released just this past May : “Looking at rates, the risk of becoming a victim of police-reported family violence was more than twice as high for girls and women as it was for boys and men (407 per 100,000 versus 180 per 100,000). This heightened risk of family violence among girls and women was true regardless of age, but was most pronounced among those aged 25 to 34 years (Chart 1.3). Females in this age group were over three times more likely than their male counterparts to become a victim of family violence (rate of 709 per 100,000 versus 216 per 100,000 population). The main factor behind females’ increased risk of family violence is related to their higher representation as victims of spousal violence. Women aged 15 years and older accounted for 81% of all spousal violence victims.”

In addition, when it comes to sexual violence there is simply no comparison. According to Statistics Canada, “Looking at the particular types of sexual offences, police-reported data show that the differences in victimization rates between females and males were consistently notable across all categories of sexual assault.” Also, “While females are disproportionately the victims of sexual offences, males are disproportionately the accused. According to 2007 police-reported data, 97% of persons accused of sexual offences were male, higher than the representation of males among persons accused of all other types of violent crime (78%).” In other words, women and girls are far more likely to be victims of sexual assault, and even when men and boys are victims, they are overwhelmingly being victimized by other men.

They add misnomers such as “female genital mutilation is considered a UN human rights violation yet male genital mutilation is supported by doctors, ethicists and is frequently the basis of mockery on TV.” Yet this is also false. Whatever one may think of male genital mutilation it is, again, a result of patriarchy and male social and religious rituals and traditions. To make it analogous to female genital mutilation is simply absurd.

A spinoff Vancouver group, as another example,  posts posters online for download, all of which are also promoted on other men’s rights sites, that suggest that “rape culture” is a myth (despite the obvious fact, given the statistics above, that it is not), under the slogan “Had Enough of this Shit Yet?”. They also state that men are more likely to be victims of violence, in general, without, of course, noting that they are likely to be so due to the actions of other men. In fact, as we have seen, 78 per cent of all violent crime is committed by men.

These are examples of the CAFE ideology in action.

Systemic injustice and false oppression

The men’s rights movement is clever in its propaganda approach in that tapping into perceived injustice is always a great starting point. So it is smart to state that men face the same adversity as do women and that this adversity is being ignored, even if this is a lie. It is an easy recruitment point for men, and some women, who lack a greater overall historical and social perspective of the nature of patriarchy. It reminds me very much of whites who cry “reverse racism” at attempts to redress centuries of systemic discrimination against Canada’s people of colour and Canada’s Aboriginal and First Nations peoples.

In reality there is no comparison, at all, between what women and men  face in terms of systemic social injustice. In the case of men, the systemic injustice simply does not exist. Anywhere. It is a total falsehood. But notions of false oppression and false victimhood certainly exist, and they allow men to feel justified when they attempt to stop or fight the basic ideas of feminism.

It amounts to a terror at the loss of a sense of perpetual entitlement born, as Stephanie Coontz recently put it in the New York Times, of the fact that “Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men.”

She goes on to note that: “The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime.”

The fact is that men and boys still grow up in a culture very much permeated by the idea that they remain entitled to this “patriarchal dividend.” While some may see groups like CAFE and other MRA groups as on the fringe, in terms of the appeal of their retrograde and reactionary ideas the fringe is rather larger than one might want to believe.

Anger and exceptional hostility towards women and feminism is alarmingly widespread online. In fact, I would suggest it is a growing phenomenon. Most of us have heard of the appalling case of Anita Sarkeesian.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Men, often emboldened by ideas they are somehow being “radical,” are “telling it like it is” or are fighting that old stand-by of “political correctness,” are aggressively pushing back against women when they speak up in online forums and are willing to use misogynist language, terms of humiliation and threats of violence in ways that are very disturbing and, as any honest user of the internet knows, are also surprisingly wipespread.

These comments are, further, more defensive than I can recall at anytime in my adult life, when women (or, more rarely, other men) question what seem to be male “institutions” like porn, prostitution, objectification of socially “attractive” women, etc. This is not only true on the right, but is also true in the comments and ideas of many supposedly “progressive” men. They become indignant at the idea that, for example, the sexuality that they have been taught to embrace may possibly be an instrument of social oppression for women as opposed to just the “reality” of things and the “way it is,” as they have always believed.

But far from being radical, they are a total throwback to and repetition of the misogyny and defensiveness of men that women and the feminist movement have faced from the beginning. Only now that the movement has made some inroads, the intensity of the reaction is greater, and now that the Internet is there, the size of the bully pulpit is unprecedented. 

The backlash to feminism, its ideas, its advocates and its advances have existed since feminism began. The media and popular culture have been very keen to de-radicalize feminism at every stage.

This is why we need to take heed of the reemerging, online, campus oriented men’s rights movement and its propaganda. They are dangerous and the false ideas they propound  will appeal to many young men on campuses and may lay the foundation for the next in a seemingly ceaseless wave of attacks on the feminist fight for women’s equality.