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Misogyny or misandry: the rhetoric of SFU’s men’s centre

It’s been a long and winding road since SFU students and Student Society members Keenan Midgley, Danielle Hornstein and Jeff McCann set out to create an SFU men’s centre, a road that has meandered through just about every gender-sensitive debate known to mankind.

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By Paul Esau and Joel Smart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 6, 2012

Paul: It’s been a long and winding road since SFU students and Student Society members Keenan Midgley, Danielle Hornstein and Jeff McCann set out to create an SFU men’s centre, a road that has meandered through just about every gender-sensitive debate known to mankind. Much of the nastiness of the debate stems from SFU student Natasha Clearly-Dulai’s poorly-spliced video warning that a men’s centre may become a “heteronormative space” in which men will gather to “celebrate hegemonic masculinity,” yet some of the video’s critics have reciprocated in an equally inflammatory manner. With such an abundance of ammunition on both sides it’s easy to understand why the debate has slipped somewhat from the feasibility of an SFU men’s centre to the feasibility of blaming all the world’s ills on either “male privilege” or “femofascism.” Yet (at least from my perspective) the heart of the issue lies not in gender dynamics, but in practical application. Most universities across Canada have supported women’s centres on campus for 30 or 40 years, and have seen the services of these centres expand to include a number of disenfranchised groups. The centres generally have clear mandates, obvious demographics, and (currently) strong historical basis. What do you think a men’s centre would bring to the table, Joel? What is the Simon Fraser Student Society getting in return for potentially $30,000 of student money?

Joel: Well, it’s tough to say what they’ll really get, but it’s not likely going to be a men’s club with Xbox’s and foosball tables, the way some people seem to be imagining. In a class I took a few semesters ago, we watched a clip on YouTube by a sociologist and author named Michael Kimmel. He spoke about the way men tend not to see themselves in a gendered light. Yet, whether they see themselves that way or not, there are immense pressures cast upon men by masculinity, and there are many issues that can arise due to various pressures they face. I listened to a show on CBC Radio One about these men’s centres, and in an interview, a man spoke about the way he struggled in an abusive relationship for years; in this case, his partner was manipulating him for his money, but he had no one to reach out to and struggled even to admit the situation to himself. I assume that the men’s centre at SFU will offer support and solutions for men with such issues as coming to terms with sexual-orientation or homophobia, as well as aggression, abuse and power. Plus it’s worth pointing out that such a centre might actually help men who might otherwise become abusive to their female partners work out their issues, or realize that that isn’t who they want to become – before the problems ever start. Where do you stand Paul? Do you see it as a waste of money, or do you think there is a legitimate need for such a centre? Do you have any reservations about it?

Paul: It seems we listen to the same radio programs Joel, and I think it’s worth noting that Anna Tremonti’s first guest on that particular show was former SFU Student Society president and potential men’s centre founder Jeff McCann. He addressed a couple of my big reservations with the proposed centre, most prominently the accusation that the founders (who were all part of the SS Board at the time of the proposal) had been handed $30,000 on a silver platter while other SFU advocacy groups were fighting “tooth and nail” (as Clearly-Dulai put it) for scraps. McCann was clear, first of all, that the Student Society is operating with a $200,000 surplus at the moment, which allows them some leeway to pursue new (and old) initiatives without the intervention of teeth or nails. McCann also outlined his and Midgeley’s non-existent role in the board decision to allocate the money to the centre, and the contingent nature of the funding. In fact, only $500 of it is currently available to him and the other founders as they seek to consult with experts and other relevant parties to develop a clear mandate for the men’s centre (standard procedure for the creation of such an initiative). I am still concerned that the centre might be created partially as a reaction to the bigotry it has uncovered, but I feel more confident knowing that McCann and his crew are forced to do their homework before the purse strings are untied. I think that I’m going to ask you a question that Tremonti asked McCann, Joel, since you were brave enough to suggest some issues that the men’s centre might actually address: there are already places on most campuses to help men struggling with sexual identity, abuse, and power relationships, so why do we need another one? What is unique and necessary about a “man” centre?

Joel: Well, I think part of the problem is just how unique it is – to the point where people aren’t quite sure how to make sense of the idea. The men’s centre is “everywhere else” as the now-famous quote (from the SFU Women’s Centre website) goes. Yet, I think the concerns illustrate the need, in a way. Masculinity norms are restrictive, and anyone who has been through the public school system knows that there are certain things you’re not allowed to do if you don’t want your reputation as a man called into question. A real man doesn’t take Home Ec! A real man doesn’t like flowers! A real man doesn’t get emotional! Just as women have fought to eradicate the value judgments that devalue them based on how many sexual partners they’ve had, the same is true of men (just in the opposite way). In a way, these issues all tie into each other. A men’s centre would seek to deconstruct and provide relief from these norms. Plus, it offers a space that really doesn’t exist anywhere else on campus. There might be unisex counselling services available, but maybe men would be more likely to check out a men’s centre. Theo Boere, who works for the decade-old Nanaimo Men’s Resource Centre, told The Vancouver Sun that their centre had over 5000 clients last year. “Men, just as much as women, have unique issues that need to be dealt with,” he said. “Just the fact that the suicide rate is so much higher among men than women tells you there is a need.” Critics seem to fear that the development of a men’s centre is somehow competition to women’s centres, or that it delegitimizes the unique and important concerns women face in our culture. But, I think that’s an unsubstantiated fear; I suspect that a men’s centre is the type of place that can work on stopping sexual violence and abusive relationships before they occur. In the end, I really think they have the same goals. Any last thoughts, Paul?

Paul: I agree with you, Joel, that there is a need for such a centre.  I also agree that those worried about it becoming a “frat house” or “a room with a PS3 and a bunch of douchebags playing video games” are being highly unfair to McCann, Midgely and Hornstein’s vision, as well as to “masculinity” in general. It does worry me though that in our age of advocacy and awareness such controversy could erupt over an initiative designed to help a vast segment of the population, as if that collective population itself (by virtue of playing the historical villain in the stories of a number of other communities) is not worthy of having legitimate problems or even being a community. That same article you mentioned in The Vancouver Sun goes on to state that women’s organizations in BC receive $80-100 million from the provincial government while men’s organizations received around $500,000. While I understand that many other similar organizations receiving funding do not have a specific gender-based mandate, and that not all financial contributions have to be equal to be “fair,” this is still a massive discrepancy. Kudos to the SFU Student Society for seeking to better protect, educate and aid the men on campus.

Joel: To be fair, because we live in a patriarchy, it makes sense for women’s shelters and women’s reproductive rights issues—among other issues women face—to receive more funding. Yet, as you state, men’s issues matter too, and it’s a positive step to see that recognized.

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