Hot! A man who’ll stand up for the rights of other men (and boys) on campus and in society – Full Comment
March 21, 2017.   BARBARA KAY

On International Women’s Day a few weeks ago, I sat on a radio panel devoted to the occasion with two young women, both enthusiastically self-avowed feminists, who think we still live in a “patriarchy” in which men’s interests are better served than women. They were shocked when I demurred, dubbing our society a “matriarchy.” I explained that in the things that matter most to everyone — health, safety, parenting rights — women receive far more public attention and sympathy than men, and in fact men often receive negative attention, and the message that they are not generally valued in our culture.

The studio temperature turned a bit frosty, as you can imagine.

When I began writing about men’s issues some 13 years ago, it really was an orphan topic. Nobody could get their heads around the truth, upheld by a mountain of credible data, that almost as many men suffer from intimate partner violence as women do, violence right up to the most extreme level, and including knifings, burnings and pushing down stairs, only after which point it becomes almost exclusively male on female. In fact, I still get the same kind of angry blowback, citing the same outmoded and debunked assumptions, as I did then.

Nevertheless, there has been progress. A few community centres that used to serve only abused women are now serving male victims of partner abuse. Boy-specific problems in education are being addressed in some quarters. But it is still the case today that almost none of our elite talking heads in media can understand that men with issues pertaining to them: fatherlessness, male-only illnesses, post-separation isolation, inability to provide for their families, and sexual abuse by men, for example, should have the right to bond with other men in similar situations and explore their issues via men’s clubs on campus. Hard-line feminists continue to see men who believe they can also be victims and who want to talk about their victimhood as a threat to women’s interests. They still resist universities giving accreditation to men’s clubs, and they still protest speakers who address men’s issues compassionately.

I hope there will be no protests Tuesday evening, at the University of Toronto, when clinical psychologist and Ryerson sessional lecturer Oren Amitay, speaks at an event hosted by the University of Toronto’s Men’s Issues Awareness Society, sponsored by the Canadian Association for Equality (on whose board I sit). His topic is “Why men don’t ask for help — and how we can change that.”

Amitay’s presence alone will make the men who attend this event feel validated and supported, a rare occurrence for many men in our society. In an interview, Amitay told me that when the going gets tough for men, they have a tendency to go down one of two unhelpful routes: either clam up, refusing to ask for support, or grow bitter and angry and act out. He aims to give them a better option, to adopt a perspective that is neither closed nor self-destructively mired in feelings of victimhood. He describes the tools he offers as “self-agency” and “self-efficacy” — a means of navigating “the reality.”

Amitay has had a great deal of experience in supporting men caught up in coils of injustice created by our father-frosty family court system. So one extremely important facet of the reality he refers to is the fact that when it comes to continuity of the parental role with children after separation, apart from a minority of gender-neutral judges, family courts are overwhelmingly friendlier to mothers. A full 77 per cent of sole custody orders go to moms, and this includes many cases of not especially great moms challenging the claims of the undisputed best of fathers who ask only for shared custody. In his practice, Amitay sees the tragic effects of this bias on men.

Amitay is particularly keen to connect with male students — young men on our campuses who feel they are being blamed for all the world’s ills, not an exaggeration to anyone who studies Gender Studies texts. One of his messages to them, he told me, will be, “you need to learn to work around the fact that you’re being told you can’t have a voice.”

But it would be wonderful if many female students attended as well. Young women are simply not getting a balanced gender picture from their feminist teachers. Here is an opportunity for open-minded women to discover that “silencing” is a two-way gender street.

Amitay’s talk will take place Mar. 21 at 7 p.m. in Room 103 of Fitzgerald Building, 150 College St, University of Toronto.

1 Comment

  1. I appreciate this as a fairly thoughtful defense of men and their status, at least in families and other intimate relationships, as they still don’t tend to need much support in public spaces. It is certainly a more compelling case than is argued by some contemporary media pundits, such as Margaret Wente’s recent invitation to women to “check your privilege”. Kay has me largely on-side until her final paragraph, where she ultimately slides into an unfortunate generalization that “young women are simply not getting a balanced gender picture from their feminist teachers”. Someone who presents herself as sensitive to an under-represented perspective on gender should be less quick to paint all feminist teachers as uninterested in the ways that patriarchy continues to oppress all women and men. Current feminisms are trying to learn from the ways that liberal feminists excluded many diverse and marginalized perspectives that we need to learn from all genders in order to inform a meaningful discourse on equality and inclusion. We may not be there yet, but inaccurate representations of current feminist debate in the classroom are not helpful.

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