When I showed up to the event, a little before the 7:00 start time, things seemed to be kind of helter skelter outside. It seemed like there were several protesters, but I couldn’t tell who was with whom, or exactly what they were protesting. At the Warren Farrell event, all the protesters came under a unified banner, and were easy to discuss as one lump entity. These protesters, however, I feel I need to discuss separately. I will do so in the order in which I interacted with them.
The Black Masks (doing it wrong)
These protesters stood out the most. Not because they were protesting anything worthwhile, but simply because they were being loud and visible. They were waving around protests signs with quotes they had mined from the notorious “A Voice For Men” (AVFM). I do not even recall what the quotes said, as they didn’t stand out as anything specific, just that they attributed them to “A Voice For Men” at the bottom. Being that this was an event put on by the Canadian Association For Equality (CAFÉ), what was it they were protesting?
When I first showed up to the George Ignatieff Theatre, I leaned against a picnic table a few feet from these masked individuals. While I was doing this, I heard a man (not a black masker), telling three women that he was curious about going in, but that it was $15, and not worth it. I spoke up and told them that there was no admission fee to the event, just a suggested $5 donation to CAFÉ. They then proceeded on and entered the event.
I sparked up a conversation with the man, and identified myself as Adam McPhee, both a CAFÉ Advisor and CAFÉ Board Member (I did this with everyone I spoke with). While we had our conversation, one of the male “black masks” came and stood nearby and was obviously listening. The first man eventually said I sounded like a feminist to him, and that he had to go to class (so it wasn’t the $15 fee keeping him out!). As he departed, I asked him if I wasn’t allowed to choose my own ideology.
I then continued the conversation with the man behind the black mask. I outlined how I work with homeless men, and people (mostly men) who live with HIV/AIDS. I spoke about the many issues I see in my line of work which disproportionately affect men, and how many of them are inadequately addressed, if addressed at all. At one point, he moved closer to me and felt it necesarry to let me know that he wasn’t “encroaching on my space”, just getting better footing (he was on a patch of ice). I said I could see that, and that not to worry, behind the mask he’s just a man, and I work in more dangerous situations. He was obviously aware that the mask could cause intimidation, and fear will not bring people to your side.
I proceeded to tell him how he and the other masked protesters were going about this all wrong. Here is what I told him, and a little more, about how he and the other Black Masks were doing it wrong:
- The Mask: The man asked me to excuse the mask. Before he could explain, I cut him off and told him I knew about the actions of AVFM in regards to some of the Warren Farrell protesters. Wearing a black mask may keep their identity from getting out, but that shouldn’t concern them. I don’t fully agree with what AVFM did, but they didn’t out anyone’s personal information, they highlighted a small handful of the protesters public writings; forum posts, twitter feeds, etc. You may protect your identity by wearing a mask, but you also come off as someone attempting to strike terror upon attendees and also make yourself look like a violent protester (a la G20). His reassuring me that this was not the case when he stepped closer to me shows he knew this too. Fear and intimidation will not bring people to your agree with you, it will make them oppose you.
- Own Your Shit: Own it, own it own it. This is the other reason the mask is a failure (that and why wear it if you’re going to take it down for pictures?). AVFM showed people what these protestors said on their twitter feeds and in their internet social circles. They published things which were already publicly available. If you can stand behind what you say and what you stand for, you shouldn’t need to hide. This is why I introduced myself to each protester I spoke with, because I’m ok with them going and looking up anything I’ve said, and if they take issue with it, I’ll address it. If you’re going to bring attention to something, attention is very likely going to come upon you as well. This is why “Occupy” got more coverage than the 1% they were protesting against.
- Pick better Protest Signs: I pointed to a sign being held by a woman who was also hiding behind a black mask, and explained how her sign made no sense. Her sign had a quote from A Voice For Men, and their website emblazoned across the bottom. I said it was pointless on many levels. This was an event by CAFÉ, not AVFM. AVFM has openly admitted to saying they try to be offensive in order to get attention. In an interview with the Toronto Standard, Paul Elam, founder and publisher of AVFM, said his mandate was to push people’s buttons in order to make them aware of men’s issues. Waving a sign around saying you are offended by what has been posted at AVFM merely shows them that they are achieving this goal and that you are helping them reach it.
Through my 4 years at Ryerson, earning my Social Work degree, many students were waving around protest signs and calling for the government to drop student fees. Fees have not dropped, they have not stayed level, they have gone up! Change your methods; this is not a workplace union either.
After my conversation with the gentleman in the black mask, I told him to take a walk around the block, remove his mask, and come back and attend the event. I said he should educate himself and then chat to me after he’s attended the event. He laughed a little but declined. I told him to come to the next event then, and he said maybe he would. I believe I swayed his opinion more than he did mine and I was just having a discussion, not a protest. Who thought discussing things might actually work?
The Pamphleteers (Close, but you need new spokespeople)
Black mask said he didn’t have any pamphlets left, and sent me to another gentleman with a beard. Someone on the event page, the day after the event, said he had wanted to attend the event but that he saw someone there who had assaulted him previously. He posted a link to his blog where he had an article on the assault he suffered, with a picture of the man who assaulted him. The alleged assailant was the bearded individual he directed me to. These blog articles I’ve mentioned can be found here and here. I do not post these to “out” Alex Balch, but if there is any validity to these stories, then it is ironic and downright hypocritical that this is the kind of man who is labelling the Men’s Human Rights Movement (MHRM) as hateful and violent. His very presence alone was apparently enough to keep someone from attending the event due to an alleged attack on them, but it is the protesters who are apparently fearing for their safety behind their black masks.
Alex didn’t have much of substance to say. I have scanned and posted the flyer he was handing out to stick with the idea of “Own Your Shit”. The pamphlet makes bold claims, sweeping generalizations, and is mostly off the mark. The woman he was with spoke to me about the hate-speech she has seen from the MHRM, without any concrete examples. I did not doubt this, though, as I have seen it too. However, I have not just seen it within the MHRM, but also among religious zealots, feminism, and many other ideologies. I asked her if we would not be better served by having an open discussion on this subject, to give a deeper, more thoughtful, and critical look at the ideological juggernaut that is feminism. I said that I felt this could create a better footing on real men’s issues and what we could do to minimize them, as she and Alex both admitted that men do have valid issues (or issues that “approximate truth”, according to their pamphlet).
She quickly shot this idea down, stating she wouldn’t like those people to join the protesters in their perspective or their way of thinking. So wait a second, you’re handing out a flyer that uses encompassing language like “we” and “let’s”, as in “let’s identify the real causes of our problems and address them effectively, together”, but you don’t want the people you’re protesting to do this? You’ve just failed at protesting. That would be like OCAP protesting for more shelter beds but not wanting the government joining the discussion.
The Resource Guides (almost the best, but still fell short)
There was another group of protesters, who may or may not have been connected with the last two groups. They had a document containing supposed resources for men. I had found out about this particular protest in advance, and I honestly liked the idea behind it, but when I saw an advance copy of their handout I immediately recognized it. This group was organized on Facebook (the “event” page for it is unfortunately no longer up) by someone who does not deserve any free press (though his name is ironically close to “laxative”, given the amount of crap he writes)
Two men handing this out claimed that one of their members put this list together themself. I laughed at them and said no, they did not, and if one of them was claiming as such, they were lying. I handed it back to them and informed them that it was just the Ontario section from a government document from 2008 (5 years is quite outdated). Furthermore, I asked if they had looked up any of the supposed resources for men they were distributing. Having been acquainted with these resources through my work, I was in a much better position to speak about their validity.
The two men I spoke with before the event, and a woman handing it out after the event, were surprised with what I told them and responded with a shocked “really?” Sticking with owning one’s shit, I told them my name and information and said to contact me if they wanted the above linked list or any validation to what I was claiming. None have contacted me as of yet. Here is some of the info I highlighted for them, and some I didn’t. I hope these protesters don’t work in social services, as checking your resources before referring someone is vital:
- GRACE Canada: One of the few agencies listed that explicitly says that they offer services for “men”. Here is their website as listed in that document. Did you click that link? Do you see why you should look into a resource before handing it to someone who may need it? Do you see why taking a 5 year old document of resources can present problems?
- Family Service Toronto: That is a link to their programs for those who have suffered violence? Notice anything? Women who are victims of violence? We’ll help you. Men (and “a small percentage of women”), if you admit to being violent, we’ll help you. This, despite the gender-neutral heading of “violence is never justified.” (As an aside: It was through FST that I was able to get pamphlets for my work that highlighted violence in LGBT relationships, but they admitted that yes, they would not be able to help a straight man who had been a victim of violence. They also admitted this was an issue. As such, I do support this agency, but a group of protesters handing it out? They are not qualified to do so.)
- The Canadian False Memory Support Groups. That group did not have a webpage, nor did I even know what a “false memory support group” would be. As such, that is a link to the Wikipedia page on false memory syndrome, or when a woman falsely accuses her parent(s) of sexual abuse when they were children. I thought one of the ongoing battles feminism fought was the concept of “false accusations” and that such things did not exist (Alex’s pamphlet said as much), but here are protesters fighting back and handing out resources for those falsely accused. Good on you.
- Kali Munro. Therapy for abused men. Sure, if you can afford $60 for an E-mail. Clearly I’m wasting my writing talents here.
This group had good intentions, but the above 4 are examples of why they fell short. By handing out a selection of resources, they were attempting to do a good service and not vocally protesting the event itself. The closest one came to protesting was a guy who mentioned the event and I clarified that it was “What Is Wrong With Feminism?” not “Feminism Is Wrong!”
This resources handout would have been even better at the Warren Farrell event, where the discussion was on issues facing men and boys, where one attendee mentioned wanting some answers on why his two friends committed suicide. Maybe that attendee, and others, could have used some information on where they could go to receive services and try to get some help, for them or a friend.
In this case, it is more about knowing your shit than owning it. Also, don’t try to own someone else’s work, even if it is from the government. That’s still plagiarism, and if you had at least said you printed it from a website, you would have gotten a bigger pass for a lack of knowledge of the resources within.
The Fire Alarm Pullers (Juvenile, and has never worked)
Some people accused the black maskers of doing this. They denied it and marched off, chanting “MEN’S RIGHTS!” Having the fire alarm pulled never got me out of an exam in high school, and it didn’t stop this event from carrying on either.
The Organized Walkout (worse than the fire alarm)
Some people didn’t even notice this was a “protest”. However, about 10-15 minutes into Ms. Fiamengo’s speech, six or seven people stood up one after the other and marched out of the auditorium. Janice herself didn’t seem to notice as she continued her speech undeterred.
Why did these protesters perform worse than the fire alarm pullers? Because it was just a 6 man fire alarm, in which the only people who left didn’t want to be there in the first place. You bumped the attendance numbers, and then left and maintained your ignorance of the event. This was more of a waste of your time than it was of ours. At least these protesters did not waste the time of Toronto firefighters.
The Question Period (Learn to speak and get to your point)
The majority of those who rushed the microphones provided were feminist dissenters of the MHRM. A lot of their questions were off topic and, well, not questions at all. They stood up with an agenda of trying to attack the MHRM on things they had read about them. Janice was there talking about how her experience in an academic setting (and as an admitted former feminist herself) had led her to see faults in feminism, particularly academically. To then talk about issues that had nothing to do with the fallacies she saw in feminism, is to do yourselves a disservice.
The first questioner ranted about how the MHRM is homophobic whereas feminism embraces the LGBT community. I spoke with him after the Q&A. I told him my position with CAFÉ, that I work within the LGBT community, and that clearly I’m not homophobic. He tried redirecting that to me as an individual and not representative of the MHRM, that it was the patriarchy that created this homophobia, etc. I spoke with a transgendered friend about how this man basically said feminism is 100% embracing of the LGBT community, to which his response was a confused and disbelieving “no it’s not!” When I told one of my many LGBT colleagues that I was lumped in as homophobic, he laughed and said “well that would make things awkward!”
My point to that gentleman is this; there are many people interested in a different look at gender issues, particularly with an overdue look at men. We are all individuals, as with feminists. As there are those within feminism who are homophobic (examples here, here, and here), there are those in the MHRM who have different beliefs from others within the MHRM. The default argument from the feminist camp is typically “well they’re not really feminists if they believe that.” The MHRM can just as equally say that about members of their movement.
To this gentleman I say look into the issues that MRA’s feel are most important, and then apply your feminist lens to help solve it. Don’t expect them to suddenly prescribe to your mantra, but acknowledge that yes, some of these issues do concern you too. If you help from your perspective, you will gain more favour for feminism than you will by coming with an agenda to attack their perspective. To this man, I would recommend this article on same-sex violence that shows how feminist theories benefit from being challenged, and how they can harm people if they are not.
The Best Protester (arguing with her own people)
After the event, there was a woman who said she was a drama student. She was having a debate with a couple of people, one of whom was the questioner I spoke with. She had a yellow sign with sparkly glitter and a pretty heart that stated “the problems you’re attributing to feminism are the result of the patriarchy.” Unlike the others detailed here, she was discussing how she votes for who she wants (we both agreed on NDP), not for what is between their legs but for the positions they stand for. This is in line with a critical view of feminism. If she votes for someone who represents her views, not on what is between their legs, then she should realize that the notion of basing representation in parliament on the genitals of our MPP’s is a broken notion. She was challenging this idea and not just allowing herself to be spoon-fed feminism’s supposedly infallible arguments.
When I joined their conversation, she was not hiding behind a black mask. She did not have a random obscure quote from the internet on her sign. She stood alone. She spoke clearly, intelligently, and expressed herself as if she had rehearsed her lines for one of her performances. She proactively countered the arguments of her fellow protesters with whom she was speaking who threw out the usual rehashed and insubstantial feminist arguments of the patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny as if they were a shield against the notion that men may have issues too.
She owned her shit.
“Be true scholars, real thinkers, genuine intellectuals. For those of you who are doing feminist work, let it be genuine feminist work. Be open to evidence that might take you in surprising directions. Research your subject fully. Do not mistake self-righteousness for scholarly passion. It is an intoxicating emotion, but it is ultimately hollow and unreliable. Avoid the easy temptation of blaming the usual suspects.”
-This article was originally written for the Canadian Association For Equality