Ryerson Student Union and the Boogey-Men
Recently the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) passed an amendment to their policy on women’s issues. This amendment was not in regards to protecting women’s issues, but rather focused on rejecting any consideration or acceptance of men also having issues. The proposed amendments were as follows:
“4. Groups, Meetings or events [that] promote misogynist views towards women and ideologies that promote gender inequity, challenges women’s right to bodily autonomy, or justifies sexual assault
5. The concept of misandry as it ignores structural inequity that exist between men and women
6. Groups, meetings events or initiatives [that] negate the need to centre women’s voices in the struggle for gender equity.”
Many people of diverse identities openly accept that men have issues. They also accept that men have issues that differ from those that women face. As such, these amendments do not make any sense. Let’s look at them in order:
Amendment #4: Would it not have been more effective to draft an amendment about gender equity to be gender neutral? How about not allowing events that promote misogynistic, misandrist, or plain old sexist views that promote gender inequity, challenge a person’s right to bodily autonomy (do men not also have the right to bodily autonomy?) or justifies assault, sexual or otherwise.
This language would be more open and accepting of men’s and women’s issues groups. Why is it that the RSU is so opposed and fearful of discussing men’s issues that they felt the need to immediately propose amendments in an attempt to stop their momentum? This language change would also be more embracing of the entire gender spectrum. The original language ignores not just men, but also the trans community. After all, when does a trans-identified person achieve bodily autonomy if this right is only extended to women? Is it when they have transitioned to being a woman, or before they have transitioned to identifying as a man?
Amendment #5: Misandry ignores structural inequity across genders? No, it more fully encompasses it. It acknowledges that the gender pendulum creates gender inequity on both sides. Men’s Human Rights Groups (MHRMs) don’t deny that misogyny exists, but they do acknowledge that sexism is not a one-way street. Misandry does not ignore structural inequity, denying the concept of misandry does. Disregarding misandry also fosters ignorance of many other forms of inequity, such as systemic inequity.
Amendment #6: It is women’s voices that should be centred in conversations of gender equity? This is where the RSU is furthest from the mark. How is it equity if we centre one gender’s voice over the others? I fully embrace the importance of including the voices of women, and there are many women in the MHRM who do just that.
However, are men not allowed to discuss their own feelings of where they are having issues? Let’s say we’re discussing violence to men, whether at the hands of a man or a woman. Should we centre women’s voices here? How about if we are discussing the alienation of fathers from their children’s lives; the effects of divorce on men; men who have been victims of rape (by a man or a woman); the high rate of male suicide? I fully welcome women’s voices on these subjects, but I would certainly reject any notion that it is the voice of women that should be the centre of such gendered subjects.
Neda Hamzavi, who proposed the amendments, was reported as saying “I think it’s important to remember that when we’re talking about dismantling patriarchy, we’re talking about supporting men, we’re talking about supporting women [and] we’re talking about supporting the entire gender spectrum.” No, you are not. A woman trying to silence the voice of men is not dismantling patriarchy. If anything, it is establishing a matriarchy and supporting only one part of the gender spectrum.
Does Men’s Rights Equate to Anti-Women’s rights?
“There’s been a lot of work across campuses not only in Ontario but also across the country that have been working sort of [as] anti-women’s rights groups.” -Neda Hamzavi
Human rights and men’s issues are not anti-women’s rights. Applying a critical lens to a women’s rights group is also not anti-women’s rights. Were Neda to have simply applied a feminist lens to some of the issues that concern the MHRM, I would have thought nothing of it. However, actively engaging in an obvious attempt to block groups interested in men’s issues, under a thinly veiled guise of protecting women, is an attempt at censorship and a direct infringement of the 2nd section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Marwa Hamad, the RSU’s vice-president of equity, claimed that these additions were regarding misandry and “reverse-sexism” (reverse, the opposite, would mean no sexism, not sexism towards men). I don’t see how stifling the perspective of the male voice, the male perspective, simply because it may or may not agree with yours, is in any way a promotion of equity?
This stifles the voice of women too, who, according to the proposed amendments, should be the centre of the subject of gender equity. Sarah Santosh, one of the two women in a group of three Ryerson students trying to start up a men’s issues group on campus, stated that “The ironic thing is my voice is being silenced right now because I can’t even form a group without having to face this really back-handed deal that’s really attacking our group.” Even when women have two thirds of the voice on men’s issues, this is still not “centred” enough for the RSU. If misandry does not exist, then what is this if it is not fear or hatred of the very notion that men may have issues?
Those Who Forget The Past
I’ve known Neda Hamzavi for a couple of years now. As such, when I first heard this, I sent her a txt message asking if she had forgotten my speech to the RSU from about 3 years ago. She said “no, of course not”, and so I voiced my concern over what I had read was going on at Ryerson. She went on to say “What I said wasn’t saying bad things don’t happen to men, it was saying men are dominant sex and therefore there’s no such thing as “sexism” towards men,” she said before switching to straw-man arguments with “just like there’s no such thing as “reverse homophobia” or “reverse racism.”
This is a juvenile interpretation of structural issues. I already stated above that so-called “reverse sexism” is just sexism pointed at men. As such, it should be called what it is, sexism. I’ve also never heard anyone claim “reverse homophobia”, though Eminem sang about heterophobia (he apparently understands social language better than Ms. Hamzavi and Ms. Hamad). I suggested she look into the Irish, Scottish, and Jews as examples of racism against white people, but I digress.
I met Neda with some friends when I was in my 4th year of Social Work at Ryerson and she was, I believe, in her second year of nursing. A couple of days later, Neda and one of the other nursing students I had met that night asked if I wanted to go to an RSU meeting. I had not been to one yet, and figured why not.
Much to my chagrin, I noticed on the agenda that night was a discussion about a women’s crisis line for Ryerson students. They had two microphones set up, and people who disagreed with a subject would speak at one microphone, and those in favour of a subject went to the other. When the subject of the crisis line was brought to the table, a number of female students immediately went to the “agree” microphone. I apprehensively went to the “disagree” microphone, which was on the other side of the large room, knowing what kind of thoughts would be going through people’s minds seeing a tall, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, presumably straight, “privileged” man going to a “disagree” microphone while the subject of a women’s crisis line was being discussed.
Before I got there, to my surprise, another person went to the “disagree” microphone before me. This was an older woman who got around through the use of a scooter. She was from my social work course, and I will just call her Jessica to avoid identifying her. She was a vocal woman who often spoke out in class, and was open about herself. As such, I knew that one of the reasons she relied on a scooter to get around was because a former partner of hers had thrown her down a flight of stairs.
The women on the agree side said the usual pro-women talking points. They spoke about how violence against women is wrong, out of control, and especially that “one is too many!” I let Jessica speak first, partially because I wanted her input knowing her past. She felt that this women’s crisis line fell short, as it did not give any attention to those in the LGBT community, or to men. The summary in the agenda mentioned no one but women. It was called a women’s crisis line. She, a woman who had previously been thrown down a flight of stairs by a man, felt that everyone needed to be supported and included, not just women.
When I spoke, I revealed an incident from my past (I will likely publish in more detail later). When I was 16, and going through a rough patch, I got completely wasted with some friends one night. Wanting to be alone, I had wandered away from the group to be alone with myself for a bit. I had a blackout that night (the only one I have had, as such incidents as this put me off of drinking, especially to excess).
It took me a week to piece together that night from friends, but the final piece was that when one friend had wandered off to take a piss, he saw one of the girls who had been with us going down on me. I may have only been 16, but this girl was only 13. Where would I go? If I went to the cops, statutory rape and I’m seen as the abuser. When a high school teacher asked me if anything was going on at home, after I did a presentation in class on how our textbook had a whole section on men as abusers and women as victims, I said no and began to tell her about that night. She cut me off and said she didn’t want to hear about it and that she just needed to make sure it wasn’t going on at home.
At Ryerson, when I told two of my fellow male Social Work students the story, one’s response was “cool”. Cool. As in, “Hey man, it’s totally awesome that you were sexually assaulted while passed out.” I chastised him for it, though I was used to that kind of response by that time. So where was I supposed to go? Who was I supposed to call? What if this had happened at Ryerson? I looked at all the women lining up and saying how much this crisis line was needed, how one was one too many, and shouted that yes this is a good start, but there is too much exclusion, too much focus on women. If one is too many, I would be that one for the men not being represented.
There was a lot of applause after I spoke, which was quieted down by the moderator, as it could apparently “skew the vote”. Another man went up and spoke after me saying he, too, was the victim of sexual assault by a woman in his past. I don’t know if he felt the courage to do so after I spoke, or if he would have done so on his own, but the important point is that here were two men, in one room at Ryerson, both of whom had been sexually assaulted by a woman (I specify this only because it is what it was, and a male being sexually assaulted or raped by a woman has its own societal complications compared to when committed by a man. Cool?). Neither of these men felt Ryerson was adequately addressing their needs or that what it was proposing would provide other male Ryerson students with support if faced with a similar situation. Two men willing to speak up, despite being in a setting where the reaction to merely approaching a “disagree” microphone would be looked upon with hostility, and filled at least one of us with anxiety and apprehensiveness about speaking up. Two men who felt men had issues similar to those women face but that, because they were men, that these were not being addressed.
Neda was present for that speech and now, with the support of the RSU, is looking to stifle the voices of Ryerson students who may find themselves in need of a group that supports and examines men’s issues. Ryerson Students who may have a friend who could use some supports and not know how to help. Students who may disagree with the notion of putting women’s voices front row and centre for all things gender related. Neda, Marwa, and the RSU do not feel misandry exists. They just feel the need to explicitly put it into RSU policy, like writing “no boogeymen in here” on their closet door.
-This article originally written for the Canadian Association For Equality