Why Do Men Need Male-Only Groups on Campus?

higher education, feminism, men's rights, men's groups, Canada, University of Toronto, male studies, protests against men's groups, Warren Farrell, Men's Issues, glen poole, international men's movement,

At universities around the world, men’s groups are banned.

The widening gap between the proportion of men and women who attend university seems to be coinciding with a rise in militant opposition to men and men’s issues on campus.

Have our alma maters really become so matriarchal that men now need to take action to reclaim the campus? Recent events in Canada certainly suggest that something is amiss.

The University of Toronto has become a symbolic battleground in the gender wars, with violent opposition to a series of talks by leading experts on men’s issues rapidly becoming a cause célèbre for men’s rights activists around the globe.

CityNews Toronto described the controversy as “an ugly battle of the sexes involving allegations of hate speech, bullying and even violence.”

Protestors clash with police chanting “this is what men’s rights looks like” and men’s rights activists circulate footage of the protests with the title “this is what feminism looks like”.

A recent broadcast by CityNews Toronto described this controversy as “an ugly battle…a battle of the sexes [that] includes allegations of hate speech, free speech, bullying, harassment [and] even violence”.

The video footage of protestors trying to prevent Dr Warren Farrell, the creator of the proposed White House Council on Boys & Men, from delivering a talk on ‘the boy crisis in education’ is certainly shocking.

So is this an isolated drama stirred up by a handful of troublemakers who see it as a perfect opportunity to vent their political grievances, or is it symptomatic of a more widespread anti-male campus culture?

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Internationally, education is clearly one of the first areas where women make ground and overtake men when nations make the transition towards greater gender equality.

In the UK, the University of London became the first to admit women in 1878 and by 1900, 30 per cent of graduates at the university were women. Just over a century later, women graduates outnumber their male counterparts all over the developed world.

Female graduates outnumber men in 89 of the world’s leading economies says World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum, which produces a league table of gender equality in more than 130 countries, reveals that two thirds of those countries send more women to university than men. Ironically, some of the biggest university gender gaps are found in the countries that are rated as the most gender equal. In New Zealand, for example, 46% more women go to university than men, in Sweden it’s 54% in Norway 63% and in Iceland 87%.

It is too simplistic to suggest that the drive towards gender equality is pushing men out of university as participation rates have increased for both men and women. And the fact remains that women graduates now outnumber men in 89 of the world’s leading economies.

According to the UK’s Universities Minister, David Willetts, this is “the culmination of a decades-old trend in our education system which seems to make it harder for boys and men to face down the obstacles in the way of learning.”

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So what exactly are the obstacles that men and boys face when it comes to learning?

As the conflict in Canada has shown, there is certainly fierce opposition to men’s issues being discussed on campus. At the University of Toronto, the Student Union wants to ban the Men’s Issues group, which invited experts like Farrell to speak.

At nearby Ryerson University, the students’ union (RSU) is one step ahead of the game and has successfully prevented three students—two of them women—from setting up a men’s issues club on campus.

Samuel Greenfield, a Ryerson student, says the decision is political:

“There are gender guards who report any male-positive activity deemed as anti-female and favoring males.”

“The principle is this: if you challenge official narrative, you don’t have the right to speak. It’s as if the spirit of closed-minded religious dogma has jumped into bed with modern political correctness to prevent blasphemy against RSU ideological orthodoxy.”

There is of course a distinction between hostility to men’s issues in general and hostility to men specifically. So is this political resistance, personal to men?

Miles Groth, a psychology professor at Wagner College, New York, who edited the anthology “Engaging College Men: Discovering What Works And Why”, suggests that the resistance to men’s issues is consistent with a campus culture that tends to opposes “male positive” activities. He told me:

“The formation of men’s groups on campus is discouraged. At Wagner College, as most places, there are ‘gender guards’, faculty who report any activity that would be considered male-positive since such activity is deemed anti-female and indicative of continuing to favor males.”

Warren Farrell, who has led anti-sexism workshop sponsored by feminist organizations on college campuses in the past, also believes that some aspects of university life are anti-male saying:

“Freshman orientation alone has had a distinctively anti-male cast for years: heavy emphasis on date rape, stalking, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual harassment amount to an unmistakable message that males are patriarchal oppressors and potential sex criminals.”

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And there lies the heart of this problem. Where does being pro-female become anti-male and where does being pro-male become anti-female?

According to the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) “free speech ends where hate speech begins” and UTSU believes that the Male Issues campaign crossed that line by providing a forum for Dr Farrell who they say spreads “misogynistic, hateful theories”.

Student Samuel Greenfield provides a different perspective:

“Some fear that the discussion of men’s issues will somehow silence women’s voices. No one is saying women’s issues shouldn’t be discussed. But if women’s issues can be discussed, then the tent ought to be large enough for men too.”

Some fear that the discussion of men’s issues will silence women’s voices.

That fear was clearly felt by Ryerson Students Union (RSU) who introduced a new policy that helped block proposals for a university men’s group. The student newspaper described the move as “an effort to guard the empowerment of women’s voices on campus” by “rejecting the concept of misandry—the hatred or fear of men”.

Sarah Santosh, one of the female students who co-founded the men’s issues group said:

“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.”

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As we start to unpick what seems to be happening on campuses in Toronto and beyond, it becomes clear that this isn’t so much a gender war as a gender ideology war.

When you filter out the loudest and most extreme voices on both sides of the argument you find men and women who simply want some space to view things and do things differently.

One such man is Dennis Gouws, a Professor of English and Director of Arts and Education, of the Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies (AIMHS).

Gouws is one of a group of scholars who are working to pioneer a male-positive approach to academia in America, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Europe. Their initiatives include publishing an international journal on New Male Studies, promoting men’s centres on college campuses and developing post-graduate courses in Male Studies which are due to launch in 2014.

“Throughout my life I had never really thought about a male positive approach to anything.”

Gouws has developed a British-Literature course on Victorian Manhood that offers students a male-positive approach to understanding the texts. He has found that the course gives both men and women fresh insights into literature, history and the way they view men.

One of his students, Alex, summed up the experience as follows:

“Throughout my life I had never really thought about a male positive approach to anything. I will always read and analyze stories with a slight male-negative view out of habit, but now I know to stop and look at the same story from a male-positive view in classes and in life.”

As a result of taking the course, Alex said he was committed to becoming “a better me based on what I want and not on what others project onto me.”

There can’t be many university courses that leave young men wanting to be “a better me” and yet this male-positive, non-feminist approach to understanding men is so at odds with mainstream gender studies that its proponents have called it ‘male studies’ to distinguish it from pro-feminist ‘men’s studies’.

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For some people there is a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to think about gender and this fundamental belief can drive them to violently oppose those who they think are looking at gender in the ‘wrong way’.

It is too simplistic to say that this fundamental view of how gender should be viewed is causing more women to go university than men. There are, after all, still plenty of courses where men are in the majority.

“It’s shameful to me that women and men can’t talk about their individual issues without it being against somebody else.”

But when it comes to tackling our failure to educate men and boys to the same standards that we educate women and girls, surely we are more likely to address this gender inequality by encouraging the discussion of men’s issues on campus, rather than opposing such activity.

The Toronto students are not the first to campaign against men’s groups. A similar storm broke out in England in 2009, when a student at Manchester University, Ben Wild, set up the MENS Society with fellow students (male and female).

Jennie Agg who was editor of the city’s student newspaper at the time said:

“A whole lot of valuable feminist energy has been directed at prohibiting groups like these – and to what end? It seems that all that has been achieved is a rather soured relationship between those defending women’s rights and those who would tackle enduring male stereotypes. Hardly a brick in the road to true gender equality.”

Reflecting on his experience four years on, Ben Wild told me:

“The resistance that we encountered was initially surprising, however with dialogue came understanding and acceptance. My advice for those setting up their own initiatives would be: first, develop your ideas and learn from others. Those that will initially oppose you are not usually crazy or ill-willed. They are almost always people with genuine motivations and concerns, so treat them as such.”

“Those that will initially oppose you are not usually crazy or ill-willed.”

One of the benefits of protesting is that it can bring greater attention to a problem and cause people to think more deeply about the issue in question. It’s too soon to say whether the Toronto protests will cause more people to oppose men’s issues being discussed on campus or have the opposite effect.

Right now, those who have witnessed the demonstrations in Toronto see little hope of reconciliation between the two sides. As local TV reporter, Avery Haines, said:

“Both sides feel harassed and bullied by the other and neither show any signs of backing down. It’s shameful to me that women and men can’t talk about their individual issues without it being against somebody else.”

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If you want to contribute to The Good Men Project’s international men’s movement section then please email me at [email protected]

All well-written contributions are very welcome, including those previously published elsewhere. Submissions should be between 500-1500 words long and follow Good Men Project Style Guidelines.

Wherever you are in the world, whatever your viewpoint, if you are committed to improving the lives of men and boys and have something to say on the matter, then I am waiting to hear from you.

—Photo: andymoss461/Flickr

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About Glen Poole

Glen Poole is an international expert on men and boys and author of the book Equality For Men. He is Director of the consultancy Helping Men, UK co-ordinator for International Men Day and host of the National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton and Hove. You can follow him on twitter @equality4menUK and at www.equality4men.com.

Comments

  1. Tom Brechlin says:

    • This is worth repeating …. From mediahound “We’re still left with the problem of the category “man” and “masculine,” and all the assumed traits that go along with that category, being perceived as better than “woman” and “feminine.”
    Perceived by who?
    As soon as you drop the view that behaviour is not social but biological the whole set of value judgements of better and worse are meaningless – they are simply Biologically Appropriate and as mother Nature made um behaviours.
    You can’t have your feminism and eat it!”

    GREAT response!!!!1

    • GREAT response!!!!1

      Well I do wish that some would do their homework and keep the basic rules of academic dialogue straight. There is nothing worse than people playing Yuri Geller with the Rule Book. Heather is a class example of it. She seems to have taken every course of every subject expect Logic and Reason 101. The ice-cream parlour school of academia with every flavour in the bowl and more and more nuts on top can only be tolerated so long.

      It is tiring watching the sport as they keep shifting goal posts – changing rules – and so much being made up as it goes along. Don’t like the argument and world view – shift goal posts to the left field – Kick ball away from everyone else – and then claim it’s a goal and the goal posts have always been there!

      It just reminds me of what Gelles said after decades of research and work in Domestic Violence as an internationally recognised expert. It’s all so NIne Factoids and a Mantra! You sit and watch, you try to figure out the rules, how the game is being played and then you have to ask what is the game called. Eventually you get told – It”s TEGWAR – The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.

      In the 1970s movie, Bang the Drum Slowly , two of the main characters—a star pitcher and a team coach—engage in a small-scale swindle in the lobbies of the hotels the baseball team stays in during road trips. The pitcher and coach sit in a conspicuous spot in the lobby and begin a heated card game. Pretty soon a few observers gather to watch the game. Eventually, a curious observer, thoroughly confused by watching a game that he has never seen played before, asks the pitcher and coach what they are playing. “TEGWAR,” they respond. After a few more minutes, the onlooker asks if he can play and is invited to sit in. The newcomer wins a few hands, but still has no clue what he is doing. The hands get faster and faster, the cards fly, and eventually the newcomer gets on a losing streak—still completely befuddled by the game and what exactly is happening. When another team mate asks about the game and asks what TEGWAR stands for, he is told it means, “That Exciting Game Without Any Rules.”

      As intimate partner violence (IPV) evolved from a private matter hidden behind closed doors into a significant policy, practice, and research issue, I came to understand that policy and practice seemed to be more influenced by ideologies and political values than actual research and evidence. National legislation, state legislation, and government and foundation funding flew as fast as the cards in a game of TEGWAR. While it took years to get Congress to enact the Violence Against Women Act (1994), once the ice was broken amendments and revision of laws were easier to accomplish. The new federal law also guided state and local practice and established funding streams for programs for victims,
      but rarely for offenders.

      This article, which somewhat whimsically applies the TEGWAR metaphor, examines the rather serious issue of how research is utilized, abused, and misused in policy and practice in the area of IPV.

      THE POLITICS OF RESEARCH: THE USE, ABUSE, AND MISUSE OF SOCIAL SCIENCE DATA—THE CASES OF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE Richard J. Gelles Family Court Review, Volume 45, issue 1 (January 2007), p. 42-51. ISSN: 1531-2445 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-1617.2007.00127.x Blackwell Publishing Inc

      Gelles is such a Gentleman in the subtlety of his comment! I call matters Fraud – especially when supposed academics and experts keep shifting the goal posts – and we have had that “Here” so often I have actually had to ask those doing it if they understand the terms Pious Fraud and even Mala Fides (Bad faith). There, of course was, no answer, and they have not been heard of since – well not here!

      So many are tired of the Rigged Game and the Bully Girl Tactics as they Reinvent TEGWAR… sorry …. Reinvent Feminism to yet again control and abuse! It’s why I confuse the hell out of the TEGWAR players – as a Pouf with no interest in The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could – other than it’s revelations and even celebrations of Females as Sexual Abusers of children – so odd to be anti rape and pro Good Rape “Whilst there are reasons why feminists limit discussion on the subject of women abusers, these reasons are valid only to feminism.” … more TEGWAR!

      I do academic and see through the bias – and then afterwards, I go home and Smoke Cigar.

  2. David May says:

    It has been apparent to me for several years that a brand of feminism has emerged, one with sole purpose of defending an orthodoxy that flies in the face of scientific knowledge (e.g., male and female brains *are* in fact different, not identical). Like all orthodoxies it has, on occasion, devolved into brand anti-intellectualism (as was seen in the attacks on Camille Paglia some years ago) that smacks of Marxism and/or religious fundamentalism in its extremity. Such feminists are, apparently, threatened by men’s groups in the same way so many men in the 1970s were threatened by feminism, equating it in their subconscious with castration. Similarly, it seems, that the more extreme forms of feminist thinking equates men’s groups, a free discussion between men, with rape. Just as the anti-feminist backlash was one motivated by a fear of new ideas, so these attacks on any discussion of men’s issues or male studies must also be motivated by fear. Extremism is by definition anti-intellectual, and it is the last thing one wants to see on a college campus.

  3. Ricardo Segreda says:

    This whole article is predicated on the naive assumption that “men”, on campus or off, are a monolithic whole, and that our similarities as men outweigh any differences between men and women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hey, I went through college, and I don’t recall that the jocks and the nerds ever had much to say to each other, with each other. Not to mention factions as disparate as campus evangelicals and campus gays. Not to mention campus liberals and campus conservatives. Mr. Poole might want to venture out of his head a little bit and see what the world is really like.

  4. when one side loses, both sides lose

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  1. […] This is a comment by Alastair on the post “Why Do Men Need Male-Only Groups on Campus?“ […]

  2. […] Why Do Men Need Male-Only Groups on Campus? […]

  3. […] distinction that you can see being played out in the way some feminists resist initiatives like men’s issues groups on campus and explains why social media has become a useful platform for some anti-feminists to spread […]

  4. […] month we reported that violent opposition to a series of talks on men’s issues at the University of Toronto has become a cause célèbre for men’s rights activists around the […]

  5. […] month we reported that violent opposition to a series of talks on men’s issues at the University of Toronto has become a cause célèbre for men’s rights activists around the […]

  6. […] of aggression displayed by protesters, and the protests made headlines far beyond Canada, including here at the Good Man Project. As someone who was there in person, I can honestly say that the videos and descriptions don’t […]

  7. […] wrote about the story at the Good Men Project and facilitated a public discussion between two men on opposing sides of the […]

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