Two men from opposing sides in the debate about a men’s issues group at the University of Toronto come together to wage peace. Find out how they got on….
Last 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 globe. We decided to bring together two men from opposing sides of the debate to see if they could wage peace.
Iain Dowie of CAFE (Canadian Association for Equality) and Ron Couchman of Men for Equality and Non-Violence spoke with the Good Man Project’s International Men’s Movement editor Glen Poole.
Glen: Ok, to get started, why don’t you both introduce yourselves:
Iain: Hi I’m Iain Dwyer, I’m a spokesperson for CAFE, which is an educational non-profit that focuses on awareness raising for underrepresented gender issues. In particular we have been involved in a men’s issues awareness campaign on university campuses.
Ron: Hello I’m Ron Couchman, I’m completing an MA is sociology researching masculinity and violence, I have a Undergraduate degree in Gender Studies, I am co-founder of Men for Equality and Non-Violence, as well as a program coordinator of a city funded male engagement campaign. I have also been a social justice activist on university campuses for 7 years, and give peer support to men. I am passionate about men’s issues and supporting men through difficulty.
Glen: Iain, why has CAFE decided to hold meetings at the University of Toronto?
Iain: Involving ourselves at places of higher learning is a natural step in making the public aware of the issues confronting men. Our main goal on campus is to encourage future leaders to think in a broader, more comprehensive way about gender equality. In that sense we’ve been very successful; we’ve come to the attention of several national news outlets thanks in part to the radical actions of our opposition.
Glen: Ron, you’re opposed to CAFE’s presence at the University of Toronto. Why is that?
Ron: : I oppose CAFE on campus because it is REactivism, regressive, and inaccurately steals the language of progressive politics. They have some genuine concerns, many of which I also address, but the way they frame these issues is deeply concerning, highly inaccurate, and in many cases misogynistic. Many of their speakers, such as Warren Farrell are deeply misogynistic and hateful towards women. Barbara Kay as another example has an English literature degree and somehow she is positioned as an expert on gender studies after admitting “she took a course once in university”. Her writing is more reminiscent of a mild Ann Coulter then a gender studies expert.
Glen: How do you respond to Ron’s suggestion that the way you and the speakers you are bringing on to campus are framing the issue is deeply misogynistic and hateful towards women?
Iain: Our speakers have included several women – almost all published academics – including one person who is the former chair of a chapter of the National Organization for Women. Ron claims he addresses issues facing men, but the only male focused organization I could link his name to was to prevent male perpetrated violence against women. This completely ignores the fact that most domestic violence is reciprocal, and dismisses male victims by telling them they could have stopped it.
Glen: Ron, you say they’re being misogynistic and Iain says they’re not. Either way what about the issue of free speech? Are you simply trying to silence views you disagree with?
Ron: It is not just because I disagree with their views. I am perfectly fine with people expressing differing opinions. They discuss equality without first recognizing the need for equity, and they posit men’s issues largely as the fault of women. The reason I oppose them so strongly is that I believe there are legitimate concerns for men, both social and health related, that are important to address; however, by failing to also recognize male privilege they are doing damage to the credibility of the men’s movement, and in the process creates unnecessary friction with women’s organizations. I feel they are doing a disservice to men who seek to address these concerns while also striving to be allies with feminist movements. Free speech has always been limited in Canada to exclude hate speech. Iain cannot see it as misogyny because he fails to recognize male privilege. That is how privilege works; it disallows critical thinking about our own actions.
Glen: Iain it sounds like Ron agrees about some of the men’s issues you want to raise but is concerned you are going about this wrong way. Why don’t you address issues like male privilege?
Iain: We recognize the different ways society views men and women, but we don’t like simplistic terminology like ‘privilege’ since it sweeps away a lot of the nuance of real life. For example, men are ‘privileged’ in that they are viewed as stronger and more capable than women. However, this also has the negative effect that if a man needs help, such as in a domestic violence situation, he is often not taken seriously. The recent suicide by Earl Silverman, who ran the only shelter for men suffering abuse in Canada, shows how much apathy there is towards the violence men can face. As for his claim that we blame women, that is completely false.
Glen: Okay and what about being more co-operative? Isn’t it hard to make friends when you keep slinging mud?
Iain: We do our best to keep above any kind of mud-slinging or personal attacks. We welcome dissenting opinions, but many of the methods used by our opposition crossed the line from simple protest or freedom of speech into illegal or unethical conduct. For example, barricading fire escapes, pulling alarms, threatening a ‘militant’ response, attempting to drown out our speakers with bullhorns, and spreading false allegations about us. It’s disappointing that our opponents resort to these tactics. I think it really undermines their credibility that more of our critics haven’t spoken out against the actions of those who would rather shut down our conversation than engage us in real debate.
Glen: What CAFE seem to be saying Ron, suggests there’s not much opportunity to make allies in the face of such extreme opposition. Would you agree?
Ron: First of all, they do not attempt to avoid slinging mud, in fact they do the exact opposite. They just couch it in political correctness. I do not define anything done by the protestors at the event as extreme. I believe very strongly in direct democracy. If we believe something is unjust or harmful we have a duty as citizens to resist it in whatever ways we have available to us. This is what the students opposing the CAFE event were doing. I stand in strict solidarity with the protestors of the event at U of T, and I do not judge the actions of individual protestors. I support a diversity of tactics. I do not feel CAFE is extreme either. I believe they have good intentions but are misguided, misdirected, and angry in their framing of the issues and their tactics.
Glen: Is the real issue underneath all this that you’re opposed to non-feminists having a space to develop their thinking about men and gender issues?
Ron: Not at all. It is not just a feminist and non-feminist binary, if it were we wouldn’t be having this conversation. CAFE are anti-feminist, that isn’t the same thing as not being a feminist. Frankly I would love to sit one on one with many of them in a personal setting and have an honest, open, and compassionate discussion about many of these issues in a space neither party would feel defensive.
Glen: So Iain, Ron says he would love to have one to one discussion with you. Would you be up for that?
Iain: Absolutely, although I do want to point out that it is difficult to have an open and compassionate discussion when someone openly supports those who commit crimes against us. One of our advisors who works with fathers in the family court system talks a lot about ‘waging peace’ and that is at the heart of CAFE’s approach. A big part of our mandate is having conversations with people, especially those who disagree with us. The main challenge we’ve had around that is that those who disagree with us prefer to do so through a megaphone or by pulling a fire alarm, making a dialogue impossible.
Glen: Ok, well hopefully we’ve moved a small step closer to meaningful dialogue today. Do you have a final message for Ron and a final message for our readers?
Iain: Ron, I think your heart is in the right place, but your support for criminals will make it difficult for us to find common ground. To GMP readers: If you’re interested in what we’re doing, for or against, I would encourage you to get in touch with us either at one of our events or through our online presence. We’re always open to suggestions for future events, even if they involve people who oppose us (but hopefully are interested in talking rather than shouting).
Glen: Ron, what is your final message for Iain and our readers?
Ron: I am happy to see so many men politically engaged and interested in changing the conditions of men’s lives. As men, we need to address these needs together, but in a way that supports and is consistent with the needs of women, and people who fall outside the male/female binary. Pro-feminist men, myself included, are addressing the same issues but in a way that is complimentary to feminism, and not using men’s legitimate issues as a form of feminist backlash. Men’s Rights Activists also need to talk about men and men’s issues without women being your reference point or source of blame.
—Photo credit: danielfsnink/Flickr