Friday 11 December 2015

Script of my response to SFU's GSWSSU's open letter...

On December 8, 2015, Simon Fraser University's Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies Student Union wrote an open letter to SFU's Advocacy for Men and Boys Society in regard to my November 8 lecture on Toxic Masculinity and Toxic Femininity.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

I posted a video response to their letter, which can be found here. Some individuals have asked if I could post a transcript. I'll post here the script I used when filming, which will likely differ slightly from the video version

To the SFU Advocacy for Men and Boys Club,
We the Communication Graduate Caucus and the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Student Union write this open letter to express our concern with your November 8 2015 event, “Toxic Masculinity & TOXIC FEMININITY” co-sponsored by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and the Canadian Foundation for Equality (CAFE). We are not alone in our concerns. Both the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) and the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) are troubled by this event and by what seems to be the rise of anti-feminist and anti-woman activism on campus. SFPIRG will be releasing their own open letter soon.
We believe that your student fee-funded club is not organizing in good faith and that you are using men’s issues as a way to attack feminism. 

For decades, men’s advocates attempted to organize in ways that did not oppose feminism’s stated principles nor its underlying methodologies. Many of these advocates described themselves as feminists and were active within the broader feminist movement. Not only were their efforts ineffective in raising awareness for the problems faced by men and boys, their most vocal opponents were the very feminists who had been their allies. 

During the 1970s and 80s, the men’s movement split into two main factions: the mythopoetic men’s movement which remained firmly allied with feminism, and one comprised of non-feminists and anti-feminists that has become the modern men’s rights movement.

Which of these movements has been more successful in bringing public attention to the problems faced by men and boys? 

More than this, men’s rights activists did not start this ideological war. Since 1979, researchers like Murray Straus and philanthropists like Erin Pizzey have been systematically silenced, marginalized and intimidated by feminists for the sin of unearthing and disclosing facts that run counter to feminism’s “patriarchy” narrative. 

People conducting solid social science research into family violence have been attempting to address the existence of male victims and female perpetrators for almost 40 years, and it has been feminists blocking them at every turn. 

That these individuals and many others have set themselves in opposition to feminism is not “using men’s issues to attack feminism”, but rather a necessary component to the addressing of men’s issues. Governments across the west are using a feminist model of family violence that men’s advocates believe is wrong-headed and inadequate. This model is the primary barrier for male victims seeking victim services or justice in the criminal system. There is no way to remove these barriers without removing the feminist model from our laws and policies, and there is no way to remove the feminist model without saying, “feminists got it wrong.”

That is not “attacking feminism” for the sake of attacking feminism. It is simply reality. 

You seem to be framing feminism and efforts to address sexism as being in necessary opposition to the interests of boys and men – we see this as a false polarity. 

Feminism no longer gets to enjoy a monopoly on describing what sexism is, or mandating how to address it. Where feminism stands in opposition to the interests of boys and men, men’s rights activists will necessarily stand in opposition to feminism. 

If and when feminism ceases to be a barrier to addressing men’s issues, many men’s rights activists will gratefully cease to oppose it. When governments cease using the feminist model of family violence, or when feminists adjust their model to comply with reality rather than their ideology, men’s rights activists will no longer have a reason to stand in opposition to feminism on that issue. 

Until that day, men’s rights activists will necessarily oppose the feminist model and the theoretical framework it was based on. 

You claim that your club and your events are not anti-feminist, even as you invite anti-feminist speakers […]

Groups which are not specifically feminist or anti-feminist may be interested in hearing both feminist and anti-feminist speakers. 

It is called a free marketplace of ideas. It is called not existing in an echo chamber. It is called diversity of discourse.  

[…] and brand your posters with a biohazard graphic surrounding a sign historically used in Western culture to symbolize womanhood. That is an extremely offensive, hostile, and aggressive move coming from a group that claims not to hate women and seek only to help men and boys. 

A poster that uses a symbol for “toxic” and a symbol for “femininity” to advertise a talk that would explore the idea of “toxic femininity” is somehow inappropriate or hateful of women? Would the GSWSSU be raising the same complaint if the talk had been about toxic masculinity and had used similar symbolism on its posters? Would you be crying misandry and hostility? Would you take offence? It was feminism that first put the word “toxic” side by side with a gender. To now complain about visual symbolism that accurately reflects feminism’s own choice of words (toxic), simply because men’s rights activists served up some sauce for the goose, is sexist and reactionary.

We ask, how does that help raise awareness of men’s issues or help them in any way?

How do feminist discussions of toxic masculinity help raise awareness of women’s issues or help them in any way? Toxic masculinity has been a fixture in feminist discourse for decades, yet somehow the mere broaching of the concept of a toxic femininity is off limits to men’s advocates? 

This is nothing but special pleading, sexism and a knee-jerk defence of feminism’s ideological turf. Will feminism now claim that there are no socially reinforced attitudes and behaviors attached to femininity that are harmful to women, men or society? Will feminism now claim that toxic behaviors ascribed to femininity do not have the capacity to harm men or boys? 

Again, feminism has enjoyed a monopoly on these types of discussions for too long, and has become little more than an echo chamber where robust debate and the vigorous challenging of their ideas is framed as misogyny. This hegemony feminism holds over the discourse should be regularly contested and scrutinized for that reason alone. 

Whether my talk helped raise awareness of men’s issues is a question that should be asked of the people in the audience. 

You claim that your use of this is justified because feminists discuss toxic masculinity, but the idea of toxic masculinity has nothing to do with declaring men or masculinity to be inherently toxic. Rather it is a critique of dominant discourses of masculinity, and the belief that these forms of masculinity harm people of all genders, men and boys included. 

And here I discover that you didn’t watch my talk, or if you did, you were not being an “active listener”. At no time did I claim feminism declares men or masculinity to be inherently toxic. In fact, I specifically stated at the outset that feminists would not define toxic masculinity in that way. 

I used a definition of toxic masculinity from a feminist website that was the first google hit using the search term “toxic masculinity 101”. 

My own talk was a critique of dominant cultural discourses of femininity, with an emphasis on how these forms of femininity harm people of all genders, women and girls included. 

Further, when feminists talk about toxic masculinity, we ask what we can do collectively to remedy its effects. 

Again, someone was not “actively listening”, given what was discussed in the Q&A section. 

We do not invite speakers like Karen Straughan who promote ideas that men are irrational subjects who commit violence against women because they cannot find consenting sexual partners. But you do.

Given that you linked to a comment thread with almost 600 comments, rather than to whatever comment it where you claim I said this, I simply have no answer to that. If the GSWSSU wants me to address a statement they believe I have made, it might behoove them to link to that statement. 

You claim that men are oppressed by feminism. 

Who claims this? Is this part of the mission statement of SFUAMB? If so, I can take no responsibility for it. However, there is only one instance of any variant of the word “oppress” in the entirety of my speech at SFU, and it was in reference to feminist beliefs regarding women’s oppression.

You seem skeptical of the validity behind social issues such as men’s violence against women and the gendered wage gap, presenting flimsy evidence in an attempt to discredit us and deny our incredibly well-documented lived experiences. 

The most credible social science research demonstrates that no matter the gender of the perpetrator, violence is more likely to be targeted at men and boys than women or girls, starting before the age of 1. 

Male violence against women is a thing. It exists. What does not exist is a culture or a system of institutions that condones and normalizes it. We have legislation and policy enacted specifically to address male violence against women because 1 in 3 women will be raped or assaulted in their lifetimes. For the 1 in 1 men who will be, we have nothing special. 

The wage gap is a thing. It exists. What does not exist is a 23 percent wage gap where women are paid less than men for the exact same work. Even the American Association of University Women was compelled to admit as much in their most recent research on the topic. I’ll convey to them the “flimsiness” of their evidence if you like. 

These claims are ridiculous and insulting. 

So what? 

But we will acknowledge some of the valid points you make. You cite elevated suicide rates, workplace injuries/fatalities, and child custody decisions as examples of issues men face. Many feminists acknowledge that men deal with these issues and actively work on them. 

Citation needed. Please, show me one feminist organization who has successfully backed a shared custody bill. I can show you many who successfully quashed one, despite overwhelming bipartisan public support for it.

That is why some of us specifically focus on challenging hegemonic models of masculinity that sanction men for expressing emotions. 

Is this where you call MRAs whiny piss-babies? Maybe take a swig from your male tears coffee mug?

Oh, wait. Now I get it. If we just convince Joe Schmoe that it’s okay to cry, the judge will totally give him reasonable custody of his kids. We don’t need changes to the laws or policies—what we need is for men to change themselves and thereby society’s conceptualization of masculinity before they’re allowed to maybe have equal parental rights. 

This is why many feminists support socialist governments that fund mental health. It is why many feminists support unionisation and occupational safety efforts to end worker exploitation. 

Why yes, I’m sure you’re willing to allow men to benefit as a side effect of your advocacy for women. But somehow, the ratio of deaths and maimings on the job has remained constant for decades, and men’s suicide rates have actually increased in many western countries, not only as a proportion of suicides, but as a proportion of population. 

It is also why so many feminists seek to end women’s economic dependence on men by challenging the wage gap and the patriarchal assumption that women are “naturally” suited for childcare. 

But not by supporting alimony reform legislation, or shared custody bills, nor by opposing flawed models of family violence that assume men are always the primary aggressors and therefore less likely to be fit to parent. 

Instead, you feminists do it by calling father’s rights groups not a movement for justice but an abuser’s lobby, whose primary goal is to help men abuse children and ex-partners and to get out of paying child support. 

And yes, you feminists challenge the wage gap. #giveyourmoneytowomen How about the “man tax” that feminists have suggested? Or giving bonuses based on vaginas that one university in Australia is doing? Government programs to help women make ends meet? 

Where do you think all that money is coming from, ladies? It’s primarily coming from men. If women are getting bonuses and men are not, those men are subsidizing those bonuses. Men pay over 75% of the taxes into the system. Every government program to help mitigate the wage gap depends on men’s money. 

So your answer to the problem of women being economically dependent on a man is to make women economically dependent on all men. Brava!

Those of us working on these issues believe that our work benefits everybody, and yet you still cling to the belief that our work advantages women while disadvantaging men.

Florida’s chapter of the National Organization for Women convinced the governor of that state to veto alimony reform legislation that enjoyed 80% support from the public and had passed both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support. Why? Because it would disadvantage women. Thereby harvesting gallons of male tears to fill feminists’ coffee mugs. 

How did that benefit everybody? 

If you are serious about improving life for men and boys, you might want to learn from those branches of feminism working from a broad commitment to ending all forms of oppression instead of attacking an imaginary monolithic version. 

Or I could learn from the stymied efforts of the mythopoetic men’s movement, who accomplished little more than organizing group therapy sessions in the woods. And I’m not disparaging the value of that to some men—being able to unload all your trauma and baggage in a safe place among people who understand your pain is valuable and useful. But I’d rather concern myself with preventing that trauma and baggage in the first place. 

When I first became interested in the men’s rights movement, the attitude of most feminists toward it was blanket ridicule. They laughed. They mocked. They belittled and insulted MRAs. A bunch of losers who can’t get laid. Over a very brief period, that attitude changed. Soon, instead of mockery, we were subjected to accusations of misogyny, violence, terrorism and the like. Now we weren’t a bunch of losers, we were dangerous reactionaries who need to be stopped.

And now we have some bizarre hybrid of these strategies, combined with something new: “feminism is working on these issues. You shouldn’t hate feminism. You shouldn’t oppose feminism. Feminism fights for men’s issues, too. Feminism is the light and the way and the solution to all of men’s problems.”

We have Emma Watson trotting out men’s issues at the UN and extending her formal invitation to men to sit at the equality table because feminism cares about them, too, only to pull a bait and switch and direct people to a website where men pledge to work to end sexism and violence against women and girls. 

But feminism sure cares about men’s issues. Suicide’s the leading killer of men under 40 in the UK? Well, the solution to that is for men to pledge to end sexism against women! Natch!

Feminism at its best is firmly grounded in a commitment to things like anti-racism, decolonization, disability justice, justice for all gender identities, and so much more, and when we work from this model, we are an immensely strong and effective movement. We recommend doing the following to strengthen your activism and broaden your work:

All I’m hearing here is “feminism has a habit of co-opting other people’s issues so they can continue to seem relevant.”

Need I remind you that the president of SFUAMB is a transgender woman? And that I’m a gender-queer, bisexual woman? And that some of the men’s rights movement’s most admired individuals are women? People of color? Transpeople? Disabled people? 

These people are attracted to our movement not because we are exclusionary, but because we have a solid mandate. We get that discrimination against men often disproportionately affects poor men, men of color, gay men and transpeople. We get it. But we’re not interested in co-opting issues of race or class or sexuality or gender identity and dragging them under the rubric of our movement. If the gender gap in the criminal justice system is 6 times larger than the race gap, then our efforts to close that gap will benefit men of color just as much, or more, than white men. 

Consciousness-raising: The personal is political. This means that the issues that people face are not simply individual and privatized but collective and social. 

Erin Pizzey has a different definition, one she acquired while participating in the early women’s liberation movement: You take your own personal damage and project it onto all of society. If my dad was a shit, it means all men are shit.

Consciousness-raising occurs when people gather and discuss common experiences to build a group identity, and we can see that you are doing this. 

Scientologists say this kind of thing as well. So do the agents of ISIS in Canada who recruit and radicalize young people. 

I am not in this to build a group identity. I’m in this to hopefully inform people of what’s going on. Group identities are inherently tribalistic, and I want no part of that. 

But consciousness-raising is more than just that. It also involves engaging with new information and the perspectives of people who are different from ourselves. 

Really. From everything you’ve said here, I can’t imagine the authors of this letter listened to any of the “new” information presented in my talk, or effectively engaged with my perspective. Everything in this letter is designed to protect the hegemony of a group called feminism. 

It involves naming the many systems of injustice that are working together to shape our society, and acknowledging how members of our own group or community are advantaged/disadvantaged along the lines of race/ethnicity, nationality, class, sexuality, disability, and more. Consciousness-raising asks people from privileged groups to acknowledge how they benefit from, and even perpetuate, certain forms of oppression themselves. 

So you will now concede that feminism is privileged in terms of its voice within the gender discourse? It will now ask itself how it benefits from this hegemony? It will ask itself how it might be perpetuating certain forms of oppression?

Yeah, didn’t think so. 

Does your group actually consider the evidence that sexism works to harm girls and women, and at the same time creates a narrow and rigid understanding of what a ‘real man’ is, thereby doing harm to boys and men? 

Did you even listen to my talk?

Do you talk about the ways that some men oppress other men, and how they can try to unlearn or challenge these patterns and behaviours?

Did you even listen to my talk?

Structural analysis: Intersectional feminism has come a long way from forms of feminism that simply identify patriarchy as the sole cause of women’s oppression. Due to the efforts of women who are facing multiple forms of oppression—and indeed people of all genders who are multiply marginalized—that narrow understanding of sexism is being challenged. 

So what you’re saying is you took a bowl of male privilege and female oppression, added some croutons, dried cranberries, mandarin slices and grilled chicken, and voila! Suddenly it’s not salad anymore! It’s something that’s not salad, even though it’s pretty much salad.

Globally, many feminist movements examine how racism, colonialism, imperialism, economic exploitation, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of injustice affect women and indeed all of society, at both the local and transnational level. 

Uh huh. You know, I notice how you were very quick to provide a link when describing what a rape apologist I am—a link that requires the reader to pick through 600 comments, but still, a link. Yet you provide no links to back up your claims here.

We must name the systems that harm us and discuss how they harm us in order to help each other heal – but feminism doesn’t stop there. 

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t ever stop.

Sometimes those who dislike feminism frame our work as playing the victim, but quite the contrary – around the world, feminist movements are working to empower people to take action in ways that actually address the root causes of oppression. 

Citation needed. Evidence needed. Proof of what are and are not the root causes of oppression needed. 

Your group seems interested in the rates of violence men face during times of war and incarceration. This is an incredibly important issue, and yet we see little evidence that you are interested in confronting militarization or the prison-industrial complex. 

Well, considering you didn’t listen to my speech before commenting on it, I’m not confident that you looked very hard for evidence of that. 

Nor do we see signs that you are working to identify how racism, colonialism, and poverty lead to men of colour, Indigenous men, and poor men’s overrepresentation and victimization in these institutions. 

You mean how there are 3 to 4 times as many missing or murdered aboriginal men than women in Canada? You mean how Adam Jones’ article regarding the establishment’s erasure of these men at the National Post was posted on the men’s rights subreddit, and how his work on gender and genocidal violence is cited all over the place by MRAs? 

Where are the feminists standing up and telling the Canadian government that missing and murdered aboriginal men should be included in a public inquiry? 

Given how necessary it is to address root causes of injustice in order to achieve meaningful levels of social change, we ask, which structures you are working to dismantle?


We are under no pretence that feminist movements are immune from critique. 

Could have fooled me.

Those of us who identify as feminist regularly find ourselves in conflict as we wrestle with systems of injustice that cut through our communities and organizations. And of course, there are many versions of feminism. 

Ah, yes. So many versions of feminism, it’s like swordfighting a fart. No matter what feminists do, other feminists can come in and say, “well, no true feminist” or “that’s not what feminism means to me” or “a real feminist would never”.

We all have our knowledge gaps and social movements often contain divisions, but we are all committed to ending sexist oppression by placing women’s diverse lives and experiences at the centre of our inquiry, analysis, and activism. 

Yes, we know. We know you put only women’s diverse experiences at the center of your inquiry. Well, and not all women’s. Anti-feminist and non-feminist women can go fly a kite. And if we keep making waves, you can just cry “internalized misogyny” and continue to ignore us.

If you want to work alongside feminist efforts to build a more just world, while focusing on boys and men, we support that. 

I wouldn’t touch feminism with a ten foot pole soaked in disinfectant. 

But if your activism continues to spread lies and misinformation about women and feminism, agitates angry men online without giving them a way to address destructive systems and heal, and attempts to restore an historically unjust imbalance of power, then we do not think that you are working in the interests of men and boys. 

Examples, please. 

See, here’s the thing. 90% of my emails are from men. And strangely enough, they’re mostly from men who tell me things like, “you’re the reason I didn’t commit suicide.” Or even more interesting, “I was starting to hate women, but then I found your videos.”

Now you tell me. If you received more than a dozen such emails every week, would you have reason to believe you were working in the interests of men and boys?

You accuse me of inciting male hatred and anger toward women, but the majority of men who contact me tell me that it is my work that calmed all that shit down. That gave them reason to hope. That made them realize that maybe there was someone out there who understands what they’re feeling. 

And you think I’m dangerous. 

And please, let me be clear. I am dangerous. Not because I “agitate angry men”. These men are already angry and agitated. I’m dangerous because I’ve given these men moral permission to not like feminism. To not like how it has consistently maligned men from its inception, all the way back to the Declaration of Sentiments. To not like how it casts them as the villains of history. To not like how it treats them as second class citizens by ignoring their pain and excusing the women who’ve hurt them. To not like how feminism can engage in hashtag campaigns like #killallmen and #giveyourmoneytowomen, all while drinking from “male tears” coffee mugs, and then in the very next breath tell these exact same men they’re man-babies and misogynists for complaining that these campaigns upset them, while simultaneously telling them that suppressing their emotions is toxic masculinity. 

I am dangerous. Not to women, or to society, but to you, feminism. 

Right now your “activism” not only reads as thinly-veiled misogyny, 

Thinly veiled? Now that’s a change of pace. Usually MRAs get accused by feminists of blatant, in your face misogyny. 

but, we believe, it also harms men and boys by failing to address the social, cultural, political, and economic issues that affect them. In short, you are doing a disservice to the people you claim to want to help.

Yes, you care so much about men and boys. We get it. Men and boys are more likely to be raised with feminist values than at any point in history, and yet their suicide rates are soaring. But I’m doing a disservice to all those men who contact me to tell me I changed their minds about suicide. Have you ladies EVER considered that you might be wrong? That what you’ve been doing might be having negative effects on men, or women, or children? Or is your moral high ground so unassailable that you can’t even conceive of the possibility?

We hope that this open letter sends a clear message to SFU AMB as well as members of the broader university community. 

Your message is loud and clear. Feminism is to be the one and only voice on gender issues. Heterodoxy will not be tolerated.

The rise of what has been framed as “men’s rights” activism on university campuses is sadly in line with other conservative reactionary groups

That’s a very interesting statement when considering SFUAMB is led by a transwoman, no? When the speaker you’re criticizing is a bisexual divorced mother of three. When some of the most popular voices in the movement are women. When our movement is comprised of men and women of all ethnicities, nationalities, races, religions, sexualities and gender identities. When the majority of MRAs are pro-choice and pro-marriage equality. Isn't it interesting that you would say that? 

(e.g. White supremacist student groups, Gamergate) 

Uh huh.

that often use the language of liberty and free speech to both discredit the experiences and voices of marginalized groups and commit co-ordinated campaigns of terror against them when members of those groups speak out. 

How do we do that? Free speech necessitates that the voices of marginalized groups be heard. This is a very bizarre statement coming from an ideology that has had a stranglehold on the gender discourse on university campuses for decades, particularly when it targets a fledgling group with marginal institutional support. 

Coordinated campaigns of terror? Last I checked, it was Gamergate that had received threats credible enough for police to evacuate buildings and search them for explosives. Last I checked, it was not feminists ejected from conventions for not toeing the ideological line—it was a diverse group of men and women who didn’t agree with feminism who were ejected, and then had the police called on them while they were picnicking in the park two days later. 

Have you ever had four cops with two police vans show up to one of your events because of reports that you’re violent and dangerous? How would that measure on the “campaign of terror” scale? You do know that police have guns, right?

Until SFU AMB can demonstrate that they are interested in doing anything more than blaming feminists for problems that are in fact rooted in patriarchy, racism, colonialism, heterosexism, capitalism, ableism, and other forms of oppression and exploitation, we encourage other members of SFU to join us and speak out against them. 

And that’s your right. Please, continue to oppose us. We’ll make the best use of the resulting press that we can, to highlight the issues of men and boys, and to illustrate how totalitarian and abusive feminism has become.

In a campus climate where women are always already dealing with intolerable levels of institutionalized sexism in the form of discrimination, harassment, and violence, 

Citation needed. 

SFU AMB’s insistence that we should allow this “activism” to go unchallenged in the name of liberty and equity is perhaps the most intolerable of all.

Oh please. Please challenge us. Please keep giving us a reason to challenge you.