Wednesday 28 September 2016

My talk at the first Canadian National Conference on Men's Issues

So I was invited to Ottawa for the September 17th conference and had the honor of being keynote speaker for an event that turned out to be a great success.

Steve Brule of Studio Brule recorded most of the talks, and they can be found on his channel here. The Canadian Association for Equality has uploaded livestreams of I think the entire day on their own channel, here.

But I thought I'd post the basic script I was working from here, along with a link to the slide-show. Slides that I remembered to make a note of are in block brackets. Please keep in mind this script was a work in progress and may not match the presentation exactly.

Ogres, Onions and Men’s Issues Activism: Barriers to effective advocacy

[alice in wonderland]

I’m certain most of you are familiar with the phrase “down the rabbit hole”. From the children’s story Alice in Wonderland, the rabbit hole represents the exploration of ideas and phenomena that, to any rational observer, are nonsensical and insane. 

Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most common analogies used by people when they become aware of men’s issues and try to do something about them. And sadly, a lot of those people did not come across a rabbit in a waistcoat and, motivated by curiosity, follow it down the warren—many of them were forcibly driven down the rabbit hole without warning and against their will.

[red pill]

Another popular analogy in the men’s movement originates in the movie The Matrix. When one takes the “red pill” one is awakened to the true, and terrible, nature of reality that has been concealed by a facade of normalcy—the life you believed you were living is a mere illusion imposed on you by powerful external forces, and the reality is something entirely different.

Both of these analogies are, in my opinion, off the mark. Why?

[alice in wonderland]

Life down the rabbit hole is nonsensical, random, and arbitrary. None of the suffering of men in modern society (or in the past), nor the barriers faced by men’s issues advocates, can be described as such. 

[the matrix]

On the other hand, life in The Matrix is portrayed as an illusion, where powerful external forces have utterly concealed the true nature of reality from those existing within it. But the nature of our reality, in terms of gender, lies in plain view. It’s not hidden from us, and has never been hidden from us. Our reality is ubiquitous and obvious. More importantly, it has not been imposed on us by our alien overlords, but is ultimately a monster of human invention. 

So I’d like to use a different analogy:

[ogres are like onions] 

Yes, I get all my best material from children’s stories…

[misandry… misandry everywhere…]

According to our buddy Shrek, Ogres are like onions. Not because they stink or because they make you cry, but because they have “layers”. 

So, what is an ogre? It is a fictional beast of human invention, powerful, dangerous and difficult to get along with. Without us, ogres cannot exist, not even in the realm of imagination. 

And what is an onion? It is a thing of nature, with many layers. It’s often delicious, and it can make you cry. 

Gordon Smith, a man from Delaware who I have had the pleasure of meeting in person, was caught up in a series of false allegations made by his wife during a divorce and custody battle several years ago. I believe he was arrested 8 times relating to 13 different false allegations, and only saw an end to his ordeal when the ankle bracelet he’d been ordered to wear despite never so much as being charged, let alone convicted of any of the alleged assaults, placed him miles away from his wife when she claimed to police in a hospital ER that he’d beaten her up in an alley just an hour earlier—an allegation so fresh she could not explain her lie away by saying she’d misremembered the time or date. 

He described the experience of her abuse of process as going to bed one night in America and waking up the next morning in Pyongyang, stripped of what he had always believed were constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Gordon didn’t wake up in Pyongyang, though. He woke up in America—the exact same America he’d gone to bed in the night before. That he had never realized how America would one day persecute him doesn’t mean the US was some kind of giant Potemkin Village, nor that the laws and policies that nearly destroyed him were constructed without his awareness or even his consent.  

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that before all of this hit him, he supported the Violence Against Women Act, the primary instrument of his own undoing. He, like everyone else, would have heard that this Act would protect women from physical and sexual violence, and who wouldn’t want that? And the due process protections guaranteed in the constitution undermined or sidelined by VAWA? Even if he’d thought to ask about them, I’ll hazard a guess he’d have thought them a small price to pay if it meant women would be protected from abusive and violent men.

The ogre didn’t sneak up on him, or on any of us. We just didn’t realize it was an ogre until it was too late. 

[list of structural challenges]

And that’s why I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the tough outer layers of the onion that form the legal, structural and institutional barriers to effective men’s issues advocacy. These systems didn’t construct themselves, after all. Humans made them, however difficult it might be now to deal with or dismantle them, and in any case, others here will, I’m sure, be in a better position to discuss them. 

But I will give you one example of how a well-intentioned legal construct can become a brick wall to advocates fighting for men.

I’m going by memory here, from the many long conversations I had with the late Earl Silverman while he prepared his second attempt at a hearing before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. 

He’d told me that his first attempt at a hearing was denied on multiple grounds. The Commission felt that Earl had not made a valid case that the government’s discrimination against men put men at a disadvantage. Statistics on the existence of a significant population of male victims of domestic violence did not necessarily demonstrate a need for shelters for men, therefore the lack of shelters and services does not necessarily represent a meaningful harm. 

More than this, men are, in the view of the law and the government, structurally advantaged. Because of this, it is perfectly within the bounds of the law to discriminate against them and in favor of women. One cannot reasonably sue an institution for being in violation of the Charter when it is acting well within the bounds of the Charter.

So what part of the Charter are we dealing with?

[15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.]

Okay, that section says you can’t discriminate on the basis of sex. It’s gender neutral. What’s the problem? Well, it’s this bit that comes right after:

[(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (84)]

But wait, you say. It’s still gender neutral. It doesn’t say anything specifically about women there. 

Well, you know what DOES mention women? Over 30 years of case law. 

And the case law is ironic. Every judicial decision that included a finding of structural female disadvantage made it easier to demonstrate that same disadvantage in the next case, and the next case, and the next case. There is now a veritable mountain of decisions in sex discrimination cases, all saying the same thing: women are disadvantaged. 

And ironically, the less structurally disadvantaged women become with every single legal victory, the easier it is to demonstrate to a court that they’re structurally disadvantaged. I mean, look at all the case law that confirms it!

The very system designed to help make women equal cannot countenance the idea that women are equal, or perhaps “more equal than others”. How could they be, when there’s all this case law saying they’re not equal? And as long as feminist legal foundations and advocacy groups are bringing cases, and winning them, and adding to that body of case law, the Commission will be inclined to view women as structurally disadvantaged.

This first decision by HRC spurred Earl to a different course of action. He opened a shelter so that the next time he went before the Commission, he could demonstrate a need that was not being fulfilled. He continued to wrestle with the provincial department of health and human services and the federal minister responsible for the status of women, and continued to be given the run-around.

He also constructed an argument to use on his next run at the HRC. Society is not static. It is organic. It grows and changes, and the law needs to reflect that growth and change. Efforts to ameliorate women’s disadvantage have been so successful that now it is men who are at a disadvantage in some areas.

HRC acknowledged the validity of that argument. And denied him a hearing. The argument was valid, but HRC was not convinced it was applicable in this case. 

I mean, just look at all that case law!

But what was really going on there?

If the argument was valid, shouldn’t a hearing be the place for HRC to decide if it is applicable in this case? 

And here’s where we come to the real problem. The real problem is us. 

“Ogres are like onions.”

1) Structural Challenges:

media bias

2) Human Challenges:

sexual dimorphism
the WAW effect
sacred objects
sunken costs
men themselves

Sexual dimorphism is much more than a function of physical size. It affects our behaviors, our attitudes, our approaches to the opposite sex, and our personalities. 

It’s also reflected in our physical appearance in terms of something called “neoteny”, which is the retention of juvenile or infantile characteristics of an ancestor species in the adults of the descendant species. 

[tough man/adult gorilla]

Individuals low in neoteny are perceived as intimidating. 

[cute woman/puppy]

Individuals high in neoteny are perceived as more sociable—in other words, they’re perceived as friendly, affiliative and… well, *nice*.

More than this, our sympathies are triggered by neoteny. The cuteness of babies, for instance, makes you want to be kind to them, or at least not be mean to them. 


It’s their superpower, and one of the most important psychological mechanisms that helps ensure they make it through their most vulnerable phase of life. And I’m sure you’ll all be able to see the value in using images of baby seals when fundraising for wildlife preservation efforts. 

Both men and women are extremely neotenous compared to, say, chimpanzees or gorillas, but in terms of physical neoteny, women have men beat, hands down. 

But it’s worse than than that. Women’s higher average neoteny is not only a cause of unequal treatment—it’s also a symptom. 


If women evolved to be cuter than men, it’s because being cute is of greater benefit to women than it is to men. To become an adaptation, a trait must do one very simple thing: help you and your descendants reproduce. 

It can do this by making you more sexually attractive to others, or by helping you survive long enough to pass on your genes. 

For women, neoteny does both. According to one cross cultural survey of men, women high in neoteny were not only perceived as more sociable, but they were rated as more sexually attractive. 

Neoteny works so well for women because 

Gynocentrism is exactly what it sounds like. Women form the center of human societies, and because of women’s role in preproduction, human societies altered this at their peril. The society that treated female life as inherently expendable simply did not survive.

I’m sure I need explain to no one here how every uterus counts, while sperm are cheap and plentiful. In terms of group success, this is a fundamental calculation. 

But in terms of sex differences in reproductive strategies, it also plays a role. In a tournament mating system—the system used by the other great apes—all females have access to sex and reproductive opportunities. The difference between a successful female and one that is less successful is the difference between having 4 kids and having 6. 

For males, the difference looks more like this:


Both males and females of all social species compete with their same-sex peers for social dominance. In mammals, male intrasexual competition is a competition for mating opportunities. Female intrasexual competition is a competition for resources. These competitions result in intrasexual dominance hierarchies.

We humans are unique among primate species, however. Unlike with, say, chimpanzees, male dominance hierarchies aren’t just about who’s biggest, toughest and most willing to throw down when challenged. They’re also about the acquisition of resources, and the transfer of those resources to females. 

They’re also about leadership, rather than merely being a thug. The realities of getting food in a nutrient poor environment where most of the food walked on legs, and a lot of it was capable of killing you… that required males to work cooperatively just to eat, and it also required the dominant males to reward their voluntary helpers with a fair share of the kill. If you weren’t fair, your guys would go to someone who was. 

It also meant that if males weren’t sharing food with females, the females were simply not going to eat. Dominant males had to share with subordinates to ensure their continued cooperation, and once they’d done so, there just wasn’t enough left to maintain a harem. Subordinate males were offered a unique opportunity to capitalize on their ability to benefit from provisioning a single, favored female. 

This environment also selected for intelligence. It takes a lot more brain to stalk a gazelle than to stalk a mango, and it takes much more brain to coordinate the efforts of several individuals of relatively small stature, without a whole lot in the way of claws or fangs, in bringing down a large animal, or dealing with a large predator when you’re in a grassland rather than in the trees. 

When human women compete with each other for men, they ARE competing for resources, because unlike with other great apes, our reproductive model involves men providing women and children with resources, rather than women fending for themselves. 

This way of doing things, men acquiring the resources and sharing them with women and children in return for reproductive opportunities, is one of the primary reasons we humans have been so incredibly successful. 

And our way of doing it is an unprecedented social innovation. We are what you could call, “egalitarian maters”. Among other primates that practice monogamy and male provisioning of offspring, only the socially dominant pair has mating rights—and they will aggressively police the other members of the group to prevent them from mating. 

But we humans, we’re the only primates who couple monogamously and have no hard and fast rules preventing individuals from pairing up. If you can manage to attract a mate, well, you get to have one. And for men, one way to attract a partner is to show her he can help provide for her and any children they have. 

This is at least the framework for my hypotheses as to how we found ourselves using such a unique system, and there’s just no way I’m going to be able to relay it all here today, but it’s my belief that the challenges that caused this form of sociosexual organization also led to another uniquely human characteristic:


For other animals, group cooperation is limited by kinship. Let’s consider our chimpanzee cousins, who live in multi-male, multi-female groups of up to 120 individuals. The males tolerate each other because they’re all genetically related—it’s the females, not the males, who leave the group at maturity. Not only that, males will often form coalitions to deal with out-of-group matters, like border patrols and warfare. 

But the community can only get so large before the genetic bonds between the males begin to get watered down. 

Animals living in massive, highly organized and coordinated colonies—colonies as big as human ones can become—place extreme limits on reproduction. You have one queen who produces all of the offspring who are all closely related to one another—essentially brothers and sisters—performing roles dictated by their biological caste. Worker, soldier, drone, queen. 

But not us. According to Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who studies morality, one of the reasons we’ve been able to become the only ultra-social species that doesn’t employ a reproductive caste system is our ability to form massive, cooperative group bonds around sacred objects.


Now a sacred object doesn’t necessarily have to be a god or a religion. It can be a principle or ideal, a cause or a worldview. It can be right or wrongheaded, in your opinion or mine. The important thing to remember is that it involves the sacralizing of the object in such a way as to create a shared group identity. 

You can even see kinship bonds evoked in much of the language around such objects. For religion, it might be: “We are all god’s children.” Feminism and its “sisterhood.” We have “Motherland” and “Fatherland” to evoke feelings of kinship between citizens of a country. Organizations such as the military, which depend heavily on group loyalty, have historically used the rhetoric of “brotherhood” and the sacralizing of codes of honor to augment their strict formal hierarchies. 

Because these objects create a sense of shared in-group identity and common purpose, they are a source of group belonging, and they’re necessary for cooperation and coordination on such a massive scale. 

The sacred objects that facilitate human ultra-sociality—our unique ability to coordinate our efforts at this scale—is a necessary component of what has brought us here. It’s what gave us civilization and all of its trappings, from modern medicine to the internet.

At the same time, these sacred objects and the group identities they evoke in us erect tribalistic boundaries around the group and cause deep feelings of enmity regarding outsiders who might question the sacred object or reject membership in the group. Kind of like this.

[if you’re not a feminist, then you’re a bigot]

And the downside of this type of sense of group belonging is that it seems to require the existence of an out-group, challenge or adversary. Three of the four basic conflicts in literary fiction are man against man, man against nature and man against society. Those literary tropes appeal to us for a reason—conflict drives us as humans. 

How better to define the “us” than in opposition to the “them”. Liberals vs conservatives. Republicans vs democrats. Atheists vs creationists. The religious vs the devil, or human evil, or the infidel. 


Feminists vs the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Which brings us to this:

[sunken costs]

Imagine you have a hypothesis. Imagine you turned that hypothesis into a career. During the course of that career, you managed to acquire a great deal of status. People think you’re brilliant. They admire you. They pay you to speak. They see you as someone who should be listened to. It becomes your life’s work, something you’re famous for. 

Now imagine someone showing you a piece of evidence that undermines the foundational premise of your hypothesis. What do you do? You’ve invested so much of your life, your time, your energy, your heart, your soul in this one set of ideas, all of it supported by something you always considered a given, but that has now fallen under scrutiny and challenge. 


There’s a reason this phrase appeals to people. But it’s a lie. The sunken cost fallacy is about our reluctance to cut our losses once we’ve invested heavily in a given cause or action, even when there’s substantial evidence that we’ve put our money in a junk bond. 

“I’ve already paid so much in, I can’t abandon this idea now!”

In the late 1800s, a revolutionary named Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that implementing a program of doctors washing their hands in chlorinated lime could reduce childbed death rates by up to 80%. When he had documented proof of correlation, he went to his superiors with his findings. And what became of Ignaz? 

He was fired. The “nervous excitation” and “four humours” theories of disease were the prevailing wisdom. Germs had yet to be discovered, but Ignaz’s findings didn’t just demand a departure from common practices—it required a complete rethinking, based on circumstantial evidence alone, of the foundational premise by which the medical establishment of the day conceptualized disease. 

Semmelweis died friendless and impoverished in a mental institution, after he made a lifelong nuisance of himself pushing his new-fangled idea of hand washing. 

Why such resistance to his idea? Because it struck at the heart of how the medical establishment thought about disease. It cast into question their most foundational assumptions, and that meant throwing everything they knew about disease away.

The foundational belief of mainstream feminism rests on the historic oppression of women by a system of male dominance that confers unjust and unearned privilege on men. Its entire body of theory rests on this one presupposition. 

The reality is that in every single metric which we would use to demonstrate that blacks are disadvantaged compared to whites in the US, men fare more poorly than women. In many of these metrics, the gap between men and women is significantly larger than the gap between blacks and whites. 

And in many of these metrics, men have ALWAYS fared more poorly than women. 

Yet what do we hear from feminists regarding all of these inconvenient truths?

They’re byproducts of male privilege. That men have all the real power within the system, therefore men could easily fix all of these problems, and if they don’t it’s on them. And that the root cause of all of these problems is the hatred or devaluing of women.

Suicide is caused by the expectation of male stoicism, you see. “Boys don’t cry,” and all that. And why don’t boys cry? Because crying is a woman thing, and women are hated and devalued in patriarchal societies. See? It’s really all about misogyny.

It couldn’t possibly be because societies have always valued stoicism in men because men who are stoic can better protect and provide for women and children or anything. Because if that were the case, it would be very difficult to argue that women are hated, or not valued by society. 

Male suicide couldn’t possibly have anything to do with men routinely losing access to their children after divorce. I mean, they do lose access, but that’s misogyny, too, dontcha know. It’s based on the assumption that women are only good for making babies. Even though feminist organizations fight every organized effort to change the situation. See? 

Couldn’t have anything to do with negative assumptions about men as potential abusers or anything. Even though those assumptions are entrenched in our laws and policies surrounding family violence. And if those assumptions exist, it’s because of patriarchy, even though feminist lobby groups have exploited those assumptions in their opposition to shared parenting legislation.

The aforementioned are very simple examples, but the mental gymnastics involved can be absolutely astounding, and the only reason to engage in this kind of pretzelizing of reality wherein suffering is defined as privilege is to defend the basic premise: 

Patriarchies privilege men and oppress women. 

Even without the psychological phenomenon of belief perseverance, the sunken costs involved in the feminist endeavor make it next to impossible to shift the momentum. There is too much money and status to lose, too many careers and reputations at stake, and too much potential for embarrassment for the feminist establishment to even so much as consider that maybe they got it fundamentally wrong.

They’re in a position to maintain and promote the Patriarchy narrative through media, education, social work, academia, government and the law. Given the vagaries of human psychology and what’s at stake, they’ll continue to do so for as long as the public is willing to buy it. And the public is willing to buy it because humans are naturally gynocentric. 

Which brings us to men themselves, and how they act as their own worst enemies. 

I want you to compare these two images.

[sea lions]


Now bear with me here, because I’m not suggesting that all of these women are Obama’s personal harem, or that he signed this bill into law in order to get laid. 

But our particular brand of egalitarian monogamy, the model that facilitated an unprecedented degree of cooperation and tolerance between unrelated males, as well as being unique, is a relatively recent innovation. And evolution is not an inventor—it’s a tinkerer. Humans didn’t get a total redesign when we transitioned from the tournament system to what we have now. All that older stuff is still there, under the new bits that have been bubble-gummed and duct taped onto the old. 

The form of social organization we employed before the paths of humans and chimpanzees diverged looks more like this:

We don’t do things like that anymore, at least not in the western world. But we did them that way for a lot longer than we’ve been engaging in this grand experiment in social evolution we call humanity. 

The assumption that men in positions of power, “alpha males”, would privilege all men at the cost of women’s oppression defies everything I have ever learned about human history, and about the origins of our species. 

Obama, an “alpha male” signed into law the mostly redundant lilly ledbetter fair pay act to resounding public approval. And yet somehow this powerful male, arguably the most powerful patriarch in the world, seems to have permanently tabled the proposal, presented to him years ago, for the creation of a much needed White House Council for Men and Boys. 

That, my friends, is part of who we are as a species, as much as we might wish it otherwise. That is what puts the lie to the entire feminist model of “Patriarchy”. 

We’re not on the African Savannah anymore. The immediate and difficult environmental challenges that necessitated the *voluntary* investment and cooperation of all males in the success of everyone are gone. 

The flow of resources is still one-way—from men to women and their children, but because it’s no longer voluntary, it needs no reward. 

If government takes resources from men by force, in the form of taxes, child support and alimony, and hands those resources to women, there’s no pressing need for a woman to negotiate an equitable deal with any individual man.

And while I might understand how what I’ve said here, if it all turns out to be the case because really, I could be wrong and I would love nothing more than to be wrong… I really get how daunting this tangle of challenges is and how it might bum everyone out. 

But right now, our approach to equality, or even basic fairness, is the equivalent of the bloodletting of Ignaz Semmelweis’s era. 

How can we begin to solve the problems of men or women if we are unwilling or unable to understand or acknowledge what is causing them? 

Feminism’s “patriarchy theory” is the four humours understanding of disease. They have systematically bled society in the name of an unproven, unfalsifiable hypothesis that feels very comfortable to a lot of people. 

And while I’m sure you all would be much happier if I could give you easy solutions to simple problems, I can’t. The problems aren’t simple and the solutions won’t be easy. They’re as complicated and difficult as ogres. 

And perhaps the most difficult challenge of all is that the ogre is us.