Tag Archives: Karen Straughan

Ryerson President puts manners on student union

BY Jim Byset

The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) has become used to opposition. Since its formation they have come under sustained and unprovoked attack from those who wish to maintain control of the political gender discourse in Canada. Their opponents have ranged from bit-part, anarchist politicians to prominent feminists and, of course, ideologically driven student unions. CAFE, in insisting upon a more inclusive, civil debate, has been ridiculously labelled as a hate group. This message, however, has lost almost all traction over the last year or so; indeed it seems that only those convinced of their own ignorance still believe this sham. The overwhelming majority within the Canadian media now accept the quite obvious fact that CAFE are neither a hate group, nor composed of misogynists. And that message is spreading.

Yesterday’s announcement from Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy, that the university will absorb the cost of the extra security for CAFE’s upcoming  event is not only extremely welcome but a recognition of CAFE’s status as an organization dedicated to expanding the debate on gender issues – particularly as they pertain to men. In a statement released to the National Post, Levy described the ludicrous imposition of a “security fee” as a “barrier to freedom of expression.”

Levy’s announcement comes as a stinging rebuke to those within the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) who, in an act of malice designed to stifle free speech, levied the unprecedented fee on CAFE for extra security at the event. The lecture, featuring YouTube sensation Karen Straughan, is slated for February 6 and was put into jeopardy when RSU called a meeting between CAFE representatives and Ryerson security, just days away from the event. At the meeting RSU told CAFE that they believed that there was a security risk at the original venue of Mattamy Athletic Centre. Consequently, they decided to move the event to the Chang School of Continuing Education to a far smaller room – and to hand CAFE a bill for $1,600. As has been widely reported, this act was a transparent attempt to disrupt the event and cause financial damage to CAFE. Neither Ryerson nor RSU have divulged any information to the media relating to these supposed security threats.

It is clear that RSU feel that bullying and harassment are legitimate forms of direct action. However, the timing of Levy’s announcement is extremely serendipitous; RSU is in the midst of annual elections and Levy’s decision will act not only as a reminder to RSU as to who is really in charge at the university, but also as a stiff object lesson. Silencing those you regard as your opponents is never acceptable. Levy’s remarks – that ‘the cost was a barrier to freedom of expression’ will no doubt anger those within the student union – but in truth, it should shame them.

RSU need to reflect upon their actions. The idea that freedom of expression is a right that applies only to those with whom we agree is deranged, and ultimately dangerous not only to the reputation of Ryerson University – but also to Canadian society. It is worrying that Rajean Holiett, who has in the past made grossly inaccurate, incendiary statements regarding the MHRM, is likely to win the RSU presidential race. It was Holiett who was instrumental in denying three Ryerson students the right to form a men’s issues group at Ryerson in March of last year. Holiett, speaking to Ryerson University Television (RUTV), pointedly referred to CAFE’s men’s group at UofT, as something he didn’t want to see at Ryerson. “They, like, talk about rape in very problematic ways and blame survivors and rape victims for their raping. These are things that we didn’t want to bring to our campus; I didn’t think that student union resources were best spent on these kinds of conversations.” If Holiett is successful in landing the top job in RSU, it is likely that Ryerson will see RSU attempt an even more draconian clampdown on free speech there.

However, with Levy’s effective denouncement of RSU’s anti-free speech antics and the growing recognition that CAFE and the wider MHRM are in fact legitimate, it is unlikely that Holiett et al will find a receptive audience for further repressive actions. It would be better for all involved if they simply stopped, and tried listening. It is, after all, how we learn things.

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No Free Speech On Campus

BY Jim Byset

RYERSON STUDENT UNION (RSU) kicked off their annual elections amid a buzz of activity yesterday – while an undercurrent of controversy brews at the former polytechnic. A number of RSU veterans are taking part in this year’s election, which runs until February 5, with Rejean Holliet widely regarded to land the top job of RSU President.  The campus, ordinarily hectic, was especially frenetic in recent days with eager campaign helpers running to and fro, soliciting votes, handing out flyers, all friendly, all smiles. Campus campaigners have mastered that fine art of grabbing the attention of passers-by – BIG smile, tilt head to an almost impossible angle, BIG wave, move towards – but not directly into intended victim’s path – and top it off with a saccharine sweet HI!!! before asking that question – the question that every single pedestrian trying to get somewhere dreads “do you have a minute…?” Some, however, eschew this method and go even further making a veritable pantomime of the approach – doing whatever they can to attract eye contact and spark conversation. Some ask bizarre questions; some make weird noises; some even walk directly into the path of oncoming human traffic.

The cheerleading and glad-handing on campus, while not as polished and somewhat more effusive, still doesn’t differ all that much from the real world, political kind. Just like real world democratic politicking – there is an urgent need to engage the electorate because, obviously, there is a need for votes. There is a need to present the best possible image – to be picture perfect. But just like real world politics – the truth is never pristine; the truth is often hidden behind hyper-managed public images. And those truths, those agendas, are often very, very dirty indeed.

On February 6, the day after elections close, Karen Straughan will speak at Ryerson. Hers is the first in an ambitious series of eight lectures at eight different Canadian universities being promoted by CAFE throughout 2014. Straughan aims to address a number of topics with her time at the lectern, not least of all, free speech on Canadian campuses.

Ryerson achieved national notoriety last year when they summarily dismissed an application for a men’s group at the Toronto campus. Justification for the ban came from RSU President apparent Rajean Holiett – who said in interview with campus newspaper ‘The Ryersonian’ in October 2013 that “what we saw happening at the University of Toronto (UofT) is that these men’s rights groups were creating very problematic and unsafe spaces for women-identified folk on the campus. They would create conversations that blamed female victims and survivors of rape for their rape.” Holiett’s claims are not only extraordinary but are patently untrue. Holiett, to be blunt, is relying on scare tactics to silence the voices of those who oppose the hegemonic  stranglehold on gender discourse at Ryerson, and other Canadian universities.  And, there’s likely more to come.

RSU, again, are choosing to play their UofT trump card, this time citing security concerns because of past flashpoints at the UofT campus – flashpoints that were deliberately created by feminist protestors. CAFE staged a number of academic lectures at UofT that were violently disrupted by feminists – lectures by Dr. Janice Fiamengo and Dr. Warren Farrell being the most notable examples.

And now, with Straughan’s lecture just days away, Ryerson administration and the RSU have smacked CAFE with a $1,600 security fee to host the event and have shifted the venue from the Mattamy Athletic Centre, to a 7th floor room that holds just 100 people at the Chang School for Continuing Education. Both of these moves are deliberately designed to cause as much disruption as possible. RSU, and Ryerson’s administration simply want CAFE to go away. For all of their talk about inclusion, diversity, and equality, RSU is a blinkered, ideologically driven organization that is not interested in propagating a truly inclusive environment. Their modus operandi is to reject criticism – to reject differing points of view – to spread mistruths about those with whom they disagree and ultimately to bully and harass.

RSU and Ryerson administration are aware that CAFE has made significant strides with their efforts at UofT – effectively garnering public and media support behind their efforts. It has reached the point where feminist protestors now longer employ their fascist, bullying tactics. The tide, at least at UofT, has turned.

Yet, this change has come at a cost. It is likely that more radicalized student unions and supine administrations will ape UofT’s example and try to penalize CAFE with ‘security fees.’ Of course, the intent of these fees is extremely transparent – not only to the wider MHRM but CAFE themselves – it is an attempt to cause as much financial damage as possible.

If this is to be avoided then CAFE must take decisive action and if necessary, legal action. A situation must not develop where CAFE or any other group who seek to address men’s issues are singled out for such treatment.

George Bernard Shaw famously said that ‘democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’ Of that there is little doubt and the situation is unlikely to change at Ryerson, at least not any time soon. However, it is hoped that by the time the next batch of RSU hopefuls appear next year that the idea of men’s rights is no longer an issue, and that groups like CAFE continue to make further gains on, and off-campus.

A pig wearing lipstick

BY Jim Byset

IT IS UNDENIABLE that the MHRM has gained traction in the past few years.  Men’s advocacy websites and interest groups have seen massive upsurges in membership and participation.  Real world activism is taking discernible shape.  Men’s rights, often seen as a fringe, obscure movement is now shifting towards the centre of public consciousness with distinct groups now clearly apparent.  Some (albeit tiny minorities) are characterized by their strongly political viewpoints – while others are apolitical.  Some, such as the Japanese grass eating men and the North American MGTOWs eschew societal rules, in particular – romantic or committed involvement with the opposite sex; others welcome involvement with women and see male-female cooperation as vital to the success of the MHRM.

The global MHRM: protesting in India
The global MHRM: protesting in India

Some label themselves as Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs,) others Men’s Human Rights Activists (MHRAs) and some, while advocating for men and families only recognize the existence of human rights as a whole, rather than the existence of rights specific, or more applicable to men, than to women.  Put bluntly, it’s a global, complex movement that for the most part operates with a surprising degree of mutual respect and harmony.

The mainstream media, hitherto oblivious to the growth of the MHRM is taking notice.  Major news outlets are asking questions about what the MHRM is, who’s involved, and what the issues are.  While the media is yet to undertake a substantial survey of the myriad groups, divisions, politics, and realities of the wider MHRM, they are learning – albeit slowly.  Results so far have been mixed.  Balanced stories and accurate depictions of the MHRM are so far the exception.  Reporting is too often misleading, misinformed, and relies far too heavily on the input of those diametrically opposed to the MHRM.

And sometimes, the results are just downright disastrous.

Earlier this year ABC’s investigative documentary program 20/20 was forced to pull a piece purporting to profile the rise of the MHRM and the online ‘Manosphere.’  Prior to air, 20/20 ran a teaser trailer, with snippets from an interview with A Voice For Men’s founder Paul Elam, and an accompanying article featuring Anita Sarkeesian – a woman universally despised within not only the MHRM but also the gaming community.

Sarkeesian’s shady and questionable past as well as her opportunistic foray into gender-based criticism of the video game industry infuriated gamers and MHRAs alike (indeed both communities have a substantial demographical overlap.)

Anita Sarkeesian poses in front of arcade games she may or may not have played
Anita Sarkeesian poses in front of arcade games she may or may not have played

Sarkeesian’s inclusion in the documentary was sufficient by itself to enrage the MHRM but there was more.  It was evident from the trailer and the look of barely disguised contempt on the face of veteran journalist Elizabeth Vargas that the fix was in – and that objectivity was not high on either 20/20’s, or Vargas’ agenda.

Paul Elam, himself an unwilling ‘veteran’ of the media hit piece, saw the signs early.  While happy of the coverage, Elam understood ABC’s intentions and immediately made his feelings public.  The wider MHRM, already skeptical of the mainstream media’s agenda and poor track record, unleashed a maelstrom of ridicule and criticism at 20/20 and its producers – deconstructing their agenda in ABC’s comment sections, social media sites , and creating online petitions to demand higher standards of journalistic integrity.  So taken aback were ABC at the weight of public opinion against them, they pulled the piece, a move that only served to further anger many MHRAs.

As the ABC debacle demonstrated – the MHRM is not without power.  Its burgeoning membership, predominantly young, educated, and diverse (not only in terms of gender but also sexual orientation and race) – is laying claim to new territory, in a way not considered possible before.

Feminists shouting, and holding signs that aren’t helpful or intelligent
Feminists shouting, and holding signs that aren’t helpful or intelligent

Feminism – traditionally perceived as the outsider, as the plucky underdog with a score to settle, is now widely acknowledged as the establishment – an establishment from which its traditional core support – young, impressionable female undergrads, is turning away from in droves.  The propagandizing, the belabouring of tired clichés such as the myth of involuntary female domestic servitude or the gender pay gap has had its day.  The old idée fixes, are just that – old.

Third wave feminism has only recently recognized that there is a massive conundrum at the centre of its existence – that of its increasing irrelevance.  As the MHRM grew in popularity the feminist modus operandi wasn’t to reach out to those involved or to seek acquiescence on issues affecting men and boys.  Instead, feminists went on the offensive, hurling insult, lies, and cast the MHRM as well as individual MHRAs as misogynists, racists, homophobes – bigots of every imaginable variety.  It was a strategy concocted by and for those with a lot to lose – highly paid university professors whose jobs, research grants, and tenure depended on the continued promulgation of feminist mythology, and low-level politicians, eager to further their careers by appealing to the ideological status quo.

It was a strategy implemented for the most part by naïve, acned undergrads, barely able to tie their own shoelaces, let alone disentangle complex ideology and propaganda from truth.  This strategy did achieve a measure of success.  The unwillingness on the part of some MHRAs to convene in public due to shaming, intimidation, and doxxing tactics from feminists proved effective.

However, in November 2012, those same tactics backfired in spectacular fashion at what was becoming the epicentre of feminist antagonism towards the MHRM, the University of Toronto.

‘Protestors’ some openly admitting that they were sent to the event by their gender studies professors, harried and physically intimidated attendees, pulled fire alarms, blocked entrances to the venue, were assaultive to police (called in because of violent behavior from feminists) and verbally abused those present.  The video of the event, shot by Canadian filmmaker Steve Brulé, went viral.  The violence and bullying tactics of feminist agitators were seen around the world.

It was a watershed moment.

The public were aghast and the media, playing catch-up with a movement comprised of mysterious MGTOWs and hermitic herbivores latched onto the story.  It was an event that showed the public the true face of feminism, ugly, vicious – feral and it was an event that gave feminists serious pause for thought.  The old ways of intimidation, verbal abuse, shaming, violence – would no longer work.  That night steeled many within the MHRM who returned to Toronto in September 2013 and faced down the defunct gay activist group ‘Bashback.’ Bashback, reduced to a ragtag bunch of professional protestors tried and failed to shame MHRAs convened at Queen’s Park in Toronto – there to acknowledge the crisis facing men and boys in society.  Activists representing A Voice For Men, CAFE, the National Coalition For Men, Men’s Rights Edmonton, Men’s Human Rights Ontario, among others were present and shouted back against the shaming tactics – their voice was clear – ‘we will not be shamed anymore.’

This too, was another watershed.

The increasing awareness of feminism as a special interests group, dedicated to enhancing the circumstances of already over-privileged women at cost to society generally is reaching a critical mass.  Attendant to this is the growing recognition of the legitimacy of men’s human rights.  Feminists, now aware of their impending extinction and the intensifying acceptance of the MHRM have begun in recent months to change the record, or at least, to attempt to place it in a shinier sleeve.

In a bid to stop the bleeding, feminists have sparked a debate about rebranding.  Led by Elle magazine, the campaign has sought to undo the negative connotations around feminism.  From Elle journalist, Hannah Swerling:  ‘The conversation about feminism, what it means and more importantly, what it means to you, is one that runs continually at ELLE HQ.  That’s why in the November issue, we invited three feminist groups to work with three award-winning advertising agencies to re-brand a term that many feel has become burdened with complications and negativity.’

The jewellery issue is now a feminist issue, apparently
The jewellery issue is now a feminist issue, apparently

Of course – it is magnificently ironic that a glossy women’s magazine, heavy on aspirational consumerism, should take such a leading role in modern feminism.  It speaks volumes as to just how out of touch with reality feminism has become.

Yet this rebranding is not the only change taking place.

Feminists are beginning to begrudgingly accept the existence of men’s issues.  Refusing to fully relinquish their victim narrative, however, feminists have attached the caveat that MHRAs should not blame feminism for the existence of issues that affect men and boys.  November 19th saw the celebration of International Men’s Day – an event that in previous years was mostly ignored by everybody outside of the MHRM.  This year, though, was different.  The celebration was covered by the mainstream media – with numerous feminist writers acknowledging the event, but also using the opportunity to issue edicts on discussion related to the role of feminism.   They were not to be blamed – for anything.  While a lot of the coverage was plainly bigoted and demeaning, some was more even-handed – and some was actually positive.

Feminism is changing.  For the most part, those changes are cosmetic but feminism has a long history of coopting popular causes, and this is something that the MHRM needs to protect against.  The softening of rhetoric from feminists may indicate a future attempt to appropriate the issues of the MHRM.  Feminists have tried, and failed to convince not only the MHRM but the general public that they were addressing issues important to men and boys.  Of course, this was a massive lie, predicated on the idea that smashing the ludicrously imagined patriarchy would fix everything.  It is likely, that in yet another act of window dressing akin to the Elle rebranding, and previous coopting, that feminism will try to appropriate men’s human rights issues in a bid to obviate the necessity for an MHRM independent of feminism.

It won’t succeed.

Feminism has been exposed and no amount of rebranding, rewording, or special pleading will cover over the truth.

They have lost trust; they have lost legitimacy.

They have lost.