Ten years ago, the idea of a “Men’s Centre” at a University campus would have cued a laugh track. An idea so hilariously petty and anti-progressive that it would’ve barely held up as a comical scheme on a low-budget Canadian sitcom. The dialogue has changed somewhere along the line though, because Simon Fraser University is now being showered with praise for pioneering the concept of a safe space for men. Amidst the celebration, few have stopped to consider that perhaps this isn’t so much a sign of progress as it is the result of current media and internet culture wearing down resistance to a very negative type of thinking. Especially if Bronies wind up being involved.
Now, before you make me abdicate the use of my testicles for questioning a program that ensures 100% equal treatment for men and women, let me ask: Why is it so important for male students to have a space for discussion and collaboration away from women? Is this going to protect anyone? Is this going to lead to positive thinking of any kind? The centre, which is set to receive $30,000 from the Simon Fraser Student Society, should be attracting that kind of scrutiny. Yet just about every news site has published extremely positive reports or opinions on the subject. Even far left publications like The Tyee give a shockingly balanced perspective on the whole thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that Keenan Midgley and the other people behind this project have the best intentions and are focused on making counselling, aid against abuse, and mental health assistance more open, accessible, and welcoming to men. That is a totally legitimate and serious issue that needs to be addressed. I also don’t think they’ll have any problem shaking off the notion that the centre will encourage douchebros to sit around and discuss maintaining the patriarchy over Cheetos and reruns of Top Gear. Blatant misogyny like that is a ridiculous concern. The real threat that may occur in this kind of space is the emergence of misogyny in a form that is so subtle and so positively-spun that few will even take notice. There are a lot of instances of this type of thinking, but the men’s rights movement has to be the most obvious.
Like a lot of insane and out-of-control ideologies, the tenants behind “men’s rights” stem from a simple and respectable idea: ensuring fair treatment for men and women in child custody cases. That in itself is a reasonable cause, given that fathers who are shut out from their children continue to face huge injustices to this day. Unfortunately, this one glaring example of female favouritism in society tends to be used as a springboard for disparaging feminism (and women in general) on the grounds that misogyny was solved forever back in the 1980s and we have to move on. Once viewed entirely as an extremist fringe view for crazy people, men’s rights advocates have gained considerable traction and credibility in recent years. Today, movements like this will have a very easy time gaining the lion’s share of attention in a space like an SFU Men’s Centre. In the last few years I find that the general public has very gradually softened up to the easily-stereotyped and almost kind of endearing idea that men are constantly being repressed by evil feminazis. There are probably quite a few reasons why this is happening, but for the sake of keeping this blog article somewhat on-topic to this website, I’m just going to go ahead and blame the internet.
Now when I say that, I’m not necessarily talking about 4chan. That board may be filled with degenerate wackos, but even the most serious and extreme comments are automatically coated with a layer of irony by virtue of the fact that nobody takes anything on 4chan seriously. What I am talking about is how playful social memes based around telling bitches to go make sandwiches have a habit of flourishing on Facebook. I’m talking about how adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic can only legitimize their love for the series by hi-jacking the entire fandom, declaring it to be something inherently male-centric, and then drawing detailed anuses on all of the characters. And then, of course, we have Reddit, which fancies itself to be some kind of revolutionary society of forward-thinkers that holds the key to humanity’s salvation, but in reality is just a gigantic sausagefest eternally complaining about being trapped in the friend zone. The irony in that is kind of hilarious, but it’s been all too easy for men’s rights advocates to hijack the entire community. They mass vote on certain posts and comments, while pushing dissenting voices as low as they’ll go. The /r/mensrights subreddit is certainly thriving on its own, but the rhetoric bleeds into almost every forum on the site. I experienced this first hand when I dared voice any kind of scepticism towards the creation of the SFU Men’s Centre in a thread on the /r/canada board. What I found really bizarre and telling was that /r/metacanada, a snarky parody board which stays in constant disagreement with /r/canada as its core gimmick, is also in support of the Men’s Centre and associates its detractors with /r/canada even though the users on both boards are clearly in agreement on the subject!
You can try to dismiss Reddit as being its own insignificant microcosm, but it’s not that simple. Millions of people use this site as a way to share links and bypass the mainstream media with all of its horrible biases, even though the information they ultimately get is skewed with entirely new biases which really aren’t any better! Even more significant is the countless memes that spread from Reddit to even further reaches of the internet. This includes very popular and blatantly sexist Advice Animal memes like Sheltered College Freshman and Good Girl Gina, which are innocuously mixed in among cat pictures and animated GIFs of people injuring themselves on trampolines. As long as it remains subtle, misogyny persists, spreads and is accepted throughout the site, which somehow still continues to gain credibility as an information resource.
Now, to be fair, this article does take a few liberties in describing the incident. After all, the “relax your anus, it hurts less that way” line is taken completely out of context. But that doesn’t change the fact that this type of incident could spontaneously erupt, yet seem mundane enough that the moderators would see little need to immediately deal with the situation. Reddit certainly isn’t the all-encompassing source of this problem, and I’m definitely not saying that establishing a Men’s Centre is going to lead to fifteen year old girls being sexually harassed, but attitudes on the internet do have a notoriously bad habit of seeping into real life. For better or worse, the positively-spun attitudes we find cemented into a site like Reddit are the same attitudes that are driving a lot of the support behind the Men’s Centre at SFU, and we need to remember that a social space that’s specifically designated for men can acclimatize people to very negative ideas.
Again, trying to make mental health and support programs more accessible and open to men is really important, and that includes things like child custody. But establishing a Men’s Centre the same way you would establish a Women’s Centre is not going to yield an equal result because maintaining equality in society isn’t a 1:1 endeavour. Maybe a better approach would be a Men’s… Kiosk? I don’t know. But there’s definitely a good reason why we used to find the idea of men needing a social safe space ridiculous and potentially damaging. It’s not too different from why we used to find the idea of adult men harassing Hasbro for marketing My Little Pony colouring books at eight year old girls ridiculous and potentially damaging. But apparently we don’t now.