By Ernest Velasquez
Last Monday saw the opening of Toronto's first Men's Centre - the Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMF). Run by the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), the CCMF is billed as a place for "research, outreach and public education dedicated to men’s issues." A place focusing on counselling for men and boys, but open to men and women both, with the goal of "mutual understanding and compassion" across the divide of gender.
But, while the CAFE's rhetoric is apparently noble, its history and associations are a little more troubled.
You may recognize CAFE from its increasing campus presence in places like U of T, York, and Guelph. Or, more likely, you may have heard of them earlier this year when the group was barred from marching in Pride.
The most problematic of these associations are with speakers like Warren Farrell and organizations like A Voice for Men (AVFM) - the latter being an explicitly anti-feminist organization. And while the recent relationship between these two organizations has been tense they can still both be placed broadly within the 'Men's Rights Movement.'
But why bring up these associations at all when discussing the centre? Especially since it looks like CAFE has made some effort to distance itself from what they vaguely described as radicals? Aren't CAFE's projects - things like coping with men's suicide in the wake of Robin William's death or addressing the sexual exploitation of young men - deserving of some grudging acknowledgement?
Even if we can take for granted the distance between moderate and radical MRAs, between CAFE and AVFM (and it may be that we shouldn't take it for granted), and accept many of the issues that the men's right movement and CAFE are trying to address are real, it's still necessary to look at CAFE and the opening of the men's centre with a critical eye. While moderate MRAs like CAFE set themselves apart from AVFM and redpillers through their focus on providing services like counselling and their non-feminist rather than explicitly anti-feminist language, the rhetorical 'silence' of this moderation still implicitly supports the same kind of assumptions that are explicitly - and vitriolically - expressed by groups like AVFM. Namely, that the advancement of feminism has come at the expense of men, and therefore an authentic men's politics must either be articulated either outside or against feminism.
This is not a political project of dismantling patriarchy or hegemonic masculinity - though it does involved shades of critiquing the latter. The discourse of even the moderate MRA's is , if not anti-feminist, then counter-feminist. It assumes that taking men's experiences seriously requires setting up an unconvincing equivalency between men and women's experiences; a misandry to mirror misogyny; a neutered language that talks about 'gender equity' by avoiding discussions of patriarchy; that treats critique of hegemonic or traditional masculinity as evidence for feminist misandry even while acknowledging how these traditional gender roles are damaging to men as well.
So while the new CCMF is ostensibly focused around some very real issues – issues that do need to be addressed – and while CAFE is, in some ways, rhetorically distinct and moderate compared to groups like AVFM, the framing of this ‘moderate’ and counselling focused work still reinforces a serious problem with the men’s rights movement: a tendency to dismiss feminism politics and theory as ‘misandry’.