Gender Focus Panel: SFU Men’s Centre

Simon Fraser UniversitySo if women on college campuses get “Women’s Centres” and LGBT students get “Pride Centres”, and there are clubs and groups for students of various ethnicities, where are the men students supposed to go to talk about their problems and find common ground?

Simon Fraser University Student Union thinks it has the solution, and it’s a controversial one. Here’s Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky:

Last month, the student society at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, approved $30,000 to establish a men’s center. The center’s main supporter, a student named Keneen Midgely, said the volunteer-run men’s center would only be equitable, considering SFU already has had a women’s center since 1974. It would be a space, he pointed out, for men to support each other and deconstruct masculinity and gender roles just like SFU women can.

From The Tyee:

SFSS president Jeff McCann said the purpose of the Men’s Centre is not specifically about gender equality, but rather to build a support structure and community for men who’ve come to SFU from out of town and are having a difficult time finding ways to get involved on campus.

“That also ties into men’s issues and mental wellness and all the different things that come along with that,” he said.

The move concerned some feminist scholars and students (watch this video to see a variety of student critiques). Though the SFU Women’s Centre initially reacted with a bit of surprise, declaring “the Men’s Centre is everywhere else”, they have now posted this response on their website, saying their support will be contingent on the new centre’s mandate (no pun intended):

Our support would be contingent on that centre’s mission statement, vision, and mandate. If the centre were about challenging popular conceptions about masculinity, confronting homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, and ability issues then we would definitely be the first to promote and fundraise for such a group. On the other hand we would not be cool with a men’s centre focussed on maintaining the old boys club. We are not interested in seeing a group or centre develop that promotes the status quo, encourages sexual assault, or fosters an atmosphere of competition and violence.

Here’s what our panel of GF contributors had to say on this issue.

Jessica Critcher:

Men (a certain few men) love to tell me how sexist feminism is. Are you aware, they sometimes ask me, that it is socially frowned upon for men to cry? There is a lot of pressure put on men to be tough and act a certain way. And, should we find ourselves on a sinking ship, men would be obligated to put women and children on lifeboats first. I’m sure being a man is hard. Life is hard—it’s the human condition.

But it baffles me that people can’t (don’t? won’t?) understand how these problems are tied to feminist critiques of patriarchy. It’s not difficult to connect the dots—the reasons that men are socially conditioned not to cry are intimately related to the reasons that women routinely experience street harassment. Pick up a book on the subject—we can prove it. It’s connected to institutional racism. It’s connected to homophobia. They’re all related. There are some pretty nasty aspects of masculinity, and that affects men as well as women. Feminists are generally in agreement on this.

So, if some feminists at SFU are expressing critiques or apprehension at the idea of a men’s center, it’s probably not because they think only women have problems that deserve attention, or because they hate men. It’s probably because the idea that men are hurt by and need to deconstruct masculinity is not new, and if people think it’s new, they haven’t been listening. I’d be willing to bet that critics of the men’s center are simply frustrated that no one sees the irony of men claiming to be fellow victims of patriarchy (or maybe even reverse-sexism) while simultaneously managing to get $30,000 from their university for a men-only space.

Jasmine:

When I hear feminists opposing spaces for men, like the proposed men’s resource center at UBC, I am dismayed. I feel it to be decidedly anti-feminist to suggest that such a space is anything but a positive thing. We do still live in a patriarchal world, but that doesn’t mean that men do not also face oppression within that structure. And they certainly do, with repressive gender roles and rigid expectations of masculinity. To provide men with a space to explore what it means to be a man within a patriarchal culture, to access services unique to their needs, and to have a space in which they can feel comfortable, have discussions, and feel safe is anything but a bad thing.

I think we ought not to mistake privilege for something more than what it is. Even feminists often hold forms of privilege – I am (perceived to be) White, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, and an academic. These privileges do not negate that I also have faced oppression as a result of patriarchy. And, while males may hold privilege in our culture simply because they’re male, it doesn’t mean that they don’t also need spaces in which they can explore the issues that are unique to them. But even more than that, I think this men’s resource center can be an incredibly positive space in which men are encouraged to think about patriarchy, how they benefit from it, their complicity, and the ways in which they are oppressed by it, to move toward a more equitable future. I think the separate spaces – both men’s centers and women’s centers – can be spaces that we use to effectively shift the cultural power structure toward one which is more balanced and equal.

E. Cain:

Commenting on a past article about an American university where students created an organization to fund education for white men only (the one group they believe doesn’t get any support); a male friend said: “they’re just fighting non-white privilege and the matriarchy, clearly ahead of their time.”

This cheeky quote immediately came to mind upon reading about the Simon Fraser University student society’s decision to provide $30,000 of its budget toward the development of a men’s resource centre. It’s actually very hard for me to wrap my head around this decision given the realities on today’s campuses.

When I was in grad school the university administration refused to use the language safe space – let alone work with the Women’s Centre to address the rampant misogyny and sexism on campus.  At another university during undergrad, the administration evicted the sexual assault centre from their space on campus leaving this crucial resource – especially for female students – to fend for itself.

It’s these types of battles that are being fought on university campuses across the country. And Women’s Centres – like LGBT, First Nations, or even Black Student Associations – exist to play a support function for systemically marginalized groups. This argument does not hold up for a men’s centre and I have yet to see a convincing justification.

(photo by Arnold C. via Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 15 Comments

About the author

Jarrah Hodge

Jarrah Hodge is the founder and editor of gender-focus.com. She has also written for the Huffington Post, Bitch Magazine Blogs, the Vancouver Observer and About-Face. Jarrah has B.A. in Women’s Studies and Sociology from UBC. She’s a fan of politics, Star Trek, musical theatre, and brunch.

15 Responses to Gender Focus Panel: SFU Men’s Centre

  1. Shannon

    How about we give non-gendered spaces a chance? No othering, no exclusion, no us vs. them.

     
  2. GetIronic

    “Our support would be contingent on that centre’s mission statement…”

    Your support is unnecessary for our issues to have validity. We are not asking for it, nor do we care about it.

    This isn’t a place for you or your ideas. It is a place for us and our ideas.

    You do not get a say because we never
    got one in your space. You made this an “us vs them” issue, we are only doing what we can to protect ourselves within the narrative you constructed.

    This is not a topic to debate about or “get involved” in. We don’t want to hear your comments; you never wanted to hear ours.

    Just get out of the way.

     
  3. Ess

    GetIronic, I think you’re missing the point here a little.

    “Your support is unnecessary for our issues to have validity. We are not asking for it, nor do we care about it.”

    I agree with you! The support of the SFU Women’s Centre says nothing about whether or not men’s issues are real (they are!). What it does say, though, is that the SFU women’s centre would prefer to see another organization that addresses issues on campus in a safe and non-patriarchal fashion. Given that physical space is highly limited on campus, and that the Rotunda area (where it was indicated the Men’s Centre would be placed) is already full of existing groups and organizations, doesn’t it make sense that the Women’s Centre would rather not see some of their hard work cancelled and a fellow organization stripped of space, to boot?

    “This isn’t a place for you or your ideas. It is a place for us and our ideas.”
    Sorry, which would those be? This isn’t a place for ANYTHING yet, it doesn’t have an official mandate.

    “You do not get a say because we never got one in your space.”
    Patently untrue. The Women’s Centre has worked with men around men’s issues for decades. Get your facts straight, please.

    “You made this an ‘us vs them’ issue, we are only doing what we can to protect ourselves within the narrative you constructed.”
    No, the Men’s Centre Working Group made it a polarized issue when they both received funding with no mandate and chose to place their Centre in an already-crowded area.

    “This is not a topic to debate about or ‘get involved’ in. We don’t want to hear your comments; you never wanted to hear ours.”
    Um, what? Of course it is – and what’s this about not wanting to engage in dialogue? I don’t know who this “we” you keep talking about is, but the MCWG *has* indicated an interest in dialogue. Do you go to SFU?

    “Just get out of the way.”
    mmhm. Sure thing.

     
    • GetIronic

      “Patently untrue. The Women’s Centre has worked with men around men’s issues for decades. Get your facts straight, please.”

      Women’s Centres all over North America have their own view of what constitutes “men’s issues” — as defined by women, and usually, as defined by feminism.

      Men should be pleased with this? That kind of attention is worse than no attention at all.

      It will be interesting to see if the men of the men’s centre agree with portrayal of feminist-defined “men’s issues” or whether they reject them and re-conceptualize them outright.

       
  4. Jasmine

    GetIronic, I don’t think this is at all an “us versus them” issue, and if that’s what the men’s center is about, then I would not at all support it as a resource for men. Gendered issues are not us versus them. They are merely about the ways in which a patriarchal culture insidiously oppresses both males and females. This space can be a positive thing, but to suggest that the suggestions of ‘others’ (i.e., women) is not welcome is probably counterproductive. There are all-women spaces for a reason, and it’s not that male voices are not welcome but that these spaces are needed because in the presence of males, women are often less likely to be heard, or even to have reticence expressing themselves. I think that an all-male space can be positive and productive, but NOT if done within the context of “us versus them”, and not with the attitude that this is some sort of gender war. I think that gender neutral spaces are also immensely important in moving these conversations forward, but I do not begrudge males access to all-male spaces. I do, however, become concerned at a rhetoric that suggests an attitude of feminists/women as some sort of enemy to men’s rights. And I think we all need to be receptive to constructive criticism and input from others, that which is moving the conversation forward in a productive way.

     
    • GetIronic

      “Gendered issues are not us versus them. They are merely about the ways in which a patriarchal culture insidiously oppresses both males and females. ”

      This is just another example of why feminists cannot be left to define “men’s issues”.

      If you ask a men’s rights activist, they will disagree that a patriarchy exists, or ever existed. From those premises they will draw radically different conclusions from feminists.

      It easy to say that “It’s not us vs them” as a catch all for inclusive understanding. But that you say this only implies your intentions, it does not reveal what the actual consequences of instituting your own ideas will be. These things can be radically different.

       
    • Peter

      If patriarchy oppresses both men and women, privileges both men and women and is perpetuated by both men and women, why call it patriarchy? The term itself is sexist.

       
  5. Danny

    Jasmine:
    I do, however, become concerned at a rhetoric that suggests an attitude of feminists/women as some sort of enemy to men’s rights.
    That attitude is seen in the sort of reactions that such things get. As soon as the funding was announced there was declaration of worst faith.

    This space can be a positive thing, but to suggest that the suggestions of ‘others’ (i.e., women) is not welcome is probably counterproductive.
    Possibly. But just as women are silenced in the company of others men are in the reverse. What I’ve seen as part of the opposition to this place is that “men have the whole world as their space”, “there is no reason for men to need such space”, etc… Statements saying what men as a whole need and/or don’t need. I think that in itself speaks to the possibility that maybe such a space is needed.

    I think that regardless of who started it has become an us-vs-them confrontation. Is it really that anti-everyone else for men to have a bit of space for themselves?

     
  6. 8ball

    When college campuses are 60% female (and growing) how can anyone seriously suggest that the men’s space is “everywhere else”?

     
  7. Gregg Butler

    I don’t get it, is this a Gender Focus Panel or a Feminist Panel. I don’t see any comments or opinions other than a feminist point of view. You can’t have a Gender Issues Panel with only one side. Could you imagine what would happen is a Gender-Studies Degree was taught and taken only by one gender? it wouldn’t be accurrate would it.

     
    • jarrahpenguin

      Sorry if you were confused. If you check out the “About” page you’ll get more of a sense of the background of this blog and its contributors. It is a feminist blog and the panels are responses from 3-4 contributors who reply to an email saying they’re interested in weighing in. The panel provides their perspectives and doesn’t claim to cover every possible perspective. The blog is called Gender Focus because we cover LGBT issues and other gender issues in addition to feminist issues and because one of the fundamental purposes of the blog is to illuminate and challenge social constructions of gender.

       
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  10. tyciol

    “We are not interested in seeing a group or centre develop that promotes the status quo, encourages sexual assault, or fosters an atmosphere of competition and violence.”

    Fabulous that when a SFU student wants to open a men’s center, the feminist organization releases an official statement that they’re assuming, unless a statement is made otherwise, that its purpose is to encourage sexual assault and other forms of violence.

     
  11. Peter

    “There are some pretty nasty aspects of masculinity, and that affects men as well as women. Feminists are generally in agreement on this.”

    Actually, one of the major problems with feminism is that feminist don’t acknowledge men’s rights issues and certainly don’t recognise female privilege. The statement from the women’s center was pure evidence of this. The very word “patriarchy” assumed that sexism is a one way street from male to female. So it’s not all that crazy that the men and women who are interested in men’s rights issues tend to see feminism as being somewhat sexist.

     

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