So 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.
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.
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.
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)