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Vol. 17, No. 5, 2018
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Janice Fiamengo is a Professor of English at the University of Ottawa. She is the author of the video series The Fiamengo File, and has recently released her edited collection Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say (2018).

From July 20 to 22, the 4th International Conference on Men's Issues (ICMI) took place in London, England, organized by Mike Buchanan, leader of the British political party Justice For Men and Boys (and the Women Who Love Them) and by Paul Elam, founder of the American online magazine A Voice For Men. The conference program featured speakers from around the world addressing men's health, social, legal, and educational issues. Though the majority were men, women were also prominent participants. The keynote address, "Why women must consign feminism to the dustbin of history," was delivered by Canadian YouTube sensation Karen Straughan, a one-woman industry of common sense and cogent argument. Each day's program was opened by a female presenter, while another Canadian, Alison Tieman, delivered the final full-length talk, "How Compassion for Men Shapes Civilization." Tieman and Straughan are both members of an advocacy group called The Honey Badgers, who post regular podcasts on cultural and political affairs from a male-positive perspective.

Conference presenters included politicians, academics, businessmen, lawyers, teachers, bloggers, and many ordinary blokes. Darren Deojee, after being piped into the room by a bagpiper, addressed the audience in a kilt and carrying a nuin to talk about positive masculinity. Ian McNicholl spoke without rancor of his personal hell with a physically violent woman who promised to have him murdered if he ever left her. The Rev. Dr. Jules Gomes spoke with erudition and wit on "How feminists have destroyed the Church of England beyond repair." Some of the speakers consider themselves men's rights activists (MRAs), but perhaps the only unifying idea of the conference was that men deserve a public hearing even when their words contradict feminist dogma about male power.

It's a radical request these days. The event received little journalistic coverage, none of it mainstream and all scathing, yet organizers were thankful that at least protesters didn't force a cancelation, as they are wont to do. Feminist Lara Whyte, writing for an online publication called 50.50, characterized the gathering as a white supremacist and woman-hating "Alt-Right" meet-up in which men's "fury and frustration" were palpable and in which the attendees were united by what she interpreted as their "shared mourning of an idealized past." Robert Jackman, writing for Vice magazine, admitted that he went to the conference "partly to find out what actually happens at these events" – he seems to have expected something like a blood sacrifice or the swearing of an oath to the god Thor – "but also to see whether the attendees really all were the women-hating wackos they are believed to be." Not surprisingly, perhaps, his worst fears (or hopes) were largely confirmed. He reported that men's rights groups are regularly condemned for misogyny by the Southern Poverty Law Center and faux-lamented that attendees' "caricature of feminists as angry misandrists" (where's the caricature, exactly?) makes the movement "hard to take seriously."

The writers' mockery was as predictable as it was unfair. Contrary to Whyte's disingenuous claim that most of the facts and statistics presented at the conference were "lightly sourced" and "cherry picked" (far better descriptors of her own article), presenters based their arguments on a solid foundation of fact. Anyone with doubts about the validity of the conference platform should take a good long look at the statistics on male disadvantage, carefully collected in William Collins' presentation, which can be found on his site The Illustrated Empathy Gap. And contrary to Jackman's assertion that advocates for men show an "inability to empathize with women who might be in a similar situation – or even build bridges with women's campaigns," the fact is that men have tried for decades to form alliances with feminists on anti-violence, poverty, and mental health campaigns, only to be consistently rebuffed for wanting even a small piece of the public sympathy pie.

So what was so inflammatory about the conference? (Full disclosure: I was a presenter and have for many years considered myself both an anti-feminist and a supporter of men's rights.)

If the speakers' various arguments could be summed up in one statement, it might be that while it has long been recognized that women as a class benefit from advocacy based on their experiences, needs, and challenges, men have rarely had the opportunity to advocate for men as men.

The social message we most often hear, in fact, is that men have for too long been at the center of things and should be thinking not about themselves, but about helping women and children. Most men are aware that their value to society is based mainly on their willingness to sacrifice for the good of others.

Here is the heart of our current problem. Men were once rewarded with public respect for their willingness to sacrifice their bodies in labor and (potentially) their lives in war to maintain and protect their families. Now such respect has dried up: we rarely hear praise for men as men – even when they are involved in a dramatic rescue operation, as recently occurred in Thailand. Men are still expected to protect and defer to women, and our society has a deep, perhaps unconscious, aversion to needy or vulnerable men. As a result, male troubles are not only little recognized in Western societies, but often actively denied and ridiculed.

As the conference speakers discussed, men and boys are falling behind in educational attainment and, subsequently, lag behind their female counterparts in the job market. Men are nearly four times more likely than women to commit suicide; are far more likely to be homeless; are far more likely to die or be seriously injured on the job; are far more likely to lose contact with their children after divorce (and to experience bankruptcy and mental illness as a result); and are far more likely to be arrested, charged, tried, and convicted for the same crimes as women – and to receive 60% higher criminal sentences than women do.

Some men who spoke at the conference were justifiably angry about these matters – and the journalists condemned them for that, too, with Lara Whyte sighing that "the list of MRA grievances is long" and Robert Jackman claiming that "MRAs commonly have a victim mentality." But a victim mentality is a delusion of victimhood, from which one derives pleasure and power. Those who aim to help men know that showing male wounds is no route to power.

Men are told repeatedly that they are socially privileged and must apologize and make amends for the many unearned advantages they supposedly possess. Any man who fails to manifest the necessary chivalrous shame is told he is a woman-hater.

In my experience, very few of the men who oppose feminist blame feel any hatred for women; on the contrary, many men have a built in (even self-destructive) desire to please and care for them. But if our society continues to slap men down whenever they try to speak honestly about their experiences in a man-blaming culture, we may succeed in turning them against their own better natures.

also by Janice Fiamengo:
Why I Am an Anti-Feminist
Saving the Humanities
Don't be That Feminist


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