Every now and then, some bright spark takes it upon himself to champion the cause of the most downtrodden, the most marginalized group in contemporary society: straight white dudes.
The most infamous example is Ryerson University’s Men’s Issues Awareness Society. After being denied official group status on campus, the group launched a lawsuit against Ryerson’s Student Union for “discriminating against the group’s right to free speech.” Martin Patriquin, in a 2015 Maclean’s article, notes that “four Canadian universities have attempted to ban men’s issues groups and/or events in the last two years alone.”
We might be in for another one of these shitstorms. A “weekly men’s group” at Western University is in the making, according to a post on the Western University subreddit. It is purported as a “safe space for men to talk about their feelings,” inspired by a Vancouver group called The Samurai Brotherhood. The Gazette has reached out, but the founder declined to comment.
Western's University Students' Council, in contrast to Ryerson’s, has stated that they would not attempt to shut down a men’s rights group — a move I wholeheartedly support.
For one thing, there are legitimate social issues to address with men that don’t involve the usual internet brand of neckbearded misogyny. Discussions about toxic masculinity, male repression and social criticism can all work in tandem with feminist discourse rather than against it.
As far as I can tell from the Samurai Brotherhood’s website, that’s the sort of discourse they’re promoting. Equipped with a badass name and a series of nebulous, quasi-Buddhist commandments (“embody your masculine essence in a balanced way!”), the group seems pretty harmless. They describe themselves as a “community of conscious men,” which is a commendably low bar for entry.
But even if a full-on men’s rights group, sincerely arguing that straight white guys are oppressed, tried to establish itself at Western, the right move is to let it happen.
It’s no coincidence that they only ever show up on national news when they’re being shut down, suing their imagined oppressors or being loudly protested. Bringing the hammer down on these groups not only gives them unneeded publicity (and an actual, national platform), but also affirms their self-appointed martyrdom: “look, we’re freedom fighters, the establishment is trying to shut us down.”
When men's rights groups are banned, their sentiments and arguments stay in a self-affirming echo chamber. But when they're allowed to participate in public discourse and meet with reasoned opposition, they're exposed as resentful windbags, their arguments now embarrassingly flimsy.
I'm not saying we should focus inordinately on these misguided advocates, but we also shouldn't give them publicity through censorship. When a child throws a tantrum, you don't plead or threaten: you just let them wail until they feel tired, ridiculous and ready to join the adults again.
This requires a certain amount of faith in students that they will oppose ignorance instead of rallying to it à la Trump, but that's faith I still have.
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” said U.S. Justice Louis Brandeis, and he’s right. Give men’s rights groups a chance — it’s the best way to see them disappear entirely.