A men's rights activist group says it's simply "opposing the marginalization and vilification of men and boys" by plastering misogynistic posters and leading coffee shop discussions in a liberal east Vancouver neighborhood that, for the most part, is resistant to the cause. But the group isn't so much pro-men as it is virulently anti-women. Do the members deserve the right to free speech?
September has been a busy month for the Vancouver branch of the Men's Rights Movement (MRM), which launched this year, according to its website. The group first gained local notoriety when it started plastering Commercial Drive with snarky, nonsensical posters featuring slogans such as "Stop Violence Against Women, but not against men, because men do not matter, and despite being more often the victims of violence, male victims are no good for fund raising, so screw them." (Good use of sarcasm AND grammar, guys!)
Other posters allegedly proclaimed that "90 percent of divorces are initiated by women," "90 percent of homeless are men," and, according to Open File, "that feminism is a violent movement that discriminates against men, turning them into second-class citizens."
Controversy ensued after residents tore down or defaced many of the posters; local bloggers found at least a few people who, seemingly unfamiliar with the ethos of the MRM, disagreed with the community's hands-on response. "You don't hear a lot about [men's rights] and that's the surprising part," one man told News 1130. "It is very surprising that they're being ripped down. Definitely, they should go back up. You see signs up for everything around here and to select which ones we put up and which ones we don't, it's a little bit ridiculous."
Soon, Ruth Mason-Paull, who describes herself as a "Slam Master" at Vancouver Poetry House on her Facebook page, created a Facebook event called "Has Feminism Gone Too Far?" The community was incensed by the ignorant title and became further incredulous when Mason-Paull posted the names of the only two confirmed speakers: Chris Marshall, described on the event page as a "long time father's rights activist and blogger aiming to shine light on the justice system with regards to father's parental rights," and "John the Other," a blogger for Vancouver Men's Rights Activism, the group behind the posters.
It only takes a brief glimpse at Marshall's website to realize you're dealing with a troubled, unhinged person, regardless of what transpired between him and his ex-wife. Check out some excerpts from what looks like a court-ordered psychological assessment, which he posted in full for some reason: "Ms. Wallat [his ex-wife] had continued to work but Mr. Marshall wanted a more traditional relationship and indicated he did not want her to be in the workforce." and "Ms. Wallat became sleep-deprived and Mr. Marshall continued a lifestyle more in keeping with a single man. He was out with his friends frequently and she was concerned with his drinking." Marshall clearly has an axe to grind.
And here are John the Other's lovely views on rape:
"Maybe it's a mistaken accusation, she doesn't remember who she had sex with because she was drunk at the party or whatever. Some make accusations that have nothing to do with being raped; they're angry, or they got stood up, they wanted to have sex with a guy but he said no. The fact that our society doesn't have a balance for this is a major problem. I'm not suggesting every woman you meet is a loose cannon, but every woman you meet has the potential to be one, because for those few who are nutty, there's no disincentive for them to go, oh, I was late for work. I know, I'll just say I got raped."
Ah, the old "I was late to work because I was raped on my way to the bus stop!" excuse. We've all been there, right?
Funnily enough, no feminists — or women, for that matter — were scheduled to speak.
Mason-Paull canceled the debate this weekend after receiving what she said was an overwhelming barrage of comments and threats. "I would very much like to still have a debate on a similar topic as I really do believe in the power of open discussion and freedom of speech," she said via Facebook. "I am genuinely sorry for any offence that has been caused by the idea of this event. I come from a middle class belief that people can discuss things and work it out through logic and reasoning. I understand that this is at best delusional thought when applied to certain members of our society. I just thought I'd give it a go."
There's a big difference between believing in and championing free speech and going out of your way to give hateful people a platform to voice hateful rhetoric backed by faulty statistics. Not every topic is worthy of debate; until women enjoy pay equity and unfettered access to reproductive health services, among numerous other should-be rights, it's more than unnecessary to discuss whether feminism has "gone too far" — it's dangerous and wrong. And if you must debate for debate's sake, don't host an event with a bias that's not only clear from the scheduled speakers but from the very title itself.
If the MRAs are actually trying to mobilize behind the issues raised on their posters and on their website — issues such as the number of male workplace deaths, for example — why aren't they leading seminars on workplace safety? If they're concerned with men and boys who are raped and sexually assaulted, why not ask social workers and psychologists to hold forums on the topic? The Commercial Drive controversy proves that MRAs don't deserve our attention or any benefit of the doubt because they're not interested in making things better for men. Instead, they're concerned with fighting against their worst fear: gender equality.
Has feminism gone too far? One Facebook commenter put it well: "Not far enough, apparently."
Update: Mason-Paull asked us to post her point of view here:
Oh Hi! I'm the woman in the article who was organizing the debate. I
have a few things to clarify.
1. I am a feminist. I have been since I was raped in high school and
my English teacher gave me the Female Eunuch to read. I have been
working for years to create safer spaces, restorative justice models
for sexual Perpetrators, inclusivity in hiring and training, promoting
women in technology and counter protesting Prolifers. I've made a lot
of friends and way more enemies doing all this, because the world is
pretty misogynistic. I fuck up all the time and try to learn from my
2.I had contacted over twenty people on either side of the debate to
speak and announced that I would post who was speaking as they
confirmed. Unsurprisingly the men from the MRA got back to me first
and I felt it only honest to post that they were speaking. In
hindsight lying would have made my life easier and not fucked up my
names google search. I still would have been honest if I could do it
3. I took the event down because of threats I had received from MRA
members when I told them I was thinking of cancelling the
event/changing the question. Having my Facebook account linked to here
has reduced my safety from these men, who didn't have my personal
information as I was speaking with them over email. I have now had to
cancel my FB profile which impacts my job seriously. Luckily I am in
England right now so am safe.
I didn't take the event down straight away when this happened because
I wanted to honor the community who were having some very heated
debate on the topic on the events wall. Ironically if I had just been
selfish and deleted it like nothing had happened and not apologised I
wouldn't be name as a misogynist on one of my favorite Feminist
4. In the article it is said that the debate was biased from the
outset because of the name of it. Debates are classically run with a
biased statement which you then have a Yes side and a No side to. The
topic "has feminism gone too far" is offensive to me too. It hurts
that this is a legitimate question in our society, but sadly I know
all too well that there are waaaaaay too many people who think this is
true. I wanted to address that.
5. I really do understand why people don't think the fucktards from
the MRA deserved to speak in a public forum. I grew up watching and
attending many public debates where all sorts of outrageous topics
were discussed and every single time I learnt something. If, as
Feminists we think we know everything there is to know we're gonna
fall on our faces. We have to be willing to learn, fuck up, forgive
and get better, because otherwise how are we going to expect any
Misogynists who see the light to learn and be forgiven? I know it's
deluded to think the MRA's have anything to teach us, but what if?
What if they learned something from us, what if someone in the
audience sees there are fucked up men in the world and decide to
dedicate their lives to fixing it? Yeah maybe it would have been a
cluster fuck, but I just wanted to give it go. Anyone who didn't want
to go, didn't have to go.
I was willing to change the name of the debate and even the speakers,
but never got a chance to consult the community, for whom I was
putting this debate on for.
6. The things I have learned from this include:
a) When you are organizing an event which could be contentious make up
a fake name/organization. People are cruel when you fuckup and it gets
b) Organize your shit better because people will assume the worst about you.
c) Keep trying new things. A diversity of tactics is the only way we
can improve the lives of women all over the world.
In conclusion, I am genuinely sorry. I fucked up.