Earlier this week, it was brought to the attention of the executive of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) that a large banner associated with the group Canadian Association for Equality was prominently hung in the Sidney Smith Hall lobby. ASSU does not control what goes up in the lobby nor who uses the space as it falls under the jurisdiction of the Faculty of Arts and Science.
This banner is currently allowed to be displayed because CAFE operates on the U of T campus under the guise of a student group called “Men’s Issues Awareness at University of Toronto”. While the names of these groups may seem to imply that their goals include equality and engaging in public discourse, this is not the case. CAFE has in the past invited speakers who have denied the impact of rape culture, over-exaggerated the rate of false-allegations made by female victims of sexual assault, engaged in transphobic and misogynistic rhetoric and questioned the very existence of the patriarchy. Broadly, the Men’s Rights movement claims that feminism has gone beyond improving the position of women in society, suggesting that feminists are part of a system which actively oppresses men. It has become clear that these groups use talks about legitimate issues facing male-identified members of our society as a means of legitimizing their sexist ideology.
CAFE and its affiliate on campus have been linked to a Texas based website called “A Voice for Men” (AVfM) that has actively targeted and harassed female members of the University of Toronto community, posting photos of them online along with threatening and derogatory comments. The well respected Southern Poverty Law Center has called out AVfM for misogyny and threats, overt and implicit, of violence. When these groups are allowed to circulate their hateful materials on our campus, our peers are exposed to triggering and violent rhetoric.
In recognizing students’ diversity of lived experience, ASSU is committed to supporting our members in addressing the systemic oppression they face –including sexism. While universities play an important role as sites of societal critique and free speech, we must strive to ensure that they are safe(r) spaces for all members of the university community. Issues facing men and boys, and critiques of feminist theory and feminist praxis are important topics that should be debated openly, but this discourse must not be allowed to devolve into hateful and threatening rhetoric.
We must not forget that the horrible massacre at École Polytechnique de Montreal a mere twenty-five years ago was perpetrated by an individual espousing an anti-feminist logic. We cannot forget that women are harassed, sexually assaulted and raped on our campuses. We cannot ignore this group’s complicity in the victimization of women here – on our campus.
The University of Toronto is our home. The ASSU executive calls on the administration to reconsider the policies which allow groups to circulate such material, with the aim of ensuring that all community members feel safe.
– The ASSU Executive