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The question

I read an article recently about how Simon Fraser University is considering opening a Men's Centre. I'm aware that sexism exists in Canadian society, but is there reason for universities to support men's centres?

The answer

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Let's get the obvious out on the table: We are two guys answering this question – two proud feminist guys.

This issue does, however, raise an interesting question: Are men's issues underserved in public discussion?

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, men commit suicide at a rate four times higher than women. The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says 25 per cent of male drinkers are considered high-risk for alcohol abuse, compared to 9 per cent of female drinkers.

Approximately 70 per cent of Canada's homeless are male. Dion Oxford of Toronto's Salvation Army Gateway shelter for men tells us it is harder to raise funds for men's shelters. "Single, middle-aged homeless men are simply not sexy for the funder," he says.

Prostate cancer affects as many Canadian men as breast cancer does women, – 4,000 men have died of prostate cancer this year, and 5,100 women of breast cancer. Yet Rebecca von Goetz of Prostate Cancer Canada says men are reluctant to deal with the problem. "Men are less pro-active on health issues, and when it comes to issues below the belt they are even more hesitant."

We spoke with Noah Brand, editor of The Good Men Project, an online magazine and forum based in Portland, Ore., which fosters "a national discussion centred around modern manhood and the question, 'What does it mean to be a good man?'"

Mr. Brand spoke with us candidly about his own issues with body image – weight and looks. "One of the most common comments was women saying, 'Oh God, I know how you feel. I had no idea men felt the same!'" he recalls. "Men are socialized not to talk about it. We need to start breaking that silence."

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Noting the higher suicide rates for men, he argues, "We need to break down the things that have men killing themselves, like unwillingness to seek help or counselling."

Just as the feminist movement made strides for women's issues, so will men benefit from public discussion. "Every time we talk about [these issues] publicly in a constructive way, a bunch more guys see there is something they can do," says Mr. Brand. Both men and women need to see that men's issues can be a complement, not an opponent, to feminism.

"There's a mistaken idea that men's problems are the result of feminism. It's codswallop. Feminism opened the door to questioning what we accept as the status quo," argues Mr. Brand.

Discussing gender issues is not a zero-sum game. Increasing public discussion about what it means to be a man does not take away from the discussion of equality and gender roles for women. Liberating men from old-fashioned ideas of "manly" behaviour can serve to liberate women from gender limitations.

"When men are not laughed at for showing emotionality, women aren't dismissed for showing emotion."

Initiatives like The Good Men Project, and maybe even university men's centres, can open the door to such public discussion. That will help us address broader issues like homelessness and suicide. We all benefit from husbands, fathers and brothers who are healthy and well-functioning.

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