During my pregnancy I had a little party joke. When people asked me, "Do you know what you're having?" I'd rub my belly and say, "I'm having exactly what the world needs – a white male."
Most people laughed, though a tiny minority did not. And that tiny minority were almost always privileged white males. Sometimes they were young, sometimes they were old, often they were recently divorced and a little, um, sensitive about it. In any case, they didn't find it funny. A couple of them even narrowed their eyes and said ominous things like, "It's not so easy to be a man in today's world, you know." And, "Isn't that reverse discrimination?"
Now before I go on I want to make it absolutely clear: The vast majority of privileged white men – a tribe with whom I spend almost every second of my waking and sleeping life – got the joke. It was amusing because if you look around, you've probably noticed that for all our talk of diversity and equality, privileged white men are still running the joint. There are a few notable female exceptions, of course: Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, the Queen Elizabeth II and Lena Dunham (all of them white and privileged, natch). But I think that's basically it.
I became intrigued by these men who seemed to see their maleness as a hindrance and a handicap rather than what it seemed to me: A non-transferable lifetime membership to the champagne-soaked VIP room of General Advantage.
I'm exaggerating. But all things being equal, in the great lottery of life, surely it's a good thing to be born a man?
It's difficult to deny this simple observation, if only because it is the empirical, statistical, plain-to-see truth. But a small and vocal minority do insist upon it.
In Canada, this group has a name: the deceptively huggable-sounding Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE). But their agenda is less pro-equality than pro-redressing what they see as a gender imbalance in the current debate about equality, namely the obvious: That women are more often the victims of sexism and abuse.
In CAFE's topsy-turvy world view, men are the unsung victims while women are the covert oppressors. Their message is not about equality so much as it is a grandly deluded turning of the tables. And while their carefully written mandate claims to support "the status, health and well-being of boys and men," in fact their actions do the opposite – by stoking anger and self-pity in the minds of a small and troubled minority. And that anger and self-pity – guess what it leads to? More hating on women. Which is exactly what we don't need when it comes to the fight for equality.
CAFE goes to great lengths to keep their rhetoric innocuous (we're not anti-women, is the general message, just pro-men). And it's a tactic that has worked; they were granted official charity status by the Harper government last year. But look at the company they keep and you will see a darker picture emerge. They are actively supported by the U.S. organization A Voice For Men, the very openly misogynist men's rights organization that coined the term "rape farmers" for feminists.
This week CAFE erected a controversial billboard on Davenport Road near Avenue Road in Toronto bearing the misleading message, "HALF of domestic violence victims are men. NO domestic violence shelters are dedicated to us," with a photo of a woman resembling Linda Blair in The Exorcist shrieking at a terrorized man plugging his ears. At the bottom is a website for donations, which CAFE has said will be used to keep the billboard campaign going with hopes of expanding it to other cities, and eventually build a men's shelter (not that there is any real demand for one).
The billboard figure comes from a 2009 Statistics Canada report that found nearly half of self-reported domestic abuse victims are men. But it fails to point out that according to the same study, women were three times as likely to be victims of serious violence, such as being choked, sexually assaulted, beaten or threatened with a deadly weapon. The idea that any sane person could look at that study and think, "Wow, poor men," is beyond ludicrous.
Besides, a more recent study by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics found that women were the victims of almost 80 per cent of intimate partner violence reported to the police in 2013.
We know this stuff. Ask any cop or social worker and they will tell you the same thing: Female-perpetrated spousal and sexual abuse is relatively rare. As a result, it's far from top of the list of Canada's social problems (though obviously when it does happen it should be taken as seriously as any other form of domestic abuse).
Violence against women, on the other hand? A quick glance at the latest crime statistics will show you it is sadly endemic in our society.
This is why Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's new campaign combatting male-on-female sexual assault and harrasment is so refreshing – even inspiring. Wynne's government is sending a clear message: Sexual violence is predominantly a male-on-female issue. Its root cause is misogyny. It's time we just admitted it.
The Canadian Association for Equality might insist that it's simply trying to "rebalance" the debate in favour of male victims, but with their convenient bending of the truth they are simply skewing it.
I'm all for men and all for equality. But let's stop joking around about the real problem here and do something to achieve it.