There isn't a man I know who's read or heard about the Jian Ghomeshi affair without shaking his head. Leaving the particulars of that case aside, none of my friends feel differently than I do when it comes to violence against women: It's one of the most cowardly acts there is.
Every man who hurts a woman diminishes the way decent men everywhere are seen. And it allows some to more broadly perpetuate the image of us as evil miscreants. This, in turn, helps push many legitimate concerns men have farther into the shadows.
I admit to saying this with trepidation. Often, looking at my gender through anything other than a purely critical lens can be a dicey proposition. But the reality is that male stereotyping is prevalent in our society. Consequently, the real problems men have are sometimes diminished.
On Monday, the Canadian Centre for Men and Families opens in Toronto. It's being billed as the first national home for dealing with many of the larger problems facing men, such as increasing suicide rates and declining university enrolment rates. The centre will assist male victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, offer mentorship to boys considered to be at risk and support fathers battling a family law system many perceive as favouring mothers.
"We're not competing for victim status," director Justin Trottier says. "This is more about raising awareness that many issues we tend to think about as women's issues affect both men and women."
Mr. Trottier knows already that the centre will likely be denounced for taking away resources from women. He's been associated with the Canadian Centre for Equality, which is backing the venture. The organization has tried to stimulate a discussion about the portrayal of men and it hasn't always gone well. Events have been protested by feminist organizations that refuse to subscribe to any thought that there is a real counterpart to misogyny.
Misandry is a term that is slowly gaining currency in our language and academic literature. It's defined as anger and contempt for men. It is underscored by research that suggests men are commonly characterized in popular culture as violent, vulgar, insensitive boors. McGill University academics Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young have done the deepest research in this area and are about to come out with their fourth volume in a planned five-part series on the topic.
The books deal with a gamut of issues, from the scorn that often exists for men in mainstream media to the flawed history of the origins of patriarchal societies. The two academics insist their work is not an attempt to diminish the realities of misogyny but rather an effort to show that while we are always ready to condemn the demeaning of women, we are not as prepared to do the same when it comes to men.
It's not easy work. While it has been praised in many quarters, it has been predictably denounced in others. The authors are in good company: The National Post's Barbara Kay has been a frequent writer on this topic and has explored the notion that men's pain does not always elicit the same level of sympathy as the pain of women. The obscenity-laced hate mail she has received from feminists would have scared less courageous people off of the subject.
I, too, realize that this topic will engender little sympathy in many quarters. If men are feeling lessened and misrepresented in the world, they now know how women have felt since the dawn of civilization, the argument goes. If the pendulum has swung in women's favour in terms of how they are portrayed in films and on television – patronizing and belittling exceptions notwithstanding – it's only fair.
Perhaps I'd feel the same way. Misandry is, in part, a reaction to real misogyny. Antipathy toward men is grounded in deep and bitter personal experiences for many women. But that doesn't change the fact that most men are not bad men. And I think we need to address fundamental questions around identity and the impression that the constant stream of negative images about men is leaving on boys.
Gender polarization hurts us all. There's no excuse for negative stereotyping of any kind.