Critics question men’s rights group’s motive in fundraising for male-friendly space

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

They used to say "it's a man's world," but Adam McPhee believes the role of men in society is under it needs the kind of support women have received in their push for equality.

For him, the battleground now is Canada's university campuses.

McPhee is the spokesman for a group called the Canadian Association for Equality, which states as its mandate the goal of achieving gender equality through balance and fairness. Its current focus happens to be on the status, health and well-being of boys and men.

Lest you think McPhee is part of some group of 19th-century knuckle-draggers who resent the ascent of women in society, McPhee also works with gay men and has delved into the problem of domestic violence targeting men, according to The Canadian Press.

McPhee and other men's advocates say programs are needed at Canadian schools that focus on men's interests and needs.

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His association is trying to raise $50,000 (it's raised about $20,000 so far) to create a Canadian Centre for Men and Families and it's enlisted and American expert to speak to an event scheduled for Friday night in Toronto.

The Toronto Star reported last month McPhee is among a growing group who believe men have become society's new underclass. He sees the centre as necessary to help restore some balance.

“There are all these things helping women, like places for women fleeing violence,” he told the Star. “But there are men going, “Um, I’m down here. Can I get some help too?’”

Prof. Miles Groth of Wagner College in New York, studies the psychology of men and boys, masculinity and manhood, is expected to speak about issues contributing to the declining rate of enrolment of young men at universities and at their drop-out rate from post-secondary studies, CP said.

CP noted Statistics Canada figures show women accounted for 56.5 per cent of enrollment in post-secondary institutions in the 2010-11 academic year, compared with 43.5 per cent men, a ratio that's remained steady for the last decade. When it comes to graduation, women have outnumbered men for some time, reaching 58.2 per cent in the most recent data.

StatsCan has also reported that while overall high-school dropout rates continue to drop, young men quit school at a consistently higher rate than women — 10.3 per cent versus 6.6 per cent for the 2009-10 academic year.

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"Young men tended to report that they dropped out because they were not engaged in school and/or wanted to work and earn money," according to a 2010 StatsCan report.

"What do I think is going on? The answer is we don't know," Groth told CP from New York. "That's why these kinds of centres are absolutely essential because the answer to the question is not going to come primarily from people like me ... but it's going to come from the boys and the men themselves."

The problem is complicated by the fact that, men being men, there's a reluctance among them to talk about their experiences. Groth said.

One theory, said Groth, is that men feel less welcome on college campuses and relate less to what's available there.

"A changing faculty, changes in content of programs and courses, and the disproportion of male-female classmates are causing young men to say no to college life, even though they know that not attending may mean being at a disadvantage when applying for certain jobs after graduation ..." Groth wrote last month in Psychology Today, which also hosts his blog, Boys to Men.

It's an interesting argument. Could you, for instance, look at the recent "rape chant" scandals at the University of British Columbia and St. Mary's University as a gender turf war playing out on campuses?

And there's the more recent furor over novelist and University of Toronto lecturer David Gilmore's casual comments that he's not interested in teaching about women authors, only heterosexual men.

[ Related: U of T lit prof David Gilmour apologizes for interview gaffe disparaging women writers ]

Women's studies professor Annalee Lepp of the University of Victoria told CP that while she has nothing against setting up men's centres on campus, she's leery of the politics behind the move.

"In some segments of the men's movement, it's definitely a backlash against feminism as if feminism has created a context where something has been taken away from men," she said.

The Star reported McPhee's association has tried to open men's centres on several campuses in the last year, only to be met with opposition from student groups who see them as havens for sexism and misogyny.

Women's advocates agree that men today face many problems as the cultural ground shifts under their feet but they don't like the way the association is tackling them.

“They tend to be more frustrated about women’s rights being protected and women’s equality being promoted, rather than men’s rights being violated,” Sarah Blackstock, director of advocacy and communications at YWCA Toronto, told the Star. “If we’re trying to build a society marked by compassion and equality, this centre won’t help us do that.”