By Paul Wang
Critics of the proposed SFU Men’s Centre claim that it is unnecessary, because men don’t have the same problems as women. However, this argument relies on the same problematic assumptions that the Women’s Centre is supposed to fight, and is ultimately a stumbling block for the cause of gender equality.
Let’s make one thing clear: there is no need for the creation of some sort of Victorian gentlemen’s club at SFU. A men’s centre will need the same level of oversight that the Women’s Centre does. Furthermore, the creation of a men’s centre cannot compromise the current operations of the Women’s Centre, an organization that provides valuable services to the student body. Despite assertions to the contrary, academic statistics do not make the Women’s Centre obsolete. There are indeed more women pursuing undergraduate degrees than men, and more of them getting their degrees. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still abused women, female victims of sexual harassment, or cultural assumptions that prevent these women from reaching their full potential. The issues that the Women’s Centre deals with are primarily cultural, not academic.
The cause of these issues is a series of cultural assumptions and biases which most refer to collectively as “the patriarchy,” a term which conjures up an image of a male-dominated society. The problem with that image is that, like most issues, has two sides, a duality reflected by the fact that although our student body is doing a fine job of combating the assumptions that victimize women, it has entirely ignored those that target men.
The patriarchy defines roles for men as well as women. The man is the warrior, the stoic, the defender, and the breadwinner. These ideas create an increasingly obsolete image of masculinity that forces demands on men that are difficult to live up to. This is why abused women are rightfully treated with sympathy, while abused men are so afraid of the humiliation of potential emasculation that they rarely report an abusive partner. This is why when a woman dresses in men’s clothes, she’s a tomboy, but when a man dresses in women’s clothes, he’s labeled a freak.
These issues exist, and they are issues in need of address. A men’s centre, under the proper oversight, can provide a place for research and activist events. It can help with the education process to fight these cultural assumptions from both sides, and to open a second front against both sexual discrimination, and stereotyping.
To say that there is no need for a men’s centre is to insinuate that us guys are expected to take care of our own problems, and that either abused men and the cultural assumptions that victimize all but the most “macho” of us don’t exist, or that we are strong enough to deal with them ourselves. This idea would then suggest women must naturally have a specialized support structure to help them. How is this different from what both the Women’s Centre and the proposed Men’s Centre aim to fix? The opponents of the Men’s Centre may not know it, but by reinforcing the same cultural assumptions that we should be banding together to fight, they are perpetuating the problem.