Even if you haven’t dropped by their office in the North Building, chances are you’ve heard of or seen representatives of the Women’s Centre on campus. But you probably don’t have the slightest inkling about the UTM Men’s Centre.
That’s because the campus doesn’t have one. A solely male-centred club or organization is alien not only to UTM but to campuses across the country. This is why Miles Groth, professor of psychology at Wagner College in Staten Island, is working to raise funds to create the Canadian Centre for Men and Families.
According to a National Post article, Groth believes that male students in universities need a place that offers “male-positive discussions of boyhood and what it means to be a young man in the 21st century”.
Currently, 56.5% of students enrolled in public postsecondary schools in Canada are females. In Groth’s view, this shift from what used to be a trend in the reverse reflects the need for a place for male students where their issues can be addressed.
At first glance, it makes sense: if there is a women’s centre, why should there not be a men’s centre? However, the topic not only has little consensus, it’s also highly controversial and difficult to discuss. For example, last November a lecture on men’s issues by Warren Farrell saw heavy student protesting and police presence and was publicly condemned as sexist by the U of T Students’ Union.
Some see the possible introduction of a men’s centre as a move towards equality, whereas others may feel the introduction of men’s clubs is an attack on feminism. The National Post article included an interview with Annalee Lepp, associate professor in and chair of the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Victoria, who says that “in some segments of the men’s movement, [the idea of a men’s centre is] definitely a backlash against feminism, as if feminism has created a context where something has been taken away from men.”
Likely, the judgment of whether or not to open men’s centres or clubs in universities should be made according to the legitimate needs of the male students themselves. I asked a few UTM students whether they see it as a pressing need or another frivolous debate.
Ather Ahmed and Shiraz Sajjad believe there is no need for a men’s club on campus, adding that they don’t think the demand for one is very high. Similarly, Muhammad Razzaq says he has never personally felt the need for a men’s centre on campus, but if there is enough demand for it, there should be one.
Sajjad disputes Groth’s claim that men need to discuss “boyhood” or what it means to be a man in the 21st century, though he acknowledges that there is such a thing as an issue exclusive to young men.
Razzaq agrees, to an extent. “I don’t need the space because when I need to talk about something like that I go straight to my guy friends who I’m close with, because they’re the same age as me and usually go through the same things,” he says. “Some people don’t feel comfortable enough to do that, so maybe there can be a club to help those people out.”
While the above interviews are in no way conclusive or all-encompassing, the responses provide an interesting insight into the opinions of some men on campus.
Even if such a centre was introduced, Ahmed and Sajjad have no idea what they’d expect it to offer them. Razzaq joked about the “bro-counselling” and pool-playing it would need to offer.
Beyond UTM, there is a considerable debate growing around men’s issues and their place at Canadian universities .
Jeff May, a sessional instructor in the UTM Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, says that men’s centres are a risky idea.
“Men can and do come together and do great things, but often when men come together as men it works out dangerously for people who don’t ascribe to hegemonic masculinity—often women, queer men, and others,” he says. “A student centre for men could potentially be a useful laboratory for new masculine behaviours and for men to look at their relationships to the world.
“However, we need to be careful and consider what might happen if it becomes instead a laboratory for building up male privilege levelled by feminism,” he continues. “I’m reminded of the decision by a Ryerson student group to disallow a men’s group an official position, arguing that ‘men are not marginalized as men’. This is something I agree with.”
May concedes the issue of men failing to think of themselves as men outside of normal masculine narratives of what he calls “hegemonic masculinity”, which include popular ideas of toughness, independence, and emotional stoicity.
I would argue that the responses from my interviewees give some credence at least to this last one.
“The best way we have to look at men and masculinity right now is feminism, which reveals the ways that masculinity in its current formation is no good for most people, many men included,” May goes on. “And often, what people don’t like about feminism is that it tells men they belong to this social group called ‘men’ and implicates them in all the unearned privileges that come with being in that group. This is true even if they don’t feel the privilege as individuals.”
Ultimately, May says he would support a men’s centre “if it was founded on this outward aim of seeing how men can relate to others, rather than encouraging them to look inward only at how they might be losing some of that old unearned privilege”.
So where does this leave our debate on the opening of men’s centres on university campuses? The views swing both ways and the perspective is nuanced by our subjective views of masculinity and feminism. What’s clear is that the basic problem is more a need for discussion about the role of men in the 21st century than specifically a place for men at universities, where the need is apparently not felt by all.
Ultimately, we can only hope that our universities foster an environment for open debate and discussion. If there is in fact a need for men’s centres on university campuses, the topic is sure to gain traction, and when it does, it must be considered based on research and clear thinking.