Feminism and anti-feminism in Toronto: A discussion

We were recently approached by a journalist with some questions about the men’s rights movement and the feminist movement in Toronto. Here are our responses.

  1. Have you seen opposition and hostility toward feminists grow during the last few years? Has it become more difficult to be a feminist or easier? In what ways?

In recent years, it has become harder and harder for feminists to speak, particularly if they’re radical feminists or even if they’re just perceived as such. We don’t think it’s gotten harder for other political groups to speak to the extent that it’s gotten harder for feminists. Although there are protests against right-wing and anti-feminist speakers, they usually do manage to speak despite protesters, and some of them have a solid support base and lucrative careers. However, radical feminist speakers tend to have their talks canceled before they even begin, and we often receive death and rape threats and are subject to harassment that is quite out of proportion to any objection people have over our politics.

To illustrate the difference in treatment between two political types in Toronto who are considered controversial, let’s look at the RadFem RiseUp conference in 2013 vs right wing academic Jordan Peterson.

In 2013, a group of 30 women met for a weekend in Toronto to discuss feminist activism. A protest against this meeting reached gigantic proportions. The first venue the feminists attempted to use for the meeting was inundated with hundreds of vicious emails within a 12-hour period which succeeded in getting the venue to cancel. A woman infiltrator paid the registration fee just to find the location of the second venue and helped protesters locate the feminists in order to harass them in person. Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo was quoted as saying that she hoped new laws regarding gender identity would make such feminist gatherings illegal. All this just in response to a group of women getting together to talk!

Contrast this with the response to Jordan Peterson, a conservative professor at the University of Toronto who has been expressing controversial views lately on subjects such as the liberal values that have inundated universities and the use of preferred pronouns by university students. Although his opinions are of a political nature and are opposed by the same liberal activists who harassed RadFem RiseUp, Peterson still has his job, his book is a bestseller, and he is earning $50,000 per month through crowdfunding. There have been small protests against him but nothing that had any effect on his ability to work or speak.

In 2015, violent threats were made online toward sociology and women’s studies classes at the University of Toronto—the same university where Jordan Peterson is thriving.

A very recent example of a feminist woman being no-platformed before she could even speak was Yuly Chan from Vancouver, Canada. She was scheduled to speak at The Vancouver Crossroads Conference about The Chinatown Action Group who organizes to improve the lives of low-income residents of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Three individuals launched a bullying campaign and managed to get her talk canceled, making claims that Chan is a “bigot,” despite her campaigning for human rights.

Our group, Radical Feminists Unite, is aware of the ongoing harassment of radical feminists from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, which is why we have no public presence. We don’t hold public events, we don’t release our names or faces and we carefully screen new members before allowing them to join. We would fear for our safety and our jobs if our information were to be made public. In fact, we have received a death threat on our website already.

Some of our group members feel that we are “retreating from politics” because we no longer feel safe to discuss issues and feel we need to remain silent.

  1. What is it like to be a feminist in Toronto today? Has the recent van attack changed anything?

Our answer to question 1 describes what being a feminist in Toronto today is like, and we don’t feel the van attack changed anything. It’s been a hostile environment for years now and although the van attack was horrible, it unfortunately wasn’t surprising. It underscored what we already know about the cultural climate and the threat.

The van attack incident opened the door for public discussion about misogynist ideology (for example the idea of “incels.”) However we still don’t think the general public is willing to connect the dots between misogynist ideology and other incidents of violence against women (such as domestic abuse, rape, etc).

It took 25 years to recognize the shooting attack at Montreal’s École Polytechnique as a crime against women, even though Marc Lépine had written a lengthy manifesto explicitly stating his hatred, and had separated men from women in the classroom before declaring feminism had ruined his life and opening fire on the women, killing 14 of them. Incidents such as this and the Toronto van attack resist being recognized as domestic terrorist attacks against women, even in public discussion let alone under the law, despite meeting the legal definition. 

The Facebook post written by Alek Minassian “situates the attack as extremist and terrorist,” says J.M. Berger, an expert at the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague. 

Serial killer Robert Pickton boasted about murdering up to 50 women and was convicted of second degree murder of six women in 2007. He targeted a vulnerable population of prostituted, drug addicted, homeless and mostly indigenous women, with impunity for years due to police sexist and racist negligence.

Canada is experiencing a national epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. The estimated number of women affected ranges between 1,000 to nearly 4,000 depending on the estimate, and a national inquiry has been launched on the issue.

These are just a few high profile cases. As of May 1 of this year alone, 57 women have been killed in Canada, which is one woman every other day. On average in Canada, a woman is killed every 6 days by her intimate partner. Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining. It is estimated that about one in three Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life.

There is always a tendency to deny. None of these crimes are recognized under the law as hate crimes against women, nor does the general public discourse seem to want to see the cultural undercurrent of misogyny threaded through them all as a pervasive systemic issue.

Why might Toronto be an important location for misogyny to flourish? Members who have lived outside of Canada have noticed a marked complacency and passivity in Toronto, and in Canada more broadly, when it comes to debating contentious issues and the idea that not all beliefs and ideologies have the ‘right’ to go unchallenged. These members feel that Canada’s emphasis on diversity and everyone getting along is extended past its intended use for individuals and applied to ideas, suggesting that criticism is a form of unacceptable hostility. The relative safety of Toronto compared to most other large cities in the world may also give people a false sense of security about harmful ideas, such as woman-hating, only being ideas and not dangerous in the real world. Women who live here, however—particularly women in prostitution, Indigenous women, Muslim women who have been attacked on the street, and others who have faced threats or direct violence at the hands of men—know that Toronto’s ‘safety’ doesn’t apply equally to everyone. The van attack is only a reminder for those who have been paying attention, and hopefully, a wake-up call for others.

  1. In your opinion, is this manosphere thing something that is concrete or just a marginal internet phenomenon?

In today’s age of the internet and social media, it’s important to rethink what we understand as “organized” hate groups. The “manosphere” refers to individual men who may be geographically spread out but are loosely connected via various social media groups, internet forums and sites. They share common misogynistic views, unified by what Michael Kimmel coined aggrieved male entitlement, and find validation and support from each other online, reinforcing and expanding their toxic value system and emboldening each other.

Radical feminists and many leading experts in terrorist and hate organizations – eg, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Centre that monitors hate groups – have been warning about “manosphere” groups for some time. The manosphere cheers on misogynist rampages and holds up Marc Lépine, Anders Behring Breivik, Elliot Rodger, Chris Harper-Mercer, Alek Minassian and the like as heroes. Several such perpetrators have been direct participants in the manosphere where violent fantasies are entertained, and detailed instructions, strategizing, and advice are offered on how to dox, intimidate, terrorize, rape and kill women. As evidenced, some do indeed act on this. Notably, they have been promoting vehicle attacks as “easier” and “more effective” since before Charlottesville and the Toronto “incel” van attack, with celebratory comments after these incidents. “Incels” have also been advocating for mass acid attacks, with discussions on how to effectively implement such an attack, which kind of acid is best, and recently created an “acid app” to generate images of how any woman would look after an acid attack.

Also, they do indeed find each other locally to gather and organize offline. While Roosh V (“Return of Kings” Pick-Up-Artist who advocated that rape should be legal, among other misogynist rhetoric) was overwhelmingly not welcomed in Canada; and the Honey Badger Brigade (Gamergate group of MRA sympathizers) were kicked out of the Canadian Comic Expo, there are nevertheless some men’s rights organizations that have concrete homes in Canada, including here in Toronto and the surrounding area.

One of our members first observed MRA flyers posted around downtown Toronto approximately 10 years ago. They were filled with misogynist rhetoric against feminists, with distorted statistics and “facts” to paint men as oppressed by women. The flyers were a recruitment call, with contact information, to other disgruntled men to unite, spread the word, and organize against feminists.

In 2013, Men’s Rights Edmonton ran a poster campaign, Don’t Be That Girl, with the message that women lie about sexual assault, in direct backlash to a sexual assault awareness campaign, Don’t Be That Guy.

Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) has an office in Toronto posted right on its website and holds events in various Canadian cities. Please see Appendix below for information on CAFE.

A man named James Sears, who also lists his address on his website, publishes hate propaganda against women and minorities, which he distributes to his ward, and has been charged with hate crimes.

Men who openly demonstrate misogyny feel comfortable posting their addresses online; this goes to show how safe and secure men feel about hating women.

There are “Pick-Up Artists” (PUAs) operating in Toronto. Some of their activities are harassing women and secretly filming them. A Google search for “pick up artist training toronto” returns several results: PUA Bootcamp Toronto, Janlifestyle Dating Bootcamp, Toronto PUA, etc.

A couple of group members have been hit on by PUAs. One group member was coming out of the Eaton Centre (a downtown mall) when an “odd man” approached and asked for a date. His approach didn’t fit the usual trajectory of these types of interactions. He bowed, said he would like to request a date, and when she said she was just rushing to meet a friend, he handed her his “dating card” which proclaimed him as Dmitri the Lover. The website on his card turned out to be a website for women to apply to date him. She thought he was just an oddball until a friend called her about an uncomfortable experience she’d had when a bunch of local so-called “pickup artists” descended en masse on the Eaton Centre using almost exactly the same lines on women. She received the same pickup line from several guys in a row and it seemed orchestrated, as indeed it was, and creepy. Some more research revealed that these guys are not simply harmless, pathetic men with no social skills. Some of them are very dangerous, including Dmitri, who also goes by the name James Sears. He has multiple sexual assault convictions, a charge of weapons stockpiling and enough bad press to paper over the entire CN Tower. Judging by the name used by the person who left death threats on our website, we think that it was this same man, Dmitri the Lover, or James Sears, who told us we should die by beheading. 

Comment left on this website.

Another group member was hit on while she was a university student on her way from one class to another, passing the Eaton Centre. The man was significantly older than her, and though he was pushy and uncomfortable, she was too young to be anything but polite, so she attempted to brush him off by saying she was going to class and had to hurry. He gave her his business card, and on the back it said he was a “graduate of the sexual guru program”. When she got home she looked it up and it was a PUA class run by James Sears. The website was alarmingly misogynistic and anti-feminist. Oddly a second time, at the Eaton Centre some months later the same man hit on her again (clearly not remembering he had talked to her before), and told her that her ass looked great in her skirt.

  1. Some people think a person like Jordan Peterson validates anti-feminist ideology that’s common to all of these “movements.” How do you feel about this?

Although the manosphere reveres Jordan Peterson, among many others, and we do recognize that his ideology is anti-feminist, we don’t think that he is the string holding together the men’s rights movement. He is interesting to us in the sense that he is proof that controversial men are doing far better than controversial women, but we don’t see him as a major threat to our safety. He is more of an old-fashioned conservative and, although this is damaging, it’s not quite as scary as the men who harass women and assault us in public, or who send death threats and carry out violence.

 

APPENDIX

What’s wrong with CAFE?

This organisation appears at first glance to be about equality between the sexes, but when you dig deeper you see that they are actually an anti-feminist group who are supportive of more explicitly misogynist men.

Good overviews of CAFE can be found here and here.

CAFE has sprung up in several campuses across central Canada. They have groups on university campuses in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa and Peterborough as well as two Toronto groups and off campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver. Ryerson University banned CAFE in 2013 from their campus after student council ruled it to be a hate group.

CAFE granted registered charitable status in March 2014 under false pretenses

  • falsely obtained via application that suggested support of groups/orgs (LEAF, EGALE, Status of Women Canada) that don’t in fact support them or have any ties or affiliations with them at all
  • also falsely claimed in application that they are working with university scholars from women’s studies depts
  • whitewashed its mandate on application which it described as “educat[ing] the public about equality issues in order to foster equality for all Canadians,” with the status of men and boys being “one key area of focus.”

CAFE misrepresent and deceive regularly

  • Claims org working with support of Toronto city councillors and MPPs but would not provide names or any proof—see NOW phone interview May 2014
  • Misrepresentations to groups and venues when hosting or participating in events (eg, “Equality Day” concert in support of men’s child custody rights at Toronto Islands cancelled when their ties to MRAs became known)
  • Banned from marching in Pride 2015 but defied ban and snuck in anyways to march

Links between CAFE and other MRAs

  • Ties with extremist and misogynist org A Voice for Men—numerous links and associations despite denials by CAFE when asked by media (eg, press release by CAFE director Adam McPhee lauding AVFM conferences, linkages between the two websites, etc) .  
  • Stages numerous controversial speaking events (eg U of T with Warren Farrell, leading MRA spokesman, and Janice Fiamengo) which spark anti-hate protests. See also VICE coverage of April 2013 lecture “From Misogyny to Misandry to Intersexual Dialogue,” in which the speakers were to discuss a supposed hatred for men inherent in our culture.
  • Screens MRA documentary The Red Pill
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WLU Centre for Women and Trans People forgets about the Montreal Massacre – the latest trend of ignoring and silencing women’s issues

December 6th, 2017 is the 28th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, otherwise known as the Montreal Massacre. 28 years ago, Marc Lépine opened fire on female engineering students because he was angry he did not get accepted into the school. He cited feminism as the root cause of that, shouting “I hate feminists!” before shooting at the women. Fourteen women were killed and are remembered today by many across the country. Not only do we remember the massacre and the fourteen women whose lives ended far too early, but we also remember it as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which was established by the Canadian Parliament in 1991.

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Solidarity with #LAWC

Radical Feminists Unite supports the London Abused Women’s Center and its decision to pull out of Take Back the Night after it announced there would be pole dancing featured at the demonstration. As feminists, we are against the sexual objectification of women.

Last Wave Feminist

CANADIAN FEMINIST NETWORK

Ottawa, Ontario

*TO: Megan Walker, ED London Abused Women’s Centre, The Board of Directors London Abused Women’s Centre, Staff and Clients London Abused Women Centre

Women in Canada and around the world look to the London Abused Women’s Centre as a leader in the provision of services to women who have experienced male violence, whether in intimate relationships, from strangers or through the sex trade. We admire the willingness of the Centre to take public, feminist positions regarding the oppression and exploitation of women, and particularly its recent decision to withdraw its support for the London “Take Back the Night” event because of a proposed pole dancing demonstration that was to take place as part of a larger protest highlighting public violence against women perpetrated by men.

Like LAWC, we understand that pole dancing emanates from the highly objectified practice of stripping and “exotic dancing” performed for the benefit of men to the disadvantage…

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Taking The Revolutionary Road: Ending Violence Against Women

EVAW poster

We would like to thank the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario, the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution and Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry for putting on a fantastic panel discussion on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at the University of Toronto. Speakers from these three organizations spoke about the roots of oppression faced by women of colour in Canada, with particular attention to the temporary foreign worker program and its effect on Filipino women, the effects of residential schools and the Indian Act on Indigenous women, and the system of prostitution which disproportionately affects Asian and Indigenous women.

Canada’s temporary foreign worker program has brought large numbers of Filipino women into Canada to become caregivers in private households. Panelists explained that 84% of these women have a university education and 67% of them have children. Although these women are mostly educated professionals, they are performing low-skill work for low wages and are facing many barriers in upgrading their education or finding work in their fields. While performing caregiving work, women are often overworked, underpaid, subject to sexual violence and economic exploitation, and separated from their children, all of which have negative effects on their mental health. They are separated from their children for about 8–10 years, on average. Most of them continue with caregiving work or other “survival” work after the temporary foreign worker program has been completed, due to years of working outside their field and being unable to upgrade their education.

The Residential School system in Canada, which continued until 1996, separated Aboriginal children from their families and attempted to assimilate them into the white colonizer’s culture. In these Residential schools, white teachers taught patriarchal values to the children and instilled in them the belief that Aboriginal women and girls have no value. The Indian Act also reflected the beliefs of white male settlers and took status away from Indigenous women. The government of Canada is still failing to properly investigate the murders of Indigenous women, who are often dismissed as living a “high-risk” lifestyle. It is a high risk to be an Aboriginal woman in Canada, but this is not because of their own choices—it’s because of the systemic racism and sexism in Canada that continues to go largely unchallenged. Indigenous women are over-represented in prostitution in Canada, even though this is not a part of Aboriginal cultures. There is no word in any local Indigenous language for prostitution—this is a system introduced to this land by colonizers. It is in fact racist to claim that prostitution is the “oldest profession” in Canada, because this oppression did not exist here until colonization.

Revolutionary changes are needed to end the oppression of women in Canada. Women’s place in society needs to be changed—women need to be treated as equals in society rather than subordinate to men. New immigrants in Canada need to be treated as skilled workers, not as babysitters, and should not face barriers to obtaining meaningful employment in their fields. The temporary foreign workers program should be abolished and immigration laws changed to reflect the fact that immigrant women are skilled workers like everyone else. Many Filipina nannies are working for upper-class women so they can further their career goals. Even privileged women find that they are responsible for all the childcare due to attitudes about women’s place in society and their husbands not doing child care. A state-funded childcare program would ease the burden on all women and would eliminate the problem of upper-class women depending on the low-paid work of less privileged women in order to secure their place in the workforce.

Indigenous women deserve full safety and equality, and prostitution is incompatible with this goal. The organization Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry supports the new prostitution law in Canada, which regrettably has not been enforced much so far, because it holds men accountable for their violence. Much more needs to be done by police officers to hold male abusers accountable for the rapes and murders they inflict on marginalized women. Unfortunately, police officers are often the johns and the abusers of Indigenous women, and they represent the colonizers. There is understandable skepticism that the white colonizers’ justice system will ever be any help; however, we need to keep working to hold men accountable in every way that we can. The cultural construct of masculinity needs to be redefined—men should not learn that ownership and control over women is their right, and that violence is a part of being a man. All Canadians need to understand that Indigenous women are valued and deserve safety and respect.

Members of Radical Feminists Unite attended this event and were very moved and energized by the excellent speakers who talked about getting to the root of women’s oppression and centering the needs of women of colour in our organizing. Women are not free until the most marginalized among us are free.