This week, the “Don’t Be That Girl” poster “parody” campaign by Men’s Rights Edmonton ignited a maelstrom of controversy locally and nationally. As the academic who tweeted the initial image that was furiously retweeted by disgusted Edmontonians, I was interviewed by various news outlets about my thoughts on this campaign. Editing to fit the time allotted for this story meant that my most emphatic point was not included in these interviews. I want to make it here: the men (or man) of Men’s Rights Edmonton (MRE) do not represent the men of Edmonton.
Other academics and activists have already easily and successfully corrected the misinformation MRE is trying to spread, so I do not need to repeat that here. It is undeniable that any group that hides their names and faces has no credibility—and lets not forget that groups that hide their names and faces don’t have the best track record… University of Wisconsin assistant professor Jon Senchyne neatly summed it up in a tweet he made about MRE: “A good man is easy to find. Because he uses his real name in public.”
In interviews, I have noted my disgust with the campaign, my amusement at MRE’s inability to provide any research to back up their hyperbolic misinformation and repeatedly invited them—as did numerous news outlets—to talk with me on air. They refused any public debate, finally issuing a last-minute invite on their blog to feminists to call-in to discuss the issue on their blog radio station so they could both moderate and edit the “show” for their few listeners. I’m almost embarrassed on their behalf. Of course, Men’s Rights Edmonton refuses to engage in any public discussion, insisting that they are scared of being harmed by all us “hysterical,” “overemotional” women. This is why they must hide their names and faces. But they are scared of the wrong people. They should be scared of the men.
Because men, their target audience, are angry. I would be too if a group called “Women’s Rights Edmonton” were spreading blatant misinformation, paranoid fear fantasies, and poor grammar in the name of women in Edmonton. Because the men in Edmonton do not fit into the stereotypes that this group is working so hard to perpetuate about supposedly “backwards, redneck” Alberta. Because the majority of men in this town are not scared little boys hiding in their secret fort, using code names and cowardly putting up posters instead of engaging in public debate. As @MaleModernity, a twenty-five year old Edmonton male oil industry worker named Ryan, tweeted: “When they receive criticism they retreat to the intellectual ghettos of their websites where they can safely censor and dissect it for their followers and get everyone fired up, use it as “proof” of their victimization…They have a binary world view where they imagine any advancement for women happens only at the expense of men. I don’t think the illegitimacy of that claim requires any more elaboration.”
And the men of Edmonton are not in line with this anachronistic worldview. Let’s start with our Mayor. Mayor Mandel has worked hard to establish a Women’s Advisory Committee; currently Alberta is the only province in Canada without a provincial or civic women’s advisory committee. For the past two years, Mayor Mandel has organized forums where more than seven hundred women have discussed the issues affecting them. Councillor Amarjeet Sohi is supportive of this committee, citing transit and community consultations as two areas where women’s advice is needed: “People may think ‘Why a women’s committee?’ I think there are real challenges out there that as a municipality we need to overcome.”
Councilor and mayoral candidate Don Iveson is also enthusiastically supportive of this committee, stating: “As the father of a young daughter, I think about these issues.” After hearing the information about the development about the Women’s Advisor Committee, Councilor Iveson said: “I really see the potential for learning for all of us in this. I want to say as a feminist, I’m inspired by your leadership and your presentations this morning, so thank you.” A popular councilor not only saying he is a feminist but emphasizing that we all benefit from the improvement of women’s status in this city? This is the Edmonton I know and love. Councilor Iveson also took to Twitter to denounce the “Don’t Be That Girl” campaign: “The msg in these posters is morally indefensible; it’s condemnable and contemptible.” And he tweeted this with his name and face. Minister of Human Services Dave Hancock also had no problem putting his name and face to his beliefs, tweeting: “Don’t be that girl” campaign is appalling, dangerous and indefensible.” Acting Inspector Sean Armstrong of the Serious Crime Branch, which includes the Sexual Assault Section, went on camera to correct MRE’s bogus claims and express his disgust. Armstrong said that in the four and a half years he worked as a sexual assault detective, he came across only one false report: “And I dealt with numerous files; many, many, many files. So they’re extremely rare. We want to encourage people to come forward and report these horrendous crimes. So to demean these crimes and put them down and belittle them goes against that,” Armstrong said. I’m going to bet Inspector Armstrong has more research and experience with this issue than the man/men with the blog radio station… And guess what? The highly trained police detective was able to identify a false report!
The response from men is not limited to those with high-profiles. The responses to this campaign from male users is overwhelmingly negative. On Twitter and Facebook, men are expressing their outrage that Men’s Rights Edmonton purports to represent them. University of Alberta postdoctoral fellow Addie (@BigAddie) writes: “Everybody should be offended by MRE’s poor rationalization of obvious situations where men take advantage of women with the ‘Don’t be that girl’ poster. Perhaps MRE could ask this math professor for help with their statistics? University of Alberta education/history student Scott Bursey writes: “As a man, I can firmly state that MRE does not resent my personal values. In fact, their narrative is in diametric opposition with my system of beliefs. To reach the goal of equality we, as individuals, and community members must put this hate speech aside.”
The men I’ve cited—and the dozens of others who responded via Twitter—are not standing for MRE’s lies and evasion. They, like I, have faith that men can tell the difference between a campaign (“Don’t Be That Guy”) which raises awareness about consent and acknowledges that men are disproportionately the perpetrators of sexual assault while women are disproportionately the victims, and a campaign that equates all men with rapists. They recognize that in order to counter hundreds of years of women being blamed for sexual assault and the staggeringly low report (and even lower conviction rates) for sexual assault, its time to stop telling women to watch their drinks/wardrobe and time to tell men not to sexual assault.
MRE not only gives the men of Edmonton a bad name and reasserts ugly stereotypes about Alberta, but the attention they are getting casts a shadow over all the progressive, educated men in Edmonton who advocate for women’s equality because they know that women being equal does not take anything away from men. The majority of men in this town are secure enough to walk beside women, advocating for a safe and equal city for every citizen. Because they know that equality makes us a stronger, more influential city. The award-winning “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign never said, “Don’t Be a Guy”—it said “Don’t be THAT Guy.” And the majority of men in Edmonton not only aren’t that guy, but have no tolerance for THAT guy. Edmonton Social worker Kris Andreychuck (@Kris_net) tweeted a link to Men’s Rights Edmonton with the caption: “Don’t be THIS Guy.” Well said, sir.
Dr. Cristina Stasia teaches in the Women and Gender Studies department at the University of Alberta and received her Ph.D. in English from Syracuse University. She recently completed a book manuscript on action cinema. Other than John McClane, men who are not threatened by equality are her favourite action heroes.
CC photograph courtesy of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation on Flickr.