On Bullshit and the Possibility of Hope

by Litsa Chatzivasileiou

Dr. Litsa Chatzivasileiou is a sessional lecturer at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice where she teaches critical theory, cultural studies, literature, film and popular culture. The following is a transcript of her keynote speech delivered at the F Word Undergraduate Student Conference on April 27th, 2013. She dedicates her speech to “all my wonderful students out there who have taught me to never give up on hope!”

 “One of the most salient factors of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his [sic] share. But we tend to take the situation for granted… In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves…” – Harry G. Frankfurt: On Bullshit

I’m not gonna bullshit you this morning. I swear; I won’t! But I’m going to talk to you about lots of it and how much of it surrounds us and what to do to put the skids to it. The idea for this talk on bullshit and the possibility of hope was inspired by a random graffiti message on one of the newly constructed buildings at UBC that simply declared: “New World.” Of course you might notice the mere irony of it. This very hopeful message was, indeed, inscribed on hard core bullshit, bullshit made out of brick and metal and lots and lots of money; the kind of bullshit that has every student on campus reeling with frustration and often rage: for how else than bullshit could one describe the insane amount of money thrown to the construction of phallic buildings erected all over UBC; courtesy of undergrad students and their fees who would rather have more teachers and classrooms and a future, and a New World, and hope, and jobs, and not the bullshit of fountains that makes the campus look like some corporate courtyard, or some plutocrat’s mansion? I would describe this as bullshit!

But just as you think that this is the only bullshit going on out there let me just burst your bubble and break some bad news for you. This bullshit is the other kind that also despairs my students, or anyone for that matter that has the slightest human decency and observes a worldwhere domination (white, supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal domination, to borrow bell hooks’ terms), is the primary mode of human beings dealing with each other. And I despair as much as you do. In the words of Walt Whitman (from “I Sit and Look Upon”):

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;/ …/ I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;/ I observe a famine…/I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor,…and the like;/ All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon, / See, hear, and am silent…

I hear the cries of children in the reserve, the aboriginal woman’s whimper under the weight of the white supremacist in Thunder Bay Ontario that assaulted her back in January and the cry of 600 other aboriginal girls and women across Canada that have gone missing and murdered.

I am haunted by the face of 17 yr old Rehtaeh Parsons who recently committed suicide after being raped and cyberbullied and her pleas being ignored by the RCMP allegedly lacking enough evidence to pursue the perpetrators of this crime. I am fed up with the lie of the Western world that we, in the West, are somehow liberated and not oppress women for “[s]omewhere along the way [in this so-called liberated West] it has become a game to grab photos of young women,…while they are being assaulted and trade them like baseball cards.” I am appalled by this Western lie and its rape culture that allows the sexual assault and filming of young girls by boys for Rehtaeh’s story is a replay of numerous others that have taken place in California, in Wisconsin, in Steubenville, Ohio, in Australia, in London, England. We must also not forget the less tragic but nonetheless serious case of our homegrown infamous Dimewatch played out by athletes here at UBC. This reflects nothing but a “profound problem about violence against women, and the extent to which our society is willing to humiliate and denigrate [us].”

I see the constant displacement of homeless people in Downtown East Side and Dave that soldiers on his hunger strike against gentrification; I hear the panic in the voice of the migrant workers as they are being raided last month by Canadian Border Services to entertain Canadians in their Reality TV show with live action human suffering. I taste the salt of tears shed by their loved ones as they depart deported by the CBS on a plane back to abject poverty. This is a society of human cruelty and a porn culture of Reality TV on suffering as the ultimate form of entertainment based on gazing upon, to quote Henry A. Giroux’s Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future, “the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless…[who are] no longer subject of compassion but one of ridicule and amusement.”

I hear the ground shake, the land struck, dug, lacerated, the forest sighing in pain, and trees being uprooted, the hooves of animals thundering in their fleeing, the fish dying in the streams and fowl slick in oil, I see the Enbridge pipeline wound the land, I smell the bitumen gushing out in the rivers. 

Anywhere I turn I see despair: in my country of origin, Greece, I observe the neo-colonial subjugation of its people through the financial crisis brought about by the banks and chaining the country to massive debt; I look upon the rampant theft of people by the IMF and the banks; I see children’s faces waiting in line for a bowl of soup; I see immigrants having escaped war and genocide and landing in Greece to experience it once more; I smell the fire that burns to the ground their little shop in a corner street in Athens; I hear the racial slurs thrown at their faces and the faces of their children at school; I hear the cries of the pregnant immigrant woman being beaten up by the fascist thugs of Golden Dawn, the neo-nazi, xenophobic party in Greece that patrols the streets of Athens to cleanse Greece from immigrants under the auspices of government authorities and police. I see the irony of it all for I, myself, am an immigrant.

I see the agony of poverty, war and massive displacement of people, destruction of the environment. I see walls and borders and checkpoints that separate communities and tear people apart, I see Palestine and Gaza choked by occupation and ripped apart by apartheid walls. I see the gated communities of the wealthy and rich keeping the riff raff outside, and at bay.

I taste the bitterness of unapologetic hate: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans populations are a target of incomprehensible hate, evident for example in the recent violent riots in France propagated by far right groups and Christian fundamentalists against the legalization of gay marriage.

To paraphrase Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s words in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt:

There comes a moment…when dead ideas and decayed systems are exposed and discredited by a population that once stood fearful and supine. So, ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THIS BULLSHIT! We must begin to think in terms of REVOLT and HOPE. We may feel powerless in the face of so much oppression and suffering. But we are not. As the Occupy movement, youth revolts across the world, the Arab spring revolutions and student revolts here in Canada, in Montreal and in London, England have shown any act of rebellion keeps alive the ambers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative. It will, as the system devours ­ itself, attract larger and larger numbers. Perhaps, the full time revolution will not happen in our lifetimes. But if we persist, we can keep this possibility alive. If we do not, it will die.

So now I will turn my attention to the possibility of hope. My Manifesto For Hope.

What is hope? Is there hope amidst so much destruction that often paralyzes us with feelings of political fatigue? The kind of hope that I profess is linked to a radical feminist politics and towhat I call a feminism from the gut geared toward social justice on all possible fronts, being tuned to the plight of multiple marginalized communities, and people, locally and globally. Feminism from the gut for me is the dream and the vision of a “New World” (as reclaimed by the graffiti on the wall at UBC), a hopeful message that I refuse to let it be muddled by bullshit.

But you might ask: how can we as feminists “keep alive the ambers of hope” while remaining unscathed by political fatigue and bring about this “New World” that demands urgent political action and change? This is a question that I have often being asked by my students but also by other young activists that thirst and strive for social change. I have a list, a radical feminist list of principles that I always keep in the pocket of my heart where no one can reach to appropriate it. Justice and a New World are possible because hope begins where, indeed, everything seems so bleak and hopeless. Paradoxically, hope begins in despair.

So here is my list of a feminism from the gut where I derive much of my hope. Yes, I know it sounds like a laundry list but please think of it as a useful set of principles for cleaning much dirty political laundry:

To begin with: I draw my inspiration from other rebels, visionaries and other movements of revolt. These words of Gloria Anzaldua, from her book Borderlands/La Frontera, resonate with me: “My Chicana identity is grounded in the Indian woman’s history of resistance.” “There is a rebel in me—the ShadowBeast. It is that part of me that refuses to take orders from outside authorities…It is that part of me that hates constraints of any kind, even those self-imposed. At the least hint of limitations,… it kicks out with both feet. Bolts.” So I harbor within me the spirit of resistance, the obstinate Beast of revolt against those that constrain me and seem to constraint or dominate all vulnerable others.

I draw my inspiration from rebels and those that do not conform, those that history declares them as idealists and the media repeatedly discredits them as crazy. I believe in the small, puny, grassroots movements of revolt that rise like unstoppable tidal waves and agitate the calm of our very privileged existences blind to the misery of others. I believe in these movements that provoke us, haunt us, torment our conscience when our conscience is at its most apathetic moments. Precisely at the moment when we sit at Starbucks sipping our wonderful lattes these movements raise the spectre of abject poverty, marginalization and colonial plundering of aboriginal people and their land. I’m inspired by Nina Weelson, Sheilah McLean, Sylvia MacAdam, and Jessica Gordon, and Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence and the countless, nameless others of the Idle No More Movement, who despite the Harper government and its cronies, the media, to dismantle it by slander that is by bullshit, they have prevailed and spread like fire across the continent and the world.

But most of all my hope comes from young people, their passion to bring about change and their political action to do so. A report in Rabble wrote that, on March 25, 17 year old Cree

from the isolated community Whapmagoostui on Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, decided it would be a good idea to walk 1,600 kilometres to Ottawa in support of the Idle No More movement. Some of his friends joined him. So with temperatures apparently hovering at around -50C, he and six others left home on Jan. 16, trekking on snowshoes and pulling their supplies, stopping at communities along the way to tell people that they wanted changes to how Indigenous people are treated in Canada. Along the way hundreds of supporters indigenous and non-indigenous joined them. They want to change the contempt with which they are treated, they want to end the blockage placed in front of them designed to quash their aspirations and heritage, they want to end the mentality of relegation that sees so many First Nations forced into the lowest status imaginable by the political and cultural mainstream.

David: you have made history! David: you have challenged the Golliath of Harper and its colonial policies that attempt to bring to its knees aboriginal people. For Harper you are what Thomas King calls an “Inconvenient Indian,” the annoying nouissance standing in the way of their rampant pillaging of your land. Your journey in your snow shoes has left the indelible mark on the ground and in the heart of those your words touched along your journey to raise awareness. David: no snow, no media barefaced falsehood can ever erase, wipe out clean the truth that your protest happened precisely because your people have been systematically subjugated and denied a future. I am indebted to your journey of hope and your message of resistance and revolt.

I see hope rising out of garbage and solid waste dumped in a landfill in Paraguay, hope flying with its dazzling wings in the form of beautiful music made by slum children who have recycled trash and made musical instruments: a violin, a cello, a flute. This is the recycled orchestra made up by slum children in Paraguay. Their music, their resilience, their survivor spirit make me cry. I sit transfixed hearing the little girl that talks about how her life would be worthless without music; the sad, rich, deep notes that come out from a boy’s cello made out of a rusty oil can; my heart swells with hopefulness hearing the ecological music teacher who says: the “world sends us garbage, we send back music.” They all fill me with hope renascent from poverty, ecological destruction, and the excrement, the bullshit, indeed, of what is called Western capitalism and the social inequality and the waste it generates. I am inspired by small miracles that turn into movements of powerful solidarity among disparate groups against the Apartheid Walls in the occupied territories in the West Bank. In The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Slavoj Zizek writes that in 2012,

Palestinian women demonstrating against the wall were joined by a group of Jewish lesbian women from Israel. The initial mutual mistrust was dispelled in the first confrontation with the Israeli soldiers guarding the Wall, and a sublime solidarity developed, with a traditionally dressed Palestinian woman embracing a Jewish lesbian with spiky purple hair—a living symbol of what our struggle should be.

But make no mistake. My list of hope and what propels me to political action is not a political platform that is based on sets of happy ever after principles. I leave those to politicians, governments, authorities, and policy makers and their cronies that are experts of happy ever after promises—or, shall I say bullshit?

My list of hope seeks to stir some trouble: it cannot guarantee us happy endings and rather seeks to make us feel profoundly uneasy, uncertain and uncomfortable for if we believe in the paradox that hope arises out of absolute despair and ashes then hope is no bed of roses. I am a firm believer in these principles that guide my feminist politics: its non-innocence, its self doubt, its call for humility and its demand for responsibility with no grounds.

First and foremost I want to embrace the fact that I am a flawed and imperfect human being and that similarly my feminism is riddled with countless flaws and imperfections. In “The End of Innocence,” Jane Flax cautions us against what she calls feminist dreams of innocence that have been deeply rooted in white feminist politics in the West based on the idea that there is some common ground, and political platform to be had that will benefit everyone and in particular all women regardless of their struggles. This feminism has ignored its class and race privilege and has subsumed all struggles into a generic idea of women’s emancipation. There is no magic formula that will emancipate us all regardless of our race, class, ability, sexuality and so on and would help us solve all our social problems. Magic formulas are nothing but another kind of bullshit.

We should constantly undermine our Western context and our social position or privilege particularly when in the name of emancipating other women we become accomplices in their domination. Indeed, this is exactly what we did when we, Western feminists appeared to lend a hand to the US and Canadian invasion in Afganistan, (branded as a feminist war by Canadian propaganda). We patted ourselves on the shoulder, self-congratulating at how great feminists we were while we hid ourselves behind the excuse that we were helping our so-called Afgani sisters in struggle to unshackle themselves from the clutches of their men. I am enraged by how the Canadian government used me and abused my feminism to fight its own imperialist wars. In other words, as bell hooks urges us in “Feminism: A Transformational Politic,” we should kill the oppressor within. We should avoid the white, liberal, feminist dream of so-called innocent “sisterhood”. Let me say it out loud and clear: I am not the sister of any woman but I am a flawed and imperfect ally in the struggles of many women and many marginalized people. My political activism begins by killing the oppressor within.

Let me say this again: kill the oppressor within.

We should abandon the myth of neutrality. Let me also be clear on this: we can never be neutral political activists whose only goal is to help altruistically others for however we identify we can never shed our race and class privilege as if it were a second skin. As Jane Flax puts it:

In all relations of domination, no subject can simply or voluntarily switch sides. We receive certain privileges or suffer certain injuries depending on our social positions, no matter what our subjective intent or purposes may be. Men can no more easily resign from masculinity and its effects than I can from being white and my white privilege.

In other words, we should take responsibility about our actions by becoming honestly and with absolute humility self-critical of our own shortcomings as individuals and as activists. We must remain always uncomfortable within our own feminism and political action questioning our motives, and often our complicity with modes of domination. We must remain attuned to those marginalized regardless whether they are women, men, immigrants, animals, children, the LGBTQ community or any oppressed community, people, creature, culture or subject or the environment that has to put up with us and our follies.

My last principle borrows again from Jane Flax’s work in “The End of Innocence.” She writes: “Political action and change require and call upon many human capacities including empathy, anger, and disgust.” I would like to point out here that traditionally these have been seen as so-called feminine emotions. As such they have been vilified by a patriarchal culture and its political manifestations, “benevolent” male rulers and political authority with their absolute faith on reason and its alleged emancipatory effects. Harper, his bullshit social policies and his international politics perfectly exemplify the dead end of reason. So do the G-20 big economic powers. Reason alone is a defunct faculty and an impasse for effective political action toward democratic emancipation of people. Reason alone breeds monsters. As history has shown the effects of so-called benevolent rational powers on the world we live in can hardly classify as emancipatory as the catastrophic events of colonialism, slavery, war, violence, and genocide of entire populations amply testify. These are not effects of emancipation but deformities of reason.

My aim here is not to abandon reason entirely but to qualify it with other faculties of a visceral kind, what we call emotions from the gut such as love, compassion, frustration, anger, revulsion that can propel us into action, awaken us from apathy or political fatigue and make us refuse to be silent. For me it is this despair that fills me with the emotions of compassion and anger and awakens the “Beast” of resistance from within. The hope of a “New world” is linked to a feminism from the gut that rises in exasperation at the unbearable weight of bullshit that threatens to drown us with its political toxic: oppression of all kinds, social inequality, racism, sexual violence, imperialism and so on and so forth.

I can say with absolute clarity that my political activism is fuelled by love and anger, two seemingly paradoxical emotions. Love describes my unconditional loyalty to the vulnerable other, any marginalized subject. Love is proper of a feminism from the gut. I take here my cues from bell hooks who writes, in “Feminism: A Transformational Politic,” that feminism is linked primarily to love which “can be understood as a powerful force that challenges and resists domination. As we work to be loving, [that is] to create a culture that celebrates life, that makes love possible, we move against dehumanization, against domination.” Love creates a society of compassion in which we find impossible to bear the pain of others, we find impossible to see fellow human beings being abused, subjugated, dehumanized, and suffering. For hooks revolution begins in love. She writes citing Paulo Freire:

I am more and more convinced that true revolutionaries must perceive the revolution, because of its creative and liberating nature as an act of love… When women and men [human beings] understand that working to eradicate patriarchal [and any other kind of] domination is a struggle rooted in the longing to make a world where everyone can live fully and freely, then we know our work to be a gesture of love. Let us draw upon that love to heighten our awareness, deepen our compassion, intensify our courage, and strengthen our commitment. 

A feminism from the gut also requires anger; anger at the injustice that surrounds us and which propels us not to take it for granted or abide by it. This anger tells us that there is no moment to lose and that there is an urgency to bring about social change. In her own funny way Caitlin Moran calls this “angry feminism” “strident feminism. ” In her book How to Be a Woman, she says:

[W]e need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word feminism back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist…I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay?… Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY? These days, however, I am much calmer since I realized that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor—biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game—before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field… Personally, I don’t think the word ‘feminist’ on its own is enough. I want to go all the way. I want to bring it back in conjunction with the word ‘strident’. It looks hotter like that…I want to reclaim the phrase ‘strident feminist’… ‘Go my strident feminist! You work that male/female dialectic dichotomy,’…

I will end this talk by a poem, (paraphrased from a poem published in Adbusters), to those that love, and are angry, have compassion and are frustrated, to those who do not abide with bullshit, to those who believe in hope, in change, to those who resist, survive, rebel, to those that we call crazies but are, indeed, visionaries for they dare dream and act upon their vision of justice and of a “New World”. If you listen carefully, you might find yourselves in these words:

To the crazy ones

Here’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The strident feminists.

The ones who see differently.

They are not fond of rules.

And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, feel contempt for them, glorify or vilify them.

About the one thing you cannot do is ignore them.

Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal. They rebel. The defy. They resist. They fight. They transgress. They survive. They create. They inspire. They rise up. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?

Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?

Or imagine a better world that includes them and their children?

Or see justice and change where before there was despair and heartbreak?

Or see future where before there was none?

Or see a heap of garbage and create music?

Or be the most despised and create a movement that rises them as people?

We make fools of these kind of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, I see them as visionaries.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.


Rebel: A New World is Possible.



No Comments | Comment on This Post

Men’s Rights Activists and Misdirected Hatred

by Carly Rhianna Smith

Carly Rhianna Smith is a journalism student at Langara College currently completing her practicum at The Tyee in Vancouver. 

I became aware of the men’s rights movement in September of 2012, when a friend showed me an upcoming debate called “Has Feminism Gone Too Far?”

Vancouver slam poet Ruth Mason-Paull organized the debate. Feminist speakers as well as men’s rights activist (MRA) speakers were scheduled, and a public event on Facebook was created. Interestingly, the debate was to be held on Commercial Drive at Café Deux Soleil, a neighbourhood eatery haunted by many feminists, as well as others of the political left.

The Facebook event exploded with venomous discourse between the two camps, and the event was cancelled. According to an article on feminist website Jezebel.com dated September 10, “Mason-Paull canceled the debate … after receiving what she said was an overwhelming barrage of comments and threats.” On Mason-Paull’s Facebook page, she said “I come from a middle class belief that people can discuss things and work it out through logic and reasoning. I understand that this is at best delusional when applied to certain members of our society.”

Around the same time, in the same neighbourhood, posters from the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) Vancouver group began appearing, and were soon torn down. The posters said things like “Rape Culture. Men Can Stop Rape. All Men Are Rapists. Had Enough of This Shit Yet?”


Journalist Derek Bedry, who soon came under fire from MRAs, reported on this in a story on Open File. They accused him of “creating the news” by tearing down the posters himself. They posted pictures of a man (who didn’t look much like him) and publicly vilified him in comments on the article. Comments were patronizing, saying things like “So how did you become a reporter again Derek? Do you receive a pat on the back from some ladies at work for this? Or do they throw some more bones at you?” All this was too juicy and I did some further research into the MRM.

The most active website I came across was AVoiceForMen.com. They have over 1,200 featured articles separated into categories like “misandry,” “sexual politics,” and “feminism.” They also put out radio shows on a multitude of topics pertaining to the MRM.

But what, exactly, do they stand for? And what do they hope to accomplish?


At best, the MRAs look to correct what they see as a series of social injustices directed towards men in a society that caters to female dominance. At worst, they are misguided, angry people with a chip on their shoulder using feminism as a scapegoat for the problems they face in their lives.

“You have a group in a privileged position in society and they’re claiming to be the victim; it’s either a strategic maneuver or else it’s just a misguided perspective,” says Nicole Deagan, a member of The F Word feminist media collective. Deagan encountered a lot of resistance from MRAs when she worked as a legal advocate for women who were going through the court system in the 1990s. “Either it’s people who have power and are uncomfortable with the idea of losing their power or they’re uncomfortable with somebody who’s typically not had power trying to get some. Or else it’s individuals, especially in the men’s rights movement, who are suffering injustices as individuals and they interpret it as a systemic issue,” she says.

The Vancouver Men’s Rights Activism website states in its FAQ: “The MRM is a true civil rights movement, which entertains no goals of removal of the legal rights of others. Both men and women are members of the men’s movement, which recognizes and works to address the real struggles men now face.” To them, this is in contrast to feminism, which “is now elitist, and prejudiced against men” because “many mainstream feminist organizations define masculinity in their public literature as hostile, violent and oppressive.”

The main antagonist of the MRM is feminism. “I’m of the firm belief that, while no society is perfect, we have pursued, and I think achieved, as much sexual parity as could possibly be hoped for in western culture,” says Paul Elam, creator of A Voice For Men. “If there is systemic discrimination against women, I would certainly stand up and speak against it if anyone could show me where it was. However, what I see in terms of systemic discrimination anymore works against men.”


MRAs are fighting against misandry, the fear or hatred of men and boys. A lot of MRM literature uses examples of men being irrationally feared as sexual aggressors, female-on-male violence not being taken seriously, and the court system’s favoritism of women to illustrate their point. The problem with their approach is that they frequently cite anecdotal evidence to back up their claims, yet provide either no or blatantly false empirical evidence or statistics to back them up.

Many MRAs, such as Vancouver resident Chris Marshall, seem to have become involved in the movement due to a personal hardship. Marshall runs the website A Father’s Story, which documents his custody battle with his wife, who lives in Alberta with their 11-year-old son. The website, to say the least, does not seem to be working in his favour. He has continued posting despite being ordered by a judge to take the site down, saying in a post, “It is still up because it is the only tool I have to get people to understand the 10-year nightmare that I have been through in the Alberta courts.” He posted his entire psychological assessment, in which Dr. J. Thomas Dalby states: “Mr. Marshall has shown, by his past actions, a sense of entitlement that he feels he has the natural right to construct access to his child in the way he sees fit in spite of legal restrictions. He has seen the consequences of this casual disregard of legal boundaries and his conduct can only be described as self-defeating.”

In an interesting turn of events, Marshall was to co-host a new debate after the first one at Café Deux Soleil was cancelled. John H., MRA blogger at A Voice For Men named only as “John The Other,” would also host. I intended to attend the debate and interview some of the MRAs in person. It was going to be held at the car dealership in East Vancouver, CC Motors, of which Marshall was the manager. I showed up not realizing this, and walked around in confusion, looking for the master debaters. I could see signage out in front of the dealership being taken down but not much other activity. I asked someone and they told me, “The guy who was supposed to run it never showed up.”

I found on the Facebook event page that police had escorted Marshall off the premises and that his position at the dealership had been terminated due to an entirely separate issue. I got his contact information from his website, and he seemed eager, if not overly so, to share his story with me. He expressed worry in our conversation that I was going to “use him” to get to other MRAs and defame their movement. After some reassurance, we arranged an interview time.

I showed up at the coffee shop we’d arranged to meet at 10 minutes early. I waited for him for over 45 minutes and placed several calls to him that remained unanswered and unreturned. He later replied to one of the emails I sent him, but never got back to me about re-scheduling an interview. This was perturbing; isn’t their goal to have their voices and points of view heard by the public? The opportunity was there and gone.

I soon found that MRAs are an elusive bunch outside of the realms of the internet. I managed to get ahold of Paul Elam after several emails over the course of two weeks or so. He admitted to me that the only reason he ever called me back was because I was “so persistent.” I also attempted to contact John The Other through the website, through Paul Elam, and through Facebook, to no answer.

This seems to be an MRA tactic – they control what information they’re putting out and the slant with which it’s communicated. If they don’t cooperate with media, then there is less of a chance of media scrutiny. In many articles, media has been unkind to MRAs, but this has been as much their own undoing as anything else.

Firstly, to get to the heart of the matter, a majority of claims made by MRAs are false. In a video made by Men’s Rights Edmonton, they say, “Women and men initiate domestic violence at similar rates. Over 250 scholarly studies demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.” This assertion is widely purported in the MRA community. Notice that the “scholarly studies” are not named, nor are they cited anywhere. Another poster put up on Commercial Drive in September said, “Stop Violence Against Women. But not against men. Because men do not matter, and despite being more often the victims of violence, male victims are no good for fund raising, so screw them.” However, according to Statistics Canada, “In 2010, 7 in 10 (70%) victims of police-reported family violence were girls or women. Looking at rates, the risk of becoming a victim of police-reported family violence was more than twice as high for girls and women as it was for boys and men … The main factor behind females’ increased risk of family violence is related to their higher representation as victims of spousal violence. Women aged 15 years and older accounted for 81% of all spousal violence victims.” In addition, the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project says in its Clemency Manual, “Currently, there are approximately 2,000 battered women in America who are serving prison time for defending their lives against their batterers. As many as 90% of the women in prison today for killing men had been battered by those men.”

MRAs make claims that sound true or based in fact, when in actuality, they’re based on assumption, anecdotal evidence, or a complete misunderstanding of the issue. “Domestic violence against women is much more likely than domestic violence against men to be life-threatening,” says Jarrah Hodge, who runs the blog Gender Focus. “If MRAs want to address violence against men they should also look at male violence against men and address the stereotypes and pressures that unfortunately tells many men that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict and necessary to prove masculinity.”

Most perturbing are their claims regarding sexual violence. In the “Facts” section on A Voice For Men, they claim “Men are the overwhelming majority of rape victims.” However, none of the following statistics they present prove that. All the statistics have to do with the percentage of female aggressors in cases of child abuse, correctional facilities, or the inmates who report prison rape. These are all misleading. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, nine out of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003, while SexAssault.ca statistics show the over 80 per cent of sex crime victims in Canada are women.

Even more dangerous are their attitudes toward rape and rape culture. John The Other was quoted in Bedry’s Open File article as saying, “Maybe it’s a mistaken accusation, she doesn’t remember who she had sex with because she was drunk at the party or whatever. Some make accusations that have nothing to do with being raped; they’re angry, or they got stood up, they wanted to have sex with a guy but he said no. The fact that our society doesn’t have a balance for this is a major problem. I’m not suggesting every woman you meet is a loose cannon, but every woman you meet has the potential to be one, because for those few who are nutty, there’s no disincentive for them to go, oh, I was late for work. I know, I’ll just say I got raped.” This is speculative and revealing that, while MRAs say they are not anti-women, their attitudes are misogynistic at the core. The belief that women can and will falsely accuse men of rape in order to further their own ends is another symptom of the rape culture that MRAs claim does not exist.

“[They] definitely seem to see feminists as enemies. And so these men are in a position of power but are rallying people against their supposed ‘oppressors’. But since those aren’t real oppressors with real social power then it just ends up feeding into the same discrimination that women experience already,” says Deagan.

The clash between feminists and MRAs is tempestuous. “In my experience, their approach is quite reactionary as opposed to pro-active; I find they are more interested in smear campaigns against feminism rather than making a case for issues they think are important to men,” says Megan Karius, who maintains the Feminist Edmonton website. “They generally blame feminism for what they consider men’s issues and that ultimately detracts from their arguments.”

There seems to be a group of them that are quite vocal and quite aggressive so when they see something, specifically when they see women’s activists or anyone who’s trying to look at women’s issues, they kind of come in for the attack and so it’s very hard to have a reasonable conversation,” says Deagan.

I recognize that patriarchy is not only oppressive to women, but functions to oppress men as well. The term “patriarchy” is not some sort of imputation against all men, identifying them as oppressors of all women. Patriarchy is an institution; it functions at the cultural level and, while it does avail men with privilege, this does not mean that males are not also detrimentally impacted by patriarchy,” writes Jasmine Peterson in an article on the blog Gender Focus. This spurred a mocking, hateful response video from MRAs. The background of the video is a photo of someone in a gorilla mask with superimposed text that reads “Feminist sans makeup.” The men read her entire post in a mocking tone and present their own unsubstantiated facts, then go on to invite people to attack her.

The ones who have engaged me have generally taken one of two approaches: outright hostility and total dismissal of feminists as “cunts” or “feminazis” who are bent on bringing down men, or arguing more civilly that they don’t believe feminism is necessary because, in their view, society actually discriminates against men,” said Hodge.

They are just the latest trend in the ongoing backlash to the gains of the feminist movement we’ve seen in the past few decades.  While individual men may face structural inequality due to other aspects of their identity, such as race, class, sexual orientation, or ability, they still derive privilege from being male; I think the majority of MRAs are reacting to seeing some of their previously unquestioned privilege eroded and they are threatened by that,” says Karius.

One begins to wonder whether MRAs hate feminists, or are just rattled by women asserting themselves and challenging traditional modes of behaviour. Elam believes that the over-sexualization of women in the media is simply “recognizing women’s sexual power in this culture. Their sexual power gives them access to men economically.” He says that “sexuality generates a lot of financial generosity in men,” and some women are not only aware of this, but use it to their advantage. “We’ve been skewed by feminist ideology – we don’t see the power women have in our society,” he says. For how often MRAs accuse feminists of misandry, it’s incredibly ironic when they rely on arguments such as this one.  That statement is more insulting to men than anything feminists could come up with,” says Karius.

All this is not to say MRAs don’t have any valid claims. “We can and should absolutely talk about how our rigidly gendered society hurts men, but we can’t stop talking about the ways that women have been unequal and the ways in which women still suffer because of their gender,” says Hodge.

The issues MRAs have qualms with are basically class or social issues and have little to do with gender.

As feminism continues to be misrepresented and seen as some sort of hate movement, the goals feminists pursue become all the more relevant.

I think attacks by Men’s Rights Activists can be distracting from the issues and campaigns we’re involved in around women’s equality. It’s frustrating but I think most people who look at the issues can see MRAs tend to be pretty out-of touch,” says Hodge.

That being said, when I was waiting for Marshall’s interview, a man noticed I had been waiting for someone with a notebook and recorder and asked me about it. 

“I’m going to interview someone for an article,” I said.

“Who? And what is it about?” he asked

“I’m writing an article about the men’s rights movement,” I replied.

“Men’s rights! Ha! That’s a laugh! There’s no such thing these days!” he said as he walked off, guffawing.

Their attitudes may be outdated and misinformed, but many men agree with them. Examining gender inequality equipped with the wrong information can lead to some very troubling conclusions. MRAs create such noise in their political lobbying that they are bound to influence change. For example, a group called RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) claims they have blocked four federal domestic violence bills in the United States. These are not the first legal implications MRAs have had, nor will they be the last if MRAs are taken seriously and feminism continues to be painted in a negative light. 

6 Comments | Comment on This Post

Shout Back! Fest

The anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY music festival Shout Back! Fest is happening this weekend in Vancouver!  The organizers took some time to tell The F Word about the festival and the radical space it’s making in the community.


The F Word: Why did you decide to run the festival?  What’s up with the “current independent music culture” (as your Facebook page puts it)?


Shout Back: Why… well for me the question is why NOT. There is a growing community of female/queer/trans bands in this city and its incredibly inspiring. It feels like a really good time to start talking about gender politics and to celebrate the diversity of Vancouver’s DIY music scene. It’s also important to recognize that individuals can feel excluded even within “independent” music culture and that patriarchy hurts everyone. We believe that music/noise making is a powerful tool for liberating people from negative gender stereotypes and patriarchal structures, so what better way to prove this than by throwing a little festival!


The F Word: How did you get the festival going?  Is it collective-run?


Shout Back: The idea came up a couple of months ago. Basically a couple of us (organizers) were hanging out at a show talking about how many awesome all-female bands there are in the city right now. There are new bands starting up everyday and we thought it would be cool to throw an event that highlights all of this energy. From then we started meeting as a collective… Two of the core organizers live in a rad artist/punk/feminist house in East Van, so that’s been our unofficial hub!

The F Word: What are some radical aspects of Shout Back! that people can look forward to?


Shout Back: Well, I’d say the music is totally far out radical! A fine mix of folk, punk and everything in-between. The venues are radical too! It’s pretty cool that all spaces are artist/musician collective houses, and streets/parks. In addition to being able to invite all ages, the venues are much more affordable and community-minded than most bars or clubs. Last, but not least, there are going to be workshops on Sunday. Topics include: safer spaces in punk communities, capitalism and patriarchy, zine-making and anarchy is queer. Sounds pretty radical, right?


The F Word: Your wo/man/ifesto is a powerful statement! (We’ll let it speak for itself…)


Shout Back: An anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY music festival for anyone who wants it or thinks they might want it. A celebration in smashing patriarchy, showcasing artists who are underrepresented. This festival is for everyone who is disaffected or disgusted by the current independent music culture, dominated by straight, white males.


We refuse to adapt and accommodate this inherently oppressive, hierarchical structure. Let’s break the binary and build a new space, one that is safe, and inclusive, based on solidarity. Music for everyone.


We aim to affirm and encourage all artists doing it ourselves and empower us to keep moving forward, doing it together. Creating an environment where we break systemic barriers, help foster conversations and build relationships. Offering resources, workshops, and skill sharing. Solidarity in the struggle. Gender Liberation.


What we have is RADICAL and its time to party HarD.I.Y, shred, sing along, dance our hearts out, be heard, have fun and bring this to all things we do, every action.


Because we agree that patriarchy hurts everyone!
Because we agree that music + noise making are a force for GENDER LIBERATION!

The F Word: Is there anybody you’d like to thank for inspiring the patriarchy-smashing, anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY work you’re doing?


Shout Back: The name shout back! fest was inspired by Bell Hook’s book “Talking Back”. In the book she talks a lot about how writing is an act of challenging oppression by developing your own voice.  Like the act of writing, I believe that music and noise-making is a very strong method for spreading love, smashing patriarchy and liberating us from gender norms!


On a daily basis I’m inspired by all of the rad cats doing rad work in punk houses like the mansion and thor’s palace… without these folks, this festival would not be possible! And I honestly can’t speak highly enough of Girls Rock Camp Vancouver… they are one of the most important and exciting non-profits in Vancouver and have personally inspired me time and time agian!

No Comments | Comment on This Post

Blog Categories


The purpose of the blog is to create dialogue and debate around current issues related to women, feminism, and social justice.
We enjoy active participation in the blog, however, we reserve the discretion to remove any comments that are threatening or promote hate speech.

Search This Blog:

Site by Anne Emberline