- Men’s Groups:Challenging Feminism
From 26–27 May 2014, feminist and pro-feminist scholars in multiple disciplines from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, the United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden, and Taiwan gathered at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to participate in a workshop entitled “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism.” The workshop was organized by Susan B Boyd, then Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at the Allard School of Law, and was generously sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute, the Allard School of Law, the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, and the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law (CJWL).
The objective of the workshop was to address a modern source of resistance to feminism: organizations acting in the name of men’s and fathers’ rights and interests. These groups argue that men are discriminated against in relation to law (especially family law and laws on violence against women), education, and government funding. Another objective was to provide an opportunity for self-examination, update, and creativity to support the advancement of feminist theories and strategies. Two key issues explored were: (1) how men’s group actions in different countries and at the international level engage with, and discursively construct, feminism and (2) lessons for the feminist movement—nationally and globally; historically and currently—from the arguably growing legitimacy of men’s groups. Not all of these groups are conservative or overtly anti-feminist,1 but many are, some vitriolicly so,2 seeking a return to some perceived pre-feminist world of traditional gender roles and family values. These groups use various sites of struggle, including law reform debates, cyberspace, and the media, to present their views.3 They also appear at public venues such as courts and government buildings and often use [End Page 5] banners and/or self-present as superhero characters.4 Complicating the picture, men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups often include women, who are sometimes spokespersons for a group.5
Our workshop and the articles emanating from it reveal that, although there are many similarities internationally in the strategies of men’s activists and the experiences of feminists, the form of resistance to feminist activism varies significantly from country to country and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As for similarities, fathers’ rights lobbying for shared parenting and their criticism of feminists who suggest limits on such a norm (for example, in cases of woman abuse) is common to many jurisdictions, including Canada. That said, some countries such as Taiwan have not yet produced this sort of men’s rights advocacy, as Chao-ju Chen shows in this issue. Moreover, the approaches within the men’s rights movement can shift. Some men’s rights activists have begun to focus on a health discourse rather than a rights discourse, as Michael Salter discusses in the Australian context. In Canada, it may be that their focus has shifted somewhat away from family law to target feminists who work on sexual assault and intimate violence against women,6 which is not to say that other fields have been left behind or will remain untargeted. In Israel, men’s rights groups have used international and transnational laws, in addition to national venues, to pursue their agendas.
The two-day workshop at UBC generated lively and engaged discussion and pointed to new avenues of research and strategy. A decision was taken to publish as many of the revised articles as possible in two special peer-reviewed issues, one edited by Molly Dragiewicz and Ruth Mann and published as (2016) 5:2 International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy (www.crimejusticejournal.com) and the present issue published by the CJWL. Several Canadian articles by authors such as Francis Dupuis-Déri, Lise Gotell, Ruth Mann, and Elizabeth Sheehy are published in the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, and we strongly recommend that readers of this CJWL special issue also consult the International Journal for a more fulsome picture of the research generated by our workshop.
Our CJWL special issue features an international array...