The University of Toronto has seen its fair share of gender-based controversy in recent years. On several occasions guest speakers who have attempted to voice opinions different to the so-called “progressive” dogma at UofT have been shouted down, bullied or intimidated. But as the bullying increased, so too did media scrutiny; the public looked on aghast as supposedly liberal institutions stood by while ideologically-driven student unions and special interest groups thumbed their noses at ideas like free speech and free association.
Happily, when National Post journalist Robyn Urback arrived at UofT Thursday to deliver her talk “How the Press (Mis)Covers Gender”, there were no jostling mobs or gender studies students braying about “patriarchy.” Urback, speaking as one of the Canadian Association for Equality's (CAFE) 2015 lecture series speakers, was able to make her points to a polite, receptive audience. It was a short, focused discussion; Urback spoke for less than thirty minutes, restricting her scope to analyzing double standards in the representation of gender in the Canadian media.
Urback began by describing her introduction to the topic when in 2012 she covered the establishment of a new men's centre at Simon Fraser University (SFU) for The National Post. The centre was to serve a number of purposes such as offering mental health referral services to male students and to act as a place where men could discuss issues that affect them specifically as men. The idea was initially approved by the SFU student union.
However, not everybody appreciated the idea. The center soon came under sustained, and often times vicious attack. “One of the objections was that men didn't need such a space because the campus itself was already a 'safe space for men.' Someone wrote that if men were given such a space it would just be filled by a bunch of douchebags playing PS3”, said Urback, still, almost three years after her initial article, visibly frustrated with such an idea.
“You know, whenever these stories are covered in the media they're always called ‘controversial’; I hate those headlines, they're so lazy. Why is it controversial? Imagine if women were trying to set up a space like this and someone said 'we shouldn't allow this because all they'll do is sit around knitting and talk about their periods. How would the media report on it? They would say that a bunch of bigots and misogynists have complained about a much-needed space for women. They wouldn't say it was 'controversial.'”
For Urback, the level at which many engage with such ideas is purely reactive, and too often focuses on easy ad hominem observations, rather than the argument itself. Urback points to writers such as National Post colleague Christine Blatchford as examples of those who often have their arguments discounted before they're properly investigated or understood. Speaking to The Megaphone immediately following her lecture, Urback admitted that she too has experienced this on more than one occasion.
“What I find frustrating is that in the past year or two I've developed a reputation of being someone who writes about these issues and therefore people will dismiss what I'm writing about; (for example) how we're treating the dentistry students at Dalhousie and how their lives perhaps, have been forever ruined; or if I'm writing about how the University of Ottawa hockey players have all been painted by the same brush. The blowback is fine, I don't mind that - the frustration of people not listening is what gets to me.”
But while Urback is sometimes frustrated by the lack of balance shown to the issues, she maintains hope that the future will bring change, and sees groups like CAFE as central to broadening the discussion. “I think part of it will mean going to CAFE's centre on Carlton, bringing journalists in there and showing them what they do, and hearing the stories of men who, for example, struggle to gain custody of their children. Sometimes people tend to just zone out when you talk about larger issues... but I think things will change. Look at comment sections, they seem to be indicative of that.”
It is impossible to know if Urback is right, but her passion and optimism is refreshing and, in fairness, well placed. Groups like CAFE have not only grown in stature but have also seen much of their opposition, based as it was in mean-spirited ideology, disappear. Perhaps, finally, the time has come where these issues can be addressed without fear.
(Photo credit: Patrick Bissett)
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