The end of the gender wars

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The Article

Something odd occurred in the two days following the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre earlier this month. Commentaries by both Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail and Jonathan Kay of the Post were sharply critical of the emotive and irrational linkage of the Massacre with the phenomenon of domestic violence against women. Neither pundit is known to be anti-feminist in general, but both columns recommended we desacralize the Polytechnique killings, accept them for the freak tragedy they were and stop guilt-tripping all men for Marc Lepine’s unique paranoiac fixations.

Ranting about the unwholesome social ends to which the Massacre has been put used to be my lonely job every Dec. 6. Finding myself in such good company was a happy surprise and, I think, an iconoclastic cultural moment: Let us recognize that female victimhood is not intrinsically more tragic than male victimhood, these columns seemed to say.

Commonsensical Canadians are losing patience with the angry, blame-all-males school of feminism. It’s no accident that the feminist Toronto Women’s Bookstore, for years a bustling cynosure of the cultural zeitgeist, is in danger of closing down. Or that once overflowing women’s studies classes are emptying out, or morphing into “gender studies” to attract more students (a trap, really: Gender studies are also gynocentric, offering a more subtle version of heterosexual male-bashing than women’s studies).

Rob Kenedy, an assistant professor in the sociology department of York University with a specialty in the men’s rights movement, was unique amongst sociologues in teaching a course in the 1990s about men and their particular tribulations and needs. In a telephone interview he recalled his surprise when more young women signed up than men: “Women are far more interested in learning about men and masculinity than men are.”

Because the numbers in universities are so skewed to the distaff—in a current obligatory sociology course, his own tutorial is comprised of 25 women and two men—Kenedy predicts sociology departments will have to open up (positive)masculinity courses to satisfy the burgeoning curiosity of women about what makes men tick.

Kenedy is convinced, as I am, that we are exiting the gender wars. Feminism is increasingly “out of fashion” and recent years have seen “a crumbling of the [feminist] foundation.” Culturally sanctioned misandry is beginning to cause discomfort. Women today, he says, want equality without stridency, a return to feminism’s first principles.

Positive acknowledgment of masculinity began with the public honour paid to courageous fallen firefighters of 9/11. For Canadians it is more linked to public mourning around the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan. From the outset of her tenure in 1999, governor general Adrienne Clarkson embraced her patronage of the military—integrated, but still the last cultural bastion of indisputably masculine virtues—with inspirational acts of solidarity with our troops, and Michaelle Jean has continued the tradition with enthusiasm.

In the past decade, we have started noticing that boys exist as something other than future violent men in need of preemptive anger management (the main thrust of the White Ribbon Campaign in schools). We have been made aware—uncomfortably, graphically—that boys also suffer sexual and physical abuse from both men and women. Continuing revelations of boys’ victimization in church-run residential schools and highly publicized pedophilia amongst some priests, sports coaches and parents cannot be ignored.

The recent publication of commissioner G. Normand Glaude’s statement on the long-running Cornwall Public Inquiry into pedophile rings contains a litany of shameful deficits in our legal and social institutions that have facilitated ongoing abuse of boys because they are not equipped—and for ideological reasons have lacked interest in equipping themselves—to deal with boys’ and men’s psychological responses to abuse. That will change.

My predictions—call them hopes if you prefer—for the next decade:

-We will see the return of the traditional family unit as a phenomenon worthy of concern and respect. The needs of children will come first;

-Equal parenting will become the default custody arrangement as the optimal situation for children; the resultant decline in adversarial legal battles will diminish false allegations of abuse by women and punitive support-withholding by men, both of which punish children more than parents;

-The specific needs of boys and men will be accorded the same pedagogical, social and legal rights and respect as girls: We will see funding for shelters for abused men and children, or ungendered family shelters for whoever needs it;

-Domestic violence will be acknowledged as a serious but bilateral problem that is unacceptable, whether perpetrated by men or women. But we will also acknowledge that systemic misogyny of the kind made manifest in honour crimes against women is a culturally-derived phenomenon that is alien to Canadian values, and that it is wrong to assign collective guilt for such crimes to Canadian men.

If the pendulum in the gender wars really is swinging back to the middle, it should become received wisdom that men and women are genetically hard-wired for different strengths, weaknesses and psychological needs.

So, having agreed that intact families are by far the greatest predictors of success for children than anything else, we will jettison the power struggle paradigm feminism has been pushing for decades. We will move toward a collaborative model in which men and women are equal in value but, guided by nature and common sense, separate in their parental roles and influence. The result will be a happier, more productive generation of Canadian children.

As a good-faith start to this paradigm shift—and this really will restore some dignity to gender relations—let’s retire the Montreal Massacre from public life and return mourning rituals for the Polytechnique victims to the families of the victims. As a logical extension, the systemically sexist White Ribbon Campaign should be mothballed and replaced by a gender-neutral educational program against all forms of violence, informed by evidence-based, non-ideological studies.

Am I dreaming in technicolour? Let me know in 2020. Happy New Year to all my readers.

Barbara Kay
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