Key Themes & Insights: “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism”

A Report on the recent conference at the University of British Columbia, May 26 -27 2014

On May 26–27, 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 UBC’s Peter Wall Institute, to participate in a workshop titled “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism”. The workshop was organized by Susan Boyd, Professor of Law and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at the UBC Faculty of Law, and was generously sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the Faculty of Law at Allard Hall, the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, and the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law.

MRA conference group

The conference delegates enjoying the sunshine and view

The objective of the workshop was to explore a key source of resistance to feminism: organizations acting in the name of men’s and fathers’ rights and interests, which argue that men are discriminated against in relation to law (especially family law), education, and government funding. Another objective was to provide an opportunity for self-examination, update, and creativity in order to support the advancement of feminist theories and strategies. Key questions explored included: (a) how men’s group actions in different countries discursively construct feminism, (b) lessons for the feminist movement, nationally and globally, historically and currently, from the growing legitimacy of men’s groups, and (c) how to avoid an oppositional approach to gender in men’s rights and feminist discourses.

The workshop was divided into six panels over two days, along with a keynote speech and a concluding discussion. At the first panel, “Men’s Reaction to the Rise of Feminism”, Francis Dupuis-Déri discussed the historical and contemporary discourse of “crises of masculinity”, and its connection to feminism as a political threat to men’s power. Michael Messner discussed the role of both pro-feminist and anti-feminist men’s groups in moments of historical gender formation, suggesting concern over how the participation of male feminist allies may mix with the reduced radical potential of feminism flowing from its institutionalization and professionalization. Finally, Michael Salter commented on how the traditional concerns of men’s rights activists have been rearticulated using the language of men’s health needs, and how this has moved anti-feminist discourse from the fringes to the political centre. At the second panel, “Global Perspectives”, Marsha Freeman and Ruth Halperin-Kaddari discussed the feminist potential of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), looking at the use of international law processes by both women’s and men’s groups. Marilou McPhedran and Susan Bazilli then examined how alliances between women’s and men’s groups may actually undercut gender equality. At the third panel, “Men’s Groups in Context”, Chao-ju Chen considered why there was no formal men’s rights movement in Taiwan. Katarzyna Wojnicka then looked at several different men’s organizations that reflect the mainstreaming of gender inequality and anti-feminism in Poland. In the keynote public lecture at the close of the first day, “Martyrs of Marriage?: Men’s Rights Activists, Law, and Feminism”, Srimati Basu spoke about her Fulbright research on the men’s rights social movement in India.

On the second day, at the panel “Men’s Groups and Violence Against Women”, Lise Gotell started by discussing the ways in which men’s groups have challenged and attacked anti-rape activism. Monica Burman then examined anti-feminist discourse in Sweden, suggesting ways of understanding Swedish conceptions of men, gender equality, and feminism. Finally, Elizabeth Sheehy discussed defending battered women in public spaces, both looking at the challenges of doing so and making suggestions on how to better use the mainstream media to support feminist goals. At the following panel, “Family and Children”, Molly Dragiewicz considered the prevalence of family studies literature conflating post-separation joint or shared custody with the best interests of the child, the absence of family studies literature that takes domestic violence into account, and the need for greater integration of cross-discipline research. Next, Ana Jordan presented a typology to help situate anti-feminist and post-feminist movements, and suggested that in addition to openly hostile anti-feminist activism, ambivalent post-feminist discourse should also be a cause for concern. Finally, Vivienne Elizabeth outlined how separated fathers have been presented in the New Zealand media. At the final panel, “Silencing Strategies”, Ruth Mann discussed how the dismantling of Status of Women Canada and the Family Violence Initiative demonstrates the synergy between anti-feminist backlash and the “new right” neoliberal agenda. Next, Maria Edstrom spoke about Nordic experiences of sexualized hate speech post-Behring Breivik. Finally, Daphna Hacker looked at how divorced Israeli men have used international and transnational legal processes as a part of their anti-feminist strategy.

Several key themes and insights emerged from the presentations and open-floor discussions. The first is that the form of organized resistance to feminism has shifted, at least in North America. Earlier resistance took the form of fathers’ rights groups, which suggested that family law had pandered to women’s interests and was biased against men. More recently, feminist work on violence against women and sexual assault/rape has been challenged by men’s groups. In some cases, this has taken the form of vitriolic attacks on feminist scholars via the media and online. Other anti-feminist resisters have framed themselves as the “true” defenders of equality, using a focus on men’s rights to balance out the supposedly unfair amount of resources and attention dedicated to women’s rights.

A second key insight is 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, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As for similarities, fathers’ rights lobbying for shared parenting and their criticism of feminists who suggest limits on such a norm (e.g. in cases of domestic abuse) is common to many jurisdictions. Perhaps most notably in terms of differences, Taiwan has not witnessed an organized men’s movement to date, whereas anti-feminism is part of the mainstream political and cultural discourse in Poland.

A third important insight is that conservative men’s rights activists have recently invoked the language of men’s “health” and men’s “needs” to promote their platform, to some extent leaving the language of men’s “rights” behind.

A fourth insight is that funding cuts to non-profit organizations around the world affect the nature of, and relationships between, feminist and pro-feminist organizations. For instance, it is more likely now that a women’s-rights-oriented non-profit group is led by a good fundraiser rather than a feminist political organizer. Moreover, in a context where various organizations are competing for scarce funding, men’s groups that identify as pro-feminist and that engage in anti-violence work may actually inhibit front-line service-oriented women’s organizations if they are awarded the limited available funds instead of women’s groups.

Innovative approaches to dealing with the media when discussing issues such as violence against women were brainstormed, as well as ways in which feminist academics can translate their scholarly work into more accessible formats for the general public. There was also discussion regarding what kinds of new research feminist family lawyers would find useful to their work. For example, feminist lawyers working in the area of child custody stressed the importance of concrete data references regarding the prevalence of domestic abuse and its impact on custody. Finally, the conference emphasized collaborative, interdisciplinary work, a method of scholarship that has been underdeveloped in the field of law.

The presentations elicited vibrant, interdisciplinary conversation about the nature and impact of men’s rights activism, particularly in relation to its impact on feminism. At least two special issues of refereed journals will emerge from the research presented. The workshop opened the door to collaborative work across disciplines, and an international research group studying Anti-Feminist Movements has been established to facilitate the sharing of research and future collaboration.

Article: “Family Law Reform in (Neoliberal) Context”

Chair in Feminist Legal Studies Susan Boyd has recently co-authored an article for the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family entitled “Family Law Reform in (Neoliberal) Context: British Columbia’s New Family Law Act”.

Abstract: This article introduces and critically examines the new British Columbia (Canada) Family Law Act (FLA), which lays out new norms and procedures for the resolution of family disputes and emphasizes out-of-court dispute resolution. These changes are also intended both to reflect and to construct the ‘new’ face of contemporary motherhood and fatherhood post-separation. After identifying the neoliberal context within which the changes will play out, we explain the law reform process and summarize the reforms pertaining to post-separation parenting. Key changes include: replacing the terms ‘custody’ and ‘access’ with an expanded definition of guardianship; a list of specific factors that must be considered in determining a child’s ‘best interests’; a detailed definition of domestic violence; explicit rules to guide relocation; and authority for courts to make conduct and non-compliance orders. The FLA distances itself from presumptions regarding the preferred form of parenting arrangements post-separation, but the post-separation default position is that each parent is the child’s guardian with all parental responsibilities. The last part of the article places the changes in their contemporary social and political context and critically evaluates their strengths and weaknesses. Our conclusion cautions that without adequate resources to support families and improved access to justice, the innovative aspects of the FLA may be thwarted.

Click here to view the abstract on the International Journal of Law Policy and the Family website, plus links to HTML and PDF versions of the full article.

“Marriage is More than Just a Piece of Paper: Feminist Critiques of Same Sex Marriage”

UBC Chair in Feminist Legal Studies Susan Boyd recently published a paper on feminist critiques of same sex marriage. See below for the abstract and a link to download the full text in pdf format.

Abstract:
This article reviews feminist critiques of same sex marriage and analyzes how marriage as a socio-legal institution relates to inequality based on factors such as sex, race and class. The article first identifies how the legalization of same sex marriage can be viewed as a positive step in the quest for equality and recognition of lesbians and gay men. It then describes the legal and statistical trends in relation to marriage in Canada, as one of the first countries to legalize same sex marriage. The heart of the article discusses the key feminist critiques of both marriage and same sex marriage, drawing on an international survey of primarily English language literature. It considers why these critiques have been understated in the debates on same sex marriage and reviews empirical studies on the views of lesbians and gay men on marriage. While acknowledging that legal marriage can offer important rights to some couples, the conclusion suggests alternatives to placing marriage at the center of the lesbian and gay movement for equality and recognition.

Download the full paper from the Social Science Research Network.

 

May We Introduce You…

…to some of our faculty who research and teach in areas relating to feminism and law?

Efrat Arbel is a post-doctoral researcher whose research examines questions of constitutional rights protection in Canadian Aboriginal, prisoner, and migration law. Her current research focuses on the Canada-US border as a site for studying the relationship between constitutional law, migration law, and criminal law. She will be teaching:
– Torts

Janine Benedet researches the laws on sexual violence against women, including prostitution, pornography and sexual assault. She was recently co-counsel for the intervenor, Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, in Bedford v. Canada before the Supreme Court. She will be teaching:
– Labour Law
– Ethics & Professionalism
– Criminal Law

Feminist faculty member Susan Boyd was recently elected a Fellow by the Royal Society of Canada.

Susan Boyd researches feminist legal theory and gender and sexuality issues in the fields of family law, especially child custody and parenthood law. In 2007, she co-edited Reaction and Resistance: Feminism, Law, and Social Change and Poverty: Rights, Social Citizenship and Legal Activism. She will be teaching:
– Family Law
– Feminist Legal Theory

Gwen Brodsky is a Distinguished Visiting Scholar who writes, teaches, and practises in the areas of human rights law and constitutional law. She has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in many leading equality rights cases, and represented the Native Women’s Association of Canada at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. She will be teaching:
– Topics in Feminist Legal Studies: Sexism in the Law as a Tool of Colonialism

Renee Cochard, Q.C. is a doctoral student researching in the area of family law and property rights in common law relationships.  She practices family law in Edmonton.  She will be teaching:
– Women, Law & Social Change.

Emma Cunliffe does research focusing on scientific and behavioural evidence in child homicide trials, considering the interplay between expert (non-legal) knowledges, cultural knowledges and legal reasoning. She is the author of Murder, Medicine and Motherhood (available in the Marlee Kline Room). She will be teaching:
– Evidence
– Jurisprudence & Critical Perspectives
– Legal Methodologies

Catherine Dauvergne works in the area of immigration and refugee law in Canada and around the world. Her research is grounded in a belief that how we define and police the boundaries of our societies determines the terrain of our political engagements and says much about our national identity and has worked on projects examining gender issues in Canada’s refugee system. She will be teaching:
– Topics in Immigration & Refugee Law
– Public Law

Darlene Johnston does research and teaches in the area of Aboriginal law, and how systemic issues affect Aboriginal families with regards to family law and child welfare.  Her teaching areas include Indigenous Legal Traditions, Canadian Aboriginal & Treaty Rights, and Law & Colonialism. (Professor Johnston is on leave in Fall 2013.)

Isabel Grant’s main research interests lie in the areas of criminal law and mental health law. She is particularly interested in the law and policy issues surrounding homicide, HIV non-disclosure and gender and criminal law. She will be teaching:
– Mental Health Law
– Topics in Criminal Justice: Principles of Sentencing

Feminist faculty members Judith Mosoff and Janine Benedet at last year’s Marlee Kline Lecture in Social Justice.

Judith Mosoff researches the areas of disability, particularly mental disability. Currently, her research and community activities concern inclusive education for children and youth with intellectual disabilities. She will be teaching:
– Children & the Law
– Ethics & Professionalism
– Criminal Law

Claire Young is the co-author of two books and the author of numerous articles on tax law and policy. Her other research interests include feminist legal theory and sexuality and the law. In 2003 she was awarded the Therese Casgrain Fellowship in recognition of her research on women and economic issues. (Professor Young is on teaching leave in 2013-14.)

Margot Young teaches and researches constitutional law, in particular, equality law and theory, and social welfare law. She recently co-authored the collection Poverty: Human Rights, Social Citizenship and Legal Activism (available in the Marlee Kline Room), published by UBC Press. She will be teaching:
– Law, Society & State
– Constitutional Law