Perceptions of feminism are changing

Affecting change requires action beyond labelling yourself as feminist, Ryerson community members say.

By: Mira Miller

The idea that feminists are “man-hating” has been touted by more than a few media outlets and opposition groups.

The feminist movement is in the spotlight. In light of this, Mira Miller took to the streets of Ryerson University to ask men about their perceptions of feminism.

According to a 2014 survey published in Maclean’s, only 15 per cent of Canadian men identified as feminists. In the same study, statistics show when the definition of the term was clarified as “Someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes,” that number rose to 51 per cent.

Kevin Humphrey is a second-year environment and urban sustainability student who said he identifies as a feminist.

“I have a younger sister,” Humphrey said. “I wouldn’t want her going through any barriers she shouldn’t have to. I wouldn’t want her putting up with things that aren’t fair,”

Humphrey said he worries his sister will be paid less than her male counterparts. He said he is also concerned about the harassment that many women face everyday.

“I have a lot of friends that are [women] and almost all of them have stories of harassment,” said Humphrey. “Whether it’s being cat-called or being followed, it’s disgusting.”

As a male feminist, Humphrey said he sees education as part of his role.

“Part of being an ally involves educating others on what feminism is,” he said.

Ryan Sura, a first-year sports media student, also identifies as a feminist. He said that in order to truly be an ally to women, his actions have to align with his words. Sura explained that he does this by doing his best to treat everyone he encounters equally.

“I just make sure I treat everyone with respect no matter who it is…” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m treating someone the way I would like to be treated.”

While some Ryerson men do identify as feminists, this is far from the unanimous position.

Kevin Arriola, a politics and governance student in his final year, is the founder of the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness group. The group was rejected by the RSU for official student group status, according to the Ryersonian, “because it was afraid the group would become a campus haven for misogyny and radical anti-feminism.”

Arriola said he does not identify as a feminist, but he does believe in equal rights.

“I agree with feminists on many issues. I think that women should have equal rights under the law,” he said. “But there have been too many actions by certain feminist groups and organizations that I don’t agree with, so for that reason I don’t identify as one.”

Arriola said that another reason he won’t call himself a feminist is because he believes labels do not affect change.

“I don’t get hung up on the labels. I think [the] people that do are actually preventing progress because they’re taking the attention away from the real issues,” he said.

Arriola said that while he does not identify as a feminist, he feels that many people on campus do.

First-year entrepreneurship student Emily Verduyn said that she’s glad more and more men are identifying as feminists, but, she wants them to understand there is more to being a feminist than just calling yourself one.

Verduyn said when it comes to group projects she often takes a leadership role as it comes naturally to her, but she has experienced male group members who have had a problem with that.

“If guys see me taking that role, even if I’m right, they try to change [my ideas],” she said. “The first time it happened I immediately thought, ‘This guy doesn’t want me to lead this group, he can’t handle that I know what’s best for the group. [He] wants me to feel like he’s in charge, he’s more powerful, he’s more dominant.’”

Brandon Schwartz, a first-year creative industries student, said he doesn’t think the problem is always with the individuals, but rather with how we are socialized.

“More and more, feminism stands to make men aware of sexism. Obviously men know that sexism exists in the world but not everyone understands the ways that it functions in our favour on a day to day basis,” said Schwartz. “…the way that society is now, males are oblivious to their privilege.”

Paul Bali is a philosophy professor at Ryerson and is currently teaching a class on the philosophy of love and sex. He said much of the class content is rooted in feminist ideologies. He believes the key to changing systemic sexism is to listen.

“One of the deep effects of any power structure, like patriarchy, would be that it has an insidious and ingenious way of organizing or filtering the complaints of the oppressed so that they come out in a way that sometimes seems implausible or just trivial,” said Bali.

Bali added that not many people are publicly in favour of unfair treatment but instead fall victim to this cycle of not truly listening to those that need to be heard.

“To be a really good listener is to do more than just reduce to ideas and propositions, it’s to understand the full context of the communication and really understand what’s being said,” Bali said. “When people complain, there’s something to it. It’s in our best interest to listen and understand.”