Editorial note: We will over the next few weeks continue to present full transcripts of all the presentations at the International Conference on Men’s Issues. Barbara Kay was our sixth speaker on Day 1, June 27, 2014. This particular speech was one of the most frequently quoted by the press; now everyone has the opportunity to see her remarks in their full context. This speech and all others can be read in their entirety here. Our thanks again to Rick Westlake for doing the hard work to produce these transcriptions. —DE
(Attila Vinczer, introducing Barbara Kay.)
… Let me tell you, I am definitely inspired. That was one incredible speech—makes me think of my own father, who is here today.
I’m just going to take a couple of moments while Barbara Kay gets ready. I’ve traveled here from Canada; I’m here with my two boys, Steven and Ryan; they’re only 11 and 13. I truly believe that much of this is really for them. They are the ones that are going to be most involved and affected by many of these things that we are addressing here today. And of course, my father—77 years old, he’s standing right in the corner over there.
But our next presenter, Barbara Kay: she is someone that I first met in 2009, I believe, at the Parental Alienation Symposium in Toronto. She is one of the most dedicated journalists, women, and writers that I know. She is feverishly and tirelessly assisting the men and boys that are in crisis these days.
Barbara Kay has a bachelor’s and master’s in English language and literature, and began her career teaching literature and composition at Concordia University; spent many years as the editor of First Fruits, an anthology of creative writing by high-school students. She is a weekly columnist for the National Post, where she writes on media, social and cultural bias against men and boys; was given an award by the National Coalition of Men for promoting gender issues in the media. She co-wrote Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter’s Memoir of Honor, Shame and Love. Her son, Jonathan Kay, is the National Post’s comment pages editor, so she actually works for her son.
She has been deeply critical of anti-Semitism in Quebec, earning her an entire Wikipedia page called “Barbra Kay controversy” but also criticizes Hasidic Jews for not integrating.
She is critical of feminism and the concept of “rape culture,” writing that “if we really live in rape-culture women would be walking around in burqas.”
She has appeared on national television, discussing how modern feminism is detrimental to men and boys. She called for Stephen Harper to pass legislation making shared-parenting the legal default in Canada.
Please put your hands together for Barbara Kay.
(Applause. Barbara Kay takes the podium.)
Thanks, Attila, for that generous introduction. I’m elated to be here, and very grateful to Paul and Tom Golden, who I’ve been in touch with mostly, and others who have worked so hard to make this conference the great success that it is. And especially considering the row of distressful surprises that emerged during the countdown period. But this is a fine venue that you’ve found, and I am especially appreciative of the fact that there’s no lineups for the ladies’ room. (Laughter.) That’s one of the few types of conferences where this can happen.
I’m also more honored than I can say to find myself welcomed as a peer in the ranks of many experts and activists in this field that I have for so many years admired, and whose work I have shamelessly cannibalized for journalistic fodder, that I’m meeting in person for the first time. So that’s a great pleasure for me too.
So, I’m here to talk about misandry and the media. And unlike other groups that I talk to, I’m not here to persuade you that misandry in the media exists because you all know that it does. Rather, I want to assess some of the different types of media misandry that we routinely encounter. I’m not a social scientist or a specialist in this field; I’m just a journalist for whom misandry is one niche topic amongst others, and so I’m leaning heavily on empiricism in my analysis. Also, I’m a Canadian journalist, and not American or British, so I take many of my examples from the Canadian media, with which I am naturally most familiar. But perhaps I can bring you some items that you haven’t seen before.
For the sake of coherency, and with no suggestion that my categorization here is definitive, or that there is no crossover or other ways to corral one’s thoughts on the topic, I’m framing my remarks around three types of media misandry; sins—three different types of media-misandry sins: sins of commission, based in the intention to further an ideology-based cultural agenda; sins of omission, based on ignorance or fellow-traveling with good intentions; and thirdly, something I’d hardly call a “sin” but more of a simple capitalist reality—what I would call “pandering,” bias that is based on opportunism rather than an ideology.
So, the sins of commission are very evident, and I hardly need to spell them out for you. These are the sins that spring from intellectuals, academics, and professional ideologues who head up activists, women’s rights, or women’s interests organizations. These are overtly man-blaming, and they use their authoritative-seeming status to promulgate false news which they know, or could know, or should know is false—but don’t care. I’m thinking of those scare-mongering “public service” ads that we Canadians see on TV, that are put out, for example, by the Canadian Women’s Federation.
One that particularly revolted me quite recently—I wrote about it in a column—shows a bunch of middle-class women in a happy circle at a baby shower; and you see the pregnant mother-to-be opening the gifts, and everything is jolly, and the balloons and everything else. And she—“Oh, isn’t this cute, and isn’t this and that cute,” and finally she gets to a gift that she opens and she holds it up, and what is it? It’s a rape whistle. Something every baby girl is going to need, right? And you see all the women in the circle going (gasp) “Ooooh,” like that, as if all these middle-class women are exactly the type of women who are going to be, you know, raped in the street. Then you see this bogus statistic about a woman’s chance of being raped appear in stark silence on the screen. It’s a very effective ad, and it’s false. It’s false propaganda. But it’s expensively made. There’s a lot of money in these organizations. Highly emotive, and doubtless extremely effective in conveying the idea that the threat of male violence stalks women from the womb onward.
The commissioners of misandry are extremely powerful because they are organized and well-financed by government and institutional grants. They enjoy influence in political circles, and are effective in mobilizing their mass constituencies to intimidate institutions or businesses that, in any way, throw a bone to dissenting voices, which is very applicable to what we’ve seen happen here, before we got here. The “commission” ideologues are vigilant in monitoring the media for depictions of women that they do not favor, and they make their displeasure known to editors. Editors have internalized what is, and is not, permissible to say. For example, there was, and this was mentioned by Tara, there was tremendous coverage—oh, I’m sorry, that’s Boko Haram, I’m getting to that.
But first of all, the coverage of the recent massacre of seven fellow students in Santa Barbara by the deeply disturbed Elliot Rodger. A Twitter feed instantly sprang up—#YesAllWomen—to brand the killing as a crime of misogyny that was indicative of a cultural pattern. But the killer was a psychologically twisted loner who viewed all of life through his own self-pitying lens. In Rodger’s case, he hated women because they rejected him sexually, but he also hated men because they had access to women; they were his rivals. In his fantasies, he decimated the male population to rid himself of his rivals. But that was glossed over in the media reports and commentary.
The #YesAllWomen campaign used a newish social platform to express exactly the sentiments the media bruited after the 1989 Montreal massacre of 14 women by Marc Lepine, another disturbed loner. The Montreal Massacre got international attention precisely because it was virtually unique in the annals of mass murders, in conspicuously singling out women. If you Google “mass murders of only women,” you’ll get the Montreal Massacre; that’s all you’ll get because women aren’t massacred, as a rule, or ever, except for that.
In Canada, the Montreal Massacre became a sacred icon, the likes of which we have never seen with any other tragedy. Lepine was transmogrified by a hysterical media into a symbol of all men in their “inherent, though dormant, misogyny.” That tragedy spawned the White Ribbon campaign, which became a global phenomenon; and, in Canada, a gun registry of enormous scope that cost billions but did not save a single woman’s life and was finally scrapped a few years ago. Every year, on December 7, the anniversary, rituals are performed all over Canada, and the media solemnly reports on them while the punditocracy waxes lugubriously on the scourge of violence against women that the massacre supposedly represents. And every year I write my column saying this is nonsense because there’s never been a prequel, there’s never been a sequel, and Marc Lepine acted alone, and there’s no reason to attach this, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. It sinks like a stone.
Two researchers looked at 172 Montreal Gazette stories about the massacre. They found that, quote, “The misogynous character of the offender tended strongly to be generalized to men as a group, and not particularized or restricted to one male or one type of male. In a word, what emerged was a fairly consistent image of the male gender as being inherently misogynist.” For a year after the event, the most-used term of analysis was summed up in the words of one feminist: “Men have to look at the rapist inside of them.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed that the word “continuum” has edged its way into media discourse on a regular basis. Everything is on a continuum. So, you know, it’s not that we’re saying that you’re a rapist now; but you know … (Laughter.) You remember that rude remark you made to that woman yesterday? You know, if you take it on a continuum …
So I’m always on a lookout for this word “continuum,” and you should be too because it’s a bad word. It’s a wonderful way to stoke the moral panic that keeps so many people in the rape-crisis industry in business. As long as you fit on a “continuum,” you’re a danger, right? The rape-culture trope depends heavily on baseless moral panic to push the feminist claim that “one in four or five”—depends on your source—“campus women are raped every year.” If such a statistic were true, no parents would permit their daughters to attend co-ed universities! But, though the mainstream media fails to address the yawning disparity in actual statistics—even if you multiply them by 10, because “women don’t report rape; okay, let’s multiply the figure by 10”—it still doesn’t come anywhere close to the bogus figures that they’re telling us.
Ordinary people know in their hearts, this is not true, and that the vast majority of female students alleging “rape” on campus are actually voicing “buyer’s remorse” for alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky lines of consent on both sides. It’s true! It’s their “get out of guilt free” card, you know, like in Monopoly. (Laughter.)
To say so, however, (repeated) involves blowback of a kind every editor dreads. So it is easier to remain shtum, or add one’s voice to the chorus of misandry.
At this point, I must give a little shout-out to my own newspaper, the National Post, because on this subject, as on many others that are “politically correct,” I have never been muzzled in any way, no matter how many feminists protest. My editors agree with me, in fact, on much of what I write, and a recent addition to the editorial board [has been] a very bright young woman who also writes on these topics from my perspective. Still, curiously, my editors have chosen never to be proactive on causes such as family law reform, or more equitable distribution of money supporting victims of intimate partner violence.
As you probably know, a Canadian private member’s bill to reform family court approaches to custody, an equal-parenting proposal, was shot down in our Parliament last month. I have written many columns in favor of such a reform, but the Post has never written an editorial backing me up, which I think would have made a difference, and perhaps a crucial one. I asked one of the editors why the equal-parenting issue didn’t resonate with him, or with the editorial board, who are mostly male. He candidly responded that in his opinion, women’s biological attachment to their children is stronger than men’s, and they have a more natural right to custody. But he also admitted that he—happily married, and no particular believer in affirmative action for women in other spheres—considers men who get battered in family court as basically losers who used poor judgment in their choice of mates; so his tendency is not to blame the system but the men who end up disenfranchised. And he’s very educated. I could see, though, how he couldn’t imagine such a fate for himself, and I think perhaps he’s representative of a wide swath of even highly educated and otherwise enlightened men in our society. They think it can never happen to them, and therefore, the people that it happens to must be losers, right?
Moving on to the category of “Misandry by Omission”—I’m talking very fast because I’m now aware that we have this time limit, although we’re ahead of time, Attila, so, you know, cut me some slack here. (Laughter.)
Okay, so now, Category 2, Omission—Well, we have an elegant sufficiency of examples to show, that when bad things happen to girls and women, it’s news, and when bad things happen to boys and men, not so much; and now, I do refer to Tara’s mention of the Boko Haram tragedy and the capture of hundreds of Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria who were subjected to forced marriages or sold into the sex trade. Of course, this produced a great indignation in the West, and the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, with frowning Michelle Obama looking … very sad over it; which is an easy, satisfying way for people to feel like they’ve actually done something, but which of course is inconsequential because it means nothing whatsoever to the actual villains of Boko Haram. Forgotten in the kerfuffle was, of course, the fact that weeks earlier, Boko Haram had killed dozens of boarding-school boys, some being burned alive in their dormitories. When I pointed this out in a blog post, my deputy editor, a foreign-news junkie, confessed he had not even heard of the incident.
Now, I don’t personally think that the capture of the schoolgirls was an act of misogyny. And I also don’t think that the killing of the schoolboys was what you’d call an act of misandry. The Nigerian story is about religious hegemony, not gender. Both were acts of terrorism to intimidate Christians into accepting the triumphalist future of Islam in Nigeria. That the girls were subjected to sexual humiliation, and the boys to death, is commensurate with behavioral drivers in all warring situations; which is why 8,000 boys and men were killed in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serbs in 1995, and why vengeful Russian soldiers raped virtually every girl and woman on their path to Berlin at the end of World War II. But, of course, if you are brainwashed into seeing only acts of violence against women, you’re bound to assign misogyny as the motivation for them.
Omission in the media can be quite subtle, involving a certain amount of editorial legerdemain … juggling around … in order to meet the criteria of beady-eyed feminist readers and viewers. What, for an example, is an editor to do with a story of shockingly sadistic intimate-partner violence that does not stack up against the politically correct paradigm of male-on-female? I’m not referring to female-on-male violence; that doesn’t get reported. I’m speaking of a case of homosexual intimate-partner violence. In the media, you’ll never go wrong by observing one simple rule about gays: For feminists, they are honorary women, since they are the natural victims of heterosexual men. And therefore, in the media, gays may as well be women, considering the editorial slant they are usually given.
A case in point: Canadian Dustin Paxton, who over the course of many months starved and tortured his “roommate,” as his gay lover “D.L.” was referred to in the press—who could have escaped at any time but chose to endure the punishment; and it was really quite harrowing punishment. Upon his arrival at a Saskatchewan hospital in April 2010, the victim weighed 87 pounds and showed signs of massive abuse. Most of his bottom lip and part of his tongue were missing, an eye-socket had been fractured … Paxton was judged a “dangerous offender” at trial, but not in a single one of the newspaper accounts I read of the case could I find the two words I was looking for: domestic violence. That was no oversight, in my opinion, but a deliberate editorial decision. If gays can be just as guilty of intimate-partner violence as heterosexual men, then the whole theoretical edifice underlying the Feminist Scapegoat School of Moral Panic collapses!
In fact, as we know, intimate-partner violence occurs at least as frequently as heterosexual violence; why wouldn’t it? Gays are human beings with family histories, personal weaknesses, and psychological problems around intimacy, just like the many heterosexuals who translate their personal problems into intimate-partner violence.
Omission can be evident in something so apparently trivial as a commentary on a TV drama series. For example, how many of you watch the British series Downton Abbey? … Come on … What? You all don’t? Oh, my God—you don’t know what you’re missing! It’s fabulous! Okay—Fantastic series, and probably one of the most-loved series of all time, written with intelligence, humor, and fidelity to the cultural norms of the era, which is Edwardian times and then post-war, post-First World War times. Well—last year, the Montreal Gazette’s resident Feminist Opinion columnist—her name is Janet Bagnall —used the series as proof of women’s sad history of oppression, with which I took issue in a column. Bagnall made the point that in the World War I era, which is the setting for the series’ second season, times were very tough for women of the lower classes. As indeed they were, so that’s fair comment.
She adduced as a prime example one of the characters who has been impregnated and then abandoned by a man of the upper class. He refuses to acknowledge his child or pay any support. The young woman is in a terrible position, socially disgraced of course, and condemned to penury. Later in the series, one of the aristocratic protagonists is able to deal with her out-of-wedlock pregnancy with a timely month-long European tour and a well-placed adoption, leaving her socially unscathed.
Now what this columnist failed to note, however, was that in Edwardian times, life was very tough for men as well, and that the well-balanced series made this reality very clear. At the same time as “fallen women” could find themselves in dire economic and social straits, men—and not just of the lower classes, but all classes—were dying like flies in the Great War. In the very same series, in which the columnist only saw the travails of women, there are several male characters with heartbreaking stories. One is a valet, permanently disabled from a previous war, who cannot get a divorce from his shrew of a wife, who for spite deliberately implicates him as her murderer when she commits suicide, and whose chivalrous sense of honor will not permit him to declare his love for the fellow servant who he adores. Another is a young boy, mortally wounded at the front, gasping his love for the maid that he had wanted to marry, and through gasps loves before he expires. Third is an estate footman so terrified in the heat of battle he shoots himself in the hand to be released, and then endures months of shell-shock during which he must continue working, his body shaking uncontrollably, as best he can, with virtually no sympathy or comprehension by anyone of what he is going through.
So that columnist was blind, literally blind, to the suffering of men in any era. And the only reason I’ve gone on at length about her commentary is for two reasons: First, because her column is representative of the feminist view of men that has permeated our culture. Their eyes simply glaze over when they witness male suffering. They see it, but they don’t see it. Unless of course they are gay; suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder incurred while serving in unpopular places like Vietnam and Iraq; or men of color who are victims of white men. So, it is misandry by default.
The other reason is that I was the only columnist in Canada to note, or to care, about her lapse. I don’t say that to boast; only to say that if one is not actively looking for misandry, the omission of concern for men’s sufferings will go completely unnoticed in the media. And as misandry is an orphaned topic, there simply aren’t enough, or aren’t any, media people who do notice or care enough to comment.
Finally we have in my arbitrary categorization list the type of misandry in the media that I call “pandering.” These are reportage, ads, and an entire magazine and TV talk-show industry aimed at women, in which actual social truths are less important than the profit to be made from enhancing women’s self-regard.
So here’s what I consider a pretty egregious example of pandering. And once again, it’s in Canada’s Globe and Mail, which is supposedly Canada’s “centrist” national newspaper, and supposedly objective. It was a puff feature article, spread all over two pages, like in the Saturday edition—huge, it got huge coverage—called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Lesbian Families.” In this article, we are informed, quote: “Kids with two moms seem to be more confident and less aggressive than those raised by a mom and a dad. They are open-minded, affectionate, and less susceptible to anxiety and depression.” Seem to be? Well, that’s a subjective judgment, but … “They are … less susceptible to anxiety and depression”? Source? Source? Anyone? Bueller?
So, what are the “seven secrets of lesbian families?” Okay, here they are: An equal loving partner; Never hit your children—“fathers tend to be strict and authoritarian,” says one professor of women’s studies, without providing evidence that strictness is a deficit in complementary parenting; Tell them where they come from; Stand up for them and teach them to stand up for themselves; Build a village of support of family and friends; Let them make their own spaces too; and Trust that they love you, even when you stress them out. In other words, good lesbian parents practice the same parenting skills that good heterosexual parents do. Yet, based on no objective evidence whatsoever—indeed, information for the article was admittedly gleaned from selection via surveys—lesbian parenting outcomes are herein implied as superior.
I would stress that the motivation behind this article is not misandry. Rather, it is a reflexive act of ingratiation with the LGBT community, which is a branch office of feminism. In laymen’s terms, it is sucking up, pure and simple.
I could have done a whole talk on women’s magazines, which are the most widespread and influential form of pandering. In Canada, women’s magazines reach—you can’t imagine how many women. I mean, unbelievable numbers of women love women’s magazines. In Canada, Chatelaine magazine, which is the oldest and most popular of our women’s magazines, is subscribed to or at least reaches something like four million women a month. Now, Canada’s population is about 35 million people. Do you have any idea of how unbelievable that is? The Wall Street Journal reaches about—is subscribed to by about 250,000 people. Our newspaper has about 225,000 subscriptions. Four million people? Every month? Women? All women. That’s unbelievable.
So, like all the big American women’s magazines, its mission is not to denigrate men but to entertain and flatter women. But it naturally skews feminism, since it draws its editors and regular writers from a pool of women steeped in feminist dogmas.
What do the magazines tell women? What are they primarily telling women? First of all—that women are highly stressed. They’re very stressed. And you know why? Because they’re trying to do it all. And you know, all this stress puts them in peril of stress-related disease. The health issues in magazines are huge; like, they’re just constantly hinting … “Are you in menopause and you don’t even know it yet?” I mean—“I don’t know! I don’t know! What are the symptoms? What are the symptoms?” Oh, and of course, they’re very stressed because of the huge risk of abuse that they’re at, by … men … amongst other scare-mongering trends. In other words, they’re victims. They’re victims, in other words, who at the same time owe it to themselves to be sexually satisfied, trim, youthful, well-groomed, and well-served by a loving husband and adoring children. If that is what they want. (Laughter.) If they don’t, that’s okay too … because there’s no one way to be a woman.
We know that.
Motherhood … motherhood does feature large in these magazines, but it’s usually in the context of the stress it involves.
For their socially conservative readers, the magazine always has wonderful recipes … and a story about the deep personal reflection that accompanied the decision to have an abortion. Not the right to have an abortion, that is never discussed. That is never discussed in a women’s magazine, there are no arguments ever against having an abortion; but it’s the stress. Emotional stress, of having an abortion. You can stress about that.
Health anxiety is, I said, stoked in these pages. At one point, American women magazines peddled the myth created by Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf that 150,000 women die of anorexia every year. Think about that … 150,000 die of anorexia, that’s a lot … The actual figure is 100.
150,000 though, that sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Like if you’re trying to —Oh! It’s 150,000 girls and women suffer from anorexia—well, that’s very different. But you know, well, suffer, die, what’s the difference?
But some statistics often go unchallenged in an era of moral panic over women’s alleged victimization. Again, this in not overt but covert misandry, since it is clearly understood by women that problems like anorexia are related to female self-image, and perceived lack of power, and we all know who has the power. Right.
For a rigorous analysis of many other such bogus statistics, I really recommend you re-read Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, her 1994 book, Who Stole Feminism? It’s as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.
Finally, we come to ads. Here is an area in which pandering blooms with abandon. After all, women make 85% of household purchases. And anyone who views consumer-product ads with a critical eye will soon realize that women, of course, are valorized, and men are usually either absent or ridiculed. Men aren’t out-and-out … Ads do not make men out to be evil. But they do make them out to be incompetent, silly, foolish, you know, eye-rollingly dumb, you know all that sort of thing. But they’re not actually hostile to men in these ads. But not always—every once in a while, marketing people surprise us because marketing people have no ideology. And occasionally, valorizing a Dad can sell a product.
I just want to gloss three ads and, you know, deconstruct them, in the parlance.
We start with Procter & Gamble, and their recent TV ad entitled, “Thanks, Mom!” Have you seen it? Anybody? The theme—which has nothing to do with the product; I forget what the product is, I just know it’s by Procter & Gamble … it’s probably Tampax or something, I don’t know—the theme is the special bond between mothers and girls who grow up to be Olympic athletes. So we see touching scenes of moms at early morning training practices, cheering their daughters on at games, consoling them when they lose, high-fiving when they win. You see the anxiety on Mom’s face when the stakes are high, the relief when a new technique pays off—and of course, the money shot of the athlete succeeding at the Olympics, and the big, teary, triumphant mother-daughter clinch.
… Where is Dad in this ad? He seems not to exist. Maybe he’s just working so hard to pay the bills for the trainer and the coach, and renting the space on the ice or whatever. Don’t dads support their (repeated) daughters’ athletic dreams? Sure they do, in real life. But moms are the target demographic here. A dad in the picture would muddy the water. They don’t—like it would—It has to be the mom.
But occasionally certain products do put out ads that validate fathers. There’s a great one, you’ve got to see it. Just Google “Extra Gum, origami birds, dads daughters.” You watch it—it’s been seen by millions—and you’ll cry. It starts off … it’s just vignettes in the life of … first she’s a little girl, with her father, and whatever they’re doing, they’re playing together, they’re going to watch a baseball game, whatever they’re doing, there’s always a piece of gum involved. And each time they both put a piece of gum in their mouth, he takes the paper from the gum, he makes a kind of little origami bird for her. And then you see them … there’s some bad times too, when she’s a teenager, and you can see she’s sobbing, somebody hurt her feelings or, you know, some social rejection or whatever it is, and again he gives her the little bird, he comforts her—it’s nothing, like he’s doing what dads do. Anyway, the last scene is, she’s going off to university, she’s a confident, happy young woman, her car is all packed, and Dad is just about to close the lid of her trunk when a box inside the trunk tips over. The top comes off, and out spills about 300 origami birds. She’s kept … I’m a little verklempt, she’s kept every single origami bird he ever made her. And he had no idea, of course … and she was taking them to college with her. Both of them recognize that these little birds are much more than the sum of their parts, and they share an emotional parting embrace. It’s one of the most beautiful ads I’ve ever seen. Very touching. And what struck me about it was that the father was not doing anything extraordinary; he was just being a solid, loving, supportive presence in his daughter’s life, which is what all good dads are.
Now contrast this with the “Thanks, Mom” ad. Why can’t she just be a good mom of an ordinary girl? Why does she have to produce an Olympic athlete? Because Procter & Gamble was pandering to the inflated self-regard of women under the influence of feminism, which subliminally persuades them that mothering alone is not, in itself, a worthy project—unless it produces a “product.” The biological correlative to becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company, every feminist wants women to be, career-wise, so that that wins the entire world’s admiration. Then it’s worth being a mom. Right? If the payoff is your daughter becoming an Olympic athlete.
The ad featuring the dad didn’t feel bound to puff up the egos of men. Paradoxically, the little story of the dad, being merely a dad, radiates a hundred times more authenticity, and a hundred times more the psychological scope for the average dad to identify his own situation with what he witnesses than the “Thanks, Mom” ad—What average mother can identify—“Oh, yeah, just when I, yeah, just when my daughter won the gold medal at the Olympics, I know, I know exactly how she feels, yes.”
A third ad, made for Valspar Reserve paints—never buy Valspar Reserve paints—has both a mother and a father in it; but it ridicules and infantilizes fathers. It’s called “Video Chat.” It opens in a hotel room, with a woman executive in her “power suit” sitting on the bed, Skyping with, you know, Dad and the kids. She’s obviously the major breadwinner in the family. She’s checking in with her husband and children, at home, with Skype or FaceTime or whatever. So she asks, Is everything fine? and in a tight shot—or she says, How’s everything going?—and a tight shot of Dad flanked by the kids, they grin and they assure her everything’s totally under control. Everything is great. And so the call ends; then the shot pans wide, and you see that except for the little white square framing the computer screen, the kitchen is filthy beyond imagination. Ceiling, walls, floor, totally covered with dripping—I mean, it’s disgusting. So it is clear that Dad is not managing well in Mom’s absence, and that both he and the children have lied to cover this fact. Dad is therefore both incompetent and manipulative.
But again—it’s not hostile. At first, when you see the ad, you actually laugh. You can’t help it because the kitchen has this one little square of white, and the whole rest of the kitchen is, like, disgusting. So your first impulse is to laugh, and think, Okay, yeah, it makes Dad look simple. But the more you think about it, the more it’s really very offensive.
Okay, I realize I’ve now come to the end of my time for this talk, and I have not come to a satisfactory conclusion; by which I mean I have not come up with any magic solutions to the problem of media misandry. The problem, of course, is only superficially the media, which only reflects social and cultural biases, after all. In our culture—media will never lead in a problem. They will only follow. So you can never expect … except, certain individuals in the media certainly can be courageous, but media itself, and large newspapers and stations, TV stations … you can’t expect them to lead on this issue. They have to follow the grassroots.
So, if a culture is comfortable with the stereotyping of white heterosexual males, where it is uncomfortable stereotyping any other identifiable group, and allowing the negative behaviors of some men to color our attitudes to the vast majority of good men, if this is what our culture is telling us—the media is simply following the rules established by the culture. The only way to change that is institution by institution, or company by company. I think the best place to start is with the profit-motive people. If you can convince them—I think Mike’s suggestion of political parties is great; I think that’s one way to go—but when you have magazines, TV stations, companies that project these insulting ads, there has to be massive blowback to them. They get it from women. But they do not get it from men.
I think the worst ad I ever saw—it was a public-service announcement. I’m sorry I just need to take this extra minute. I wrote a column about it. I was so shocked and disgusted by it. Dallas Transit. Do you remember that ad? It’s still not on? … No. Dallas Transit had, on the sides of their buses, huge pictures of children; and out of their mouths, bubbles saying … One was a little girl, saying, “When I grow up, my husband will kill me.” Not “may”—“my husband will kill me.” And coming out of a little boy’s mouth, “When I grow up, I will beat my wife.”
Huge! On the sides of buses! Dallas Transit accepted these ads, paid for by women’s groups. And … I thought, this can’t be —well, they’ll have to take them down because there will be such an outcry, right? Well, I called Dallas Transit, and I asked them about it, and they said, “No, we haven’t had … you’re the first journalist that’s called; no, we have not had a lot of feedback on this, no….”
Well, anyways, that was more shocking to me than the ad itself.
And I know that if we can organize a conference like this, certainly you have to be able to organize campaigns of … pounding! The Dallas Transit Commission should be shamed in front of the nation. It should be like a national scandal. These ads—it doesn’t take a hundred people to write in. You know, when you get a letter to the editor, I can tell you this: When newspapers get one letter to the editor, they know it represents a hundred people’s point of view that didn’t bother to write in. When they get ten letters on a subject—Wooo! There’s a lot of interest out there! So don’t think that only a few letters to the editor means nothing. It means—that’s absolutely how they gauge public opinion. If, you know, I mean, if they got twenty-five or fifty letters? They’d think it was—“Omigod, we’ve got to have a feature article on this! We’ve got to really blow this up! This is huge!”
So, I just wanted to end by saying, the only way to change that is, we’ve got to remind institutions and influence-makers that it is morally wrong to do this; that in the case of products, offensive ads will earn them damaging criticism. And we have to do that in a respectful way. Terry Brannon, who couldn’t be here today because he’s with his kids, and it was bad timing—he’s the director of a group that’s one year old called “Leading Women for Shared Parenting.” And I’m a member, and Terry’s a member, and Suzanne is a member, and Diane is a member—we’re all proud to be members of this group.
Anyways, Terry wrote the most wonderful letter to the CEO of Lowe’s Paints, which is Valspar Reserve’s parent company. And he just spelled it out, all the many ways the ad was infantilizing, and patronizing, and wrong … and it was just beautifully written. And I think if they got a lot of letters like that, they’d feel a little uncomfortable next time they made an ad that made dads look stupid!
Now, I also see changes in the media that may be subtle, but I think they are positive. For example, in my tenure at the Post—I’m now on my twelfth year there—I have seen at least four or five aggressively feminist, often cruelly misandrist, female columnists (none of—of course, my newspaper would never have anyone of such a description at, no)—the other newspapers, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, which are the other two huge Canadian newspapers … there are at least four or five very cruelly misandrist female columnist who have left their jobs, and none of them willingly. One was retired; one was actually fired; one was, you know, they sort of, you know, struck a deal; and one in particular, one of the star writers of The Globe and Mail, she was producing misandrous writing of such viciousness that she was fired, not only for that; and subsequently, she was a columnist at Chatelaine magazine, this magazine I spoke of; and not by chance—I think, you know, sometimes you think you do a little bit of good—not by chance, I wrote an article about Chatelaine magazine, and I said “Chatelaine magazine has two regular columnists; both of them are ardent feminists, and that’s one too many. Can’t you find somebody else, that would, like, be a counterweight?” Shortly after that—I’m not saying it was me, just saying—shortly after that, she was let go, and now she’s only writing online, which, I think, is a tremendous event, because she truly was a star.
Okay, I’ll end by … many campus events, just to be positive there too, not to mention this conference, feature speakers that are disrupted, or they get death threats, or vandalism and all that. Some are foiled, but many do go forward, and thoughtful people are listening to what they have to say. So we should continue by doing exactly what we’re doing, even if it seems like water dripping on a stone. And that we are gathered here for this conference is, in itself, a huge sign of progress, as others have said, and it’s all true.
And on that congratulatory note, for those who put their shoulders to the wheel to make this happen, I will bring my remarks to a close.