The SFU Advocacy for Men & Boys (SFUAMB) club have become the centre of an ongoing controversy following an open letter penned by the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies student union (GSWSSU) claiming the club is “using men’s issues as a way to attack feminism.”
The letter was published on the union’s WordPress page on December 7, and was addressed primarily in response to SFU AMB’s November 8 event, “Toxic Masculinity & TOXIC FEMININITY.” The event was promoted with posters showing a biohazard sign over a venus symbol, a gesture the open letter alleges is “offensive, hostile, and aggressive.”
The main speaker for the event was Karen Straughan, a self-proclaimed “anti-feminist” and men’s rights advocate. Straughan is a prominent figure in the men’s rights activist community, as well as a well-known YouTube personality — her most popular video, “Feminism and the Disposable Male,” boasts over 1 million views.
The letter also mentioned that the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) and Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) share the union’s concerns, and claimed that the SFPIRG “will be releasing their own open letter soon.” As of publication date, neither group has released a statement. However, the SFU Women’s Centre did share the open letter on their Facebook page, thanking the GSWSSU “for taking the time and energy to write this thoughtful response.”
Three days after the letter’s publication, the SFUAMB responded with their own open letter penned by Theryn Meyer, the group’s president. The letter disputed many of the GSWSSU’s arguments, including claims that the group is “anti-feminist” and “anti-woman.” Writing on behalf of the SFUAMB, Meyer claimed the letter’s criticisms were “simply an attempt at maintaining a monopoly on the conversation.
“Here at SFUAMB, we believe in a free market of ideas — no idea goes unchallenged,” she continued.
Straughan also offered a response to the GSWSSU’s letter, criticising many of the author’s points. “You accuse me of inciting male hatred and anger toward women, but the majority of men who contact me tell me that it is my work that calmed all that shit down. That gave them reason to hope,” she said in a video on her YouTube channel. “And you think I’m dangerous.”
The controversy has attracted the attention of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Advocacy Committee, who briefly discussed the matter during their December 10 meeting. However, Kathleen Yang, VP External Relations and chair of the Advocacy Committee, mentioned that the minutes from the Dec. 10 meeting have not yet been ratified and “did not capture what was said at the meeting.”
Yang went on to note that the SFSS board of directors will be addressing the issue once they return from their holiday on January 4. “I shall be following up with our staff and committee members accordingly to ensure clarity in the future,” she said.
Yang went on that, “all approved student clubs have access to the same SFSS resources regardless of their mandate.” In response to the question of the SFUAMB’s status, she assured that to her knowledge the club is not currently being investigated, adding that “when SFUAMB applied for club status, it was agreed upon by the then-executives of the club and the SFSS General Office that the club would not act based on a mandate of anti-feminism or present itself as anti-feminist.
“Should SFUAMB break this condition, their club status would be revoked.”
In an interview with The Peak, GSWSSU co-chair Laura Scheck expressed support for the letter, though she clarified that its author wishes to remain anonymous. “The main point, from my perspective, of publishing this letter was to call public attention to the issues we have with SFU AMB, rather than keeping the arguments between us and them privately,” she said. “We wanted to call them out in a productive way [. . .] while also pointing out how their actions are more reflective of anti-feminist activism than actual men’s rights activism.”
In contrast, SFUAMB vice president Jesse Velay-Vitow echoed the statements of club president Meyer via email correspondence with The Peak. “The SFU AMB’s first priority is to increase awareness of and affect change concerning men’s issues,” he wrote. “If that can be done within a feminist framework, then great, but when it can not we will not hesitate to examine those beliefs and doctrines that harm men. Even if they are feminist.”