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BU's male advocacy group on short leash

'Men have issues just like everyone else'

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Will Breen, suffragist?It almost felt like the male version when the Brandon University student recently tried to form a campus advocacy group for men.

Breen made his motion at the Brandon University Students' Union (BUSU) annual meeting last month. One elected council member set the tone of debate, scoffing that Breen's group would be nothing but a "pornography and cigar club." As a man, he huffed, he didn't require representation. Other speakers were miffed and simply couldn't see the need. The motion was defeated.

At another forum, a female professor could barely tolerate hearing Breen's reasons for starting a Men's Collective. "She was saying that men do not have need of representation, that we have historically been the oppressors, that we have no position of disadvantage," the fourth-year geology student recalled.

But Breen isn't forming another group to compete for victim status. He questions why everyone thinks a group should be "disadvantaged" to have an advocacy group.

"Men have issues just like everyone else," he maintained.

Some are specific health issues, like testicular cancer, which strike men mostly at ages 20-34, and prostate cancer.

His Men's Collective would also advocate on men's issues, like partnering with schools to campaign against bullying. About 20 students have signed up so far, agreeing to a statement of principals and a code of ethics.

"It's to be a public service organization that recognizes that, as men, we have a duty to contribute positively to society," Breen said.

He described the group as "somewhat akin to the Rotarians and Lions Club," but a freshened up version. It would partner with women's groups on matters like prevention of violence against women.

The collective, which would not ban women members, would also be a voice politically, especially since men now have minority status at BU. Women make up 67 per cent of the student population, outnumbering men by two to one.

This is not a new trend at universities, but it's more pronounced at BU. Women now make up more than 50 per cent of students at most universities across North America.

Men are the majority on the Brandon University Student's Union council, but it's the special interest representatives that often initiate policy, says Breen, formerly a member.

After further review, council relented last Wednesday, but put the men on a short leash. The men will receive $400 in funding for outreach work and will have to prove themselves to attain Men's Collective status.

Breen says he'll take the money, even though it's not much more than the chemistry club receives. The Women's Collective gets $5,000 per year, and received a $2,000 startup grant. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-gender Commission gets $2,000 annually.

BUSU president Stephen Montague said he's not opposed to a Men's Collective, but volunteered that "personally, as a male on campus, I'm not a member nor will I be."

"It comes down to the historical inequality that still exists," Montague explained, citing the fact that men still hold most top positions in society, from world leaders to CEOs to university professors.

While that's true, it doesn't look at the whole picture, says social psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University. "If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there, too," Baumeister said in a 2007 address to the American Psychological Association.

Men make up the majority of the homeless and imprisoned. They fill riskier jobs. In the U.S., 93 per cent of people killed on the job are men.

It's higher in the military. Of 108 Canadian soldiers killed in the Afghanistan war, 107 were men. Men also die earlier, and are nearly 10 times more likely than women to commit suicide.

The reason is motivation, Baumeister says. New DNA analysis shows today's population is descended from twice as many women as men. That is, throughout all of history, about 80 per cent of women, and only 40 per cent of men, reproduced.

It's that fierce, Darwinian competition for the female that leads to extreme and risky win-or-lose behaviour among men.

"The basic social insecurity of manhood is stressful for the men, and it is hardly surprising that so many men crack up or do evil or heroic things or die younger than women," Baumeister said.

Funny how something you think you know for sure is a fact, can change. Just a few years ago, we were virtuously tearing down the walls of men-only clubs, like the Rotarians, and now we're finding need for them again.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2009 A4

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