Speakers, participants, and members of the community met on October 7 at the Centre for Gender Advocacy to report back and reflect on this summer’s Montreal Against Misogyny project.
Montreal Against Misogyny, an eight-session summer project organized by Akki Mackay and funded by McGill’s Union for Gender Empowerment, aimed to strengthen feminist allyship among cisgender men involved in radical activism. Through reading, discussion, and presentations, the group of eight men reflected on the patriarchy and their role within it, as well as its relationship to other forms of oppression.
The attendees at the reflection session discussed the goals of the project and the project’s effectiveness at reaching them, and put forward general strategies for contemporary feminist organizing.
According to Mackay, the program was successful in that it deepened the participants’ knowledge regarding social justice, and expanded their worldview. “Strengthening our analysis of patriarchy, I think, happened fairly well,” they said.
Participants expressed similar sentiments at the reflection session. Alex, a group member, described a workshop on transmisogyny as “illuminating.”
“In fact, I was really upset with myself that it was so illuminating,” Alex added.
Building skills to be an effective ally was also a major aspect of the project. Participants learned tactics to change oppressive behaviours in oneself and to challenge them in others.
According to Alex, the role-playing exercises were particularly helpful as he has been able to apply these skills in social contexts.
Although a volunteering component was planned as a part of the project, its application was inconsistent due to logistical issues. Consequently, according to Mackay, the participants had fewer opportunities to interact with members of oppressed groups and apply their knowledge.
Some attendees expressed concern that the program focused too much on theory, and questioned the effectiveness of panels and presentations in changing behaviour. Lena Palacios – an activist with the Life after Life Collective, who gave the group a presentation on transformative justice during the summer – stressed the importance of applying theoretical knowledge.
“If you want to create that kind of action, that kind of movement building, you have to be able to theorize on the ground,” she said. “What does it mean to you, in your family, in your community, on your street, in your neighbourhood? I think it’s very important to throw it back on the level of the local: what are you doing to keep people accountable?”
One attendee criticized the decision to make all presentations and discussions closed to those outside the group, and cast doubt on the transformative potential of “cis men talking to each other.”
Mackay noted that the closed group provided a level of comfort that allowed the members to reflect, without shame, on the harm that they may have caused in the past. They also explained that this method avoids placing an emotional burden on members of oppressed groups.
“My inspiration came first and foremost from feminist writers, who have written a lot about how they want cis men to work on these issues ourselves,” Mackay told The Daily.
As a closed group, the participants also had the opportunity to actively practice support for each other in a way that is often made difficult by social ideals of masculinity. “We [cis men] don’t know how to lovingly challenge each other,” said one group member.
Mackay plans to continue working with the group, and to write a zine detailing their experience. “There were things that didn’t go well, but the important thing is to learn from them and change them in the future, we’re going to keep trying,” they said. “We’re going to continue to meet once a month and maybe get some different types of groups going.”
Participants are also looking forward to continuing the discussion. “There’s a lot of really important work to be done,” said Alex.