Mayor Naheed Nenshi has joined the group of Canadian municipal leaders speaking out against controversial website Return of Kings, which has planned meetings on Saturday in more than 150 cities worldwide, including Calgary.
The website, founded by Daryush "Roosh V" Valizadeh in 2012, is a blog for heterosexual, "masculine" men. It preaches something called "neomasculinity," which supports traditional gender roles — including the beliefs that a woman's value "significantly depends on her fertility and beauty," and that the patriarchy is "a superior societal system that catered to the innate abilities of the sexes."
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In January, Return of Kings announced that it would host worldwide meetups on Feb. 6, with the goal of creating "tribes" of men in each city. The backlash has been fierce, with opponents slamming Valizadeh for spreading homophobia and misogyny.
Much of the opposition has focused on a blog entry Valizadeh wrote last February which advocated that rape be legal on private property. In the piece, Valizadeh wrote tha legalizing rape in private would ensure "a girl will protect her body in the same manner that she protects her purse and smartphone."
Valizadeh, who has not responded to requests for comment, has since alleged the piece in question was satire.
A 'no-win' situation
The meetups planned by Return of Kings presents a 'no-win' situation, said Rebecca Sullivan, a professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in feminist media and cultural studies.
"Ignore them and maybe they will grow, or call them to account and draw more attention to them," said Sullivan.
"That puts the whole conversation on the wrong footing," Sullivan said. "Now we're on a whole other conversation about them and their rights and that means we're not having better conversations, more important conversations about reality on the ground."
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It's not the first time Valizadeh has tried to organize meetings in Canada. Last August, Valizadeh was scheduled to speak in Montreal and Toronto, sparking protests and petitions against him.
Mayors speak out
On Tuesday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted at the group, saying its "pro-rape, misogynistic, homophobic garbage" was not welcome in the city.
His tweet spurred other responses from various municipal leaders, all of whom denounced Valizadeh and the website.
What he said. Goes double for Calgary. Thanks for your leadership on this, Jim. https://t.co/xyD7T1o1wA— @nenshi
Safe spaces important
Conversations around masculinity, sex and sexuality should be focused on inclusion, diversity and consent — values Return of Kings does not appear to preach, said Sullivan.
"I absolutely agree that there should be a space for (heterosexual) men to talk about how the expectations of masculinity are incredibly damaging to them," Sullivan said.
Calgary Communities against Sexual Abuse runs a program called ManEnough?, which works to prevent sexual violence and helps men challenge traditional notions of masculinity.
"Living in a patriarchy hurts everyone, including men," said Joe McGuire, who facilitates the program.
"What frustrates us about people like Return of Kings is that there are insecurities that they're exploiting in men — insecurities around body image, insecurities about dating and their own sexuality — that are real things that men are dealing with."
The Calgary Counselling Centre offers an outreach program for male survivors of domestic abuse, and the Calgary Sexual Health centre offers a youth program called WiseGuyz that teaches junior high boys about human rights, sexual health, gender, and positive relationships.
Meetings to go ahead
Cyber activists have been repeatedly attacking the website with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which has caused Return of Kings to go offline multiple times. This week, Valizadeh changed the location of many of the meetings, including the one in Calgary in response to the opposition.
"This meetup was never intended as a confrontation with unattractive women and their enablers," the site says.
Those who wish to attend now need to prove they're a supporter of the site before they'll be given the location. The owner of the email address listed for the Calgary meetup has not responded to requests for comment.
The initial meetup location in Calgary was meant to be outside the Starbucks in the CORE shopping centre downtown. On Wednesday, the CORE issued a memo saying the mall's security team will be monitoring the area.
While McGuire acknowledged that talking about Return of Kings gives the website publicity, he said it's still important to have a conversation.
"We need to be saying that this stuff isn't OK," said McGuire.
"It doesn't help to not give it any attention. We need to be talking about why these kinds of messaging are harmful."
A Facebook event for a Calgary "March Against Misogyny" has been planned for Saturday.