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Fresh scars from battle of sexes show just how much we need to talk

The battle of the sexes is alive, well and seething in Edmonton.

I have the battle scars -- fresh ones -- to prove it.

Some of you will remember I wrote a column last Monday lamenting the loss of all-male spaces. It was inspired by a personal loss, the demise of an informal gathering of men at a downtown cigar shop.

In a nutshell, I argued that the feminist movement's noble fight for women's rights caused collateral damage. That male-only spaces and organizations were obliterated -- to the detriment of men -- because they were deemed, by their very nature, to be sexist.

So what did readers think? The reaction tended to split on gender lines, not surprisingly, I suppose.

In a nutshell, let me sum up the comments from female opponents of my column: I'm offensive. I'm incredibly ignorant. I'm misogynistic. I'm homophobic. I live in a dated fairy tale where men huddle in backrooms to smoke cigars, drink scotch and do business deals, whilst enjoying lap dances from strippers.

Oh -- and I'm a segregationist. I have contempt for women. I want women back in their rightful place -- barefoot and in the kitchen, cooking my dinner.

Yes, all this from one column where I defended the idea of men's clubs. Hence, my battle scars.

Not that I didn't get some support from readers. Nor did all the reaction fall predictably into gender camps. And even my most strident critics softened and started a respectful conversation, via e-mail, when I challenged their vitriolic tone.

Debate always goes badly when the attacks are personal. Or when someone reads the worst possible intentions into your arguments. Or when they take an argument, then exaggerate it to make you sound like a monster. These kind of tactics are dishonest and divisive. In this particular case, they only serve to distance men from feminists and feminism.

But am I guilty, too? Was my argument for all-male clubs merely a case of thinly veiled misogyny? Interesting question. And I pondered it this week. Self-awareness only comes when we are brutally honest with ourselves.

When I am completely honest with myself, I have to admit I'm not much of a man's man. I've always preferred the company of women, who graciously supported me over the years during times of personal struggle.

Women tell me I'm a rarity, a man able to talk about his feelings. Perhaps that's because I've mostly stayed clear of macho institutions. Partly, because a leg injury in childhood prevented me from enjoying the robust physicality of team sports.

But I've always despised those times when men, even away from the arena, descend into locker-room talk.

My experience at the unofficial downtown men's cigar club was so different. I discovered men I could relax around. Men who supported me during struggles. Men who talked about their concerns, their dreams, their fears.

Was the talk always gracious and respectful? Uh, nope. But mutual respect was at the foundation of the place.

That's why I always hoped I'd be able to bring my son in one day, to experience a gathering of men where overt displays of testosterone weren't welcome.

I argued last week that as a society we need to honour men, just as we honour women. One reader countered that honourable traits are not gender specific; that men, like women, are trapped in dated stereotypical roles.

Interesting point. I tend to agree. And I think men and women need to continue the conversation, honestly and respectfully.

But women must recognize that men today are soaked in the sins of their fathers. We've been made to feel ashamed of ourselves, for the way women were treated in past.

Adding to our shame is the way men are made to feel guilt by gender association, when contemporary domestic violence statistics are thrown in our faces.

Pornography and prostitution, war and massacre -- these are also thrown at us, to make us feel further shame.

What is left for men? What can we take pride in? What is it about men and masculinity, specifically, that this society values?

Men, like women, need to feel valued. Not just in their homes or workplaces, but on a cultural scale.

Men, like women, also need space to gather and talk. To offer each other support. To discuss and define their needs, rights and aspirations.

Men, more than ever, need to discover a sense of power and pride, to shrug off the old macho B.S. to create a new and honourable gender identity.

We need to do this for the sake of our sons. And our daughters.

Source: Edmonton Journal