It was six years ago that a small group of activists in Edmonton, Alberta demonstrated to the rest of the country how tired they were of anti-male propaganda. Their witty poster campaign, entitled “Don’t Be That Girl,” and the predictable backlash it provoked, illustrated the thick skin and long-game steadfastness required in men’s rights work.
In July of 2013, a coalition of feminist groups had teamed up with Canada’s national police force to create a series of posters lecturing men about their supposed sexual attitudes.
The campaign, dubbed “edgy” and “brash” by an approving Global News article, challenged men to “own their role” in ending rape. In particular, according to the website of one of the project partners, the campaign pinpointed men’s “sense of entitlement in regards to sex and access to women’s bodies.” It didn’t matter that most men have never felt any such entitlement. “Just because you helped her home … doesn’t mean you can help yourself,” ran one of the poster’s messages, with an image of a drunken girl being assisted to a vehicle by her date. Another poster showed a young woman passed out on a sofa while a man stands over her, just about to remove his jeans. Nowhere on the posters or in the accompanying explanatory literature was it mentioned that sexual assault is committed by a very small minority of men.
The posters suggested that many men are so brutish and morally enfeebled as not to realize or care that sex with a woman who has passed out is not sex but sexual assault.
In response, Men’s Rights Edmonton launched its own “public education” campaign: against false allegations of sexual assault. Entitled “Don’t Be That Girl,” it copied the feminist posters exactly, using some of the same images and lettering, but with a different message: “Just because you regret a one night stand … doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual.” The men’s rights posters had a simple, tit-for-tat message: men can be victims too, and they’re tired of the barrage of misandrist messages. In a gender equal world, women’s criminality deserves to be called out just as much as men’s.
The all-too-predictable response was a marshaling of outrage and over-statement. Anu Dugal, Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, said that the men’s rights posters reinforced the damaging belief “that women are responsible for sexual assault because of their actions or appearance.” Notice the specious logic in Dugal’s cookie-cutter rebuttal: to claim that some women lie about abuse is the same, according to her, as claiming that women are responsible for their abuse. But “Don’t Be That Girl” never said that women are to blame for rape: the subject of the men’s rights campaign was false allegations.
Another feminist organization, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault, charged that “Don’t Be That Girl” was “absolutely false, inaccurate and 100% incorrect.” What is one to say about such a claim, given that proven cases of false charges are widely known; one well-publicized case at the time of the posters involved an Edmonton cab driver whose accusers’ casually malicious plan to get out of paying their cab fare by claiming he had assaulted them was caught on videotape. If not for the camera in the taxi, Soner Yasa would likely have gone to prison; he would almost certainly have been out of a job, his reputation in tatters. The feminist response to such realities was a massive, socially-sanctioned shrug.
Most disturbing of all was the response of an Edmonton police officer, Acting Inspector Sean Armstrong of the Serious Crime Branch, who dismissed ant-feminist concerns by claiming that in “four and a half years” of assault investigations, he had encountered “only one false report.” How would he know? When even police officers—those whom we expect to treat all claims with a certain degree of sober skepticism—blindly toe the feminist line, we know our society is in serious trouble.
“Don’t Be That Girl” demonstrated the perfect circle of feminist orthodoxy: men who refuse their characterization as rapists are accused of promoting rape; men who object to false charges are accused of lying. “Don’t Be That Girl” indicated the wit, tenacity, and refusal of shame necessary in MRA resistance.