A couple of weeks ago an assistant professor at Ryerson was accused of sexism against women for daring to attempt something like affirmative action – to benefit the wrong gender. As described in a Toronto Sun article, Lucie Moussu, assistant English professor and director of the Writing Centre, sent an email out to colleagues explaining that there were too few male tutors.

Contacted by the Sun, Moussu pointed out 16 of the 18 tutors she hired last semester are female.

Sounds fair. When females make up a small minority we institute policies that preferentially choose them for entrance to engineering and science undergraduate positions, as well as for all sorts of academic promotions, not to mention special grants only available to women. In comparison to passing over an equally qualified male candidate for something as important as career advancement or grant money, surely the appointment of tutors is rather trivial. Not so. And after vocal calls of sexism, Moussu felt the need to justify her action, saying:

We are desperately looking for students who … are males (preferably, because we don’t want our female tutors to be alone in the Writing Centre in the evening.

Ah, of course. It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with equality. Male tutors are required as body guards. Ryerson is a notoriously unsafe campus (as I experienced unfortunately) and they require big strong men to keep the peace. Granted, Moussu clarified she didn’t expect men to actually be of much peacekeeping use, but that their presence would guarantee less shouting. That still rubs me the wrong way. If violence did break out, considering what she’s said, it seems Moussu would likely see the male tutors as her first line of defense. Putting men preferentially at risk is equality?

But what’s even worse is the response from a sociology faculty member:

This is against the law. Females should not face employment discrimination because of potentially unsafe working conditions… The onus is on the university to provide safe working conditions for all its employees and to follow fair hiring practices.

No mention whatsoever of the sexism of drafting men as some sort of tutor/bodyguard hybrid.

Curiously, Moussu shot back, in an Eye Opener article, with

If we want to target minority groups, if we have the legal right to do that, I think males — in my case — are the minority

The most interesting response though, and one that shows this sort of sexism can cut both ways, was from Genevieve Weigel, the events coordinator at the Ryerson Women’s Centre, who said

hiring male tutors at the Writing Centre would not necessarily deter students from mistreating employees. “Being male is not the be all and end all of stopping violence — in fact, it can be quite the opposite,” said Weigel. She also said that just because someone is male does not mean they are more physically imposing than a woman, and that security concerns should be addressed in other ways.

That’s actually the most well reasoned and equalist response I’ve heard, which surprised me considering the source. But she makes a good point. When we start talking about affirmative action – whatever our motives or goals – it cuts both ways. Men shouldn’t be used as a security device. Women shouldn’t be deprived of their – individual to individual – equal opportunity to tutoring jobs, despite the fact that unrelated women already have a high number of them.

Turning to a separate issue involving a recent media experience I had, we can flip the tables. Women shouldn’t be assumed so weak as to require help from journalists in getting ahead. Men shouldn’t be deprived equal opportunity to media appearances, despite the fact that unrelated men already have a high number of such spots.

That was cryptic so let me explain. Late last week I was contacted by CBC The Current as they were looking to interview someone on the atheist bus campaign. I listed our three spokespeople – myself, President of the Freethought Association, Katie Kish, Vice President, and Chris Hammond, organizer of this bus initiative.

They immediately targeted Katie as the ideal guest (they didn’t even ask about Chris), as she is female and they are looking to increase the presence of female voices. Is this a CBC policy, I asked. No, just an unofficial practice. So you would rather speak to the Vice President then the President of the Association, I asked. Well, I’m sure you’re both equally capable spokespeople, was the reply (this is from memory so it may not be exact). Now Katie is more then qualified and she had already fielded loads of these interviews, but there was no attempt at all by this producer to differentiate us in other more meaningful ways, such as by experience, involvement in this campaign, or other accomplishments. It was all about gender.

I told them, very calmly, that I found this sexist, both against men who work hard to earn the leadership of organizations, and against women. Think about it. The media is effectively hiding the real position of females within NGO’s if they pretend they have more power within the organization then they really do, and that’s hardly helpful towards improving the real status of women if that is something they are concerned with. It cuts both ways, right? Anyway, they decided to have me on the air, but ended up emailing later in the day to cancel the segment, no reason given. I would have worried more, had I not already done like 30 radio spots (in fact, I was at CBC studios fielding 6 radio interviews in a row when that particular email came through).

Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but that was only one of two interviews to cancel on me, and the other gave a damn good excuse – coverage of the Tamil Tigers.