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Proud Boys toss around the shade in the Summer of White Male Grievance

Certain summers are so eventful and singular that they are remembered by name long after. There was the Summer of Love, and at the other end of the fun spectrum, the Summer of Sam. This year is already promising to be one for the history books. I like to think of it as the Summer of White Male Grievance.

From the "Proud Boys" protesting the sun setting on their testosterone empire to men whining over female-only screenings of Wonder Woman, from the basements of Reddit to the halls of the White House, everywhere we hear the squawk, "This is not fair. We want our clubhouse back."

And, of course, they have every right to protest the fact that their centuries-old stranglehold on power might be loosening by a finger or two. I've written recently about the ways in which an oppressed underclass can leverage protest to its benefit. At this rate, white men's dominance of the top levels of business, politics, industry, tech, media, academe, culture, the police and the military might begin to slip within the next couple of centuries. Women might get to control something other than websites where Gwyneth Paltrow is the resident scientist. I can see that the prospect is terrifying.

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Last week, the Proud Boys – a male-only group devoted to promoting the superiority of Western culture – disrupted a Mi'kmaq protest in Halifax, while wearing adorably matching polo-neck shirts. The founder of the Proud Boys is Gavin McInnes, who is a bit like the Don Rickles of anti-feminism, complete with jokes retrieved from a time capsule packed in 1962. Feminists are ugly, did you know? Their ovaries are all dry and shrivelled up! Behold the beer glass filled with male tears.

The Proud Boys describe themselves as a fraternity, so no gurlz allowed. This brings to mind Groucho's joke about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him, and also the image of little children attempting to shock by dropping their pants. One does not want to encourage the pant-dropping behaviour of small children by giving them more attention, but here we are. The pants, like gauntlets in centuries before, are dropped.

But what about female-only spaces, you say. Aren't they equally discriminatory? Except that female spaces are created as an answer to, and an escape from, aggression. They are not themselves aggressive. When women hold a women-only screening of Wonder Woman in Texas – an occurrence that created a huge backlash, and threats of lawsuits – it's not because they are planning to go to war, or beat someone up, or scream in someone's face. They just want two hours of peace. Which, as many women know, is practically impossible.

Last week, there were four rapes and 23 sexual assaults reported at Bravalla, Sweden's biggest pop music festival. The Swedish Prime Minister condemned the "obnoxious acts by deplorable men." As a result of the incidents, the organizers announced that the festival would be cancelled next year. One Swedish comedian, Emma Knyckare, has suggested that a female-only rock festival take its place. You can imagine how well that suggestion has gone down in certain quarters.

The marching song for this Summer of White Male Grievance is an opinion piece published in the Boston Globe on July 3, and hugely popular on its website ever since. Under the headline, "In defense of the white male," author Roland Merullo admits that his particular demographic had been guilty of many misdeeds in the past, including slave-owning and war-making, but that its many triumphs and discoveries are now overlooked and denigrated. "And," he writes, "if it were not for the millions of white men who gave their lives in World War II, we might all be starting the work day with the Nazi salute."

Well, that could be because women were excluded from combat in the U.S. forces at the time, and served in other ways, and doesn't acknowledge the contribution of African-American soldiers, but anyway. Mr. Merullo's larger point is that white men feel aggrieved.

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I could tell him that women feel aggrieved every day over pay and wealth inequity, harassment and lack of representation in politics and the boardroom. I could point to the women in the United States who are having their right to reproductive health-care challenged by a group of uniformly pink-hued suit-wearers in the Congress and Senate. And yes, women have complained about these injustices. And yes, our reaching for even the most meagre slice of the pie has led us to this place, where our reach is condemned as greed.

But there's a difference between feeling mildly peeved, which is the bro challenge at the moment, and actually being subjected to violence, exclusion and deprivation, which happens to women and minorities every day in North America. I'm sorry that it feels terrible. There's a pile of our used hankies over there, if you'd like to borrow a few.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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