Students were divided last week on the issue of International Men’s Day (IMD) after the university U-turned on its decision to mark the event.
On November 12, the University announced its intention to mark IMD, first on the staff intranet and later on the University’s website.
It was stated that they wanted to highlight “some of the issues that have an adverse impact on equality for men”. The issues outlined included under-representation of men in the student
population and in staff appointments as well as the performance of boys at school, mental health, suicide and life expectancy.
A group of postgraduates and staff wrote an open letter in response to the announcement, raising concerns over the University’s justification for the event as well as the day’s rooting in anti-feminist ideals.
The open letter outlined concerns that the overall global event was not one that represented equality and that the arguments put forward in the University statement (such as one implying that women are privileged in academia) were poorly evidenced and failed to acknowledge that there are more women in support roles because they lose out to men for the top jobs.
However, they did acknowledge that mental health is an issue that needs to be tackled, just not in the way proposed. Around 200 staff, student and alumni signed the open letter.
One signatory of the open letter was Dr Kasia Narkowicz of the Department of Sociology. She said: “Men’s Day completely ignored the fact that there is still gender inequality and that it is women, not men, that are oppressed in this society”.
On the morning of Monday November 16, the plan to mark the event was cancelled by senior University management, and then later on the same day, the open letter was published. Notably, whilst the writing of the open letter and circulation for signing was ongoing, the letter was not published until after the cancellation was announced.
The University’s announcement that it was cancelling the event provoked bitter backlash from some students who felt men’s issues were being overlooked. A counter-petition to reinstate IMD was started, and has so far accumulated over 4000 signatures from students at the university as well as external sympathisers from elsewhere in the UK as well as abroad.
They cited high rates of male suicide and other mental health issues as a reason that an International Men’s Day was needed.
In addition, a number of national newspapers including The Guardian, The Daily Mail, BBC, The Times, The Metro and Breitbart wrote articles about the cancellation of IMD.
This seemingly provided a catalyst for the spread of misinformation. Many people blamed the Feminist Society for the cancellation of the event and whilst some members of the society signed the open letter, they did not start the discussion nor did the open letter call for the cancellation of the event. There were also implications made that the event was somehow linked to the recent tragic death of a student at the University, an accusation that has been described as “insensitive” and “disgusting” by students.
Many people disagreed online with the university’s decision. A number of people tweeted the university saying they would no longer consider York as an institution for themselves or their children. Phillip Davies MP said universities were “full of politically correct lunatics” on BBC 2’s Daily Politics.
Many students that signed the open letter or made public statements against IMD started receiving harassment from other students and from people outside the university that had read newspaper stories about the cancellation of IMD. This harassment came in the form of public tweets about individuals, comments on Facebook as well as threatening messages sent to personal accounts. As a result, the FemSoc Facebook group was deactivated and a number of students changed their names on Facebook to protect themselves.
Most prominent among those harassing students is the controversial journalist Milo Yiannopoulos,a strong supporter of IMD. He accused one of the YUSU Women’s Officers of being a murderer and tweeted screenshots of conversations from the FemSoc to his almost 100,000 strong fanbase, which has no doubt contributed to those students feeling unsafe.
He has since been invited to speak at the university about “militant feminism” by the York Uni UKIP Society.