A decision not to celebrate International Men’s Day at the university has been branded “disgusting” and “shameful”.
Senior bosses announced they had U-turned on the original promise to take part after receiving a letter signed by 200 students, academics and staff members.
But the decision, announced yesterday, has sparked a furious backlash on social media, with users accusing the university of going “against gender equality” and of being “ignorant to male issues”.
— UK Minarchist (@UK_Minarchist) November 16, 2015
— Liam Stokes (@LNJStokes) November 16, 2015
@UniOfYork Disgusting, you people should be ashamed to call yourself a place of learning.
— Nelatherion (@Nelatherion) November 16, 2015
Matthew Edwards, a third year politics student, said he found the U-turn “embarrassing”. His tweet about the issue has so far racked up more than 100 retweets.
— Matthew (@LordEdwards95) November 16, 2015
Speaking to York Vision, he said: “For me, this is separate to the whole idea of universities becoming ‘safe spaces’ because raising vital men’s issues should not face anybody. The university has given in to a very vocal minority that has led to them wrongly cancelling international men’s day. They have misinterpreted what the day itself means.
“If you look at the theme for this year’s international men’s day, the main themes [are]: the higher male suicide rate; male violence such as male rape and domestic violence and the disadvantages facing males in the education system. These are vital issues and as somebody who has suffered from one of those I have listed, I can tell you such a day to raise awareness is very important.”
He has also criticised YUSU over failing to intervene in the dispute and called for the abolition of the role of Women’s Officer or the addition of a new Men’s Officer role to allow for “equal representation”.
He said: “As a right leaning student YUSU has never represented me and has made no attempts to. The problem is YUSU has no meaningful, if any representation of people with views such as myself. The fact YUSU has a women’s officer, but not a male’s officer speaks volumes. YUSU should have called out the university and stood up for male students rights but they have no representative to do so.”
After seeing posts about the decision, Bex Prescott, from the Isle of Man, said she found it “appalling”. She told York Vision: “I’m absolutely appalled to hear that York Uni have decided to cancel the International Men’s Day events. Hypocrisy and double standards abound – but then I guess there isn’t as much funding doled out for non-female specific events and charities.
“The letter submitted preyed on the regularly spouted misconceptions about feminist issues, to guilt trip the uni into stopping the event.”
Simon Jones, from Cardiff, said he found the decision “disgusting”. He said: “There is a clear objection to the idea of International Men’s day by feminists, who will claim “every day is men’s day” and that it’s taking the spotlight from female issues. Only addressing the inequalities faced by one gender isn’t exactly promoting gender equality, we have a woman’s day and feminists clearly have no struggle sharing the problems faced by women through using the media, as we constantly see things painted as sexist, we had payequalityday last week, etc.
“Men asking for one day for our issues to be addressed should not come under attack, if people are truly promoting gender equality. When I saw what York Uni had posted I was kinda shocked, it’s disgusting.”
One of Britain’s most controversial politicians, who once said he was fed up with “whiney feminists”, has also waded into the row. Mike Buchanan, the leader of the Justice for Men and Boys Party, branded university officials “spineless” over their decision.
In a post on his blog, he wrote: “We present this month’s Gormless Feminists of the Month award to the 191 co-signatories of the open letter that sought to block recognition of issues gravely affecting men and boys on just one day of the year – and succeeded in doing so. Rarely has the award been more deserved.”
The letter sent to university bosses said that students, staff and alumni of the University were “deeply concerned” with the decision to mark International Men’s Day.
It said: “We believe that giving practical application to concepts of equality and diversity should be taken seriously by the university. However, we do not believe that this is furthered by the promotion of International Men’s Day in general and are concerned by the particular way in which the university has chosen to do so.”
In its original statement, the university said it wanted to celebrate the day to highlight some of the issues that have an “adverse impact on the equality for men”.
The statement said: “In academic staff appointments, the data suggests that female candidates have a higher chance of being appointed than men. In the professional support services, there are areas where men are significantly under-represented. Likewise in academic departments, the support staff complement is often heavily weighted towards women, with some departments employing no men at all in these roles.”
It added: “In wider society, men are confronted by other challenges which are significant from an equality perspective. Boys underperform at school compared to girls. Men are 20 times more likely than women to go prison; they are much more likely to be victims of violent crime, are more likely to commit suicide and have a lower life expectancy than women. Men are also less likely to access mental health services and other forms of support when they need them.”
“Men currently have to wait longer than women before they receive a State pension and at certain stages in life, they are less well protected by equality legislation than women. These issues inevitably impact on men employed at the university and on the lives of our students.”
Ananna Zaman, YUSU Women’s Officer and one of the signatories of the letter, rejected an idea to create a Men’s Officer role. She said: “When you’ve got 4 out 5 Sabbatical officers who to my knowledge are cis men and when there are 9 colleges with male welfare representatives, what more of a team could you need to help you address issues faced by men?”
A University spokesperson said: “We have withdrawn the original statement about International Men’s Day, and do not propose to mark this event formally. In gender equality, our main focus has been, and will continue to be, on the inequalities faced by women, such as under-representation in the professoriate.
“At the same time, we will not neglect other aspects of equality, and will take a balanced approach to all nine protected characteristics as defined in the 2010 Equality Act. Our overriding goal is to strive to treat every member of the University community with dignity and respect.”
You can read the full open letter given to university management below.
We the undersigned – students, staff and alumni of the University of York – are deeply concerned by the University’s recent decision to mark International Men’s Day. We believe that giving practical application to concepts of equality and diversity should be taken seriously by the university. However, we do not believe that this is furthered by the promotion of International Men’s Day in general and are concerned by the particular way in which the university has chosen to do so.
According to its official UK website, ‘International Men’s Day’ exists to raise awareness of global issues facing men and boys, and to ‘celebrate the contribution that men make.’ It does not, however, seek a dialogue on such issues with women’s equality campaigns or initiatives. Nor does it acknowledge that the patriarchal structures which underpin society are inimical to both male and female advancement and well-being, or that the achievements of men are celebrated and disproportionately highlighted as a matter of course. We believe in a critical approach towards equality and diversity, which seeks to understand the structural causes of disadvantage.
We also believe that there is a significant reputational risk to the university in aligning itself with International Men’s Day – an event which has not been without significant controversy. The homepage of the global website for International Men’s Day states: ‘The ability to sacrifice your needs on behalf of others is fundamental to manhood, as is honour. Manhood rites of passage the world over recognise the importance of sacrifice in the development of Manhood.’ Retrograde statements like this show a profound lack of understanding on issues surrounding masculinity.
A day that celebrates men’s issues – especially those outlined in the University’s statement – does not combat inequality, but merely amplifies existing, structurally imposed, inequalities. The closing remark – ‘gender equality is for everyone’ – echoes misogynistic rhetoric that men’s issues have been drowned out by the focus on women’s rights. One particularly wrongheaded and offensive assertion is that ‘in the professional support services, there are areas where men are significantly under-represented. Likewise in academic departments, the support staff complement is often heavily weighted towards women, with some departments employing no men at all in these roles.’ Though the statement concedes that the ‘reasons for these circumstances are complex,’ it proposes that they should be addressed ‘in the same way that we approach unfairness and discrimination by women.’ This misses the crucial point that men’s ‘underrepresentation’ in these areas is a direct consequence of unfairness and discrimination towards women; secretarial and support work are gendered and demeaned as ‘women’s work,’ whereas men dominate senior – and better paid – roles. The statement is particularly crass in view of the fact that of the twelve-strong university Senior Management Group (SMG), three quarters are male.
In recent years, a number of serious issues highlighting women’s inequality at the university at all levels have been reported. These include: the lack of female and BME candidates running for YUSU President in the past five years; reports from the YUSU Women’s Officer on serious issues surrounding sexual harassment and ‘lad culture’; the fact that the majority of executive committee positions in political and careers societies are held by men; and the continuing marginalisation of women in academic roles. Within this context, the Equality and Diversity Committee statement’s generalised references to ‘raising awareness about – and removing barriers for – women’ fails to acknowledge the full implications of gender bias against women within the institution.
We believe that men’s issues cannot be approached in the same way as unfairness and discrimination towards women, because women are structurally unequal to men. We recognise that patriarchy is damaging to both men and women, and we are in support of a discussion concerning this, as well as increased attention to specific issues surrounding men’s health. We do not, however, believe that the university statement engages with these complex issues with sufficient nuance or understanding. The failure of the Equality and Diversity Committee to do so undermines their self-proclaimed commitment to gender equality, and leaves us deeply concerned that their supposed investment in women’s rights is mere lip service.
We ask that you provide a full account of the means by which a decision to promote men’s issues in this way was reached by the Equality and Diversity Committee. We hope you will take our concerns and criticism with the seriousness they deserve, and look forward to a full response as soon as possible.