The Weekly Whims Of HatManJim: University “Men’s Societies”? Nonsense!November 28, 2009 No Comments
A weather-beaten eye cast over the media: HatManJim looks at a story in the headlines and as a feminist with a penis (Menimist? Femi-meni-mist? I just believe i n women’s rights, I’m not having gender-reassignment. OK?), attempts to map the sexism inherent in the press, without inadvertently saying anything lecherous about breasts.
When I was an undergraduate at a UK university, many years ago (well, about five years ago) we had yearly elections for sabbatical officers in the student union. One of these posts was “women’s officer”. One year a candidate for this position ran on a policy that, if elected, she would “discuss men’s issues as well as women’s issue”. Everyone I knew thought this was ridiculous. The point of having a women’s officer, in any organisation, is that women’s interests are under-represented. A women’s officer is not there to talk about men’s issues. The title is fairly self-explanatory.
Around the same time in the circus that was our student union elections there was a guy demanding that he be allowed to stand as “men’s officer” because if there was a women’s officer it was sexist not to have a male counterpart. Again, this generally prompted wincing and a return to the point about women’s interests being under-represented, whilst everything is geared towards men.
So, now that the murky world of student politics is well behind me I was amused to see that a big fuss had kicked off because students at Oxford and Manchester universities’ unions have started “men’s societies”. These are supposed to provide a space where men can meet up and explore the issues around their masculinity, as reported in the UK’s The Guardian newspaper here.
At best this sounds like a bunch of tree hugging geeks spouting self-help nonsense, at worst it sounds a bit like Fight Club. Either way it made me grasp for the same old argument from my student days: WE ARE MEN! WE DO NOT NEED REPRESENTATIVES/ OUR OWN SOCIETIES BECAUSE WE RUN THE PLACE ANYWAY.
Student politicians opposed to the idea have echoed this sentiment. Olivia Bailey, national women’s officer in the UK National Union of Students, is quoted in The Guardian article saying: “Discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent, so what exactly will a men’s society do? To suggest that men need a specific space to be ‘men’ is ludicrous, when everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces.”
Quite right, too.
Except that if you read the article further it seems Alex Linsley, the 20-year-old founder of the Oxford based society, MC-O (Man Collective – Oxford) said that he formed the group as a response to the growing suicide rates amongst young men in Oxford. Surely, providing a support network to counter such problems is legitimate?
Likewise the Manchester MENS Society (Masculinity Exploring Networking and Support Society) has apparently focused its activities on a range of issues affecting men that actually sound quite worthy. According to society founder, 21-year-old Ben Wild, writing a comment piece defending the group, again in The Guardian, these include “prostate and testicular cancer, higher suicide rates, domestic violence towards men, male-on-male rape, statistically overwhelming male-on-male violence, falling male performance in education, custody and paternity leave inequalities, alcoholism, higher rates of depression, and the social stigma directed towards men in supposedly feminine jobs such as nursing”.
He also rebuffs criticism that the men’s society is simply an excuse for a bunch of lads to go on the lash by saying: “How can a society, established by a teetotaller, that actively campaigns against alcohol abuse with sponsored sober pub crawls in order to raise money for local alcohol abuse shelters, be accused of being a veiled drinking club?”
Apart from the fact that this makes MENS Society sound like probably the most boring student society ever (sober pub crawls?), it does seem to pretty much pull the rug from under any argument that it’s an old boy’s style drinking club.
Something that critics of these groups are failing to take on board, and perhaps something that I failed to appreciate back when I was a student, is that there are issues that specifically affect young men that sometimes require a support network to deal with. Being pro-man does not make them anti-feminist, in the same way that being a feminist does not necessarily make you anti-male.
In any case, this is student politics and they’ll have to forget it all anyway in a few years time when they have to get proper jobs.
HatManJim’s column will appear every Saturday.