There has been a little bit of an uproar at some British universities. Several young men attending the universities decided to form men’s groups to address the various issues men face. This, of course, resulted in an interesting, albeit expected, reaction:
After decades of feminism, equal rights and “women-only” support networks, a lower, deeper voice is attempting to make itself heard at some of Britain’s leading universities.
Male students are “manning-up”, setting up men’s groups to celebrate and explore the concept of masculinity amid accusations of sexism and gender stereotyping.
Manchester University has created the first official MENS Society – Masculinity Exploring Networking and Support – despite outrage from critics who claim the existence of such a group undermines women’s ability to speak out for equality.
Meanwhile, at Oxford University the formation of Man Collective – Oxford (MC-O), launched “as a response to the current state of masculinity” has been branded “reactionary and ridiculous”.
Detractors allege they are just a front for macho activities and beer-drinking marathons, but supporters insist they are essential as young men struggle to cope with the pressures of being a man in the modern world.
The gist of the complaints is that men are not really facing any problems, and so the societies, groups and clubs are simply covert attempts to either engage in wanton male recklessness or to undermine women’s rights. None of the detractors offered any tangible evidence of this, only the claim that men’s groups are by nature anti-woman and are therefore unneeded. Virtually all the complaints listed in the article come across as, ironically, reactionary and ridiculous, and not just from an academic sense. In an academic sense their response is baffling because part of the point of college is to examine different facets of an issue. To wholly bar one group’s perspective without even looking at its validity is academically reprehensible.
In a political sense, however, it is beyond ridiculous because it shows just how convoluted academic feminist thinking is. The reaction one reads in the article is akin to the reaction one hears from various religious groups when gay marriage is brought up. It is completely disproportionate to anything actually suggested or done by gay advocacy organizations. Nothing the men’s groups have done or suggested in any way detracts from feminist positions on women’s needs and rights. Simply acknowledging the issues and needs of one group does not belittle or take away from the needs of another group, although it is does cause the focus to shift to a more balanced perspective, meaning that all sides will be looked at instead of just one.
One of the creators of one of the groups wrote a response to his detractors. In it Ben Wild states:
I am the founder and chair of the UK’s first ever university MENS society. In our successful attempts to have this society established, we have come across some inexplicably vitriolic opposition. Anti-MENS groups have been established, members of the student union have fought to silence us, and we have been misrepresented, misquoted and lied about in a variety of sources.
Why? 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?
How can we be accused of discrimination when 90 of our 306 members are female and we have always expressly stated that we are open to everyone, regardless of gender?
Why are we being accused of forcing men into a specific gender identity when we will be running workshops that teach practical skills such as cookery, stitching, bike repair and DIY, regardless of the gender categories that these activities traditionally fall into, as well as holding lectures and screening documentaries exploring the historical perceptions of masculinity?
And why are some people unsure of what a MENS society can address, when issues such as 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, affect thousands of men every day, and yet are being ignored?
In answering these questions I do not wish to insult our opponents. I bear no grudge against them. The reaction of our opponents is ultimately, I believe, born of a genuine concern for women’s rights. They are afraid that this is a slippery slope. They are concerned that attention will be drawn away from important issues of discrimination that still affect women. They need not be.
Unfortunately, the reaction of his opponents is not born of a genuine concern for women’s rights. To the contrary, it is born out of a simplistic, exclusionary view of gender politics. Wild’s opponents think that issues like 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 are not issues men and boys actually face or his opponents consider them negligible.
It is not a matter of overt contempt, although judging by some of the comments that is likely at play in some of the responses. Rather, it is a matter of politic and ideological framing, one in which men have been rendered “the enemy” and “the oppressor,” and one in which anything associated with or specifically for men is labeled “anti-woman.” It is not very likely that any of Wild’s opponents bothered to look at anything his organization does because his opponents already drew their conclusion the moment they heard what concerns his organization intended to address.
So technically speaking, his MENS society is anti-feminist as its concerns extend primarily to men’s issues and needs, which apparently feminists do not think needs to be acknowledged, let alone addressed. What is important about Wild’s group and the others like it is that they focus on men’s issues and needs, not that they focus on appealing to feminists who want nothing to do with them in the first place and consider the issues addressed by men’s groups laughable at best or attacking feminists groups in an effort to undo the bias and misinformation feminists perpetuate. Again, the groups focus on men’s issues. Hopefully Wild keeps that in mind as his group continues on. It sounds as if he is being more diplomatic than playing to feminists, which is good, because men do need their concerns addressed on their terms and organizations like the MENS society will go a long way in helping men find their voice.