On Thursday, the University of York announced that it would be celebrating International Men's Day this Nov. 19. The university's statement explained that British men face some issues that women don't. Men, according to the release, are more likely to go to prison, more likely to perform poorly in school, more likely to be victims of violent crime, and more likely to commit suicide than women, among other things.
And, according to a member of the university staff, men are outnumbered by women at York. "Men," said Dr Adrian Lee, a member of York's Equality & Diversity Committee, "are under-represented in the student population as a whole; they are also significantly under-represented in a number of academic disciplines across all three faculties." Lee continued:
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… we are resolved to address these issues systematically and fairly, in the same way that we approach unfairness and discrimination faced by women.
This, as you can imagine, was met with raised eyebrows by some students and other members of the York community. In an open letter sent Friday to Lee and university registrar Dr. David Duncan, who was also quoted in the statement, roughly 200 people expressed their concerns over the decision to mark the day:
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.
The signatories added that celebrating International Men's Day could make it seem as though the university was sympathizing with misogynistic Men's Rights groups:
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.
Ultimately, the letter asked Lee and Duncan to "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."
On Sunday, Duncan responded: "I am sorry that this has caused unhappiness for some members of the University community," explaining, "the intention was to draw attention to some of the issues men tell us they encounter and to follow this up by highlighting in particular the availability of mental health and welfare support which we know men are sometimes reluctant to access." He said, however, that the concerns were being taken seriously by the university:
We will certainly reflect on the views expressed in the open letter and I expect think twice about marking future Men’s Days. We will also consider whether it would be helpful to revise the statement in order to make its core purpose clearer, or perhaps to withdraw it altogether.
Indeed, the university confirmed "that we will no longer be marking International Men’s Day 2015." The school's initial statement announcing the celebration was also pulled from its website (although there's a cached version still accessible). A university rep explained to me in a statement:
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.
This proved an insufficient response in the eyes of students against York observing International Men's Day, who penned another letter sent out Monday—this time including editors of the school paper and student leaders—demanding an explanation for why the university wanted to participate in the celebration at all, a better apology, and an acknowledgement that the university's reputation could suffer a blow for associating with men's rights groups.
Plus, those who were in favor of celebrating the day are now very mad at the university for changing their plans. As York Vision points out today, they've been acting up on social media:
@UniOfYork dead men less important than women managers. Message received and thanks for nothing.
— OirishM (@Oirish_Martin) November 16, 2015
And the coordinator of International Men's Day in the UK, Glenn Poole, told the York Press that he was "deeply saddened" by the university's decision, adding that those who spoke out against York's participation in the day should "reflect on their actions and ask themselves this question: 'Whose voice is it more important to listen to on International Men’s Day, yours or the voices of suicidal men and those bereaved by male suicide?'” Damn.
The Press also reports that a group called New Fathers 4 Justice threatened the university over the decision.
We have a feeling they won't be celebrating next year, either.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.