Keele University have a women’s representative. “They work to ensure that the needs of students who define as a woman are represented,” states their website. Like other universities and the NUS itself, women’s reps and officers vital, to defend the needs of self-defining women in the face of the sexism structured into our society. This is not up for debate. What is, however, is Keele University’s other gender rep position: the men’s rep.
The men’s rep job description is identical to the women’s rep, but for self-defining men. However, their role must be fundamentally different. While discrimination against women is systematic and embedded, sexism against men is a far smaller problem. In principle, of course, prejudice against any gender is wrong, but in practice it is undeniable that, simply put, women have it worse.
However, that is not to say the position is worthless. The issue of high suicide rates and mental health stigma is a particular point of concern for men, alongside problems such as lad culture and rape culture. Having someone to campaign against these issues is definitely worthwhile, and allows women’s reps – who have, after all, more to do for gender equality – to concentrate on women.
However, all of the above concerns are created by the same culture and causes. High suicide rates and mental health stigma stem from a belief that expressing emotions, discussing them and needing help with them is ‘feminine’, and for a man to be feminine is bad. Both lad culture and rape culture are, broadly speaking, caused by the dehumanisation of women and entitlement to their bodies. These, and most other prejudices that men face, actually originate in misogyny, and it is vital that a men’s rep recognises that.
Keele University is clear: their men’s rep position is there to compliment and support the women’s rep, not to work in opposition. The problems faced by women, though they rightly have priority, do not detract from those faced by men. Similarly, there are huge problems faced specifically by men who are members of other minority groups, such as black men, and an intersectionalist approach to those issues is vital. So the officer could do a lot of good – but he should not have the same status as a women’s rep, and should never take precedence over her.
It is understandable that women are wary. Movements such as Men’s Rights Activism and ‘meninism’, while both ostensibly grounded in the same reasoning as a men’s representative, have largely turned into an opposing and violent force against women’s liberation. A product of privilege is the idea that your concerns are central, and that you are entitled to speak over others; championing men only is dangerous because of this. I can only hope that candidates will be carefully screened.
Ultimately, though, a men’s rep there to ‘ensure that the needs of students who define as a men are represented’, is unnecessary. Women are underrepresented in student and national politics. Last year I counted, and only six of the 21 Russell Group student union Presidents identified as female. Our own university had not a single candidate this year, just one of nine last year, and, in the YUSU Debates, we have seen the harassment female candidates face. Men’s voices are already being heard; it is still women’s that need championing.
If Keele will insist on having a men’s representative, they are welcome to. But if their motive is gender representation, I would ask that they have a non-binary representative as well, at the very least to fight against the erasure they are currently perpetuating.