Glen Poole, the UK coordinator for International Men’s Day, has written to the University of York, responding to its decision to cancel its plans to mark the controversial date. As part of his message, he invited the students and academics that signed the open letter that led to the cancellation to join male suicide charity CALM, and rethink their application of their own gender politics.
Poole writes “I was deeply saddened to hear that the University of York has cancelled its plans to mark International Men’s Day and raise awareness of important men’s issues like male suicide […]
“It seems that on this occasion, those academics, student representatives and alumni who have campaigned against the University’s plans to mark International Men’s Day, have put their personal gender politics ahead of their compassion for men and boys in crisis and distress.”
In his article, Poole gives three case studies of men who have suffered, are currently suffering, or have known somebody suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.
He asks “When you campaign against initiatives to highlight men’s issues, are you helping suicidal men to talk about their issues, or making it harder for suicidal men to talk about their issues?”
“I’d like to invite all those who have found time to campaign against an initiative that is designed to make a difference, to invest that time in supporting the day instead.”
The topic of male suicide is one that has come up frequently in discussion about International Men’s Day. Those campaigning for the Day to be re-instated at the University cite the need to raise the profile of men’s mental health, in order to address the disproportionate numbers of males who take their own lives.
Ruth Morris, a student at the University of York, has started a petition on the platform change.org to reinstate the Day, arguing “It is important that we recognise men’s day just as much as women’s day”.
“To cancel men’s day is simply hypocritical. Equality is not just for women and should concern both genders,” the petition reads. At time of writing, 947 have signed in support.
Meanwhile, the organisers of the open letter to the Equality and Diversity Committee have since issued a second statement on their WordPress page, outlining their dissatisfaction at some of the media coverage of the discussion.
The group claimed their intentions had been misunderstood as the news spread nationwide and anger mounted quickly. They stand by their original letter, which they cite in their response.
The organisers write “As the open letter makes clear, we appreciate that structural and societal constructs are damaging, in certain ways, to men as well as they are to women, and would be ‘in support of a discussion concerning this, as well as increased attention to specific issues surrounding men’s health’. We feel that much of this media coverage, and indeed the University’s own statement of retraction, has misrepresented our position, and has characterised us as being opposed to this.
“The media narrative that has been constructed around our statement has frequently been to position us as supporting (quoting the Telegraph) ‘the double bind that suicidal men and those who advocate their need for support are constantly placed in’, in which ‘we can’t talk about men’s issues because women’s issues are more important’.
“We do not deny, and in fact explicitly affirm in our original open letter, that there are also concerns which may pertain more specifically to men, and that it would be entirely legitimate for the University to address and promote awareness of issues such as these.”
In their latest statement published online and emailed to David Duncan and Adrian Lee, the organisers have also raised concerns of mounting harassment following the University’s retraction and cancelling of International Men’s Day.
The group claims the retraction “misrepresented the content of the original statement” and “put many signatories at risk from supposed ‘men’s rights activists’,” as some have been targets of varying degrees of abuse on Twitter, by university email and on their academia.edu pages.
They report “In a particularly concerning development, [name redacted due to harassment concerns] tweeted yesterday afternoon that some York women had received rape and death threats”.
The organisers have appealed for the University to address the issue of harassment immediately, claiming that many have had to lock their Twitter accounts as a means of precaution. They call for the University to put out an official statement detailing available advice and services for anyone targeted, as part of its duty of care to faculty and students.
In a public statement Ben Leatham, YUSU President, has acknowledged that the University’s decisions in this matter have been misinformed. “We know the awareness day was well intentioned but on this occasion the format and the communication was wrong,” he wrote.
“The University has agreed to work closer with us in the future to ensure the voices and concerns of our students are heard loud and clear in conversation and action on equality issues.”
He maintains that YUSU “actively support students in striving for equality and champion the successes a diverse and united student body can achieve”.