So 'macho' group sparks ideological fisticuffs

January 14, 2010

A student men's society accused of promoting "beard-growing and tough-guy competitions" as the defining characteristics of masculinity has sparked an ideological tussle at the University of Manchester.

The Masculinity Exploration Networking and Support (MENS) group, which aims to raise funds for men's health issues and explore "a male gender identity that benefits all members of society", has generated fierce opposition since it was formed last year.

Ben Wild, founder of the group, said that in the latest flare-up, posters advertising a film night had been torn from corridor walls.

The society had been due to watch a documentary titled Tough Guise (1999), which "deconstructs the association between violence and masculinity in the mass media".

Mr Wild said: "I wouldn't like to comment on who specifically tore down the posters, but I am not surprised: this action was very much in keeping with the irrational, parochial and aggressive style of some of our more extreme opponents."

Writing in the student newspaper Student Direct: Mancunion, Caitriona Rylance, who leads Manchester Communist Students, questioned the need for a men's group on campus, arguing that "the men's society is the world in which we live".

She claimed that when the group was formed, it promoted itself as catering for enthusiasts of "Top Gear ... beer-drinking marathons and Iron Man competitions".

She said it had started talking about men's health and welfare only after "substantial opposition from men and women alike".

"All that talk about welfare mysteriously disappeared at this year's freshers' fair," she added.

"The men's society stall was staffed ... by men handing out a leaflet reaffirming a commitment to 'Uber-manly' pursuits, including beard growing, DIY and tough-guy competitions. There was no indication that it grasps that its endorsement of macho activities as the defining characteristic of manliness is ultimately harmful."

Mr Wild retorted that his aim was to open traditional male activities to everyone.

"Sponsored beard growing isn't really open to everyone - some men will be unable to compete, and some women will," he said.

"But even this will have the true motive of raising money for prostate and testicular cancer awareness, not enforcing male dominance."

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