University of York apologises over ‘crass’ celebration of International Men’s Day

Press release stating intent to mark event is withdrawn after receiving instant social media backlash

November 17, 2015
Source: iStock

The University of York has been forced to issue an apology on its website after receiving a social media backlash for deciding to mark International Men’s Day.

In a press release published on 12 November, the university announced its intent to observe the event by “highlighting some of the issues that have an adverse impact on equality for men”.

Adrian Lee, of York’s equality and diversity committee, was quoted in the release as saying: “In the area of gender equality, the focus has rightly been on raising awareness about – and removing barriers for – women. 

“We are, however, also aware of some of the specific issues faced by men.”

The release went on to talk about how men were “under-represented in the student population as a whole” and “in a number of academic disciplines across all three faculties”. 

“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,” it stated.

“The reasons for these circumstances are complex and the solutions will not be found overnight, but we are resolved to address these issues systematically and fairly, in the same way that we approach unfairness and discrimination faced by women.”

However, after publication on York’s website the release received a wave of criticism on social media, ranging from incredulity to outrage. The post was subsequently removed by the university.

Writing on the Feminist Philosophers blog, Jennifer Saul, from the University of Sheffield’s department of philosophy, called the post “very counterproductive”.

“There is, it is true, a rather controversial study which has been wrongly reported as establishing this,” she wrote, referring to the point about female academics having a higher chance of being appointed to a post than their male counterparts. “There are also masses of studies arguing the opposite.

“To toss this in as if it’s established, and in such a way as to suggest the people whose progress we should now worry about are men, is grossly irresponsible in the face of numbers showing that women are still massively under-represented.”

An open letter to the university’s registrar, David Duncan, who was quoted at the bottom of the original York press release, also condemned the release, calling the statement “crass”.

“We believe that giving practical application to concepts of equality and diversity should be taken seriously by the university,” it stated.

"However, we do not believe that this is furthered by the promotion of International Men’s Day in general and are concerned by the particular way in which the university has chosen to do so.

“A day that celebrates men’s issues – especially those outlined in the university’s statement – does not combat inequality, but merely amplifies existing, structurally imposed, inequalities. The closing remark – ‘gender equality is for everyone’ – echoes misogynistic rhetoric that men’s issues have been drowned out by the focus on women’s rights.”

The letter, which was published today, has garnered more than 190 signatories. The University of York has since released a statement on its website, apologising for any offence caused.

“We are sorry that this has caused unhappiness for some members of the university community who felt that the statement was inappropriate and should never have been issued,” it reads.

“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.  

“The Equality and Diversity Committee is clear that the main focus of gender equality work should continue to be on the inequalities faced by women, and in particular the under-representation of women in the professoriate and senior management.  

“In the meantime, the statement marking this year’s International Men’s Day has been withdrawn and we can confirm that we will no longer be marking International Men’s Day 2015.”

However, the York decision later prompted a further backlash on social media, and prompted the organisers of International Men’s Day to criticise the signatories to the open letter.

Glen Poole, the UK coordinator of the event, said in a blog post that was also added underneath this article that he was “deeply saddened” by the U-turn.

“When 13 a men a day in the UK are dying from suicide, it is essential that everyone in positions of power, trust and influence does everything they can to help men talk about the issues that affect them,” he wrote.

“And that includes the academic community and student representatives.”

He added: “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.”

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Reader's comments (1)

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. I understand the university had planned to follow up the day by highlighting the availability of mental health and welfare support that is available to men. When 13 a men a day in the UK are dying from suicide, it is essential that everyone in positions of power, trust and influence does everything they can to help men talk about the issues that affect them. And that includes the academic community and student representatives. One way we can all do this is to make it easier for people of all backgrounds and political perspectives to talk about men’s issues. It seems that on this occasions, 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. I’d invite these campaigners to 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?” As UK co-ordinator for International Men’s Day, I wonder if you’d have compassion for men like Robert, who wrote to me last week and told me he’d sat on the railway tracks on many occasions in recent years, waiting for the Carlisle to Newcastle train to put him out of his misery. With the help of supportive family and “an amazing GP” he managed to pull through. “You don’t know me,” he wrote, “but I just want to say how much I admire what you’re doing. I myself am a ‘survivor’, my story isn’t over thankfully. I will do whatever I can to help.” I wonder if you have any compassion for men like Dave who wrote to me and said: “Your hard work on these issues warms my heart. My best mate from the age of four committed suicide four years ago as he couldn’t go on and no-one really got it or him. I still think of him everyday”. I wonder if you have compassion for the young man called Sam who wrote to me last week about his experiences of having suicidal thoughts. He said: “As a man who is recovering from mental problems and who has struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, I have had to face up to shame and discuss it in detail. It has been a painful and at times frightening process but one that has been key to my recovery. When we look at the problem of male suicide, we need to look at how our society sets up young men to experience potentially unmanageable levels of shame and need to work together to build a society where this in no longer the case.” As Sam said on twitter in response to this news: "When you deny men the time and space to discuss their issues openly and constructively on International Men's Day, then disillusioned young men will be more likely to turn to less healthy places to discuss what they are feeling." So I wonder if you would take a moment to consider, with compassion in your hearts, whether your actions in campaigning against International Men’s Day are helping or hindering men like these to come forward and share their stories of male suicide? 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? International Men’s Day in the UK has a proud record when it comes to promoting the need for male suicide prevention initiatives. This year our theme for International Men’s Day is “Making a Difference for Men and Boys”. 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. It takes great courage, compassion and creativity to take on difficult issues like preventing male suicide. One creative way people are raising awareness of male suicide on International Men’s Day is by supporting a new social media campaign led by the charity CALM UK. You can sign up for free to support this campaign at I don’t know if this campaign will help men talk about their issues or not, but I do know it will do more good than campaigning against the good people supporting International Men’s Day who are trying to make a difference for men and boys. If you haven’t the compassion to join us, then my request is that you kindly leave us in peace do our work to help men talk about men’s issues like male suicide on International Men’s Day. Glen Poole, UK Co-ordinator, International Men's Day

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