An independent event to recognise International Men’s Day was held at the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) on 19 November. After the event organisers’ refusal to adopt a safe space policy and use content warnings sparked controversy online, several commenters raised fears that the event would perpetuate a misogynist agenda, and QMU board members stepped in to moderate the event.
The event ran from 1-5 p.m. and included discussions on physical, sexual, and mental health issues that affect men, as well as sections on domestic abuse, education and work. The four one hour sections saw intense but respectful debate among attendees from widely differing backgrounds offering their own perspectives on the subjects.
International Men’s Day UK states that the theme for the day is “Making a Difference for Men and Boys,” and state their aims are to address high male suicide rate, challenges faced by the most marginalised males in society (for instance, homeless men, boys in care, and men in custody), and male victims of violence, including sexual violence, amongst other things.
At the beginning of the event several students, who stated they were not affiliated with any organisations, distributed leaflets entitled “International Men’s Day? Not at this event!”. The leaflets contained links to support services and included quotes from Glasgow University Feminist Society on the importance of safe spaces and content warnings, and their lack of conviction regarding the event’s intentions. On social media the society stated that they were “not convinced of the organisers’ intentions, and feel this event will, in fact, undermine the seriousness of men’s health issues,” adding that they felt that cancelling the event would have been an appropriate course of action.
President of the Isabella Elder Feminist Society, Ash Charlton, stated that; “We want to be clear – we do not condemn speaking about men’s issues. The societal pressure of hyper-masculinity, the pressure to not speak about your emotions and the pressure to show no weaknesses are serious issues that affect men.”
However, Charlton continued: “What we do think is that a unique event called International Men’s Day is inherently unfeminist; every day of the year is international men’s day… The reason that an International Men’s Day originated in 1992 was due to a backlash and a sense of unfairness amongst men after international women’s day was recognised. But just as a ‘White History Month’ would be ridiculous, as white people are not a marginalised group, we feel as though International Men’s Day glorifies an already privileged group.”
A safe space was offered to attendees in the form of the QMU’s TV room, to which QMU board members offered to accompany those unaware of its location. Organiser Mac Convery stated that in previously refusing to accommodate a safe space, they were seeking to avoid stifling free speech, and cited the example of an Edinburgh University event which prohibited gestures in a safe space.
Convery acknowledged in their opening remarks that commenters on both sides had been guilty of offensive language online, and noted that violence and discrimination would not be tolerated at the event. They noted that they saw no misogyny or misandry at the event.
Organiser Chris Colebrook was accused by the feminist society of not believing in rape culture or the wage gap, to which he replied: “Let me first say that no one is suggesting rape does not happen or that victims should not get the support and justice they need”. Colebrook continued by saying that the term rape culture is incorrectly used to define heterosexual rape when the word originated to describe male rape in prisons and, in reference to the terms accepted usage today, said that: “The whole idea is exaggerated based on information from discredited research, which was never peer reviewed, from a small sample size and using vague questions for an agenda. Also this is exclusively targeted at men in a finger pointing fashion which does not I feel help anyone”. Of the gender wage gap, Colebrook also commented that men often work longer hours and that women are “more often drawn to professions such as arts, languages, social sciences, which are paid less than some of the jobs men such as physics, maths, and sciences can be drawn to.”
Convery stated that events like IMD are necessary to raise awareness and tackle men’s suffering, drawing particular attention to the disproportionately high suicide rates for men. Convery noted that “considering the huge backlash and harassment on the event’s Facebook page in the days running up to it, we were expecting a lot of hassle. But the event itself was civil. I think some good discussions were had and we’ve received some positive feedback so far.”
QMU President Jack Smith attended the entirety of the event, in addition to several other board members. Smith stated that he was unable to cancel the event due to various bylaws and so opted to attend in a moderation capacity. Once the event had concluded he noted that the event did proceed peacefully, stating that: “Everyone in attendance remained civil throughout and we did not have to intervene as moderators once. Where there was disagreement in the room it was discussed calmly and respectfully and I hope that those in attendance felt the event was worthwhile and that they left having learned from one another.” Smith further added that QMU is working to end the stigma around mental health issues with campaign group Elephant in the Room; a campaign that the Isabella Elder Feminist Society supports. There will be a men’s mental health coffee morning on 30 November, featuring a representative from the Steve Retson project, who will give tips on coping with poor mental health. The event is open to all.
Convery stated that their advice for men suffering from mental ill health at university would be; “Don’t suffer in silence. If you are struggling, reach out to others even if you feel embarrassed, or hopeless, or insecure. If you are taking medicine, make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions and don’t come off them too quickly. Find people whom you can open up to. Laugh when you can, take up exercise, and trust that things can get better.”