Boys’ Clubs Are Back At British Universities — Why?

Most colleges these days have a women’s group and lots of colleges have a Women’s Studies, or even better, a Gender & Sexuality Studies program. But recently, male students at Oxford University and Manchester University in the U.K. have started their very own “men’s groups” to work through their issues with the current state of dude-dom.

According to an article in the Guardian, the men’s groups, which are called Man Collective and MENS Society (Masculinity, Exploring, Networking and Support), respectively, have caused quite a bit of controversy across the pond, with critics saying they’re just glorified frats promoting sexist, macho behavior.

Could it be that modern day “men’s groups” are just a grown-up version of the He-Man Woman Haters Club (from “The Little Rascals”)? On the one hand, why shouldn’t men form their own support/awareness-raising group? If women in the ’60s and ’70s needed a “safe space” to talk about their common problems with wife-beating, rape or sexual discrimination in the workplace, it’s not unreasonable to assume men need a “safe space” to talk about their issues too. More than a couple of male friends/colleagues have told me that as traditional gender roles have altered so quickly in the past several decades, they are confused about what their “roles” should be. Furthermore, any opportunity for men to learn about prostate/testicular cancer and overcome experiences with domestic abuse or rape is a good thing.

Twenty-year-old Alex Linsley, founder of the Man Collective, said he was, in part, inspired by young men at Oxford who have committed suicide, presumably because he thought they lacked support from other men. Linsley told the London Guardian:

“There is so much conflicting information for men. There is massive confusion as to what being a man means, and how to be a good man. Should you be the sensitive all-caring, perhaps the ‘feminized’ man? Or should you be the hard, take no crap from anybody kind of figure? Neither of those are particularly useful paradigms. But there’s perhaps things we could learn from both perspectives.”

Linsley isn’t alone in questioning modern manhood. There are plenty of Gender Studies scholars who do good work on re-defining notions of masculinity—Rebecca Walker, editor of What Makes A Man: 22 Authors Imagine The Future and Jackson Katz, author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women And How All Men Can Help, come to mind. And, of course, men should be allowed to do anything a woman can do, on principle.

So, should the students be allowed to start a men’s club? Yes, of course. But should they start a men’s club? Of that I am skeptical.

Personally, whenever I see a privileged group claim the need to branch off, I can’t help but be skeptical about whether they just want that “safe space” to justify their own prejudices. Women are overwhelmingly the gender to suffer from sexism and in the ’60s and ’70s, when sexism was much more out in the open, women needed a women-only “safe space” so they could unify as activists. What, pray tell, do these supposedly beleaguered men require a similar “safe space” to do? After all, the term “safe space” implies it’s really dangerous out there for you—so what’s with men-only groups, or white-only groups, or Christian-only groups? I wonder if “men’s groups” are just a place to air sour grapes over having to relinquish some of their power and privileges because of feminism, or a place to say sexist and macho things without fear of social reprimand.

Other students at Oxford and Manchester share my skepticism. Olivia Bailey, the national women’s officer for the U.K.’s National Union of Students, for example, told the Guardian:

“Discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent, so what exactly will a men’s society do? To suggest that men need a specific space to be ‘men’ is ludicrous, when everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces.”

Seriously. It’s like when ex-Miss California Carrie Prejean moans about how persecuted she is and all I can think is, “Oh, shut up, you’re a beautiful, white, buxom, blonde woman! You don’t know from persecution!”

I’m quite curious as to how Man Collective and MENS Society end up spending their time and, also, if the idea of student men’s clubs will catch on in the United States. Could be just the project for those dodgy-sounding “men’s rights groups” to take on! [London Guardian UK]