An independently organised event due to take place on the 19th of November at the Queen Margaret Union for International Men’s day has attracted controversy, due to comments posted on the personal Facebook accounts of student organisers. The event is advertised as “comprising open discussions of issues facing men, such as suicide, violence and health”.
Although it does not appear to be specifically anti-feminist, views expressed by event organisers on their personal social media accounts have resulted in some students questioning their motivations. Chris Colebrook, one of the students running the event, has expressed the view that “Rape culture does not exist in the west”, and refers to the gender pay gap as a myth. These comments have brought the intentions of the event into question, with many students expressing concern that the aim of the event is to attack women’s rights movements rather than to raise awareness of men’s issues.
Members of the Glasgow University Feminist Society have also raised concerns about the lack of a safe space policy to ensure the welfare of those in attendance, particularly members of marginalised groups. When pressed on this issue, organiser Mac Convery stated that “Our policy will be that if anyone says something that you find offensive, you are free to challenge them.” However, Convery has mocked trigger warnings and safe space policies on his public Facebook profile. Memes shared by Convery state that those he offends should “Get triggered and go to your safe space”, while another meme reads: “Nobody is going to take your movement seriously if you act like a bunch of assholes”.
Rachel Kerr, President of Sexpression Glasgow, said:
I think the issues they have advertised on the event page are truly important issues, and my problems are not based on these. However, I am concerned this has been set up with a tokenistic motive, rather than a genuine concern for the issues. I strongly believe that if an event such as this goes ahead, a public safe space message should be issued in advance. This would highlight that misogynistic language and denial of ‘rape culture’ is not acceptable. Unfortunately, men’s rights activism often goes hand in hand with dangerous rhetoric and I would be concerned about the crowd such an event could attract.
Although the QMU is not affiliated with the event, and has not taken part in its organisation, some members have questioned whether it is in line with the union’s equality and diversity policies.
In light of the controversy, the QMU have stated that several Board Members, including president Jack Smith, will be in attendance at the event to ensure that all parties remain respectful. Anyone deemed to be offensive or abusive will be asked to leave, and the event will be cut short if necessary. Attendees will be able to approach any of the Board Members at any point during the event if they have concerns or complaints over how it is developing.
In a statement issued by Smith on the event page on Facebook, he said:
We believe in free speech and the opportunity for open debate on controversial and important issues (such as those outlined by the organisers) but our primary responsibility in all instances is to our members, and their wellbeing must come first. If anybody has any further concerns I ask you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That way it can be dealt with in the appropriate manner. Please feel free to get in touch if you wish to raise any concerns.
The QMU’s “Elephant in the Room” mental health campaign will be holding a Men’s Mental Health Coffee Morning on the 30th November, which all are welcome to attend.