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14th March 2016

The case for a Men’s Officer

Harry Bithell argues the case for an exec officer to support the needs of men

As another year’s Students’ Union Executive Team elections come and go, it appears that yet again an opportunity has been missed for the creation of an officer whose role it is to represent men and men’s issues in the Students’ Union. This is something that needs to be created in order for men’s issues to be truly represented on the Executive Team.

From the outset, I would like to point out that I am not denying the need for a Women’s Officer. I am simply saying that there also needs to be a Men’s Officer. It is not fair or even equitable in the slightest that men’s issues are left floating in the ether in the hope that some other Exec Officer will actually care about them. This must stop, we need true representation for both men and women on our executive team.

Whilst researching this for this piece I came across an article written in opposition to a Men’s Officer by Helen Stevenson in 2013 in this same publication, and I would like to deal with a point she raises in her article.

Helen notes that men are vastly overrepresented. This is true, to some extent. I—in fact, no one—could deny that men are represented more than women in most areas of society. However, this does not ring true with our previous executive team, out of the eight roles available, only two were occupied by men. If we exclude the role of Women’s Officer, which it would be extremely difficult for a man to hold, this means that around 29% of the executive team, who are supposed to represent the entire student population, are women. To put this into perspective, 44% of the university population are male. Now, I do not plan on claiming that there is a need for a 50/50 gender split on the Executive Team, nor that women are incapable of representing men. I imagine that myriad factors mean that men are less inclined to run for Executive Team positions. However, I am firmly of the view that the inclusion of Men’s Officer would go a long way to rebalance the gender parity on the Executive Team.

In spite of this, the representation issue is not my main reason for a Men’s Officer. It appears that one of the main duties of the Women’s Officer is to raise awareness of the issues facing women. These are very wide ranging and for the purposes of this article I have put them into two categories: crime and welfare.

Firstly, crime issues; our previous Women’s Officer did some great work to raise awareness of women’s issues within the University through her ‘Reclaim The Night’ march. It is true that women are the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual offences; the statistics make for sad reading as women are around five times more likely to be the victim of a sexual assault than a man. However, let us not forget the 0.4% of men that are victims. These people are currently unrepresented in Students’ Unions across the country. A Men’s Officer could raise awareness of these issues and go some way to get rid of the stigma that men face when complaining of a sexual offence. This is a real issue; I imagine that the true number of men sexually assaulted might be much higher, but men are less inclined to come forward for feeling emasculated. There has been a lot of effort put into encouraging female victims to come forward, now we need to make a start on encouraging men too.

Moreover, the ‘Reclaim the Night’ march should have been extended. Why only focus on sexual offences? Why not extend the ambit of the march to cover all forms of violence which happen on the streets of Manchester at night? If we work this purely off a statistical basis, men are more likely to be the victims of violence than women, yet there is no mention of this in anything connected with the ‘Reclaim the Night’ march. Perhaps if we had a Men’s Officer on the Executive Team then the march might not have only focused on sexual violence perpetrated against women.

Secondly, welfare issues. There has been a relatively large amount of press and several campaigns which directly target the issues of men’s mental health. In order to try to raise awareness of the alarming gender disparity I would like to draw people’s attention to one statistic I find particularly alarming: Men are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women. A Men’s Officer could go some way to bringing more attention to these issues within the student community. It is important to get rid of the stigma attached to mental health for all genders. However, at present, there are two people who are tasked with this job—the Wellbeing and Women’s Officers. These people, who happened to both be women in the last year, therefore do not go very far to help reduce the stigma attached to men’s mental health.

Our Students’ Union needs a Men’s Officer to ensure men’s issues are truly represented. I know that this one article will probably not change the minds of many people. They will tell me to check my privilege, insult me, or tell me to ‘man up’. These are the sort of perceptions we need to change. I am not saying that women do not need representation, but that men also need it. Men have issues which bear a resemblance to those which women face. There must be something done to help change the perceptions that society holds. I fervently believe the only way to make a real inroad into bringing down these perceptions is through the creation of the position of a Men’s Officer.

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