By Jasper Cox
A debate organised by the newly-formed Men’s Issues Awareness Society has had to be cancelled after the society failed to get permission from the University for the speakers to attend.
The event, to debate the motion “Are men a privileged group in modern Britain?”, featured Milo Yiannopoulos and Julie Bindel, both controversial speakers who were recently banned from attending events by Manchester University Students’ Union.
Yiannopoulos is a journalist and Bindel is a feminist and author. Both have been accused of transphobia, while Yiannopoulos is a prominent critic of feminism. A spokesperson for Manchester University Students’ Union claimed he was a rape apologist.
Adam Frost, the president and founder of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society, told Palatinate he planned to hold the debate in the Durham Union Society chambers, but the University refused to be associated with the speakers without prior permission.
The fourth-year says the debate will still go ahead: “I want to make a point that free speech is important, as it is being eroded on British campuses at an alarming rate, in the name of reducing harm.”
He told Palatinate: “I have made an official request for permission for these speakers to speak on campus, and I hope the University will allow this, considering that their free speech policy forbids the banning of a speaker based on their views.”
The event which triggered the linguist to set up the society was a friend’s suicide. This prompted him to investigate male suicide rates.
He also thought back to when he suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager.
He told Palatinate: “The support system for me as male was not there at all. My family were amazing, but most of my peers didn’t realise guys could get anorexia.”
Frost tried to get the society ratified by the Durham Students’ Union, however he says the application was rejected on the grounds that the group’s aims were the same as those of the Feminist Society.
The fourth-year complains that the groups are not compatible.
He points to a document entitled “Femsoc Policy on Multiple Discrimination (Intersectionality)” which claims “it would be extremely unreasonable to expect this space to support and cater to the needs of men (however else those men may experience oppression).”
The Feminist Society did not reply to Palatinate when asked about the Men’s Issues Awareness Society and the prospect of Yiannopoulos and Bindel coming to Durham.
Daniel Pryor, another member of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society, was pleased the debate was now not going ahead.
He told Palatinate: “I share the concerns of some members that people will interpret such a debate, especially as our first event, as a declaration of the wider direction of the society.”
Nevertheless, he maintains Bindel and Yiannopoulos “should be allowed to speak.”
He said: “Universities are where we can best confront challenging, offensive ideas, and the students who want to should be given that opportunity.”
Some of criticism levelled at the Men’s Issues Awareness Society has centred on its relationship to feminism.
Palatinate spoke to Lucy Brotherton, the co-President of Van Mildert Feminist Society.
She said any sector of society that feels marginalised should be able to form a group to discuss issues “under the condition that they remain respectful and rational towards the society in which they exist.”
However, given “the difficulties feminists face regarding convincing sceptics that we stand for gender equality, which encompasses awareness of men and women’s issues,” she feared that with the creation of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society “the aims of the Feminist Society to convey their passion for gender equality on all levels is undermined.”
On the subject of Yiannopoulos and Bindel coming to speak in Durham, Brotherton said “freedom of speech is a basic human right, but people are just as entitled to not be marginalised, insulted or disrespected by others.”
Sarah Fletcher is the Men’s Issues Awareness Society’s Feminist Relations Officer. She describes herself as a “radical-leaning feminist” but is critical of aspects of contemporary feminism.
She told Palatinate: “I feel that men are often told that contemporary feminism will solve male issues, while simultaneously being lambasted for taking too much space in feminism.”
The third-year said that “men should be given a space to discuss issues that are gendered against them, as well as topics such as male violence, outside the realm of feminism.”
While Fletcher says she disagrees with Milo Yiannopoulos “on nearly everything” and finds “many of his views distasteful and offensive,” she says she is distressed by the “censorship” of university feminism.
She told Palatinate: “I am against no-platforming… The bottom line is that if someone’s views may jeopardise one’s mental well-being, they do not have to attend the debate.”
When questioned by Palatinate on the debate and the Men’s Issues Awareness Society, a Durham University spokesperson said: “The speakers have not been banned.
“We are considering the request to hold the event on University premises under our Code of Practice for the Freedom of Expression at Meetings Policy.”
Photograph: Kmeron and Official LeWeb Photos via Flickr