As I’m sure the numerous hideous moustaches sprouting about on men’s faces (my own included!) have made you aware, it’s currently Movember. This is a month-long campaign with the aim of raising awareness of men’s physical and mental health problems, and, with lockdown only serving to further strain everyone’s mental health, highlighting these issues is more important now than ever.
Movember also drives conversations that might not otherwise be had, a time to address topics that some may consider taboo. Strangely enough, the debate around whether there should be a Part-Time Men’s Officer at the SU might just be one of those topics, simply because no one ever debates it.
It never comes up. It’s just accepted as not existing, or never even thought of as needing to exist. And so, that’s what this article is going to unpick – does such a role need to exist?
The issue initially seems one of representation. Do men need to be represented at an SU level in a formal role? In terms of the structure of the SU, it’s certainly feasible to have a Part-Time Men’s Officer role at the SU without it seeming out of place.
There already exists multiple Part-Time Officers whose principle purpose is representation. They are Samuel Boath (LGBT+ Officer), Hera Aryubi (BME Officer), Maxime Ryder (Disabled Students’ Officer), Kiitan Abel-Ajala (Women*’s Officer) and Jenan Kamel (International Students’ Officer). A Men’s Officer could quite feasibly go alongside these roles.
The purpose, then, of any Part-Time Officer Roles, is representing the underrepresented, not representing everyone…. Few people would see it appropriate to call for a Part-Time White Officer for example, or a Part-Time Straight Officer
The Full-Time Officer principally associated with representation is Sam Hawkins, the Liberation Officer. His role is described on the SU website as follows:
“Your Liberation Officer campaigns for better access, inclusion and involvement across the University and SU, as well as working with student Networks and other Officers to make sure that the voices of underrepresented students are heard.”
This may well highlight the crux of the nuance of this debate – the term “underrepresented”. The purpose, then, of any Part-Time Officer Roles, is representing the underrepresented, not representing everyone. Which makes sense, in many instances. Few people would see it appropriate to call for a Part-Time White Officer for example, or a Part-Time Straight Officer. One can argue men fall into that same category.
Irrespective of this, I contacted both Sam and Kiitan to explore the issue further. I contacted Sam as he appears overarchingly responsible for all things representation, and I contacted Kiitan as her role, the Women*’s Officer, seems the most directly comparable to the potential Men’s Officer role.
I emailed them both asking two questions. First of all, why do they think that there hasn’t been a Men’s Officer at the SU up until this point? And then, secondly, do they believe that there should be a Men’s Officer established in the future?
“The aim is to amplify voices of groups that have been outrightly oppressed historically and still face it through structural and institutional inequality. I do not believe men are in this category”
Kiitan’s initial response, for example, was a very honest “I firstly thought ‘ahhhh’ when I saw this as it puts me in the hot seat haha”. But she agreed in the sense that it was an “important question to answer”, and offered a very interesting, and indeed compelling, perspective on the overall topic:
“I believe my role is one of representation, as is the same with other part-time officers at the union. The aim is to amplify voices of groups that have been outrightly oppressed historically and still face it through structural and institutional inequality. I do not believe men are in this category. This, in my humble opinion, might be the reason for the absence of a men’s officer.”
What Kiitan emphasises here is the amplification of voices and of historical factors, leading to inequalities that we see today. This, I think, embodies the idea of the Western patriarchy, the idea that the dominant systems of the Western world were crafted by men to benefit men, a legacy that seeps through to today.
Women face a plethora of sociocultural challenges that men simply do not, challenges indeed fuelled by patriarchal systems first implemented in years gone by
Further to this, I asked Kiitan what her role was in a day-to-day sense – how these issues of amplifying women*’s voices actually played out in reality. She wrote thus:
“I am the representative for issues regarding the women* student body and gender equality issues through an intersectional lens. This means working with the student’s union to improve the experience of women in the university, raising awareness about issues faced by women (e.g., gender-based violence, vaginal health, period poverty etc) and run campaigns that promote women’s liberation from sexism and all forms of discrimination (which is something men do not need to fight for).”
Kiitan’s work is evidently very important. Women face a plethora of sociocultural challenges that men simply do not, challenges indeed fuelled by patriarchal systems first implemented in years gone by. Indeed, one can argue that running a campaign to promote ‘men’s liberation from sexism’, akin to what Kiitan does for women, would be a laughable suggestion.
This being said, men at university are not the patriarchal men of years gone by (in most cases). It means that the first two aspects of Kiitan’s role, one can argue, are very applicable to any potential Men’s Officer. In fact, some may consider someone who works with the Student’s Union to improve the experience of men in the university, and raises awareness about issues faced by men, quite a reasonable proposition.
Sam declined to comment.
Article continued in ‘Part 2: Should There Be A Part-Time Men’s Officer At The SU?’
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