SWIP UK on York’s International Men’s Day Statement

UPDATE: York has now withdrawn the statement about International Men’s Day.

UPDATE 2: Their new statement says they’re dropping their participation entirely.  The new statement is somewhat unfortunate, especially because it gives no indication of what people had objected to, instead leaving the reader with the impression that we found paying attention to men’s mental health to be objectionable.  Withdrawing the event entirely is also unfortunate– as noted, there are indeed real issues worth attending to, that can be attended to in a way that does not minimise the issues facing women.  I very much hope, for example, that they will find another occasion for encourage men to avail themselves of mental health care.

The Society for Women in Philosophy UK has sent the following letter to York:

I am writing as Director the Society for Women in Philosophy UK, to express concern about the text you have published in advance of your planned International Men’s Day. We agree that there are many serious issues facing men, largely stemming from the narrow and oppressive gender roles to which all have been confined. For example, men who wish to take a career break for caregiving reasons are likely to face social and institutional barriers different from those that women face. We do not by any means object to a university attending to these issues: indeed we welcome it.

Our worries stem from the statement issued by spokespeople for your Equality and Diversity Committee. This includes a quite sweeping, unreferenced claim: “In academic staff appointments, the data suggests that female candidates have a higher chance of being appointed than men.” (http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2015/events/mensday-gender-equality/) We don’t know what data is being referred to here. While there is one study that has been seen by some as supporting this conclusion, it is very controversial and there are many more studies that support the opposite conclusion. (For one critical discussion of the study see here.) To endorse this so blithely is highly irresponsible in the face of the continuing under-representation of women in many fields of academia. The under-representation of women is one that most universities in the UK have come to see as a serious and worrying one. Improving hiring processes to increase the abysmal percentages of women in fields like engineering or philosophy has been widely accepted as an important goal. It is disturbing to learn that York has– flying in the face of this widespread consensus– instead gives the impression of having decided that men are the ones disadvantaged in academic hiring.

We recognise that you include a brief statement at the end noting that women will remain the key focus of your efforts. But this is deeply at odds with your sweeping dismissal of concerns about bias against women in academic hiring.

Messages like yours do immense damage to the hard-fought gains that we have only begun to make through initiatives like Athena SWAN or the BPA/SWIP Guidelines in Philosophy.

We very much hope that you will reconsider and make a more careful and less counterproductive statement. Men do face real issues that deserve attention. But dismissing the issues facing women is no way to go about addressing those that face men.