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UPDATE: York has now withdrawn the statement about International Men’s Day.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

5 thoughts on “SWIP UK on York’s International Men’s Day Statement

  1. What’s the actual empirical status of the “chance of being appointed” question? I’ve seen the Ceci & Williams paper and the various replies and counter-replies; is there a good place to go for the “studies that support the opposite conclusion”? I honestly don’t know if this is something where there’s a solid evidential consensus such that Ceci & Williams was an outlier, or a morass where we don’t know the answer. (Obviously it’s overwhelmingly clear that women are underrepresented in philosophy relative to the population level, and perfectly possible to have a policy of addressing this through hiring practices whether or not there’s a differential chance of success at the appointment stage.)

  2. I don’t mean to answer for the author of the post, but to add two things that might be of interest, if you’re really interested in sorting it out.

    1. First, I note that the claim that women have a higher chance of being appointed is qualified specifically for “tenure-track.” This is an important qualification. I actually wouldn’t dispute this — rather, I would dispute that it shows women face a more favorable situation in academia. To explain:
    For years, I have noted that many departments have a history of hiring women for tenure-track jobs but rarely (sometimes never) promoting women to tenure from a tenure track job, even though men are often promoted from tenure-track jobs in that department to tenured posts. Now, what kind of statistics are generated by this situation? Statistics that say women get more of the “tenure-track” posts — which make it look as though women are favored in appointments to tenure-track positions, in spite of the situation actually favoring men, in terms of the highly desirable tenured posts. Here’s why:

    Consider when such a department fills two tenure-track posts, one with a man and one with a woman. The woman is not promoted to tenure, and the tenure-track post is filled with another woman. So that’s two appointments of women. Meanwhile, the man is promoted to tenure, and the slot is no longer open. That’s one appointment of a man. So, there is a ratio of two women gaining “tenure-track” appointments to one man gaining a “tenure-track” appointment. If we looked at tenured appointments, of course, we would see the more important picture, zero women to one man.

    I don’t mean to deny there are other dynamics at play as well: race, of course, nationality, ancestry (both personal and professional). I am just pointing out how to sort out what the statistics say, and to pay attention to qualifications that may look insignificant but are actually not.

    2. There is an annotated bibliography on the subject of Gender Bias in Academe. Here is the link to it: https://www.hastac.org/blogs/superadmin/2015/01/26/gender-bias-academe-annotated-bibliography-important-recent-studies

  3. I think the SWIP letter was spot on in its criticisms. And I agree with you, Jenny, that it’s unfortunate that the organisers cancelled the event altogether, rather than simply issuing a retraction of their careless and damaging way of framing it. I also agree that their cancellation notice gives the impression that they were forced to cancel because people objected to the discussion of men’s mental health as such. And, of course, this makes feminist activism look bad. It seems to me, however, that this impression isn’t a false one in this case. In contrast to the SWIP letter, the letter signed by York students and alumni objects (unambiguously) to a international mens day event, in any shape or form. Isn’t that an objection to any event discusses men’s mental health issues as such? To say ‘no’ seems disingenuous to me: “I’ve no objection to discussions of men’s mental health, or boys’ underperformance in school. I just object to them both being discussed in the same context, no matter how that discussion is framed.”

  4. I don’t think that’s fair to the letter. The letter does indeed object to the idea addressing these issues via an International Men’s Day, but that is not the same as what you suggest above. One can support a cause C and still think that an International C Day is a bad idea.

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