Originally written for Student Direct, but missed the print deadline.
The Men’s Society was born last summer into a hailstorm of criticism. Although some of it was valid (approaching people with beards and imploring them to join the Men’s Society at Freshers = lame), a lot of it wasn’t (pretty much everything else). Sometimes it was just funny: our critics, the most vocal of whom have always hailed from the far left end of the political spectrum, gave each of us little epithets that they would repeat every time they attacked the Men’s Society – the Chair was an evil Tory, the Liason Officer was an Orange Lodge member. Mine was that I wanted to restrict abortion. It brightened the monotony of letter after letter claiming we were all misogynists trying to bring down the women’s movement through drinking beer and watching tv (always effective methods of counter-revolution…) to see which of us was being cryptically insulted this time.
However, we pressed on. With over 300 sign-ups, it shouldn’t have been difficult to form as a society, however, certain members of the Society Activities Committee objected to the name “Men’s Society” because it was exclusive; rather as the Jewish Society, Irish Society, and Medic Panto Society are exclusive… But we changed name anyway and Masculinity, Exploring, Networking and Support (M.E.N.S.) was approved as a UMSU Society.
So, what have we actually got up to? We started off with a sober pub crawl, to raise money for homeless shelters. We held a film showing with Openmedia of “Tough Guise”, a exploration of the media and masculine identity. We did an interview for a Dutch documentary about our perceptions of masculinity. On the pastoral front, we asked Nightline for active listening training, and then set about setting up a weekly M.E.N.S. peer support drop-in. Our Welfare Co-ordinator, Aiden, has created a archive of resources at http://mensresources.blogspot.com – she’s done a great job.
In March we held March Hair, a contest to raise money for testicular and prostate cancer charities through modifying your hair in some way, which raised over £300. Hair modification made it more open than the first-mooted beard-growing competition, because not all people of any gender can grow beards, our critics ignored that change and continued to berate us for proposing beard-growing competitions at all.
Perhaps we didn’t deconstruct masculine gender identity as much as we could have, but it’s hard to do that in the face of your critics bleating on about how we supposedly spend our days watching Top Gear, making it difficult to have a sensible discussion. Perhaps we haven’t managed to give everything we’ve done the publicity it should have: hopefully that will change next year. But all in all, once people stopped shouting at us, we managed to raise awareness of men’s issues, make some money for good causes, and have some fun. And the world didn’t end.