It is called the ‘Man Collective’, and it has kicked up a storm of masculine discussion across the country. Founded by Alex Linsley, a 2nd year student at Oxford University, the group has the stated intent of increasing discussion of masculinity and providing challenging activities to help men “expand their natural edge”. Citing an unfortunate trend in male mental health, the group has been established to provide a support network for the male population of the top level university. While it has drawn criticism from the highest ranks of student female movements, it is provoking one question from men in universities across the UK: Is ‘masculinism’ the new feminism?
Notably, the NUS Women’s Officer Olivia Bailey argued “Discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent, so what exactly will a men’s society do?”, and Loaded Editor Martin Daubney argued that “I don’t think men are remotely confused about what it means to be a man in 2009”.
Linsley is correct in that there are definite mental health issues facing men today which are not being fully explored, whether they are university students or not. Male suicide rates are consistently higher than that of women. While the rate of suicide for women was 5 per 100,000 population in 2007, the rate was at around 17 per 100,000 for men. This is despite the fact that depression is far more commonly diagnosed among women than it is men. An obvious disparity exists here – if the statistics say that women are more depressed than men, why do so many men feel the need to take such dramatic action?
Some other facts come into play here. Alcohol abuse has skyrocketed among men in the past two decades, with the rate of men dying from alcohol abuse doubling since 1991. A similar trend can be seen in male drug abuse, with 71% of drug poisoning deaths in 2008 being accounted for by males. From 1997 onwards, there have been over twice as many drug poisonings leading to death among men as in women. One reasoning for these statistics, taken in conjunction with the high suicide rate, is that men are attempting to self-medicate for depression which they are unwilling (or unable) to seek treatment or support for. Perhaps they don’t even recognise it as depression, so ingrained is the social stereotype of keeping a stiff upper lip.
The creation of a group to discuss these issues is, in principle, definitely worth the candle. The past century’s social changes have had an undoubted impact on the way men interact with other people, even down to simple, chivalrous propositions like holding open a door. The problem with creating a group like this is that while it provides an avenue for discussion which seems to be needed, it will inevitably exclude the very men who it should be trying to assist. On the one hand, as Daubney has argued, it could become a group full of “depressed undergraduates sitting around talking about being depressed”. An alternative is that it could become a group full of happy, socially liberated men talking about others who may be depressed. Neither of these options provide an adequate forum for the discussion of male issues, nor do they address the problem of male representation on campuses across the country.
Our own Student Union Council, for example, has a permanent voting position for the female population of the union in the form of the Women’s Officer. This is a good thing; the right to female representation in the union is self-evident. However, as a large minority on campus, men should be afforded the same representation. In the face of the above statistics this may seem a trifling step, but it is a necessary one to ensure that, at the very grass roots, men on campus can feel as if they have a voice devoted specifically to their demands. From the creation of a figurehead position, support groups can grow organically in accordance with the needs of that particular constituency.
And let there be no doubt that there are needs, even if we don’t want to man up and admit it.