Nothing to celebrateOn October 18th, a vote to establish a position of Menís Officer at a university in Victoria was lost. That the proposal was opposed by some women at the university was not entirely surprising. What was remarkable was that outside organisations ranging from student unions to menís organisations were fiercely opposed to the idea.
The battle started when a student proposed that the Studentís Association of Deakin University's small Warrnambool campus in Victoria create the position of Menís Officer. Cain Goldsworthy, a member of the Association, said that the idea had been floated previously but no action had been taken, and he thought it would be helpful to men on campus to have a peer who could advise them on personal matters. The Association already has a womenís officer, overseas officer, environmental officer, activities officer, media officer, and others.
"We would call in outside groups to come and give workshops about men taking greater responsibility in society."
The Introduction to the Menís Policy says, in part:
The Menís Officer would be a student, and rather than offering counselling services he would establish a list of advisory services and resources for men in need of assistance with issues such as fatherhood, childcare, sexual abuse as children and harassment. Cain Goldsworthy said that men need a peer they can approach in the first instance: "As it stands, a man with a problem is likely to be told he should not complain, he should just take it like a man. Men have to break down a barrier before they can start to open up with most females."
Another duty for the menís officer would be "to develop a celebration for the male gender". Cain Goldsworthy said: "Males need to be told that they should be happy to be a male. They should not be told theyíre chauvinistic pigs just because theyíre male. Males need to realise itís good to be male."
BacklashAn officer of the Studentís Association said she believed we should be addressing menís issues but not as a formalised position as an office bearer because that would recognise men as a disadvantaged group.
She also claimed that the position would also take away resources from women, "diverting money which should be put to the victims and a disadvantaged group". Cain Goldsworthy described this claim as "insulting" as the position would not be paid; the officer would be entitled to expense reimbursement of a maximum of $20 per week and would "probably share a desk".
The National Union of Students also condemned the proposal. The Unionís Womenís Officer, Michelle MacDonald, described the move as "a slap in the face to every women's organisation in the world".
Men against celebration of masculinitySpokesman for MASA (Men Against Sexual Assault) Stephen Fisher also opposed the creation of a Menís Officer position. This was surprising in view of the menís officerís potential to help men deal constructively with problems that could lead to violence, and the stated goal of helping male victims of sexual assault.
Stephen Fisher said he would be pleased to see men being educated about issues such as violence, but was concerned about the proposed role of being an advocate for men. "Advocacy exists where there is inequality - where access to resources and power is denied one minority group" he said. "By saying that we need an advocacy for men we are denying that we live in a patriarchal society, and MASA canít condone that view. The idea of having a menís officer is absurd - we might as well have a white personís officer, an able bodied personís officer, and English-speaking personís officer."
He also considered the idea of a manís officer quite dangerous as it could fuel a "backlash", undermining the gains women have made. "Historically when men get together to support each other that has been implicitly against women" he said. "We are not yet at the stage where men as a class and as a gender ought to be celebrating our masculinity, given the high levels of violence against women by men."
Happy endingWhen the proposition to create the position of Menís Officer was put to the vote, it was defeated 40 to 28. The vote was not split along gender lines.
However, it was agreed that the duties of the menís officer would be taken up by the student welfare officer, and that a menís collective be formed.
"We achieved everything weíd been fighting for" said Cain Goldsworthy, "except the position of menís officer. Once we get the menís collective together, we can put more thought into the menís policy and maybe then it can be established as a position. It would have been nice to have the recognition of the official position, but Iím very happy with the outcome. Something very positive has come out of what had turned into a gender war, which was never my intention. Everyone has finally come to understand that what this was really about is helping each other on campus and creating a better community".
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