The University of York has announced it has cancelled an event to mark International Men's Day following complaints by students and staff. Adrian Lee, of York's equality and diversity committee, announced the university would mark the annual event on 19 November to highlight issues which have an "adverse impact on equality for men".
In a statement on the university's website, Lee said certain issues needed to be raised such as men being "under-represented in the student population as a whole" and currently having to wait longer than women before they receive a state pension
Lee said: "In the area of gender equality, the focus has rightly been on raising awareness about – and removing barriers for – women. We are, however, also aware of some of the specific issues faced by men."
He added: "In academic staff appointments, the data suggests that female candidates have a higher chance of being appointed than men. In the professional support services, there are areas where men are significantly under-represented. Likewise in academic departments, the support staff complement is often heavily weighted towards women, with some departments employing no men at all in these roles.
"The reasons for these circumstances are complex and the solutions will not be found overnight, but we are resolved to address these issues systematically and fairly, in the same way that we approach unfairness and discrimination faced by women."
However, following the announcement, more than 200 people signed an open letter to Lee and the university's registrar, David Duncan, complaining the statement was "crass" and fails to deal with the issues with "sufficient nuance or understanding".
The letter adds: "A day that celebrates men's issues – especially those outlined in the university's statement – does not combat inequality, but merely amplifies existing, structurally imposed, inequalities. The closing remark – 'gender equality is for everyone' – echoes misogynistic rhetoric that men's issues have been drowned out by the focus on women's rights.
"One particularly wrongheaded and offensive assertion is that 'in the professional support services, there are areas where men are significantly under-represented. Likewise in academic departments, the support staff complement is often heavily weighted towards women, with some departments employing no men at all in these roles.'
"Though the statement concedes that the 'reasons for these circumstances are complex,' it proposes that they should be addressed 'in the same way that we approach unfairness and discrimination by women.'
"This misses the crucial point that men's 'under-representation' in these areas is a direct consequence of unfairness and discrimination towards women; secretarial and support work are gendered and demeaned as 'women's work,' whereas men dominate senior – and better paid – roles. The statement is particularly crass in view of the fact that of the 12-strong university senior management group (SMG), three quarters are male."
Following the complaints, the university apologised that the event "caused unhappiness" and announced it will no longer be marking the occasion. A spokesperson added: "The intention was to draw attention to some of the issues men tell us they encounter and to follow this up by highlighting in particular the availability of mental health and welfare support which we know men are sometimes reluctant to access."