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Activists Face Abuse After University Cancelled International Men's Day Event

Campaigners against the event told BuzzFeed News that they are now at risk of reprisals from the online men's rights community.

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The University of York has become involved in a growing row after it cancelled an event to mark International Men's day on Thursday.

The university announced the event last week but faced calls to cancel it from staff and current and former students.

An open letter was written to the university's equality and diversity committee, which had organised the event, warning that the event posed a "significant reputational risk" to the institution.

The letter, signed by 200 supporters, called on the university to acknowledge that the event was unnecessary because "men’s issues cannot be approached in the same way as unfairness and discrimination towards women".

York is one of the few members of the elite Russell Group of British universities to have a slightly higher percentage of female students – which was cited as a justification for the men's day event.

In the original blurb proposing the event, Dr Adrian Lee, from the equality and diversity committee, wrote that men were "significantly under-represented in the student population as a whole", as well as in a "number of academic disciplines across all three faculties".

It continued: "Men currently have to wait longer than women before they receive a state pension and at certain stages in life, they are less well protected by equality legislation than women."

Anaïs Duong-Pedica, one of the organisers of the campaign against Men's Day, said that the event was rooted in anti-feminist ideology.

"It was the way in which the original statement about the university's decision to mark International Men's Day was framed," she told BuzzFeed News.

"If the university had done some research about the event and organisation, they would have noticed that the connotations attached to it are quite negative and rooted in anti-feminist ideology.

"It would only take a quick look at our hashtag, which has been co-opted by supporters of International Men's Day, to see the kind of individuals who support this day. The hashtag is full of sexist memes and tweets, some from individuals who are well-known online for their racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and general bigotry."

Critics of the campaign against the event bombarded activists with offensive tweets.

@LordEdwards95 Don't you love it when the same people who talk about smashing gender roles play up the 'women are victims' rhetoric?

#InternationalMensDay and the #radfems at @UniOfYork just hate it. #FeminismIsAwful #academia #TitleIX #UoYMensDay

However, Duong-Pedica said that the campaigners had not called for the event to be cancelled.

"We did not call for a cancellation of the event but asked the university to engage with the issues at hand in a more sensible way and in line with existing research on these topics," she said.

"Contrary to the discourses in the men's rights activist community, the letter was never anti-men and was never about male suicide specifically. Many of us are aware of the specific issues that men face and we have been vocal about the need to put some support in place and to provide more resources to existing mental health services on campus."

Campaigners now feel that the university has left them vulnerable, as "Gamergate" men's rights activists continue to aim abuse at students.

"Many on the open letter team feel that this statement has opened them up to harassment and death threats and false media reporting. The statement suggests 'Sorry you feminazis are offended and ruining our lovely work trying to help men's health'."

Campaigners have now issued advice on how to deal with online abuse.

A petition to have the decision reversed has gathered over 3,000 signatures – but ultimately failed to reach the target of 5,000 in time for another event to be organised.

Petition organiser Ruth Morris wrote that "true feminists should be fighting for gender equality for both men and women. To cancel Men's Day is simply hypocritical.

"Equality is not just for women and should concern all genders. All feminists are being wrongly portrayed here which is simply unfair. We are not man-haters and the university should go ahead with plans to celebrate all diversity, not just one gender."

Miranda Larbi is an editorial fellow at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.

Contact Miranda Larbi at miranda.larbi@buzzfeed.com.

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