Can We Stop with the Double Standards on Gendered Spaces?

OPINION: Recently, the Women’s+ Club was affiliated by OUSA, despite specifically excluding membership for cis-gender males. Last semester, Men in Med, a social and emotional support group for male medical students, was shut down for being ‘too exclusive’. By the same logic, one group was accepted and another rejected.  

Both the Women’s+ Club and Men in Med recognise that groups dedicated to certain genders are important. Social bonds with people of the same gender are a vital part of a healthy support network. There’s something about a friendship with someone of the same gender that you don’t find in a friendship with someone of a different gender.

Yet, it seems that while we recognise this is true for women and gender minorities, we’re wary of extending it to men. Historical examples of women and other genders being excluded and silenced in favour of men are of course going to make us cautious of men-only groups and spaces.

But, if we’re really committed to change, just generalising men and blaming them isn’t going to cut it. Men need to be supported in forming healthy friendships and networks, particularly with other men. It’s pretty obvious that every human needs friendships where they can share, be held accountable and grow alongside each other. Just hazarding a guess, but men with these kinds of support networks probably aren’t the ones mistreating women and gender minorities.

Yes, OUMSA’s Men in Med group was ‘exclusive’ to men. But this wasn’t an act of women-hating. “OUMSA is very loud and proud to support initiatives for women’s mental health,” said third-year rep John Laurenson. OUMSA was just trying to create a social space for male-identifying medical students that didn’t involve alcohol, as a way to support mental wellbeing. In a country with high rates of male suicide, this kind of targeted action is bloody important. 

But, OUMSA had to discontinue the initiative after receiving negative feedback.

If we’re going to get behind groups that are just for women and gender minorities, we need to do the same for men. 

That said, I don’t really think any group should be able to exclude people based on their gender. You may be thinking ‘wait, didn’t she just advocate for gender-only groups?’ It’s all good having a group designed for certain people, in all likelihood those are the people that will come along. But, as soon as your group’s policies exclude people based on gender, you’re getting into dangerous territory. OUMSA is an organisation open to all genders and that runs events for different parts of the Medical School community, such as men. 

So, all this to say, having different standards for men and women is kind of what got us into this mess in the first place, so let’s not do that.

This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2018.
Posted 7:21pm Thursday 2nd August 2018 by Esme Hall.