Woroni Drops Ball on Men’s Collective Reporting

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An article published on Woroni’s website on July 30th titled ‘ANU Men’s Collective Seeks Affiliation and Awareness’, has come under fire from some sections of the ANU community. It has been criticised for presenting an unbalanced perspective on the controversy surrounding the creation of an ANU Men’s Collective Facebook group, and the group’s push for on-campus recognition.

The title of the article itself is misrepresentative – ANUSA Social Officer, Helena Hu, has confirmed that there has been no record of any men’s group attempting to affiliate with the ANU Grants and Affiliations Committee, a process which would allow them to receive funding from ANUSA. The alternative to GAC affiliation would be to move a motion to create a men’s group as an ANUSA committee. As of the ANUSA Ordinary General Meeting on the 9th August, no motion has been moved.

In the article, when discussing the issue of university affiliation, comparisons are made to the University of Sydney’s Brotherhood, Recreation and Outreach Society (BroSoc), a similar society at another university. The article claims the society was ‘barred from formation’ by the University of Sydney Union in 2014. This is incorrect – although the USU Board originally voted to delay the formation of BroSoc, after a rewriting of the BroSoc constitution, the society was granted affiliation and evidence of its activities into 2016 can be found on its Facebook page.

A pressing concern for members of the ANU community is expressed by Holly Zhang, who notes that the particular Facebook group that the article deals with was originally created in response to incidents of individual men “violat[ing] the safe space of the Women’s Department by uploading screenshots of people’s names and content of posts onto the public group ANU Stalkerspace, following some aggressive comment threads which did not exhibit an understanding of the Women’s Department work, nor respect for our autonomy.” She goes on to note, that given the extremely reactionary and heated nature of public discussion surrounding the context creation of this new group’s creation, she “understand[s] why women may be concerned about whether this new group would be antagonistic towards the Women’s Department, our work, or our members.”

On these concerns from some woman students of the university, only Sebastian Rossi, the President and administrator of the group, is quoted in the article. While Rossi firmly dismissed the idea that the ANU Men’s Collective had any association with men’s rights activism or online misogyny and harassment, it is to be anticipated that the leader of a group aiming to become a part of ANUSA would be quick to categorically deny any association with misogyny.

When I myself was reached for comment, I chose to speak only on the condition of anonymity. My reputation as a ‘campus feminist’ had made me the target of a lot of nastiness from fellow students – including during the same incident Zhang cites as the origin of the ANU Men’s Collective group. While I provided ample evidence of the harassment I had received at the hands of the ANU online community, it appears that my concerns were not considered relevant by the student journalist who reached me for comment. It is neglectful journalistic practice to ignore how the existence of a group created in the context of inflammatory anti-feminist rhetoric might make minority students of the ANU feel unsafe.

Linnea Burdon-Smith, the current Women’s Officer, has also commented on the unprofessional behaviour of the Woroni team, saying that the student journalist “approached community members for comment in a demanding and aggressive manner”, while not understanding that a student publication “has the ability to influence the discourse present in the student body, university administration and broader community … [and] provides the nation with an understanding of the values we hold as a community.” The position of power afforded to student journalists requires the acknowledgment of the privileges and prejudices they bring to their journalistic practices, Burdon-Smith states, and she has been disappointed by the conduct on display in the development of this article.

The backlash to feminism and the rise of ‘men’s rights activism’, which often uses the Internet as its vehicle for harassment and hate, is no strange phenomenon to the women of ANU. At the same time, the intersection of masculinity, mental health and male violence is also being interrogated by passionate and intelligent students on campus. Woroni and its team of student journalists appear not to fully understand the responsibility they have to present these issues faithfully and professionally to the student body, and the students of the ANU should demand better from their representatives.