A student who founded a feminist society at her university and was verbally attacked by a "men's rights" group has described the abuse as "deeply repulsive".
Alex Wilson, an undergraduate and president of the University of York Feminists group, was the target of a Facebook page called the Men's Rights Society. Although now believed to have been set up as a hoax and has since been shut down, Wilson says the content posted on the page, directed personally at her, was highly offensive.
A lot of the things said on the Facebook group I found deeply repulsive," she told HuffPost UK. "The admins of the page defended the right of [the page's contributors] to use homophobic and racist slurs and various gendered insults."
Alex Wilson, president of York's FemSoc
"They even tried to claim that the use of the words 'fag' and 'faggot' as insults was not homophobic," Wilson continued. "One admin claimed that it was not proved that women had the 'same intelligence' as men and another poster used this to argue that women were not as good at science and maths as men. Various 'discussion points' were raised by [Facebook posts] that suggested that gay and lesbian people should be made to use separate changing rooms and that women should not be paid as much as men.
"Additionally an admin claimed that the media exaggerated the levels of disadvantage women face in society and tried to suggest that this was a way that men were discriminated against."
The attacks followed a decision by York University's student union (YUSU) not to recognise the feminist group as an official society.
One of the individuals involved in the men's society page, which Wilson says "came out of nowhere", had formerly been a member of the feminist group.
One of Alex Wilson's post on York University Feminist's Facebook page in the wake of the abuse
"A lot of the posts in the group were directed in me personally," Wilson continues. "At the same time as the Men’s Right’s Society page was made the York Feminist facebook group was inundated by a large number of trolls who were often abusive and on one occasion openly used homophobic slurs.
"My attempts to deal with these posters resulted in my being accused on the Men’s Rights page of banning anyone who disagreed with me. I was accused of having 'extreme views' and saying 'questionable things' was called a bad role model for the rest of the group and it was suggested that I ran the facebook page like a dictatorship."
York student Sholto David has come forward to admit founding the men's page but said it was "all a joke from the start". He said the aim of the page was to provide support for the feminist society and insisted he was not a page admin for the majority of the time the group existed.
Speaking to student paper Nouse, David said: "I would like it to be known that I have realised how much upset this has caused, and am truly sorry that the group I started got so out of control. I’ve woken up to the reaction this morning and am truly horrified."
Sholto David's apology on his Facebook profile
David has also written an apology piece in fellow York student paper York Vision, which read: "MenSoc was set up by my friends and I to parody YUSU’s decision to refuse ratification for FemSoc but also to criticise FemSoc’s continued overreaction and aggressive censorship of dissenters."
Student journalist Josh Allen, who covered the story, told HuffPost UK he had been aware of the Facebook group's existence for "at least a week".
"I saw the discussions between the people in the group and some were quite seriously offensive. They were misogynistic, racist and quite unpleasant towards those in the feminist society," the third-year history student said. "The members of the men's society group accused the feminists of being authoritarian.
"They were blatantly trolling [the feminists]."
The feminist society has received numerous messages of support on its Facebook group, with several students condemning the actions of the unnamed students who set up the men's rights page.
Student Gillian Love wrote: "The horrible thing is, these people don't even *remotely* understand what that means. And they wouldn't care if they did. So, no remorse from them."
Another male student added: "This ordeal has caused harm not only to women in general but to specific individuals who have worked tirelessly to provide a safe space for discussion and learning."
Helena Horton, the student behind the campaign to have the Sun removed from York union's shop, told HuffPost UK: "The fact that it was so readily believed in and out of femsoc that a mensoc existed (and one which promoted bigoted and hateful views) on campus shows just how much we need feminism.
"The hoax was unfortunate and the people involved said such hateful things to Alex in particular, who had spent so much time on femsoc, with such conviction makes me wonder whether the people involved knew it was a hoax or if they genuinely believed there was and wanted to get involved with a hate group."
Wilson said despite the page being a hoax, the comments were irreversible.
"A lot of damage has been done to the reputation and perception of both me personally and the Feminist group that I have worked extremely hard to found. I have no desire to be known as a dictator and it is demonstrably false that the group refuses to listen to views that differ from their own.
"I also worry that the deeply offensive things said on the Men’s Rights page by students have influenced people’s views of the University of York. It worries me, as a proud student at York, that my university could now be known as a place where people openly espouse such views and that students from diverse backgrounds will be put off from applying here."
Bob Hughes, YUSU's welfare officer, said: "This is a live case, and so I can't comment on any disciplinary actions that may or may not be taken in the future.
"I think that the level of personal verbal abuse aimed at Alex and her peers by this group and others is disgusting and harassing, and should not be tolerated. Disagreeing with others is natural, however, sinking to personal attacks and discriminatory language is simply unacceptable on all sides."
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