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Archive for the ‘Men’s issues’ Category

As I have written many times before, I believe people who are concerned about women’s human rights and wellbeing and about men’s human rights and wellbeing should be natural allies. That’s pretty much the core of my philosophy on gender issues. I’ve made clear my disdain for men’s activists who lay blame for most of men’s problems at the door of feminism. I also despair of the logic which says any and all feminist activism is, by definition, misandrist.

So all things considered, I should have been applauding Lindy West’s blog on Jezebel last week, where she basically made those precise same points. Truth is, I hated it. Partly that was down to the tone, which I found painfully patronising. In lecturing men on the male experience and the extent and nature of men’s problems, she provided a rare example of what we might call “womansplaining.” (Incidentally, a word to male readers – if you want to know why many women get so annoyed by us guys explaining to them what feminism is and should be, read the article, flip the genders and empathise.)

I’d add that in her “Part 4: A list of Men’s Rights issues that feminism is already working on”, she paints a rosy portrait of feminism which ducks most of the more credible complaints. To take just one example, she says:  “Feminists do not want women to escape prosecution on legitimate domestic violence charge” which, firstly, is not entirely true – there are a few feminists who argue that women accused of domestic abuse are almost invariably acting in self-defence. More significantly, it dodges the point that very many feminists have actively and furiously resisted attempts to highlight male victimisation and argue and lobby strongly against gender-neutral approaches to the problem.          

In amongst all that, one of her arguments in particular raised an issue that I’ve wanted to address for a while, and that is the meme “misandry isn’t a thing” (or in Lindy’s version, “misandry isn’t real.”) This is a common refrain within modern feminism, often used as a throwaway dismissal of a (perceived) male troll or heckler.  Here it is explained and used as a central basis to the argument, which gives us something to get our teeth into.

Dictionaries define misandry as hatred of men. A more detailed working definition might be something like ‘an extreme or irrational hatred, fear, demonization or contempt for men.’ Lindy West readily admits that there are some radical feminists or wounded women who really do hate men, and that our culture produces many derogatory and unfair portrayals of men, but insists that “misandry is not a genuine, systemic, oppressive force on par with misogyny.”

What feminists mean when they say ‘misandry isn’t a thing’ is that because our society systematically privileges men and disempowers women, misogyny serves a different cultural purpose, has different and more damaging impacts and grows from different roots to misandry. To a certain extent I agree with that, but saying misandry is not the mirror image of misogyny does not mean that misandry does not exist at all. I believe that arguing that misandry isn’t real is damaging to men, damaging to women and damaging to the struggle for social justice.

I would distinguish three common varieties of misandry which are most definitely real. The first is a personal prejudice, which may often arise from damaging or hurtful experiences at the hands of men, creating a negative stereotype heuristic. This may not be admirable, but it is often understandable. The second is an ideological misandry arising from certain strains of radical feminism, roughly caricatured as the ‘all men are rapists’ tendency. I think such ideas are wrong and harmful, but I’m also far from convinced that these people are anywhere close to being numerous or powerful enough to cause any real damage, except perhaps to feminism itself.

The third variety of misandry is the one that seriously concerns me, and it is worth looking in detail at what it is and what it does. Cultural misandry is a significant force in policing and constraining the roles of men, and indeed women in society. Our capitalist hegemonic culture (or patriarchy, if you prefer) considers it acceptable to routinely mock and denigrate men’s domestic and child-caring abilities because this acts strongly to discourage deviations from the gender status quo, from which vested interests profit. Our culture systematically devalues male deaths (in news reports specifying numbers of deaths of women and children, for instance) because economic interests require a degree of male disposability in the workplace and military interests may require the mass dispatch of young men to die on battlefields at a moment’s notice. When society mocks and reviles male victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, the subtext is that that it is women’s place to be victimized and oppressed, not men’s.

When feminists say that misandry isn’t a thing, what I hear is that these issues are so minor, so marginal that they are insignificant. It is not just that they are unworthy of attention, they are not even worthy of a word to describe them. If Lindy West really wants more men to be allies to the feminist movement and wants us to believe that feminism really is on our side, then I struggle to see how this type of rhetoric is in any way helpful.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that feminism should suddenly drop its struggles for women’s equality, autonomy, safety and welfare in favour of challenging male-only military conscription or setting up hostels for male abuse victims, I don’t think that is or should be feminism’s job. Nor do I think that all allegations of misandry should be considered reasonable or accurate.  But I would suggest that if we want to end what Lindy calls the “endless, fruitless turd-pong” between men’s activists and feminists online, some rhetorical habits might need to change on both sides.

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This is the text which I wrote for my presentation to the 2nd National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton last week. As is the way of these things, I went slightly off script on the day. I believe a video of the actual presentation is due up soon, I’ll add that when it is available. I’ll be writing more of my thoughts about the conference in the near future.

 

What an honour it is to be here today. It is humbling to be around so many amazing and effective charities, campaigns and agencies who are making such a difference to people’s lives in the real world.

I feel like a bit of a fraud if I’m honest. While you guys are out getting your hands dirty and working on the ground, as a writer, blogger and journalist I’m mostly hunched over a laptop in my underpants. And there’s an image you’re invited to bleach from your mind as quickly as you can. Actually there are a lot of things I’d like to bleach from my mind too. It’s not always a pleasant experience to be involved in debates about gender and masculinity in the media and on the internet. You could probably boil it down to this:

 

 

Misogyny, misandry and kittens.  The entire internet in a Powerpoint slide. Those memes come from the social networking site Tumblr where they find such things hilarious, and in truth I think they add up to little more than a bit of playful pigtail pulling on both sides. Things are not always so twee.

Earlier this summer a feminist cultural critic called Anita Sarkeesian launched a kickstarter proposal. She wanted to crowd-fund a series of videos that would examine portrayals of women in video games.

 

 

Now if I’m honest that doesn’t strike me as the most urgent cause around. If I had a few quid going spare I could think of more useful things to do with it but each to their own. But look at the bottom line of that slide: Comments : 14,212. Comments on that video were open for only 12 days. It quickly became one of the most controversial videos in YouTube history. Why? Because a huge proportion of the comments were like this:

 

 

A couple of things I’d draw your attention to here. First is that if you’re going to accuse someone of stupidity, it generally helps if you can spell the word. Secondly, there’s that sandwich thing again. I can’t help noticing that an awful lot of angry men on the internet seem to be hungry a lot of the time. That might explain a lot – keep your blood sugar levels up guys, really.

That was only the beginning. People set up Anita Sarkeesian hate sites, blogs and groups on Facebook. They vandalised her Wikipedia entry with abuse, they created a video game where you could beat up Anita Sarkeesian until you changed her photo into a bruised and bloody pulp.

Charming.

This is just one example of something endemic within online media, I could give you endless examples of a seething tide of resentment towards feminism that is often indistinguishable from outright misogyny.

The only blessing, perhaps, is that most of this hatred and anger can be found in the comments on articles, on social media and on blogs.  When issues are raised about men,  a different, but perhaps no less disturbing phenomenon emerges.

A few months ago psychologists published an important paper into the effects of fathers’ depression. It showed that a baby born to a depressed father is vastly more likely to develop behavioural, educational and physical and mental health problems. Here is how Observer columnist Barbara Ellen responded

 

I know that several people and organizations who are here today are involved in the Shed initiative, and I think most of us are now aware of the benefits it can bring to men’s mental health. When the initiative was first brought to the UK, here is how the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan reacted

 

 

It all adds up to an ugly picture.

But out in the real world, the one occupied by you guys every day, I see men and women, boys and girls, muddling along just fine. I firmly believe that most men do not hate women. Most women are not indifferent or dismissive of men’s issues. But people like you need people like me in the media to highlight your issues, raise awareness, help raise funding, steer public understanding and opinion. I cannot tell you how much harder it is to do that when surrounded by mood music of hatred and bigotry. It is not only needless and offensive, it is downright damaging.

Men and women are interdependent. Men’s issues are women’s problems and vice versa.

If we want genuine equality in the domestic realm and the workplace, where better to start than the institutional discrimination of the family courts and criminal justice system, the parental leave regulations and every other institution that equates parenthood with motherhood.

If we want to rid the world of the horrors of female genital mutilation, how much easier would that be if we agreed that it is inexcusable to inflict unnecessary genital mutilation on any child, girl or boy?

Despite the impression one might get from the swamp of the internet, I firmly believe that the interests of men, and the interests of women are inseparable. There are so many issues on which we could and should agree.

As a man, I know that if I find myself alone with a woman on a train carriage or isolated backstreet, she will worry that I might attack or sexually harass her, and I hate that. There is only one solution, and it is to work together to make sexual assault, abuse and harassment so rare that it does not even enter a woman’s head that she might be at risk.

I won’t suggest this will be easy. There are bitter people on both sides who see men and women as locked in conflict for power and control. Well if we have learned anything from the history of human conflict it is that hate begets bigotry and bigotry begets hatred. No conflict has ever been solved by squabbling about who has it worse or who started it. That is the politics of the playground and it is fruitless.

There are some genuinely difficult, if not irreconcilable differences between the men’s sector or the men’s movement, and feminism. The issue of domestic abuse remains laden with ideological baggage. Intimate partner violence springs from a well of interpersonal conflict, abuse, neglect and anger. Violence against women cannot be separated from violence against men, violence against children. It is all part of the same self-perpetuating machine. To reduce the amount of violence inflicted by some men – against women, other men or themselves, our first priority must be addressing the ways in which we socialise, marginalise and often brutalise our boys and men, how we normalise violence in the male identity.

Another obvious problem will be between supporting the right to justice of victims of rape and the rights of men who may have been wrongly accused of the crime. How do you reconcile the demand that a woman reporting a rape should always be believed with the demand that an accused person always be considered innocent until proven guilty? The truth is you can’t. However we could get much further if both sides were prepared to accept the perspective of the other, accept that difference of opinion stem from genuine concern and good faith, and work together to try to find the best solutions for everyone.

The men’s sector, the men’s movement if you prefer, has much to gain from working alongside feminists. Most of us are pretty new to this gender business, feminists have been at it for decades.  I’m not a religious person, but I always quite liked the little wristbands worn by some evangelists with the letters W.W.J.D.  – What Would Jesus Do? As someone who cares about men’s issues, I have my own version. Whenever a relevant issue turns up in the news, I ask myself “what would feminism do?”

When news breaks that another child in London or Bristol has died following a botched genital mutilation, what would feminism do? It would attempt to channel the outrage and anger, publicise the case, campaign, lobby and petition to try to ensure it never happens again. Indeed feminism would react exactly as Glen and the team do here with the end circumcision campaign. But their voices  – our voices – are few and far between.

You may be aware that according to the Fawcett Society, today is National Equal Pay Day. November 2nd is the point in the year where women would stop earning if their hourly wage was exactly the same as men. But did you know that if men died at work at the same rate as women do, every year there would be no male workplace fatalities after January 10th? I hereby declare January 10th to be Fatal Injuries at Work Day! That is what feminism would do, it would declare zero tolerance of workplace fatalities.

Of course as men’s advocates and activists, we cannot charge into feminist space and tell them what to do. Take it from me, that really doesn’t go down well. But we can make sure our own house is in order. I believe we should be clear that the men’s movement gathered here today is not anti-women or anti-feminist. We should offer no quarter and no harbour to misogyny. Where there is a genuine conflict of interest and opinion, we will aim for the moral high ground not the lowest common denominator.

If we can do that, we will bring many feminists along with us. Not all, but many. Not only will that be better for men, it will be better for women too.

 

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For previous blogs on this topic, please click here and here.

It’s fair to say that I’ve found the reviews, critiques and comment pieces inspired by Hanna Rosin’s End of Men rather more thought provoking and educational than the book itself.

One of the first pieces to come out was in The Atlantic, where Chloe Angyal drew comparisons between Rosin’s argument and the lives portrayed in the much-hyped HBO series Girls.

“the anecdotal data, the experiential accounts of what it’s like to be a young American woman in this particular cultural moment where women are on top and men are “ending,” suggests that even if the statistics say that they’re winning, young women feel like losers. This year’s critically acclaimed new HBO series Girls, created by and starring Lena Dunham, takes that experience of floundering and lays it out for all to see. Dunham’s Hannah and her friends, despite their privilege, don’t feel like they’re running the world.”

I must confess this made me smile. It inadvertently (I presume) illuminates the irony at the very heart of the notion of privilege. One’s own privilege is, according to the classic metaphor, an invisible knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks – invisible not to others but to ourselves. Privilege doesn’t feel like privilege, it just feels like a natural state of being, the norm.

I’ve already explained my reasons for rejecting the theory of the End of Men, and I don’t for a moment believe that women are now the dominant or privileged gender. But it is worth pointing out that if they were, according to feminism or critical theory, this is exactly how it should feel. The girls in Girls don’t feel like they’re running the world but, get this, nor do the vast majority of men. I believe much of the anger directed towards feminism from the angry dudes of the internet boils down to the disconnect between a narrative that tells men they are privileged, and the lives being lived by those guys, which feels largely powerless. They don’t feel privileged, they feel like losers, they’re floundering, they don’t feel like they’re running the world. Hey ho.

In the weeks since Rosin’s book was released, a quite almighty stramash has erupted within feminist circles. You can’t have missed it, and I won’t reiterate the arguments here, but it began with Caitlin Moran and her statement that she ‘couldn’t give a shit’ about the all-white line-up of the cast of Girls. It has since spiralled into an angry, sprawling debate that orbits around issues of privilege and intersectionality.

Of the near-endless articles and blogs thrown up by the debate, the one I liked best was by Stavvers. She offers an analogy for the concept of intersectionality that is as good as anything I’ve read on the topic by a feminist.

“one can think about a four-way junction (or, as the Americans call it, an intersection). One road is not being male. Another road is not being white. Another road is not being able-bodied. The last road is not being cis. Now, if you stand in the middle of any one of these roads, you’re going to be dodging traffic. But if you stand right in the middle of the junction, you have cars coming at you from four ways, and you’re going to have to do a fuckload more dodging than you would have if you were just in one road.

I don’t know if that’s why it’s called intersectionality, but if not, it should be.”

I love the vividness of this analogy, but it doesn’t quite fit with how I understand society. I’d like to offer a slight twist that perhaps illustrates a key difference between my gender politics and those of Stavvers and many other feminists.

Stavvers describes her roads in negative terms (not being male, not being white etc) whereas the analogy works better for me if we think in terms of who we are, rather than who we are not. That is all I know.

I’m a white, straight , cisgendered, middle-class, able-bodied male. I cannot accurately know what it feels like to be anything else, but I know perfectly well how all those things do or do not impact upon my life.  I’d prefer to think of Stavvers’ traffic as all the various pieces of shit, large and small, that life throws our way simply for being who we are. If you’re a black, lesbian, disabled woman, yes, that shit is coming hurtling at you from all sides and however hard you try to avoid it, some of that shit is going to mess you up.

I know what it is like to be a pedestrian on the highway marked ‘white.’ It’s a breeze. The amount of shit-traffic heading my way down that road is all but zero. I could lay out a sleeping bag across the white lines in October, set my alarm clock for Spring and lie down to hibernate, safe in the knowledge that not one single car, truck or bus will squish my toes. Being white is a piece of piss. The same goes for the road marked “straight.” The same goes for being middle-class, able-bodied and cisgendered. All those things are just big old lonesome highways without so much as a trundling tractor to disturb the bliss. I should know, I’ve been walking those roads for 45 years.

Crucially, however, this isn’t exactly how it feels to be male. Not to me, and not to many other men either. Standing in the middle of the road marked ‘male’, I have to dodge loads of shit-traffic. Whizzing by on one side are the gender expectations, the demands to be a stoical, self-sacrificial breadwinner and provider, a sexual conqueror, all that old, stubborn heteronormative and patriarchal bollocks. Whooshing past on the other are the prejudices and assumptions about male aggression or violence, laziness, criminality, domestic and parental incompetence and all the rest. All around are the institutional shit-trucks sent by legal structures, education policies, health services, military traditions and more. Is the road marked ‘male’ busier and more difficult to traverse than the road marked ‘female’? I very much doubt it, but it doesn’t need to be, this is not a competition.  If you’re a woman and/or a feminist and you’re reading this and sneering, thinking “that stuff doesn’t sound too difficult to me, what’s your problem?” then congratulations – you’ve just entered the precise, privileged mind-set of every angry anti-feminist MRA dude on the internet. Of course you don’t see it – it’s not your road.

Personally, all that male shit-traffic is pretty easy for me to dodge. I’m not at a busy junction. I don’t have to worry about being caught on the blindside by a juggernaut hurtling down the White Road or the Straight Road, so I’ve mostly found it pretty easy to sidestep all that shit on the Male Highway. But if you’re a boy from a poor background in a poor neighbourhood at a poor school, you’re likely to find one vehicle marked “you’re stupid” racing at you in one direction while another marked “you’re lazy” arrives from the other, and bang, the result is often academic underachievement and a NEET future. If you’re a working class black lad then heaven help you. You’ve got one shit-truck marked “you’re trouble” and another marked “you’re a criminal” and another marked “you’re violent” and bang, unless you’re lucky you are another stop and search statistic or another reluctant conscript into gang culture.

Understanding intersectionality in those terms is very useful for me. It’s a great example of how we can apply feminist thinking to the male experience and male-specific problems. It doesn’t require one to sign up to either a feminist or an anti-feminist agenda and could fit comfortably with either. It gives me a sense of perspective on my own (fairly fortunate) place in society, why the world looks like it does to me, and crucially, why it might look entirely different to others who stand on a different intersection.

So it is useful in understanding where we are, but I think it is also useful in terms of where we would like to be. At a political level, we can ask what it is about our society that is sending so fucking much shit-traffic down some of the different roads – the disabled road, the  black road, the Muslim road, the women’s road and, yes, the men’s road too. We can not only ask how we can reorganise society so there is less shit on anyone’s road, we can also constantly ask ourselves whether our behaviour, our deeds or our words and language are sending a bit more unnecessary shit-traffic down someone else’s highway.

As my final word on Rosin’s The End of Men, I’d observe that the book does not describe an improving world. It describes a world where there is more shit-traffic than ever on women’s roads, and more shit-traffic than ever on men’s roads. When I wrote previously that the transformation of the workplace and domestic realm was not a victory for feminism but a victory for capitalism, this is precisely what I meant.  If we aspire to a better society, socially and economically, for men and women alike, then counting the vehicles on the various highways of shit might be a very good place to start.

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A couple of people have sent me links to a petition that has just gone up on the government e-Petition site.

I’m happy to point you towards it, and make your own mind up as to whether you want to sign or not. I’ve decided I won’t, and I’ll explain why.

Here’s the text:

With statistics revealing 21 men and 94 women are murdered by a partner, ex-partner or lover in 2010 – more than 2 a week, it is time to ask HM Government to raise awareness of this ‘invisible’ crime in a “Prevention is better than Cure” approach with a greater public awareness of what Domestic Violence is.

Let us, collectively as a proud and just nation, lobby the Government to adopt a minimum one year duration UK nationwide campaign – national press, media, advertising, PR, events etc – to inform ALL in our Society as to what exactly Domestic Violence is so that we can all identify what this abhorrent crime is and so, safeguarding ourselves and those we know.

Let’s equip everyone with the information as to what Domestic Violence is, it’s characteristics, it’s negative impact on all effected by it so that we can help ourselves, help others when needed.

Knowledge is Power – and we might just save someone’s life.

I think I understand what the petitioners are saying and wholeheartedly agree with it. It  echoes strongly with a piece I wrote about Justin Lee Collins for the Independent last week, in which I argued that domestic violence can take many different forms and we’ll never properly get to grips with the problems until our institutions and systems wake up to this.

The reality is that the phrase “domestic violence” masks a diverse and complex range of phenomena and behaviours. When we quote figures that, say, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be a victim of partner violence, such statistics can be objectively true and yet disguise more than they reveal.

The article concluded like this.

Until we can develop a more nuanced, evidence-based understanding of the true nature of domestic abuse, the arguments are destined to continue and both victims and perpetrators who sit outside the expected pattern will be denied the interventions they need.

Unfortunately on the same day, Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, had a piece on Comment is Free that was an almost perfect illustration of the point I was making. She gave a precise and narrow definition of domestic violence as follows:

Let me be clear: domestic violence involves the repeated, habitual and random use of intimidation, whether by physical or verbal aggression, to force a woman to submit to her partner’s demands. Domestic violence is systematic, purposeful and patterned behaviour designed to gain control of a woman.

I’ll trust regular readers will immediately spot the biggest problem with this – victims of domestic violence are not exclusively female, and perpetrators are not exclusively male.  There’s a more subtle problem, however, which is that the coercive-controlling violence she describes does not describe a large proportion of domestic violence, which can be situational, mutual, occasional, reactive or seemingly random. As I said in the Indy piece:

“Although charities such as Women’s Aid still hold coercive-controlling violence to be the archetype of domestic abuse, and it is indeed often the most devastating form, it is far from the most common. In his influential work the Typology of Domestic Violence, criminologist Michael P.Johnson reported that in survey studies, only 11% of male abusers matched the profile of an ‘intimate terrorist’; fewer than half of men appearing in court did so, and even in women’s shelters, where one would expect to find victims of the most severe and sustained abuse, the abusers of more than a third of women did not match the description.

While it was long assumed that, unlike situational and mutual violence, coercive controlling abuse was an overwhelmingly patriarchal and male-perpetrated offence, recent studies by researchers like Nicola Graham-Kevan has suggested that female abusers can also display similar characteristics“.

As the two quotes illustrate, there is massive argument and debate about what exactly we mean by domestic violence, among academics, frontline professionals and interested observers like me. I don’t know (and I don’t think anyone else can know) whose definitions are being referred to in the petition. I acknowledge that the petition includes mention of male victims, which is immensely encouraging, but that is not the whole issue.

I will not be signing the new petition because, sadly, I’m almost convinced that if it were to become policy it would be used by the likes of Refuge to  duplicate much of the downright false information about domestic violence that has circulated for 40 years or more.  When there is a  call to create campaigns that are drawn from the full range of academic research and clinical experience, and which reflect the complex nature of domestic violence perpetration and victimisation, and the full range of circumstances, environments and psychological triggers from which abusive behaviour can arise, then I’ll willingly sign and shout it from the rooftops.

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[The release of Hanna Rosin’s new book The End of Men has sparked a veritable inferno of comment and criticism. Regular readers shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have a lot of thoughts about the book and accompanying commentary, and over the next week or two  I’ll spell them out in a series of blogs, here and elsewhere.]

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“The year is 2012. England, traditionally a land of heroes and great statesmen, is in the grip of a new regime. The country is being run by women. They are the breadwinners, the rulers. Their state police strike terror into the hearts of the subjugated male.  In short, the roles have been completely reversed: It is the man, not the woman, who now wears the frock.”

No, this is not the introduction to Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men. It is in fact the opening of The Worm That Turned, a series of satirical sketches that first ran on the BBC in 1979. You should be able to tell them apart. One is an ridiculous dystopian fantasy peopled by domineering, violent, oversexed dominatrices and deploying hyperbole, sexist stereotyping and fanciful distortion to great comedic effect, while the other stars The Two Ronnies.

Yes, a cheap and easy shot, but not entirely undeserved. The very title The End of Men is so overblown the author apologises for it repeatedly through the book. The subtitle “…and the rise of women” is a far better reflection of the contents, but presumably might be expected to shift fewer units. Since the publicity machine began to roll on both sides of the Atlantic, informed critics have pointed out umpteen instances where factual and statistical claims are either misleading, cherry-picked to fit the narrative or downright false. The sociologist Philip N. Cohen has diligently unpicked her use of US social statistics and found them wanting, Stephanie Coontz has dug further into the economic stats, while  Mara Hvistendahl has done the same for Rosin’s claims about Asian (particularly South Korean) women.  That’s the quantitative side, the qualitative evidence has also been queried with this damning account by one of Rosin’s interviewees which suggests his experiences have been severely distorted to fit the narrative.

I’ll add one little credibility bomb of my own. In the chapter on the supposed increase in female violence and aggression, Rosin states baldly that:

“A recent British study found that women were three times more likely to be arrested for domestic violence [than men].”

From this you might reasonably assume that three times as many women as men are arrested for domestic violence in Britain. I recognised the study she references – it found that where a woman is identified as the primary offender in an incident, her chances of being arrested are three times higher. That tells you something about arresting policies of police officers, but literally nothing nothing about the prevalence of female violence.  (Actually it’s a bit more complicated than that, but never mind). In truth the study found that nine men are arrested for every one woman.

When you know that so many claims in the book are unreliable, it becomes very difficult to trust anything Rosin  says. That is frustrating, because had the research and statistics been reported accurately, the issues she wants to address would have been no less compelling. The relative underachievement of boys and men in education and employment is indeeed a hugely pressing concern. The changing roles of women in the workplace and family may be the most significant sociological phenomenon of our times. The impacts of changing gender roles upon criminality and sexual habits are fascinating.  This pudding has quite enough eggs already.

Rosin adopts the cloak of observer rather than polemicist. In the New York Times, Jennifer Homans criticised the book for being ‘carelessly apolitical‘ but I disagree – a Panglossian acceptance of the status quo is a political stance. A running theme through the book is that if women can learn the rules and play the game of turbocharged neoliberal capitalism, they can succeed in anything and everything. Rosin argues that the continuing predominance of men at the pinnacle of power – in politics, industry, business and culture – is the last gasp of patriarchy and destined to crumble. This betrays a spectacularly naive view of how true power is attained and retained. She also, perhaps unwittingly, suggests that if women of all social classes, nationalities and backgrounds are prepared to put up with sexual harassment and sexist environments in the workplace, sacrifice relationships with their partners and their children and work like huskies from dawn until midnight, then the world is their pearl-bearing oyster. I can’t be the only one to find this message less inspirational than deeply depressing. Parallel to this runs the implication that men’s underachievement is of their own making, not enough males are prepared to devote their lives to chasing every position, every promotion, every penny, whatever the cost to their personal lives. Rosin never explicitly states that modern men are just too lazy, but that is the portrait she paints. For women and men alike, the problem is not that we don’t know the rules of the game, but that the rules of the game stink.

Reappraising and reinventing our gender roles will be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Passing legislation against discrimination and introducing family friendly policies is the easy bit. Adapting our cultures, our identities, our social habits and our deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature and expression of gender will take far, far longer. The End of Men conveys a sigh of resignation about our newly configured world, when what is needed is an alarm call.  It is entirely unacceptable that generations of young men are considered increasingly  obsolete by economics, society and themselves. Rosin seems to recognise this problem while also contributing to it.

The year is 2012, and the worm has not yet turned, although it is certainly wriggling in some very interesting directions. For all its shortcomings, Rosin’s book should be welcomed as a spark to an essential discussion. This is not the End of Men, but it may be the beginning of a vitally important debate.

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Hello dear friends, flakes and passers by. I’ve been rather neglecting this blog in recent weeks, what with this that and the next thing. I’ve got a few things brewing that may become a post or two in the near future, but for now, here are a few of the things I’ve been up to in recent weeks.

For the New Statesman, I’ve been talking about gendered marketing of products.

Capitalist producers and public consumers have a symbiotic relationship. Each plays their role in creating demands to be supplied, manufacturing needs to be met. At a crude level, marketeers and advertisers will only produce such guff because enough of us indulge their campaigns with our custom. Our purchases add up to our public personae, and of course our gender is a key component of our identity. As autonomous adults we can choose the extent to which we want to play along with such constructions. It is rather more troubling when companies like Argos start prescribing gender roles to infants with strictly demarcated Toys for Boys and Toys for Girls.

Meanwhile I had a bit of fun over on Comment is Free with the pressing question of whether or not men should sit down to have a pee.

At my primary school, we boys vied for pecking position via the traditional routes of fighting, football and fabricating extravagant fibs, but there was something else. Lined up afore the trough urinal in the toilets, we discovered a crucial test of manhood: the ability to pee skywards. The class weaklings could barely defeat gravity. I was proud to occasionally reach the words “Armitage Shanks” while a few warriors could clear the porcelain and decorate the tiles.

And then there was Phillip. Phillip was no ordinary Scots wean. He was a superhero, a god amongst miniature men. Phillip could squirt a volley which would rise a good six feet in the air before arcing with exquisite accuracy out of the open window. It was spectacular – I swear he must have mastered top spin. That is how the boys learned: there is direct route from bladder to masculine prestige, and the girls learned not to loiter by the big bins at playtime

Still at Cif, I picked up on David Cameron’s bizarre use of the word ‘butch’ in attempting to insult Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The linking of political competence with masculinity is rather problematic. Feminists will be rightly annoyed by the implications – our political class is less healthy for its uniformity and throwaway jokes like this only reinforce the perception that parliamentary democracy is a club for boys. Men too should be perturbed that the prime minister thinks masculinity is a function of hierarchical status – real men don’t fetch coffee. Actually Dave, yes we do. Men who carry coffee, make coffee, work for a boss or unthinkingly volunteer to conduct routine chores for ourselves and our colleagues are no less manly for that. Elsewhere on Comment is free, Sali Hughes rightly castigates the media for using the phrase “real women” to validate some female physiques over others, but the “real men” trope is in many ways as harmful and, in fact, far more pervasive (definitive proof here). If “real” women are expected to conform to specific physical ideals, “real” men are expected to adhere to a constricting and damaging gendered model of behaviour and lifestyle – domineering, aggressive and, of course, strictly heterosexual.

Any thoughts?

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My blog Discrimination, Plane and Simple appeared on the Independent this morning, and this afternoon I was invited to discuss it on BBC Radio 5Live. Almost immediately after I received this email from a listener. He provided me with full name and contact details but I won’t share them. I reproduce his email here with permission.

I am a 46 year old male company director with a four year old a daughter.

Around 10 years ago I was returning from LA on a Virgin Atlantic flight alone and I was put into a seat next to a boy of around 10. Once I had sat down the boy proceeded to enthusiastically tell me about his new games console and game- I politely showed interest.

After about 10 minutes a stewardess came over and said: “we have found another seat for you, you shouldn’t be sitting here”. I asked why and she said that there had been a mix up in seat allocations (and frankly she was quite rude). In truth I was not too bothered because I was hoping to get some sleep rather than discuss computer games for 10 hours- so I moved!

However, once I had sat in my new seat I started to feel that I had been treated very strangely and wondered what other passengers had thought- it was humiliating and it only began to strike me once I had had a chance to reflect on the situation. The stewardess had been so rude and uncaring about any thought or opinion I had on the matter. It was more a kind of : “Come on! come on! Hurry up! Move!” so I did not think about the implications of what happened until afterwards.

The reason I write this is that I agree with what you have said in the article and the things you said on the radio. Moreover, if you are contacted by Virgin or have any further dealings with them on the matter, please pass on that it put me off flying with them again and that when I have the choice I always go with BA (and have since joined BA’s Executive Club!).

This is significant, as it is the first I’ve heard of the policy being applied on a Virgin Atlantic flight – albeit about ten years ago.

I was also very taken by this comment on the Independent, from Richard Blacklock

“This brings back a flight I took a few years ago from Rio de Janeiro to Toronto, it was something like 18 hours with a stop in Sao Paolo. I sat next to a young boy of perhaps 10, who was travelling alone. He was a wonderful kid, and we had a great flight together. As a father of two, I basically looked after him like I would my own children. Right near the end of the flight, the head flight attendant came up to me and asked me if I had been sitting next to him the whole time, and told me that they had made a mistake, and that I wasn’t allowed to sit next to him. It was absolutely ridiculous, and I certainly felt discriminated against.”

I’ve left a message for Richard asking if he can recall which airline he was on at the time, and will update you if there’s any news.

In the meantime, if anything similar has happened to you, do please let me know in a comment or contact me through the contact page

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