Earlier this year, Mike Buchanan, a British Men’s Rights Activist, announced the formation of Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them) a political party which he hopes to be standing in the 2015 general election. The announcement was enough to generate a small flurry of media reports, including an interview on BBC Woman’s Hour.
Several people approached me at the time, either suggesting I should write a reaction piece for the Guardian or inviting me to blog about it on other sites. I declined. To be blunt, I was less than impressed by the idea and saw no particular reason to add to whatever publicity was already afloat. If I’m honest, I was kind of hoping that if we all ignored it, it would go away.
Jump forward to October, and J4MB has yet to go away, and Mike Buchanan has personally approached me a few times, by email, Twitter and blog comments repeating an invitation to offer feedback on his policy consultation document. Since Mike (I’ll assume we’re on first name terms) is invariably well-mannered and polite, even when I’m quite rude to him, it seems churlish to continue to ignore him. So, belatedly, I’ve agreed to share my thoughts on his idea.
It would be safe to say Mike and I are not really on the same page, politically. We are scarcely on the same planet. I endured my political blooding in the East of Scotland through the 1980s. I joined picket lines and rattled cans to support striking miners in Fife and Stirlingshire, and watched entire communities being sacrificed on the altar of monetarist, free market ideology. I watched as men and boys, (and the women who love them), had their lives, their futures, their families destroyed, first by dogma, then by drugs, despair and depression. Through much of the 1990s, I worked for the Big Issue in Manchester, trying to help an entire generation of homeless young men and boys (and a few women too) cope with the personal legacy of those policies, amplified by devastating cuts to benefit entitlements from 1988-90 that had left them desperate and destitute. If there is one person I hold more responsible than anyone for the myriad problems still facing men and boys (and the women who love them) it is Margaret Thatcher. Mike Buchanan gleefully describes that woman as his political idol.
To underline the point, Mike Buchanan has also said that where there is not a J4MB candidate available, he might encourage supporters to vote for UKIP instead. I would sooner have my gizzards ripped out through my gullet than cast a vote for that malodorous sack of racists, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists climate science denialists and unrepentant National Front alumni. As I say, Mike Buchanan and I are not exactly on the same page.
Then there is the very notion of a party for men and boys. While I am deeply immersed and engaged in male specific gender issues, a factional interest party is pretty much the polar opposite of where my gender politics are at. I believe men’s and women’s welfare, prosperity, fulfilment and happiness are entirely interlinked and interdependent. As soon as you begin to set one at odds against the other, as if it were a zero sum game, you have lost me. I would, incidentally, say the exact same if anyone suggested a feminist political party to represent women and girls (and the men who love them.)
With all that out of the way, I’ll turn my attention to the actual proposals put forward by J4MB in their consultation document. First thing I notice is what is not there. There are absolutely no proposals to address the most important issues facing men and boys today – underemployment and unemployment, especially among working class and ethnic minority men. There is no solution offered to the savagery of the globalised neoliberal free market which has deprived working class men of the industries and culture that once offered respect, identity and pride. The two specific problems listed by J4MB which disproportionately affect working class men are homelessness and suicide rates. These are the two areas where Mike Buchanan has failed to come up with a single idea for policy, even by the ninth revision!
Of the policies that are here, there are twenty of them, mostly simplistic one or two line ideas, accompanied by various snippets of background information. To be fair, there are about three of four of them which are not entirely stupid, hypocritical, ill-informed or ill-advised. I’ve mostly skipped those for length. As for the rest? Well….
1. Legislation: The government should ensure that future legislation and guidance doesn’t discriminate against or disadvantage men and boys, either directly or indirectly. Anti-male discriminations in existing legislation and guidance should be removed.
So far so good. I have no objection to an explicit commitment by government against discrimination, although it is worth pointing out that this already exists in law, under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010, particularly the provisions on the Public Sector Equality Duty. So this is a bit “I demand you fly this plane to Cuba / But we’re already going to Cuba / Oh.” If there’s a problem here, it is that lawyers and politicians cannot always agree on what discrimination is in practice, and whether, for example, a law to prevent discrimination is a form of discrimination. For example, the Sex Discrimination (election candidates) act 2002, which allows all-women shortlists, is actually non-gender specific. It would also allow all men-shortlists if they were required to rectify an anti-male discriminatory situation in a party. There’s nothing in this proposal to address that dilemma. There are deeper issues with the background notes.
Whenever there are gender biases in legislation and guidance, or in state provision of services, they invariably favour women and/or girls at the expense of men and/or boys. This is a particular assault on men as taxpayers – 71.2% of income tax in the UK is paid by men, and only 28.8% by women. British men collectively pay £64 billion more income tax annually than British women.
It is trite but necessary to point out that the majority of income tax is paid by men because men earn the great majority of total income. What is being said here is actually much more insidious and dangerous than that. The logic appears to be that parliament should legislate in favour of those who pay the most tax, as if political representation were a purchased privilege. This flies in the face of all principles of collective democracy. By this logic, parliament should not legislate to help or protect the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, or anyone else who is paying less into the national coffers. It is not just women who should be appalled by this extreme Randian thinking.
3. Education –
a) The government should work towards a target of gender balance among both primary school teachers and secondary school teachers.
I agree with this. The lack of male teachers may not be the biggest issue for boys in education, but getting more men into teaching would be no bad thing for many, many reasons. To do so we would need legislation, programmes and guidelines designed to create this ‘desired’ gender outcome.
b) The government should repeal legislation, terminate programmes, and withdraw guidelines designed to create ‘desired’ gender outcomes.
Oh. I think I see a slight problem here.
The background notes to this section say: “The government shouldn’t be in the business of social engineering. Children and young adults should be left alone to study whatever subjects they want.” Getting more men to train as teachers in order to produce desired educational and social outcomes is about as clear a case of social engineering as one could ever imagine. Hypocrisy, much?
But wait. It gets better.
a) The government should cease funding employment-related initiatives which are designed to discriminate in favour of women and girls and/or discriminate against men and boys, either directly or indirectly, in both the private and public sectors.
b) The government should adopt recruitment policies to work towards a target of 50% male/female employees in the public sector
So J4MB wants to implement employment-related initiatives designed to discriminate in favour of men and boys in areas where they are under-represented, while simultaneously abolishing programmes for women and girls in areas where they are under-represented. I repeat, hypocrisy, much?
5. Family support.
a) The government should set a date after which state support will not be provided for women having new babies which they are personally (or with the support of a partner and/or others) unable to care for financially.
b) The money saved by the foregoing action will fund tax allowances for married couples.
The wording of this suggests the plan is to remove all state support to families who need it, while continuing to provide it for those who do not. This may just be sloppy drafting, but the part that is clear is what matters. J4MB wish to drive single mothers and their children into Dickensian destitution, starvation and homelessness. There is no appropriate phrase to describe such an idea other than this: It is pure evil.
6. Marriage and divorce
The government should introduce compulsory prenuptial agreements for couples planning to marry. Couples who cohabit but don’t marry will be deemed to have signed a standard prenuptial agreement on the day they first cohabited. After taking account of the reasonable accommodation needs of any children involved, the division of assets will be in line with the relative earnings of the two individuals following the date of marriage (or first cohabitation), and individuals will retain the assets they owned on the date of their marriage (or first cohabitation)
Now this is just weird. After a bunch of downright terrifying libertarian whackjobery, we now have the idea of bringing rigid, almost Stalinist state intervention into our most intimate and personal of relationships. It is also a non-solution to a largely imagined problem. A large majority of women (and indeed men) suffer significant financial hardship as a consequence of divorce, as a raft of research demonstrates. The fantasy of avaricious ex-wives living in luxury on the paycheque of their ex-husband is (at least outside of Beverley Hills) little more than a sexist myth
7. Domestic Abuse
The government should ensure that resources directed towards victims of domestic abuse / violence (‘DA’) are allocated taking full account of the relative numbers of male and female victims of DA, and the need for children to be in a safe environment.
With one change of word, I would agree with this. Resources should not take account of relative numbers, but of specific needs. That is not the same thing. A large proportion of nominal victims of domestic abuse, as counted in the BCS/CSEW for example, (whether male or female) neither want nor need intervention and support. Those who do should get it, but it is not a numbers game.
9. Paternity fraud
a) The government should introduce compulsory paternity testing for all babies, at birth, and both parents informed of the result of the tests (verbally and in writing) within a week of the babies’ births.
Woah, Stalin is back. Get yer nose out of my relationships, Uncle Joe (and Uncle Mike.)
b) The government should only require men to have financial responsibility for a child if he’s previously signed a legal declaration (witnessed in a solicitor’s office) that he’s willing to support a child who results from the sexual relationship in question.
You what? It’s not clear if we’re talking all men here, including those married and co-habiting, but let’s be generous and assume it is aimed at fathers who are not currently in a settled relationship with the mother-to-be. It’s also not clear whether this legal agreement is to be signed prior to childbirth, or prior to conception. In either case this proposal is to make paternal child support entirely voluntary. If a woman is pregnant and not of extensive independent wealth, and her boyfriend refuses to commit to supporting the child, what is she meant to do? Remember, J4MB have already promised to remove all state benefits. So she has the choice of raising her child in absolute poverty or an abortion. But wait…
19. Abortion law reform
The Abortion Act (1967) should be amended to remove the right to have elective abortions on the grounds of increased risk of injury to mental health if the pregnancy isn’t terminated. There’s no evidence to support the claim that abortion reduces the risk of injury to mental health. These grounds have been misused to offer women ‘abortion on demand’, which wasn’t the stated intention of the Act when it was introduced.
It is true that as a historical quirk of British abortion law, in order to secure an abortion a woman must demonstrate that proceeding with the pregnancy would damage her physical or mental health. Around 98% of abortions in the UK are granted under these grounds, and virtually all of those are on grounds of mental health. The sensible thing, as recommended by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and others, would be to amend the law to offer abortion on demand. What J4MB are proposing is the abolition of abortion rights in the UK, for all but a handful of cases.
I appreciate your patience in reading this far. This has been a long blog. There are still some other proposals which are variously trivial, ill-judged or unspecified, but I’m losing confidence that the the contents of my stomach will remain in their rightful place. Let me highlight just one final proposal, which should tell you everything you need to know about J4MB
16. Retirement age
The government should set the ages at which men and women are entitled to receive the state pension, at levels which ensure men and woman can expect to draw the pension for the same number of years.
My eyes drifted over this on the first few readings, assuming it would be recommending equalisation of retirement age (already legislated for, of course). Then I read it more carefully. What is being suggested is that women should be forced to work four to five years longer than men before being allowed to claim their pensions, as punishment for stubbornly refusing to die on schedule.
My first impressions of Justice for Men and Boys was that it was a bit of a laugh, a bit of a joke, and the people behind it were probably a little bit silly. Having carefully gone through their proposals, I have revised my opinion slightly. I’m not laughing any more. Of course they have as much chance of winning votes as I have of winning the Olympic 100 metres, and that’s worth a giggle, but it remains depressing that there are people around, in whatever numbers, who have such contempt if not hatred for women (and especially single mothers) that they would seriously propose some of these ideas, and distressing that audience-chasing media platforms are willing to give them a broadly uncritical platform.