Male suicide and the cynical, mendacious trickery of Conservative Woman

If this article about male suicide rates had merely been wrong, I would probably let it pass. If my only concerns were the critique-free mangling of Durkheim’s brilliant but profoundly flawed monograph, or if this were just a straightforward left-versus-right disagreement on policy, then I would wave it away. If the author were just another cheap hack churning out the usual propaganda for the Murdoch-Rothermere-Desmond axis of weasels I might have done something more uplifting with my morning than immerse myself in suicide statistics. [Read more…]

Men and boys need positive consent policies too

My pals at InsideMan magazine asked me for my views on the recent guidelines sent to police investigators for rape trials. The piece I gave them is here, with some interesting comments and discussion underneath, but I thought I’d repost here for luck

 

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This week Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, announced that a new toolkit of rape investigation procedures is to be sent to police officers. The reaction from men around my digital neighbourhood on social media, comment threads and forums was pretty fierce – abusively angry at worst, concerned or worried at best.

The negative reactions were understandable, given the headlines. They were also misplaced. The proposals announced are I believe modest and necessary, they are also genuinely helpful not only to women and girls, but to men and boys.

First, the facts. Despite what you might have (reasonably) taken from some of the headlines, it is not true that those accused of rape must now produce proof that they had consent in order to defend themselves. Read through to the actual words of the DPP and what she said was:

“We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue – how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?”

If there is a scandal here, it is not that police investigators will be expected to ask such questions from now on – the scandal is that they might ever not have asked such a question in the past. [Read more…]

Get Buddy Rich or die trying: Whiplash, music and masculinity

I’ve heard reports that in some cinemas, audiences have reacted at the end of Whiplash by bursting into spontaneous applause. The punters at Manchester Cornerhouse are a bit too cool and detached for that kind of thing. Instead, as the credits appeared, I turned to C and we both made that facial expression where you drop your jaw and raise your eyebrows, in the universal language of Holy Fucking Shit.

At this point I should say that while I will try not to include spoilers in this post, just to be on the safe side if you haven’t seen the film you should probably just stop reading at this point, pop out to your local fleapit, catch up, then return and read on.

Ah. You’re back. You might want to brush off those popcorn crumbs down your shirt. [Read more…]

Yes, we do need to talk about male violence

I was asked to contribute a piece to the series 100 Voices For Men which is being run by Inside Man in the run-up to International Men’s Day. You can read the original here, and there are loads and loads of interesting posts from right across the spectrum of the men’s sector.

But since this was firmly on HetPat territory, I thought I’d also repost here.

 

There is an exchange that plays out in the media on pretty much a daily basis. The moves have become so familiar we can see them performed almost as a ritual dance. In the aftermath of some tragic, violent incident – whether a mass shooting, a domestic homicide or a shocking sexual assault – a commentator with liberal or feminist leanings will describe the incident as an example of ‘male violence’ and, therefore, not just an isolated incident but part of a systematic pattern involving hundreds, thousands, millions of related incidents across the world each day.

There follows a storm of comments, social media updates and blogs as detractors – primarily but not exclusively male – throw up their digitised hands in horror and disgust. This is nothing to do with me! I’ve never killed anyone! Why are you blaming an entire gender for the crime of an individual?

The defensive reactions may be understandable, but are largely based on a misunderstanding. Saying that men have a problem with violence does not mean that all men are violent, any more than saying Britain has a problem with obesity means that all Britons are fat. In both examples, it means the phenomenon causes immense social harm and individual suffering, and occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.

What about female perpetrators?  

Yes, women can also be violent, especially towards intimate partners and family members. However in recent years the men’s sector as a whole (and I include myself in that) has often become so fixated on demonstrating and documenting the extent of male victimisation at the hands of women that we may have lost sight of the bigger picture.

According to the UN’s estimates, there were more than 450,000 homicides globally last year. Not only were 95% of the killers male, so too were 80% of the victims. In England and Wales, 800,000 adult men were injured in a violent attack in 2013 and around three quarters of perpetrators were not their female partners, but other men. On the other side of the coin, around 37,000 men are in prison today as a consequence of their own violent behaviour. To deny or turn our eyes from the extent of men’s violence is to turn our backs on one of the most pressing and severe social and health issues facing men and boys across the world today.

Only once we acknowledge the scale of men’s violence can we begin to ask why it occurs. I suspect many people are uncomfortable with the suggestion that there is something inherently violent to masculinity. What we might instead call ‘male culture’ colours our attitudes to work and to leisure, to lifestyles and relationships, even to how we communicate and interact. That culture has too often included attitudes towards violence that are directly implicated in too much death and injury.

Are men conditioned to be violent? 

How many of us grew up believing that to be a man demanded that we be ‘tough’ and ‘hard,’ or in other words to be willing to endure and inflict violence? Such traits don’t always come easy, and too many boys still have them literally beaten into us by peers or, tragically, parents and other adults. Research has consistently shown that where formal or informal physical punishment is used, boys are beaten more regularly and more forcefully than girls.

At the same time, psychologists have long known the rough recipe for a violent adult. According to one study by MurrayStraus, a child who grows up in a family where the adults are violent to each other is almost three times as likely to display violent behaviour as others. Another study found that a child subjected to physical abuse who also witnesses violent behaviour at first hand is between five and nine times as likely to become an abusive adult. It is true that not all violent adults lived through an especially violent childhood, and absolutely vital to understand that many, many people who experienced violence and abuse in childhood will never harm anyone in turn. Neither fact, however, should obscure the truth that violent adults – by which we most commonly mean violent men – are not born, they are made.

Nor does male violence exist in isolation from other male-specific issues. Only once we acknowledge and face up to the reality of male violence can we begin to unpick the complex relationship between men’s emotional isolation and unaddressed mental health needs, our tendency to self-medicate or escape into excessive alcohol and drug use and from there, the intimate link between intoxication and violent behaviour.

No I am not being anti-male 

It is not anti-man or misandrist to acknowledge that our society brutalises men and boys to a sufficient degree that some will become brutes. On the contrary, I would argue the misandrist position is to claim that men’s violence is an inescapable law of nature, some relic of evolution or neurobiology. Testosterone does not breed violence, violence breeds violence, and the evidence, I am happy to say, is all around us. Current levels of violent crime remain distressing, but are a fraction of what they were 20 years ago. The vast majority of men are not violent and the numbers who are get smaller all the time.

As mentioned above, 800,000 men were wounded in violent attacks last year, but the same statistic in 1994/5 was 2.4 million. Domestic violence, as estimated by the Crime Survey of England and Wales, has dropped 78% over the same time frame. The same story is playing out across the developed world. Nor is it just the effect of increased prison populations keeping violent offenders out of harm’s way. The number of children and young people entering the criminal justice system (ie being caught for the first time) is at its lowest since records began. Meanwhile the fastest growing section of the prison population over the past few years has been the over 65s.

The explanations for this phenomenal social change are hotly debated by criminologists but one thing is for sure, male biology has not evolved in a couple of decades. It is likely there are a variety of social and even environmental factors involved, I would suggest that it is no coincidence that the least violent generation of young men in living memory is the first to have been raised in the era of the rights of the child, in schools and homes that have increasingly eschewed violent punishments, with anti-bullying policies and where the social acceptability of violence of all sorts has been challenged and rejected as never before.

There is little doubt that men today are less violent, less aggressive, less militaristic than we have been at any time in living memory but there is still a long way to go. The journey will be driven not just by policy and politics but by the desire of all women, children and men to live in a safer, more peaceful world and the principal beneficiaries will be men ourselves.

Dear Martin, a word to the wise

A former lads’ mag editor is advising feminism on its branding. A word to the wise may be required.

Psst, hey, Martin! A word in your shell-like over here.

I expect that by now, several hours after your Telegraph blog appeared, your ears will be burning at best if not (metaphorically) battered black and blue. It may be some time before you are ready to engage with constructive criticism, but here’s a friendly note and, to borrow from that classic historical text Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head, I’ll drop it in the basket, you can read it later.

I’m sure you knew there was a shitstorm heading your way and you knew why, but for the benefit of spectators let me spell it out. One of the primary objectives of feminism – perhaps THE primary objective of feminism – is to liberate women from men’s authority and control – not only formalised and structural authority but also the assumption of male authority and female subservience which comes from a few millennia of oppressive socialisation. Against that backdrop, even well meaning advice from a man on how to fix feminism and make it more effective is rarely well received. When the man is a northern hemisphere, middle aged, middle class, straight white man like you or me… well we can imagine. When that man is also formerly editor of the lads’ mag Loaded and you invite comparisons between that failed rag and the feminist movement… well actually no, I can’t even begin to imagine.

Now let me move on to this:

Feminism isn’t meant to be sexy, but as a word, it is instant intellectual brewer’s droop.

I really, really wish I didn’t feel like this. But as long as feminism is called feminism, a small, dark nugget of my soul will forever resist its message.

I hate to break it to you Martin, but a primary message of feminism is that the world does not (or should not) revolve around the sensitive fee-fees of middle aged, middle class, straight white men and our boners. Demanding – or even politely requesting – that feminism rebrand itself to become more palatable to men like you and me is deep, deep into the territory of waging war for peace or fucking for virginity. If you want feminism to become more palatable to swallow or an easier cloak to don, the only course of action is not to change feminism, but to change yourself.

Now, I must confess, your work over the past couple of years has been something of a revelation. While we don’t always agree, I’ve genuinely admired a lot of your articles and was really impressed with the documentary you made about the affects of widespread pornography on young men. Do you really need the comfort blanket of the feminist movement (whatever it might be called) to make the points you make? Would your work be any more convincing, any more effective? I don’t see it.

As I see it, men in the 21st century have an unprecedented opportunity. Over the past 100 years or so, feminist scholars and activists have lifted the lid on gender identities, shown how they are constructed and policed, demonstrated their role in propping up all manner of restrictive and oppressive power structures. This is a gift to the likes of you and me and anyone who cares about not just about women and girls, but also about boys and men. The toolbox that feminism developed is now open to everyone. We can use it to examine and challenge such issues as society’s suspicion of men as parents and carers and symbolic language which locates courage and strength in male genitalia.

Martin, you offer one of the few voices in the British media that is prepared to speak up for men and boys without getting lost down the rabbit-holes of anti-feminism and misogyny. It doesn’t matter whether you or I feel included by the ‘branding’ of feminism. It does matter that we are prepared to fight injustice and oppression, discrimination and hatred as and when it appears, irrespective who it is aimed at.

See you on the barricades, brother.

Ally

x

The evolution of the Great White Male

A couple of weeks ago, the New Statesman ran a special edition guest edited by Grayson Perry, with the strapline The Great White Male Issue.

In the centrepiece essay, Perry himself spelled out what he meant by the Great White Male – the white, middle-class, heterosexual men, usually middle aged, who:

“dominate the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population. With their colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks, they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardrooms and also in the media.”

In an accompanying panel feature, 17 prominent writers and intellectuals each offered a paragraph or two under the following heading and standfirst:

A manifesto for the new man: how the Great White Male can stay relevant
The days of the Great White Male are numbered. So how should men live now?

Despite a few incisive and interesting observations, I found the feature a deeply depressing and dispiriting read. What leaped out at me was the paucity of imagination and ideas offered up. If a manifesto is a programme of proposals for change, it is very hard to find anything in here which could be considered a policy.

[Aside: There is one whopper of a pothole which disrupts the piece and presents a hazard for me here too, so let me point it out and fence it off with a hazard sign. The New Statesman’s pundits do not agree on whether Great White Male describes real individuals with personal foibles and failings, vulnerabilities and problems, or whether it is a theoretical archetype or even a metaphor. I do not believe Mary Beard really expects any middle aged white men to end up living in cages at the zoo any time soon, for example. So just for clarity, in this post when I talk about the Great White Male (GWM) I am discussing the archetype, the theoretical construct who is assumed to be the most likely leader of any institution, to whom society as a whole looks for leadership and who presumes himself to be deserving of respect and authority. I am not talking about any specific individuals, and I am certainly not asserting that all straight, white, middle-aged men have power, authority or good fortune. I am, however, asserting that the shared social construction of white male power has serious and profound impacts on real lives of real people in the real world.]

In his contribution, Kwami Kwei-Armah asks an interesting question.

“I often wonder, however, if there is a collective realisation of the fear evoked? And if so, is there a white, male equivalent to, say, me crossing the street at night at the sight of an elderly, white female approaching, or pitching my voice five octaves higher to signal, “You are safe with me”? Is there?”

I think there is, and examples of it abound on the very same page. The equivalent is an affected, exaggerated self-abasement which positions the Great White Male as aware of his own privilege, conscious of his failings, not entirely like the ‘typical’ GWM, as if this somehow negates his power or exempts him from criticism. We see it here with Stephen Fry’s description of “white, British, middle-class males, fit only to be kicked over like wormy toadstools” and we see it too in Perry’s own essay, when he exempts himself on the basis of his working class roots and transvestism. Fry and Matthew Parris both pull the same trick, highlighting their own homosexuality or (in Fry’s case) Jewish ancestry as if to say “no, not me, I’m not one of them.” What they fail to note is that virtually every GWM can pull a similar card from his cufflinked sleeve when it suits.

There are at least two distinct agendas for change with respect for the GWM and again, the New Statesman feature fails to clarify which it is they are addressing. The first objective could be to change the world around the GWM, to render his privileges obsolete. The second is for GWM himself to change, to relinquish his privilege and oppressive tendencies, either voluntarily or by some form of compulsion.

For the gender radical, either or both of these objectives can be pursued. However not all transformation is radical. Within the contributions, there are offerings from four men who have stood at the very pinnacle of power in the UK, in politics, religion, news media and the arts. Of all the contributors, these are surely closest to living breathing personifications of the Great White Male. I refer to Alastair Campbell, Rowan Williams, Andrew Marr and Lord Melvyn Bragg.

In their comments, the first three of these prescribe very specific, personal, individualistic beseechments for personal transformation. Get in touch with your emotions and look after your mental health. Step up to your responsibilities. Be kind.

In other words, they are not talking about how to transform, curtail or overthrow the power of the Great White Male, but prescribing how the power can be used more benevolently or with less blowback on the wellbeing of the GWM himself. In other words, they advise fiddling at the fringes in ways that will not in any way disrupt or diminish the power of the GWM, but if anything entrench and enrich that power.

The fourth, Lord Bragg, simply kicks the initial premise into touch, noting (probably accurately) that whether we like it or not, the GWM is going nowhere for now.

The obvious pantomime villain in the New Statesman piece is Tony Parsons, who basically says “being a Great White Male is excellent. We rule the world because we are the best. Now piss off.” (I paraphrase, but not much.) In many ways I find this upfront arrogance less troublesome, less dangerous than the arch, affected compassionate conservatism of (in particular) Williams and Marr.

The current structures of our society dehumanise and brutalise men and boys in numerous ways. Some men emerge strong, confident and tough, others simply dehumanised, brutalised and beaten – most of us wrestle with some combination of both. Across the spectrum of male-focused gender politics, there are traditionalists, who willingly accept both sides of the coin and believe they are as things should be. There is also a large bulk of the men’s rights movement which fights tooth and nail to defend every last vestige of male privilege while simultaneously seeking protection from every negative consequence that flows from it (and of course denying the privilege exists in the first place.) It might seem startling once unpacked and hung out in the light, but the New Statesman’s vox magna presented a veritable array of such suggestions, and virtually all came from Great White Males themselves.

In my view, only a couple of the suggestions really grasped the type of radicalism that is needed in a manifesto for change. Both came from women. I loved the simplicity of Bonnie Greer’s gentle beseechment:

“One of the characteristics of the Great White Male is the assumption of complete attention. This manifests itself in various ways but the most common is the loud voice that rises above all others. And its opposite, too – the soft voice, with its assumption of reason, calm and control: “I am the one in charge. I am the one who knows.” This creates, over time, that peculiar characteristic – a resistance to change, and along with it protection of the status quo.

Given that this condition is acquired, not inherent, it can be eradicated in the following way: make the potential Great White Male understand that he is not the sine qua non of human existence; that he can, in fact, take a back seat. And no one will either notice or mind.”

But of all the comments, it was Laurie Penny who really nailed it.

“The real threat on the horizon for the Great White Male isn’t extinction: it’s evolution. And evolution is no bad thing. It’s what happens when you meet new people and adjust to new environments. The creatures who will have to live in this society in generations to come are entitled to divest themselves of maladaptive qualities such as intolerance, stuffiness and a fondness for sexist jokes and embarrassing, finger-pointy disco dancing, while preserving more positive traits, such as barbecuing skills and the easy confidence that comes with not being the victim of decades of oppression… Feminism and anti-racism aren’t just political movements: they are adaptive strategies.”

Both these comments acknowledge the most important fact about the Great White Male identity. It does not exist in splendid isolation, separate from other genders, ethnicities, sexualities or whatever, but as part of a dynamic interaction. No man is an island, Great White Man least of all. He can only exist because of the corollaries – the subjected female or the oppressed person of colour.

All the bad jokes and lazy characterizations that pepper this feature are a distraction from the profound truth that the evolution of the Great White Male – indeed the liberation of the Great White Male from the dehumanising, stultifying, often deadly constraints of patriarchy – is inextricably bound up in the pursuit of justice for all.

When is it acceptable to ask ‘But what about teh menz?’

It would be safe to say my post on Emma Watson and HeForShe generated some pretty strong reactions.

We’re no strangers to strong disagreements here at HetPat, and I assume that most of what I write will lead to angry reactions from one quarter or other. And while I’m never shy of arguing my position in the comments boxes, I do honestly pay attention to thoughtful criticism and I give especially careful consideration to disagreement from people whose opinions and views I usually share and value. That was the case this week.

Probably the most common criticism of the post was that it amounted to an extended #whatabouttehmenz screed and I wanted to give that point some serious attention.

I acknowledge, accept and agree that feminists should have as much space as they want and need to discuss the needs and lives of women, identify problems and formulate solutions or plans of action. Some problems are gender-specific and require gender-specific analysis. Where women are discussing their own lives and situations it is inappropriate for men to march into the space and attempt to divert the conversation onto their issues instead. The same applies, obviously, when men are discussing their own issues. [Read more…]

The five little words that betrayed Emma Watson

There is so much to admire in Emma Watson’s sublime speech to the UN on Saturday. There was the poise and elegance with which it was delivered, the subtle charisma and assured performance, but it was the content that has made her the talk of social media and the darling of the world’s young progressive left.

The roster of Hollywood actors and naff pop stars that makes up the (remarkably lengthy) list of UN Goodwill Ambassadors are usually considered something of a joke. Once you have learned that Ronan Keating once put his name to a parliamentary inquiry into global food security, satire and snark can be declared redundant. And yet Watson’s speech was different. There was an inescapable sense that not only had she written her speech herself, every word came from deep within her.

In particular she made a compelling argument that, in the words of bell hooks, feminism is for everyone, or as the theoretical dictum would have it, patriarchy hurts men too. The points have been made often before but seldom with such simple sincerity:

I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from illness, unable to ask for help for fear it will make them less of a man …. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.”

So while I didn’t entirely agree with every word she said, there was more than enough there to win my support. Without a moment’s hesitation, I went to the HeForShe website to add my name to the campaign. I got as far as the button to sign the pledge when I glanced over the wording, and I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t sign. The pledge is only 35 words long. For 30 of them I was agreeing enthusiastically and then…. well, let me talk you through it. [Read more…]

The flesh is weak: On the Erection Equals Consent rape myth

Rape myths take many forms, and male victims have their own myths to bust.

CONTENT NOTE: THIS POST CONTAINS BRIEF BUT GRAPHIC DETAILS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Whenever an article appears about the sexual abuse of men and boys – especially abuse perpetrated by women – you can almost guarantee that a comment will appear saying something like: ‘well he couldn’t have been that unwilling if he got a boner.’

It is an incredibly damaging and harmful myth, for at least five reasons which I shall detail later in this post, but first let me do my best to convince doubters that it really is a myth. [Read more…]

Traditional circumcision ceremonies: Averting our eyes from the bloodshed

I don’t often do the cross-posting thing, but I have a piece up on the Guardian today that I feel rather strongly about and thought should share with you here

The death and deformity caused by male circumcision in Africa can’t be ignored 

The more I read about the rituals and the extent of suffering involved, the more appalled I am that it continues with so much official blessing and so many wilfully averted gazes.

A point I didn’t really have space to address in the article is that the pain involved, the suffering involved, the risks involved –  of injury, permanent scarring and even death – are, I think, intimately tied up with the business of proving oneself a man. Those pushing these ceremonies are very reluctant to adopt safer, more humane alternatives as this undermines the entire purpose, which is more about the suffering and health risks than anything else. It’s a very extreme and rigid test of masculinity. I find it very revealing that in the participating cultures, men who opt for medical circumcision under clinical conditions are shamed as cowards.  [Read more…]