Slap-happy columnists and the dangers of generalisation

I hate to say I told you so, but when I wrote last week that our culture has a problem conceptualising female violence, one or two of those commenting below seemed less than convinced. Perhaps I didn’t explain myself clearly, but with impeccable timing, up popped the Observer columnist Barbara Ellen to provide the perfect illustration.

In discussing the Jay-Z / Solange incident, she made several bizarre and troubling claims. It began with a now-familiar slice of victim-blaming,  pondering what Jay-Z must have done to ‘provoke’ Solange. It got worse when she elided group generalisations with the specifics of an individual incident: “The differences in physical size and/or strength between the sexes mean that most men are simply not physically scared of most women.” 

This is probably true, but has no bearing on whether any one man is physically scared (never mind physically hurt) by any one woman. Ellen’s entire column showed zero understanding of the real dynamics of interpersonal violence, and particularly the complexities of how men react to violence, and female violence in particular.  The real stunner, however, came in a paragraph that was so wrong as to verge on the downright wicked. I am utterly stunned that the editors allowed it through:

What’s more, women tend to be aware of this, if only subliminally. Some females might have periods in their life when they get “slap-happy”, primarily when socialising, maybe when attention seeking, usually when drunk (guilty!). When they stop this behaviour, it’s usually because they’re ashamed, embarrassed or have belatedly realised they’re disgusting dogs who can’t hold their drink. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely to have anything to do with men being frightened of them. On the contrary, it’s wired into the female DNA that in the main they’re under threat rather than the threat. 

When I wrote about our difficulties in conceptualising female violence, this is precisely what I was talking about. Ellen cannot conceive of female on male assaults as violent crime, just as embarrassing drunkenness. What do these women do when they are going through their “slap-happy” phase?

Consider Coral Millerchip, perhaps, who last summer attacked Jovinder Singh, a frail, 80-year-old man, dying with Alzheimers, knocking him to the ground and then spitting on him. He was so traumatised that he lived out his remaining few months of life in fear, unable to venture outside alone.

Or maybe she is imagining the high-jinks of the Hackney woman who last week greeted the gardener on her housing block by pouring sulphuric acid drain cleaner over his head. Or the Devon nightclubber who assaulted two men, one of whom she leaned in to whisper in his ear then sank her teeth into his cheek. Apparently she is ashamed and embarrassed now, which sounds familiar. Another woman who is ashamed, embarrassed and forgetful this week is the Ipswich woman who removed her shoe and used it to beat three men around the head.

These are just a few snapshots of the 75,000 women arrested for violent crimes in this country each year, picked out from the first few pages of Google News.  Their crimes are not a joke, a rarity or an irrelevance.

Notwithstanding the usual debates about rates of intimate partner violence, It is certainly true that for every woman committing a violent act, there will be several men. Male violence, in both prevalence and severity, remains the most pressing criminological trend in our society. To acknowledge that does not require us to simply ignore or dismiss female violence, whether targeted at men, women or children.

In one respect Barbara Ellen is correct. Context does matter to this debate. It is not necessarily ‘the same’ when a man hits a woman as when a woman hits a man. It is not the same when a large, physically fit music superstar is being attacked with a burly bodyguard to protect him as when a frail, disabled man like Eddie Kidd is being battered behind closed doors by the woman he loves.  It is not the same when Charles Saatchi grabs Nigella Lawson around the throat in a public restaurant as when a couple of destitute street-drinkers brawl over their last swigs of lager. The truth is that no two violent relationships are the same, no two violent incidents are the same, no two victims are the same, no two  perpetrators are the same. It is impossible to say sure how dangerous a person is based on their identity or gender, how scary, or indeed how scared such a person might be when placed in a violent situation.

Generalising about how someone might react to being violently attacked, generalising about someone else’s capacity for violence is a fool’s errand. If we are serious about reducing violence in society, we will not get there by starting with a position that some types of violence are somehow more acceptable than others.

 

How to be a douchebag

There’s a marvellous scene in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket when the brutal drill sergeant played by Lee Ermey asks the raw recruits what they know about (Texas spree killer) Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald. He goes on to praise their marksmanship, points out that they learned to shoot in the marines, and tells his young charges that before they leave the camp, “you will be able to do the same thing.”

I was reminded of this scene when reading Clive Martin’s piece in Vice today entitled How Sad Young Douchebags Took Over Modern Britain. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the vicious, murderous accuracy of the sniping, I just felt deeply uncomfortable about the morality of the choice of target.

Lined up in Martin’s telescopic sights were the young men one sees in bars and clubs, primped and pumped up with bench-presses and anabolic powders, inked with tatts and soaking up admiration, primarily of their own gaze. They were variously described as ‘erections in vests'; ‘a Calvin Harris remix of a Springsteen song that doesn’t really work’ and ‘Ken dolls dipped in tea and covered in biro.‘ Like I say, you have to admire the sniping.

Beyond the creative insults, there is some genuine insight. Late in the piece Martin acknowledges:

 

But while it’s easy to scorn the banality – and the vanity – of the modern British douchebag, they’re only products of their environment. An environment that has very little to offer them any more, other than gym memberships, intentionally ripped clothes, alcohol and creatine. The institutions that gave British men a sense of wellbeing have been ripped apart. Nobody trusts the police any more; nobody wants to join the army because no one believes in its wars; traditional industries have been decimated and the only thing to replace them are stifling, mind-numbing positions in service and retail. 

Because of this, British men have tried to reimagine masculinity, in a hyper-realised, childish, desperate way. A new kind of machismo, built on fake bravado and vanity. British men are looking up to faux-hawked, peacocking, rich maniacs like Mario Balotelli for inspiration, because they really have nowhere else to look. Their bosses hate themselves and their dads hate them.

I can’t help but look at this emerging culture and wonder if they’ve basically retreated from a world that doesn’t want the young British male any more.

Boiled down, what we have here is Diane Abbott’s speech on the crisis of masculinity rehashed with added abuse for a hip, sneering audience, the MPs description of a Viagra and Jack Daniels generation served anew as ‘Monster cocktails and Creatine.’ Like her, the piece picks out a hugely salient but tiny minority and demands that they represent the grand themes of a generation. Where they differ is in their concerns. Abbott at least presumed to be concerned about the actual harm caused by her phantasms of moral panic – particularly the violence, abuse and exploitation of young women, but also the harm done to these men themselves. The Vice article does not even begin to make such accusations. There is no suggestion that the young men under discussion are abusive, criminal or violent, indeed they are mocked and denigrated for being fundamentally ‘soft’ under their muscle mass. Their only offence, it seems, is aesthetic. The author slates them as douchebags and arseholes, not because they have done anything to harm anyone, simply because they offend the author’s delicate sensibilities.

On first reading, I understood the piece as an exercise in arrogant, elitist, class-based anthropology. On closer inspection, I realised it was worse than that. At no point does the writer indicate that he has ever talked to the men he describes, ask them what motivates them, what their interests are. Does he even know that they are the ‘sons of the miners and the metrosexuals’ left in ‘mind-numbing positions in service and retail’? For what it is worth, the two guys I’ve known who most closely fitted the stereotype on display here were middle class kids with degrees, working on the creative design side of the media. Go figure. What we are presented with here is not social anthropology, but a sneering freakshow.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the social consequences of a post-industrial neoliberal society, in which the traditional gender roles that once operated simultaneously as safety blankets and straightjackets have been ripped away. One manifestation of this might well be a superficially puerile, hedonistic narcissism that is more likely to nourish self-destructive depression than fulfilment or social progress. Another might be an individualistic, scornful self-righteousness, cultural snobbery and deeply divisive cultural circus sideshow peddled by Vice magazine.  

There’s more than one way to be a douchebag.  

Breaking the silence on male abuse victims.

You may recall a few months ago I was helping Survivors Manchester to lobby government for access to funding for male rape  victims, who were explicitly excluded from the large Rape Support Fund.

I’m delighted to let you know that today the Ministry of Justice announced a new dedicated fund for male victims or rape and sexual assault. They are also throwing their weight behind Survivors Manchester’s #BreakTheSilence social media campaign. I was asked to write something for the Independent today, which was one of the most gratifying commissions I’ve had for a while.

First published at the Independent

—————————————————————————–

 

Today’s announcement by the Ministry of Justice of a new fund for male victims of rape and sexual violence is hugely significant.

The significance is not in the sum of money. While £500,000 is more than welcome, and will make a huge difference to the funded organisations and their clients, nobody would pretend it can do more than scrape at the scale of a problem which impacts an estimated 72,000 new adult victims every year and untold numbers of children. Nor does the significance lie in acknowledgement of the problem – charities have previously been funded for limited work with male victims, and in the light of historic sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic church and social service care homes, no one can plead ignorance as to the extent of horrors involved.

The significance is not even in the campaigning victory of charities like Survivors Manchester, who have fought persistently against the flagrant injustice of male victims being explicitly excluded from funds set up to provide care and support to victims of rape and abuse – although that achievement should not be overlooked. The historic significance of today’s announcement is that it marks the first time that a British government of any stripe has ringfenced any quantity of victim support funding specifically to help men and boys. It may only be half a million quid, but it is a priceless milestone.

Although male victims make up a significant minority of cases of child sex abuse and of adult sexual, domestic and relationship violence, their specific needs and circumstances are often pushed so far to the margins of debate and policy that they all but disappear. In mainstream political and media narratives, the terms sexual violence and relationship violence are taken to be synonymous with the phrase ‘violence against women and girls.’

This has consequences for male victims which go far beyond access to funding and resources. The voices and views of male victims are often excluded from debates about the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes, despite considerable evidence to show there are specific and complex issues around men’s and boys’ willingness to report and testify. Debates around cultures of victim- blaming often focus exclusively on women’s supposed behaviour or appearance, almost never on men’s sexuality, despite extensive evidence that male victims, just like female victims, are commonly assumed to have been ‘asking for it.’

While our society still has a long way to go before it treats the sexual abuse of women with the seriousness it requires, the equivalent journey for men has barely begun. Prison rape jokes in particular are almost ubiquitous. The ugly reality of that issue is stomach-churning rather than comic. One study drew upon interviews with ex-prisoners. The evidence was that while fewer prisoners are raped in British prisons than some people might imagine, those who are victimised are typically singled out for their physical and mental vulnerability and attacked repeatedly by multiple perpetrators. Detailed data on the extent of the problem in the UK remains elusive however because, shockingly, no one has ever commissioned or authorised the research to find out.

A different issue confronts the sizeable minority of male victims whose abusers are female. Despite clinical literature demonstrating that such victims face similar risks to other abuse survivors of post-traumatic symptoms, guilt, emotional and mental health risks and sexual dysfunction, victims often report feeling entirely isolated by a cultural denial of their existence. Boys who are abused by older women are told they should consider themselves lucky or grateful. While there is a large weight of evidence demonstrating that surprisingly large numbers of adult men can be victims of coercive or violent sexual abuse by women, their needs and situations are all but entirely ignored.

Perhaps the strongest argument for reserved funding for male victims is that if government won’t help victims, nobody will. Charities working specifically with male victims tend to be desperately under-funded, the sad truth is that they are not considered the most sympathetic causes. Social psychologists have found that both genders, but especially men, are more likely to give to women in need than to men, which is generally attributed to socialised notions of chivalry. If ever you wanted an example of the feminist dictum that patriarchy hurts men too, it is right here.

Perhaps things are slowly changing. Similar points were made for many years about funding for research into male-specific cancers, but in recent years initiatives like Movember and Men United have brought glimmers of light to the gloom. Alongside the new funding, the Ministry of Justice have thrown their weight behind the survivors’ charities social media campaign, #BreakTheSilence. Further support has come from the cast of Hollyoaks, which is currently running a sensitively-handled storyline of male rape. It is perhaps this gradual, public unlocking of the issue which, more than anything, can bring hope to survivors.

A history of ad hominem gender shaming

I blogged recently about my disdain for those who respond to any man writing favourably about women with the swipe “you’re only saying this in the hope of getting laid.”

Several respondents pointed out, quite correctly, that this is just one strand to a wide family of ad hominem attacks, all of which focus on the putative conscious or unconscious psychological motivations behind an expressed opinion.

It pops up in all political arenas (the phrase ‘the politics of envy’ is a classic example) but it seems especially prevalent in gender debates. Examples include dismissing feminists as being fat, ugly, sex-starved, bitter and jealous of more attractive women, or the precise mirror image – dismissing men’s activists as being sad, socially inadequate, resentful virgins who live in their mother’s basements.

It’s the kind of lazy thinking we all slip into occasionally – and yes, I’m sure there are plenty of blots on my own copybook, before you rush to point it out. Nonetheless it is an intellectually bankrupt, politically corrosive and degrading, and very often entirely untruthful approach to debating issues, whoever is responsible.

One might expect such cheap and nasty rhetorical tricks in the mucky trenches of the online gender wars. It is rather more surprising to find a prime example in an acclaimed, scholarly, academic history book.

My current light reading is a recent book by Ben Griffin entitled: The Politics of Gender in Victorian Britain: Masculinity, Political Culture and the Struggle for Women’s Rights. Yeah, I know, I’m a barrel of laughs at parties. Anyway, in many respects it is a fascinating work, exploring a really interesting idea that since each gender is largely defined in opposition and contrast to the other, the gradual emancipation of women and reinvention of femininity through the 19th Century was both a cause and consequence of a parallel and contemporaneous reconstruction of male gender roles. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Victorian conceptions of fatherhood and paternity. It is useful to be reminded just how fluid and transient such seemingly immutable attitudes prove to be.

But here’s the ‘but.’ One particular point of interest for Griffin, which appears sporadically through the book but also gets a whole chapter to itself, is an urge to psychologically profile the most vehement anti-suffrage members of the Victorian parliaments. These guys were, I am quite happy to concede, unbearably reactionary, misogynistic dinosaurs with an unedifying attachment to brute, traditional masculinity, the type of politician who, were they around today, I would doubtless be writing articles and blogs about – mocking and condemning their appalling opinions. I hope I would not fall into the trap which, with 150 years’ of distance, catches Griffin.

It is not enough to the author that these men were wrong, misguided by anachronistic ideology or religious beliefs. He feels the need to pathologise them like the history department’s answer to Fitz from Cracker. These men, Griffin alleges, doth (or didth) protest too much. Hence Sir Henry James was “a lifelong bachelor” with “an unusually close attachment to his mother.” He “exhibited a visible interest in cases of unusually close attachment between men.” He was, according to one rumour, the secret lover of Lord Randolph Churchill, but according to another, responsible for a full household of illegitimate children.

Meanwhile Charles Newdegate MP represented “a similar case of exaggerated filial piety…. indeed the relationship seems to have been exceptional in its intensity.” What’s more, “there is no surviving evidence of him having ever expressed any interest in women at all.”

On a slightly different tack, another ardent advocate of patriarchal supremacy was very much married. Alexander Beresford Hope MP opposed every reform of women’s civil and legal rights, but he had secrets of his own. At home, we are told, his most striking characteristic was his “absolute devotion to [his wife] and complete surrender of his will to hers, never opposing or thwarting any of her wishes but always thinking of and anticipating her views and desires.” You might think this makes him sound rather lovely (the original source was the MP’s daughter, after his death), but that is not how the author sees it. Instead it stands as evidence that Beresford Hope’s anti-feminism was a reaction to being a henpecked husband.

Summing up, the author argues:

“any interpretation of their speeches has to take into account the fact that the speeches were not simply statements of anti-suffragist belief; they were also efforts to create masculine identities. By entering the battle to oppose women’s suffrage these bachelor mummies’ boys presented themselves as hard-headed men of business or as chivalrous knights set on protecting the fairer sex. These were identities that served to compensate for the fact that these men fell far short of the masculine ideal, and as such we should not underestimate the attraction that entering the debate on women’s suffrage held for these tarnished defenders of the patriarchal order.”

My objections to all this are twofold. The first is based in social science and psychology. As the likes of Adorno and Eysenck pointed out more than 50 years ago, all political views are, to an extent, underpinned by personal cognitive processes and/or personality. All of our politics are to an extent shaped and influenced by our personal histories and our private lives. It is striking that this type of forensic diagnosis of political positions is only ever applied to people we disagree with, never to ourselves or those on our own side. Were there not MPs who supported suffrage who were submissive to their wives or quietly homosexual? Almost certainly, but Griffin doesn’t explain away their progressive views on that basis, although either would be an easy case to make. Once we start to go down that route, all debate and discussion quickly becomes reductive and ad hom.

The second problem I have with all this is, I think, a more serious matter. Griffin clearly considers himself to be a progressive type, his allegiances are overtly pro-feminist and his references are peppered with post-structural gender theory from R.W. Connell et al. For all that, I can’t help but find his analysis subtly but profoundly reactionary. The glee he seems to take in nudge-nudge innuendo that anti-suffrage MPs were secretly gay strikes me as more than a tad homophobic, and so too is the repeated conflation of ‘confirmed bachelor’ with ‘mummy’s boy.’ The passage about the henpecked MP seems to be shaming the man for being insufficiently dominant in his own home.

I realise I’m probably being harsh, but I can’t help reading Griffin as saying that if you don’t agree with his enlightened modern views on gender, there must be something wrong with you, and in the case of these MPs, what was wrong with them was that they were secretly gay, lacking in masculine, heterosexual independence, or excessively subordinate to women. Um, hello? Isn’t this just old heteronormative, patriarchal gender policing wrapped up with a new progressive ribbon?

Whether or not Griffin is guilty as charged, there is an unfortunate tendency, particularly among male feminists, to create new, feminist-friendly hierarchies of masculinity which (conveniently) place them at the top. However well intentioned, slogans like “real men don’t hit women” still reinforce the false notion that there is such a thing as a real man, an ideal man, against whom all others should be compared. I don’t think it is helpful.

The sad truth is that some real men do hit women (or other men), some don’t. Some real men are gay, some real men are homophobic. Some real men lean left politically and some to the right, some real men oppose women’s rights and others support them. That was true in the 1870s, it remains true today, and if we want to challenge the views of those we oppose, we need to take on their arguments, not their personal lives.  

Male victims, screening and victim-blaming

Crimestoppers, an official UK central government public information service, today published a piece about male victims of domestic violence on their blog. The piece was authored by Ippo Panteloudakis, a staff member from Respect UK, the charity which runs the Men’s Advice Line and which accredits DV perpetrator rehabilitation schemes, among many other responsibilities.

Towards the end of the piece, it states:

Although attitudes are changing, gender stereotypes make it difficult for some to think of men as victims, i.e. men must always be strong and if they are physically stronger they can’t be victims.

This is true, of course, and we should welcome its inclusion. Unfortunately the very next paragraph goes on to say this

Another issue some callers bring is the use of violence by both partners – working out who the ‘primary perpetrator/aggressor’ is in these cases and who was genuinely in self-defence is crucial if we want to manage the risk and increase the safety of victims. It is well established by now that some perpetrators approach victim services claiming they are the victim in their relationship. This has important implications for service delivery as perpetrators may be offered support as victims and victims as perpetrators.

One of the nastiest stereotypes that hovers around male victims of intimate partner violence is that he must have done something to provoke it, to deserve it, or that the abuser must have been defending herself because the man is invariably the violent one. There is no evidence that this is true for male victims any more frequently than it is for female victims, and yet this type of victim-blaming would be immediately hounded out of the room if it were applied to women.  Indeed, Erin Pizzey was famously excommunicated from the feminist / domestic violence realm about 40 years ago for making exactly this point about  the women she saw in Chiswick.

Last summer I praised the excellent report by Abused Men in Scotland which evaluated the experiences of men accessing services for victims and survivors. One point this report picked up was that some men who had called the Men’s Advice Line felt as if they were being themselves ‘screened’ as perpetrators and all but accused of being wife-beaters when they called for help. It should not  take much imagination to appreciate how damaging that can be to the trust relationship between a vulnerable person seeking help and the agency which is supposed to be supporting him.

The Men’s Advice Line reacted angrily, firing off a letter to AMIS demanding retraction and correction, and insisting that they did not practice “screening”, they merely “risk and needs assess.” Brian Dempsey, author of the original report, provided a response that was, I think, quite definitive. According to Men’s Advice Line’s own published data, their helpline workers ask sufficient questions on first contact to make a (supposed) assessment of whether the caller is a victim, a  perpetrator, a victim who uses violent resistance or a perpetrator whose victim uses violent resistance.

Brian Dempsey’s response also notes that in July 2013, while these letters were bouncing back and forth, the noted feminist academic Catherine Donovan appeared on Women’s Hour and praised Respect  / MAL for they way in which they “screen” callers to establish whether they are victims or perpetrators.

The reality is that there is no straightforward model of family violence. Some instances happen with one violent controlling bully who batters the other party without retaliation. Such offenders can be male or female, and so can their victims. A large proportion of family violence (most research suggests as much as half) is to some extent reciprocal and mutual, with no easy answer as to who is starting it, who is escalating it, who is aggressing and who is acting in self defence. Asking who is the perpetrator and who is the victim is meaningless. The answer to both is both. The urge to carefully delineate callers into perpetrators and victims is a simplistic attempt to divide the world into goodies and baddies and much of the time the world just does not work like that. It must be noted that other services for victims of partner violence – not only all services for female victims but also the Mankind Initiative Helpline and Dyn Project in Wales run successful and acclaimed services without the need to screen or “risk and needs assess.”

Someone who approaches a victim support service – whether a helpline, a refuge or anything else – must be assumed to be in need of support and be offered the help they need. There is a good argument to say that as part of the support process, all victims should somehow be offered help with any violent or aggressive tendencies of their own. Raising such an issue without alienating and adding to the distress of victims would be an exceptionally delicate and difficult task. Which is why Respect  / MAL’s cavalier approach to the issue is so deeply concerning.

 

 

I’m only writing this to get laid. Or am I?

Let me tell you about a stupid thing people often say to me. They’ve been saying it to me for years, and I have never written about it before, mostly because it is so full of stupid it feels almost unfair to pick it up and rattle it until all the stupid falls out – like squeezing a puppy until it poops itself or something.

It should be said, this particular little puppy is not just stupid. It is stupid, and insulting and deepy, deeply offensive, specifically to men. I know some people are suspicious of the word misandry but hey, it’s a thing, and the topic of our discussion today is absolutely rotten with loathing and contempt for the male gender.

So what is this rancid little snotbubble of idiocy? It’s the tedious cliche that says any man who says or writes something which could be perceived to be sympathetic to women or feminism must only be doing so in the hope of getting a shag.

Most of the time, the peddlers of this misandrist puppy-poop are men themselves, usually anti-feminist commentators and MRAs. Here’s a typical example from A Voice For Men
sexmotive3

However they are not the only culprits. Last week I found myself unexpectedly whelmed by a torrent of antipathy from the radical feminists of Twitter. It began with a group who simply don’t like me, don’t like my thinking, and don’t like my writing. That’s fair enough, the feeling is pretty much mutual. Along the way, I was treated to this little diagnosis of my motivations.

sexmotive1

So far, so yawn. However as the torrent turned into a tsunami, one of my detractors dug out an old tweet of mine,  referring to the vile and abusive trans-exclusionary radfem (TERF) cabal of Cathy Brennan and pals, in which I’d said that radfems like those are thankfully a dying breed. This opened up a whole new subplot, including this gem

sexmotive2

This is really world-class offensiveness. You would have to look long and far to find a message that manages to squeeze in so much transphobia, homophobia and misandry into 140 little characters.

So what is my issue with this cliche? Let’s start with the stupid.

I’m a 47 year-old father of two, who has been settled in a monogamish relationship for almost exactly 20 years now. If I want to get laid I catch up on the Hoovering and scrub the toilets, pack the kids off to their grandparents for the weekend, make my best curry (with extra ginger) make sure the cats are fed and the dog is walked and we’ve thrown enough coffee down our necks that we don’t fall asleep in front of Celebrity Knitting on Ice, which let’s be honest, we probably will. I don’t argue on the internet about feminism in order to have sex. I argue on the internet about feminism precisely because I’m not having sex, you doofuses.

At this point I was about to go into a predictable rant about how speaking or writing about feminism is an utterly abject approach to getting laid anyway. Buy a guitar or clean under your fingernails instead. Then I realised that, actually, it may not be true.

If you can find someone adequately alluring, who finds you adequately alluring in turn, and you discover a shared interest in the early writings of Shulamith Firestone, then for all I know the erotic sparks will be pinging by midnight. Go for it.  To the best of my knowledge, OK Cupid is not teeming with het-up and horny young guys and gals eager to debate Nussbaum’s theory of objectification, but if two such meteors crash on a shared stellar orbit, then good fucking luck to you both.

The much more important point is that to fall back on this lazy trope implies that the only motivation a man could have to say or do anything is to get sex. Could it be this guy has spent a long time thinking about the moral and political ramifications of various ideological positions and made a conscious (or emotional) decision to adopt certain positions as a matter of principle? Don’t be ridiculous, he’s a man, fnurr fnurr, he can only ever think with his dick, it’s what all men do, innit?

Fuck that shit, once and for all.

I don’t expect any of the radical feminists quoted above to be reading this blog, and even if they did I very much doubt they would care. The plain fact is that most of them actually do hold men in contempt and disdain, quite proudly so. They actually believe shit like this, so they are probably beyond hope.

I expect better of male readers, particularly those who fancy themselves as men’s activists or campaigners against misandry. Perhaps you believe you only think with your dick yourselves, and are holding the rest of us to your standards? Or more probably,  you just don’t have the wit or imagination to come up with rational arguments against the men you target, so fall back on hoary old misandrist cliches? Whatever your excuse, catch yourselves on. Next time it happens I’m pointing the offenders straight to this blog. You’re part of the problem.

Where’s the power? Some thoughts on Emer O’Toole’s feminist flowchart

I turned my back on the Guardian’s Comment is Free page for about five minutes on Thursday afternoon, and when I turned back around there was a piece by Emer O’Toole on men and feminism that had already reaped around 1300 comments.

I clicked, expecting some provocative outrage above the line and a savage feeding-frenzy below. It wasn’t really the case. The comments, by the standard of CIF feminism, included an unusually high proportion of interesting and astute points and constructive exchanges. The article itself centred on a flowchart designed to test whether or not a man (although I see no reason why it should be restricted to men) can be classified as a feminist or not.

Copyright  Emer O'Toole / The Guardian

Copyright Emer O’Toole / The Guardian

Although she’s too polite to say so, the post is really a demolition of the facile yet almost ubiquitous trope that goes “Do you believe men and women should be equal? Congratulations, you’re a feminist.” A lot of the controversy and dispute in the comments spiralled around a couple of points that I have made myself in the past and broadly agree with. The first is that feminism is (and should be) a woman’s movement, led by women, for women and with women’s rights, welfare and issues at its heart. Feminism is not a broader movement for social justice and equality of all sorts (including issues which primarily affects men). That’s not to say feminism cannot or should not sit alongside other social justice movements (including those which do focus on men) – simply that it is not feminism’s job.

The second point of agreement is that whether or not someone should be described as a feminist is not necessarily that big a deal.

You don’t have to be a feminist. There are plenty of ways to be awesome without working towards equal rights for women. For example, if you answered “Who do you think is more disadvantaged by gender inequality?” with “Women, but I’m still more interested in talking about men,” that’s fine.

Leaving aside the use of the phrase “be awesome” (cringe), and the fact that Emer goes on to pick out the Good Men Project as an example of said awesomeness (GMP and I have history) – I think this is pretty much spot on. There is no obligation to be feminist, and not being so doesn’t necessarily make you personally or politically bad.

It would be an interesting experiment to stop 100 random women in the street and take them through the flowchart. My guess is it would go a long way to answering the question which so often vexes mainstream liberal feminism, as to why a large majority of women choose not to identify as feminists.

That said, I do have a few issues with the analysis here. The first is the point of identification. This kind of reified, mechanistic approach removes any real personal choice from the question of whether or not someone is a feminist. It becomes a matter of pathological diagnosis instead (like “congratulations! You have syphilis!”) To me this misses one of the most important elements to the equation. I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ out of frustration, disgust or despair at the way the feminist mainstream deals with issues of concern to them – for example, white privilege and racism; sex worker rights or male victims of domestic and sexual abuse. It seems egregious to assume the authority to impose the label on people who may not wish to accept it, and arrogant to assume that everyone would want to be so defined.

My other theoretical issue with the post is that it positions feminism purely around matters of equality. As one persistent commenter rightly pointed out repeatedly below the line, the assumptions underpinning the question would be rejected out of hand by bell hooks, for starters, who would surely react by asking “equal with which men?”

Emer insists that to quibble over definitions of equality is enough to send you straight to the ‘Not a feminist’ box. Really? Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking of the kind of religious traditionalist who says things like “I believe Our Lord made men and women equal, which is why he decided that men should have the important job of going outside and earning money while women should have the equally important job of staying home, raising her family and keeping herself and her home all clean and purdey.” Is that a feminist belief?

As most feminists identified decades ago, the central issue is not about simple equality, but about personal, political and economic power and their distribution at the micro and macro levels. That is precisely why feminism began talking less about equal rights for women, and more about patriarchy. They are not the same issues.

I suppose we could start the flowchart with the question “Do you wish to challenge social, cultural and political structures which curtail and prescribe gender roles which systematically entrench disproportionate power relations between men and women within the context of a hegemonic capitalist system that is sustained by interlinked networks of oppression?” but I accept you would struggle to squeeze it into a little box on a flowchart.

Trollololol, BMJ

So, it is pretty funny that the British Medical Journal is trolling us.

 

Participants, setting, and design

To be eligible participants had to be part of a couple and willing to take part in the study. We carried out a parallel trial with one man and one woman in their own home. It was decided without consultation that the female participant would prefer to be right and the male, being somewhat passive, would prefer to be happy.

The male was informed of the intervention while the female participant was not (this form of pre-randomisation is known as the Zelen method2). The female participant was blind to the hypothesis being tested, other than being asked to record her quality of life.

Discussion

The results of this trial show that the availability of unbridled power adversely affects the quality of life of those on the receiving end.

Strengths and weaknesses

The study has some limitations. There was no trial registration, no ethics committee approval, no informed consent, no proper randomisation, no validated test instrument, and questionable statistical assessment. We used the eyeball technique for single patient trials which, as Sackett says, “more closely matches the way we think as clinicians.”3

Generalisability

Many people in the world live as couples, and we believe that it could be harmful for one partner to always have to agree with the other. However, more research is needed to see whether our results hold if it is the male who is always right.

 

It’s even funnier that the science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, the Huffington Post and Medical Daily fell for it hook, line and sinker and, inevitably, Men’s Rights Activists are up in arms. 

Trollololol. Season’s Greetings, friends.

Can you make me shut up for a few hours?

Silence is not golden. Silence is corrosive, toxic, deadly.

Looking at the theme and nominated target areas for this year’s International Men’s Day, this Tuesday, 19th November, it occurred to me that this was a common theme running through most of the issues.

The theme for 2013 is, “Keeping Men and Boys safe” and the nominated target areas are:

  • Keeping men and boys safe by tackling male suicide;
  • Keeping boys safe so they can become tomorrow’s role models;
  • Tackling our tolerance of violence against men and boys;
  • Boosting men’s life expectancy by keeping men and boys safe from avoidable illness and death;
  • Keeping men and boys safe by promoting fathers and male role models.

It is well established that men and boys are less likely than their female equivalents to seek help and support with their physical and mental health; they are less likely to report being the victims of domestic or sexual violence or to seek help and advice afterwards. They are less likely to report bullying; less likely to report abuse; less likely to turn to friends or family to offload in times of crisis or loneliness.

This is not a random product of chromosomes or some bizarre genetic mutation. It is actively manufactured by our society, beaten into us, both emotionally and physically from the day we are born,  and frankly, it sucks.

Nor is it just individuals. Men, collectively, are bloody awful at standing up for our needs. We’re men. We don’t need help. What kind of wimps do you think we are? The consequence of that is to actively discourage those individuals who do need help from seeking it. Man up. Boys don’t cry. Take it like a man. Be strong. Be brave. Literally destroy yourself before admitting to a weakness.

Well fuck that for a game of soldiers.

So when a brilliant charity on my own doorstep, Survivors Manchester, decided to mark IMD13 with a sponsored silence to raise both funds and awareness for male victims of rape and sexual abuse, it struck me as a profoundly brilliant, if rather ironic gesture. It is particularly timely, as I have recently been badgering a few politicians about the ineligibility of Survivors Manchester and similar organisations for the government’s Rape Support Fund. This week my MP forwarded on a letter to me from Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary, which boasted that through the Witness and Victim General Fund, support services for male victims of sexual assault and domestic violence across England are being funded by the government to the tune of £580,000 per year. His letter did not mention that the Home Office’s Violence Against Women and Girls programme is funding similar projects to a total of nearly £40 million over three years. (That is still not enough, I hasten to add)  Meanwhile Survivors Manchester gets by largely on the goodwill of volunteers, private donations, a wing and a (secular) prayer. To get a sense of the importance of their work, I urge you to browse their brilliant recent booklet: Breaking the silence

So, it’s time to put your money where my mouth is, if you know what I mean.

Since I work from home, and rarely speak a word to a human being until the kids get home, I’m taking the much more challenging (for me) commitment that for six hours on Tuesday 19th November, from 9am-3pm (GMT) I will maintain complete internet silence. No Tweets, no updates, no blogging, no arguing below the line, no commenting, no trolling politicians for lulz. Nada. I might just burst.

 

Survivors Manchester tell me that:

£55 can provide a peer-support group session for up to 12 male victim of sexual abuse or rape.
£35 can provide a counselling session for a male victim of sexual abuse or rape.
£20 can help to pay for a peer support session for survivors
£10 can buy the first positive step for a male victim in need – telephone support
Enjoying the blissful silence of an Ally-free internet for only a penny per minute would cost you just £3.60.

If you could spare a any amount to make the stress worth my while, we’d all be really grateful. The giving page is here. 

Thank you.

Ally
x

 UPDATE 19/11/13

Well, I made it.

It actually turned out to be more difficult than I imagined – I had forgotten that International Men’s Day is also one of my most demanding Argue-With-People-On-the-Internet days of the year! So I spent my six hours of exile productively, doing a post for the Independent that covers much of the same ground as above, with a few added digs at the cynics.

More importantly, I raised loads of money to Survivors Manchester. I’ll be honest, when I first thought of doing this, I hoped I would raise at least £50 – anything less would have felt slightly underwhelming. I secretly hoped that I might raise £100 which – considering that it was just a little sponsored silence at a few days notice – would have been fantastic.

Well, at the time of writing I have actually raised over £150 which I’m absolutely delighted with. Thank you so much to everyone who chipped in and coughed up, or who helped to share the link or just offered support. It is hugely appreciated. You are all wonderful. When I find out the total raised by the whole IMD Break The Silence team I’ll let you know.  And if you never got around to it… the donation  page will remain open not just for the rest of today, but until the end of the year.

In the meantime, happy International Men’s Day to you all.

One final exchange with Mike Buchanan

So I thought I’d said about as much as I wanted to say to Mike Buchanan of Justice for Men and Boys.

Then I received an email. Since in my last thread I’d publicly stated that if Mike were to offer one of his public challenges to me I would probably  file it in the bin, Mike didn’t issue a challenge. Instead he issued a “request.” And he’d gone to all the trouble of typing it up into a letter on headed notepaper and printing it to  a pdf and everything. 

I should have just filed it, as promised. But I couldn’t resist. My reply is below. After this, I promise, I shall move on to more interesting matters.

_______________________

Dear Mike,

Every day I read things that are not true. Our newspapers are full of things that are not true. Our politicians say things that are not true. People write me letters and emails telling me things that are not true.

For example, your letter to me, after a preamble and quoting my words at length, begins:

‘We live in an era when the EU has announced its intention to introduce legislation to ban anti-feminist speech, a matter not mentioned by any major news outlet in the UK to the best of my knowledge.’

The reason this has not been mentioned in any major new outlet is because it is not true. It is not just slightly  factually mistaken, it is palpably, unequivocally 100% false. The EU has made no such announcement. The EU does not have the legal power to prescribe domestic law on areas such as hate speech to nation states, even if it wanted to – and there is no evidence that it does
want to.

What the article on A Voice For Men describes is a document prepared by an NGO called the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation – which has no authority whatsoever  – who have submitted it to the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee (which itself has no meaningful authority whatsoever) and if you read the actual document, it amounts to suggestions to nation states as to what laws they might want to pass against hate speech. I can find no evidence that the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee plans to do anything with it. You really shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, you know.

You go on to say:

‘You must surely be aware of how feminist-friendly the British media are.’

No. I am not. The Guardian is certainly very feminist-friendly, as is the Independent. They have, between them, fewer than 300,000 daily circulation. The Daily Mail and the Sun between them have around 4 million. The Evening Standard, the Telegraph, the Star, the Express and the Times have another two and a half million or so between them. For every column with a vaguely feminist tint by Suzanne Moore or even Janet Street Porter, there are the dozens of columns by Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Phillips, James Delingpole, Peter Oborne etc etc etc.

This does not begin to address the point that the great bulk of news coverage – on issues such as family policy, female celebrities, coverage of crime, coverage of economic and political matters in the vast majority of British media is not what anyone could call feminist friendly.

You ask, ‘Is it not one of the duties of the media to challenge prominent figures who make ‘unequivocally, demonstrably false claims?’

Yes, it should be. And the more important the claim, and prominent the figure, the more important it is that they are challenged. When we look at the downright falsehoods uttered almost daily by Iain Duncan Smith about benefits claimants, by Michael Gove about schools; the utter falsehoods about the EU that regularly appear on the front pages of the Mail and the Express; about immigration and asylum seekers by the Sun and the Star, we should all be deeply concerned. These lies and falsehoods have a major and damaging impact on our political culture and democracy, and in some cases create real and often horrific hardship for vulnerable individuals.

In comparison to the above, whether or not the (with all due respect to her) almost entirely obscure and powerless feminist Caroline Criado-Perez is accurate in what she says about the impacts of women on the boards of companies strikes me as almost entirely trivial.

Quite a large proportion of my output as a writer is devoted to challenging or correcting falsehoods and mistakes on issues of gender that circulate in the media. Those include falsehoods and mistakes propagated by feminists,  by men’s rights activists, and by those such as Hanna Rosin who float somewhere between. I actively support and champion projects such as fullfact.org which are devoted full time to correcting the innumerable mistakes and falsehoods in the political and media realm. I don’t need any prompts, challenges or ‘requests’ to challenge any specific writers or campaigners, I have a whole media smorgasbord to choose from on any given day of the week if  I so choose.

I certainly don’t need advice to pick out feminists as being uniquely dishonest or untrustworthy. When compared to the shameless mendacity and full-blown propaganda of the corporate right wing media, feminist activists and journalists are, frankly, small beer. To single out feminists would be to imply that feminists are uniquely guilty of dishonesty or inaccuracy and that would be, ironically enough, both dishonest and inaccurate.

So the answer to your request is no. In the meantime, if you are really concerned about truth and accuracy, you might want to consider issuing one of your ‘public challenges’ (or indeed ‘requests’) to A Voice for Men to demand that they delete their entirely false claim that the EU intends to introduce legislation to ban anti-feminist speech.

You are very welcome to publish both your letter to me and this response, should you have the decency.  In the meantime, I don’t intend to continue our correspondence in any serious way. I find that in order to have a sensible conversation with you, I have to spend a good few minutes correcting the innumerable mistakes and falsehoods in everything you write, and to be honest, I have more important things to do with my time.

All the best

Ally