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

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.


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


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.


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


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.


 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



A personal manifesto for men and boys

It would be a fair summary to say that I was not overly impressed with the policy proposals put forward by the new political party, Justice for Men and Boys.

Among the hundreds of comments that followed my blog on the matter, at least one reader pointed out that while I had been forthright in my criticism of the ideas put forward by J4MB, I  had not offered any constructive alternatives. It was a reasonable point.

I am still fundamentally opposed to the very idea of a factional party to represent the interests of one gender, however I would be interested in developing a programme of ideas that could be urged upon all mainstream political parties to address some of the very real gender specific issues facing men and boys today. So I have developed the list below as a very personal manifesto.

In reality, many of the changes we need to improve the welfare and wellbeing of men and boys do not lie in party political policies, but are cultural and psychological – relating to how we, as a society, construct our notions and norms of masculinity, broader gender roles, and how we, as men, choose to perform those roles. Nonetheless, politicians and governments can play a role in steering such efforts, and even within the strictures of globalised freemarket capitalism, with all the violence, alienation, isolation and exploitation inherent to the system, there are still changes that could be made that would make a real and meaningful improvement to the lives and welfare of men and boys, and indeed women and girls.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of ten policy packages that are not utopian or idealistic, but could feasibly be added to the manifesto of any existing mainstream political party which had the determination, imagination and courage to put them into action. I would welcome any suggestions for revisions, additions or alternative ideas.

An alternative manifesto for men and boys.


  1. Fatherhood. Initiate a National Fatherhood Strategy to encourage involved and active fathering from birth onwards. Actively include fathers in all routine perinatal and postnatal health provision and information services, including screening new fathers for health and mental health needs, as we do mothers. Provide up to six months statutory parental leave entitlement to all new parents, to be taken at any time before the youngest child begins school. Make father & toddler activities a funding priority. Reward employers who support active fathering with accolades, awards and rewards. For separated families, children’s needs and welfare must remain centre, however the need for children to maintain a strong relationship with both natural parents where possible must be emphasised. Revise family court proceedings so that a resident parent who deprives children of agreed contact with the non-resident parent may no longer be considered an appropriate primary carer.Background notes: Discussion of father’s rights and obligations too often begins at the time of family breakdown. We need to revolutionise fatherhood from the moment of birth, moving closer towards the Nordic model of active fatherhood. This will require commitment and investment from government, employers, women and men alike. ***
  2. Education. Form a Royal Commission on Boys’ Education, to investigate best evidence and form solutions to the academic underperformance of boys in schools and their disengagement from learning.Background notes: Politicians and wider society has for too long ignored the growing crisis in boys’ education, specifically education of boys from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities. Gimmicky simple solutions are unlikely to be beneficial, and there is considerable debate among educationalists as to the causes of the crisis and effective solutions. Turning the situation around will take many years, but the first step has to be recognising and diagnosing the true nature of the problem.

  3. Employment and training. Significant investment is required in manual labour-intensive employment, to provide better prospects for young men without academic ambitions. The first step should be a programme of affordable home building, revitalising the social housing sector and addressing the homelessness crisis. A ‘Carbon Army,’ as recommended by the New Economics Foundation, installing energy-saving home-improvements such as insulation and double-glazing to every home in the country, would have significant long term economic and environmental benefits while providing extensive employment and skills training opportunities.Background notes: Unemployment among men, and particularly working class and BME men, began rising in 2004 and remains stubbornly high. People aged 16-24 are three times as likely to be unemployed as older workers, and young men about 33% more likely to be unemployed than young women [source].***


  4. Mental health, depression and suicide. Revise national strategy “Preventing Suicide in England” to recognise male gender as a primary risk factor. Implement in full recommendations of Samaritans report Men and Suicide and Men’s Health Forum/Mind report Delivering Male. Department of Health to work with NICE & medical profession to improve diagnosis of depression in men, especially recognising anger, aggression, risk-taking and substance abuse as potential diagnostic symptoms.Background notes: The national suicide prevention strategy makes no mention of male gender as a risk factor, despite men being more than three times as likely to die by suicide. Strategies for identifying and treating male depression have to recognise that men with mental health and addiction issues are often more likely to be encountered by police than their GPs.***
  5. Men’s health. Add specific responsibility for men’s health to the brief of the Parliamentary Under Secretary for health; Initiate a major campaign by Public Health England to address men’s health inequalities; implement in full the proposals on men’s access to health services proposed in the report Challenges and Choices by Men’s Health Forum (2009).

    Background notes: Although boys and men are more likely to die of all comparable treatable illnesses at every stage of life, there is no government policy to address the problem. A search on “men’s health” at the Department of Health website produces literally zero relevant results. This has to be a national health priority.


  6. Violence prevention strategy. National strategies to address Violence Against Women and Girls, in education, public health and social policy, should be extended to become campaigns against interpersonal violence. Assaulting children under the auspices of discipline must be outlawed. Sex and relationship education should be revised to place enthusiastic consent at heart of the syllabus for both boys and girls.Background notes: More than 2 million violent incidents were estimated to occur in England and Wales last year. 62% of the victims and 80% of the perpetrators were male. Men are more than twice as likely to be murdered as women. More than half a million violent crimes affected children aged 10-15, with boys accounting for more than two thirds of victims [source]. Research shows that wherever corporal punishment is used, boys are beaten more frequently and more severely than girls [Source]. For every three girl children who die by homicide, four boys will – in every age group from birth onwards. [Source.] Strategies to prevent violence against women and girls, in education, social policy and public health are important and should continue, but as part of a wider anti-violence campaign. Such efforts would not diminish campaigns against VAWG, on the contrary they would make them far more likely to succeed.

  7. Victim support. Provision and funding for social support and therapeutic care for victims of violent crime, including intimate partner and sexual abuse, should only be made on basis of need, not gender.Background notes: The needs and circumstances of male and female victims of abuse and domestic violence are not identical. It is entirely reasonable that gender-specific facilities and services are made available where appropriate. It can never be acceptable for situations like this to arise, where male victims of rape and childhood sexual abuse are actively excluded from support and funding opportunities.***
  8. Support for care leavers.  The Children’s Act must be amended to extend statutory duty of care to the age of 25, with the option of extending residential care to 21, as proposed by the coalition of charities, the Care Leavers’ Coalition.Background notes: Although social services and care policy are rarely seen as gendered issues, they are. There are more boys than girls going into the care system at every stage, and they stay for longer. Overall, 62% of children in care are male. After leaving care, one in every 144 girls who was in care at 16 will be in prison at age 19. The statistic for boys is 1 in 23. By the same age, 51% of these young women will be living independently, compared to 36% of males.  [Source] According to research by the Who Cares? Trust, 30% of those who are homeless had been in care at some point in their lives, as had 25% of prisoners.***
  9.  Prison reform. Initiate and implement a “Corston Report for Men.” Make prison a last resort for punishment, reserved for dangerous, violent and incorrigible offenders. Invest the multi-billion pound savings in mental health, addiction and community desistance services.Background notes: The British obsession with prison sees us locking up more men than any country in Western Europe bar Spain. Around 95% of prisoners are male. Since imprisonment is known to be the least effective method of reducing reoffending, the result is a hugely expensive breeding ground for crime, as well as a humanitarian disgrace. Two-thirds of male prisoners have a reading age of 11 or less. More than 70% have at least two diagnosed mental health conditions and one in ten prisoners had experienced auditory hallucinations in the preceding year.


  10. Circumcision. Legally prohibit the practice of infant circumcision by untrained, unqualified practitioners, in non-clinical conditions and without anaesthetic. Launch public information and education programmes to discourage unnecessary surgical procedures in line with the British Medical Association’s position, in a move towards negotiated phasing out of infant circumcision.

Background notes: Personally I would love to see a total end to ritual infant circumcision, but implementing a legal ban would be dangerously counter-productive, pushing the practice underground, and such a demand is politically untenable. However preventing the horrific unlicensed practices which result in widespread complications, lifelong scarring and even deaths and serious injuries is an urgent necessity.


The stupid, the hypocritical and the downright evil: A response to Justice 4 Men and Boys

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.

4. Employment.
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.


Magic Trick: Chris Brown and the disappearing child sex abuse

Less than a week after Victoria Coren-Mitchell was calling for nuance in how we discuss and describe difficult issues like the sexual abuse and rape of children, Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian has adopted a novel approach – simply ignore it.

Aitkenhead was interviewing R&B star and convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown. She began the piece with a journalist’s conceit: promising her interviewee the benefit of a blank slate to tell his story. One senses how it is going early on.

His parents divorced when he was seven, and before long he and his sister and mother were living with her new husband in a trailer park, where in the past he has described lying in bed listening to his stepfather beat his mother.

A couple of paragraphs later, my stomach turned over.

He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)

I spent many years writing feature interviews, albeit at a rather lower level then Decca Aitkenhead’s prime weekly national column. Nonetheless I know a scoop when I see one. Chris Brown is here disclosing that he was seriously sexually abused at eight years old, by a girl in her mid-teens. By that age he had already been exposed to so much pornography that he considered himself ready to be sexually active. You might think it warrants a follow up question or two, a few lines of journalistic commentary, anything to draw the reader’s attention to a dramatic and important revelation. In fact Aitkenhead does the journalistic equivalent of changing the subject after an awkward fart has slipped out.

The quoted paragraph is grimly fascinating. There is not the slightest suggestion that Brown considers himself a victim, not for a moment does he suggest he was anything but in control of the situation. First he makes a joke about it. Then he flaunts it as a badge of masculine achievement and slides quickly – far too quickly – into boasting of his sexual prowess. This is precisely how many abused boys rationalise and cope with their experiences in a culture where men can never admit to weakness, and particularly never admit to having been used and abused by a girl. By the end of the paragraph, the reader could easily forget that he was eight years old. Eight.

I can quite understand why Brown would think of the experience in these terms, and would not doubt for a moment that the way he described it to the Guardian is exactly how he describes it to himself. For this he should neither be chided nor condemned. However for Decca Aitkenhead to describe it simply as ‘losing his virginity’ is repugnant. Worse is the casual indifference with which the interview simply moves on from there to the next question. At no point is the term ‘abuse’ mentioned, far less ‘raped.’

Regular readers will know I am loath to play the rhetorical trick of reversing genders, but in this case it is surely appropriate. I repeat, he was eight years old. If a female interviewee described a sexual encounter at that age with a 14 or 15 year old boy, would Aitkenhead be so coy with her language, so casual with the reveal? It is inconceivable. Chris Brown is quite entitled to rationalise the incident in whichever way works for him, but the rest of us should not simply accept it without acknowledging that it is a profoundly unhealthy interpretation.

Of course we do not know what additional quotes ended up on the cutting room floor, but it is important to consider why this section of the interview was published as it was. The first factor is that our culture still has a real problem in acknowledging and recognising male sexual victimisation by women, even when it is verbalised vividly in front of us. There may also be a race element at play here too, the stereotype of the hypersexualised black man  – part demonization, part assumed status, part fungible objectification – may amplify damaging assumptions about insatiable masculine sexuality. I’m reminded of a 2009 interview with a different R&B star, when Lil’ Wayne made a similar disclosure to TV presenter Jimmy Kimmel. That interviewer persisted with a level of ‘wayhey’ banter about being “seduced” by a grown woman at age 11, even when it became clear that the star was deeply uncomfortable with the tone.

My strongest suspicion, however, is that Aitkenhead quickly moved on from the topic for another reason. Chris Brown sits on a very specific pony on the pop media carousel. He is the bad boy; the woman beater; the villain of the story. He is the abuser so shameless that he commissioned a tattoo on his neck looking remarkably like the bruised face of his battered girlfriend, Rihanna. To suddenly portray him as a victim of child sex abuse would upset the narrative, invite sympathy in place of scorn. It would be a brave journalist who would risk that barrel-ride. It is so much easier to present him as a porn-crazed sex beast from an early age. Unsurprisingly, it took the Daily Mail only a couple of hours to turn the Guardian interview into that precise story.

It is a mistake, of course. It does the victims of child rape no favours to assert a linear path from abused to abuser, and whatever light the new revelations might shine on Chris Brown’s personality, they do absolutely nothing to excuse or explain his own violence. He continues to choose his own path and must take absolute responsibility for his own behaviour.

Meanwhile it does no one any favours to hide the sexual abuse of children behind euphemism or journalistic sleight of hand.