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Nov 21 2013

The horrors of home circumcision and why intactivists share the blame

On Sunday BBC radio show 5Live Investigates carried an outstanding report on the issue of home circumcision, fronted by Adrian Goldberg with some brilliant journalism by Nicola Dowling.

Listen here.

The centrepiece of the show is a heartbreaking interview with the mother of Goodluck Caubergs, who died last year in Greater Manchester. The midwife who conducted the operation, on the family kitchen table with a pair of scissors and some olive oil, was later convicted of manslaughter. I wrote about the case here.

The real scandal revealed by Nicola Dowling was about a different case. Dr Muhamad Siddiqui, a hospital surgeon in Sussex, had been running his own little private sideline in home circumcisions. When 23 month-old Najem Braiha was left traumatised and infected after a home circumcision conducted, it is alleged, under unhygienic conditions, his parents complained to the General Medical Council. They imposed conditions on the surgeon’s GMC registration which barred him from conducting the procedure.

As part of the BBC investigation, an actor phoned up Dr Siddiqui and asked him to conduct a home circumcision on their baby. He agreed, in direct contravention of his GMC ban. Since then, and after discovering he had been exposed by the BBC,  Dr Siddiqui has resigned from his NHS job. The astonishing consequence of that resignation is that it now allows him to resume conducting circumcisions, which it appears he fully intends to do.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Circumcisions are completely unregulated in the UK, and anyone – you, me or the local barber – can set up a business cutting off baby boy’s foreskins at a hundred quid a pop.  Any doctor under the employ of the NHS, however, is bound to the regulation of the GMC and the Quality and Care Commission. A circumcision conducted in a hospital, with anaesthetic and surgical implements is carefully controlled and subject to monitoring and audit. A circumcision conducted on a kitchen table or in a community centre is completely unregulated. There are more regulations surrounding the piercing of an ear than the surgical amputation of a foreskin.

Nobody knows how many botched circumcisions happen in the UK each year. Paediatric urologists across the country report seeing cases as a regular part of their caseload. In my own experience as a journalist who covers the issue, virtually every case of a serious complications, infection or tragic fatality has resulted from a home circumcision conducted under non-clinical conditions.  The BBC documentary detailed many such cases, including the terrifying rates of complications found after a ‘circumcision camp’ in Oxford.

In my experience, people who are new to this issue are astonished to learn about the legal position of circumcision practice in the UK. How can it be that this is possible? Whatever one’s feelings on the rights and wrongs of circumcision as a whole, how can it be that nobody has ever got around to laying down some basic health and safety regulations and a requirement for anaesthesia and clinical conditions?

It pains me to say it, but I lay at least some of the blame squarely at the feet of anti-circumcision activists. Legislative progress rarely materialises from the ether or spring from the initiative of politicians’ imaginations. Changes occur through lobbying, campaigning, persuasion and demand. The simple truth is that nobody has been badgering politicians to introduce a law to provide the most basic protection for infant boys at risk.

After the death of Baby Goodluck, I tried taking some initiative myself, I tried to organise petitions, letter-writing campaigns, lobbying through official channels. I approached the UK’s leading anti-circumcision campaigns and they all refused to help, stating that they could not support any policy that could be seen to be endorsing circumcision at all.

When I wrote in the Guardian calling for regulation of circumcision rather than an immediate ban, I received several abusive emails and messages from intactivists calling me a sellout, a traitor, a disgrace and more.

This is infuriating to me.  I too would like to see an absolute end to circumcision but let us be clear – for the foreseeable future, the prospects of enforcing a legal ban without the active co-operation of Jewish and Muslim communities are literally zero. For all kinds of reasons, and whether we like it or not, it is Not. Going. To. Happen. Anyone with the faintest grasp of the realities of politics must recognise that.

If (or when) the day comes that circumcision can be criminalised, it will come at the end of a long process of awareness-raising, education, persuasion and the gradual marginalisation of the tradition within cultural communities. Not before.  A campaign to control and regulate the practice would and could be a significant first step along that route. Those who refuse to countenance regulation remind me of those extreme ultra-leftists who opposed progress on issues like gay rights as a bourgeois distraction that would delay the glorious revolution. It is self-indulgent, self-defeating Narnia politics.

All the while, day after day, real boys little boys with real names, real lives, real futures, continued to be subjected to needless suffering, illness, lifelong scarring and the risk of serious medical complications all the way up to death, because nobody is doing anything to help. That is unconscionable, and simply has to change.

Nov 15 2013

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.

Nov 08 2013

This week’s witterings at large

A couple of things building on familiar HetPat themes elsewhere this week.

On Comment is Free I mused a little on my initial reactions to Angry White Men, the new book by Michael Kimmel, which has pretty strong links to some of what I’ve been discussing in the Malestrom series. I plan to post a bit more of a full review here sometime shortly. In the meantime here’s an extract from my Guardian piece.

However if those attitudes are at least partially stoked by very real and profound economic and social changes that have left some men feeling disempowered, marginalised, maligned and neglected, is it enough to simply demand that they suck it up and deal with it? I’m not sure.

Our newly egalitarian culture has belatedly accepted (in theory if not always practice) that men do not have a monopoly on power and authority, whether financial, political or physical. The man is no longer the master of his household, but an equal partner in a domestic project.

The gender script for women has been largely torn up – a young girl has unprecedented freedom to grow into a doctor or a nurse, a soldier or a solicitor and/or a wife and mother while men, to a large extent, are stuck with a script for a role that barely exists. To be a real man, our culture still insists, is to be the protector and provider within a society that no longer guarantees to deliver that opportunity, and where male protector-providers are not entirely necessary. It is not much of a stretch to assume that this causes immense stress and psychological conflict, which is sometimes directed inward in despair and depression, sometimes outward in anger and violence.

 

Over at the Independent, I have expanded a little on my recent piece about Chris Brown and his child sex revelations. I was mostly prompted by the hideous tabloid cliche “sex romp” when referring to inappropriate and abusive relationships between female adults and male juveniles, but (not surprisingly) the Indie subs picked up on the sleb angle, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The slavering, salacious tone is not unique to this story, of course. An unscientific but revealing search on Google News archives produces hundreds of returns for the phrase “Sex romp teacher” and of the first dozen different stories, eleven referred to a female teacher with a male pupil, only once were the genders reversed. As a broad rule of thumb for tabloid terminology, a male teacher has “seedy, sordid sex” with a girl, but “abuses” a boy. A female teacher has “an illicit lesbian affair” with a girl, and “sex romps” with a boy.  It goes without saying that the extent of verbal salivation in stories featuring a female offender directly correlates with her youth and conventional prettiness.

It would be tempting to dismiss this as just another manifestation of our exploitative, sexist, tabloid culture, but it speaks to a deeper and more worrying tendency for our culture to trivialise the sexual exploitation of boys by women. Relationships between teachers and young adults happen within the hazy boundaries of consent and coercion. They may not always be experienced as exploitative or traumatising for the juvenile, but they are rightly forbidden by both teachers’ ethics and the law – such relationships are always an abuse of position, an abuse of trust and have enormous potential to be psychologically harmful. That is true irrespective of the genders involved. And yet with a female perpetrator and male victim, they are described with the playful, jokey word “romp” – a journalistic cliché normally reserved for gossipy intrusions into the lives of adulterous footballers and strippers.

I’d be intrigued by your responses to either or both of the above, or feel free to use this as your weekend open thread, to chip in on whatever else has caught your attention lately.

 

 

 

Nov 06 2013

Why calling out Russell Brand is a revolutionary act

It has often been suggested that the demolition of the Berlin Wall marked not only the collapse of soviet communism, but the end of modernist political ideology – not only Marxism and state Fascism, but also nationalist liberation and anti-colonial movements, the European social democratic  consensus and other models of reformist controlled economies, each of which was based on some kind of empirical formula for managing and improving society.

Modernism had actually been dying for a while. Foucault famously identified one of the first major ruptures in modernism with his  writings of the Iranian revolution in 1979, which – at least on a superficial reading – gave qualified support to the spiritually driven, anti-modernist (if not postmodern) overthrow of the Shah and (more controversially) the nascent brutalities of a new Islamist theocracy. Around the same time in the USA, the Christian fundamentalist right was an emerging force, with powerful political figures devoting as much thought to predictions of the ascent of souls in a rapture as they did to the decline of the dollar in a recession.

Meanwhile the dominant economic narrative followed the zeitgeist, with an almost religious belief in the power of free markets and unfettered liberalisation and globalisation sweeping all before it.

Grassroots opposition to power took a similar turn. By the 1990s, overt opposition to capitalist power came not from democratic socialists in the Labour Party, or hardboiled Marxists in the trades unions, but from a rag-bag counterculture which grew out of the peace convoys to become eco-warriors and anti-roads protestors; Reclaim the Streets activists then the anti-Globalisation rioters of Seattle, Prague and Genoa. The same spirit now informs the global Occupy movements, Anonymous Hacktivists, UK Uncut taxtivists and, since approximately last Thursday, Russell Brand.

I have seen many of the movements above at very close quarters, and can say from experience that almost everything that could be said about the anti-capitalist movements of the past 25 years could be said about Russell Brand. He is our strengths and our weaknesses personified. On the plus side is the inescapable charisma, impertinent humour, imagination, intelligence, creativity and unwillingness to accept a status quo that is, in so many ways, unacceptable. On the downside an arrogance and self-righteousness that sits ill with a rather superficial analysis and prospectus; and a tendency to lean on and exploit the social privileges which we claim to be challenging.

But perhaps the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of all is our detachment from fundamental ideological principles. Modern anti-capitalists, for the most part, neither know nor care about Marx and Bakunin, Gramsci or Bookchin. We adhere to no dogma, subscribe to no agreed principles and champion no manifesto.  This can leave us like a feathery, gossamer strand, blowing with the wind. It is precisely that quality which allowed the Peace Convoys to evolve so easily into the environmental movement and from there to a mass global campaign against the World Trade Organisation and on down the line. I am glad of that. But it is also that post-ideological fluidity that can see the Anonymous brand being used one day to bring about a glimmer of justice for the Steubenville rape victim and the next to broadcast the most rancid anti-Semitism; it is the post-ideological detachment that saw representatives of Slutwalk London tweet their support for rape-charge dodger Julian Assange; the same ideological detachment that sees Occupy campers calling out for radical social change while attempting to cover up and excuse allegations of sexual assault and rape within their own ranks.

For the past week, the radical left (at least in the UK) has been twitching with the urge to support Russell Brand’s (at times) brilliant rhetoric about our sham of a democratic system and the grotesque injustices and inequalities of our world; while at the same time struggling to reconcile this with his history of overt sexism and occasional rank misogyny.  Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour debated the issues with at times alarming frankness.

I do not believe in utopias. Political struggles are never about building the world we want to see, because by the time we built it our needs and desires have moved on. We are always on a journey, never at a destination. Part of that journey has to be about refusing to accept what we find unacceptable. Above all, we must refuse to accept what we find unacceptable in those who are seen to be, or assumed to be in a leadership role.

I don’t know exactly what kind of revolution Russell Brand wants to see, I’m not sure he does either, but I’d assume that, like me, he believes in the power of change, the reality of alternatives. Part of that has to be a revolution in gender roles. As I say in the “About” section of this blog, I believe we should try to build a society where gender is rarely a burden, never a prison and always a blessing. To do that we need to challenge injustice, prejudice and discrimination. We need to minimise political and interpersonal oppression, abuse and violence. And we need to find compassion and empathy for those who suffer and struggle, whatever their identity, whatever their gender.

One implication of that belief is that we cannot pick and choose which injustices, prejudices and discriminations we indulge, and which we challenge. The solution to the Russell Brand dilemma, it seems to me, is neither to indulge or forgive what we might find unforgivable, nor to forever exclude anyone who has ever said or done a bad thing as if we were dividing the world into pure and impure. The solution is to challenge sexism, racism, class elitism, transphobia or whatever else, as and when it arises. That’s not to say that every challenge must be heeded and accepted uncritically, but everything must be up for critique.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing I have read from Russell Brand this week is in his Guardian piece today, where he says:

“One thing I’ve learned and was surprised by is that I may suffer from the ol’ sexism. I can only assume I have an unaddressed cultural hangover, like my adorable Nan who had a heart that shone like a pearl but was, let’s face it, a bit racist. I don’t want to be a sexist so I’m trying my best to check meself before I wreck meself.”

As ever with Brand, it is difficult to untangle the sincerity from the camp showmanship, but I’m prepared to take him at his word on this. He is reflecting on his own attitudes in response to criticism, and that is what we all should do when told that we’ve been a bit of a dick.

The modern anti-capitalist movement has no politiburo to lay down edicts, no tribunals to expel dissenters; no party constitution to consult on positions and it is all the better for that. However in their absence, we need a bit of internal analysis, self-awareness and a preparedness to criticise our own. Those who respond to that with reflection and a willingness to change are behaving in a genuinely revolutionary manner. The reactionary alternative is not challenging our own racism, sexism or oppressive tendencies, but indulging them.

Nov 05 2013

Enthusiastic consent in a muddy puddle of context

My last couple of blogs led to extensive discussion below the line about issues of consent and the value of various models of enthusiastic consent* over a more simplistic ‘no means no’ model.

With impeccable timing, the Scottish government has released preliminary findings of a survey of over 1000 school students, aged approximately 15-18 (Years S3-S6 in the Scottish school system.)

The findings are worrying. When presented with the statement “When a girl says no to sex, she always means no” only 73% said it was definitely or even probably true.  When asked about “When a boy says no to sex, he always means no” only 55% said it was definitely or even probably true. Let that sink in. Very nearly half of teenagers don’t believe a boy means no if he says no – and we are surprised to learn that large numbers of males are subjected to unwanted, coercive or abusive sexual contact?

Perhaps most worryingly of all, 89% of respondents agreed that a person could change their mind about having sex at any time, even if they had previously consented – meaning more than one in ten Scottish teenagers failed to agree with that most basic statement of consent principles.

I think this study is particularly troubling because the respondents in this survey are at the precise age when people are learning to negotiate their sexualities and behaviours. Those will often go on to become our habits and our expectations. It’s an age when we are finding out what is acceptable, desirable or enjoyable to ourselves and others. Most of these respondents will not be hugely sexually experienced – they have not learned through their own bitter experience that potential partners sometimes play hard-to-get; they have almost certainly picked up these myths from popular culture, their elders and their peers.

This murky puddle of confusion is the context against which enthusiastic consent (or crystal clear consent, affirmative consent, positive consent or whichever alternative model or jargon you prefer) is recommended. I don’t for a moment believe that teaching enthusiastic consent will solve all problems. It is not a magic bullet to prevent all rapes, assaults, exploitation and abuse. Enthusiastic consent won’t stop determined rapists from raping, but it does tear down the curtain of excuses and justifications behind which they often hide.  Enthusiastic consent is not even necessarily a cure to the attitudes revealed in this survey, it is more their natural logical progression.

The uncomfortable truth is that the large proportion of young people who said that no doesn’t always mean no might not be entirely wrong. We live in a culture where people’s desires and intentions are not always immediately apparent to others. For myriad complex reasons people sometimes say no when they mean yes, and sometimes say yes when they mean no.  If you are a halfway decent human being (as I firmly believe most of us are) then pinning your behaviour to a simplistic, all or nothing, one word reply has to be inadequate.

None of this relates to criminal law – what is or is not rape or some other form of assault – this is happening at a much more basic level of personal morality. Does it bother you to think you might be violating someone, traumatising someone, hurting someone, even raping someone? If the answer to that question is no, you don’t care, then no amount of consent training will make a difference.

If you do care, then adopting principles of enthusiastic consent is really the only way you can be sure to get it right.

 

 

* I’ll be honest and confess that I find extended interrogations of what enthusiastic consent really means and exactly what it looks like to be disingenuous and ugly. In a nutshell, if you’re not sure that consent is enthusiastic, then it isn’t. But if you want a more extended explanation, I like the one by Dr Nerdlove here.

Oct 28 2013

Policy on ending sexual violence – a thought experiment

The UK government has a policy page on ending sexual violence.  Here is what it doesn’t say:

————-

Issue

Too many young lives are blighted by sexual crime. Rapists and sexual abusers carry out a quarter of all violent crimes committed in the UK.

We want to reduce crimes of sexual violence and stop young people becoming involved in sexual violence. We are committed to making our communities safer places for everyone.

Actions

The Home Office, along with other government departments, is working to reduce sexual offending in England and Wales.

We have:

  • introduced new offences of threatening sexual behaviour which will improve prosecution rates
  • dedicated £1.2 million to fund 13 support workers for boys vulnerable to becoming involved with, or suffering from sexual violence
  • made Sexual Threat Injunctions for under 18-year-olds available to the police and local authorities
  • introduced changes to sexual assault legislation in the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently going through Parliament. We are creating an offence of conspiring to commit sexual violence, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and increasing the recommended penalties for rape and sexual assault
  • In November 2012, we held a national sexual offending conference and released a follow-up report to Ending Sexually Abusive Behaviour. The report sets out how the government will support people working locally to stop sexual abuse. Help is available in a number of areas including health, education, Jobcentre Plus, community safety teams and criminal justice partners.

Communities against sexual offending fund

The Communities against sexual offending programme and fund was launched in 2011, and continued until March 2013. The funding was broken down as follows:

  • £3.75 million to London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands – these areas see more than half the country’s rapes and sexual assaults
  • £4 million to 200 voluntary organisations across England and Wales who are working to stop young people from committing rape or sexual assault
  • the scale of the problem of sexual violence
  • the causes of sexually abusive behaviour
  • what can be done by government and other agencies to stop the violence and turn around the lives of those involved

Background

Ending sexual violence: a cross-government report, published in November 2011, set out detailed plans to:

  • provide support to local areas to fight the problem
  • prevent young people from becoming involved in sexual violence in the first place – with a new emphasis on early intervention and prevention
  • offer ways out of sexual offending for young people who want to break with the lifestyle

Alice X’s report

In June 2010 the Home Secretary asked Alice X, whose sister Belle was raped in 2008, to investigate sexual crime. She looked at schemes running in local communities that are working to stop young people from committing sexual violence.

Ms X published her report, Tackling rape together – a review of local anti-rape projects in February 2011. The report made a number of recommendations including:

  • anti-sexual violence presentations for school children
  • more data sharing between police, schools and other agencies on local issues
  • a best practice website for local organisations
  • more work with young children to stop them getting involved in sexual violence

 

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

As I say, the policy page above is not real. However I didn’t write it from scratch. What I did was took the government’s policy page on knife, gun and gang crime and, as closely as I could, simply transposed the policies onto a different problem.

The result is a page that looks very, very different to the government’s actual policy on sexual violence (contained within a policy on violence against women and girls, which opens up a very different set of questions that I’ll skip for now).

The real policy page focuses almost entirely upon victims and what can be done to support and protect them. While the gun, knife and gang policies address the criminal behaviour of the offenders (and the social causes of their offending), the sexual violence policies focus almost entirely on the victim. Rather than striving to prevent people committing in the first place, it is content to improve management of the consequences. Rather than trying to understand and address why people begin to sexually offend, it seems to accept sexual offending as an inevitability, in a way we refuse to do with gang, gun and knife crime. The policy does show a remarkable paucity of determination and ideas of how to actually prevent sexual violence happening in the first place.

Of course we can’t simply legislate away sexual assault, and even the best education programmes or community efforts would be unlikely to eliminate sexual assault altogether. That said, I can’t help wondering if we wouldn’t move faster with a cultural shift – all the way up to the top of the tree – which recognised that rape and sexual offending aren’t just forces of nature, hanging out there in the street like a stubborn rainstorm but are consciously chosen acts of personal volition.

Oct 26 2013

College rape and the importance of measuring success

To my eyes, one of feminism’s more frustrating traits is a widespread refusal to acknowledge social progress or its own successes. It’s rather odd when you think about it. It is at least 40 years since feminists began to turn serious attention to topics of sexual and domestic violence, with the publication of works like Sexual Politics and Against Our Will. It is 38 years since the world’s first Take Back the Night rally and 39 since the first national US coalition of rape crisis centers was formed. On university and college campuses, feminists and their allies have been lobbying (often successfully) for a wide variety of sexual assault prevention strategies since the 1980s. If you take your information from feminism’s own campaign literature, all these efforts have been completely and utterly worthless. All those women involved, all the millions of hours of campaigning, all the books, posters, and leaflets have made not the slightest jot of difference.

How do I know? Well, back in the early eighties when I first started seriously conversing with feminists, reading their books and leaflets and trying to learn about the world, I was horrified to learn that approximately one in four women would be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. I would see variations on it, such as one in four students being victims, or occasionally it would rise or fall to one in five or one in three, but the claim remained fairly constant.

Jump forward three decades, and feminist campaigners continue to use the precise same statistics. For example, here’s The Feminist Wire just a few weeks ago: “One in four college women will experience rape or attempted rape.” Here is a student feminist saying “one in five college women are rape victims.”

As anyone with even a passing awareness of criminological trends should know, something remarkable has happened to violent crime statistics over the past 30 to 40 years. It has happened to an extent in all of the developed world, but especially in the USA. It applies to all violent crime, but especially to sexual assault and rape.

NCVS-trends-336x328

When the National Crime Victimization Survey was created in 1973, it found that 250 women out of every 100,000 had been raped that year. Over the next eight years, the statistics worsened. According to NCVS, around one in every 300 American women over the age of 12 was subject to rape or attempted rape in the single year 1980. By 2010 that had fallen to one in 3,000, a decrease of 90%. At this point I should note that there are statistical problems with victimisation surveys. Their survey populations tend to miss people with more chaotic, less settled lifestyles, who are more likely to be victims of crime. The NCVS in particular is a household survey and (while efforts are made to address this) has real problems picking up domestic and interpersonal violence and abuse. However crucially, these problems have always been there. They were there in 1973, and 1980 and are still there today. So while victim surveys are not a reliable guide to actual extents of crime, they are a very reliable guide to trends. If NCVS says rapes have declined by 90%, there is little reason to doubt that this is broadly true. A variety of alternative research methods have produced similar results, and similar trends can be observed in most other developed democracies. And yet anti-rape activists continue to use statistics drawn from a profoundly different era.

It should also be acknowledged that there are other ways of estimating rape prevalence. Research by Fisher et al, conducted in 1996-7, found an incidence of 2.8% for rape and attempted rape in a period of less than seven months. If one were to scale that up to a 60 month stretch as a college student, admittedly a very crude method, one would indeed reach an incidence of around 20%. (Although we should also note that NCVS figures show a 60% decline in rapes just since 1996)

This week US News magazine ran a deliberately provocative and spiteful attack on campus feminist groups. The author Caroline Kitchens picks up on the “one in five” type statistics I’ve been discussing here and uses it to dismiss the idea that there is a problem with rape and sexual assault on campuses, and to dispute the claim that there is such a thing as “rape culture.”

I have big problems with Kitchens’ article. She dismisses anti-rape activism on the basis of Department of Justice figures, saying that: “Across the nation’s four million female college students, that comes to about one victim [of rape and sexual assault] in forty students.”

I’d agree that compared to rates of one in four, five or six (which are actually quite credible estimates of the situation as it was in the early 80s), one student in 40 being raped or sexually assaulted, if true, would be a magnificent improvement. However it is still one student in 40, which is one student in 40 too many. If one student in 40 was being murdered, would we accept that? I don’t think so, and I’m not prepared to condemn those who strive to reduce that figure to one in 400, one in 4,000 or ideally a big fat zero.

Kitchens also seems to entirely misunderstand and misrepresent what is meant by “rape culture.” I should stress that it is not a term I find especially constructive and I don’t choose to use it myself (not least because it is so easily misunderstood) but if someone is going to criticise a theoretical construct, they should criticise what it actually is, not a straw version. In brief, rape culture does not necessarily assert a “distorted view of masculinity” and nor does it require the actual incidence of rape to be omnipresent or even especially high, instead it refers to a kind of ambient cultural mood which enables rape and which considers any level of rape in society to be tolerable.

Kitchens should have been on stronger grounds with the question of how universities and colleges deal with internal allegations and complaints against students. It certainly appears that an individual such as Caleb Warner, whose case is detailed in the article, has been treated entirely unjustly and I would quite agree that there is legitimate cause for concern as to what safeguards are in place to protect the wrongly accused. However it is a huge leap from there to claiming that sexual assault prevention policies have certainly made [campuses] treacherous places for falsely accused men” or that “across the country, students accused of sexual assault are regularly tried before inadequate and unjust campus judiciaries.

I’m prepared to be corrected, but the only research I have been able to find on the practice of sexual assault inquiries on US Campuses is this one, by the Center for Public Integrity, conducted in 2010. In a survey of 130 colleges, it found that around half of all hearings found against the accused. That would suggest to me that the committees are at least being cautious in reaching their judgements. More significantly, only 10% of cases where the complaint was upheld led to the accused student being expelled.

Kitchens, in railing against exaggerated and misleading portrayals of the prevalence of sexual assault, would appear to me to be slipping into the equally dangerous territory of making an exaggerated and misleading portrayal of the extent and consequences of false rape allegations. She concludes her article by saying “advocates for due process, rules of evidence, basic justice and true gender equality need to speak louder than the “f*ckrapeculture” alarmists.”

I really do not disagree with that conclusion. I would only add that those same advocates also need to speak louder than false accusations alarmists, who are no less numerous and in some ways considerably more dangerous.

As I said at the top of this page, feminists can be frustratingly reluctant to acknowledge good news. In an attempt to rebut Kitchens’s article, Jezebel ran a piece by Erin Gloria Ryan which simply added a whole new layer of awful. In her haste to debunk the claim that the incidence of campus rape is now vastly lower than the oft-quoted one in five, Taylor glanced at the title of the study quoted by Kitchens  - The Violent Victimization of College Women – and leapt here:

So, from a survey of “violent” victimization, Kitchens extrapolated that the “one-in-five college women will be raped” statistic is false. Check out these statistics that say statistics are crap, guys.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. My eyeballs hurt.

First, Kitchens demonstrates with this column that she doesn’t know what rape is. Like Todd Akin and Whoopi Goldberg, the crime she describes is the eye rollingly cliched image of a woman walking down the street and being violently dragged into an alley by some guy with a dastardly mustache. But that’s not an accurate picture of rape. According to RAINN, more than 2/3 of rapes are perpetrated by an offender known to the victim. Most take place within a mile of the victim’s home. And in many cases of collegiate rape, the victim isn’t overpowered by physical force or violence, but by alcohol. And, legally speaking, having sex with a person who is too intoxicated to consent constitutes “rape.” Hell, of all the women I know who were raped in college, I can’t think of one who has described it to me as “violent.”

In fact, as a couple of mouse clicks would have revealed, the Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of that name does not define rape in any such way. It actually lays out in painful detail the true nature of rape, including circumstances, relationships to the offender and all the rest of it, and says:

“This category includes forced sexual intercourse including psychological coercion as well as physical force… It includes attempted rapes, male as well as female victims and both heterosexual and homosexual  rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape… Sexual assault is also included in this category which includes a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats

Ryan’s reluctance to acknowledge that there may have been some element of truth to Kitchens’s charges, and her kneejerk grab for a reason to hang on to the one in five myth have led her to make an incredibly harmful assertion – that most rapes are not violent. This is astonishingly short-sighted. As has often been said, rape is a violent crime in which the weapon is sex. It is, on its own terms and without any additional aggression or physical harm, an act of the most extreme violence. For a supposedly feminist commentator to slip into this language and logic of rape apologism is sad to see.

It is also, I suspect, what happens when you tie yourself in knots trying to deny inconvenient facts.

Over the past 40 years, society has made huge progress in recognising human rights of sexual autonomy, educating men and women about sexual consent, and challenging and reducing rape culture. It is not a case of mission accomplished, by any means, but it seems to me that the strongest arguments that feminists and anti-rape campaigners have to hand is that people can change, society can change, and we know that, because people and society have already changed massively. All those who have responded to campaigns on sexual violence by shrugging and saying “hey, what can you do, you can’t change human nature” have been proven quite spectacularly wrong.

If we can get this far, there is no reason why we can’t go further.

Oct 23 2013

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

 

Oct 17 2013

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.

***

Oct 13 2013

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.

 

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