How do the Scouts get past their paedophile problem?


At the latest count 51,000 British youngsters are sitting on a waiting list for a place in a Scout, Cub or Beaver group. The cause of this lengthy queue is a shortage of adult volunteers, to the tune of around 17,000. Now the Chief Scout, TV Adventurer Bear Grylls, has launched a campaign to fill the shortfall.

Martin Daubney at the Telegraph is clear why. The risk of being labelled a paedophile is the ‘one reason’ stopping men from putting their names forward. He suggests that it is not only the fear of malicious rumours, but the accompanying concerns around the intimidating bureaucracy involved in the vetting and debarring scheme and other child protection policies.

The statistics suggest it is a bit more complicated than that. Surprisingly, perhaps, more adults than ever before now are volunteering with the Scout Association, a total of 154,000. The problems are that those volunteers have less time to give than before and secondly that more children than ever are wanting to get involved. (It would be interesting to know the gender ratio of the volunteers – it is possible male numbers are falling while female volunteers rise, but we don’t know)

That said, I have no problem agreeing with his fundamental point. I’m sure there are many, many men who would be happy to give up an evening a week to help run a Scout or Cub group but fear that others will question their motivations.

At this point let me express my unequivocal admiration for the adult volunteers who run the Scouts. I will admit that as an adult, the ethos of the movement is really not for me. I’m not in a hurry to march my own boys off to an organisation that teaches submission to God, the Queen and the military (thankfully, neither son has ever asked.) Having said that, I recognise that the volunteers are, as the cliché would have it, the salt of the earth. Countless generations of young people have had childhoods enriched by their energy and generosity. My own earliest memories include my mum going out in her Akela uniform every Monday night to run a cub pack. To this day she is occasionally stopped in the street by burly men who recognise her and thank her for her efforts 50 or 60 years earlier. It should go without saying that the vast majority of Scout Association volunteers are wonderful people.

The issue is with the minority.

I remember that even back in the more innocent days of the 1970s, there was no shortage of rumours and jokes about Scout leaders. The book by Lord Baden-Powell which set the ball rolling was called “Scouting for Boys.” Aharrharrharr. ‘Join the Cubs,’ ran the famous graffito, “one child molester free in every pack.” Stitch my sides and then hand me my sewing badge. And when I had my own couple of years in a Scout troop it turned out that the jokes weren’t so funny. We had three volunteer scout leaders. One of them, regular readers may recall, was this guy.

And so here’s the first problem with the Scout movement, as I see it. If some evil genius wanted to design a mass movement for the specific purpose of providing children to be sexually abused by predatory adults, they would probably design something that looked very much like the Scouts. All of the elements are there: the strictly enforced oaths of obedience to authority, under the stern command of God; the removal of children from their parents or carers into the hands of much-admired, trusted pillars of the community; overnight trips to remote locations; the list goes on.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying for a moment that this was ever the intended purpose of the movement. But I am saying that once such a movement exists, it would have to be a powerful magnet for those twisted individuals driven to target, exploit and abuse children. I am saying that, knowing what we now know about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, knowing what we now know about the dynamics of institutionally-based abuse, knowing what we know about the typical modus operandi of predatory child abusers it would be flat-out astonishing if the Scout Movement had not been regularly and extensively infiltrated by paedophile child abusers.

I realise this is a hard truth to accept for those who admire the Scouts, especially those who have had their own, entirely positive experiences whether as children or as adult volunteers. It is tantamount to a mass defamation of hundreds of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are entirely innocent. The same was true when concerns were first raised about the priesthood, the clergy, social care home staff, music teachers and sports coaches where, in most cases, identical dynamics were in play.

And this leads me to my second huge concern. As far as I can tell, the Scout Association itself remains almost entirely in denial about the risks it has been sheltering for over a hundred years. A couple of years ago the BBC ran one short news item about allegations of abuse in the Scouts. Within weeks, 150 individuals contacted the solicitors mentioned in the report to add their own victimisation. At the same time, the Scout Association claimed that in its entire history, they had received 48 allegations of sexual abuse.

Some might look at that figure, 48 cases, and conclude that the Scouts have never had a problem with child abuse. I look at that figure and conclude that throughout their history the Scouts have failed dismally to identify, record and act upon suspicions of abuse. To underline the point, many of those who called the solicitors after the news item described institutional failings that are painfully familiar from the other scandals.

One caller spoke of his difficulty in finding resolution after the Scout Association failed to apologise even after his abuser was convicted. Another told of how his parents’ reports were dealt with by the Scout Association internally and the abuse was never reported to the police. Unfortunately, there appear to have been numerous cases where the Scout Association failed to act appropriately after allegations of abuse were made.

Of course, it remains possible that my worst suspicions are ill-founded, that the reason there has never been a major institutional sex abuse scandal with the Scouts because there has never been a major institutional sex abuse problem within the Scouts. It’s possible. It just strikes me as vastly more credible that the reason the scandal has never broken is because, as yet, that particular stone have yet to be turned over to see what crawls out.  And yet for some reason, day by day, reports drip out. Another one today. Every one an isolated incident. Sure.

It seems to me that the Scout Association will never get past its problems with paedophile stigma and suspicion until it makes every full and transparent effort to establish what problems it has had in the past, what problems it might still have in the future, and then develops policies that get as close as they can to making it impossible that a predatory child abuser could ever operate within the movement. That means firstly opening themselves up to examination. No one could have imagined the scale of child sexual abuse within professional football until the FA were forced to open a helpline to which victims could call and report. In the first two months of the helpline being set up, they received 1,700 calls. For perspective, the number of boys training with professional football clubs is a minuscule fraction of the numbers involved in Scouting over the decades.

Secondly, Scouts (like all organisations serving children and young people) need to be far more proactive in equipping their charges with the tools to protect themselves from abuse. I’ve just been reading the leaflets that the movement hands out to different age groups on how to ‘Stay Safe.’ They are full of advice about online grooming, giving your phone number to strangers and much else. They all suggest that if you are worried you could talk to your scoutleader. Nowhere in the leaflets does it tell children what they should do if the person they are worried about IS their scoutleader.  Nowhere does it spell out anything like the Underwear rule.  Nowhere does it say that a cub or scout should never, ever be asked to keep a secret by an adult. These (and many others) are easy, zero-cost, effective steps that could be taken instantly. Going further the Scouts could set up their own helpline, akin to the FA/ NSPCC abuse helpline, to which victims of past, recent or current abuse could call.

All of this and much more could, in the long term, go towards reassuring parents and potential volunteers that children are safe in the care of scout leaders, and reassure the public that there is no reason to be suspicious of any adult who volunteers. But it also requires them to grasp the nettle, acknowledge the possibility that the movement has been providing haven to widespread child abuse. I would propose that the alternative for the organisation is to wait until the scandals burst out in their own time and on their own terms and then cope with the vastly greater resulting damage to their reputation and function.

All of this would be a painful process for the institution of Scouting. It is also absolutely essential if they are to operate as a trustworthy, responsible 21st century youth movement, and consign the sick jokes, the smears and the suspicions to history, once and for all.

Comments

  1. says

    Ally, you’ve predictably excluded an issue which Martin Daubney included in his piece, namely that it’s possible (I’d say it’s a cast-iron certainty) men are more reluctant to become volunteers following the admission of girls. He writes:

    “Since 2007, it has been compulsory for girls to be admitted to the UK Scouts (no reciprocal agreements allow boys into the Brownies or Girl Guides). This drive to encourage “cross-gender participation” was a huge success: there are 83,363 female members aged between 6-25. But it’s possible that this boom has exacerbated the shortage of adult male volunteers willing to come forward…

    To our shame, we have allowed male Scout leaders, teachers and any men working with children to become nudge-nudge, wink-wink figures of suspicion and ridicule.

    Part of the blame must reside with the toxic, FEMINIST, [my emphasis], politically-driven whispering campaign that “all men are potential rapists”. Modern masculinity has been put in the dock, and there it appears to remain.”

    Martin might have mentioned that the anti-male bias of the organization goes right to the top. 18 months ago I wrote a piece, “Scouting is going tits up” https://j4mb.org.uk/2015/10/11/scouts-first-female-leader-vows-to-get-more-girls-round-the-campfire/. Around the same time Belinda Brown penned an excellent piece for The Conservative Woman (a website I strongly recommended) “Now the Scouts are to be transformed into a feminist front” http://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/belinda-brown-now-the-scouts-are-to-be-transformed-into-a-feminist-front/. The penultimate paragraph:

    “In our contemporary society there are many who sit on the fence with regard to feminism. But feminism is deeply damaging to the fabric of society, hurting families and communities and creating hostilities between women and men. In its relentless, covert, all-pervasive and underhand way feminism is responsible for much unhappiness.”

    I couldn’t have put it better myself…

  2. Ogvorbis: A bear of very little brains. says

    Thank you, again, for your efforts.

    I work in a public museum and deal with scout groups regularly (waiting for one now, as a matter of fact). Now I am in the USA, so things may be different here, but I do see major differences in the way that boy, cub and tiger scouts are run compared to when I was in.

    First and foremost, there are far more adults involved. Few are the actual scout leaders, rather they are parents of scouts, siblings of scouts. Today’s group will have about 20 scouts, five or so other children, and fifteen adults. Fifteen!

    Back when I was a cub scout, the entire pack was run by a man and his wife. There were, maybe, a dozen scouts. I think (I hope) that only five of us were abused. We could be abused because his wife was an accomplice. She took most of the pack for a three hour hike while one got to stay behind with the scoutmaster to protect the campsite. We were his harem. His wife was the gatekeeper.

    Today, in the US, I have a hard time seeing that happening mostly because, here in the US, the massive scouting abuse scandal broke about five years ago and, though the national office is complacent, most (not all, of course) scout packs have become much more accepting to getting as many adults involved as they can. The vetting process has improved (still far from perfect — if an abuser has never been caught, they won’t be in the system). Camping protocols have tightened. The two-deep rule (no adult in scouting is allowed to be the only adult with children) is more strongly enforced.

    When my son was in scouts (he didn’t stay in too long (that was also around the same time that I attempted suicide (at that time, I remembered I hated being in scouts but couldn’t have told anyone just why I hated scouts))) the number of adults involved was huge. Most outings, the adults outnumbered the scouts.

    And the jokes about scouts have damn near disappeared. I suspect that once we realized that the jokes weren’t really jokes, that was a step in the right direction.

    I think that scouts has a useful place, or a potentially useful place, in our world.* But scouting needs to be dead serious about not letting one adult be alone with children. They need to get as many people involved as possible. Be as inclusive as possible — no racial, religious, or sexual identity bigotry — and TEACH inclusiveness and acceptance. Just those two things would do a world of good.

    Whether that will remove the stigma? I don’t know. But the more people involved with running a pack or troop, the fewer opportunities for a predator. Like the predators of the savanna, the sexual predators are attracted to places where prey is — on the plains, that is watering holes, in our modern world, that is scouts, and teaching, and the ministry, and daycare. And with all of these watering holes, the more people, the more non-predators, involved, the fewer victims. And a future with fewer who have to describe themselves as survivors.

    Sorry for the tl;dr. This one hits kinda close, y’know?

    * Not just as a sort of junior membership for Disabled Veterans of America, or the American Legion, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

  3. Phil says

    yesterday I checked your twitter to make sure you were alive, whats with the two month hiatus?

  4. Groan says

    As the problem of volunteering is far wider than just the Scouts. In the Vol. sector in general there is a huge “gap”. And of course the dearth of male teachers has been noted, similarly for social care especially children’s services. Overall I doubt that there is any specific problem with scouting so much as a much wider problem of recruiting men to any role with children paid or unpaid. The issue isn’t with a reality so much as a succession of “moral panics “.

  5. says

    The whole criminal record checks system is wrong. People would rather forgo an opportunity than risk having some youthful indiscretion such as a crafty toke of an exotic cigarette, not paying for all one’s shopping or some minor motoring infraction dredged up.

    If someone is still a danger to society, they should still be in prison. Otherwise, if you have served your sentence, it should only ever count against you in sentencing for any future offence you might ever commit.

    And the harder it is for a person to make an honest living, the more attractive making a dishonest one looks to them …..

  6. Andrew Dalke says

    Mike Buchanan @1, how then have scouting organizations which don’t discriminate by gender, like Scouts Canada or Scouterna in Sweden or Bund der Pfadfinderinnen und Pfadfinder in German, managed to avoid these problems?

    I think it’s clear that Sweden is a more feminist country than the UK. How odd then that the ‘hostilities between women and men’ seem so much higher in the UK than Sweden. It’s almost as if feminism doesn’t lead to the consequences you think it does.

  7. says

    Ally, a comment just left on my blog piece which links to yours:

    Ally Fogg wrote:

    ‘Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying for a moment that this was ever the intended purpose of the movement. But I am saying that once such a movement exists, it would have to be a powerful magnet for those twisted individuals driven to target, exploit and abuse children.’

    Notwithstanding that my first thought was that he could very easily be describing feminism, he could certainly be describing the androphobic (penophobic?) Girl Guide movement, which cannot but attract lesbians unnaturally attracted to young girls.

  8. Adiabat says

    I think some of the suggestions for the Scouts (a hotline, teaching the underpants rule etc) are good and something they should do, but I don’t think these suggestions tackle the problem you identify at the start of your post: that men aren’t volunteering due to fear of being labelled a predator.

    It’s not just the basic suspicion that puts men off, after all the ‘jokes’ have been around for a long time and men still volunteered, but the perception that under current child protection ‘best practice’ if there is a false accusation their lives are effectively ruined even if they are innocent. Martin Daubney highlighted this in a quote from his friend who abandoned becoming a teacher: “It’s not worth the risk. One accusation from a kid, teen or a mother you p***ed off and your career is over.”

    If they really do want to recruit more men the Scouts (and primary schools etc) need to come up with new policies, maybe a whole new approach, that both protects children and protects innocent men. Current practice is good at protecting children, which is a massive improvement from before, but seems to throw innocent men under the bus.

  9. Ally Fogg says

    Thanks for the comments folks. In no particular order:

    Ogvorbis [2]

    Thank you so much for this comment. Appreciate this is a difficult topic for many. I think you make a really good point which I should have touched on in the OP, that I do not doubt for a moment that the Scouts are generally far safer now than they were in my day. It would be much, much harder for a predatory paedophile to operate now and get away with it, because of child protection policies like DVS checks & better awareness among other adults & kids themselves. That said, I don’t think they have fully addressed their history and I’m not convinced they are still striving for best practice for the kids as opposed to best protection for the organisation, which isn’t always quite the same thing.

    Leads me on to bluerizlagirl [5]. Criminal records checks are far from perfect and could be improved significantly in practice, but remain essential. I agree they can sometimes be over-applied and it is outrageous when, for example, someone is barred from a job for an old cannabis conviction (although I suspect this is rare.) But if someone has a history of sexual offending it should rightly debar them from working with children & vulnerable adults, whether paid or voluntary. Before the original CRB there were countless cases of convicted predatory offenders moving from town to town, job to job to find new victims. That has now (hopefully) stopped.

    Groan [4] – I quite agree there have been periodic outbursts of ‘moral panic’ about paedophilia but the bottom line is that hundreds of kids raped & abused in North Wales children’s homes were not victims of moral panic. The kids raped & abused by Catholic priests were not victims of moral panics. The kids raped & abused by their football coaches were not victims of moral panics. The kids groomed, raped & abused by paedophile rings in Rotherham, Oxfordshire, Rochdale etc were not victims of moral panics. Need I go on?

    Mike Buchanan [1] I don’t think the point you make is especially relevant to the issue at hand. In case you misunderstood it, I’m not particularly arsed either way about the recruitment success, policies & shortages of the Scouts. I do care that the children involved are safe, which is the point of this blog post.
    For what it is worth, I do think there is a fair case to be made that boys & young men should have access to their own spaces if that is what they want, but from what I recall, the main argument made in favour of admitting girls into the Scouts was that the numbers of boys signing up was tumbling and the boys themselves said they would prefer it if girls could join too. Fundamentally thought, that’s the Scouts business and they can do what they like. The fact that they now have a record waiting list of people wanting to join (and 75% of those are boys, I’m told) suggests that the policy is working.
    As for the suggestion that admitting girls into the Scouts (an organisation where kids dress up in military uniforms, salute each other and sign oaths of allegiance to God, Queen and Country) will turn them into a ‘feminist front’ – well, all I can say is thanks for the giggle and for the reminder that Belinda is almost as batshit as you are.
    As for the point in [7] – Everything I say about child protection in the Scouts applies equally to Guides. Yes, there are risks for girls too. If there is an issue of society being too quick to assume men might be paedophiles, there is an accompanying issue that society can be too quick to assume women can not be.
    I would add, however, that the issue is not with ‘lesbians’ as your correspondent puts it. People who sexually abuse children very often do so outside the patterns of their (homo- or hetero-) sexuality. The men who abuse little boys are usually heterosexual men. With women it is a bit more complicated (the forensic psychology of female molesters is typically very different) but it is always an ignorant and dangerous mistake to confuse sexual orientation with a tendency to abusive sexual exploitation.

    Phil [3] – Thanks for noticing. What can I say? Life trundles by.

  10. Ally Fogg says

    Adiabat [9]

    Current practice is good at protecting children, which is a massive improvement from before, but seems to throw innocent men under the bus.

    I haven’t seen any reason to beieve that is true of the Scouts. Haven’t come across a single such case. But there is a degree of truth to it with, eg teaching etc.

    As I say, I think the only real protection is to have policies in place which make it as close as we can to impossible for someone to abuse a child in their care. That not only makes it as safe as possible for the children, it also makes it much harder to make credible false allegations.

  11. says

    Ally [10]

    Criminal records checks are far from perfect and could be improved significantly in practice, but remain essential. I agree they can sometimes be over-applied and it is outrageous when, for example, someone is barred from a job for an old cannabis conviction (although I suspect this is rare.) But if someone has a history of sexual offending it should rightly debar them from working with children & vulnerable adults, whether paid or voluntary. Before the original CRB there were countless cases of convicted predatory offenders moving from town to town, job to job to find new victims. That has now (hopefully) stopped.

    As I said, if someone still represents a danger to society, then they should not be at large in the first place. And in cases where it would be prudent to perform some sort of checking, only the most serious matters directly relevant to the job should be considered. To a suspicious enough mind, even the pettiest of matters can be escalated to a huge red flag. Shoplifting? If they stole goods from a store, they might steal from my business. Under-age drinking, or recreational drug use? They are reckless enough to put themselves in danger, how can they be trusted with the safety of company equipment, or even other employees? Traffic violations? If they were caught speeding in a company vehicle, had a crash or parked it in the wrong place, how would this reflect on the company? It may have been a long time ago, but who is to say they are not just biding their time, waiting for a new opportunity to commit an even more audacious crime?

    Along with the presumption of innocence unless proved guilty, there must go a presumption of reform, of wiping the slate once a debt to society has been repaid.

  12. That Guy says

    @ 12- kind of aside to the discussion at hand- but these are (mostly) all things that real business and employers do consider.

    Anecdotally, it’s much easier to get a convicted pedophile back into employment than a convicted fraudster, for these exact reasons.

    ANYWAY- I’ve been reflecting on this a little bit- As Ally says, the stereotype of the abusive scout leader has been there for a long time- I’ve spoken to some relatives who are Big into The Scouts- who feel aggrieved that the organisation seems to be associated with this stereotype.

    The problem is not just that there are a lot of elements to scouting etc that could be exploited, but I think that the Scouts is considered a little, for want of a better word, ‘weird’. It has the faintest whiff of effete middle-class-ness about it, at least from my perspective. I can’t help but feeling that part of the reason suspicion falls on the scouts is not just “it could potentially harbour pedophiles” but it’s not 100% working-class macho masculine, ergo, any grown man involved must be sexually deviant/gay/pedo etc.

    I could be wrong, but this is partly why I feel the football-abuse scandal hit so hard too- not just all the abused kids (which is fucking terrible) but there was an undercurrent of “football’s a manly thing though…”

    A thought experiment- how would a male junior boxing coach be received by society (A-OK, re-enforces gender norms) vs a male dance teacher (bit weird- keep an eye on him).

    All in- if what I’m saying isn’t 100% wrong- I feel this is another aspect of toxic masculinity- it creates situations where predators can potentially thrive, in either orgs where abusers are less likely to be suspected because they play into ‘correct’ gender roles, or by creating organisations that feel unfairly maligned (as they play against gender roles), and place more emphasis on PR than actually scouring their own ranks until the problem becomes too big to ignore.

    At any rate- any recommendations here shouldn’t be just Scout-specific, but apply to any and all orgs that regularly take children into their care. Predators are smart, and they’ll just move to less-regulated orgs if there’s uneven application of safeguards.

  13. Jay says

    I experienced Scouts in Switzerland, which perhaps is quite different because there is basically no adult involvement. It is really about youth leadership. The leaders of the younger sections are typically the older teenage scouts. It is very rare to have a leader older than 30, most are much younger. Food for thought perhaps?

  14. StillGjenganger says

    As I say, I think the only real protection is to have policies in place which make it as close as we can to impossible for someone to abuse a child in their care. That not only makes it as safe as possible for the children, it also makes it much harder to make credible false allegations.

    Hmmm, how would that work? ‘Constant Vigilance!’ a la Mad-Eye Moody? To get anywhere ‘close to impossible‘ you would have to see every adult as a potential paedophile and every child as a potential false accuser, with surveillance, documentation requirements, and continuous suspicions to match. It would undoubtedly reduce paedophilia. What else do you think it might do to society?

  15. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy 13
    I’d say that ‘toxic masculinity’ is a bit of a red herring here (much like Mike Buchanans ‘feminism’, no offense intended). Paedophilia suspicions against anyone you know or respect are extremely stressful – you need to revisit the way you see that person, condemn him and all memories of him to outer darkness, revalue your own past, be part of a public and exhausting inquiry and likelly get som irreparable rifts with others. For an organisation it ruins your image, makes you guilty by association, and forces you to spend huge energies investigating the people you work with. It would always be so much easier for everyone (except the victim, of course) if the whole thing would just go away. This is of course a temptation that must be resisted, but no amount of healthy femininity will serve to avoid the problem.

  16. Marduk says

    Mike is a little in the weeds but there is a point here somewhere.

    Boys do need male spaces and they don’t exist, especially in a society where fathers are an uncommon optional extra.
    This is not unconnected from the ‘paedo panic’ that has driven them out of schools and out of activities like scouting and presumably now sports coaching as well.

    Male friendship is also demonised as is anything involving blokes really (“toxic masculinity”, “white males” etc). One could even look at pub closures.

    There is a balance of harms issue here somewhere. Particularly as they are voluntary organisations that do provide these spaces if nobody else will but it is at the cost of a few people getting stabbed every week in the summer months. If men withdraw completely from the sphere of boys, as seems to be the ideal, it might not be a good thing but to understand that requires us to take something seriously that is treated as a joke.

    In any case, the Scouts are worried now that its regarded as a girls-only organisation, there has been a new campaign trying to encourage boys but its failing. There are fewer boys in Scouting now than there were before girls joined. Who wants to get a “Sportsperson” badge anyway. Since January, 6000 girls became scouts, 1500 boys became scouts.

    Its worth keeping in mind most Girl Scouts are also Girl Guides anyway. Its a middle-class CV development thing. As is not uncommon, progress is ever the displacement of working class boys by middle class girls.

    Even the Scouting association admits this:
    “Simon Carter, a spokesman for the Scouts, said that teenagers were increasingly aware that they had to look attractive to employers and universities. “Young people want a way of demonstrating to future employers the skills that they have got, and young women are particularly good at that,” he said.”

  17. Lucythoughts says

    17. Marduk

    A feel that there are quite a few holes here which are being filled in with assumptions for which I for one haven’t seen much evidence. This one in particular stands out for me though:

    progress is ever the displacement of working class boys by middle class girls

    This is, I believe, an intuition trap. In a context where we know that over the last few decades opportunities have expanded greatly for middle class women and shrunk for working class men, this sort of statement begs us to draw a causative link, but I don’t see a lot of evidence for it.

    Let’s take your Scouts example: the Scouts have always been a predominantly middle class organisation, and viewed as such. Are there working class boys in the Scouts? Yes, of course, the composition of individual scout groups will depend on the socio-economic demographics of the local area. In working class areas many working class boys and some working class girls may join the scouts, but the phenomenon you are describing is actually “middle class girls displacing middle class boys”. Presumably those boys are choosing to do something else with their time instead, another activity or sport, or playing online games at home perhaps. Maybe many people would feel they would be better off in the Scouts, but it is not likely to be lack of social opportunity which is preventing them but rather alternative opportunities they prefer.

    When you expand to look at other areas where women / girls are displacing men / boys, the pattern is the same. So, girls going to University now outnumber boys, but it has always been largely middle class, not working class boys, who were going into higher education. As the undergraduate population increases, the number of boys going to University has grown substantially but the number of girls has grown even more. So even if you accept that this constitutes a “displacement”, that is, a proportional displacement, it is largely middle class boys being displaced by larger numbers of middle class girls, and some working class girls.

    In the field of work, women are entering many of the professions and displacing men in some of the traditional professions, such as medicine (especially GPs) and teaching. But again, they are displacing middle class men who in their turn are choosing to enter other growing and emergent professional fields instead. These middle class women are categorically not displacing working class men from the job have traditionally been their domain. We all know that the shrinking of the industrial sector and the old unionised working men’s occupations and the deskilling of the non-graduate workforce has left a lot of working class men very vulnerable, in unstable work on frankly exploitative contracts, or in spurious self-employment, and if they are pissed about it then I don’t blame them. But let’s be clear, working class women are in exactly the same boat, the difference is that for them it has always been like that. The sectors employing them have shifted and changed over time and the old mechanisms used to screw them out of their sick pay and holiday pay and pay them less than the minimum wage have been replaced by newer, shinier mechanisms. For working class women it is fundamentally a case of “same shit, different day” whereas working class men grew up expecting something different, and therefore feel more cheated.

    So, it appears to me that “progress is ever the displacement of working class boys by middle class girls” could better be expressed as: “Progress is ever the displacement of an industrial production based economy by an expansion of white collar graduate occupations, which has led to a trend of middle class women displacing middle class men in traditional professional occupations, while middle class men shift to occupy emerging sectors, occurring in conjunction with an increasing redundancy and deskilling of the working class male workforce.” That seems fair to me, although I acknowledge that it isn’t as punchy as yours. Yours, however, expressed a theme which underlies a lot of antifeminist rhetoric. It goes a bit like this: “These are MEN, honest, regular working class stiffs, salt of the earth; look how badly they are being treated!” “These are WOMEN, affluent, middle class, elite, self-serving, soulless yuppies: look how privileged they are! Who can deny that something has gone horribly wrong here?” However, a more honest comparison between the circumstance and opportunities of middle class men with middle class women, or working class men and working class women produces a very different picture.

  18. Lucythoughts says

    17. Marduk (again)

    Two other minor points, not very important, but which are bugging me a little bit, so I’ll put them in a separate post.

    a society where fathers are an uncommon optional extra

    What justification do you have for saying this? Or what precisely are you comparing it to? I see far more fathers actively involved in caring for their children now, especially their young children and toddlers, than at any point in my lifetime. A significant minority, say a fifth, of the parents I see picking up from school or preschool now are dads, where this was a rarity when I was a child. Everywhere I go where parents gather, and that is a fair few places as I have young kids of my own, I see fathers fathering their children. I honestly think that as far as the normalisation of active fathering is concerned we are pretty much in an unprecedented golden age. Two places where I have regularly taken my kids over the years run father-and-toddler groups on a Sat morning, specifically providing somewhere for Dads to socialise with other Dads while playing with their preschoolers. Obviously I can’t say how well attended they are but they don’t shut down from lack of interest. Apparently they also give you tea and bacon sandwiches.

    Secondly, pubs are not closing because male friendship is being demonised. Frankly, I’m not convinced that male friendship actually is being demonised; no doubt it is somewhere in the depths of the internet, but I fail to see it impacting on actual human behaviour anywhere. Nevertheless, the fact is that rents and rates from the breweries have become crippling, the property is valuable and easy to sell off and pubs have to have very high turn over to keep themselves afloat. The old time regulars, the men who are there every day propping up the bar with a pint of bitter in their hand, who used to be the bread and butter of pubs, don’t supply enough revenue to support the growing costs, and so pubs have to be able to pull in families, couples, passing trade, do food and be inventive to keep open. It is true that those men are an aging population which is not being replaced by younger men in the same numbers. I don’t know why that is, but it is more of a demographic shift. Drinking habits have changed, and perhaps more younger men are now occupying different social spaces, some of them online, perhaps they prefer to be at home with their families. Not all changes in social behaviour are the result of deliberate manipulation by vested interests. In fact I think it is far rarer than people seem to like to imagine.

  19. says

    Playing Devil’s Advocate here, do we really need the Scouts anymore?

    It is an outdated institution. It is authoritarian, placing excessive value on obedience over virtue; yet it callously forces republicans and atheists to lie. Might we not do better to build a real alternative organisation, from the ground up, already incorporating safeguards against sexual abuse and false accusations and just generally more compatible with 21st Century human values?

    Also, do we really need “male spaces”; or do we just need to teach boys to cope better in shared spaces?

  20. That Guy says

    @ Lucythoughts

    I agree with everything you said, although I think the idea of ‘male friendship’ is a very tempting can of worms to open, and would need a lot of thought to properly address.

    In the different circles I move in, there’s a weird, weird contradictory thing about male friendship, in that it’s considered both somehow inviolate and disconnected. There’s this perception (I have no idea how true this is) that male friendships are steadier and longer lasting than female friendships (because society tells us that women are bitchy, hormonal and unstable), but also a perception that men’s mental health issues are not helped by the hands-off approach to feelings that men have in friendships.

    tl:dr, I think the concept of ‘male friendship’ is worth investigating.

    @BlueRizlaGirl

    your first point is admirable, but probably more difficult in practice, as for the second, Interesting question! A lot of my hobbies etc have been male biased, so I’ve never been in a position in my life where I’ve been in the outnumbered gender in most aspects of my life, so I find it difficult to imagine otherwise. It might be worth flipping the idea on it’s head though- my understanding of women only spaces is as a safe refuge from men if we create the (utopian) situation where men and boys are able to treat women (and each other) with respect, is there any need for female only spaces?

    The whole idea of ‘male only’ or ‘female only’ spaces seems to me archaic excepting in circumstances of obvious practical benefit (support groups, etc)

  21. Marduk says

    18.
    I don’t think there are any conspiracies, matriarchal, patriarchal or otherwise. But I just do think events sometimes occur at the same time for different reasons and lead to a state of affairs where it might feel like one.

    As to displacement, I think its a question of degree. There is some validity in what you say, I don’ subscribe to the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy, the context does always change. But the level of seamless coordination the strong version of your argument requires is also implausible on the face of it. It would be nice if it were true that society could change radically and everyone became a winner and there were no zero sum games. Clearly some displacement has occurred because if we modelled your account, you’d predict British society would get progressively more equal every year after the Equal Pay Act was passed. For whatever reason I don’t think anyone seriously disputes the result has actually been the entrenchment of privilege and the death of social mobility. As soon as Cheltneham College became equal to Eton, this was always going to happen. I’m not saying this is wrong either, I just dispute whether it is progress (as privately educated Guardian feminists want me to believe and who incidentally don’t think class issues matter).

    I think also many feminists know this is happening and don’t care. I’ve noticed the phrase ‘mediocre male’ is very fashionable amongst the daddy’s money feminists like Laurie Penny. I suspect its code for ‘lower middle class pleb out of his element’. We used to call that opportunity.

  22. Lucythoughts says

    #22 Marduk

    Not sure if either of us is quite understanding what the other is on about but…

    But the level of seamless coordination the strong version of your argument requires is also implausible on the face of it

    There is no real need for coordination, let alone seamless coordination: the labour market creates a pull effect all by itself and the demographic which moves in to fill a gap will be the most immediately available, cheapest, most appropriately skilled population which is not already occupied with something better. Historically, in times when there has been a rapidly expanding labour market somewhere, the go-to population has often been women (now more often immigration). In this century, middle class women constituted the last great untapped resource of the labour markets, and when an expansion of white collar service industry and public sector jobs occurred, who else was going to fill that gap?

    Clearly some displacement has occurred because if we modelled your account, you’d predict British society would get progressively more equal every year after the Equal Pay Act was passed.

    Why? I can’t see how this makes sense. Essentially, the net result of a period of growth in the labour markets, sourcing from the well-educated middle classes, has been the conversion of single-income middle class families into double-income middle class families. That doesn’t create social mobility or increase equality. It doesn’t necessarily decrease equality either though; that will depend on whether wages and employment opportunities are growing or stagnating in the lower percentiles.

    Either way, it doesn’t constitute a displacement, and to be convinced that a direct displacement of working men’s occupational or social opportunities has actually occurred, I would have to examine some examples of positions of advantage which used to be occupied by working class men and are now occupied by middle class women. If displacement is a real thing, these shouldn’t be hard to come by, but none are occurring to me. The very best I can make out of the claim right now is an oblique sense that things would have been better for working class men if middle class women had never entered the picture. That is obviously untestable, but I also have never seen a cogent argument as to why or how it would have worked out that way.

    For whatever reason I don’t think anyone seriously disputes the result has actually been the entrenchment of privilege and the death of social mobility. As soon as Cheltneham College became equal to Eton, this was always going to happen.

    Firstly, I think there is a rose-tinted view of how achievable social mobility actually was in the past; the truth is that we have always been a nation of low social mobility. What we did have in the past, and don’t have now, is a) wage growth and b) a less unequal geographical distribution of skilled employment opportunities. The movement out of poverty and into middle-class-type work only ever happened (and still happens) for a very small minority, but one big difference now is that the starvation of so many regional economies means that the most successful and aspiring kids have to cut and run for jobs in London or elsewhere, so the best skills and talent are drained out of those already deprived areas and nothing gets better.

    Secondly, it has always been true that to be a member of the Eton set, you have to go to Eton; there was never a time when high achieving working class boys could break into that circle, it is only accessible inter-generationally, through the purchase of a top-end public school education. In that sense, the social mobility that occurs into the top tier is via self-made men who accrue enough wealth to send their children, or often their grandchildren to the right schools. If a few women are now allowed into the club, the difference is insignificant as far as the rest of us are concerned, because the rules of admission haven’t actually changed. I don’t even know that privilege as such is more entrenched than in the past: what has changed is that the opportunities for that highly privileged sliver of society to amass wealth at an increasing rate has been hugely enhanced by economic conditions. That trend has only accelerated since the financial crash, while wages have stagnated across the rest of the economy. That is down to the national and global roll out of neoliberal economic policy. The dramatic changes in the economic, political and technological landscape in the last 40 years seem to me to amply explain the social problems you’re describing. So if you can honestly say, hand on heart, that you believe it is women’s employment that has caused the failure of social mobility, then I would like to see a better defence of that claim, because to me it seems a fairly improbable explanation given the much more influential factors that we already know are critical.

    I’m not saying this is wrong either, I just dispute whether it is progress (as privately educated Guardian feminists want me to believe and who incidentally don’t think class issues matter)

    Sorry Marduk, I’m afraid you’re talking to the wrong person. I honestly neither know nor care what Laurie Penny, or whoever else, has to say about all this. With all the things in the world that I want to read but don’t have time to, the women’s pages of the Guardian don’t really register on my agenda. I recognise that probably means that I’m in the wrong place here 🙂

  23. Lucythoughts says

    One minor correction: when I say “this century” in the first paragraph, I actually mean the last one, you know, the twentieth century. The one that finished 17 years ago but I am apparently still stuck in. I feel a bit old now.

  24. StillGjenganger says

    @LucyThoughts
    It seems pretty unimpeachable to me that if women had still been at home doing the cooking, we would have had more families with one (as opposed to two) people dong a high-end job, and so have the good stuff spread among more famillies. Not sure what you can use it for (or whether ‘displacement’ is the right word): you can hardly expect (or recommend) that women (and only women) should sacrifice thier chance of a career and a good job that makes use of their talents in the interest of a less unequal distribution of jobs. But is it not fair to say that this is one consequence?

  25. StillGjenganger says

    Secondly, it has always been true that to be a member of the Eton set, you have to go to Eton; there was never a time when high achieving working class boys could break into that circle, etc.

    Maybe, for the Eton set. But (though I know nothing about this personally) my favourite BTL Guardian commentator, Sarka, comments that selective grammar schools did allow a limited number of highly gifted poorer children to get the same level of preparation etc. that the academic middle classes get at home, and so to get to Oxbridge (though not Eton) and compete on equal terms. And incidentally, that a comprehensive school system may increase the middle education level of everybody, but takes away the oportunity for anyone not born to it to compete on equal terms with the academic middle classes

  26. Lucythoughts says

    Hi Gjenganger

    #25

    It seems pretty unimpeachable to me that if women had still been at home doing the cooking, we would have had more families with one (as opposed to two) people dong a high-end job, and so have the good stuff spread among more families

    This seems intuitive, but it isn’t really the way the labour markets work. If some historical anomaly had prevented married middle class women from joining the workforce, the most likely result would not have been the same jobs spread more evenly across the population, but much, much lower economic growth. Some of the gap might have been made up by immigration but the main result would certainly have been that key service sectors would have grown much more slowly and been much less successful. To take just one example, the expansion of high street banking after the 2nd World War saw a drive to recruit women as cashiers and clerks, and then the drop of the marriage ban, in order to fill the growing number of vacancies. If those women had not taken those jobs, but stayed quietly at home, polishing their brasses to a mirror-like finish, would working class men have been recruited instead? Unlikely I would say; male employment rates were very high and working men with good maths skills were very likely employed in stable, skilled occupations of their own. And it is no use thinking that the pool of casual labourers would have supplied the short-fall because they wouldn’t have had the skill set. The result would almost certainly have been much slower growth of the banking sector, as middle class men, demanding higher salaries, were competed for by more growing industries. Over time, of course, changes in the education system might have gone some way towards filling the gap with larger numbers of men, but capitalism is unwilling to wait twenty years for human resources to catch up with its demands. To illustrate the issue another way, consider this question: if there had been no skilled immigration in the last twenty years, would we now have practically no working class, and nearly everyone employed in graduate occupations? Or would we have practically no research and development sector, and hospital waiting lists a mile long?

    Of course it would be wrong to say that this stuff has no cost for the working classes, but the cost is more indirect; the very fact or having highly successful service industries has allowed modern Governments to get away with ignoring the bottom 20% of the population instead of putting better strategies in place to make use of them. The solution however would not have been to hamstring developing service industries by keeping their pool of potential employees as small as possible, but to have worked for a coherent industrial strategy, a more egalitarian education system and high quality technical education routes linked to industry. The last being the kind of thing FE did very well before it was successively shafted by every Government since Thatcher.

    #26

    Sarka, comments that selective grammar schools did allow a limited number of highly gifted poorer children to get the same level of preparation etc. that the academic middle classes get at home, and so to get to Oxbridge (though not Eton) and compete on equal terms. And incidentally, that a comprehensive school system may increase the middle education level of everybody, but takes away the oportunity for anyone not born to it to compete on equal terms with the academic middle classes

    I think selective education is just another thing that is getting romanticised in retrospect. The fundamental assumption of the selective education system was that you only need the top 20% of your population to have any academic qualifications at all, therefore you could plough the lions share of your resources into them and the vast majority of secondary education was delivered by secondary moderns, which were a shambles from their inception. The quote you give is actually rather misleading. Grammar education was overwhelmingly for the middle classes; the upper classes were the ones accessing private education and going to Oxbridge. The number of working class kids who went to grammar school was very small, and class didn’t simply cease to be a factor if you did. Remember, this was a time working class families who really wanted their kids to get on in life went to great pains to rid them of their regional accents for example, so they could pass as posh. This is another bit of meritocracy mythology; you might as well say that the public school scholarship system does this job. Public schools certainly say so. The comprehensive system isn’t perfect, but it is designed on the assumption that what society needs is the bulk of people to be tolerably well educated, not an 80/20 split of crap / brilliant education, which strikes me as pretty much true given the nature of our economy.

    I’ve noticed the new fad amongst the grammar advocates is to promise not only to build lots of expensive grammar schools (leaching more funding from everybody else’s education budget), but also lots of expensive technical colleges, to show how much they care about the futures of all those “non-academic” (i.e. thick) kids who don’t pass their 11 plus, and therefore by definition must be heading for trades. Talk about gesture politics; if these people knew or cared a damn about technical education they’d be worrying about the desperate under-funding and misapplication of the colleges we already have, rather that promising shiny new buildings as if that will make everything right. It’s another patronising sop to the old concept of “parity of esteem,” a concept which will always be derisible as long as education management and funding in controlled top-down by a class of people who wouldn’t dream of setting a brogue-clad toe inside an FE college for the purposes of receiving an education, and have no doubt whatsoever that their own kids will ace the 11 plus, after the scrupulous and expensive coaching they will be sure to receive.

  27. EigenSprocketUK says

    In my freelance work, I’ve occasionally spent a day or three working in schools. Not once has anyone briefed me on a child protection policy. But then, they didn’t need to: their policies made sure I was never unsupervised /alone etc. Funny story: some schools have a new policy of no phones allowed past the door once you’ve signed in. (Camera phones, you see… which seems a bit paranoid, but ah well it’s their policy so whatever.)
    I duly handed in my ancient phone (which has no camera, but they still insisted) and then went inside to carry out … my photography assignment with a real camera.
    Ho hum.
    Maybe big cameras are OK, but little cameras are not because you can put them on sticks or something like that. No-one seemed to be sure about how the policy would protect children, just that it was important to follow the policy. This, in my opinion, is a bureaucratic failure to implement a policy properly, but I guess no-one would dare point this out to those in authority.

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