Can men stop being violent? Uncoupling masculinity from the massacres.

On March 22nd 2017, Khalid Masood drove a car on to the pavement of Westminster Bridge, killing four people and injuring 50 more, then fatally stabbing a police officer outside the Palace of Westminster before being himself shot and killed.

Exactly two months later on May 22nd, Salman Abedi walked up to the entrance of Manchester Arena just as a pop concert ended and exploded the bomb in his backpack, killing himself and 22 others.

June 3rd, Khuram Butt and two accomplices drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before randomly attacking members of the public with kitchen knives. By the time they were shot dead by police, they had killed eight people and wounded 48 more.

June 19th. Shortly after midnight, Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd of Muslims outside Finsbury Park mosque before being restrained by worshippers. When emergency services arrived, one person lay dead, 11 injured.

On the morning after the Finsbury Park attack, the Twitter account @WomenDefyHate asked a question that always echoes in one form or another in the aftershock of such atrocities:

“Seriously, for fucks sake, can men stop being violent? I’m no prissy, no feminazi type. But men have to stop this violence. Men.” [Read more…]

It is time to end this wilful, harmful gender blindness on prison suicides

Prisons need a profound culture change if they are to address the appalling escalation in suicides, two charities have claimed this week.

The arguments put forward by the Howard League and the Centre for Mental Health are compelling and correct. Prison suicides have soared in recent years and last year a record 119 prisoners took their own lives. In an era of chronic overcrowding and staff shortages, prisoners’ mental health needs are going unacknowledged and unaddressed; acts of self-harm and even suicide attempts are commonly considered to be manipulative rather than symptoms of distress and emotional crisis; a ‘toxic’ and violent prison culture sees staff struggling to maintain their own psychological health, never mind that of the prisoners.   [Read more…]

Gender equality? Meh

Those with the patience to read through the comments on this blog might have come upon an interesting exchange towards the bottom of my last blog thread.

Some of our regulars were taking issue with me over the issue of equality and my habit of saying “Meh” to demands for equal treatment of men and women. I thought it would be worth a thread of its own to set out what I mean.

I’ve written before that there is a commonly held fallacy that the way you achieve social equality is to treat everyone equally. The problem is that if you start from a position of inequality, to treat everyone equally is to sustain and conserve that inequality and it can even serve to widen inequalities (consider the effect of a flat poll tax on economic inequalities, for example.)  There’s also the analogy that if a 5’ tall person is standing up to their neck in water and a 6’ person is standing alongside up to their waist in water, and you add another six inches of water to the barrel, you are treating them equally  – but not fairly. [Read more…]

From the Home Office to the Independent: crying out for gender-inclusive policy

This week has offered us a couple of vivid illustrations of why gender-inclusive policies are so desperately and urgently needed across the political and media strata.

Just to put what follows in context, please consider the story that has dominated headline news for the past four weeks. At the latest count, police are investigating allegations of child sexual abuse by 83 suspects with involvement in 98 football clubs, on the basis of reports made by (or about) more than 350 men.  One might think this alone would be enough to remind officials and commentators that boys and men are far from immune to crimes of intimate violence. On top of the raw numbers, evidence is mounting that the sport as a whole was steeped in a culture of (at best) systematic indifference to the welfare and human dignity of boys and young men in their charge. [Read more…]

Introducing the Men and Boys Coalition: How the British men’s sector has come of age

Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a piece in the Guardian asking whether International Men’s Day could become the seeds of a new kind of movement for male gender politics. I described attending the National Conference on Men and Boys, where I found a diverse range of organisations and individuals with different specialities and interests but all committed to developing constructive and progressive solutions to problems affecting boys and men.

It seems like it has been a long, long four years, but I am proud and delighted to tell you that today the rarefied halls of the Houses of Parliament will be the venue for the launch of a brand new Men and Boys’ Coalition, representing over 50 of the UK’s leading charities, academics and campaigners in the field of men and boys’ welfare. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that this is the day when a new kind of men’s movement comes of age. [Read more…]

Why we brought #1BlueString to the UK

A couple of years ago I came across the US-based organisation 1 in 6 which works with and campaigns for male survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation. I was particularly taken by their campaign #1BlueString, which invites guitarists to show solidarity with the 1 in 6 men and boys who have lived through sexual violence, by replacing one of the six strings of their guitar with a blue one.

As an enthusiastic amateur fret-botherer myself, I emailed the campaign at the time asking if they could ship to the UK and was told no, for the time being it was strictly a US initiative. Shortly after, during one of my regular chinwags with Duncan at Survivors Manchester we found out that we had both, separately and independently, been badgering the team at 1in6 to bring their blue strings to the UK. [Read more…]

A Safer World For Everybody: Discussing International Men’s Day in the House of Commons

Three weeks ahead of International Men’s Day, this morning the House of Commons hosted a brief yet highly significant discussion. Philip Davies (yes, him again, I know) placed a question to the Women and Equalities ministerial team, asking how the government planned to mark International Men’s Day this year.

In response, the minister began her remarks with the most predictable, tedious, hackneyed and ignorant quip imaginable. Yes, you’ve guessed it:

“I think women could be forgiven for thinking every day is International Men’s Day.”

Ah hurr hurr hurr stitch my bloody sides, no one has ever said that before. Yawn.

But hold on. After that, something interesting happened. Lots of interesting things happened. I considered how to write about the ten minutes or so that followed, but I think the best approach might be to type up the most interesting transcripts and add a few words of commentary as we go along, a sort of nearly-live-blog. The brief exchanges brought up a whole raft of what might be called the FAQs of IMD and crystallised where the debate has got to in 2016, for both good and ill.

Davies got things going by quoting the Prime Minister Theresa May:

‘I recognise the important issues that this event seeks to highlight, including men’s health, male suicide rates and the underperformance of boys in schools, these are serious issues that must be addressed in a considered way.’

This is, to my knowledge, the first time a British PM has acknowledged the purpose of and need for IMD and so is, in itself, significant. Caroline Dinenage (education minister) took up the question from there.

“The role of the government’s equalities office is to tackle inequality wherever we find it, and as parents of sons up and down the country we will all be conscious about the issues he has mentioned and the Prime Minister has mentioned. However, I am also aware that there are parts of the world where girls are routinely subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual violence and for me, Mr Speaker, equality is not a zero sum game.”

The ‘However’ there is significant. The only way it can make sense is if, contrary to her protests, she actually does believe that equality is a zero sum game. Why else are we talking – almost immediately – about women and girls in response to a question about IMD? In fact the two sentences above are a total non-sequitur. If she doesn’t believe that talking about issues faced by men and boys somehow detracts from or otherwise impacts upon issues facing women and girls, why is it even there? More significantly, the minister might need to learn that there are also many parts of the world where boys are routinely subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual violence and the fact that this apparently has not occurred to her is the best argument imaginable as to why we need IMD.

Next up, Labour MP Chris Matheson:

Would the minister agree with me that International Men’s Day would give an opportunity for men who are fathers of daughters to express concerns such as why those daughters might have to wait another 30 years for equal pay or to give men the platform to express concerns as to why there continues to be a problem in this country and abroad of violence against women and girls?

 

CD: He is absolutely right that International Men’s Day in the UK does take a very gender-inclusive approach and therefore believes that issues affecting women and girls are also resolved… He is absolutely right to say that while focusing on the very important issues that International Men’s Day raises, we must never forget all the women around the world who are suffering every single day.

It’s a minor and very personal point, but allow me a quick moment of self-congratulation that the phrase ‘gender-inclusive’ has made its way into Hansard for the first time.

A little later there was a similar exchange involving another Labour MP, Liz McInness

LM: “International Men’s Day aims to promote gender equality and highlight male role models, and yet in the UK two women a week are killed by a partner or an ex-partner and we clearly need urgent action to tackle deeply ingrained and damaging inequality. Does the minister agree with me that we need to support campaigns to tackle misogyny and sexist attitudes and that men have a crucial role to play in this?”

CD: “Mr Speaker I couldn’t have put it better myself. She is absolutely right to point out that last year 81 women were killed by violent partners or ex-partners and in fact 19 men were killed by violent partners or ex-partners as well. That is why this government is absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls and it is of utmost importance we put more money into this than ever before and we will not rest until this happens.

In these two exchanges, I think we see the most common prevailing attitude on the left towards International Men’s Day. In essence it says “Yes yes, we understand that boys and men have problems but they’re not as important as the problems faced by women and girls so we shouldn’t be talking about that, we should be talking about this instead.”

The hivemind of the Internet, many years ago, came up with a name for this. It’s called ‘whataboutery.’ It is a rhetorical technique that seeks to derail and close down a debate which someone does not want to happen and turn it into the discussion they do want to be having. It is probably true to say that whataboutery of this nature is most commonly used (at least online) by antifeminists attempting to derail and close down discussions of women’s oppression and make it all about men, so it is rather ironic to see it flipped in an attempt to block any consideration of male-specific issues.

But you know what? I am more than happy to take up the challenge from the likes of Matheson and McInness. Can we use International Men’s Day to talk about male violence and the damage men cause? Hell, yes. Let’s talk about how we brutalise boys and young men into cultures of violence, let’s talk about how we define masculinity in terms of our capacity to inflict and tolerate beatings, not just against women but primarily against other men and boys. To Mr Matheson and Ms McInness I say this, if your most pressing concern for men these days is men’s own violent behaviour then please do, use the occasion to host a debate, write an article, run a stall, whatever you like. IMD is for you as much as it is for me. As it happens there are many pro-feminist groups such as White Ribbon campaigns which do indeed use IMD for just this type of event. Seek them out, support them. IMD is for everyone.

Likewise if your concerns around gender equality are around the gender pay gap or workplace rights, feel free to host discussions about workplace cultures, about long-hours, the protector-provider constructs of masculinity, the problems men have accessing equal parental leave etc etc, all of which directly account for much of the gender pay gap. IMD is for everyone. Knock yourself out.

On top of that, (unlike the minister perhaps) I genuinely DON’T believe equality is a zero sum game. On the contrary, the lives, happiness and wellbeing of men and women are interconnected, intertwined and interdependent. I believe men gain in all sorts of ways when women are liberated from the constraints of gender inequality and oppression. At the same time when we begin to liberate men from their disproportionately unaddressed mental health problems and social isolation, their dependence upon drinking & drugs, their poisonous workaholism, their educational and economic underperformance, their violent cultures of masculinity etc etc etc, then the winners are not just those men, but the women and girls with whom they share a life, a family, a neighbourhood, a society. I say it again, International Men’s Day is for everyone and has the potential to benefit everyone.

So, personally I am more than happy for people of all political perspectives and persuasions to mark IMD how they want to, or to ignore it if they prefer. What I cannot willingly accept is a disingenuous ploy to close down any discussion of men’s issues under a thin disguise of concern for women.

Though it grieves me somewhat to have to lower myself to this level, I feel this is the point to actively address the pitifully ignorant and offensive ‘joke’ with which the Minister began this discussion. “I thought every day was International Men’s Day?”

Here’s the thing about men. As a gender (relatively speaking and globally) we have a lot of power. We have a lot of platforms. We often have loud voices. But as every mental health professional will tell you, as every doctor will tell you, as more than a few wives and girlfriends will tell you, one thing men tend to be absolutely terrible at is speaking about our own problems, admitting to our own vulnerabilities, confessing our own weaknesses. This is true of men as individuals and it is equally true of men as a gender.

The truth is that International Men’s Day really is just one day of the year. It is just one day when we actively encourage men, women and institutions to think, speak and act about male-specific issues. And as someone very firmly on the left, it genuinely pains me that so many of those with whom I would like to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder seem determined to actively prevent us having that conversation.

But let me end on a very positive note.

There was one other question raised by an MP today.  Philip Hollobone MP asked a slightly odd question, but it garnered the most heartwarming response we could have hoped for.

PH: “In seeking ways to celebrate International Women’s Day, no doubt the minister has looked around the world to see which countries do this best. Which countries around the world celebrate International Men’s Day the best and will she take note from their example?”

CD: “I am aware that there are 60 countries around the world that celebrate International Men’s Day and there are various different ways that they do that, focusing on men’s heath and wellbeing, highlighting discrimination against men and any inequalities they face, improving gender relations and gender equality. This creates a safer world for everybody, Mr Speaker, and is always to be commended.”

Creating a safer world for everybody. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The Calais children caught between racism and misandry

It has been a long time since we’ve dwelled on the topic of misandry, the individual, institutional or structural fear or hatred of men as a gender. Depending who you listen to, it is either the most powerful prevailing discrimination in a gynocentric feminazi society or a fictional, imaginary construct dreamed up by bitter MRAs playing me-too oppression Olympics in a desperate bid to deflect attention from the real gender oppression of misogyny.  You say tomayto.

As long-term readers may recall, I don’t really buy into either version. In brief, yes, of course misandry ‘is a thing.’ No, of course misandry as ‘a thing’ is not a mirror image of structural misogyny within a patriarchal society and asserting its existence as a social phenomena does not and should not in any way detract from or act as some kind of contradiction to prevalent misogyny elsewhere.

This week, the British media and political classes have been playing out some of the most extreme and overt misandrist attitudes I can ever recall, splashed in banner-sized fonts across the front pages of the nation’s bestselling newspapers.  Those who are normally jumping up and down yelling “MISANDRY!” at the first whiff of an incompetent dad in a detergent commercial are entirely silent about this. Those who normally protest the loudest about any other structural prejudice and discrimination seem entirely oblivious to what is happening, even while they sympathise with the victims on other grounds. [Read more…]

Abuse, disclosure and speaking ill of the dead

Last night the comments on my previous post had drifted far enough off topic that they were skipping between Donald Trump, Jimmy Savile and the disclosures made in Peter Hook’s autobiography about his abusive marriage to the late Caroline Aherne.

Marduk left a comment which I’ll repost here uncut, because it leads nicely onto something I had wanted to write about anyway.

 

It’s weird Savile and Aherne are coming up here because the two are fairly linked in my mind.

This is in part because the story broke the morning after the Theroux documentary was screened, and for me at least there was a certain connection. Theroux was trying to explain how Savile got away with his crimes, how people were so obstinately unwilling to think ill of him (and in some cases still can’t) and how being a popular national figure protected him. Part of the problem in understanding this, and why Theroux was having to actually argue for events that happened in the lifetimes of everyone watching the show, is that in retrospect it seems completely unthinkable.

And the next morning I woke up to read another popular figure had done some bad things she’d almost sort-of confessed to anyway (there were several interviews about ‘things she did that she regretted’ and so on) and people aggressively didn’t want to believe it and certain papers didn’t even want to report it, let alone discuss it.

She did very different things, I don’t believe she hid deliberately behind stardom and I think the reasons for her doing bad things were arguably a bit less about evil and a bit more about mental health (although DV campaigners would generally argue against that distinction) but still.

It was weird how people couldn’t put the two together but of course their failure to be able to do so ultimately proves Theroux correct. Because of course, at the time the well-loved figure is well-loved, they look nothing like those other people we know are despicable criminals and how dare you try to tar them with that brush. Caroline Aherne was lovely, all her Guardian guest columnist friends say so, she doesn’t sound like the person who’d do those things.

It’s very hard to learn the lesson except in retrospect unfortunately.

[Read more…]