Young men’s minds: Looking beyond mood and feelings

Last week the latest UK suicide statistics reminded us of the grim reality of the depths of teenage despair. Out of every 100,000 boys aged 15 to 19, more than seven took their own lives last year. The equivalent figure for girls was less than half that, at 2.9.

With that in mind, perhaps there should be no surprise that a government-funded study into mental health in teenagers has concluded that

Policy makers should take into account the differences between boys and girls in their experiences of mental ill-health at different ages.

And so say all of us. The only issue is that the very same recommendation continues like this:

Policy makers should take into account the differences between boys and girls in their experiences of mental ill-health at different ages. The report shows that between the ages of 11 and 14 girls are significantly more likely than boys to experience poor mental health.    [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…]

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.

We know domestic abuse of men is a problem. The real question is, what do we do about it?

This week at Manchester Crown Court, Sharon Edwards was convicted of the murder of her husband David. His death was the end of a short but horribly violent relationship. Pathologists found sixty different wounds at the post mortem, including older stabbing injuries all over his body. Friends and colleagues told the trial how he had regularly used make up and a litany of lies and excuses to cover up his injuries. After the jury’s verdict, it emerged that the murderer had a series of previous arrests and convictions for domestic violence against her ex-partners.

The verdict sparked a flurry of media commentary and discussion of varying levels of accuracy and insight. The most depressing exchange of the week came on BBC Woman’s Hour which invited Mark Brooks from the Mankind Initiative to explain that men being murdered by their female partners was a bad thing, and radical feminist violence researcher Marianne Hester, apparently to argue the opposite.  Hester responded to questions about female-perpetrated domestic homicide by saying it happens because women need to use weapons because they aren’t as big and strong as men, and suggesting repeatedly (and without a hint of a shred of evidence), that women who perpetrate deadly violence against male partners are usually doing so out of self-defence – in effect slandering the victims of domestic homicide and blaming them for their own deaths. (For the record, the only UK research to have investigated women’s motives in intimate partner homicides found that a fewer of a quarter of offenders cited self-defence as their motive. Most killed out of anger or jealousy.)   [Read more…]

Why I am done arguing about International Men’s Day

There is a lot of confusion around International Men’s Day, starting with what it is. Nobody seems quite sure. Is it an event? A celebration? An awareness day? An occasion? I can clear that one up straight away. In practice it is none of those things. International Men’s Day is an argument. [Read more…]

The letters continue: Erasure, misrepresentation and Orwellian doublespeak

To the signatories of the letter Gender is all too relevant in violence statistics.

First let me thank you for the opportunity to continue this important conversation. It is clear your letter in the Guardian today is a reaction to the one signed by myself and 30 others last week, however it would be wrong to call it a response, as you do not appear to have addressed or even understood any of the issues our letter raised, preferring to criticise us on a variety of points which our letter simply did not make.

Allow me to be more specific.

Your correspondents call on the director of public prosecutions to “affirm [her] commitment to eliminating intimate violence against human beings of any gender” and criticise the Crown Prosecution Service’s presentation of statistics in its annual violence against women and girls report for being so explicitly gendered (Letters, 2 July).

We did not criticise the CPS report for being so explicitly gendered. We would expect a report entitled “Violence Against Women and Girls, crime report” to be explicitly gendered. Nor did we condemn the CPS for producing a report with that subject and title.

We criticised the CPS report for being dishonest and misleading in including crimes against at least 13,154 (known) boys and men in a report entitled ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ while going to some lengths to entirely obscure the experiences of male victims.

It is established fact that these crimes are massively disproportionately committed against women and girls (female genital mutilation exclusively so) and that they are related to women’s broader inequality with men. Your correspondents claim without citation that “one in six of all victims” are male. This is disputed, and certainly does not apply equally to all the forms of abuse in the CPS report.

The figure of 1 in 6 did not require citation as it comes from the CPS report itself and the accompanying data tables. Where gender was recorded, 16% of victims of the crimes described in the report were men and boys. This is most certainly not disputed, the statistics are in Table 8 of the performance information here.

Furthermore, it is also critical that we retain gender in our naming and analysis of these crimes because of the gender of the perpetrators, whom your correspondents do not mention at all.

We did not mention it because we had no dispute with how the CPS report covered the gender of the perpetrators. The report explained quite clearly that around 94% of offenders of these crimes within the criminal justice system were male and 6% female. We accept this, and had no reason to raise it in our letter.

In searching for recognition and then for justice and support for male survivors of abuse, it is a grave mistake to suggest taking gender out of the naming and analysis, and neutralising these crimes into Orwellian “intimate abuse”. A failure to name and call out the abuse of power in these crimes is what kept them invisible for so long.

At no point in our letter did we suggest taking gender out of the analysis. On the contrary, we clearly expressed that male victims have their own gender-specific issues, such as those relating to social expectations of a ‘real man.’ Nor are gender issues neutralised by the phrase ‘intimate abuse’ or ‘intimate violence’ – this term has always been used by many public bodies including the Office of National Statistics, to describe crimes such as domestic violence and abuse – for example, see here, the chapter “Intimate Personal Violence and Serious Sexual Assault.”

You describe this phrase as “Orwellian.” I would suggest what is truly Orwellian is for the experiences of many thousands of violated men and boys to be described with the phrase ‘violence against women and girls.’ War is peace; freedom is slavery; boys are girls. What is truly Orwellian is for the CPS to highlight the conviction of Fr Francis Paul Cullen as an example of their success in prosecuting crimes against women and girls, when the large majority of his victims were boys, and for the gender of those victims to be entirely “taken out of the analysis” by descriptions of his victims only in gender-neutral terms as “young people.”

I would add that it is this type of erasure of male victims – even when the statistics and facts are right before our eyes – which has done so much to keep those crimes invisible for so long, a tragedy which your letter appears to strive to continue.

I do not speak today on behalf of the other signatories to our letter, only for myself, but I for one do not believe in taking gender out of the analysis of sexual and intimate offences. I believe gender issues are crucial to understanding why so many such crimes occur, and what kind of support is needed by victims. What I cannot accept is a cruel and misleading approach which focusses entirely on the gender of victims when they are women and girls and entirely ignores and erases gender when the victims are men and boys, or worse, when the experiences of those men and boys are subsumed into descriptions of violence against women and girls.

I finish on a note of genuine sadness. In our own letter we were very careful to honestly declare our full commitment to supporting all efforts to end violence against women and girls. Many of the signatories to our letter work with female survivors alongside men and boys, and are only too aware of the issues. But even though your response begins by noting our call for the CPS and other bodies to affirm their commitment to recognising and supporting male victims of intimate violence and abuse, in your response you could not even bring yourselves to offer a single equivalent word of support or compassion for the countless thousands of men and boys who are raped, abused, beaten and molested every year. I would add that, despite contacting them directly, we have as yet had no contact from the CPS or any other body that so much as acknowledges the existence of male victims, far less affirming support for their needs.

The male victims I know and support, and those engaged professionally by many of my co-signatories, often report feeling worthless and ignored, as if no one cares about what happened to them in the past or what will happen to them now and in the future. How tragic that your letter may well serve to confirm their darkest suspicions.

More thoughts on male objectification, body sculpting and those adverts

Since this topic has been keeping you all interested this week, thought I’d point you towards a piece that’s just gone up at IB Times. I guess it captures some of my thoughts about the debate that has been going on, as well as spelling out where I stand on broader issues of our cultural obsession (?) with the male body beautiful.

Full piece is here, with a taster below. There’s no commenting at IB Times so if you want to call me rude names I’m happy to accommodate here.

—- [Read more…]

This week’s warblings

Just a quick fly-by to keep you interested amid solemn memorial of how the Easter Bunny died to bring us chocolate…. Your thoughts and feedback would be welcomed as ever.

On the Guardian this week I was writing about men and fertility.

It is well established that roughly equal numbers of men and women have fertility problems, and yet in the US there are five doctors specialising in female infertility for every one specialising in men. At a societal and cultural level, we have always considered reproduction and fertility to be women’s business, and infertility to be women’s problem. This is reflected in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. While IVF is notoriously expensive, unreliable and exceptionally invasive for women, alternative drug treatments are again almost exclusively offered to the female partner, if at all.

One shocking example of why this might be is explained by Barnes. In the 1960s, the drug clomifene citrate was developed and licensed to boost ovulation in women. When it became clear that the drug might also be effective in treating some forms of male infertility, researchers applied to conduct clinical trials. The drug company, unconvinced there was any market for male fertility treatments, refused. Now the drug is out of patent and there is no profit to be made in developing the treatment. Fifty years on, clomifene citrate remains unlicensed by the US Food and Drug Administration for use with male fertility and unauthorised by Nice for men in the UK.

I find it interesting and quite depressing how hostile the typical male internet commenter is to concerns about male fertility, as witnessed in the comments. There’s a failure to acknowledge that this is a really common (and neglected) men’s health issue which causes enormous amount of stress, unhappiness and relationship difficulties to many men (and women, of course) and yet the default reaction is “ugh, babies, families, horrible things that get in the way of my video games.”

It is also interesting, I think, that people who every other day are wailing about how the local or global population is being taken over by Chinese/ Pakistanis / Muslims / Africans suddenly start declaring that a collapsing birth rate in the Western world is no problem, because the rest of the world is breeding enough to make up for us.

Also this week, I wrote a thing for IB Times about men, boys and sex work,  including stuff about abuse and trafficking, off the back of the Student Sex Work Project’s findings that more male than female students have worked in the industry.

It may well be that you are now thinking it crass to focus on the gender of abused children, as if one gender mattered more. I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, too often this is exactly what happens.

As ECPAT noted in a recent report, the United Nations 2001 protocol on sex trafficking specified that there were particular focus on “women and children” and that in practice, international initiatives with ‘children’ almost invariably means ‘girls.’ To quote ECPAT: “many of the programmes initiated since 2001 that focus on adolescents trafficked for sexual purposes have assumed that the focus should be on girls.

“It seems that not enough effort has been made to collect data about boys who receive money for commercial sex after moving away from home to establish whether they have been trafficked or what measures would help protect them.”

Your thoughts would be appreciated.