Men, women and prison: A study in gender

A couple of weeks ago, an episode of Ed Miliband’s podcast, Reasons to be Cheerful, was devoted to penal policy and prison reform. It features a fascinating interview with Nils Öberg, director general of the Swedish prison and probation service who makes a string of important observations about the Nordic approach to imprisonment. In a nutshell, in Sweden prison is only ever used as a last resort, is focused upon rehabilitation, particularly addressing social, educational, psychological and addiction problems of prisoners. The Swedish reoffending rate is around 30% after three years post-release.  In the UK it is 46% after just one year, and that is despite Swedish prisons being disproportionately filled with the most damaged, violent and recidivist offenders in their system. [Read more…]

How BBC Question Time let down the victims of rape and the wrongly accused alike

Watching BBC Question Time last night was a depressing experience. Yes, watching BBC Question Time is always a depressing experience, but on this occasion more so than ever, as a significant portion of the show was given over to a question about rape prosecutions.

The context is the high-profile collapse of several rape & sexual offence trials amid apparently systematic failures by limbs of the justice system to properly collect, handle and disclose evidence.

“Given recent revelations about a string of innocent men being accused of rape and almost losing their liberty, is it time to name and shame false accusers?”

I will come on to why this question was profoundly and offensively ill-chosen, but the really dispiriting element to this was the widespread misunderstandings of the nature of sexual assault prosecutions and false allegations among the audience and – with a couple of notable exceptions – the panel, so it seems worthwhile to revisit a few of the problems with the myths and the discourse. [Read more…]

Invisible sons revisited: How boys got forgotten in a debate about boys

Last week, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, (for whom I have a lot of time and respect, incidentally) gave an interview to the Spectator magazine about the underperformance of white working class boys in education. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be blunt, for reasons I have spelled out in a piece over on

Do please go have a read, but in summary, she got off on the wrong foot by implying the underachievement of boys was a consequence of a focus on girls and ethnic minorities, as if it were a zero sum game, which is a divisive and inaccurate way to think about the issue. It’s also politically clumsy and counter-productive, as it invites a reactionary response from government of purporting to help (white) boys by cutting back on support to girls and BME kids. Marginalised boys and their advocates need all the friends they can get, and it is really not helpful to suggest that providing them with greater support and attention is contrary to the interests of marginalised girls or BME communities. Recognising this is gender-inclusive politics in a nutshell.  [Read more…]

Yes, child grooming scandals are a hate crime and here’s why

The past few weekends have seen Labour MPs engaged in a pretty unseemly ideological schism over child grooming scandals in (most recently) Newcastle, and before that Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere.

It was kicked off by Sarah Champion who wrote an irredeemably dreadful piece for the Sun that spoke in such clumsily broad-brush terms about ‘Pakistani men’ that it was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as outright racism and this cost her a frontbench role as shadow Equalities minister.  Any thoughts that she’d been misrepresented or misquoted by the sleazy tabloid were dispelled a week later when she gave an interview to the Times that saw her digging deeper into the same trench.

On Saturday, the constituency MP for Newcastle upon Tyne, Chi Onwurah, responded directly with a piece in the Guardian that was uncompromising in its assertion that race has nothing to do with the grooming gangs, whose members are motivated by misogyny, not racism, she wrote.

If my Twitter feed was anything to go by, her piece was not exactly well received, even by left-leaning liberals who might have been minded to agree with her general stance. Her opening sentence in particular was unfathomably crass and ill-advised, asking: “What’s worse, rape or racism?”

The arguments around it put me in mind of a rambling chat we had in the comments section of another post here, about the meaning and definition of hate crime, and I thought it might be worth unpicking how I see all of this.   [Read more…]

Male victims, the CPS and the latest chapter in the saga

[The first few hundred words here are something of a recap, feel free to jump ahead if you know the story!]


Just a little over two years ago, the Crown Prosecution Service published their annual review of their performance in prosecuting crimes of violence against women and girls for the year 2014/15.

According to the press release, dutifully reprinted by pretty much all mainstream media, there had been over 107,000 violent crimes against women and girls that year, including rape, domestic violence, child abuse and modern slavery.

Buried in the small print, however, was a curious detail. Around one in six of these victims were neither women nor girls. They were men and boys. Somewhere around 17,000 male survivors of sexual and intimate crimes were being officially designated by the UK authorities as “women and girls.”

To cut a long story short, I phoned a few friends and between us we corralled around 30 charity leaders, writers, academics and activists and we co-signed a letter to the Guardian calling on the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders,

“…and all public bodies to affirm their commitment to addressing and eliminating intimate violence against human beings of any gender and to take care not to compromise the dignity and public understanding of any survivors.”

[Read more…]

Jeremy Corbyn and the Bonfire of the Cynics

While chaos unfolds in Westminster, on social media there has been merry carnival of mea culping, told-you-soing and book-eating in the wake of the sensational general election result last week. No, Labour did not win a majority or become largest party, but they did effectively bring down a government, leave an apparently unassailable Prime Minister utterly toothless and quite possibly revolutionised British politics for a generation to come.

Central to this there has been a lot of talk about who has been proven right or wrong. Someone kindly intervened in one of my own mini Twitter spats to describe me as “someone who was right all along.”

It’s never my style to wave away a compliment, so I let it ride, but it didn’t feel true. I’m not someone who was right all along, at least not in the most basic sense. Over recent months there were literally a few handfuls of furiously loyal Corbyn supporters who insisted that the polls were wrong, that Corbyn would storm an election campaign, and if the Tories called an election they would get stuffed. Those people were very few in number and I was not among them. Most of Corbyn’s people were not among them, truth be told. If I’m honest, when the election was called my best guess was that Labour would get trounced and the best foreseeable outcome would be if Jeremy Corbyn put up a good enough showing to survive and fight another day. So simply on cold hard numbers psephology, I was just as wrong as the most ardent Corbyn critic.

However, there is another reading of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on which I am proud to have landed jammy-side up, while Corbyn’s critics have faceplanted into the proverbial from a grand height. It is about the very rules of the game that I’m describing – the psephology, the electoral calculation, the punditry, the prediction, the polls-chasing.

Here is a grand truth which lies at the heart of Corbyn’s success, which the mainstream political media class entirely failed to understand and – based on the comment pieces and social media mutterings of the weekend – still entirely fails to understand.  It comes down to a dictum which in my view could reasonably be called the central premise of Corbynism:

We do not say what we say because it plays well in the polls and we do not cynically advocate policies for electoral advantage. We do what do because we believe it is the right thing to do.

[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…]

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.