Musings on moderation

Since I moved this blog to FTB, I’ve received about 50 comments every day on average. Over the past few weeks it has been closer to 100 per day. Many of these comments are long and intricate, thoughtful and carefully expressed. Others not so much, but I welcome them all. As a general rule, I like comments.

What do I want to provide with this blog? As well as a platform for my own self-important warblings, I want to provide a place where people can debate gender issues from any starting position, relatively neutral territory, or no-(wo)man’s land between the trenches, if you prefer. As I say in my guidelines, this is not an ideological safe space for anyone.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, I am not averse to a full-blooded internet argument. People feel passionately about the topics I raise, and part of my role is to raise those passions.  I offer strong opinions, and expect strong and rumbustious responses. If someone thinks I’m being a fucking idiot, I have no problem with them telling me that they think I am a fucking idiot. Occasionally I might even agree. If someone thinks my arguments are laughable, they are welcome to mock them. I expect people below the line to be subject to the same conditions.

The benefit of this policy is that my comment threads are full of passionate people arguing with each other, often at great length, exchanging opinions, examining the beliefs and opinions of others and, I hope, being forced to examine their own at times. That is what I want to happen here.

The downside of this policy is that my comment threads are full of passionate people calling each other fucking idiots, being otherwise rude and abrasive with each other each other and, inevitably, being hurt or offended at times. That is an inevitable consequence of the arrangement and is, within reason, a necessary price to pay.

Every so often I have someone requesting more heavy moderation on this site. Roughly half of those requests have come from people who don’t like hearing so much from MRAs, anti-feminists and fellow travellers, and want me to step in “with the aim of keeping out lies, insanity, childish behavior, spamming, trolling, threadjacking, harassment, threats, and other noxious actions that make it much harder to have a healthy grownup dialogue.”

The other half come from people broadly on the MRA side, who want me to step in to prevent ‘horrible bullying’ from pro-feminist posters and believe I “turn a blind eye to and excuse abusive behaviour when its targeting a politically incorrect person”

I take such requests seriously. I want people using the comments threads here to find this blog as interesting and engaging as I do. If people are being deterred from commenting by the atmosphere on the threads then that would concern me. On the other hand, I have deliberately created this beast, and I have to accept that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. No blog is.

If people think my moderation is unfair or biased, that concerns me too. Hand on heart, I have thought hard about these points and my conscience is clear. I don’t think I can be moderating unfairly, because with very, very few exceptions, I don’t moderate at all.

But while the space above the line here is mine, I think the space below is very largely yours. If there is a consensus that there should be a specific change of policy, I’m willing to oblige. However the only way we could reach some consensus would be if we had some agreed community standards that everyone is prepared to apply both to themselves and others.

One of the reasons I was reluctant to assent to recent moderation requests is that the people making the requests looked, to me, to be equally guilty of the very same offences they were complaining about.

I don’t think one can make sweeping generalisations about feminists or use ‘feminist’ as an insult, and then complain when people make sweeping generalisations about MRAs and use MRA as an insult. You cannot be disrespectful, contemptuous and accusatory to other commenters then complain about the lack of a friendly atmosphere. That seems to me the essence of fairness.

So, your turn. Would you like to see tighter moderation, bearing in mind that you will be held to those same standards yourself? What changes, if any, would you like me to introduce? If you’re a lurker but not a regular commenter, what would tempt you into participation?

The only absolute at my end is that I will not start deleting or banning on ideological grounds. This will not become an echo chamber.

Once this blog moves on, I will pin this thread somewhere prominent and leave it running as a place to bring across complaints, concerns or further discussion as the weeks and months go by. And of course, if you wish to raise an issue or make a complaint in confidence, you can email me any time. 

Goodbye baby boomers: the most criminal generation of them all

It is hardly surprising that David Cameron was out and about yesterday boasting of another sharp decline in crime levels. I won’t blame him for claiming credit, any prime minister would do the same, but there is little evidence that political policies have had much effect. Similar trends can be seen in most Western countries and show little regard to the ideology of the government of the day.

Criminologists continue to ponder the decline, although the smarter ones consider not the fall in crime alone, but the rise and fall in crime – a dramatic spike that probably began sometime around 1960 and suddenly went into reverse in the mid-nineties.

A less-well publicised but no less important statistic came to light recently. The fastest growing section of the UK prison population is the over sixties. They are still a small proportion of the whole, of course, but as rates of youth offending continue to decline, grey offending is on the rise. This points to a stark and rarely-stated truth. The baby boomers, those born between the end of the second world war and around 1964, were the most criminal generation of the twentieth century.

The typical cultural portrayal of baby-boomers has been bleached and sanitised. They were the political radicals, the peace-loving hippies, the architects of women’s liberation and the revolutionary soixante-huitards. They were the Thatcherite yuppies who snaffled up the wealth, launched house prices into the stratosphere, took advantage of free education and a welfare state then pulled up the ladder behind them. This painfully elitist, classist, racially exclusive narrative ignores the bigger truth that most baby-boomers were born into abject poverty and austerity, and many never really escaped it.

Those who write history tend to smile indulgently on their own, so posterity recalls the middle-class pot-smoking hippies of the late sixties and seventies who fought with police outside the US Embassy rather more fondly than their beer-drinking, working class contemporaries who fought police on the picket lines, or each other on the terraces. They may have been miles apart in wealth and status, but they were all forged in the furnace of the baby boom.

Woody Guthrie famously sang that ‘some rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.’   Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, it was largely baby boomers who were getting rich on the social disembowelling of our inner cities and industrial heartlands, and other baby boomers who were filling those voids with heroin and crack cocaine.  What happened to the crime figures in the mid-nineties? The last of the baby boomers finally grew up.

There are of course many people, mostly now aged between about 50 and 75, who claim crime has actually come down because of better prevention and detection technology; because of higher incarceration rates or even a reduction in environmental lead pollution. (The Economist has a great rundown of the theories] To which I say, well, they would say that wouldn’t they? Anything is better than admitting they belong to a generation of crooks, thieves and thugs.

To be charitable for a moment, I will admit that, as with most social science and statistics, it is all a bit more complicated than that. Nonetheless there is a pertinent truth beneath my provocations. If we ask ourselves what it was about the post-war decades that might have incubated a rise in destructive and anti-social behaviour there would be no shortage of answers.

I recently crawled through the volume of David Kynaston’s remarkable social history series covering Austerity Britain 1945-51. I’ll admit I was really looking for cheap rhetorical analogies to apply to current debates, but I quickly abandoned that plan. The sheer desperation of the hardship and poverty of those rationed years would have made any comparison offensive. It was a tough, tough time to be a child. Add to that huge numbers of children raised in families bereaved of so many fathers, brothers and sons, or with parents emotionally scarred by the terror and trauma of active service or bombed cities.

Then there was the promise of the affluent society, driven by a desire to create a land fit for heroes. It is not hard to imagine that the generation growing into adulthood through that time assimilated a dangerous combination of stressful socialisation and rampant entitlement.

There are lessons to be learned from the crimes of the baby boomers. If we want to understand why people hurt each other, harm each other, damage each other on our streets, in our homes, in our boardrooms. In the meantime, we can take comfort in knowing that the generation responsible for the selfish individualism and crime boom of the late twentieth century is gradually passing into retirement. Goodbye Baby boomers. You won’t be missed.

Official: The Conservative policy on single teenage mothers

After three years picking on the disabled, the poor and the unemployed, you might have thought the Tories would have run out of easy targets to bully. But no, today they decided to pick on one of the most unfairly demonized and mythologized sections of the population: single teenage mothers.

Cynics among you might imagine that this is a shameless piece of tabloid-rimming, a play to the lowest common denominator of public prejudice. But you’d be wrong. The new Tory approach was a carefully thought out policy, as demonstrated by the policy page on their official website.

Just in case they one day get around to changing it, here’s a screengrab

loremtories(click to enlarge)

You might think the policy is to make single mothers learn Latin. You’d be wrong. This isn’t Latin, it is Ipsum Lorem, the meaningless gobbledegook that designers use as placeholder text when they’re waiting for actual content to come in.

Nice to know they give these things so much careful consideration and planning, isn’t it?

 

[Big hat tip to @belovedsanspoof who pointed me that way.]

Recession, austerity and domestic violence: a case unproven

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

Note 15/07/13.  In Saturday’s Guardian, Deborah Orr mused on two important questions around domestic violence. The first was the familiar worry as to whether the current economic crisis has sparked an upturn in intimate partner abuse. She hangs her argument around figures from Citizens’ Advice Bureaux showing a large increase in clients requiring help with the problem.

It is very likely that this is a mistake, and falls into the same trap that caught Suzanne Moore last year, discussed below . When a whole bunch of DV services close across the country, it is inevitable that people in need of help will turn to whatever service is left. It is *possible* that the rise in CAB cases is entirely accounted for by that. We would really need to know how many people in total have been turned away from other services (not just Women’s Aid and Refuge, but the entire range of council run-helplines, youth services, community health services etc, all of which will deal with DV, and all of which have been slashed.

There’s another problem with those CAB stats which is that CAB typically see people with a range of complex problems – housing, debt etc. They did not say that the numbers they quoted were people who contacted them about DV as their primary or only problem. As the recession etc gets worse, more ppl will see CAB anyway (it would be interesting to know how much their entire caseload went up over the same period) and then a lot of them, in the course of the interview, will reveal that not only are they facing homelessness, debt collectors etc, but they are also in an abusive relationship.

My hunch is still that we will see a slight rise in DV figures from BCS / CSEW within the next year or two, because these things tend to be cumulative and have a bit of a lag before they start to turn up in the figures. But at the moment the most we can say is that there is no evidence yet of such a rise. That said, we would expect frontline services to be the first to pick up on any such trend.

As a general point, my own best guess is that short term crises and economic stresses can certainly trigger violent incidents – either directly, or by boosting problematic use of alcohol / stimulants etc which has the secondary effect. But that’s just switching the detonator. The bomb has been laid much, much earlier, in a childhood & adolescence of exposure to violent stresses and socialisation. I do genuinely believe that people in general are less violent in all sorts of ways than they were a few decades ago, and so consequently we have far fewer violent personalities around than we did before.

On Deborah’s second point is interesting. She suggest that violence may be getting shifted from outdoors, now a near-panopticon of CCTV, and moving behind closed doors. i’m not convinced of this theory, but it prompts me to suggest that one reason convictions for both domestic abuse and sexual offences have risen sharply, even as survey evidence shows the actual incidence is in decline, may be that more evidence is now collected and stored on mobile phones, whether by victims or perpetrators. The same types of evidence have also occasionally been found to acquit those who have been wrongly accused. The panopticon is not so easily escaped!  

————-

First published November 29th 2012

There is a very real likelihood that economic conditions are combining with devastating cuts to services and legal aid to create heightened risk for victims of domestic violence.  It’s something that’s been worrying me and I suspect everyone else with an interest in the topic for several years now. So I’ve had my eyes open for evidence as to the impacts. The official figures for the year 2011/12 are due in January.

But a couple of weeks ago a few agency-based news sites appeared to be presenting some hard evidence.

From www.politics.co.uk

The recession is making domestic violence worse, statistics show.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) claimed to have found a statistical link between the economic downturn and an increase in domestic violence.

Domestic violence has increased by 17% over the period of the recession.

[snip]

In 2011, 2,174 assaults were reported each day in England and Wales – or three every two minutes.

The same statistics appeared this morning in Suzanne Moore’s column in the Guardian.

I wasn’t aware of any new releases from the ONS that could have informed these claims, so I did a bit of digging.

A helpful person at NCDV explained that the statistics had not come from them. They had released figures that their own caseload had increased by 19.6% during 2011, which is in its own right a worrying glimpse of the demands now placed on remaining services, but it offers no clue to the overall extent of domestic violence. (Most obviously, when some services are cut back or closed down, those that remain are likely to see a vastly increased demand.  Alternatively, more effective marketing or raised media profile can lead to an increase in calls and referrals for any one charity or service.)

So where does the claim of a 17% rise, equivalent to 2174 cases a day, come from? I searched on the figures and they appear to be drawn from a Daily Mirror report in July 2011, which quoted the precise same statistics in exactly the same terms. That piece was reporting a parliamentary answer given in Hansard the week before. In response to a question from Gloria de Piero MP, minister Lynne Featherstone released the most recent police reported crime figures. They cover four years, 06/07 – 09/10.

06/07                     07/08                     08/09                     09/10
671,374                 674,756                 766,047                 793,526

 

Although there was a slight rise between the first and second column, and between the third and fourth, the great proportion of the 17% jump happened in one year, between 07/08 and 08/09.

There are several things to note here. The first is that the figures stop in June 2010. So any suggestion that this is new research based on new data is clearly bogus. The second point is that while the global recession began in September 2008, most of the impacts upon the general public did not begin to be felt for months or even years after that. So while it is possible that the rise in domestic violence reports can be attributed to economic conditions, it would seem improbable.

The austerity programme of the current government, of course, did not begin until May 2010, so it has to be entirely irrelevant to these data.

Another point that will be of interest to many of those commenting on Suzanne Moore’s strictly female-focussed piece is that these numbers are total reports, not just women. (Typically police reports are about 10% male victims reporting female abusers.)

It is important to note that according to BCS, which is considered to be a much more reliable (though still far from perfect) guide to the actual incidence of violent crime, there was no rise in self-reported domestic violence in the year to 08/09.  The estimate of physical partner abuse victims (non-sexual) fell from 1,456,000 to 1,137,000 and partner sexual abuse from 541,000 to 466,000. These are big falls, not rises (in keeping with the trend of the past 15 years or so.)

You can always expect some disparity between the BCS trend and the reported crime figures, but the vast disparity in that year suggests to me that whatever was happening, it was unlikely to be a straightforward rise in the number of violent incidents. Could it have been an increased awareness? Was there some very effective public education campaign that year, or a particularly compelling soap storyline? That’s possible. Rather more likely is that there may have been changes in how police recorded their reports. Was there a change in policy as to what kinds of calls would be ‘no-crimed’? Were there any new guidelines introduced for police as to what should be classified as a domestic violence incident? I honestly do not know, but if any readers have theories, I’d be delighted to hear them.

As for the more immediate issue, I believe I can quite confidently state that there is no evidence that there has been a rise in domestic violence as a direct result of the current economic situation and austerity measures. That’s not to say such a rise hasn’t happened, in all honesty I still expect to be confronted with a grim reversal, and we may know much more in January.*

In the meantime I’m not convinced it serves anyone well to propagate outdated and misleading statistical claims.

———–

* UPDATE 15/07/13 – I’m happy to report that January has been and gone, the statistics were released, and they showed yet another slight (though not statistically significant) decline in incidence of DV and no increase in sexual offences.

 

 

Just checking in…

I haven’t had time to add any sparkling new content (or even sludgy prose) to this blog for a week or so, normal service should resume shortly.

In the meantime, a couple of pieces of mine have gone up elsewhere this week.

In the Guardian, I reflected on what Andy Murray’s victory at Wimbledon might mean for the people of Dunblane, where Murray himself survived the 1996 school massacre.

Men from central Scotland are not known for our smiley, flamboyant extroversion at the best of times. In Murray’s case one senses that he has constructed a thick protective wall around himself. Perhaps he cannot easily let emotions spill out, because with only the smallest crack, the deluge would be overwhelming.

 

And today in the Independent I cover the astonishing survey from the Royal Statistical Society which revealed just how grossly skewed is our typical assessment of the state of the nation, from benefits and the economy to crime figures and religious affiliations.

our impressions of society are formed by looking at individual factoids and scare stories as if through a long thin tube, only ever seeing a snapshot rather than the full panorama. We then depend upon cognitive biases and heuristics to fill in the gaping blank spaces.

Your thoughts on either of these would be welcome. Or alternatively just continue arguing about all the other things you’ve been arguing about on all the other threads which, let’s face it, is exactly what you’ll do anyway.

Fathers 4 Justice:solutions lies in our families, not our family courts

Note: I ran this at the Guardian yesterday. It’s a topic that some of the regulars here have seemed keen to discuss, so here’s a repost

 

It appears to be the season for symbolic gestures. Last week Fathers4Justice (F4J) activist Paul Manning was arrested and charged for gluing a photo of a child to Constable’s The Hay Wain in the National Gallery. The incident occurred two weeks after another F4J activistspray-painted over a portrait of the Queen in Westminster Abbey, and three days before a similar attack on a statue in the same cathedral. That act was done in the name of a different group, Stolen Children of the UK, although a F4J activist was also reported to be in attendance.

After Manning’s arrest, F4J put out the daddy of all passive-aggressive statements. It is calling on their supporters to continue independent acts of nonviolent direct action, adding:

 

“The organisation said it was also now refusing to engage with national media over what it described as deliberately inaccurate and misleading reporting of the campaign and the crisis in the family courts. It was also refusing to deal with the government, police, courts, judiciary and any other organisations involved in family law and said it was considering shutting down all conventional social media.”

 

This may come as good news to the national media, government, police, courts, judiciary and the nation’s fine art restoration business, but to everyone else it can be little more than a symbolic gesture. F4J has always despised the political and media establishment and the feeling has been mostly mutual. Their speciality was always the symbolic gesture.

If ever an issue required willingness to compromise and negotiate, it is family dispute settlements. The latest F4J gambit portrays them as stubborn, immutable and hostile – not the symbolism intended. I do not question that the men (and women) involved in F4J feel a sincere and burning sense of anger and frustration at their circumstances. They would counter that a willingness to compromise and negotiate gets them nowhere, either politically or personally. However the timing of this particular announcement is intriguing.

This week the children and families bill entered its second reading. The bill offers changes to family court proceedings, including the introduction of a statutory assumption of shared (though not necessarily time-equal) parenting. The proposals are a hotchpotch of ideas, largely ignoring therecommendations of the Norgrove report and pleasing virtually no one. Legal commentators warn that the proposed wording is sufficiently vague to make rulings more complex than ever. F4J has dismissed it as “a feeble cocktail of proposals [and] a charter for conflict and fatherlessness”. One might call it a symbolic gesture.

We need more than gestures on all sides. Family courts rule on the 10% of breakups that present the greatest difficulty. These are, almost by definition, marked by conflicting accounts, bitter allegations and at least one if not two unreasonable parties. Each is usually convinced of their own rectitude and their ex-partner’s wickedness. The adversarial legal system then throws petrol on the flames. Every ruling on the best interests of a child is a best guess and a judgment call, and so subject to assumptions, prejudice and prevailing cultural values. It is not just that we don’t know for sure whether the system is working adequately, it is that it is literally impossible to say objectively whether the system is working adequately in any one case, far less for all 500,000 adults and children entering the system per year.

If the workings of the court are an opaque mess, the political debate around it is often worse. Commentators often quote statistics on initial residency rulings, without acknowledging that most unresolved disputes centre on maintaining the agreed contact – an entirely different issue. The Ministry of Justice’s own research finds that fewer than half of cases that return to court due to non-compliance result in secured contact. Sweeping generalisations are made about “deadbeat dads”; separated fathers are portrayed as probable abusers or, from the other side, innocent victims of terrible injustices. In reality every case is unique and adversarial courts are not only the last resort, they are the worst resort.

Arrangements for shared parenting cannot begin in the family court. They need to begin from the moment of birth. Far more separated fathers maintain satisfactory relationships with their children in Sweden than the UK, and it is not because their courts have a magic formula, it is because fathers are assumed to be equally responsible parents from the word go. We don’t need symbolic gestures. We need a wide-ranging and holistic revolution in parenting, and fatherhood in particular. Without that, the family courts will continue to wrestle with impossible knots, and separated fathers will continue to cry out in anger and frustration.

Dear Paul Elam…

Oh hi Paul, how nice of you to take an interest in my writing.

First, credit where due. This line was a zinger:

“Fogg said what MHRAs have been saying since before he could spell DV”.

That’s a great line. it’s spectacularly inaccurate, for what it’s worth, but why let the truth get in the way of a good joke, eh?

But talking about “jokes”, let’s glide over your ad homs, your spurious readings of my motives, and indeed some legitimate differences of opinion about the issues, and look at the bit that seems to have rattled your cage – my reference to your response to that obscene Jezebel piece and thread. You quote yourself saying:

Now, am I serious about this? No.

You carefully omit your next few words.

“Now, am I serious about this? No. Not because it’s wrong. It’s not wrong.”

Yes Paul, it is. It is very wrong in all sorts of ways. First of all, you were not discussing the right to reasonable and immediate self-defence, which nobody seriously challenges. You were revelling in a fantasy of retaliatory violence, peppered with shamelessly misogynistic language and imagery, which is not the same thing at all, as I think a reasonably functioning five year-old could explain.

I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women – to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.

And then make them clean up the mess.

More significantly, you seem to have this strange idea that it is morally acceptable and politically constructive to spout the most vile, hateful, arguably even criminal shit for paragraph after paragraph, whether it is instructions to beat shit out of women, or fabricated claims that women enjoy being raped, providing you conclude with some variation on “ha ha, only joking. SATIRE SEE?”

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by spelling out to you all the reasons why that type of behaviour is wrong and indeed dangerous. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. But what astonishes me is that you appear to believe you can pull shit like this and then still expect be taken seriously as a commentator, even a force for social change? You gleefully and knowingly squirt misogyny and hate from every orifice and then get all affronted when people conclude you might in fact be a misogynist, or describe your site as a hate group. What the fuck do you expect?

You suggest your article was “a red herring”. it was more than that. It was a whole basket of rotting, stinking fish carcasses, and three years old or not, it remains a technicolor illustration of everything that is wrong with the men’s rights movement today. It is you. You are the problem. Not so much that you personally have attained a degree of prominence and influence, though that is worrying enough, it is more that the broader movement is prepared to indulge you, laugh along, defend you from criticism say things like “oh that’s just Paul being Paul, he doesn’t really mean it.” The fuck you don’t. The men’s rights movement is swimming in so much misogyny that it has become oblivious to it, like a fish is oblivious to water. You may recognise that metaphor from somewhere. You cannot judge a movement by the rantings of one individual. You can judge a movement by how it reacts to that individual.

The rest of the MRM needs to recognise and address the fact that you, and a fair few others of your ilk, regularly drop huge, steaming turds which pollute and poison the whole pool. I honestly hope they can recognise it, because until that happens those of us who genuinely care about the welfare and wellbeing of men and boys and try to do something about it will continue to work under the putrid pong wafting from the pool next door.

The ultimate, indeed the only victims of that are vulnerable men and boys.

Report: Men’s experience of domestic violence in Scotland

I don’t normally do these quick signal-boosters, but I couldn’t let this one pass.

The charity Abused Men in Scotland have published a report, funded by the Scottish Government and written by Brian Dempsey of Dundee University law school, entitledMen’s experience of domestic abuse in Scotland: What we know and how we can know more.”  

It’s a superb piece of work that really gets a handle on the nuances and complexities of the issues. I’m particularly impressed by the way Dempsey leans without apology upon research and theory from across the ideological spectrum, applying valuable insights from feminist and non-feminist sources alike, while offering informed critique and criticism where required. Similarly, he is happy to jump between disciplines, describing Connell’s theories of masculinity one page and Dutton’s psychological theories of abusive personalities the next. He even applies intersectional thinking to the diverse experiences and lived identities of men which, I’ll confess, made me squee just a little.

Most importantly, it is practice- and policy-focused. Even if you don’t fancy reading the whole thing, please note the key recommendations, all of which could apply to the rest of the UK, and most of it elsewhere too.

  • Policy responses to, and service provision for, men who experience domestic abuse should be evidence-based. Appropriate methodologies can be developed for both academic and practitioner research.
  • The needs of children affected by abuse perpetrated against their fathers or other male carers must be addressed by central and local government and other service providers as a matter of the greatest urgency.
  • As a priority, resources should be devoted to capturing and respecting the “lived experience” and the “voice” of men who experience domestic abuse. Attention should be paid to the potentially different experiences, challenges and strengths of a diverse range of men (e.g. older men, BME men).
  • Research into, and policy responses to, the experiences of abused men should engage with insights from gender theory to explore how gender inequality and hegemonic masculinity negatively affect abused men. Insights from the work on gay, bisexual and trans men’s experience of domestic abuse should be developed.
  •  The role of the “public story” of domestic abuse in marginalising men who experience abuse should be considered in policy development and research. Anti-domestic abuse campaigns should include reference to, and images of, men. Representation of domestic abuse in newspapers, magazines and television should be inclusive of men’s experiences.
  •  Those working in the legal system (including solicitors, police, procurators and the judiciary) should identify and remove barriers to men seeking to access legal protection, whether civil or criminal.
  •  Service providers should address their responsibilities under the Equality Duty and/or the charity regulator’s equality requirements by following good practice demonstrated by, e.g., Citizen’s Advice Scotland and Victim Support Scotland. Where services wish to make themselves available to abused men and their children that should be made clear by way of overt statements and inclusive imagery and case studies.
  • Public sector service providers such as the NHS, local authorities and the police must, as a matter of urgency, review their compliance with their legal obligations under the Equality Duty and may draw on Children in Scotland’s project “Making the Gender Equality Duty Real for Children, Young People and their Fathers”.
  • Police Scotland, the NHS and others should build on already existing good practice to seek ways to ensure that abused men are able to disclose their experiences.
  • Where some men trivialise the abuse they experience as “just something that happens” that should not be used to justify lack of recognition and support.  Awareness raising campaigns should be developed that make clear that domestic abuse in all its forms is not something that will be tolerated or ignored in Scottish society.
  • Innovative service provision for both women and men who abuse their male partners should be developed.

 

Final note, just in case anyone needs reminding… AMIS (like the Mankind Initiative who do similar work elsewhere in the UK) always emphasise that providing services and policies to meet the needs of men should only ever happen in addition to services provided for women, never at the expense of women in need. Something I wholeheartedly endorse.

Criminal justice in a man’s world

Yesterday I was honoured to be speaking at a symposium for Safe Ground, an inspirational charity that works with men in prisons across the UK, especially around issues of fatherhood, engaging them through creative arts, drama, roleplay and more.

The day was exploring how models of masculinity impact upon offending behaviour and desistance.  I listened to and met some amazing people, not least the two young men who performed a remarkable short play “Outside In” that they had written and rehearsed as part of the Only Connect Theatre groups

For reasons best classified under “seemed like a good idea at the time”, myself and Professor Brid Featherstone were gloved up and placed in a boxing ring to debate some key questions over three rounds.

I hope to get some reflections on the day together soon, but for now, here’s a write-up of the notes I made, which I’ve tried to edit into something that bears at least passing resemblance to what I ended up saying.

 

Round 1 – What is Man’s place in today’s world?

Last year the American author and journalist Hanna Rosin loudly proclaimed the End of Men. Another, Kay Hymowitz wrote of the “child-men” who are refusing to grow up. William Bennett asked Why Men Are In Trouble. Here in London last month, Diane Abbott MP dug up that dependable zombie – the Crisis of Masculinity. At the risk of going out on a limb, I just don’t believe it. There is not crisis of masculinity. There is a crisis of economics, of employment, of industry, of opportunity, education, social welfare and public services and those are hitting some men very hard. But to call that a crisis in masculinity implies that gender identity should be able to absorb those problems, mould itself around the casualty like an airbag in a crash.  I do not doubt it would help many men if they were less weighed down by the plate armour of rigid masculine expectations, but that is not where the problem lies.

There is of course not one masculinity, but many. The masculinity that really does rule the world is stronger than ever.  It is seldom mentioned that even now, boys in the top social and educational quartile are doing better than ever. They’re actually moving further ahead of girls on the top courses, getting even more of the top jobs, walking out of university into higher salaries and higher status. They are the men who will go on to fill the boardrooms and the cabinet in ten years’ time.

Boys and men are not being pushed down so much as being polarised, more than ever, into winners and losers and it begins to happen when they are still only teenagers.  In the bottom quartile, opportunities for secure employment and financial independence have all but vanished, removing even the option of life as traditional husband, father, breadwinner and provider. Domestically, young working class and minority ethnic men have lost an empire and not yet found a role. There is something grotesque about blaming young men for their failure to step up to the plate when the plate has been snatched from under their feet.

Having said all that, it is hugely to credit of young men today that for the most part they are not reacting by turning to crime, violence, ASB, drugs etc etc. By all measures, all those phenomena remain on the decline. The fastest growing section of the prison population is the over-60s, not the under 20s. Somehow, somewhere, we are doing something right.

 

ROUND 2 Do men need male role models?

If the language of the End of Men and the Crisis of Masculinity is unhelpful, there was a report recently from the Centre for Social Justice, the thinktank set up by Iain Duncan Smith, no less, which talked of a Tsunami of Family Breakdown, claiming that whole neighbourhoods in our cities have  become“man deserts.” At first I thought they said “man desserts” and was picturing giant oceans of rhubarb crumble and custard. In all honesty, that would have been slightly more credible. They were actually suggesting that due to lone motherhood and the lack of male teachers, boys in poor areas could grow up with no male role models at all. It was nonsense, of course. There are plenty of men about, even in the most deprived neighbourhoods, but who are they? What do they do?

If we assume that children learn, at least in part, from observing, imitating and emulating those they see around them – and we assume that children adopt gendered behaviour in this way, then we are right to be concerned about what examples of manliness our boys see around them as they grow. I live and work, and raise my two sons in the inner city area of Manchester with a notorious history of gang and gun crime, drug problems and high crime.

Let me reassure any Daily Mail readers in the room – OK, let me reassure any hypothetical Daily Mail readers in the room, that both me and my boys see plenty positive examples of manhood. I see fathers collecting kids from school, playing with them in the park. I see men running the martial arts classes, the boxing clubs, the football clubs, the youth clubs. Our culture and media seem to revel in portrayals of masculinity that are violent, anti-social and destructive. It worries me that the likes of Diane Abbott, despite her  good intentions, actively contributes to this  impression that men are a negative force in society, while ignoring the other side of the coin – the many men who do amazing things both within the family and within the community.

I cannot stress enough the valuable role played by such men, in demonstrating that masculinity can mean caring, compassion, altruism, concern for others.  And I cannot stress enough how worried I am that the cuts to local authority budgets are devastating these opportunities. Whither the Big Society? Iain Duncan Smith and his pals might be worried about the lack of good role models for our young men. So am I. But only one of us has the power to do something about that.

 

ROUND 3 – The Criminal Justice System

About two weeks ago, in Salisbury, Kent, a police sergeant was convicted of assault against a 14 year old boy in his custody. Sergeant Steven Rea grabbed the lad by the throat as he was sitting down and physically lifted him up to his feet. As he was assaulting him he yelled in his face:  What is wrong with you? You do the thieving, you stand up and be a man.”

So much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system and youth justice system can be seen in that little exchange. There is of course the sheer brutality and illegal abuse of power, but what struck me is the demand of masculinity – it is manly to take a beating, and alongside that an implication that committing a crime  – a petty act of shoplifting, as it happened – was an act of masculine maturity rather than juvenile inadequacy and a warning sign of a young life already gone badly awry.

It is six years since the Corston report urged a gender sensitive approach to the needs of women offenders. In that time there has been a tangible shift across the political spectrum in how we consider the humanity and effectiveness of the system’s approach to women offenders. The challenge is to apply that same correct logic to male offenders too. In March, Justice minister Helen Grant called for more widespread and effective use of community sentencing for women offenders. I don’t disagree with any of this. I just don’t understand why the debate is restricted to women. Two-thirds of male prisoners have a reading age of 11 or less. More than 70% of have at least two diagnosed mental health conditions, 10% experienced psychotic hallucinations in the preceding year. 28% were homeless or in insecure accommodation immediately before custody.

Here we see the gender-specific issues affecting men across society – educational underachievement, neglect of mental health, economic and social isolation, homelessness, addiction – brutally concentrated at the sharpest end of the system. If I could leave this debate today with one plea in your ears, it is this: we need a Corston Report for men and we need it urgently.

 

 

What do men see when they see Page 3?

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

Note: Four months on from writing this, Rupert Murdoch has yet to announce the scrapping of Page 3 in the Sun.  However this week he has announced that they’re abolishing the patronising little speech bubbles ‘News In Briefs.’ Sarah Ditum has applauded the decision at the New Statesman. Her argument is persuasive, I think, except for where she digs up the same myth about male sexuality that I took on here.

First published, February 12th 2013

 

So Rupert Murdoch has hinted on Twitter that he may be rethinking his 40 year mission to deliver a daily couple of nipples to the breakfast tables of the nation.

In a reaction on Comment is Free, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett argued that nudity is not the principal problem with Page 3. “The presence of a few designer labels in the crucial areas makes little difference if the poisonous attitude remains the same,” she wrote. I broadly agree. My general take on the issue is that The Sun is a paper which peddles the exploitation, vilification and undisguised hatred of, well, just about everyone. The focus on Page 3 seems to me to miss the broader point, but more precisely, my problem with the tradition is not the nudity, but the way that it uses women as decoration, implying that a woman’s most significant role in the news media is to provide eye candy for a predominantly male market. Related to that, my main problem with the campaign against Page 3 is that by focusing on the nakedness, it veers rather close to an anti-nudity, even anti-sexuality narrative. It seems to say that exploitation is just fine, so long as you keep the boobs covered up.

While I generally agreed with Rhiannon’s main point, there was one paragraph in the article that betrays a profoundly mistaken view of what Page 3 is and does, and how it is viewed by men. It’s an extreme example of an argument that is often made by feminists within this debate.

I remember, as a teenager, how awful it was to be sitting next to a man on the bus leering at Page 3. I remember the embarrassment, the discomfort, at the lascivious drool coming from his chops, and the physical revulsion at his presumed erection from looking at a girl pretty much the same as me

…it’s about the sense of entitlement, the presupposition that an entire page of a national newspaper should be given over to the sexual gratification of men

Of course one can never underestimate the diversity of human personality and sexual behaviour, and I need no convincing that women experience the most rank sexual harassment and intimidation on public transport. I will take it on trust that at some point(s) in her life Rhiannon really did find herself sitting next to some freak who was “leering at Page 3” with “lascivious drool coming from his chops” in such a way that she presumed he had an erection from all the “sexual gratification” on display. I do, however, strongly reject the implication that this is how men typically view Page 3.

Straight men generally find pretty young women attractive. They are drawn towards them. Pretty young women with clothes on are attractive, and pretty young women with fewer clothes on are even more attractive. Boobs are nice to look at. I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far in making that assertion.

Murdoch started putting semi-naked women in his newspapers back in 1970 to attract buyers, in exactly the same way that car show exhibitors drape models over the bonnets of their cars. He figured that if men are attracted to women with their tops on, they would be even more attracted to women with their tops off. And he was probably largely correct about that.

However attraction is not the same thing as sexual arousal. If images in The Sun or any other paper were genuinely sexually arousing they would actually lose readers. Murdoch has always wanted The Sun to be something that families could have lying around the breakfast table. That’s why the classic Page 3 look has always been strangely sexless and innocent, all happy cheerful smiles rather than the sultry, seductive pouts of pornography, even softcore porn.

Here is a fundamental truth about men: we hate getting erections at inappropriate moments. It is embarrassing and (literally) uncomfortable. The greatest horror is to get an erection at work or when surrounded by your mates. Men (and teenage boys in particular) develop all kinds of squirming techniques and tactics to try to disguise them. If we thought reading the Sun was likely to produce spontaneous erections at inopportune moments, we wouldn’t buy it, or we would but would keep it hidden under the mattress with the porn mags.

I suspect one of the reasons why Murdoch is now considering covering up the nipples on Page 3 is because he realises that they’re not actually that important a part of the equation. He started using them 40 years ago because he thought he could get away with it and it might add to sales. He now knows he could take them away and it wouldn’t really make any difference, because the nipples really aren’t what it is all about.  The likelihood is that Murdoch can grant campaigners their victory, get some good PR, and continue to use women in the same exploitative, sexist, decorative way he always has.

There is a tendency among some feminists to assume the worst of male sexuality. I understand where that has come from, but it can lead debates on topics such as sexualisation, porn and objectification to be conducted rather at cross purposes, and to generate a lot more heat than light. I don’t doubt for a moment that when a woman (especially a very young women) sees a man looking at The Sun, and specifically Page 3, she might be made genuinely uncomfortable by it. She may genuinely believe that the man is awash with lust, drooling with sexual gratification and sheltering a raging boner underneath his newspaper. I would suggest that unless the man has just escaped from decades in a monastery or is about 12 years old, this is almost certainly not the case. Much more probably he is thinking something like “she’s cute, nice tits, what a ridiculous speech bubble they’ve given her. Wonder if United will win tonight.

Perhaps there was a time when Page 3 was still sufficiently new, daring and shocking to produce a frisson of genuine sexual excitement, but those days had passed long before even I hit puberty  – a long, long time ago. When I was 13, round about 1980, we boys were on a perpetual hunt for sexual stimulation of any kind. Copies of Mayfair and Penthouse would be dealt and shared like valuable contraband. Even then Page 3 would barely register. It was what you might wank to if you couldn’t get hold of your mum’s Kay’s Catalogue lingerie section.

This wouldn’t matter too much were it not for one nagging concern. I can’t help thinking that the reason many women suppose that Page 3 is the salient tip of a huge iceberg of slavering male sexual desire is because so many other women have told them that Page 3  is the salient tip of a huge iceberg of slavering male sexual desire. Perhaps it is time to turn the page on that particular myth.

I have no wish to undermine or resist feminist campaigns against Page 3, on the contrary I think it we’d have a slightly better society without it. On the other hand, I’d prefer if we could have that debate and that campaign without the need to further demonize male sexuality. Whatever Page 3 might be about, it is really not about sex.