If we want men to talk about men’s issues then we have to stop dressing them up in feminist clothing says Glen Poole, our international men’s movement editor.
Masculinity has been making headlines in the UK this week. The word on the street is that masculinity is in crisis and men won’t talk about it.
Actually, that’s not true, the word on the street is that the international sporting superstar David Beckham is retiring from football (or soccer if you prefer). This news has been trumpeted from news stands on street corners in every corner of the globe.
Meanwhile, journalists in the UK have been talking about masculinity because a self-declared “card-carrying feminist and single mother” happened to mention that it appears to be in crisis.
This isn’t any feminist, single mother by the way. This is Diane Abbot, Britain’s first black woman Member of Parliament who, as things stand, would be in charge of the nation’s Public Health if the Labour Party wins the next election.
So when Diane Abbot MP makes a speech about “masculinity in crisis” the nation’s political commentators listen – even if people on the street are more interested in an international football star retiring.
According to Abbott “it’s all become a bit like the film Fight Club—the first rule of being a man in modern Britain is that you’re not allowed to talk about it”.
“Too many British men and boys who need the space and support to talk about manhood….from an early age….will remain silent,” she said.
While women have a life-affirming grassroots political movement, “our men have little movement politics to speak of (and) many British men have no authentic voice”.
It’s time, she said, to “move away from adversarial gender politics”.
Now I’m not generally a fan of Abbot’s left-wing, feminist perspectives on men’s issues but when a woman of her standing comes waving a white flag and calls truce in the Gender Wars, I’m happy to listen.
I turned off the sports report—as there is a limit to the number of interesting angles you can view David Beckham’s retirement from in one day—and took a sneak preview of Abbot’s speech to find out why she thinks we have a “crisis of masculinity”.
It turned out that Abbot is concerned about the crudely individualistic, homophobic, hyper-masculine, porn-obsessed, celebration of heartlessness fuelled by Viagra and Jack Daniels that passes for modern manhood in Britain these days.
Damn it! She lured me away from the football and into gender peace talks with a mention of Fight Club and then comes out with this? And to think I could have been listening to an in depth analysis of how Beckham’s different hairstyles affected his sporting performance instead.
I’ll be honest with you , I was a bit annoyed and so was Tony Parsons, author of Man and Boy, who wrote in GQ:
“When Diane Abbott asserts that Britain is facing a crisis of masculinity, she is barking up the wrong trouser leg.
“The truth is exactly the opposite—men have never been more in touch with their emotions, and more honest about expressing them. Just because they are not crying in their lap of the Shadow Public Health Minister doesn’t mean they are not doing it.
“Men, I would suggest, have never been better than they are today. More involved in bringing up their children. More genuinely supportive of their partners. More willing to discuss their fears with those closest to them. Diane Abbott appears to know nothing about British men.”
Parsons, an ex-husband of the prominent feminist commentator Julie Burchill, concluded his GQ article by proposing that boxing should be made compulsory in all schools—which I translated to mean that he prefers Fight Club to feminism.
For my part, I wrote a comment piece for the left-wing Guardian newspaper saying—in the spirit of Abbott’s proposed gender armistice—that while she is right to say that there aren’t enough men engaged in conversations about manhood, it is little wonder when modern British men are described in such negative terms as being hyper-masculine, homophobic, misogynistic and obsessed with pornography.
More men charged into the gender peace talks to wage war.
Ally Fogg wrote an open letter to Abbott warning against politicians who ”unfairly and inaccurately portray modern young men and boys as violent, abusive, feral and destructive” and Amol Rajan, who used to be a Sports News Correspondent so probably prefers football to feminism, wrote in The Independent:
“Taking lectures from Abbott on masculinity is a bit like taking lectures from bin Laden on tall buildings. Can you imagine if a bloke gave a speech on a “crisis of femininity”? He’d be slaughtered. Whole queues of haters would form. Online, the abuse would be horrendous. And who do you think would lead the charge? That’s right—Diane Abbott.”
Then in the same newspaper, proving how independent The Independent tries to be, Matt Hill wrote:
“So what’s the answer to the malaise of the modern man? One word: feminism. This may sound odd; after all, we’re often told it’s the rise of women that has left us insecure and bewildered. But female empowerment isn’t a zero-sum game. The fact is, men have much more to gain from feminism than they have to lose – and it’s time we started talking about it.”
And with that I turned back to the sports reports and wondered whether I should watch Fight Club again this weekend—it’s been a while.
If men like me who are obsessed by men’s issues get turned off by this conversation is it any wonder most men don’t talk about it?
The problem here isn’t that men won’t talk about gender. The problem is that people like Abbott say they want men to talk about gender issues when what they actually mean is that they want men to talk about gender issues from a feminist perspective.
But this is short-sighted approach because there are only two types of people who are really passionate about talking about feminism and that’s feminists and anti-feminists.
And this is why I’m passionate about people having non-feminist conversations about men’s issues because whilst feminism will rarely be as interesting to men as Fight Club or football, men’s issues can be.
When you dismantle the left-wing, feminist context of Abbott’s speech you start to see we have some great content to work with. Check out these extracts:
“The problems we face as a country are huge. Many men are paying heavy costs, in shallow relationships, poor health and early death. In 2012, the Office for National Statistics gave average male life expectancy as 78.2 years and average female life expectancy as 82.3 years.
“Suicide, substance misuse, anti-social behaviour, “disappearing” from home, homelessness and a variety of behavioural problems are all markedly more common in men and boys. Men are also more likely to exhibit personality disorders.
“An analysis of the cancers that men and women ‘share’ by Cancer Research shows that men are 56% more likely to develop one of these cancers and 67% more likely to die.
“Men have measurably lower access to the social support of friends, relatives and community. Suicide is the single most common cause of death in men under 35. Credible evidence [suggests] that the suicide rate in England is linked to the current recession.
“The centrality of money in the lives of many men means that the loss of cultural certainty associated with unemployment can be more damaging for men than women.
“And our young boys are often behind in school, and increasingly have low self-esteem about their body image. Young men are failing to reach mature adulthood in massive numbers, mostly for lack of role-models and reasonable paths toward success.
“We have lots of boys who at an early age start to think of education as being not macho enough. Nearly one in five boys is being taught in a primary school without a single male teacher on the staff.”
“The radio silence around these issues cannot continue any longer.”
There are many issues highlighted in Abbott’s speech that even the staunchest anti-feminist would agree are problems for men and boys. There’s enough raw material there to make men’s issues as interesting as football and Fight Club, but you can’t do it by insisting that the conversation has to held within a feminist framework.
Abbot says that “we must allow men and boys” to talk and then lays down the law by saying that those conversations must be about men and boys exploring “sensitivity, emotions, sexuality, boundaries, communication, and family life”.
What if those aren’t the conversations that men and boys want to have? If Men’s Rights Activists began laying down the law on what conversations women and girls should be allowed to have, you can imagine the response.
The irony in all of this is that getting men interested in men’s issues from a political perspective is exactly the same as getting people interested in black issues or women’s issues—as pioneers like Abbott have been doing for decades.
Getting people interested in men’s issues starts with a few positive advocates for men and boys—just like we began with a handful of positive advocates for women’s issues and black issues.
Once we have enough positive advocates in place all we need to do is inform men of all the inequality and disadvantage and discrimination they face as men and boys—just like we have done for women and black people.
I know from experience that once men and boys get interested in the undeniable inequalities that men and boys face, they start to get really interested in finding political solutions to these personal problems.
As Diane Abbott said: “All the while, where the barren soil of inequality has sprung crucial and life-affirming grassroots politics for women, our men have little movement politics to speak of. Many British men have no authentic voice.”
Abbott may want to be careful what she wishes for. If we want to hear men’s authentic voices then show them the barren soil of inequalities that men and boys face and allow a crucial, life-affirming grassroots politics for men to spring up.
If we allow men and boys the space to talk about the issues men face then we will create a political movement—but it won’t be a movement that’s only filled with left-wing, feminist men. It will be as hairy and scary; as innovative and inspiring; as world-changing and life-affirming; as assertive and nurturing as men and boys in all our diversity authentically are.
This type of movement will be more interesting to men than feminism and it might even be more interesting than Fight Club and football.
- The Crisis of Masculinity in Britain
- We’ve Got to Learn to Talk About Men International Men’s Movement
- It’s Time to Stop Discriminating About Men