Let Men Critique Feminism Says University Lecturer

Feminist CritiqueWe need to make it okay for men to critique feminism without feeling scared of the reaction they might get, according to Dr Phil Goss, a Senior lecturer in counselling & psychotherapy at the University of Central Lancashire.

Writing in a letter in the Guardian in response to Jack O Sullivan’s article on misandry and matriarchy, Goss says that feminism has “opened up new ways of being a man”, but it has also left men facing a “psychological quandary”.

Many men in relationships with women are “still caught by the tensions inherent in mother-son relationships” he says, with “part of them yearning for relationship” while another part strives to define a male identity that is separate from her.

While there are similarities in the way that boys and girls develop, Goss says “male development, and attachment patterns, from infancy onwards is not the same as that of females” and that we need to face the reality of how this impacts our adult lives, particularly in the home.

According to Goss: “we need a narrative about male development that helps us to make sense of the problems boys and men face in the same way as feminism provided a narrative for women.”

“This also needs to be a narrative that makes it OK for men to critique feminism without feeling scared of the reaction they might get,” he concludes.

For more perspectives on how to address the problems that men and boys face buy your ticket today for the Third National Conference for Men and Boys.

—Photo Credit: geishaboy500/Flickr

We don’t need women’s permission – we can just go ahead and talk

March13#7-crop1This focus on women’s misandry and matriarchy just keeps us focused on women when we need to be talking about our stuff, says Dr David Bloodwood, from “bloodwood: beyond trousers“.

Diane Abbott’s announcement of a “crisis in masculinity” certainly got the issue of men into mainstream media.  Many of the responses have been critical: Abbott is circumscribing the debate with a feminist frame; her view of men is negative and even perjorative; she shouldn’t be criticising men – a man criticising women like that would be canned; there’s no crisis – men are doing well; there’s no crisis among men – the problem is feminism; there’s no crisis except in Abbott’s mind; and Abbott hasn’t asked men what they want.

While I agree that Abbott’s desired future masculinity of “earning, providing and belonging” is questionable, her speech is the first time ever that a sitting politician from a major UK political party has bothered to make a serious statement about the situation of men overall, rather than single issues, and has argued that our society collectively must address men’s issues.

Certainly, there are gaps in her proposals, just as there are gaps in her understanding of men’s experience of gender.  But this is precisely because of her main point: men don’t talk about gender.  Because we don’t talk about it, most of us have limited language to describe our experiences.  And because men don’t talk about our experiences, women don’t understand men’s experience of gender either.

Sure, there are a very small number of men to whom men’s issues are central to their life and their work (I am one such).  But between us we have not yet been able to frame men’s gender issues so as to engage millions of men in conversation about them.  Instead, as Jack O’Sullivan says, “smart men play safe and stay out of it.”

O’Sullivan says feminism reinforces matriarchy and shuts down men when they speak about gender.  To remedy this he calls for “democratic personal, private and domestic spaces where men feel comfortable to speak… [which] might generate a more open, less condemning public space”.  Such spaces already exist, and have done for 40 years in the form of men’s groups.  The first men’s group in the UK was held in 1971 in Brighton, which plays host to the  3rd UK Conference for Men and Boys in September.

It is crucial that men do have comfortable spaces where we can explore things which are difficult to speak about, and to explore together what our shared experience of gender is.  But despite the well-known existence of men’s groups, very few men have engaged with them.  And so far, men’s groups have not had a noticeable impact on the quality or atmosphere of gender debate.

Nor are they likely to, precisely because they are not public.  In order to engage in public debate about gender we simply need to claim the space to do so on the basis that we are gendered and therefore we have a right to participate.  Like O’Sullivan, I have had my share of personal attacks when I have stood up and spoken.  This is part and parcel of public debate.  Witness the response to Abbott, which is overwhelmingly critical.  But criticism need not put us off, as it hasn’t put off feminists.

Feminists pioneered the fight to get gender onto the table as a major category of social and political organisation.  Because feminists were gender pioneers they have a head start in terms of thinking gender and examining gender in their own lives.  And it is understandable that feminists easily fall into the “pioneer fallacy” that women’s views of gender are all there is to gender. This history can look like matriarchy, and to a limited extent that’s true.

But men don’t need to attack matriarchy to engage publicly about gender issues.  We can accept the benefits of this history: because gender is now being examined, we can now examine how we ourselves are gendered.  We can acknowledge women’s extensive knowledge about gender from their point of view.  We can accept the human failing of women falling into the “pioneer fallacy”.  And we can stand firm on the basis that gender is never going to be understood by women or by men until men’s perspective on gender is incorporated into the foundations of gender theory.  From this point of view men bring a vital and much-needed viewpoint to the gender debate.

Abbott says many things which need to be said.  And her view clearly is that things can be better for men, and that society collectively has a responsibility to ensure this happens.  I will say again: no national politician has ever made such a statement.  The content of her vision is certainly thin, but she deserves credit for the step she has taken.  The vast majority of men do not talk about gender.  For those men who feel we are already talking about this stuff – we need to build on the space Abbott has created in the public arena.

Sure, by all means tackle misandry and work towards dismantling matriarchy.  But such a focus is mostly on what women are saying and doing – which easily recycles the view that gender is about women, and means women continue to set the agenda. So it perpetuates the view that men can’t talk about gender until women let us.

We do not need women’s permission – we can simply go ahead and talk.  Above all, the small number of men for whom gender IS a major issue need to keep experimenting with how to give language to men’s side of gender so that all of us men can get talking about it.

Get talking at the 3rd UK Conference for Men and Boys.   See the Program here.   Get your  Tickets here.

Dr David Bloodwood is a member of the Conference Team. His clothing label, “bloodwood: beyond trousers“, offers new clothes for new forms of men’s participation in social life.

Male Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Pressure to be a Success Symbol

Think Tanks, Labour Party, Conservative Party, Diane Abbot, Jon Cruddas, IPPR, Demos, masculinity crisis, fathers, thinking men, sector gathering,The number of boys in the UK with eating disorders is a timely reminder that we have a body image problem says the host of the Third National Conference for Men and Boys, Glen Poole writing in The Guardian.

According to new research by the Institute of Child Health at University College London, the number of diagnosed cases of eating disorders rose 13% between 2003 and 2009 with the highest rates of new cases found among boys aged ten to 14.

In March, teachers claimed that the promotion of ideal body images in the media is reducing boys’ confidence in their own bodies, a problem estimated to effect 51% of boys.

There’s a well-worn but useful saying in gender debates that while men look at women as sex objects, women look at men as success objects. In simplistic terms this translates into ideal cultural images of men who are strong and successful and women who are sexy and slim.

It is perhaps not surprising then that men in general are known to underestimate their body weight, while women tend to overestimate. As a result we have men convincing themselves “it’s all muscle” and women convincing themselves “it’s all fat”.

Recent research from Australia found that men with a high drive for muscularity, as in muscle dysmorphia of ‘bigorexia’, had a greater preference for traditional masculine roles, whereas men with a high desire for thinness (as in anorexia nervosa) displayed greater adherence to traditional feminine roles.

One study found that men were more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own bodies after they were exposed to pictures of muscular men, while another revealed that men’s body self-esteem was linked to how hopeful they felt about romantic relationships.

Glen says:

“Last week I was invited to the Government Equalities Office with representatives of charities like Men Get Eating Disorders Too to discuss body image and the role of fathers as potential change agents. I look forward to seeing some of those experts at this year’s conference and making sure that these important issues are given a wider platform.”

To read the full article see: Eating Disorders: how do we improve the body image of our boys and girls? 

To book you tickets the the Third National Conference for Men and Boys today see this page.

—Photo Credit: geishaboy500/Flickr

Time to Tackle Misandry and Dismantle the Matriarchy?

thinking men version 2We often hear about Misogyny and Patriarchy in gender debates – but not so much about Misandry and Matriarchy – so it was surprising to see Jack O Sullivan tackling the subject in today’s Guardian.

Jack is an occasional commentator on men’s issues – notably fatherhood – and has been around the debate since the nineties when he co-founded Fathers Direct (now the Fatherhood Institute).

According to Jack:

“Feminism has reinforced rather than challenged – or even acknowledged – matriarchy. It is an environment in which male spokesmen for change are unlikely to be nurtured. When they do articulate their views or concerns, they are often ridiculed or ignored by women. Misandry can be as nasty as misogyny and is as widespread (just check the internet). Smart men play safe and stay out of it. We’re so conditioned, we don’t even talk to each other.

“Why are we ridiculed when we talk about ourselves? Perhaps because men are assumed to be inherently powerful, with nothing to complain about. It’s a mistake. We urgently require an updated theory of gender that acknowledges there are, and always have been, discrete areas of female power and male powerlessness, not simply female powerlessness. Patriarchy did not rule alone. There was also matriarchy – and there still is.

“A revolution is taking place in masculinity, but much of it is below the radar and denied, even when well-documented. This transformation is about much more than “helping” women and addressing their complaints. If we want to hear about it, then we need democratic personal, private and domestic spaces where men feel comfortable to speak. That might generate a more open, less condemning public space. Until then, women will continue to find themselves shouting into the silence about issues that we need to confront together.”

For those who want space to talk about men’s issues then a great place to start is The Thinking Men event during this year’s conference on Thursday 26th September.

FURTHER READING:

To find out more about the Thinking Men event click here now.

To read Jack’s full article see The Guardian.

To read more about Misandry read Ally Fogg’s blog post here.

—Photo Credit: geishaboy500/Flickr

An Invitation to People Who Think Differently About Men and Boys

3090361925_dbbba335e5_z

An Open Invitation From The 3rd National Conference for Men and Boys

Dear Thinkers

Do you think differently about men and boys? Have you been drawn to the recent debate about “masculinity in crisis”?

If so we’d like to invite you to take part in the Thinking Men conference in Brighton this September.

The event is part of the Third National Conference for Men and Boys and will bring together some of the UK’s leading thinkers on men’s issues to explore what we have in common, how we think differently and what difference we can make by working together more effectively in the future.

We’re inviting a broad spectrum of academics, policy experts, political thinkers, media commentators, charity leaders, public sector bosses and campaigners on men’s issues to get together to think differently about men and boys.

And if there are people you think should be taking part in this conversation then we’d like you to send us your suggestions.

The day has four key elements:

  • A meeting of minds where you get the opportunity to connect with people who think about men’s issues in a similar way to you (eg people who have the same political perspective or values)
  • An opportunity to exchange ideas and information on key men’s issues such as boys’ in education, men’s health, male suicide, men and violence, fatherhood etc
  • Creative sessions where you can explore new solutions to old problems such as the changing role of men, engaging men in gender issues, making men’s issues a political issue etc
  • A time to reflect on the day, consider new opportunities and commit to take action.

We’d love you to get involved in this event  so if you’d like to take part in the Thinking Men conference on Thursday 26th September 2013 then why not take action now by:

Booking your tickets online today or getting in touch with us for more information

And whatever action you take do please free to forward this email to everyone you know who would be happy to hear about this event

Many Thanks

The Conference Team 

email: allmenproject@live.com

call: Glen Poole on 07981 334222 or David Bloodwood on 07776 001823

Call to Men’s Helpline Triple Thanks to Coronation Street

Mark Brooks of The ManKind Initiative—who is one of the regular contributors to the National Conference for Men and Boys—has thanked Coronation Street for making a difference to the lives of male victims of domestic abuse

Following Coronation Street’s success at the British Soap Awards for its cutting edge domestic abuse storyline involving the character Tyrone Dobbs as a male victim, UK charity The ManKind Initiative, believes the storyline has made a difference to hundreds of thousands of men who suffer in silence behind their front door.

The charity experienced treble the number of calls to its national helpline when the episodes featured the domestic abuse storyline (including from mothers and sisters wanting help for their son or brother). One caller1 remarked that after seeing the storyline with his abusive partner, he wrote the number of the charity’s helpline number down, called and has now escaped from the relationship he was in.

The charity also believes the storyline has given more confidence to the 500,0002 men who suffer from partner abuse each year to get help and also realise they are not alone in suffering in this way. The storyline will also have opened the eyes of the public that domestic abuse also happens to men as well as women.

4450605343_61a60555f5_nMark Brooks, Chairman of the ManKind Initiative, said, “Coronation Street, Alan and Natalie deserve all the plaudits for such an accurate portrayal of the domestic abuse men can face behind their front doors.

“The storyline has changed the lives of so many men in giving them the confidence to get help and opening the eyes of the public that men are also victims of this terrible crime. As a charity working in this field, we cannot thank them enough.”

At the British Soap Awards 2013, the domestic abuse storyline won actor Alan Halsall, the best actor award, Natalie Gumede, the most dramatic performance award and villain of the year, and Coronation Street itself for the best storyline.

According to government figures2 in 2011/12, 4% of men (491,000) experienced partner abuse.

The issue of how we improve the help given to male victims of domestic violence is sure to be a topic at this year’s conference.

Make sure you are part of this year’s event by booking your ticket today.

—Photo Credit: Flickr/jayneandd

10 Views On The “Crisis of Masculinity”

7307146230_bf84be6cb3_nIt isn’t very often that men’s issues make headlines so we thought we’d capture and celebrate some of the highlights from last week’s media debate about men and masculinities.

The sudden media interest in men’s issues was sparked by Diane Abbott MP, who delivered a speech at the think tank Demos about the “Crisis of Masculinity”.

According to Isabel Hardman of The New Statesman, Abbott is Labour’s shadow public health minister, and so “she’s well worth listening to for indications of how Labour’s thinking…. is going to develop in the run-up to the 2015 election”.

And Abbott certainly generated more headlines than the party’s policy co-ordinator, Jon Cruddas, who delivered a speech on family policy at the beginning of the week saying that “Labour will value the role of fathers”.

Early previews of Abbott’s speech, revealed that she would say: “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.”

And so the debate began before the final speech was even delivered – and here are 10 of the top views from a broad spectrum of contributors (click on the headers for the full commentary):

1. Glen Poole, Host of The Third National Conference for Men and Boys

Writing in The Guardian, Glen Poole said: “Looking at a preview’s of Abbott’s speech, it becomes apparent that Labour’s new message about valuing fathers is underpinned with a familiar, negative narrative about disaffected men who are hyper-masculine, homophobic, misogynistic and obsessed with pornography.

“Abbott is right to say that there aren’t enough men engaged in conversations about manhood, but is it any wonder when modern masculinity is described in such negative terms?”

2. Tony Parsons, Journalist, Broadcaster and Author

Parsons concluded that “Diane Abbott appears to know nothing about British men”.

Writing in both GQ and The Mirror saying: “Men have never been more in touch with their emotions, and more honest about expressing them. Just because they are not crying in the 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.”

3. Amol Rajan, Editor of Independent Voices

Rajan was not overly impressed by Abbott’s speech, saying: “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.”

4. Penny Laurie, a New Statesman Blogger

Laurie was present when Abbott delivered here speech and wrote about it in The Guardian. She said:

“Nobody seems to have bothered to ask men and boys whether they actually want to be “breadwinners”, or whether female independence is really their biggest worry at a time when youth unemployment is more that 20%.

“In the real world, not all men want to be “breadwinners”, just like not all men want to be violent, or to have power over women. What men do want, however, is to feel needed, and wanted, and useful, and loved.

“They aren’t alone in this – it’s one of the most basic human instincts, and for too long we have been telling men and boys that the only way they can be useful is by bringing home money to a doting wife and kids, or possibly by dying in a war.”

5. Jake Wallis Simons, a Features Writer at The Telegraph

Wallis Simons was the unimpressed voice of the right saying:

“This is not an insight into “modern Britain”. Rather, it is a glimpse of a malicious, irrational, Abbottsean Britain, in which the traditional masculine qualities such as stoicism and decisiveness are derided, apart from when they are observed in previous generations; where men are criticised for working too hard with one breath, and not hard enough with the next; and all the proposed solutions are so swamped in woolliness, abstraction and management speak that there is no real meaning at all.”

6. Ally Fogg, Journalist at The Guardian, The Independent and elsewhere 

Ally Fogg wrote a open letter to Abbott comparing her speech to Penny Laurie’s Guardian article (see above), saying:

“Like you, she appears to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the myriad social and economic issues confronting boys and young men today only really become a problem when they impact upon others – particularly upon women. Once again, to echo Glen Poole, a debate which should have been about how young men have problems has become a debate about how young men are problems.”

7. Matt Hill, Journalist at the Telegraph, Liberal Conspiracy and elsewhere

Matt Hill, writing in  The Independent, was supportive of Abbott, saying:

“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.

“The battle of the sexes has no winners, only losers. Feminism means justice for women, but for men it can mean the freedom to laugh, cry, dance, and be proud – and to choose between watching Arsenal or Strictly Come Dancing. A world in which men and women were truly equal would allow us to explore our human identity in all its variety and complexity. That has to worth it for the price of a few seats at the boardroom table.”

8. Claire-Louise Meadows, Men’s Rights Advocate 

Meadows, writing at the men’s rights blog A Voice For Men, said:

“My first instinct, on reading this article in the Daily Mail today, was to praise Diane Abbott for having the courage to raise the issue of problems men face in contemporary Britain. But then I actually read the article and found myself astounded at how superficial, unfocused and watered-down her argument actually is.

“Still, I am at least heartened at the fact that the article goes onto say Labour is looking at a raft of ideas based around men’s concerns, and that Jon Cruddas seems to be talking sense. But I am not holding my breath.”

9. James Heartfield, Writer and Lecturer

Heartfield questioned not only if there was a “crisis of masculinity” but whether or not masculinity exists, saying:

“The debate assumes that there is something called ‘masculinity’. But evidence from European Values Survey and the British Social Attitudes survey suggests that differences in attitudes between men and women are not so great and closing all the time. Men are doing more housework that they used to, and women are going out drinking more often.

“Though Abbott cites a rise in homophobia as one symptom of the crisis of masculinity, men poll slightly more liberal on gay rights than women in the European Values Survey, and all are becoming more accepting. Men and women’s views on work, on politics, on violence, on children and family are pretty similar. It might seem that men are another species, with their own secret masculinity club…but men are the same species as women, and there is no such club.”

10. Robert Elms, Writer and Broadcaster

Elms dedicated an hour to the topic on his radio show on BBC London, speaking with a variety of guests including Amol Rajan, Glen Poole and Professor Brendan Gough. Elms said:

“I thought the speech she made was rather ham-fisted. I also thought: would  a male be able to get away with making such an attacking speech about contemporary femininity – I doubt it.

“But I do think that there are some important issues about what it means to be a man in th 21st century – how we should comport ourselves; how we should bring up our sons; what kind of role models they should be having

“I do think Diane Abbott went over the top but maybe some of the points she raised have some salience.”

Of course, if you want to make up your own mind about Abbott’s speech then the best way to do this is to read it for yourself. You can find it now on the Demos website.

And to join us for more great discussions at the Third National Conference for Men and Boys, buy your tickets here today.