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):
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.