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Guest blog: 'There's always been a "crisis of masculinity", Diane Abbott'

(75 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 16-May-13 12:21:54



This morning, Diane Abbott MP gave a speech in which she spoke about the 'crisis of masculinity' which has, she says, left a generation of men "isolated and misdirected by a boundless consumer outlook, economic instability and whirlwind social change."

In today's guest blog, Mumsnet blogger Glosswitch takes a closer look at Abbott's claims.

What do you think? Let us know here on the thread - and if you blog on it, don't forget to post your URLs.

As the mother of boys, I have no desire for them to be 'in crisis' over their male identities. Hence perhaps I should be grateful to Diane Abbott for highlighting that "rapid economic and social change has affected male identity, and created a number of largely unspoken problems". After all, it's not as though anyone ever speaks about a crisis in masculinity - apart from all the bloody time, that is (thank you, Steve Biddulph).

I was born in 1975. Looking back, it may not have been the most liberated of times for women but even so, I can't recall any point in my life at which someone, somewhere, wasn't saying "now it's time we focussed on the men". There were The Two Ronnies with The Worm That Turned (a joke, yes, but it didn't stop my dad and his mates nodding knowingly while casting wary glances at their kitchen-bound wives). There was Neil Lyndon with No More Sex War, with its cover helpfully illustrated by a bare-legged, jack-booted feminist from hell. There was Simon Baron-Cohen in The Essential Difference, using rational, manly science to argue that society "is likely to be biased towards accepting the extreme female brain and stigmatizes the extreme male brain". Honestly, it never ends! And now Abbott"s jumped on the bandwagon, claiming to argue from the perspective of "a card-carrying feminist", despite sounding not a million miles away from arch-sexist James Delingpole in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago.

Let us be clear: men have problems. Women have problems. Sometimes women and men even have the same problems! For instance, when Abbott complains of a society in which "British manhood is now shaped more by market expectations - often unachievable ones - than by fathers, family values, a sense of community spirit and perseverance". I wonder when women were given the message that market expectations don't apply to them. I seem to have missed it. I too get home too late to spend quality time with my kids. I too don't get to play out fantasies of womanhood that were supposedly embodied by my mother and grandmother. Why should we idealise the past for men and the present for women? It's an easy story to tell but it's just not true.

For instance, let's look at this extract from the draft of Abbott's Demos speech:

"Thinking about old expressions of masculinity is like flicking through a dusty, well-worn, black and white photo album from a loft - the men who toiled in the iron, steel and coal industries, in shipbuilding, and pre-mechanised farming. The soldier, the bank manager, the breadwinner, the family man. Yesterday's heroes, in the fantasies and the realities of British life, were affirmed, in part, by physical strength, silent stoicism, and athletic daring."

Hmm. This seems more like an episode of Heartbeat, topped up by a few selective re-readings of Victor Book for Boys, than anything based in reality. It's as authentic as my grandma's Cath Kidston-style bliss, flitting around with a feather duster while she waited for her 'breadwinner' husband to come home (the man who eventually left her, penniless, for a younger woman, because that's what responsible breadwinners could do before feminists got all uppity about women having financial independence). If men are struggling today there's a complex web of class-based, social, racial and sexual inequalities with which we need to engage on an individual, clear-headed basis. Feminism, especially the much-derided intersectional feminism, provides a good model for this. The broad 'masculinity in crisis' approach just doesn't work.

The fact is that right now any instance of men pissing around can be cast as 'masculinity in crisis'. It can be minor pissing - over-doing it on the harvest mead - or major, out-and-out pissing - going on crusade, for instance. Looking back on my (brief) studies of medieval literature, I'd say the whole of Hartman von Aue's Iwein counts as 'masculinity in crisis'. As for Henry the Eighth? It's masculinity in crisis a-go-go. It's an essential plot device for any history book or gender-focussed magazine article, this whole thing where men have to think "who am I? what is my role? should I go out and slay some more dragons/beat the shit out of a random stranger outside Weatherspoons?" To be fair, men are only allowed to do this for around twenty years - anything beyond that and the crisis is less 'masculinity in' and more 'midlife'. In the meantime, though, 'masculinity in crisis' is the all-purpose rag-bag into which any negative things associated with men can be chucked - regardless of who is suffering and why.

Very occasionally, femininity is allowed to be 'in crisis', too. Ladette culture counts as femininity in crisis, but only insofar as it's a minor version of male pissing about, a sort of masculinity in crisis lite, if you will. Otherwise women do have identity crises, but these tends to be reduced to indecision over career options, panicking over the biological clock and debating whether or not a woman can 'have it all' (thus making all crisis-ridden women sound middle-class and self-indulgent, as opposed to all crisis-ridden men, who are working-class and put-upon, even if they are actually well-paid right-wing journalists).

But is it really appropriate to lump together criminality, violence against women and homophobia with depression and a high rate of suicide amongst men? Are the causes the same? Is it fair on men as a group to assume that they are? Or to at least imply that the more men are suffering due to a lack of choice, the more they'll turn on women? I don't suspect the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson suffer low self-esteem and a sense that they've no purpose in life. All the same, I know plenty of men who are nominally 'less successful' but have far more balanced, humane attitudes towards their female counterparts (for instance, my partner, a primary teacher - aka a poor man in a 'woman's job' - wouldn't think of telling a woman to "calm down, dear").

It's not that we shouldn't talk about how inequality affects men. We have to, all of us. I just wonder why, whenever we do, we have to create such a false narrative regarding how women and men actually live their lives.

Do have a look at Glosswitch's blog over here - and if you like this post, don't forget to share it on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Lottapianos Thu 16-May-13 13:39:52

Great post Glosswitch. I have to say I do take Diane Abbott's 'feminist' credentials with a pinch of salt - she seems to roll it out when it suits her but I doubt how much interest she has in making other women's lives better when it comes down to it. Apparently she was absolutely foul to Oona King who was the only other black female MP in the last 90s/early 00s instead of being supportive of her.

While I absolutely agree that feminism benefits men just as much as women, this just sounds like more 'what about the menz?' bellyaching. Surely there are other things she could be commenting about in the week that 7 men were found guilty of drugging, raping, torturing and selling young women in Oxford?

VivMac Thu 16-May-13 14:05:50

Excellent read - summed up for me with your point "Let us be clear: men have problems. Women have problems. Sometimes women and men even have the same problems!". It's another facet of banging on about how men and women think differently (The Athena Doctrine etc.) Seems to me people think in different ways because they are different people, not just because they are either male ("isolated and misdirected") or female. It bothers me that by giving people an "off-the-peg" excuse for their behaviour they somehow no longer have responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

ChunkyPickle Thu 16-May-13 14:18:17

I reckon the reason men are in crisis, yet apparently women aren't is that now we're (a little more) able to take on each other's roles they've realised that a woman's traditional role is largely shit, and they'd much rather go back to not having to think or hear about it, let alone perform that role themselves.

Lottapianos Thu 16-May-13 14:22:48

Agree 100% with VivMac and ChunkyPickle

It reminds me of the old 'men and women are inherently suited to different tasks because of their biological make-up doncha know' school of crap thought. For example, women - child-rearing, cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry; men - wiring plugs, putting up shelves, mowing the lawn.

Interesting that the 'men' tasks are all things that only need doing every now and then, but the 'women' tasks are the things that need doing every single day or even more than once a day. Funny that hmm

Brilliant post Glosswitch, particularly the final paragraph: "It's not that we shouldn't talk about how inequality affects men. We have to, all of us. I just wonder why, whenever we do, we have to create such a false narrative regarding how women and men actually live their lives."

Quangle Thu 16-May-13 17:12:15

Quite agree.

Also why is masculinity one thing? As if it's like a fragile glass vase set on a pedestal and somebody (women) keeps wobbling it. If only they would stop wobbling it it would stop being in crisis.

No. Masculinity is not like that and nor is femininity. Both of them (should) evolve constantly, around the needs of the society we have and the society we want.

The problem is that men have not traditionally had to do a lot of evolving. They have set the norms of society and that's it. Now lots of evolving is needed. They have done some but more is coming, whether they like it or not.

In the traditional model of femininity I should be at home cooking and having babies and being a chattel. I would consequently not have to provide for myself - that being the contract (I belong to you - you provide for me). But no one provides for me now. That contract went away (thank god). And I provide for myself and my children. I have evolved to become effective in the workplace and to take charge of things that were previously not my domain (driving a car, managing finances, managing a business). What's so wrong with masculinity evolving so that they get to engage in an altering society just as I do - adaptively and constructively?

Why must we always hark back to the days when they were fixing cars and putting up shelves? How about leaping forward to a time when they get all the options - the good and the bad? They get 100% engagement with families and children (good). But with that goes caring responsibilities (sometimes bad) and drudgery (always bad). They also get full access to the workplace (good) and much greater freedom than they have now to be who they want to be and dress how they want and express other sides of themselves than the macho one (very good). Maybe that's a bit frightening - the idea that men could explore other sides of themselves just as we have.

Jux Thu 16-May-13 17:33:52

Completely agree with ChunkyPickle, VivMac and LottaPianos.

It is strange - or not very - that men's little jobs round the house are no more than once a week things. I do think is is behind whatever 'identity crisis' they have.

TBH I don't think that any of us, men or women, are actually in crisis, it's just that as the gender roles are becoming less polarised women are gaining more independence and men are not.

childof79 Thu 16-May-13 17:53:46

Great blog. I can see that masculinity is in crisis - most of the men around at the moment were brought up in an era where they probably told "provide for your family" and that was what they were expected to do. All of a sudden women are getting on and realising they don't need a man to provide for them; they don't even need a man to mow the lawn and fix the shelves - so what is a man to do?

Being a SAH was not something men were brought up with and not just that, they thought they would be able to provide for their families but a lot of them have been made redundant and can't. The next generation of men will be better equipped - they will have seen their fathers helping out and will see the need to be flexible about homelife and work.

nononsensemumof2 Thu 16-May-13 18:04:09

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nononsensemumof2 Thu 16-May-13 20:00:27

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Sparrowp Thu 16-May-13 20:17:03

Jux "men's little jobs round the house are no more than once a week things. I do think is is behind whatever 'identity crisis' they have."

Are you saying men need to do more washing up?
Worth a try..
grin

ItsYonliMe Thu 16-May-13 21:25:02

Personally I feel there has been a "crisis of femininity" for several years. What other reason is there for so many females acting more masculine than ever; driving as if they are loaded up with testosterone, defacing their bodies with tattoos, behaving loudly and aggressively in public (we all see this) etc etc etc

ssd Thu 16-May-13 21:29:07

Dianne Abbott, isnt she the one who said private schools were wrong then sent her son to one?

that sort of makes any blog she feels like writing a waste of time for me

next

BasilBabyEater Thu 16-May-13 22:05:41

"I reckon the reason men are in crisis, yet apparently women aren't is that now we're (a little more) able to take on each other's roles they've realised that a woman's traditional role is largely shit, and they'd much rather go back to not having to think or hear about it, let alone perform that role themselves."

Arf. Quite. Men are in crisis because they were brought up to expect privileges which they still in the main get - higher pay, more respect, sexual access to women on their terms, the right to have their desires, interests and welfare prioritised over those of the women in their lives - but every now and then, that privilege is challenged which throws them into a tizzy.

I blame their hormones. wink

Jewcy Thu 16-May-13 23:28:18

Otherwise women do have identity crises, but these tends to be reduced to indecision over career options, panicking over the biological clock and debating whether or not a woman can 'have it all'

I'm sorry, but these 'crises' affect only the middle-classes. Go to any council estate in Britain and you will not find women troubled by career options, biological clocks and 'having it all'. These 'crises' are the invention of middle-class women.

Working-class men have lost everything in terms of identity and I am sick of feminists turning the spotlight on themselves - yet again.

BasilBabyEater Thu 16-May-13 23:31:56

Really?

Working class women don't have any worries about their fertility, when to have children, what to do about their jobs, etc?

Bollocks don't they.

You can't talk about the so-called crisis of masculinity without talking about feminism btw.

Jewcy Thu 16-May-13 23:39:43

Yes, really, Basil, do you want to come round to this council estate here? There are no fertility issues, love; they're popping them out like no tomorrow. Jobs? There are none, love. Having it all? Having just a tiny bit of what your having would suit us just fine.

On estates like this one we don't ponce around in Boden fretting about our Ocado delivery being late when we have a Very Important Meeting at our management consultancy. We worry that our men can't get jobs and are losing their already-eroded self-confidence. Crime around here is horrendous and children are feral. Feminism hasn't reached these labyrinthine estates but Abbott's been here and she knows her shit.

BasilBabyEater Thu 16-May-13 23:48:11

What a patronising load of shit. Portraying working class women as if they're idiots who don't have an idea in their heads, is crap. You have no idea of the backgrounds of people posting here and you're embarrassing yourself by assuming that everyone is a boden-wearing ocado delivery recipient.

It's late so I'm not going to stay up and cut into sleep time by arguing with someone who thinks in stereotypes. Good night.

Jewcy Thu 16-May-13 23:49:21

I reckon the reason men are in crisis, yet apparently women aren't is that now we're (a little more) able to take on each other's roles they've realised that a woman's traditional role is largely shit, and they'd much rather go back to not having to think or hear about it, let alone perform that role themselves.

Bloody hell, you lot are outrageous advocates for being middle-class. The working-classes have always shared domestic duties; always. Men around here are washing towelling nappies and hanging them on the line; they're shopping: Asda's full of them; there are as many dads as mums at the school gates at 3pm. Not much gardening gets done around here but that's council estates for you. No pride, you see. Nothing is ours. There are no jobs, you see.

The middle-class women have them all.

Jewcy Thu 16-May-13 23:51:08

Basil, stereotypes, you say? I challenge you to come here. PM me and I'll give you my address.

happybubblebrain Fri 17-May-13 00:40:46

The only men I know that don't have jobs walked out of them because (a) they couldn't be bothered; (b) they wanted to be 'self-employed' and/or claiming benefits to avoid paying any kind of child maintenance and (c) needed a fag break every 20 minutes which the boss wasn't too happy about. Zero to do with middle class women taking all the jobs.

Crisis of masculinity - pull the other one. They're just lazy and selfish, plain and simple.

Dervel Fri 17-May-13 03:32:56

I believe something is being missed here. When Diane Abbott talks about a "crisis of masculinity", pretty much everything of value she says (and there appears to be quite a lot) is pretty much eclipsed by bringing gender into it.

She talks about the increasing pornification of society, and she's right, but this isn't an issue that only effect males. Young women are just as vulnerable to acquiring a scewed view of what sex is as young men, and you are not going to solve the problem by targetting just one gender in the equation.

She also goes on to talk about all the psychological pollution we get from the media and the things marketed to us. Again this issue doesn't just affect one gender, and again we're not going to tackle this if we get bogged down into a conflict of gender obsfucating the point.

To be honest according to my limited perspective, we just live in an increasingly selfish society. I don't think gender has anything to with it. I think we have a generation of people that haven't had particularly good role models and this is just going to get worse and worse.

On the subject of doing the washing up I think that highlights the situation perfectly. Life has got a lot of jobs that need doing that are drudgery, fewer people are doing them. They are thankless, while everyone wants them to get done, they aren't willing to do them.

Now before anyone tries to read between the lines and get the wrong end of the stick. This is not about the enfranchisement and rights of women. Making women equal partners in society does not have to lead to selfishness in society as a whole. That happens when we screw it up collectively, it's not soley on men or on women to make sure the washing up gets done, it's on all of us.

When Diane Abbott goes on about the lack of decent "masculine" role models once again she only hit's half the target. Until all the little boys and little girls both are raised to dream big and make their own personal mark on the world, hand in hand with taking their share of responsibility for both themselves and the society they live in, and BOTH genders have people they look up to that aren't pornstars, footballers, footballer's wives, reality TV stars who are famous for being famous, it won't change.

I also query why we can't learn a great deal about how to be a complete and whole human being from role models from other genders? I believe if we aim to be good, capable people it won't really matter what gender we are or where we learned it from.

bleedingheart Fri 17-May-13 07:24:38

Really thought-provoking blog.
Whilst I think Abbott's view is blinkered, I do think so much damage was done to whole communities but particularly men of working age when industries were run down. The value of work, the ability to provide for yourself, independence, achieving something you could physically see and use, routes for non-academic success... All of this has been taken away and the people working as cabinet makers etc now are middle class blokes who've taken their bonus and dropped out of the rat race.
The amount of teenagers I know who would love this kind of work but will end up on JSA or in shop work they despise is unreal (male and female).

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