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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+

Springdiva Tue 21-May-13 13:55:17

AnnTeak, I was thinking back to my grandfather's time when jobs in the countryside were often seasonal, eg harvest time, Likewise I would imagine with shipbuilding etc, I'm sure the shipyard owners didn't pay people who weren't working, also jobs often had tied housing so you couldn't leave or complain without losing your home.

Jobs for life came more with the welfare state - nhs workers, civil servants. Also mining but I would imagine that the others depended on supply and demand.

There was unreliable contraception so women were pregnant or caring for small children. Life expectancy was 60 not 90.

Things have changed v quickly and thinking that you can turn the clock back to 1950 is not going to happen. Also there will be a huge number of retirees with time on their hands. What will they do with their time? Or long term unemployed. Will we all just watch daytime tv.

BasilBabyEater Mon 20-May-13 19:11:35

Oh FGS this was not the traditional female role.

Jewcy has talked an awful lot of nonsense, but she's right about working class women always having worked.

MsAnnTeak Mon 20-May-13 10:32:07

Springdiva you from the South ?
"It is a serious problem that the jobs which gave status to men in the past eg miners, car workers etc have largely gone. But in fact these jobs have only been around for a generation or two, that doesn't make it good that they are no longer there, just saying because it means society has to change and men's egos need to depend on something other than how much they earn. There needs to be ways of finding pride and fulfillment from something other than work."

Car manufacturing may have only been around for a generation or two. Ship building, steel making, chemical industry, mining, factories churning out products, guaranteed apprenticeship, a job regardless of how academic you were, around for centuries wiped out within a generation, or two. Areas of the UK where Poundland has to close trading due lack of business.
Egos weren't built on how much you earned but a basic for your own self respect was being able to earn a living wage, enough to provide food and a roof over the heads of the offspring you produced and the woman you married.

Men's pride and fulfilment from something other than paid work I presume could come from to role of homemaker ie. keeping a clean home, well mannered children, able to produce home made goods, caring for family, neighbours ... the traditional female role which many women were quite happy with until we were told it was more important to go out and earn a living ?

Quangle Sun 19-May-13 21:32:09

Are you talking about working class or underclass? You are eliding the two.

I can't accept Mick Philpott as a representative example of a working class man. And I don't think you do either because in your version they are all sharing the childcare and doing the weekly shop.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 21:17:52

Flora, I have decided I have not been very nice to you and I would like to apologise for that. I will take my leave and hopefully you can continue to contribute to the thread. I am sorry.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 20:15:27

Flora, I thought you were doing one?

FloraFox Sun 19-May-13 20:09:49

So definitely not working class then and also talking more nonsense Jewcy. You don't sound very empathetic.

I agree springdiva, this does seem to coincide with her son's age / experience.

Springdiva Sun 19-May-13 19:35:31

Does this coincide with Dianne Abbot's son leaving uni. I think it's about the right time.
So really she has just realised that life isn't a dawdle, even for privately educated uni grads and is, possibly, transferring that view to men in general.

It is a serious problem that the jobs which gave status to men in the past eg miners, car workers etc have largely gone. But in fact these jobs have only been around for a generation or two, that doesn't make it good that they are no longer there, just saying because it means society has to change and men's egos need to depend on something other than how much they earn. There needs to be ways of finding pride and fulfillment from something other than work.

In fact it applies to women too, especially older women who are a major section of the unemployed nowadays. Don't know what the answer is but to demand more jobs is daft as so much is automated, or being done in sweat shops in the east, it's not going to return to the UK unless people are happy to work for a pittance.

OP said All the same, I know plenty of men who are nominally 'less successful' but have far more balanced, humane attitudes towards their female counterparts so this is the direction we need to go.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 18:53:45

*possibly

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 18:48:48

Flora, you clearly know nothing of socio-economic depravation so, yes, I think it is best you bow out, because until you can empathise with the underbelly of society you cannot possible speak of the supposed achievements of feminism and you most definitely won't understand the men spoken about by Diane Abbott.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 18:44:58

I'm not talking about his crimes, Quangle. I am talking about him as a representative of the underclass in Britain. Why are you insisting on sidestepping the class issue?

Quangle Sun 19-May-13 18:29:02

Mick Philpott is closer to a psychopath than anything representative of class. That kind of control is really nothing to do with class.

FloraFox Sun 19-May-13 17:43:14

Jewcy you still haven't said if you are working class. Don't bother though, it's clear you're not and I wouldn't believe you now if you said you were.

Of course there are people out there like Mick Philpott but they are not representative of working class people in general. Anyway, this is derailing the thread so I'm out.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 17:12:54

Flora, where do you think the people on Jeremy Kyle hail from? Mars? Did you believe that Mick Philpott was a cartoon character? Or his wife? How about Tia and her crack-head mother and her lover, the grandmother and the protagonist himself - Hazell? All a figment of my imagination, I suppose.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 17:09:37

Colditz, I am as happy as a pig knee deep in council shit.

Flora, you are so far removed from reality it is terrifying. I don't believe you have ever encountered the underclass in this country. Lucky, middle-class you.

colditz Sun 19-May-13 14:40:10

No Jewcy, I've never met your husband. Hw happy you must be to be married to a rarity.

ssd Sun 19-May-13 09:50:18

far far too much stereotyping going on here, like everyone fits into a box and has a label which describes their life

we are working class, dh does loads around the house... as did his dad and my dad.

we both grew up in council schemes in Glasgow, where there were a mix of people, some unemployed and hopeless, some taking care of their families and cutting the grass every weekend

I hate all the talk of feminism, like that is responsible for peoples lives, or the excuse for a crap life

circumstances, luck, health, opportunities..thats what determines what sort of life you lead, not bloody feminism or whatever shite the daily mail is saying these days

FloraFox Sun 19-May-13 06:44:38

I think your view of working class is too much informed by Jeremy Kyle and the Daily Mail.

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 00:42:52

*suggesting, not denying!

Jewcy Sun 19-May-13 00:41:02

Flora, are you denying the people I have described in my last post do not exist? And if they do, can you tell me, exactly, what feminism has done for them?

FloraFox Sat 18-May-13 22:11:30

Because if you were, you would not have said either your earlier posts or this one ^. And talk about offensive stereotypes!

Why go back to the 80s? Because you said w/c men always shared domestic duties and feminism had no impact on w/c women. Sheesh!

Jewcy Sat 18-May-13 21:48:10

Flora, why do you think I'm not a working-class woman?

Why are we talking about the Eighties? Let's get back to 2013 and the sink estates around Britain and let us examine what feminism has done for the men and women there. Men & women alike are pushing prams, shopping at Aldi, going on the rob, working stacking shelves, smoking weed, watching Jeremy Kyle and popping babies out at sixteen. By the age of thirty they've got five kids, some of them. Men or women, take your pick: none of them work, all are on benefits, none have access to the best education (or even a decent education), none have a future and none have any power whatsoever. Feminism doesn't exist on estates like these in modern Britain. So, yes, there is a crisis, but it's a class one. Gender is irrelevant for the underbelly of society.

FloraFox Sat 18-May-13 21:00:26

Grr. Examples. Feminism has impacted working class women. Not in the same way as MC women perhaps but it has still made a significant impact.

FloraFox Sat 18-May-13 20:58:34

colditz sorry for speaking in your behalf. She's not talking about theory, she's rebutting your laughable statement that working class men do and always have shared domestic duties. It's not theory.

To the extent that working class men do more now than in the past, this is primarily as a result of feminism. You didn't answer colditz's question about whether you are a working class woman and based on what you've said, you can't possibly be.

My GF called my dad (his son) a pansy for pushing a pram and a man pushing a pram was a rare sight even in the 80s. In the 80s, single mothers where i grew up could expect random drunk men to bang on their doors on the way home from the pub to see if they were up for it. I never saw my GF lift a finger in his house even after my GM had a stroke. Seriously I think you don't know what you're talking about. These are just some ex

Jewcy Sat 18-May-13 19:12:41

*Neither?? Nor! grin

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