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Robert Webb: ally or grandstander?

(59 Posts)
arousingcheer Wed 13-Sep-17 13:11:51

I'm not claiming to support/refute his views as I haven't read the book (just some excerpts). But my spidey senses are tingling. I admit I'm suspicious when everyone genuflects when a fella says something along the lines of 'Hey chaps, let's scratch the surface of this patriarchy gig and you'll see it's not all it's cracked up to be!' (Oh, you mean the patriarchy hurts everyone? Alert the authorities!)

My first thought was that it was a bit of grandstanding/exceptionalism to write your memoir centred around the concept of performative masculinity as though you have discovered it. There is a little bit of that thing where a bloke thinks he's being top-notch by saying 'Look how comfortable I am in my sexuality!' And I'm having trouble expressing why I rolled my eyes when he writes about what a badass his wife was in labour and using power tools. Like, is that not reductive and verging on biological essentialism in itself? And in a tiresomely predictable way (which may not reflect at all on RW himself) it has provoked a lot of chin-stroking about things women have been saying for ages, but, yk, it needed to be said by a man for anyone to hear it.

Is he being the kind of ally who amplifies the voices of those who stood up and said this stuff before he did, who taught him what he knows? Or is he bashfully shielding his eyes from the spotlight and allowing himself to be congratulated on how right-on he is?

Sad to say I feel a tiny bit the same way about Hannibal Buress making his name off the Bill Cosby rape allegations. No one heard it until he said it and didn't his career take off because of it. It has its own section on his Wiki page: 'The audience appeared to respond to Buress's accusation as an incredulous joke before he encouraged everyone to "Google 'Bill Cosby rape'" when they got home.' I sort of love him so I wouldn't like to think it was a calculated career move... but was it?

QuentinSummers Wed 13-Sep-17 13:36:54

I also haven't read the book but heard him talk. I hope he's had the "scales falling" that many feminists do and so feminism is important for him and is genuinely a big part of his life.
Sadly we need men to talk out otherwise it's just painted as "strident Feminists
I think it's also really important to talk about how a patriarchal society impacts men.

QuentinSummers Wed 13-Sep-17 13:38:36

Nother thread here www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3030454-Robert-Webb-is-a-bit-of-a-TERF

BertieBotts Wed 13-Sep-17 13:41:36

TBH, I don't think he's really intending to stand up and make a huge deal out of being a feminist, he's just written a book where he acknowledges sexism. It's more that because he's a man, this is seen as unusual, and the media has jumped on it as a huge feminist statement, when he's really just done the same as many women do in their own memoirs.

ArcheryAnnie Wed 13-Sep-17 13:43:31

I don't like the concept of "ally" (as it's what you do rather than what you are), but I think he's OK, and broadly on the side of the angels, rather than being "Behold! Here am I, a man, saying something new!"

Puffpaw Wed 13-Sep-17 14:05:38

I liked the spoof ad he did about women needing to sort themselves out, and men already being brilliant. I think he gets it.

squishysquirmy Wed 13-Sep-17 14:10:19

I like him. Not read his book, but heard bits of it and heard him interviewed on womens' hour and he seems genuine. Yes, his book is not necessarily revealing anything new but as far as I can tell he isn't claiming it is - it is a personal memoir. And he seems to have been very honest about himself being less than perfect. It can be galling when men like him are listened to more than women making the same point but that isn't his fault at all - I am glad he is using his voice to bring attention to the issue of toxic masculinity.

MephistophelesApprentice Wed 13-Sep-17 14:12:32

He's a decent writer who's worked out what virtue he can get away with flashing without anyone calling him on it.

Never trust a male feminist.

deydododatdodontdeydo Wed 13-Sep-17 14:21:09

He can either a) write a typical male, mysoginist, laddish book (there are tons out there, b) write a neutral book ignoring all these issues, c) write the book he has about performing masculinity, etc. (also haven't read it).
In terms of making an impact on sexist society, patriarchy, a) and b) do nothing, so even if he's only doing it to sell books (hard to tell), it's a good thing I think.

SpaghettiAndMeatballs Wed 13-Sep-17 14:22:55

As ArcheryAnnie says, there's always been an underlying subversion/critisicm of masculinity/patriarchal systems in his comedy - everything from Ambassadors to even his hideous character (well, both of them really) in peep show was definitely written as that uncomfortable style of comedy which is dark, and making a serious point.

I've not read the book, but from his interviews, he has a daughter and a wife, and an upbringing that I think have brought this forward.

To me, in interviews, I feel like I can a little person trapped in his head wanting to explode and rant that it's obviously wrong, STOP DOING IT rather than sitting back and carefully explaining to avoid kneejerk responses and backlash.

squishysquirmy Wed 13-Sep-17 14:33:12

I consider myself rather cynical, Mephistopheles, but even I think that some people do sometimes express views because they genuinely believe in them, rather than for personal profit. Do you honestly believe that everyone is always acting 100% cynically, 100% of the time?

Ineedacupofteadesperately Wed 13-Sep-17 14:45:42

I think that he's successful enough at what he does to get publicity for his book without this angle, especially with his new show. If anything he might get more negative publicity for this. I think he's a genuinely good person who - as someone wrote elsethread - is 'owning his own shit' as a man and trying to improve things for everyone (including his own children).

MephistophelesApprentice Wed 13-Sep-17 16:22:19

squishysquirmy

The best self described male feminists I have met had prejudices concerning women, but were trying to overcome them by conscious commitment to the ideology.

Most of the self described male feminists I have met had prejudices about women, but used their vocal commitment to the ideology to deceive even themselves.

And the worst were well aware that they had prejudices against women, but were quite happy to use feminism for social status or, to put it baldly, get laid.

The only men I have met who actually believed deeply in gender equality and enacted it in their lives were uncomfortable with the label. They certainly never made their journey to their conclusions some sort of self-celebratory challenge to the forces of patriarchy or an adventure in non-conformity.

arousingcheer Wed 13-Sep-17 18:24:23

Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, of course it's good for men to talk about their experiences re masculinity, I'm not suggesting otherwise. There are probably more ways to get it wrong than there are to get it right. I guess I'd feel differently if I also saw them there side by side with women talking about how they've benefitted from legal abortion, suffered when their mums were underpaid or abused etc, mucking in with the nuts and bolts of the real things that affect women's lives, as well as talking about themselves.

Even though he says nothing wrong in this article, and I feel like in person he is probably clued-up with good values, I still feel irritated by his 'Hey guys, come on, listen up' attitude: www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/08/robert-webb-roll-roll-see-man-talking-about-feminism-what-could-possibly-go-wrong

I don't really mind being a 'strident feminist' as the misogyny is baked into the phrase, it's a concept that effortlessly reveals its own origins. I don't claim to be perfect, I have my own issues with privilege.

MephistophelesApprentice thank you for that last comment, I can't improve on it. First thing that came to mind was the dudebro I saw in a hipster pub, making some incredulous wide-eyed comment about women to his mate followed up by 'Hey man, I'm just trying to be more of a feminist, man.'

RandomDent Wed 13-Sep-17 18:31:07

I haven't read it, but listened to the abridged version on the Iplayer radio. I got the impression that he wanted to write his memoir but felt he needed some sort of angle or hook to convince the publisher. It was incredibly moving when I listened to it, but the discussion of gender roles felt a little forced. This could be the abridging though.

powershowerforanhour Wed 13-Sep-17 19:08:55

I liked Mitchell and Webb's "Watch the Football!" sketch. A nice commentary on society's expectations of men.

strangestdirection Wed 13-Sep-17 19:19:50

I have read the book and thought it was amazing. Reviewed it and went-as part of a feminist blog I write for, but not my day job- to the Q and A he did with Victoria Coren in Westminster. I genuinely think it's an exceptional book and he's an exceptional man who wants the world to be a less sexist place for his daughters. I would regard myself as a cynical old crone in lots of ways but I don't see any cynicism in this, as other posters have said he's famous enough to have promoted this book without this angle. And also- as other posters have also said- this will have put some readers off. He described his channel 4 news appearance in particular as "making a lot of angry men much angrier, and they got in touch to let me know".

I've been a Peep Show fan for the past 15 years but never a particular fan of Webb himself: that's all changed with this book, I can't stop telling people to read it and as it's on something like it's eighth run in a fortnight, I don't think I'm alone.

paq Wed 13-Sep-17 19:22:26

I think you should all read the book before judging.

IndominusRex Wed 13-Sep-17 19:25:00

I don't get the impression he's like 'let me teach you feminism' it seems more like 'I'm a man and this is why toxic masculinity was shit for me'

arousingcheer Wed 13-Sep-17 19:51:58

paq but what are we 'all' judging? As I said I'm not judging the content of the book beyond what I have read in excerpts, I'm saying I'm guarded and a little cynical about how this is being embraced, and how some of that is nothing to do with RW himself but is a man-bites-dog media/societal fascination with men who 'dare' to colour outside the lines.

I'm talking about myself, not writing a dissertation or a longform article for the New Yorker. I thought 'my spidey senses are tingling' kind of captured where I'm coming from.

I might read the book, I might not, but I prefer to work through my discomfort with what's going on around it first. No point trying to read it while I'm bristling.

CalmanOnSpeeddial Wed 13-Sep-17 20:01:36

IF we agree that patriarchy and toxic masculinity can have huge negative impacts on men's lives then they should be able to get up and talk about it and be granted spaces and publicity when they do so.

Apart from anything else, if they don't, then they're ceding the space to men who will blame those negative consequences on feminism/"the wrong kind of women".

paq Wed 13-Sep-17 20:11:55

RW can't be held responsible for how his book is received or interpreted or presented by the media. Don't judge him by the noise around his book. Read the book and make up your own mind.

Dawnedlightly Wed 13-Sep-17 20:13:40

What @IndominusRex says. The book details how damaging toxic masculinity was for him growing up. He's not grandstanding or mansplaining.

arousingcheer Wed 13-Sep-17 20:18:42

strangestdirection ok (and thanks for weighing in as you have actually read it).

'I genuinely think it's an exceptional book and he's an exceptional man who wants the world to be a less sexist place for his daughters.' The wives and daughters argument. Why do men have to have daughters to take an interest? And are other daughter-free men off the hook?

'He described his channel 4 news appearance in particular as "making a lot of angry men much angrier, and they got in touch to let me know".' Of course they did, they always do, we all have to know what they think all the fucking time. Aka just everyday life for women walking down the street being women then.

But this isn't about your comments, it's the general idea that he's a knight in shining armour for just showing human decency. We need the human decency - glad you're on the right side RW! - but why are our expectations so low?

paq Wed 13-Sep-17 20:33:03

I think you are making sweeping assertions based on a little media storm ATM. Men don't have to have daughters to be feminists or be concerned about the world women are born into, grow up in and have to live in. Lots of men are decent and kind and vocal about women's rights whether they have daughters or not. The media just choose to take that particular sound bite from RW.

E.g. When Jeremy Vine was interviewed about the gender pay gap in the BBC the interviewer asked him how he justified it to his daughter. It's just something trite that they do.

I still think you should read the book and then start a thread about it wink

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