There is now a pervasive drive to limit the discussion of men and masculinity to a single, poisonous, narrative: Men don’t have problems, they cause them. This is how it's happening in schools, universities, across the media and even in the UN itself.
-- This is article #99 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
On Monday, The Times reported on the Raising Awareness and Prevention initiative – a project in which a former New York sex-crime prosecutor goes into London schools to lecture boys on how porn is generating a rise in misogyny. The article starts with this sentence: “Mission impossible: one hour to re-programme teenage boys’ sexual manners so they are fit for a feminist world”.
It ends with this: “These are boys any parent would be proud of and they are also now scarred for life. Any time they imagine doing something furtive online, it will trigger the thought that adults of influence – maybe even some formidable American women – are seeing into their souls via their search history. Mission accomplished.”
This isn’t sex education. It’s indoctrination, bordering on abuse. It’s also just one example of what is now a pervasive drive to limit the discussion of men and masculinity to a single narrative: Men don’t have problems, they cause them.
'Good Lad' workshop
The boundaries of what some people would like to see as permissible speech about men was summed up earlier this month, when rugby players at Oxford University took part in a ‘Good Lad’ workshop, aimed at combatting what the organisers say is a crisis of sexual assault and harassment on campus.
In 2009, another men’s group was set up at Oxford University, this time not aimed at teaching men how to stop harassing women, but as a space for young men to explore what it means to be a man in contemporary UK society. The group was vociferously condemned as “reactionary and ridiculous” by the very same campaigners who say that male students should take part in forums such as the ‘Good Lad’ workshop.
At the time, Olivia Bailey, then NUS national women's officer, said: "What exactly will a men's society do? To suggest that men need a specific space to be 'men' is ludicrous, when everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces.”
You can speak up as a man, as long as it's to apologise
So, just to be clear, the only time men are permitted to come together to talk about their experiences of being men, is when they hold themselves in contrition in an attempt prevent themselves from abusing women? Right. OK then.
But student campaigners aren’t the only ones committed to controlling the conversation about what it means to be a man. In January of this year, the Southbank Centre held the Being A Man festival, the first of its kind in the UK and organised by the same people who run the well-established, feminist-orientated, Women of the World Festival.
I was genuinely excited at the prospect of such a high-profile event that would put a vibrant discussion of men and masculinity at the heart of the UK’s cultural establishment. Except that isn’t what happened. What actually took place was a series of ideological set pieces, in which prominent feminists and their allies told us what they think men are and how we need to change.
Over the course of two days, we were told that men should be feminists, but offered no view on why they shouldn’t be; that male violence against women is a problem, but given no views on the problem of female perpetrators and male victims; that porn is bad for you, but offered no perspectives on how men can explore, express and celebrate their sexuality. And so on.
In the run-up to the festival, the organisers arranged a series of panel discussions among men to explore what the big issues for men are that the festival should address. From the line-up of speakers at the event, it’s hard not to conclude they didn’t simply exclude any voices that weren’t in line with their own feminist worldview.
It’s one thing if student campaigners and metropolitan pundits try to limit what you can say about men, but it’s quite another when the UN gets in on the act. The UN’s recently-launched HeForShe campaign, championed by Emma Watson, calls on men to help end violence against women – and who wouldn’t want to help do that? But the glaring, frankly bizarre, elephant in the room is that the campaign deliberately, explicitly omits concern for male victims of violence.
This is the pledge the UN is asking men to sign up to: “I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” Discrimination can be a very subjective topic, but the UN’s data on violence is unequivocal, globally men and boys are almost four times more likely to be murdered than women and girls.
These messages are being targeted at boys and young men at ages when they are most vulnerable and insecure about their place in the world. The narrative itself excludes discussion of the impact this is having on young men, or of the problems they face due to their own gender.
Young men 'shouted at and publicly humiliated'
insideMAN recently took the unusual step of actually asking young men how they feel about the conversation that is being had about them, rather than with them. The responses of these teenagers, who are relentlessly subjected to social media propaganda about the failures of their sex – from EveryDaySexism, to Hollaback, to the FCKH8 video – should stand as a wakeup call.
They said that if they make any attempt to contradict these prevailing messages, they “will draw fire… so the only option is to shut up”. Asked what conditions would make them feel able speak their minds, they said “they would need a safe space where they could feel confident they would not be shouted at and publicly humiliated; where their motives were not under immediate suspicion simply on account of their gender. They want protecting against fundamentalism by prominent and leading figures in the campaign for gender equality – people who can defend the sincerity of their interest and allow real discussion”.
But the concluding line of the article is most damning of all. “As the boys left our house they said how great it was to be able to have a sensible conversation about these things. I was struck that this was the first opportunity they had ever had to discuss gender equality without having to self-censor.”
Not to worry though, soon they’ll be at university and there’ll be Good Lad workshop they can go to.
By A Man
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men's Day 2014 by clicking on this link---#100Voices4Men---and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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