On Thursday night the world-famous, 200-year-old Cambridge Union Society -- whose speakers have included everyone from Stephen Fry to the Dalai Lama -- hosted a debate entitled: "This House Believes Masculinity is Damaging to Everyone".
The six panelists debating the motion included insideMAN's Features Editor, Dan Bell; Samaritans CEO, Ruth Sutherland; Marketing Director of the Lad Bible, Mimi Turner and Clinical Psychologist, Mental Health Campaigner and friend of insideMAN, Martin Seager.
Here's the presentation Martin made as part of his powerful argument in opposition to the motion:
- Masculinity isn’t harmful or toxic, just our attitudes to it including the title of this debate! The implication is that masculinity requires genetic or social engineering! The masculine gender is the only group not protected by political correctness – the only group whose identity we can publicly demonise and get away with it - we don’t ask women, homosexual or disabled people or faith or ethnic groups to change who they are – we celebrate their identity – but we never celebrate things masculine – even Shakespeare is never celebrated for his gender – soldiers are never thanked for their gender -- we only ever see the bad side of masculinity.
- Masculinity and femininity of course are the Yin and Yang of the Universe – they come as a system and shape each other.
- Masculinity isn’t something we choose or a role we play – that would insult transgender people for a start - it is an embodied and evolved part of our species. Gender is not a stereotype -- it's in fact closer to a universal archetype: You can’t split the mind and the body.
- It's equally bad science to see gender as fixed and completely separate from each other – in science differences are measured by averages and there is room for a lot of individual variation and no human is 100% masculine or feminine.
- Even if masculine gender was just socialisation – males are raised largely by female adults – so what would that tell us about femininity and the origins of masculinity?
- My main point, however, is that males have evolved to protect the social group - the opposite of damaging it.
- Our freedom and democracy is based on much male sacrifice. Even at the height of “patriarchy” soldiers without the vote had to die in WWI because of their gender – the Battle of the Somme was near enough exactly a century ago – think Baldrick not Lord Melchett! – we never celebrate the gender of all these soldiers - and on the Titanic the average male survival rate was 20%, but for females 74% -- so masculinity has always been about protecting women and children even at times of so called “male privilege”.
- Society to this day tolerates massive inequalities in risk, harm and death to males: There is an "empathy gap" -- work related deaths are 97% male, homelessness 84%, addiction 75%, life expectancy -- a four-year gap, suicides are 78% male, without any gender policy or strategy to tackle these issues. This “male gender blindness” reflects the assumed role of the male as protector. Working class male life (builders, soldiers, servicemen, miners, deep sea fishermen, bin men) carries on as before, unchanged – we all depend on it – it protects us and the risks are necessary.
- Masculinity, like anything, can be damaging when taken to extremes - macho culture is clearly not helpful, but this is only one extreme version of masculinity, not the norm.
- When damaged, genders do show different patterns of behavioural disturbance – men can be physically violent, sexually aggressive and abusive - but these are a damaged minority, an extreme that is not representative of a whole gender.
- Domestic violence in any case is 40% female on male but no-one takes male victimhood seriously and it is under-reported. Social psychology street experiments show that the same level of physical force used by male-on-female perpetrators elicits serious and horrified responses from the public, but female-on-male abuse elicits disregard or even humour.
- In the discourse around mental health, masculinity is not respected - it's seen as emotionally illiterate and men are blamed for not opening up, when it is we who need to listen differently and honour the male gender and emotional style in the way we design services. When this happens men do talk, open up and get better – men are not emotionally illiterate but differently literate.
- The positive value of masculine emotional life is never celebrated – e.g. control and focus in dangerous situations.
- It is not men or masculinity that's toxic, it is our society that is toxic towards things masculine – just as society needed to change to support female identity, rights and needs, it’s also society that needs to change to help men, not men who need to stop being male.
To read about the excellent presentation made by Samaritans CEO, Ruth Sutherland, see their release here
Photo credit: The Samaritans