EQUALITY 4 MEN

The Global Campaign for Men and Boys

Why My Pro-Feminist Friend is Wrong About Equality For Men book….

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My pro-feminist friend and men’s health advocate Peter Baker has kindly reviewed the book Equality For Men. There are some bits he likes and some bits he doesn’t like. As you would expect I agree with him on the bits he likes and disagree with him on the bits he dislikes. So I thought I’d dedicate two posts to Peter’s review, you guessed it, one highlighting where we agree and the other addressing our differences.

You can follow this link—my pro-feminist friend praises Equality For Men book—to see where Peter and I agree. In this post I respond to Peter’s key criticisms of Equality For Men one at a time:

“Unity cannot be created around a claim that men and women are equal victims of discrimination.”

It’s interesting how Peter focuses in on “discrimination” because I don’t use the word “discrimination” once in the book—I very deliberately chose to focus the book on equality not discrimination as I want more people to spend more time thinking about the areas where men and boys are undeniably unequal and to consider why that is and what we can do about it.

I think a mistake that “progressives” in general make about inequality is to conflate it with discrimination. Inequality is not discrimination, Inequality is inequality. Discrimination is discrimination. They aren’t interchangeable. Inequality has many causes and discrimination may be one of them but it is rarely if ever the only cause. In fact, when we only focus on discrimination as the cause of inequality, we seriously weaken our ability to address that inequality.

One of the key ideas in the book is that there are many different ways to look at and understand equality. If you want to unite people to tackle inequality you can either take the exclusive route and join forces only with  those who view equality in the same way as you, or you can embrace diversity of thought and accept that people are entitled to view equality in different ways and seek greater unity with people who care about the inequalities that men and boys face, but have different ways of viewing that equality.

And the short answer to this point is this, I’ve never claimed that men and women are equal victims of discrimination.

“Glen does not accept is the basic feminist premise that, overall, men are the dominant sex by not accepting it, Glen’s argument loses credibility and he risks alienating many women (and indeed many men) who might otherwise be allies…..”

I find the absolutist concept of a “dominant sex” odd and meaningless, well it’s meaningless to me, I know that to other people it’s full of meaning.

I much prefer facts to interpretations. That’s why I don’t discuss the notion of a “dominant sex” anywhere in the book. A fact would be something like “there are more male MPs than female MPs”, that’s a fact that everyone accepts. But “men are the dominant sex” in politics is an interpretation that doesn’t help us address the inequality that men and boys face.

In reality, far more time is spent in parliament discussing women’s issue than men’s issues. There is a minister for women, there are strategies targeting women’s issues (eg a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls), there is a Government Equalities Office that leads on issues relating to women an so on. In terms of tackling the inequalities that men and boys face, the priority isn’t addressing the fact that male MPs dominate politics, it’s addressing the fact the women’s issues dominate gender politics and men’s issues are too often overlooked, ignored and sidelined.

Personally I’d rather women who addressed men’s and women’s issues dominated politics than men who don’t address either.

In reality, from the UN to the grassroots the world of gender equality and gender discourse  is “dominated” by women and feminists. It’s a world that lacks diversity, not just in gender but more importantly in ways of thinking. Monocultural ways of thinking can lead to an unhealthy, exclusivity where those who own the dominant worldview  feel justified in saying things like “we will only be your ally in fighting inequality if you accept that our way of seeing the world is the right way”.

In all my time working on issues of gender equality I’ve never heard Peter (or anyone else) stand up and say we need more diversity in gender equality, we need more men and we need more non-feminists to get on board. That is the test of how genuinely inclusive and diverse the “progressive” mindset is.

Glen does not fully acknowledge that men also cause problems. He says, rightly, that men are more likely than women to be victims of violence but he appears not to want to hold men accountable for perpetrating most of that violence.

I think everyone should be held accountable for their actions and there’s lots of evidence in the book to show that women who perpetrate crime and violence are less likely to be held accountable for their actions or are treated less harshly.

I’m interested in how our collective attitudes about groups affect individuals. So if we are collectively more tolerant of the harm that happens to men and boys as a group and we’re collectively less willing to hold women, as a group, to account for their actions, then what impact does that have on individual victims?

In my experience this way of collective thinking creates a hierarchy of victimhood with female victims of male actions being given greater concern than female victims of female actions, male victims of male actions and male victims of female actions. The lower down the victim of hierarchy a victim is, the harder s/he will find it to get help.

Our inability to treat all victims and perpetrators both equally and with equanimity causes great problems for individuals. I believe, for example, that two of the greatest barriers to tackling Female Genital Mutilation are our unwillingness to offer boys and girls an equal right to genital autonomy (because they occupy different positions on our hierarchy of victimhood)  and our unwillingness to hold the women who carry out FGM to account (because we want to blame men for FGM even though it’s mostly women who perform the act and surveys in circumcising communities find that men are generally less supportive of FGM than women).

So I do think that men AND women should be held to account for their actions and evidence in the book suggests we treat men more harshly and are more forgiving of women—I want that unequal way of treating men and women to change.

“I missed any discussion of the impact of race, sexuality, age and disability.”

There was a little, but far from enough. Interestingly, in the world of equalities, men are a “bigger” minority in the sense that more funding and focus goes into addressing racial inequality, sexual inequality and disability than goes into the addressing the inequalities that men and boys face. The knock on affect of this is that we are better equipped to help black women, gay women and disable than we are to help black men, gay men, disabled men.

The problem is that we’ve put men in the category “ARE problems” and women in the category “HAVE problems”, so if we want to understand why black, gay, disabled women HAVE problems, the research knits together nicely. But if we want to understand the problems black, gay, disabled men HAVE, there is a clash, because all our research about men is over in the “ARE problems” category.

If we want a better understanding of why black men, gay men, disabled men etc HAVE problems (which I certainly do) then we first need to do more thinking about why men HAVE problems. When we do that we start to see the connections. One of the most startling statistics I uncovered in the book was the fact that  96% of victims of racially motivated murder in the UK are men and boys.

If 96% of victims were female it would be a gender issue. When 96% of victims are male we only see the colour of their skin as a cause (it’s racially motivated) but not their gender. Until we accept that men as a gender HAVE problems we deny black men, gay men and disabled men the advantage of having the problems they HAVE as men.

“Equality For Men..seems…keen to position men as victims.”

Not at all, in fact I made a very conscious decision to only use the word “victim” in relation to crime and violence statistics where men and boys are objectively found to be the victim of murder, rape, domestic violence etc.

This raises a very important point that we need to tackle if we are to address the inequalities that men and boys face. It seems our collective expectations of masculinity and femininity makes it easier for us to see women and girls as helpless victims, but extremely difficult for us to see men and boys as needing help.

I absolutely 100% do not believe that positioning men (or women) as victims helps men and women. I’m interested in how we create a world that empowers all humans to thrive and fulfill their potential. I think we need to do more to empower men of all backgrounds whether that’s the disillusioned, unemployed poor man at risk of offending or the suicidal, workaholic rich man as risk of killing himself.

But even “empowering men” is seen by some as a undesirable. There is a whole world of taboo and censorship that you discover when you try and advocate for men—you can’t call men victims, you can’t talk about empowering men, you must say men are the dominant sex, you must acknowledge the problems men cause.

And all the while, men who desperately need help, men who are victims, who aren’t dominant or causing the world’s problems struggle to reach out and access the help they need while we sensitively fret about finding a way to talk about men’s problems that doesn’t challenge the “progressive” mindset that is so keen to position all women as victims of all men’s oppression.

Men and boys experience inequality in many areas of life, acknowledging this fact is not positioning them as victims.

“Equality For Men overlooks men’s strengths”.

I guess it does and I’m really pleased Peter raises this point. I think we don’t really know how to celebrate men’s strengths for fear of being deemed sexist or implying that men are better than women.  This is a problem we need to overcome and I do intend to address it head on  in my next book. In the meantime I look forward to Peter leading the way in celebrating men’s strengths!

Glen is surely wrong to imply that, in practice, male circumcision and Female Genital mutilation are equally barbaric.

Again I didn’t say this, I don’t use the word “barbaric” but I do stand for girls, boys and intersex child having equal protection under the law. The tendency to automatically place FGM higher up the hierarchy of harm than unnecessary male circumcision is sexist and wrong.

The truth is there are many different degrees of forced genital cutting.  As a result it is more accurate to say that unnecessary male circumcision is different and sometimes worse than FGM. The sanitized version of FGM conducted in hospitals on Muslim girls in Indonesia, for example, is generally less “barbaric” than the circumcision conducted in community settings on Muslim boys in the UK.

I think if we are to every make real progress on gender equality issues then we have to start seeing the individual, not just the group, and resist the binary temptation to always say that something is worse for men or for women. The severity will vary from individual to individual. In fact for most issues, rather than saying this is worse for women (or men) it will often be more accurate to say that this problem is different and sometimes worse for men (or women).

Glen is right to point out that women can also do bad things, including perpetrating domestic violence (although I do not agree that they do so to nearly the same extent as men)

To carry on from the previous point, being a victim of domestic violence is different and sometimes worse  for men (and women) and our hierarchy of victimhood (and our collective tolerance of the harm that happens to men and boys) makes it harder for individual male victims to get the help they need .

We must not overlook the significant (and greater) discrimination against women

No, we must, we must, we must. Firstly the discrimination that men and boys face is (yes you guessed) different and sometimes worse—insisting on the position that “women as a group” have it worse than men, doesn’t help us to help individual men and boys.

Secondly, advocates for women do not sit around saying we must not overlook the discrimination that men face, they quite rightly put all their energy into advocating for women.  Men and boys need advocates who doggedly put men and boys’ concerns first, this is the role of an advocate.

As an advocate for men and boys I have tried to stay focused on just the problems men and boys face for long enough to try and make sense of the many different inequalities that men and boys face. The unifying theme that seems to join all the dots is not that men are the dominant sex or that women experience more discrimination, it is that we are collectively more tolerant of harm happening to men and boys. We tend to view the world from the belief that women HAVE problems and men ARE problems and as a result when men and boys do experience problems in life they are less likely to access help and support. They are less likely to access help and support because we are less likely to reach out and offer men and boys help and support.

Rather than concepts like  “men are the dominant sex” being the shibboleths that everyone who wants to help men must agree with; maybe we should be deconstructing these views, or at least setting them aside for long enough to get a new and more helpful perspective of the problem.

There are big immovable problems like male suicide, male homelessness; male unemployment; boys’ exclusion from school; fathers’ exclusion from their children’s lives and violence against men and boys that we seem incapable of stopping. If we want to stop the unstoppable, then maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable!

I am a great believer in equality and diversity. It’s clear to me that the focus we place on tackling the many inequalities that men and boys face is both unequal and disproportionate and the way forward is greater diversity—we need to encourage and  accept a greater diversity of thinking if are to become effective in responding to the inequalities that both men and women experience.

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One comment on “Why My Pro-Feminist Friend is Wrong About Equality For Men book….

  1. Pingback: My Pro-Feminist Friend Praises Equality For Men book…. | EQUALITY 4 MEN

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