Sunday 26 May 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

I am not in the habit of writing about the same subject twice in a row but after my Sunday post last week on masculinity and the way the media (mis)represents it sometimes, I am coming back today to the same issue. This was prompted by an article I read last week by author and co-founder of Fathers Direct, Jack O'Sullivan.

O’Sullivan’s column focused on the dearth of male voices talking about men and the reasons for it. He is right in a way. Why aren’t George Monbiot, Simon Jenkins, Jonathan Freedland and Martin Kettle joining the debate on masculinity? As Mr O’Sullivan states, “Men's absence from the debate has dramatic consequences, making it overwhelmingly negative.” This negativity trickles through to the next generation and thus the cycle continues. What is more, this unhelpful approach is conducive to a stereotypical view of the male of the species. Women have no qualms about addressing difficult issues. And men? We clam up apparently.

And yet, reality is so different. As O’Sullivan writes, this debate with genuine male participation and leadership aspirational and authentically male agenda would be much welcome. “The centrepiece would be today's extraordinary transformation of masculinity. A huge transition is taking place in all our lives, as we redefine our relationships with women, with our children, with work, with our sexuality. History may judge it to be a faster and more profound change even than the developments in women's lives.” I loved that last paragraph. The key word is “transition”. We’re not the cavemen of yesteryear. Yes, it’s true that the recent stories about teenage girls’ abuse, rape and misogyny have reinforced the view that certain men are not to be trusted. But we are also the ones demanding a more flexible paternal leave, equal rights for women and recognition of the importance of fathers/male carers in children’s lives. The problem is that our voices are rarely heard.

Jack answers this conundrum brilliantly. According to him we, like women, have taken a long time to escape the confines of our gender. Whether it is in our relationships with women – amorous or not – and/or with other men – gay or straight – we are evolving. The 21st century Responsible Dad came out of this mix, even though his habitat was mainly urban. These are achievements to celebrate, but we don’t seem to be too good at doing it.

Where I believe Mr O’Sullivan is somewhat misguided is when he pits this lack of awareness of men’s position in contemporary Britain against feminism. In his own words, “feminism has reinforced rather than challenged – or even acknowledged – matriarchy.” Two points I would like to make on that statement. The first one is that feminism was a reaction rather than an action. It was a way for women to fight for the rights they had been denied ever since the Greeks invented democracy and excluded them and slaves from it. Without feminism the right to vote, for instance, would not have been won. So, when male voices are drowned by female commentators, is not because of feminism, it is because of the woman behind the opinion. Laurie Penny and Julie Bindel are an extension of the women's liberation movement. Martin Kettle et al lack that urgency because they - we - live in a male-dominated world.

The second point concerns the absence of men writing and talking about male issues. It might be the case that journalists, intellectuals, authors inter alia, don’t think these topics are important enough to even address them. This is partly because of a misconception that matters to do with family, feelings and emotions (relationships and children’s upbringing come to mine) belong solely in the province of women, whilst men are left to deal with the Big Issue(s). In a way this situation mirrors literature. How many times have I not heard critics deride women’s books as just a compendium of emotions and feelings? Shout out James Joyce and modernism will follow straight after like a playful dog up to get the ball its owner holds in his hand. Scream “The Great American Novel” and see how Herman Melville and Scott Fitzgerald come to blows over a place in the queue. What about female writers, though? Oh, they are OK, but they can only write about feelings and stuff, you know, “wimmin things”. I think that Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Hilary Mantel would have something to say about that. But the misconception remains, men deal with the grand theme, women are better at chick-lit.

That’s the reason why Simon Jenkins (usually critical of Britain’s foreign policy), George Monbiot (the UK's foremost champion and defender of the environment) and Martin Kettle (wrong about the future of British dance) can’t bring themselves to write about masculinity per se, its place in modern society, its changes and challenges. They are all too busy addressing the “important” issues such as terrorism, climate change and Nick Clegg’s role in the coalition. Until they and the rest of the male commentariat realise that they have as much of a stake in raising awareness of what Jack O’Sullivan calls a revolution in masculinity as everyone else, the only debate about men will continue to be led by women. And that doesn’t help either party.

© 2013

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 29th May at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Never really thought about it before at my shore, but there is a big gap indeed

  2. intriguing stuff...i think there are good men that do not let themselves be contained by the gender stereotype that has been given...machoism to me is old hat...i'd rather see a man that is takes more strength to do that than cat around or walk away...i think a fathers role is important in the lives of kids...just as much a moms...we do bring different things to the table...and that has nothing to do with equality...

  3. I agree with Brian. I raised my older son as a single mom and I had to be a mother and father. My little one is raised by both parents and I think it's very fortunate because I feel like my older son missed on some things. :)

  4. Terrific post raising a hugely important issue.

    Feminism was necessary to shift certain social inequalities, but the post feminism world, in which some loud female voices concentrate only on female "victimhood" under patriarchy scares me: cruelty, abuse of power, the desire to oppress, prejudice are *human" traits, not traits belonging to a specific subsection of humanity such as men, or the rich, or a particular race, gender or sexual preference.

    What many strident women who criticise men and their essential masculinity forget is that patriarchy damaged men as much as it damaged women - if women's expression of power and intellect (traditional "male" traits) were oppressed under patriarchy, then men's expression of nurturing and emotion (traditionally "female" traits) were equally oppressed.

    And, as we strive towards a brave new world where we seek the "golden mean", that balance which is the perfect midpoint between any two extremes, we,as intelligent and (hopefully) civilised women, must beware the danger of, in a future time, not being able to tell the difference between the pigs and the humans down at the farm!

  5. PS like you say, some men *do* still abuse women in the most awful way- Beric & I just watched a brilliant Canadian DVD called "Scared Sacred" which, in part, dealt with the oppression of women by the Taliban in Afghanistan - it was horrible and horrifying to watch. So, yes, those pockets of the old patriarchy must be shifted.

    However, the danger that concerns me is where the old structures of patriarchy have already been shifted and that new freedom women have to fully explore all facets of their unique individuality is becoming focused instead on a slow and creeping sense of entitlement and victimhood which, at times, manifests as an abuse of matriarchal power over men and boys as evil as any men ever used over women. Pyschologically castrating a man as an expression of female power over the Masculine is as dangerous as the worst of patriarchy's expressions of power of women in the past.

    In other words, balance. Our goal as *humans* (not men or women) should be self mastery over our baser humanity, rather than simply replacing one gender tyranny with another.

    I hope all the good men start speaking out. I was and am blessed with a life that has been filled with men strong enough and sure enough of their masculinity that they can(were, in the case of late my Dad) gentle and loving too. So I *like* men who are men, because there are so many good men out there in the world. And I don't like it when they aren't recognised. I'll shut up now.

  6. I think dads and Moms have their own work, but is true sometimes single mom or single dad are amazing, like Ayala say and Brian, I dont think so much in femenism because when I think in me is about a person more that Im woman that I feel. And I love be a woman but anyway I still live in a machista country in many things but when happens these things I laugh, anyway we had a woman president and was amazing and more brave than thre proplr think.
    Good post. xo

  7. 4th paragraph should have read "Responsbile Dad". Sorry. This has now been amended.

    Many thanks for your wonderful comments. Have a great week ahead.

    Greetings from London.

  8. Hear, hear. We are exposed to too much criticism of both men and women and not enough affirmation of the positive moves made by both. And I would love for humanity to be rather more encompassing than it is.
    That said, there is still work needed on both the feminist and the masculist fronts. A lot of work. Perhaps we can work together.

  9. I definitely agree feminism is a reaction and not an action.

  10. this was an issue that concerned me a lot many years ago. But the struggle almost killed me and today I try to stay away. But I do think that men really have to watch out. Or it is their turn to suffer. I think that "Equal rights and equal responsibilities" is the only rule that is needed.

  11. forgot to mention a very importatn word

    Nobody seem to know what that means nowadays.

  12. A topic of huge interest, I would have thought -- even to men -- and you shine a light on some interesting -- and often neglected -- aspects. Thanks for this.

  13. You have given us a lot to think about here...

    we need both strong male and female voices. And positive ones.

    Your post has given an interesting perspective. Thank you.

  14. Great post - seems as if there is a lot of ground for men to work on too. Emotions are for all of us - and not just for women. I'd like to see this being worked on down in primary school already.

  15. I agree that men are going through a transition and it would be good to hear their take on it.

    But, to be fair, women have been listening to men's take on things for the past several thousand years.


  16. Good post, as always. Lots to think about here.

    To pick up on one thread, to whit, literature (because that's an area where I fancy I know a little - certainly more than I know about being a man, modern or otherwise). The thing I find interesting about that dichotomy is that men *do* write about feelings and emotions and all that good stuff. They totally do. Even the award-winning ones. It's just that when they do it, it isn't derided in the same way as when a woman decides to write about romance. Basically, a woman writing about women is automatically a "genre" writer (therefore not eligible for any major literary prizes - but I'll save my genre-vs-literature rant for another day!), and in particular, usually pigeonholed under the somewhat insulting "chick lit" label. And as an intelligent, educated woman you tend to be steered away from such books and towards the "real literature", which I think is a terrible shame, because there are some real gems lurking in there.

  17. Plenty of thoughtful comments here. I agree with the fact that male writers are just as capacble of writing about feelings and emotions, yet, they are not labelled as a separate genre. I also agree with the comment about good men (and not just "a few good men" :-D) who escape the narrow confines of what we define as masculinity today.

    Thanks for your comments. Keep them coming.

    Greetings from London.

  18. I so appreciate that I can not only count on fine writing when I come here, but I can also count on good thinking that challenges me to engage my brain and track your analysis. Thank you.

    On a very practical level, I like your points here because they tie in to the stresses my husband has felt as a man who is just himself--and not necessarily other people's ideas of what a man is. Whenever we hear, read, see discussions of men, they in no way pertain to the human being that he is.

  19. Oh, tarnished confession. In the late 80s, when I was at work gathering AIDS stats for a government org, I happened into an "abuse" group therapy session that was supposed to be group therapy for HIV+ men who were addicted to IV drugs(it was in a hospial in a different room). When I realized I was in the wrong room, & that these were guys talking, crying,(what I felt was)self-pitying, about being abused by their spouses I laughed. I really hate to admit that.

    I didn't ever see myself as someone "like that." Someone who would laugh at not someone's pain, but at specifically a MAN who was "whining" about being hit. It told me all kinds of things about my outlook that I had never previously faced up to.

  20. You make such good points. You know Robert Bly, an American poet, has written a great deal about new ways of defining masculinity.

    Also, there is the whole issue of how economics plays into it all. People in the U.S. often act as if all of the changes have been caused by feminism, but many have simply been caused by changes in economic conditions that made the old family very difficult to sustain economically.

    Oh well. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary on these issues. k.

  21. You have given me such food for thought here...really made me think 'out of my box!'
    Many thanks.:)



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