This week I am writing about men and boys. I am doing so because the needs of men and boys are an equalities issue. I am also doing so in support of InsideMAN, a place where vibrant and important conversations about men and boys take place. I have written previously for the site and I will do so again soon. I do this not because I am a men’s rights activist and not because I am in favour of fathers over mothers, but because men and boys are an equalities issue and my motivation for doing the work that I do is bringing about a fairer and more just society for all of us.
In the past couple of decades or so equalities has become synonymous with feminism, a subject I have written widely about and which I have done my best on this site to deconstruct. We have had a fair number of discussions and debates about this issue, some of which have become heated as we have grappled with the idea that feminism is not the benign force it is portayed as being. What I like about InsideMAN, about the work that is being done and the way in which the space it has captured is being shaped, is that it approaches change in the lives of men and boys from an equalities perspective, tackling gendered assumptions and perspectives and questioning how these beliefs are arrived at. Whilst the discussion over at InsideMAN is more inclusive of feminism than this place, (it even has feminist men writing for it), there is always a clear understanding of how equalities work is so much more than that limited scope that feminism offers. It is this understanding, that achieving true equality means losing the patriarchal constructs and working outside of the confining paradigm that is feminism, that makes me feel that what is going on at InsideMAN is a natural next step towards a better world for all of us.
Those of you who know my background will be aware that I consider myself to be a recovering feminist. I lived my life from early teens to recent years within the construct known as patriarchy, a construct which I was surprised to discover, one rainy night when driving across the pennines, was a figment of my own imagination. The dismantling of this construct, (which took all of about two seconds), was triggered by the nastiness of one Julie Bindel who, speaking on Radio 4, told the world that she wanted the right to marry her lesbian partner, so that she could destroy the institution of marriage. She went on to describe men and boys as inherently violent and spoke of them as dangerous human beings who must be firmly constrained and preferably disadvantaged in order to rectify the advantage conferred on them by birth. I recognised the tone of voice, the indignation, the self righteousness as being that which had driven me for so many years and at the same time I found myself comparing what she was saying with the men in my life and the boys, particularly the boys. That night I felt as if I had suddenly developed 20/20 vision after years of being blind in one eye. The panoramic view outside of the narrow construct I had been living in was simply astonishing as I finally understood what equality means. And it doesn’t mean inverting a constructed hierachy of belief that half the human race is born advantaged, just because they are men.
Our work in the field of family separation had already been propelled down an equalities route through our work with the Oxfam UK Poverty Programme. This work revealed the way in which the gendered legislation around separated families drives outcomes which support a gendered belief system about dead beat dads. Put simply, it is no accident that 90% of non resident parents are dads, the legislation is designed to drive those outcomes. What appalled me back then (1999) and still appalls me now, is that not only are dads driven out of their children’s lives, they are largely blamed, ridiculed and harangued for it. When you scratch the surface of the dead beat dad reality, most dads do not abandon their children, they are systematically shoved out of their lives. That’s not equality, that’s discrimination in action and it is feminists who have done it and if the Julie Bindel’s of this world have anything to do with it, that is how things will keep on being done.
It is hugely exciting to me to be able to support the equalities based work of InsideMAN and to contribute to a debate which challenges discrimination against men and boys in all walks of life. Men and boys suffer enormously in today’s society, facing mental health problems, practical difficulties like homelessness and ill health and their well being is under threat across all of the socio-econmic spectrum. We hear so much about women and girls and we always hear it in the same sentence as gender equality. If there is such a thing as gender equality in my life time, it will be achieved when we all understand that working together as men and women, for the wellbeing of us all, is the way forward. Towards dignity, equality and the relationships between us, it is the only road I am willing to travel, let’s do it for all of us, not just for the girls.
InsideMAN is crowdfunding for a new book In limited edition hardback, paperback and eBook formats, it is a unique, insightful, heartfelt and surprising collection of stories about what it means to be a man today, including exclusive articles from leading writers from the BBC, the Telegraph and Guardian. ( I have it on good authority that I am also included in it!) Dig deep and support this work because it is this approach which will change the world for men and boys.
A panel discussion will take place at the launch of the book on 11th September 2015. The subject is ‘If masculinity is in crisis, what needs to change, men or society?’ The panel includes –
John Adams: Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger
Karen Woodall: Writer, Researcher and Practitioner specialising in Family Separation
Martin Daubney: Journalist and Broadcaster
Mark Simpson: Author and Journalist
Kenny Mammarella-D’Kruz: Personal Development Consultant