Get Your Gender Out Of My Social Problems

May 17, 2013

I’m a man. I’m in crisis. At least, this is the contention of Diane Abbott and Laurie Penny, who claim I’m currently being oppressed by outdated gender stereotypes about my role in society, and that I feel under constant pressure to get out there and win some bread.

Obviously, they’re not referring to me personally, but to men in the abstract. This Abstracted Man doesn’t understand his place in the world now that women are in the workplace, because he’s been told that he’s got to get out there and earn money for his family while the little woman stays at home looking after the kids.

Who is it who’s saying this? Laurie Penny claims it’s a conglomerate of evil Tories and enigmatic Forces of Conservatism who push the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Unfortunately for this argument, the forces of Conservatism are exceptionally bad at their job:

Percent Ag

Source: European Values Survey, GB Data

People think that women working doesn’t harm children and that both men and women should win bread. More significantly for the argument to hand, they see both men and women having the same responsibilities for homelife:

men should

Source: EVS Data. This question was only asked in the 08-10 wave.

But regardless. We men are suffering from these social changes, which is why we’re killing ourselves in greater numbers than ever before:

UK Suicide Rate

samaritans

Source: Samaritans

Clearly more men kill themselves than women. It is absolutely true that the suicide rate amongst males rose between 2011 and 2010. It’s also true that it rose amongst women as well. What’s not true is that we have a sudden onset crisis of masculinity that is just begging to be solved; men and women clearly kill themselves at different rates, and may always have done so.

What is a problem is the fact that gender roles continue to be reinforced. Take this example, from someone talking about encouraging employment amongst young men:

The decline of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs has left a lot of men in a position where they don’t feel the jobs on offer – particularly service jobs – are ones they feel comfortable with.[…] We need more advanced, rigorous vocational courses and a new focus on technical learning and skills”

Apparently men are only men if they bang bits of steel together. I’ve spent my entire life being told that men will lose out in the ‘new’ workplaces because we don’t have ‘soft skills’. Unaccountably this hasn’t happened; by and large, men still run the world. However, working class men – to whom the author of the quote was apparently referring – aren’t given the sort of ‘soft’ skills that the men who went to private school and now run the country were given. This is because people like the person who wrote the above, which was taken from Diane Abbott’s speech, keep reinforcing gender roles which require working class men to feel bad about taking service sector jobs. I can guarantee you that middle class men never have this problem.

An extremely limited understanding of the roles that men play in society – which for Diane Abbott is apparently either gang members in Hackney or traders in the City, with nary a fella in between – should disqualify you from pretending to say anything useful about issues relating to men. There are specific issues for working class men which are related to the impact of globalisation & immigration on unskilled labour, but those issues also apply to women with the same skill sets. If demand is increasing for employees in the service sector (which is a big ‘if’) our politicians need to stop banging on about how apprenticeships and big factories are what we need for our young men, and start saying that there’s nothing wrong with men being secretaries. If they don’t, we’re going to continue seeing people with limited viewpoints banging on about a crisis of masculinity year after year.

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5 Responses to “Get Your Gender Out Of My Social Problems”

  1. Did you actually read the entire speech? Because, if you did, I am baffled that the main thing that you took away from it the idea that apprenticeships and big factories are the answer and the only answer.

  2. Adam Bell said

    I did. I was similarly baffled that you followed a ‘multi-faceted notion of what it is to be a man’ with an immediate demand for traditional vocation-based learning for technical jobs. We must get away from this notion of gendered jobs, which helps no-one – and your comparison of working down the pits with working on the tills falls under this heading.

    The remainder of your policy proposals seem to revolve around using various service providers, alongside parents, to impact on the way in which young men encounter culture. This is of course important, but it rather appears to avoid the larger picture, which is that many of the problems you refer to are primarily those of the working classes, both male and female. The title of this blog post was intended to reinforce the idea that these problems are not necessarily gendered, and using gender to analyse them may be unhelpful.

  3. Thanks for this blogpost; I agree that the social issues raised are being wrongly diagnosed as to do with gender (yes young men drink too much, but then so does everyone else — it’s a problem with being British it seems). My research has documented young men relishing the expansion of legitimate masculine behaviours in recent years (see markmccormackphd.com), but given the important point you make in the comments, you might also be interested in Steve Roberts’ work (http://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/staff/academic/roberts-steven.html). He shows young ‘moderately educated’ men who work in the service sector are not in a crisis of masculinity either.

    • Adam Bell said

      Fascinating. It would be interesting to learn the direction of the causal relationship between the role of males in the workforce and the social conception of masculinity. If the former causes the latter, it would imply that our notion of what it is to be male is more a hangover from the industrial revolution than a historical necessity. Pre-industrial conceptions of masculinity may be very different.

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