The question is often asked in Men’s Voices circles: Why don’t more men stand up for themselves, campaign for better support services, try to have unjust discriminatory laws overturned? A phenomenon we have witnessed over and over again is this: after a conference say, men roused by the injustices they have heard about or read about, say they want to join MVI or take part in campaigns for redress of wrongs. When a week later we try to fix a date for a meeting they don’t respond, the commitment is lacking.
There is momentary enthusiasm generated by a glaring injustice which a little later when a call to action is made just disappears. It is evident not only here but in many countries.
Perhaps the best answer to this conundrum that we have heard comes from a presentation which was given by James Behan at our 2017 conference. As a young man and graduate student James was well placed to give a considered response. Fortunately his slides MVI J Behan November 2017 are available and are presented here with some additional commentary.
The title of the presentation is a succinct summary: Ignorance, Agency and Shame Or, ‘Why Don’t Young Men Stand up for Themselves?’
Ignorance, Agency and Shame
On Ignorance Slides 3, 4 and 5 gives the real truth on being a man: falling behind in education, the glaring lack of rights and services in crucial life-determining areas such as Family Law which discriminates brutally against men, removes men from their homes in case of relationship breakdown and denies them proper access to their children, all the while demanding that they pay mortgage or rent and support partners indefinitely.
For men who suffer intimate partner violence the lack of services is equally brutal while the grotesque charade is maintained that a 9 to 5 call service Monday to Friday is sufficient and no shelters are deemed needed. This is Tusla’s response.
Slide 7 affirms the long known, loudly proclaimed hostility of academia and the media to men and maleness which serves to reinforce the ignorance. Academic departments such as Gender Studies, Sociology, Anthropology portray men in a constantly negative light. Toxic masculinity is preached in Gender Studies; the Grievance Studies scandals of 2018 showed how eagerly articles purporting to find evidence of this are lapped up by so-called academic journals.
Slide 8 defines Agency as the ability to act independently and influence the world around oneself. Traditional views of men and masculinity place a high value on agency e.g. the Protector Provider role. At the same time it downplays female agency.
James emphasises that this notion of agency is also embedded in “progressive” ideals, not just in old-fashioned ideals. Slide 10 depicts the falseness of the “Equality” principle which is so often trumpeted.
He goes on to talk about the collective responsibility of men and boys as seen in slogans such as Man Up. And there is the toxic insinuation that where men experience problems, they themselves or the “patriarchy” is responsible. Slide 13 is a gem.
When women are in an unfavourable environment, we must change the environment.
When men are in an unfavourable environment, we must change the man.
Part Three on Shame begins with slide 15. This brilliant quote from the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst underlines a little known fact of World War I which is further developed in the next slide. Women including suffragettes handed out white feathers to men in civilian dress in British cities, playing on the shame factor to drive men into the armed forces “to make ready to do his best, to save the mothers, the wives and daughters of Great Britain from outrage too horrible even to think of.” One of the worst uses of a white feather was when one was presented to Seaman George Samson, who was on his way in civilian clothes to a public reception in his honour. Samson had been awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the Gallipoli campaign.
The great irony here is that most of the young men who fought and died in France and elsewhere did not have the vote either but the suffragettes did not make this part of their platform.
The next three slides show how this tactic of shaming is used to day in the print, electronic and social media. James says that male shaming has its roots in traditionalism but is readily employed by progressives, feminists, egalitarians and others who claim to want gender equality.
Young men are highly perceptive of what is ‘expected’ of them. It should be no surprise that they want nothing to do with any activism around men’s issues when those who engage in it are so regularly shamed and mocked for doing so.
The final slide offers a few practical suggestions as to what can be done. The first is that young men should be informed of the reality that men face but unfortunately this comes up against the brick wall of media opposition which has been mentioned many times. The media policy is to keep young men in the dark and deny them any voice. That is why groups like MVI are needed in the first place.
The final suggestion is to call out the media which seeks to collectivise guilt and heap shame on all men, to call out the misandry and turn the shame back against the media. That is what MVI has been trying to do.