An analysis of Shadow Minister for Public Health, Dianne Abbott’s, ‘cry wolf’ statements lamenting a “crisis in masculinity”.
This week Diane Abbott declared that we are facing a ‘crisis of masculinity’, I believe that she is right to raise the importance of men’s issues and how gender equality needs to be analysed from all angles. However her narrative about the causes and fear-mongering about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ does nobody any favours.
Diane Abbott is no stranger to controversy of course; half her Wikipedia page covers her various political misdemeanours.Now, in a week when the Shadow Minister for Public Health thought using the word demented pejoratively was fair game, her latest assertion that Britain is facing a ‘crisis of masculinity’ provokes more than it aims to help.
‘Male issues’ and discussions over masculinity are important and this article’s aim is not to discredit that or any discussions regarding gender issues. Gender inequality is still a vast contemporary issue for men and women and the incorporation of men’s issues in to feminism is of great importance. However, Diane Abbott’s attempt to create a moral panic over masculinity is misguided and unhelpful.
To her credit, Diane Abbott draws attention to issues facing men that are often not discussed in mainstream politics. She identifies, “the first rule of being a man in modern Britain is that you’re not allowed to talk about it”. There are various men’s issues that need to be tackled and Abbott highlights them. Issues such as, the reality that men are more likely to take their own lives than women. Men have lower educational attainment at all levels of the education system. Men are more likely to be homeless. Common psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety, are under diagnosed in men and men are less likely to access NHS services available to them.
These problems need to be addressed but the way Dianne Abbott frames the debate is counter productive and comes across as disorderly. Abbott argues that rapid economic change is warping male identity and encouraging machismo and misogyny leaving us in a crisis like situation. This is like putting two and two together and getting five.
What this assertion ignores is that society and its attitudes towards being macho and issues regarding masculinity have changed. This is not to say that there aren’t issues to be dealt with, but we are not entering a new era of crisis. The notion that the economic crisis causes men to lash out in a macho and misogynistic manner is grounded in little evidence and appears to be little more than a tribal attack on the government.
Diane Abbott has identified male issues, but has wrongly asserted the causes. Abbott contends that Britain is facing a crisis of masculinity that celebrates heartlessness and normalises sexism and homophobia.
Firstly, one of the successes of feminism over the past century has meant that men’s attitudes to women have improved dramatically. Tony Parsons’ argues in response to Abbott that ‘Men have never been better than they are today. More involved in bringing up their children. More genuinely supportive of their partners. More willing to discuss their fears with those closest to them.’
The idea that this contemporary crisis of masculinity normalises homophobia conflicts with evidence that suggests that homophobic attitudes are vanishing in schools.
Abbott also contends that porn is part of this concoction that has led the modern man to crisis point. Whilst the jury is still out whether or not porn causes violence, assertions like that are not helpful.
In regions such as The Middle East, Asia and Africa where women are treated worst, access to the Internet is also more restricted. Violence against women is a problem that needs to be addressed, generalising the problem is not the way to do so.
Albeit tongue in cheek, this clip from comedy film 21 Jump Street exemplifies changing attitudes to masculinity. Being violent, macho and homophobic is far more socially unacceptable in contemporary society.
Abbott is right to raise men’s issues, it’s just a shame that her narrative is about men who she contends are still massively homophobic, misogynistic, hyper-macho and obsessed with pornography and drinking. If we are apparently entering a crisis of masculinity, then what has been happening over the course of human history? We certainly haven’t had the ideal golden age of masculinity.