Masculinity in crisis? 'There is a battle going on inside us that is never discussed'
Masculinity is in crisis, says Diane Abbott. Men have ‘lost their way’, and in the wake of a succession of shocking sex crimes, are accused of failing to speak out. What’s going on? Kunal Dutta canvasses male opinion
Alex Wheatle, 50, is an author whose novel include ‘Brixton Rock’, ‘The Dirty South’, and ‘Brenton Brown’
A “masculinity crisis” is not the cause of the crimes that we have seen permeating society. Much of it is actually a certain powerlessness in which men feel they cannot influence their life and have been cut adrift from society.
Visit prisons or young people’s institutions and you’ll always see a desperate lack of opportunity and overwhelming sense among young men who feel that their needs are overlooked and what they end up doing is of no ultimate consequence. They cannot relate to anyone in power and are living in a hopeless state. When you hear their views and make a concentrated effort to try and help them, you realise how desperate the situation is. Society likes to rubbish young men. A few will go astray and do bad things: but we have to make sure their concerns are acknowledged and corrected. It’s all very well deploring crimes publically, but I’d prefer to see politicians hearing what they have to say and then making a concerted effort to try and help them.
Matt Lacey, 26, is the comedian behind the YouTube character ‘Gap Yah’
There seems to be deep gender anxiety and I’m not sure how helpful all this hand-wringing ultimately is. It feels like young males are currently being hounded by the revelations of 1970s celebrities and that we have the dead eyes of Jimmy Savile staring back at us and admonishing us.
I can understand why people are feeling anxious and depressed about it all – but we have to bear in mind that much of them are individuals whose actions are utterly deplorable but do not speak of men in general.
Peter Owen-Jones, 55, is a former advertising executive who is now a Church of England vicar
There is a constant battle that goes on inside every man that remains taboo. To that extent Diane Abbott is right. When it opens publicly we tend to veer to the safe ground of football and petty politics.
The terrible cases of grooming and the fallout of Savile have instilled a sense of shame in every man. We recognise the power of our own sexuality. But addressing it remains taboo and socially unacceptable.
At its core, the father-and-son relationship is absolutely critical. Currently it is still framed around pints of beer, football results and career ambitions. These are the easy comfortable points of daily life that frame our current identity. But it is a narrow vision that is positively disabling and utterly inadequate. It is time we address the vulnerabilities of the male identity and take responsibility for the motivations behind many of these crimes.
Daniel Trilling, 31, is an assistant editor of the ‘New Statesman’ and author of ‘Bloody Nasty People’
In relation to the Rochdale and Oxford grooming cases, the real crisis is not about men in general but more about how young women were viewed by people in position of power and responsibility. There was a wider unwillingness to believe that crimes were taking place. To that extent this is not about a “crisis of masculinity” but more about how women are seen by institutions: and that is the area that desperately needs addressing first. Of course all of this is fuelled by the fact that men have historically occupied privileged positions inside our society and the way sex and gender have been spoken about are ways that have been shaped and cultivated by men. The debate we should be having is not about the evil masculinity of Jimmy Savile but about the sexist culture that prevailed among men and women that allowed him to convict the crimes he did. Both men and women need to be part of that conversation.
Marcus du Sautoy
Marcus du Sautoy, 47, is a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford
This is not a crisis. It’s about men’s roles in society being reshaped. And rather than looking on it fearfully we should see it as empowering. Change causes uncertainty and, of course, that can be destabilising. But it’s not a crisis. Men are having a wider role in family life and that, in itself, is an evolution that should make us feel more enriched.
In regard to crimes, we must be careful of citing a direct cause and effect centred around masculinity. Terrible though they are, the sex crimes involving men are nothing new. It’s just that that society has shone a light on it. Paedophilia and child grooming have gone on for centuries – but thankfully we are more aware of it now. Indeed it is because of the changing role of men in society that much of this is being brought to light with the perpetrators brought to justice. With more knowledge and awareness, things will change for the better.
David Hepworth, 62, is a writer and broadcaster
Diane Abbott is right when she says that men today are caught between the world of John Mills and the world of moisturiser. When I was young no father dared attend the births of their children, which wasn’t right. Nowadays they don’t dare not be there, which isn’t right either. Lots of men I know seem to be permanently in apology mode, which I don’t remember my father’s generation being. We’re living in a culture of display, which means there’s no longer a lot of call for strong and silent. You can read a lot from people’s descriptions of themselves on Twitter. Why do they have to keep telling me they’re the loving father of some amazing kids? My dad came home from work and fell asleep in a chair but I never doubted he loved us.
Billy Bragg, 55, is a musician and activist
Diane Abbott is wrong. The crisis is not one of hyper masculinity but one of hyper individualism. The capitalist system has led us to believe that as individuals we can have whatever we want, and that, if we’re big and ugly enough, we can take whatever we can. At its most extreme, we are seeing that manifest itself in the ugliest of ways. Anyone that has seen the litany of unspeakable abuse recently should start thinking very hard about where we are as a society. People have confused masculinity with machismo – and that has to change. Men must resist conforming to the stereotypes of becoming wifebeaters just as women refused to be seen as domestic goddesses.
And those brutes – the groomers and the paedophiles– are people who have imposed their will as individuals. We need to think very hard about those men and what have fuelled their choices. Then we need to speak out collectively, before they grow up to become our sons or grandchildren.
Michael Bywater, 60, is an author whose books include ‘Big Babies: Or: Why Can’t We Just Grow Up?’
A mad, damaged, unloved man kills his de facto stepdaughter in a nightmare most of us can’t begin to understand. A fit of shame (on the BBC’s part) opens a legal vortex in which middle-aged women are invited to arraign elderly celebs for things they did when social norms were different.
A small subculture goes in for a homosocial and ritualised abuse of young women. These aren’t connected. They are about mad people, about changing moralities, about an odd and revolting social model which tacitly permits such things. To rope them together almost guarantees we’ll not understand any of them.
David Goodhart, 56, is the director of the think-tank Demos
There has been a huge feminisation of society and a massive and positive advance in middle-class women. Much of that has left men facing questions about what it means to be a male in contemporary society. But I think men have, by and large, responded to those questions quite well. There is no evidence to suggest that crime figures have risen.
Certainly those questions have to be separated from many of those dark crimes that have come to light recently. Much of those are individual cases involving a small number of men who are mentally ill and reacting with violent predatory behaviour. In the case of the grooming cases, we know that some of that is not masculinity per se, but tied up with the strict moral codes that Muslim men have been brought up on and their perception of the liberal codes that white women live by.
The Jimmy Savile scandal points us to the historical stature of celebrities as authorities figures. It is a different age and as more of the past crimes come to light, there is a wider likiehood that they will never again be quite accepted in the way they once were.
Oliver James, 60, is a psychologist and author of ‘Affluenza’
Diane Abbott is talking rubbish. We cyclically hear about this supposed crisis of masculinity but there is nothing proving that beyond her own conjecture. If anything the real crisis is one of femininity. As many as 43 per cent of 15-year-old girls are anxious and depressed: a figure that is almost halved among young men.
Similarly grooming gangs have nothing to do with the picture of masculinity but is more about a specific sexuality and attitude. There are a number of wider issues that are never properly investigated. For example, findings that suggest sexual abuse is the main cause of schizophrenia – and not genetics. Also you never hear about the other side of the argument such as the huge number of teenage girls who want to have sex with famous men. These are the more complicated and difficult issues that, while we want to gain a deeper understanding, we feel uncomfortable addressing.
Robert Elms, 53, is a writer and broadcaster. He presents a show on BBC London.
I think to talk of a crisis of masculinity is nonsense. If any male MP wrote about a crisis of femininity they would be dragged over hot coals. Are there bad men? Yes of course – but so were there bad men 30 years ago.
I would suggest that the morality of most men is far improved. If anything, all of the current outcry and exposure is a good sign. It shows we’re less tolerant of sexism and that violence is no longer acceptable. We are a more reasoned society than we have been. I have a 17-year-old son; and have noticed him and his peers are remarkably polite and good natured. They don’t have the casual racism and sexism that we would accept as youngsters. They have girls as platonic friends in a way we wouldn’t have had .
Every now and then you have this collective drive to make men more like women. We have to stop that. I slightly mourn the passing of the strong, silent type. I’m not against stiff upper lips. I think what Diane Abbott wrote was about the success of women. It’s a better time to be gay, black or just unusual – as more diverse notions of masculinity are far more acceptable than they’ve ever been.
Tim Lott, 57, is an author and columnist
Diane Abbott’s comments are a waterfall of personal opinion and prejudice. Where is the evidence? Crime has been dropping and much of the incidents coming to light are historical.
I do happen to think that the pornography on the internet is degrading and horrible but I don’t know what it tells us beyond the coarsening of the male mind.
The grooming gangs are as much a cultural phenomenon as they are about localised gangs committing illegal acts. But they are not an indicator of the status of contemporary masculinity.
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