If men are in crisis, the answer is feminism

We should embrace Diane Abbott's masculinity 3.0

Share

Are British men in crisis? According to Diane Abbott, the answer is yes. In a speech yesterday, Labour’s shadow public health minister said that recession and new social pressures are leaving men “isolated and misdirected”, in thrall to “pornified ideals”, and with no “authentic voice” to relate their concerns to the culture at large.

Take a look at society today and your response might be: well, you could have fooled me. As men, we still earn more than women, face less job insecurity, and are vastly more likely to make it to the top in fields like business and politics. One in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life. And then there’s the mundane, incessant battle women face to be judged by their personal qualities rather than the way you look: sign up to the Twitter feed @EverydaySexism for a snapshot of what women put up with on a daily basis. If there’s a crisis, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s women, as usual, who are facing it.

But Abbott is right about one thing: the images of masculinity my generation have grown up with aren’t fit for purpose. There’s nothing new about the “celebration of heartlessness”, “lack of respect for women’s autonomy” and homophobia Abbott discerns in modern manhood. This is the same old vision of male identity previous generations bought into, albeit photoshopped and hyper-pixelated for the modern age – and it was always a sadly limited notion of what men could be.

But in a more complex, economically uncertain world, where gender roles are less clearly defined and women – in theory, if not in practice – are our equals, many men are floundering. Men who buy Nuts magazine, fix on hardcore porn and then go to work with female colleagues and bosses, or navigate relationships with flesh-and-blood women, are using a 2.0 version of masculinity in a 3.0 world.

So what’s the answer to the malaise of the modern man? One word: feminism. This may sound odd; after all, we’re often told it’s the rise of women that has left us insecure and bewildered. But female empowerment isn’t a zero-sum game. The fact is, men have much more to gain from feminism than they have to lose – and it’s time we started talking about it.

I’m not peddling a form of feminism that seeks to reassure men that women’s liberation will leave all our privileges intact. The style of feminism that’s more concerned about being sexy and acceptable to men than fighting injustice isn’t real feminism. Inevitably, more women in top jobs will mean slightly fewer positions of power and prestige for us.

But the loss of a few male perks is a small price to pay for the benefits of what Diane Abbott called a more “multi-faceted notion of what makes a man”. One of the main reasons I am among just 16 per cent of British men who define themselves as feminist is that, growing up, I struggled against the masculine role expected of me. Although I loved football and rugby, I found the aggressive, homophobic banter of the changing-room alienating. It felt as though I was expected to be domineering, selfish and desensitised, and to treat women as nothing more than sexual prey. Instead I preferred hanging out with my best friend, Emma, talking about the weird gendered straitjackets we were each expected to wear.

Of course, there are all kinds of injustices women face that men don’t. It is laughable to suggest, as some do, that women’s rights have advanced far enough, and that the real victims of sexism today are men. Feminism is – obviously -  about combating the inequality women face.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for men in feminism. The idea that injustices facing half the world’s population should somehow be of marginal interest to the rest of us seems bizarre, even insulting. The minority strain of feminism that insists on shutting men out is, in fact, a sad mirror-image of patriarchal ideas: that men and women are fundamentally different, and that we can’t hope to truly understand each other. And if men are excluded from conversations about women’s rights, it shouldn’t be surprising if many choose not to listen.

The battle of the sexes has no winners, only losers. Feminism means justice for women, but for men it can mean the freedom to laugh, cry, dance, and be proud – and to choose between watching Arsenal or Strictly Come Dancing. A world in which men and women were truly equal would allow us to explore our human identity in all its variety and complexity. That has to worth it for the price of a few seats at the boardroom table.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea