Letters: New ways of being a man

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 22 May, 2013


The range of responses by the men interviewed in your feature to the question of whether there is a “crisis of masculinity” is striking (20 May). We should welcome the opportunity afforded by Diane Abbott’s speech to have a discussion about the problems facing men and boys in  21st-century Britain.

For men, feminism has been a gift in how it has opened up new ways of being a man, but it has also left men facing the psychological quandary of how to “be” in response to what has changed. This applies particularly in the home, which, in the conventional heterosexual formulation, is still predominantly defined by women.

In my view we have a long way to go before we understand male development and behaviour, and while father-son relations are really important, understanding how boys are influenced by their relationship to their mother is equally crucial.

Many men are still caught by the tensions inherent in mother-son relationships, part of them yearning for relationship, and another striving to define their gendered identity as separate from her.

We need a narrative about male development which helps us to make sense of the problems boys and men face, in the same way as feminism provided a narrative for women, and this needs to be one which makes it OK for men to critique feminism without feeling scared of the reaction they might get.

Dr Phil Goss, Senior Lecturer, Counselling & Psychotherapy, University of Central Lancashire, Preston

No wonder there’s a crisis in masculinity. See the media coverage of the retirements from football of Fergie and Becks. The former is celebrated for his rants; the latter his pants.

Dr Alex May, Manchester

Why are patients crowding  into A&E?

In an emergency, I believe that most patients would feel more confident if they were able to access their GP, rather than try to communicate with some disembodied voice on the end of the phone (“Top A&E doctors warn: we cannot guarantee safe care”, 21 May).

Perhaps the GP contract of 2004 is part of the problem, though it is difficult to see why it has taken so long for the strain on A&E departments to become apparent.

There are other factors in play, one of which is the difficulty in staffing these departments with doctors committed to specialising in this very stressful environment.

GPs must be brought back as the first point of contact in the care of emergency cases. They will require some financial inducement, and in the present economic climate may be inclined to strike a hard bargain.

E A Benson, Retired Consultant Surgeon, Brighouse, West Yorkshire

My experience may throw light on some of the problems faced by A&E departments.

When I retired from an outer London hospital paediatric consultant’s post five years ago, we looked at the figures from my first year in 1976 compared  with my last. Almost exactly the same number of children were admitted to hospital, but just over 10 times as many were seen and sent home  from A&E. The peak numbers were during the usual evening surgery  times for the local GPs.

The number seen continues to grow and must reflect parents’ changing attitudes both to coping with their children’s minor illnesses and to using their family doctor services.

Dr Peter Jaffe, London W5

“What Hunt wants to see is a system where GPs are rewarded for looking after patients when they are ill and when they’re well” – The Monday Interview, 13 May.

In my student days, a Chinese friend from Hong Kong would regale me and those around us with many a tale from his homeland to illustrate the differences between our countries,. On one occasion I recall him telling us how medicine used to be practised in ancient China.

A physician would be contracted by someone to see to their health needs, in return for the regular payment of an agreed amount. However, should illness arise, all emolument would cease until the complaint was overcome.

Something for Jeremy Hunt to ponder in the coming months?

Simon Parkinson, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire

Travelling north and south

Your third leader (17 May) notes the NAO’s “harsh judgement” on HS2. It’s not unreasonable to question the prudence of proceeding with HS2, even though it’s a practical and well-prepared project. However, why on earth do you then link your point to the reckless fantasy of Boris Island, for which no detailed costs exist and which would entail writing off 70 years of investment at Heathrow? 

May I ask you also to point out to your cartoonist that trains can readily be procured that will run on HS2 and then proceed to Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and many other places, spreading the benefits to northern England, Scotland and North Wales.

Roger Davis, Peterborough

R Goodall (letter, 14 May) writes that London sucks up UK infrastructure spending. I would invite him to take a trip round the M25 to junction 7 and try accessing Croydon. A piece of dual carriageway quickly narrows to a one-lane A road with 20 sets of traffic lights, leading to a journey of over an hour to cover five miles.

Or take a trip down the A21 out of London towards Hastings, with initially two lanes of traffic bowling along at reasonable speeds, until one reaches Pembury, at which point the dual carriageway feeds into a 14ft-wide country lane, with the predictable huge traffic jams. These bottlenecks have been known for years and not a penny has been spent.

In contrast, a trip to Sheffield, Leeds, Glasgow, Coventry etc sees traffic delivered on fast reliable dual or triple carriageways into the centre of the city without a single traffic light. I think the regions have done far better on infrastructure spending than London.

Paul Ives, Sanderstead, Surrey

Officials part mother and child

I find myself increasingly ashamed to be a citizen of a country which treats those outside its borders so badly. Recently I met a PhD student at a British university with which I am associated.

She is a citizen of a Commonwealth country in southern Africa. A few months ago she was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study in the UK for the three-year duration of her PhD.

She applied for visas to enable her children to accompany her. Her husband is studying full-time in another country in Africa, so she was going to have to endure that marital separation. Leaving her children behind however was not in her plans. The children range in age from one year to eight years.

The visa applications cost her $300 per child – a huge sum for one living in her country. I was deeply disappointed, though not surprised, when she told me that her application for visas for her children had been turned down, and I was even more ashamed of my country’s heartless immigration apparatchiks when I heard the reason given. “They told me that my husband could look after the kids”, she said, “something which simply isn’t culturally acceptable in my country”.

Who are our immigration officials to play God and decide that a mother should be separated from her children for three years? Are they really afraid that three children of one, five and eight years are going to take “our” jobs?  Will they be a drain on “our” benefits and health and education systems? How heartless can they be to separate a mother from her one-year-old?

Richard C Carter, Ampthill, Bedfordshire

Drama at the Scottish border

Elspeth Christie of Northumberland (letter, 18 May) need not worry too much over the future of the booze cruise. When Scotland breaks away from  the UK and joins the EU at the same time as the disunited Kingdom leaves Europe, she will be able to pop up to Berwick-upon-Tweed, cross the new land border with Europe and go into one of the many supermarkets set up to profit from the auld enemy’s insatiable thirst for cheap booze.

She may, however, have a long wait to cross back into England as she will have to queue up alongside all those Europeans who can no longer gain entry into England but who have entered Scotland without let or  hindrance and then just head south to the greener pastures across the border. Those who have the misfortune to be stopped and sent back will no doubt sign up to one of the many new companies organising walking tours across Hadrian’s Wall.

John E Orton, Bristol

Gay marriage: the Tebbit test

Lord Tebbit has raised the spectre that gay marriage might give rise to situations where lesbian queens use artificial insemination and fathers marry their own sons. One can scarcely imagine what the product of generations of this sort of inbreeding might look like...

Julian Self, Milton Keynes

In the light of the Conservatives’ displeasure at the law allowing same-sex marriage, may I suggest a new slogan for the Tory party: “Conservatives tolerate gay people – as long as they’re not married.”

Henry Page, Newhaven, East Sussex

Please could someone explain to those of us who are neutral on the subject, and would like a better understanding, what are the key points of difference between a register office wedding and a civil partnership?

Pat Johnston, Fourstones, Northumberland

Politicians make the tax laws

I am getting bored seeing committee rooms full of posturing politicians trying to divert attention from their own failures. Companies such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks are behaving within the tax laws. If politicians don’t like this then it is their responsibility to make changes.

Dragging senior company figures before Parliament is convincing nobody. The failure to collect decent amounts of tax is the fault of the politicians who define the laws.

Paul Harper, London E15

If Christopher Anton (letter, 22 May) is serious in his boycott of Google I suggest that he uses an alternative search engine, then he won’t see any Google adverts. Unfortunately my company cannot be so choosy, with Google monopolising search engine use in the UK – over 80 per cent use it, a higher proportion than any other country.

Rob Phillips, Bristol

Keep walking

There may well have been a major shift in attitudes of parents to allowing their children to walk to school (report, 20 May), but the evidence presented is far from convincing. It seems 81 per cent of children formerly walked to school, but now 27 per cent are driven. So the proportion walking has dropped from 81 per cent to 73 per cent – surely more of a minor shift.

Alfred Venables, Cardiff

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