Men who moan too much

In the States, Angry White Males are on the march. Now even British men are threatening to burn their boxers. Do shifting gender roles mean we're all victims now?

Justine Picardie
Saturday 30 September 1995 23:02

you have probably heard all about America's Angry White Males: those raging crusaders against feminism, political correctness and affirmative action; the furious mob who hate Hillary Clinton even more than they despise her husband Bill and who bawl to anyone who will listen that men are victims, too.

Over here, things have been a bit less dramatic: cross British men, perhaps, rather than angry white males. Two leading proponents of the British men's movement: David Thomas (the author of Not Guilty: In Defence of the Modern Man) and Neil Lyndon (who wrote No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism) received a certain amount of publicity when their books were published a couple of years ago. But much to Thomas's and Lyndon's chagrin, their complaints - that modern man is oppressed - were largely dismissed at the time. "Critics agreed that my arguments were illogical and incoherent, my prose style appalling," Thomas observes sadly. "Columnists called me a wimp, a whinger, a whiner, a misogynist and a transvestite."

Now, however, there seems to be a discernible shift in opinion: namely, that men might not be having it so easy after all. Last month, the Equal Opportunities Commission announced that nearly half of the complaints it receives about job recruitment are being made by men, many of whom allege that they are being discriminated against on grounds of their sex. Last week Demos, the independent think-tank, published a report showing that unemployment among young men was 5 to 6 per cent higher than among their female peers; that working-class men had lost their "jobs for life" in heavy industry and manufacturing, and were not being employed in the only alternative work, which tended to be in traditionally female areas. It also found that 30 per cent of working-class men say that these changes are "making their life a misery". For men, says the report, "work was the main source of identity and the means by which they defined their manhood ... The costs of men's declining status are already clear: a dramatic increase in male suicide, a rise in male depression and signs that many young men are trapped in a form of "permanent adolescence".

The report also talks gloomily of "male underachievement in schools"; of the absence of fathers' rights; of the unhappiness of divorced men (72 per cent of divorces are now initiated by women; 51 per cent of divorced men would have preferred to stay married).

Little wonder, then, that David Thomas should say, with a certain amount of smugness: "I told you so." Not that he is blaming any of this stuff on women: "Men still run the frigging world, for God's sake." No, the problem, as he sees it, is that men won't admit to their problems. "Men have got to have the guts to stand up and admit when they feel nervous, or put upon, or frightened."

Roger Whitcomb, the chairman of the UK Men's Movement (UKMM) takes a more pugnacious approach. A 54-year-old engineer in the aerospace industry ("or what's left of it," he says bitterly), Whitcomb believes that the men's movement should be "actively campaigning, actively causing trouble". He, and his 500 or so colleagues in the UKMM (motto: "For evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing") are very angry indeed. Their literature asks: "Are you THE VICTIM of an 'engineered' no-fault divorce you neither wanted nor caused, excluded from your children's lives and perhaps now hounded by the Child Support Agency? A MAN disadvantaged by feminist employment law perhaps, refused promotion in favour of a token woman? A STUDENT sickened, harassed and endangered by campus feminism?" They are also alarmed by "unequal pension ages, women-only car parks, women-only swimming-pool sessions" and other latter-day evils.

Dr Whitcomb, who has no children and regretfully never remarried after his own divorce, believes that: "The family is being destroyed at the expense of men. The law only cares about men paying for the family when it breaks up." He is also concerned about what he sees as an increasing number of "false allegations against men". What kind of false allegations, exactly?

"The domestic violence of men against women is grossly exaggerated," he says. "And women are more likely to use weapons against men, and men are eight times less likely to report it." Dr Whitcomb is slightly vague about the source of these startling statistics; but never mind, because he has a horror story to tell me, concerning a 31-year-old man who lives in Cheltenham. "He was falsely accused of the rape of a woman, and charged solely on the basis of her word," Dr Whitcomb says. He believes that the man's arrest came about because "the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are under pressure from politicians who are keen to stay on the right side of women's pressure groups". This does not sound very likely (can Cheltenham really be such a hot-bed of radical feminism?); but Dr Whitcomb says that lily- livered politicians do as the feminists order "because that way they think they will have mass appeal to female voters".

If Roger Whitcomb represents the more extreme end of the men's movement, then Richard Olivier is its New Age guru. The son of the more famous Laurence, he runs men's workshops, using drumming, dancing and poetry "to explore what it means to be a man in the Nineties". Olivier recognises that "the increasing numbers of women moving into the workforce and the introduction of new technology means that there is never going to be full employment for men again". But unlike Demos he sees this trend as a positive one "because being a breadwinner stopped men from having a full emotional life and being involved with their children".

That's all very well, I say, but what about money? How are all those unhappy, unemployed working-class men identified by Demos going to get in touch with their inner feelings when they can't afford to leave the house, let alone attend one of Olivier's "mytho-poetic, multicultural men's events"?

It's true, he admits, "that the bulk of the men who come are white, middle- class, 30- to 45-year-olds". But, he says, once these brave pioneers have learnt to express their emotions and become mature masculine men (as opposed to their forefathers, "the abusive and domineering patriarch" or their more recent misguided replacement, "the Sensitive New Age Guy") then they can go out into the wider world and help other, less privileged classes.

Only when they get there, they might discover that the proles are already helping themselves. Helen Wilkinson, the co-author of the Demos report, discovered a number of working-class men's groups in the course of her research, including one in Drumchapel, near Glasgow.

Tommy Riley, who founded the group there at the end of 1992, lost his job at the local tyre factory 17 years ago, when he was 29. "After the factory closed down, all the good, well-paid jobs in the area disappeared," he says. His wife, a home-help, became the breadwinner, supporting their four children; while he, increasingly depressed at his inability to earn a living, twice tried to kill himself. Eventually, he began to notice that he was not the only man in the same state of despair: two-thirds of the male population of Drumchapel are unemployed; and the suicide rate among young men has risen. "Men are becoming house-husbands," says Riley. "They've got kids to look after, they are depressed, their GPs give them medication, and they become agoraphobic."

The men's group - like the women's groups set up in the 1970s - aims to offer mutual support and advice. There are now 30 of them, who have organised cookery and t'ai-chi lessons for themselves and regular hill- walks. Later this month, an off-shoot of the group - a local men's health project, funded by the Scottish Office - is to be launched, offering aromatherapy, acupuncture and counselling.

If this all sounds surprisingly Californian, well, why not? But before we get too carried away with the burgeoning new men's movement, it might be worth remembering what angry white males tend to forget: that feminism has not enabled women to have it all. The Demos report contains some other equally interesting statistics. Working women still do twice or three times the amount of cleaning as working men. Women still take primary responsibility for childcare. Women continue to predominate in low-paid and part-time jobs. If more men are suffering than before, then perhaps they are simply joining the ranks of the oppressed, rather than replacing their longer-suffering wives and sisters on the front-line.

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