Oi, masculinity! Mind having your latest crisis in peace?

Can anyone remember a time when masculinity was not “in crisis”? I’ll be honest with you: I can’t. Whatever the time, whatever the place, men have always found a way in which to be society’s real losers. Poor old them.

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. Oh, okay, actually, I do. I am sodding well sick of white male middle-class journalists linking petty struggles with their own egos to the plight of unnamed working-class males. Once you bring the working-class males into the mix, no one is allowed to be unsympathetic. Especially not feminists, who are all middle-class anyhow.

I don’t wish to belittle the difficulties faced by men or women who can’t find work or who are in very low-paid jobs. I do however wish to belittle the moral authority of men who blend together the genuine challenges faced by the low-paid and unemployed with an “identity crisis” which is based on being paid less than your partner and having to do the washing up. IT IS NOT THE SAME THING. AND THE ROOT CAUSES ARE NOT THE SAME.

In a piece for the Guardian entitled Neither Breadwinners Nor Losers, Ally Fogg makes some very valid points about how, in the midst of an economic crisis, interventions based on a particularly crude form of identity politics can allow struggling white males to slip through the cracks. He embeds these very valid points in a whole pile of crap about how men are undermined and mocked and undervalued, and hey, he does most of the washing up round his way, but he’s okay with it (no need to apologise to him just yet, girls. You do however get the impression that we’re meant to be grateful).

In an article illustrated by a picture of a man hoovering while holding a baby (ooh! it’s like when the Two Ronnies did The Worm That Turned!), Fogg looks at the statistics which tell us what we already know (e.g. women do better at school and are more likely to be graduates; men who are graduates more likely to be well-paid than women who are graduates; young women earn more than young men, unless both are graduates). Fogg does not come to the conclusion that a) we need to examine gender stereotyping in education and b) we ought to question why the pay gap still re-asserts itself in favour of men when qualifications are comparable. Instead he claims the following:

The statistics are shocking, but more disturbing is our collective reluctance to identify this as a problem of social policy and economics. Male underachievement is assumed to be the product of individual failings.

Speaking technically, that’s just bollocks, isn’t it? So no one ever talks about the “feminisation” of education, the dearth of male role models, the problems of exam systems which, because girls do well, must obviously “play to female strengths”? Seriously? It strikes me that our own unwillingness to value female achievement as “real” achievement, and the drive, instead, to explain it away as a result of a system which panders to girliness, might just be a very big factor in ensuring boys remain turned off from education. Which is a shame because if they played their cards right, the statistics suggest they’d still be winning the game by miles.

Fogg then drifts into making the kind of claims which wouldn’t seem out of place on some random, scattergun men’s rights website:

The same phenomenon has become a small industry in the US, where young men are mocked and caricatured in hit movies, their lives are pathologised by psychologists, and they are branded deadbeat by bestselling authors. The demise of the domestic patriarch is certainly welcome, but like postwar Britain, our young men have lost an empire and not yet found a role.

Because women in the US are having a whale of a time, right? Look, I know it’s not a competition, but give me a break. This is just meaningless. When there is a male equivalent to Femail, then we can talk about a popular culture that ridicules men. Moreover, phrases such as “the demise of the domestic patriarch is certainly welcome, but” don’t half sound like a twisty version of “I’m not a sexist, but”. If you are going to link feminist progress in the domestic and professional spheres with a lack of opportunities for young men, you should at least be honest about what you’re doing and the risks you run.

The problem with “masculinity in crisis” is that it’s so damn broad. It ends up aligning male irritation at the progress of uppity women with the genuine disadvantage suffered by men at the bottom end of the social spectrum. It ends up implicitly holding feminism to account for economic and structural disasters that have nothing to do with gender equality. It ends up, almost, suggesting that women need to say sorry for their gains, gains that they don’t really deserve. It does nothing to preserve what should be a natural assumption: that men and women are equals and that equality can only ever be stolen or returned – it is never benevolently bestowed by the dominant on the weak.

I am aware that someone like Ally Fogg is meant to be one of the good guys. Indeed, he’s Comment is Free’s friendly face of feminism (friendly insofar as a. he’s not female, and b. he’s not really very feminist). Fogg is keen to distance himself from total “masculinity in crisis” tossers such as Tony Parsons. But let’s face it, saying “I’m not as bad as Tony Parsons” isn’t really saying very much. In announcing to everyone that you are “fine” with your female partner earning more than you, you can’t help sounding like you’re grandly granting every woman on earth permission not to feel inferior. It’s a bit like the “Hey, it’s okay” section in Glamour magazine; we never assumed it wasn’t okay to earn more than our partners. We just assumed any partner who thought this worth discussing as an “issue” might be a bit of a knob.

Well, anyhow, this is all part of the Guardian’s “graduate without a future” series. And in actual fact, the “matching” article on why life’s shit for female graduates, too, is even worse. I rather think it might be a good idea not to view social, class and economic inequalities through a poorly constructed prism of pink ‘n’ blue gender crises. But that’s just me. Best finish off this post because I need to be up early tomorrow to go out and be the breadwinner. But hey, everyone, don’t worry! I’m, like, totally fine with it.

5 thoughts on “Oi, masculinity! Mind having your latest crisis in peace?

  1. achhh, i can’t cope with this crap. when i was in school (only the 80s), girls weren’t allowed to do motor mechanics or technical drawing (cookery or needlework instead) and our headmistress called a girl a “slut” after seeing her holding hands with her boyfriend.
    30 years on, not much has really changed. No-one needs tossers like Tony Parsons (boy, was that man Burchilled) to remind us that the world is full of whinging men who have no idea how good they’ve got it.
    I had a female boss in the 90s who tried to buy a new car and was told by the greasy salesman that they needed her husband’s agreement on the sales form, because they weren’t sure he’d approve.
    Never mind she told them to fuck off. Never mind she was earning more than her husband, and it was HER money she was spending. The fact this situation even arose proves how far we have to go.
    I am SICK of men moaning. Women in the UK have had the vote for less than a hundred years, it only stopped being legal to rape them within marriage in the 1990s, you’re still paid more for doing the same job and it’s not enough to soothe your ego?
    Cry me a fucking river.

    1. I am glad other people think this too! It’s not that I think all men are wallowing in the riches of unlimited privilege – I am just sick of those who consider it acceptable to associate “being a bit uncomfortable with gender equality” with the difficulties faced by young men who are genuinely disadvantaged within our crappy, “knowledge economy”. It should just be unacceptable to express misgivings about men having “lost” their dominant role, even if you follow it up with a self-serving “but I’m okay with it, me”. To extend the empire metaphor further, would you really go to former colonies and say “it’s alright for you but spare a thought for formerly ruling Britannia – we’re having a right old identity crisis!” You might think it, but I reckon you ought to be a bit ashamed to express it in public…

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  3. Hi Glosswitch

    Ally Fogg here. I’m glad you found a few things in my article of interest. Not much I can do about you and Marina finding me generally irritating, I’m afraid, but there are a couple of criticisms here that I found quite interesting, and at the risk of irritating you even more (on your own blog, no less) I’d like to respond.

    First, on the class thing, I completely agree with you. I was commissioned to contribute to a series about graduates, and my first thought was “Graduates? You think they’ve got it bad? Trying being a 17y-o NEET!” So I sneaked in a couple of references to non-graduate – mostly working class – males, and I had to bend the rules a bit. I suspect I was the only contributor to the series to do even that.

    As for “the statistics you already know” there were a couple of those stats I had to calculate from ONS stats myself because as far as I could find, literally nobody had reported them anywhere – the current rate of change in male and female youth unemployment, for example. Those that are perhaps better known were still central to the issues I was addressing – so I could hardly ignore them.

    Now this:

    It strikes me that our own unwillingness to value female achievement as “real” achievement, and the drive, instead, to explain it away as a result of a system which panders to girliness,

    This is really interesting, because I think you’re saying the exact same thing as I am, but from the other side of the table. Our gendered (or patriarchal, if you prefer) culture has a habit of viewing female achievement or underachievement as a product of social forces and systems, and male achievement or underachievement as a product of individual talent or failings. Personally I believe that in both cases it is a bit of both, but the prevailing media/political narrative simultaneously fails to recognise structural problems AND fails to credit individual achievements, because they are two sides of the same coin.

    “Fogg then drifts into making the kind of claims which wouldn’t seem out of place on some random, scattergun men’s rights website”:

    Again, I pretty much agree with you. Hence my slightly sneering tone about an “industry.” I was pointing out that there is a cultural meme at large about deadbeat lads, and I think it is largely bollocks and I pretty much said so.

    The problem with “masculinity in crisis” is that it’s so damn broad. It ends up aligning male irritation at the progress of uppity women with the genuine disadvantage suffered by men at the bottom end of the social spectrum. It ends up implicitly holding feminism to account for economic and structural disasters that have nothing to do with gender equality.

    Must confess, this is the only part of your blog that I find genuinely disappointing, because it is pretty much the exact opposite of what I was trying to say and what I believe. Guess I didn’t explain myself well enough.

    he’s Comment is Free’s friendly face of feminism (friendly insofar as a. he’s not female, and b. he’s not really very feminist)

    I’m not a feminist at all

    But let’s face it, saying “I’m not as bad as Tony Parsons” isn’t really saying very much.

    Oh I dunno. I think I might get it put on my headstone. “He wasn’t as bad as Tony Parsons.”

    Thanks for some thought-provoking criticism. Look forward to getting on your tits some more sometime soon.😉

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