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.