This week came the revelation from Conservative MP Nick Fletcher who appeared to blame the feminising of TV and film characters for the increase in male violence across the UK.
His words not mine “We’ve seen Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker and the Eqalizer all replaced by women and men are left with the Krays and Tommy Shelby”.
Having hardly taken a breath Mr Fletcher went on to say ‘Is it any wonder we’re seeing so many young men committing crime
As someone who works in this field of violence prevention my first act was to laugh out loud but then I stopped myself as I realised that this ill-informed view is part of an ongoing narrative which seeks to perpetuate a myth that there is a war on men.
Our boys and men are flaming out. Academically, sexually and in their relationships boys and men are struggling. Looking at our jails, our rates of drug and alcohol deaths, the suicide rate and both victims and perpetrators of violence men disproportionately feature. However, trying to reduce these facts to a lack of on-screen role models is just wrong.
Also, it’s too simplistic. In my experience it’s more complicated than that.
Having worked with men in UK prisons I have met many men who looked to their fathers and grandfathers for notions of masculinity. I’ve asked young men to tell me the man they aspire to be. Many say, ‘like my dad’. Many others also say, ‘not to be like my dad’. For those who look positively at their fathers as role models one thing is currently missing that helps the men emulate them. Many of the roles that past generations of young men carried out are simply gone. Also, many of these young men lack the education that will support them into employment. Surely, we need to look at why many young men are underachieving across the UK.
We have a perfect storm where young men, trying to fulfil the role of provider are turning to crime, including violence through desperation, and through a need to have identity. When legitimate avenues to masculinity are closed off researchers have found men in deprived spaces draw on whatever resources are most easily available – often crime and violence. The tool of violence is the way that many men achieve and maintain power and control over men, women and others.
Also, we need much more understanding around the impact of adverse childhood experiences suffered by young boys. Recent research says the delay in maturation we know occurs with boys prolongs their exposure to toxic stress resulting in longer term effects coming from adversity experienced in these early years.
To reduce the important conversations on men and violence to blaming a female Doctor Who or a female James Bond isn’t helpful and like many conversations on men’s violence simply deflects society from where the real conversations need to be had.
As men we still feel able to blame women on the issues facing boys and men rather than having a wider conversation. Is this because as men we will see the many ways we contribute to the issues at play.
To reduce men’s violence, it’s not women stealing the roles ‘made for men’ that need to be addressed. If we’re really going to address and transform the gender norms underlying men’s perpetration of violence, including sexual harassment and assault, we must address the role of peer cultures – small and large, local, and global that help to produce and reproduce those norms.
That’s the work I and my others, men, women, and others have been doing for a long time. But it must be scaled up. We must make men’s violence including men’s abuse of women in all its forms – physical, sexual, verbal, socially unacceptable among men. I believe that if we can do that, we’ll reduce the incidence of perpetration by men quite considerably.
Society must create the space to talk to boys and men about the many different ideas of masculinity that are present. This is particularly relevant to boys and men from working class backgrounds that present the risk for all the issues I detail above.
For men, that includes reinforcing the notion that it is not feminine or weak to do things like look after your children. For those who we elect to represent us that means doing the knowledge on the issues that really effect boys and men rather than to perpetuate the notion that men are the real victims of inequality.
In a world where role models remain important for us all we must work to be these role models in the lives of our boys. Furthermore, with an increase in female role models, why can’t men look up to them too?