A shed of one's own

We need to be more open about issues facing men.

We need to talk about men and we don’t do so. Quite often, because of the cultures of both modern men and women, it’s because we can’t.

Even to suggest that there are issues among men that might need talking through is a minor heresy: being a white male is like playing a computer game on “easy mode” – men are the patriarchy. Not only do we sail easily into the elite, with great jobs and pay, we’re also responsible for a huge number of problems faced by other groups.

For some men, all of the above is true. Looking at the very top of society, you could imagine it was the case for huge numbers. But it's not the case for everyone: millions of men are losing out and their situation is getting steadily worse each year. And all too often, it’s happening below the radar.

Despite the focus on the real and severe impact of the UK’s austerity measures on women, men were more likely to be unemployed before the downturn and still are.

Men are more likely than women to be the victims of violence and far more likely to be in jail. Year after year, boys’ school attainment falls behind that of girls, as does their chances of getting into university.

It goes further. There is still a pay gap between the genders for those under 30 – but men are lagging behind women. Given what’s happening in education, this could sustain and even worsen in the coming decades.

Are these problems the fault of women, or feminism? Of course not. Do they mean that it’s time for women (and men) to stop fighting for social justice, access to abortions, an end to domestic and sexual violence and more? No.

But why should the problems of one group only be addressed and discussed if they are caused by another? We certainly don’t do so for race: black-on-black violence is recognised as the genuine social problem it is and efforts are made to tackle it. Similarly, few suggest that the staggering level of black youth unemployment – in excess of 50 per cent for men – is simply down to racism. It’s far more complex than that.

So it is with many of the challenges facing modern feminists and the problems faced by many men. The pay gap for women over 30 is now far more about access to childcare – an issue that surely could unite men and women – and choice of profession and primary care-giver, rather than outright prejudice.

Right now, too much of the conversation around what’s going on with men is left to people who’d either prefer to go back to 1950 or who think feminism’s battles are won.

But if we will take the time to acknowledge complex issues for women, why not for men? The game need not be zero-sum: things that benefit men need not come at the cost of women, nor vice versa.

Our uneasiness about bloke talk has wider problems. Take cancer as an example. Breast cancer killed 11,556 UK women in 2009, while prostate cancer killed nearly as many men (10,382). But despite their broadly similar mortality rates, breast cancer receives nearly three times as much site-specific research funding as prostate cancer.

The reason for this is a positive one: the "sisterhood" is a positive image and one used to fundraise aggressively for an excellent cause. Women’s-only fundraisers and races are increasingly common – not just for cancer but for other causes.

Being a strong and successful woman might still be loaded with a huge amount of baggage around appearance and more that men don’t have to face but it’s almost unquestionably a positive image.

Seeing a group of strong men as part of a "brotherhood" is not nearly such a positive image, reeking of conspiracy and cabal. Any club or society that only admits men is (possibly rightly) pilloried.

Success as a man is for many of us loaded with the guilt that comes from having it easy – and talk about male culture too quickly slides into chauvinism.

It’s a confusing welter of mixed signals that leads to no decent sense of male culture and male identity – something that is surely a contributing factor to the problems set out above.

The “battle of the sexes” is a cliché with a lot to answer for. It’s a fake battle that we should all be tired of fighting. Surely allowing for room to think about and discuss men, masculinity and what’s going wrong with it is legitimate. If it led to creative thinking or solutions to violence, imprisonment or low attainment, men would certainly not be the only beneficiaries.

Give men a bit of space to think, to discuss, to write – a shed of one’s own, as it were – and we might all come out better off.

James Ball is a journalist for the Guardian

Sisterhood: this "pink Zumbathon party" was held to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. London, October 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

James Ball is a journalist at the Guardian

Photo: Getty
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Labour's trajectory points to landslide defeat, but don't bet on a change at the top any time soon

The settled will among Jeremy Corbyn's critics that they need to keep quiet is unlikely to be disrupted by the result. 

Labour were able to tread water against Ukip in Stoke but sank beneath the waves in Copeland, where the Conservatives’ Trudy Harrison won the seat.

In Stoke, a two-point swing away from Labour to the Tories and to Ukip, which if replicated across the country at a general election would mean 15 Conservative gains and would give Theresa May a parliamentary majority of 40.

And in Copeland, a 6.7 per cent swing for Labour to Tory that would see the Conservatives pick up 52 seats from Labour if replicated across the country, giving them a majority of 114.
As the usual trend is for the opposition to decline from its midterm position at a general election, these are not results that indicate Labour will be back in power after the next election.. That holds for Stoke as much as for Copeland.

The last time a governing party won a by-election was 1982 – the overture to a landslide victory. It’s the biggest by-election increase in the vote share of a governing party since 1966 – the prelude to an election in which Harold Wilson increased his majority from 4 to 96.

To put the length of Labour’s dominance in Copeland into perspective: the new Conservative MP was born in 1976. The last Conservative to sit for Copeland, William Nunn, was born in 1879.

It’s a chastening set of results for Ukip, too. The question for them: if they can’t win when Labour is in such difficulties, when will they?

It’s worth noting, too, that whereas in the last parliament, Labour consistently underperformed its poll rating in local elections and by-elections, indicating that the polls were wrong, so far, the results have been in keeping with what the polls suggest. They are understating the Liberal Democrats a little, which is what you’d expect at this stage in the parliament. So anyone looking for comfort in the idea that the polls will be wrong again is going to look a long time. 

Instead, every election and every poll – including the two council elections last night – point in the same direction: the Conservatives have fixed their Ukip problem but acquired a Liberal Democrat one. Labour haven’t fixed their Ukip problem but they’ve acquired a Liberal Democrat one to match.

But that’s just the electoral reality. What about the struggle for political control inside the Labour party?

As I note in my column this week, the settled view of the bulk of Corbyn’s internal critics is that they need to keep quiet and carry on, to let Corbyn fail on its his own terms. That Labour won Stoke but lost Copeland means that consensus is likely to hold.

The group to watch are Labour MPs in what you might call “the 5000 club” – that is, MPs with majorities around the 5000 mark. An outbreak of panic in that group would mean that we were once again on course for a possible leadership bid.

But they will reassure themselves that this result suggests that their interests are better served by keeping quiet at Westminster and pointing at potholes in their constituencies.  After all, Corbyn doesn’t have a long history of opposition to the major employer in their seats.

The other thing to watch from last night: the well-advertised difficulties of the local hospital in West Cumberland were an inadequate defence for Labour in Copeland. Distrust with Labour in the nuclear industry may mean a bigger turnout than we expect from workers in the nuclear industries in the battle to lead Unite, with all the consequences that has for Labour’s future direction.

If you are marking a date in your diary for another eruption of public in-fighting, don’t forget the suggestion from John McDonnell and Diane Abbott that the polls will have turned by the end of the year – because you can be certain that Corbyn’s critics haven’t. But if you are betting on any party leader to lose his job anytime soon, put it on Nuttall, not Corbyn.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.