Let's talk about men

Introducing our themed week on the NS blogs.

Lurking in the cellar of the internet are a group called the MRAs -  men's rights activists. They might be exemplified by the man who recently tried to sue the LSE in case which partly rested on the hardness of its chairs, but it would be a mistake to dismiss all of their concerns. Since Simone de Beauvoir, feminists have argued against regarding "man" as the default - but if we do this, how much space is there to talk about maleness as a distinct entity?

In the New Statesman in February, academic Jonathan Rutherford asked whether "the rise of identity politics and the loss of the 'family wage' [has] left too many men trapped in perpetual adolescence". Campaigners speak of the 'glass cellar'; the many low-paid insecure jobs which are disproportionately held by men. And in a new book, The Second Sexism, David Benatar notes that "the victims of murder and severe assault are disproportionately male. There have been lab experiments with both men and women where it has been shown that we have fewer inhibitions inflicting violence against men than women."

None of this is to say that feminism has failed, or has gone too far. But equality is not a zero-sum game: to admit that there are problems specific to men as a gender is not to deny that women suffer too. And talking about them can't be left to the MRAs.

So this week NewStatesman.com will host a series of posts exploring some of the questions facing modern men. We kick off with our newest regular bloggers, Rhiannon and Holly of The Vagenda, wondering whether being told you can't multitask is on a par with the challenges facing women. Later, we'll look at the surprising truth about the pay gap, and what it's like to be a man suffering from an illness more usually associated with women.

If you have any suggestions over what we should cover, leave a comment or find us on Twitter: @newstatesman

Day One: The mens' rights zeitgeist, by Rhiannon and Holly.

Day Two: No, I will not "grow a pair", says Steven Baxter.

Day Three: The Second Sexism: don't judge a book by its press, by Ally Fogg and The surprising truth about the pay gap by Alex Hern.

Day Four: On being a man with an eating disorder, by Joseph Stashko. 

Day Five: A shed of one's own, by James Ball; Why isn't male unemployment an issue? by Alex Hern; Negging - anatomy of a dating trend by Nicky Woolf. 

In the wilderness: is it time to take men's problems more seriously?

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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