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.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.