Youth violence is not about race - the problem is feminism

Dear Mr Lammy

I read with interest your article published today regarding the difficulties that young men often face in Britain, and in particular the problem of young men becoming involved in gangs.

There is however an aspect of your comments that I found troubling.

I will quote: “Some of the old images and expressions of masculinity are disappearing from society. Most obviously the relationship between men and their work has undergone a revolution. A model of work built on physical endeavour is slowly being replaced by an emphasis on intellectual and emotional labour. Women are beginning to break through the glass ceiling, displacing men as the principal earners for the first time.”

You go on to suggest that the solutions may include better male role models, funding for boys’ services, apprenticeships for young men – in short, new ways of helping boys to build up a new, healthier masculine self-image.

Firstly, I am troubled that you identify the disappearance of old images / expressions of masculinity, and women’s progress in the workplace, as causative of young men’s malaise. As far as women are concerned, many of those old images and expressions of masculinity only worked because they excluded and subordinated women: male-dominated workplaces; male-dominated sport; male-dominated homes and families; male-dominated politics; male-dominated life. If they had not excluded or subordinated women then they would not have expressed masculinity but humanity.

Is it fair to blame male violence on female advancement, on the lessening of female oppression? Is it fair to say that young men are giving up and turning to crime simply because they now have to compete with women for legitimate successes? Should we women give up our progress towards an equality not yet achieved so that young men will put down their knives?

I am sure you realise that when women are kept down in the workplace, women suffer. I am sure that you also realise that when women are given the default role of “secondary” earners at best, when husbands expect to earn more than their wives, women suffer. As a single working mother in a family with a now-absent father, I know the price women pay for being “secondary” earners – we pay it when we have a husband, and we (and our children) pay it even more after our husband has gone. I had no choice but to “displace” my husband as a primary earner, but I still don’t earn as much as a man would earn who had my skills and qualifications. I do not relish being “blamed”, as a woman who has taken a “male” job, for causing the disaffection and violence of male youth.

Still, what you say is, I think, absolutely accurate. If women gave up their progress towards equality in the workplace, in art and media, in sport, at home, in politics and in public life then men would feel more confident, more comfortable – and they may not feel the need to carry weapons to feel manly.

Nevertheless, I am troubled by your suggestion that the solution to violent masculinity, where knives and other weapons become symbols of male power in place of more traditional symbols such as male jobs, is to re-draw masculinity in a more “positive” way. In effect, you want to redirect masculinity, create new and less destructive definitions of manliness. Thus you want to recreate “traditionally male” jobs or other valuable and worthwhile “male” activities.

Yet I don’t see how young men can be encouraged into some valuable or worthwhile activity as an expression of masculinity – whether it is male jobs or boy scouts or anything else – unless you also deny women access to that same valuable or worthwhile activity. If women were allowed to do it on the same terms as men, then the activity would not be masculine. Redirecting young men’s energy into some “new masculinity” can only work if this glowing renaissance of masculinity comes at the expense of women. If the new masculinity isn’t about being better than women at violence, then it will be about being better, more powerful, more privileged than women in the workplace or in some other sphere of life where women deserve not oppression or discrimination but dignity and equality.

(And jobs are not male or female. Jobs are jobs. Women and men do them. Will young women be encouraged to go onto these apprenticeships? If not, what will they lose out on while young men are being encouraged to learn a useful “masculine” trade? How could encouraging boys instead of girls be justifiable under sex equality laws?)

So there is the choice – give men something good to do, which women may not do; or let men be bad.

I applaud you for wanting men to have something good to do: but not if you insist that it must be “manly”, because that means excluding women. However, the alternative is not to let men run wild: there is a third way, which is quite simply to discourage this idea that men must differentiate themselves from women at all – discourage this harmful polarisation of the sexes – abandon manliness in favour of simply humanity – embrace true equality.

In the past, when men were deemed indisputably superior to women, they were masculine and women were feminine. The sexes were utterly polarised. Now women are less submissive, less dependent, less traditionally feminine. Logically men have only two options – they can struggle to maintain the sex polarisation by becoming even more masculine, hyper-masculine in compensation for the lessening of femininity – or they can abandon sex discrimination and accept women’s equality as human beings.

Sadly, hyper-masculinity means, on the whole, that men become even more violent and even more domineering, often towards women. Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if we stopped insisting that men be masculine and women be feminine, and just let them be human beings? If men didn’t feel such enormous pressure to be different from (and better than) women, then both of the problems we are concerned about would disappear. Men would not need to prove themselves with violence or rape. Women would not need to subordinate themselves to men in order to escape violence and rape.

The End.