If we want to make a difference for men and boys we need to take a stand in 2015 says Mark Brooks of the ManKind Initiative.
We all know there are a multitude of challenges facing those of us who work, volunteer and advocate for charities working to overcome the problems and barriers that men and boys face. Two challenges we regularly face are the exclusion of men and boys in the public story (often on purpose, which is a form of discrimination by omission) and also the problem of Straw Man arguments. There were examples of both of these at play in Parliament this month.
Discrimination by Omission
This discrimination by omission phenomena is more often than not created deliberately, but then is unknowingly taken on, unchallenged and accepted as a truth – especially if it fits snugly into an accepted political framework (men=bad, women=good).
The exclusion from the public story can be seen in discussions where a debate affects men and boys as well as women and girls. It doesn’t matter whether women and girls are the main victims (eg sexual violence, domestic abuse etc) or if men and boys suffer the most (eg educational attainment), the debate is focussed women and girls either way–if there is a debate at all (eg homelessness, suicide, family law, male cancer etc).
Straw Man arguments are those to try and misrepresent the views and/or actions of people as a means of attacking them. Last year the ManKind Initiative video, ViolenceIsViolence, was successful at raising awareness of our double standards around violence between men and women. The video demonstrated how the public is more tolerant of violence by women against men.
This month in Parliament there were two clear examples of discrimination by omission and straw men arguments.
Firstly, there was the First Reading of the Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill proposed by Sarah Champion MP. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure the employers with more than 250 employees publish data on the pay differences between male and female workers. The government already have the powers to force companies to do so under the Equality Act 2010 but they have chosen so far not to invoke the powers. The Bill went through to its Second Reading with 258 voting yes with 8 noes.
We can debate the gender pay gap for hours and whether it is due to lifestyle choice vis a vis the family unit or direct discrimination but if the debate and the Bill were really about equal pay for everyone then why was there no mention that men between 22 and 39 are on average paid less than women.
This gap will surely grow as in the very same week, UCAS highlighted the gender university gap whereby 34% of 18 year old women go to university but only 26% men – the equivalent of 32,000 missing males. Ironically in Rotherham, Ms Champion’s constituency, 24% of 18 year old women go to university and only 14% of men, a gender university gap of 42%.
So was the debate really about just equality and ending discrimination because if so the debate and the Bill’s intention would not have omitted the statistics above. And was it also a Straw Man to paint men in a bad light as if we all sit in smoke filled boardrooms actively discriminating against women?
Excluding male victims of domestic violence from help
The following day, another Bill was proposed this time the Women’s Refuges (Provision and Eligibility) Bill 2014-15.
It did what it said on the tin and failed to recognise the awful situation in the UK where for male victims and their children there are only just over 50 safe house/refuge places run by 11 organisations.
There are huge swathes of the UK – London, North West, Scotland, East Anglia for example, where there is not one place (London has nothing for heterosexual men). I recognise there are not enough places for female victims but to ignore male victims and fail to call for provision for men in the same way as for women shows another clear cut example of discrimination by omission. It is a straw man argument as it suggests that only men commit domestic abuse. How can this Bill be about equality when it purposely ignores 40% of domestic abuse victims?
So what we do about it?
For me, 2015 has to be the year where those of us I mentioned at the start of the article have to be bolder in speaking up for our causes and challenging those who ignore them – whether on purpose or through the belief in what they have been told is true or the full story. We have to up the ante – we have no choice, we have to speak up on behalf of those we fight for.
This article was originally published by insideMAN - inside-man.co.uk is committed to pioneering conversations about men, manhood and masculinity that make a difference.