The trouble with men

I’ve never really liked alpha males. I remember being in my late teens. My group of friends would always go to the same pub, sit around the same table and have a conversation dominated by our alpha male. It was mostly about mocking various members of the group or quoting bits from “The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer”. If someone came up with an original joke then it was promptly forgotten. Unless it was the alpha male, in which case it would be repeated until the end of days.

I hate that thing where alpha males hold court and you have to listen to their ill-informed opinions, waiting to get a word in edgeways. At that time, I had a reputation for grumpiness which was partly well-deserved as an angsty, guitar-playing teen but partly because I sometimes urged us to go to other places and do other things. I remember the exhilarating feeling of arriving at university and suddenly being able to stay up until 3.00 am and talk about politics without anyone laying into me for being pretentious. I went to parties. I talked to girls. I danced. I didn’t look back.

There are men and there are men. We are a diverse bunch. Yes, we are overrepresented in the upper echelons of business and politics but we are also overrepresented in the suicide statistics. For every mediocre man lifted into a position of wealth and power on a tide of privilege, there is a tortured soul unsure how to continue.

Boys also seem to fare badly in our education systems, particularly the poorest boys. And men’s health is generally worse. We die younger and more money is spent on women’s medical issues than men’s. And yet men retire later.

It is worth noting that this is largely the fault of men. The difference in suicide rates between the sexes has stayed remarkably constant over the years and extends well back into a time before feminism was a societal force. So it’s not about that. And it’s not as if greedy women are stealing men’s health money; it’s because men simply don’t talk about their health very much; they don’t seek help or campaign. It is men who keep it low profile.

Even the problems in boys’ education are our own fault. We have maladapted views of manhood that don’t fit well with hard, academic work and gaining the best qualifications.

So that’s alright then. Some men win big in life so there’s a kind of justice in the fact that others are unhealthy, unhappy and uneducated.

I’m not sure.

An open, generous kind of feminism would look at ‘men’s problems’ and see them as a manifestation of the same gender stereotypes that harm women. An open, generous kind of feminism would be progressive and seek to improve on the past rather than accept what has always been. It might be sceptical, but it would hope that “International Men’s Day” might raise the profile of these issues and start men talking about them more. It would accept that problems such as male-rape and violence against men are worth addressing and are more likely to be addressed if there are recognised forums in which to talk about them.

And an embracing attitude that recognises the legitimate components of the men’s movement offers the prospect of moving us forward in a broad, humanist endeavour. It marginalises the cranky, reactionary, anti-feminist elements.

On the other hand, an inward-looking feminism would instead see the position of the sexes as a zero-sum game. An inward-looking feminism would imagine that nothing can be improved for men without incurring a cost to women. Some feminists and their virtue-signalling male supporters might take the position that, in a culture of victimhood, women are the greater victims – which they are – and must therefore have only their issues addressed.

I have no idea whether the organisers of International Men’s Day can help deal with the issues facing today’s men. But we should at least have the generosity of spirit to let them try. Remember, we’re not all alpha males.

One thought on “The trouble with men

  1. However open and generous feminism might be, and much as one might want to avoid any notion of a ‘zero sum’ game, there is only so much time in a day, only so much attention to be grabbed, only so much we can hope to get Power to do when we speak Truth to it.

    I went to an event a few years ago at which Laurie Penny spoke about the dimension of social justice in feminism and Tamsin Ormond spoke about how feminism related to environmental justice. The conclusion wasn’t really a conclusion, except that feminism shouldn’t be seen as a narrow pursuit with limited effects.

    So Feminism may be focused without being inward-looking; aware of the needs and issues that stand beside it but not distracted by them; and respectful of International Men’s Day but not rushing around to campaign for it.

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