The great masculinity debate: is masculinity toxic or a tonic? (UCL, 11 May)

A debate has been organized by the Male Psychology Network, and will be held at UCL on the evening of 11 May, you can register here. The full description on the website:

Is masculinity toxic or tonic? Tragic or fantastic? You decide!

We hear so much these days about how masculinity is harmful to men and women, that we often overlook the ways in which masculinity is a force for good. That is why we have invited a panel of experts to discuss this subject at UCL. Furthermore we are inviting the audience at the debate to vote on it, so we can come to a decision on whether masculinity is toxic or not.

The motion is: ‘This house does not believe that masculinity is toxic’. Arguing against the motion will be Michael Conroy (A Call To Men UK), Phil Price (Domestic Violence Intervention Project) and Laura Wildsmith (Regents College London). Arguing for the motion will be psychologists Eli Joubert (University of Surrey), Naomi Murphy (HMPS Whitemoor) and Martin Seager (Central London Samaritans).

This subject has serious implications for men and women, but we anticipate a good-natured and thought-provoking evening, and we do hope that you can join us.

I had the time to check out just one of these people, and only briefly, so I checked out the website of Michael Conroy, A Call to Men UK. The strapline is, ‘Promoting Respect, Preventing Violence’. The link I’ve provided will take you to the blog piece, “Let’s talk about: ‘Masculinity’ [why the inverted commas, other than to denote sneering at the term?], collaboration, and making mistakes”. The piece starts:

This is the first in what will be a series of ‘multi-voice’ blog posts where we speak to men seeking to be active in challenging Male Violence Against Women and Girls. [Conroy appears to have no concern about Female Violence Against Men and Boys.]

It’s good to talk, of course, but sometimes it’s also good to ask widely then listen carefully, so there’ll be no editorial input from AC2M UK, just 3 questions (put by Michael Conroy from AC2M UK) and 4 men answering them. None of the individuals or groups they represent are affiliated to AC2M UK, or to each other, but they are voices we frequently encounter in social media, and occasionally in person, so they seemed a good place to start. We asked and they said yes. Simple as that. We thank them all for their time. As you will see, they have a range of perspectives. [Predictably, a very limited range. None of the men are unashamedly traditionalist, or critical of feminism. Nor is there any recognition that ‘traditional’ masculinity is in part a natural consequence of what women demand of men, historically and to this day, e.g through their hypergamy.]

One of the men is an uber-mangina, Tom Meagher of White Ribbon Ireland. In response to the question, “What does the word ‘masculinity’ mean to you? Do you think it’s a useful concept / word when engaging with men in work around tackling violence towards women and girls?”, he replies:

For me masculinity is a problematic concept because it is ever increasingly rooted in identity which tends to sanitise it as a socially constructed tool of patriarchy and oppression. I have no problem with identity if it is helpful, but masculinity is definitionally hierarchical and throughout time, space and cultures has been used to police men into collusion with a system of rape and violence towards women, children and the planet, [Violence against the planet? Give me strength] and to police women into submission. [I’ve owned more intelligent tropical fish.]

It has been used as a tool to send men fight and die in imperialist wars for our ‘betters’, to colonise, to murder and to dominate. While I agree that it is crucial to come to men from where they are, I don’t believe it should be our job to make men feel comfortable with the identity of masculinity, but to question and re-evaluate the stories they have been sold as masculine. This is always uncomfortable work. It was uncomfortable and painful for me to attempt to dis-identify with masculinity as I’m sure it is for all of us so I don’t expect success in this work unless men are feeling uncomfortable with their masculine identification.

I fear that to use masculinity as a tool to redress the problems masculinity has created reassures individual men that they can be nice guys without addressing the systemic and deliberate oppression that women face as an oppressed class and reassures them that they are still a member of the privileged class. While it is great to be able to get through to individual men (and that is a large and significant portion of our work), I think our ultimate goal should be dismantling hierarchical concepts like masculinity and its institutions.

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About Mike Buchanan

I'm a men's human rights advocate, writer, and publisher. My primary focus is leading the political party I launched in 2013, Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them). I still work actively on two campaigns I launched in early 2012, Campaign for Merit in Business and the Anti-Feminism League. In 2014 I launched The Alternative Sexism Project, aiming to raise public understanding that the sexism faced by men and boys has far more grievous consequences than the sexism faced by women and girls.
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