I’ve just spent a little time analysing the IMD debate. The Hansard record is here. I think we’d all agree that Philip Davies’s contribution was excellent, and almost exactly a third of the word count can be attributed to him. But what of the other contributors in a scandalously poorly-attended debate, even lower attendance than in previous years? Some reflections:
- if we exclude the few words of the chairman, Adrian Bailey, the sole male contributor to the debate was Jeremy Lefroy (C, Stafford). Just 12.1% of the word count of the debate (excluding Philip Davies’s contributions) are attributable to him
- of the six female contributors, only one was Conservative (Victoria Atkins). Of the remainder, four were SNP, two Labour (which would seem to be the correct number, if my memory serves me correctly).
- no contributors to the debate from MPs from the Lib Dems or other parties.
- feminist narratives were a constant thread in the female MPs’ contributions, including that of Victoria Atkins, as we’d expect.
In the following analysis, the MPs are placed in descending order of contribution to the word count (% of the word count excluding Philip Davies’s word count). I’ve also included some of their contributions to the debate.
Victoria Atkins (C, Louth and Horncastle) (24.2%)
Promoting gender equality is also an important part of International Men’s Day. I sense from all the speeches made today that we are united in that aim. We know that rigid gender stereotypes can and do inhibit people’s choices and aspirations. When that happens, capable young boys and men can be held back from reaching their potential and, more widely, from becoming the positive role models that they can be...
We all believe that it is crucial that we work together to champion gender equality in business, in politics and in our communities, because creating a more equal society in which everyone can participate and thrive benefits us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley asked that men be treated equally to women. I am tempted to say with a wry smile that I wonder whether men would like to constitute fewer than a third of roles at board level, as women do at the moment. That is why we have the Hampton-Alexander review—not because we are trying to push men out of boards, but because we are trying to ensure that women are recognised in the workplace and achieve their potential on merit at the highest levels of business…
Colleagues have also raised domestic abuse. I make it very clear that everyone deserves to feel safe at home. Home for all of us should be a place of safety, kindness and love. We know that domestic abuse can happen regardless of gender, wealth, background, geographical location and so on. That is precisely why the Government are bringing forward a draft domestic abuse Bill this Session to tackle the terrible scourge of domestic abuse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will be pleased to know that the Bill is of course gender-neutral, because I fully recognise, as do the Government, that men can be victims of domestic abuse. However, I must place that in context: the reality is that a disproportionate number of victims are women. According to estimates from SafeLives, in 2016-17, 95% of victims were female. I do not say that to create controversy; I say it as a fact—and that is why so many services are focused on helping female victims. The most serious cases show us that the vast majority of victims are female, but I do not for a moment take away from the point that men and boys can be victims as well.
My hon. Friend mentioned the interesting statistics on offenders. He is extremely consistent and persistent in his campaign in this regard and wrote to the Ministry of Justice about the statistics for offenders in prison. His statistics are correct—1,626 female prisoners and 4,146 male prisoners have been victims of domestic abuse. I am obliged to put that in context. There are 3,287 female offenders and 68,827 male offenders in prison, which means that the percentage of domestic abuse victims in the prison population is 49% for women and 6% for men…
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned access rights to children and the family courts. The legislative framework that governs family law cases is gender neutral and is focused on the welfare of children, not on the rights of parents. By law, the court must presume the involvement of a parent in the life of child will further that child’s welfare, unless there is evidence to the contrary. There would need to be very good reasons for a court to decide that a parent should not spend time with their children or that there should be no parental involvement at all.
The court has a wide discretion to determine what is necessary to meet a child’s welfare needs. That may reflect the court’s consideration of social work analysis and recommendations from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, the wishes and feelings of the child concerned, how capable each parent is of meeting that child’s welfare needs, and any harm or further harm the child is at risk of suffering. The evidence from research is that the family courts are in favour of contact and make significant efforts to try to facilitate an ongoing relationship between a child and its non-resident parent.
I am conscious of time, so I will fly through the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is 17.9%. The reason why we publish those figures is not to somehow discriminate against men—it is to close the gap.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the very complex issues of female genital mutilation and male circumcision, and I very much understand why he raised that. Female genital mutilation is illegal and the range of ways in which a little girl can be mutilated is, frankly, horrific. I take the point he raised about male circumcision. I will consider that and will write to him, because I would not wish to address such an important matter on the fly.
Dawn Butler (Labour, Brent Central) (16.6%)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on securing the debate, but I think he has done a bit of a disservice to it and to its theme. The hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) hit the nail on the head when they talked about a fear of male privilege being taken away, and how the debate should not pitch one gender against another. Equality is equality, and that is what we strive for…
I know that time is short, Mr Bailey, so I will conclude. There is no shame in being caring. We have heard today about how we want to encourage men to talk and share their feelings. Let me end with a reply to the hon. Member for Shipley, who asked me about the standard of women MPs. I want him to listen very carefully to this: I look forward to the day when there are more rubbish women in this House. I look forward to the day when there are as many rubbish female MPs as rubbish male MPs, because only then will I know that we have reached true equality.
Patricia Gibson (SNP, North Ayrshire and Arran) (15.6%)
What damages men damages us all, and damages our society. Men are an integral part of all our lives, since we all have fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Advancing the rights of women is not about doing men down; it is about ensuring that we can all reach our potential, regardless of our gender—men and women together. International Men’s Day cannot be about setting genders against each other, any more than International Women’s Day should be, because that does not help anyone. It is an important day to celebrate the fact that all men contribute, and have contributed, to our countries, societies, communities and families, and to recognise the particular, and sometimes unique, challenges that men face.
I reassure the hon. Member for Shipley that I agree that men should be treated equally to women. That is actually all that women want, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith pointed out. I am pleased to have participated in today’s debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts.
Jeremy Lefroy (C, Stafford) (12.1%)
I am going to concentrate on the international aspect of International Men’s Day.
Marion Felows (SNP, Motherwell and Wishaw) (11.5%)
Men aged 34 to 54 are more likely to complete suicide, and that may often be due to men being less likely to talk about their feelings and mental health. The age group in question is most likely to suffer relationship breakdowns resulting in decreased income, child maintenance payments or turning to drugs or alcohol, which can lead to the stigma of unemployment or homelessness…
My father was a typical Scot who did not share his feelings and who harboured suicidal thoughts as a result of his war experiences. It affected his entire life thereafter and he only once talked about his service. We need to break away from that stereotypical male buttoned-up approach to mental health and emotions. Men need to be more like women.
Colleen Fletcher (Labour, Coventry NE) (10.9%)
Why is suicide such a highly gendered occurrence? We know that mental health issues can affect anyone and are caused by a number of factors, including bereavement, unemployment, finance and debt issues, family and relationship problems—as has been said already—social isolation, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol issues, and many other personal factors. It is not that men are necessarily more susceptible to these mental health triggers; societal expectations have shaped men’s behaviour in how they deal with—or, more accurately, how they fail to deal with—their emotions, feelings and wellbeing when confronted by them.
The malign influence of masculine conditioning—it shapes the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, traits and behaviours that society expects of them—demands that rather than talk about their emotions and how they feel in times of difficulty or crisis, men should instead be silent, manly and strong. That social and emotional disconnectedness simply adds to men’s vulnerability and contributes to a higher rate of suicide across the male population.
Deidre Brock (SNP, Edinburgh North and Leith) (8.8%)
Some men who have long enjoyed the easy comforts of a patriarchal society feel threatened by more women having a say. Their own voice is no longer dominant and their privilege is no longer secure. They are left in a state of confusion by this politically correct agenda. They do not know what is acceptable to say or do around women anymore, now that they may have to account for their actions. They cannot even trust other men to laugh at their sexist locker room banter—too many metrosexuals around nowadays! The feminist agenda is seeking to enforce the radical notion that women are equal human beings, and those men’s grip on power has loosened.
Still, there is not too much for the privileged male to worry about just yet. Modern Britain is a long way from gender equality and old stalwarts such as those in the legal profession are keeping the side up. White, privately educated men are still far more likely to rise to the top across the old professions and we have the lowest proportion of female judges in the EU. Those trusty Brexiteers are doing their bit to keep it that way by distancing the UK from that gender diversifying European influence. If men’s voices really can be silenced in this place when still fewer than a third of MPs are women, we must be doing a pretty good job. Imagine what would happen if gender balance was actually achieved.
All joking aside, I am only too aware that many serious health concerns particularly affect men—hon. Members have already touched on them—and that is perhaps the justifiable reason for having this debate. Those issues deserve thorough scrutiny and action taken to tackle them. They include such things as increased risk of alcoholism, earlier mortality and the alarming suicide rates among young men, to name just a few.
Anyone determined to improve the stats might be interested in the findings of a recent report from the World Health Organisation. After studying the figures for 41 countries, it found that places with greater gender equality also had better health outcomes for men. In the most equal societies—measured by such factors as women in leadership positions and educational attainment—the risk of depression among men was halved, suicide rates were lower and there was a 40% reduction in the risk of a violent death. It is official: feminism is good for everyone…
There are no simple solutions, but society is shifting. Diving back into the world of the 1950s with its heavily embedded gender roles is the opposite of what needs to be done to improve matters. We must untangle masculinity from the toxic forms that have become so prevalent and let men and boys breathe a bit more easily. For International Men’s Day, the best thing we can do is to stand together in support of feminism and equality because it is good for men’s health. When women’s voices are speaking out for parity of the sexes, they are speaking out for men, too.
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