WE knew this anyway but it’s always good to be proven right.
An American initiative, the Global Boyhood Initiative, has now launched in the UK and announced its arrival with a new report, The State of UK Boys. It’s an in-depth document studying academic research and interviews with experts.
Among many points, it makes a strong argument, backed by research, that feminism is good for men and boys. Which shouldn’t be a radical statement and yet, as feminist narratives such as #MeToo came to dominate the headlines, so too did extreme online misogyny begin to rise.
There’s a tendency to greet any suggestion that boys are in strife with a roll of the eyes but the report outlines clearly how boys are affected by gender stereotypes and it offers the solution – feminism.
It’s more than 10 years now since the viral The End of Men essay captivated and enraged in equal measure. The death of masculinity was greatly exaggerated in the early 2010s but the fact is that boys and men are struggling: there are high suicide rates among men; boys are underachieving at school; violent online misogyny is on the rise.
However, there is a framing of this now that suggests men, whether as an intended or unintended consequence, have become the victims of women’s successes.
It should be self-evidence that overturning gender stereotypes and tackling misogyny is beneficial to everyone but we still suffer think pieces about how “feminism has gone too far”.
It is, though, wrongheaded to blame feminism for this. It simply isn’t the case that women’s advancement has damaged the ongoing health, career and life successes of males rather than, rightly, disrupting male dominance.
Among various highlighted issues, The State of UK Boys details an academic study of 11 and 12-year-olds in a Glasgow school that found children normalised violence as a biological trait of men, making it natural, and therefore, normal for men to be violent. They saw violence as an inevitable rite of passing of growing up, of manhood, and these stereotypes surrounded them at home and at school from early childhood.
These stereotypes harm women and girls – because women and girls are often the victims of male violence and sexual assault, starting at school – but they harm boys too, by encouraging boys to be physically aggressive and to ignore or downplay physical aggression towards them.
The report suggests that a feminist education system – and if we can weave feminist into town planning then why not education? – would be of benefit to both boys and girls.
That seems self-evident. Gender stereotypes are as harmful for male children as they are for female children, enforcing regressive and damaging strictures onto young people instead of allowing them to do and be whatever they want.
Physical, intellectual and sexual prowess are still prioritised for boys and alternatives are lacking.
British Airways made headlines last week with the news that male cabin crew will now be permitted to wear make up, nail polish and style their hair in man buns. For both sexes, however, make up should still be “subtle” – and no neon finger nails. With hyper-feminine uniform rules, airlines are a last bastion of gender stereotypical clothing.
With the ongoing discussions about gender expression, it feels retro to only now be allowing make up equality for men and women – and sad that this is headline news. Yet it is; men in make up is still a point of interest when it should be something no one cares about.
Fewer boys than girls consider going to university. Yet the jobs available to non-graduates are at increased risk of automation, putting young men at risk of unemployment which, alongside the obvious financial and social implications, dents the traditional male identity of breadwinner.
Men tend to have smaller and less rigorous social circles, meaning they have fewer people to turn to when things go south, and are less likely to be open about their feelings.
This perhaps helps explain the rise of online misogyny – with no real life friends to turn to, disempowered young men look online. There, they find bad actors using frustration and despair to unite a group against a fake common enemy rather than meaningfully address genuine problems.
In late September a UK study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) reported that discussions on a major forum for incels – the phrase is a contraction of “involuntary celibate” and is a modern expression of misogyny and male rage – are growing more violent.
To avoid giving the website publicity it was not named, but the report details the forum having more than 17,000 members (not women, they’re barred) and 2.6 million visits per month with a post about rape being published every 29 minutes.
Incel culture pushes back against feminism, it wants women at the mercy of men, quiet, domestic and reproducing. It’s vital to steer young men away from this by countering the false notion that feminism has damaged the chances of boys and talk about the importance of true equality – that it is not about women pushing into the sphere of men, but about sharing fully in work, social and domestic life.
Feminism has carved out spaces for women to talk about their lives and their desires but there are far fewer places for boys to turn to learn about or discuss an alternative culture to dominate masculine stereotypes or how to challenge the prevailing narratives about how men “should be”.
In the workplace women are taught to embrace the stereotypically masculine qualities of assertiveness and strength but why are these preferred? And why do women have to learn them, rather than be raised with them?
Raising boys to have the qualities prized in women – compassion, caring – is beneficial to them and to the men they will become. We tell girls they can be whatever they want but we aren’t as good as supporting boys to understand the full range of what’s on offer to them.
Ultimately, greater supports for boys returns full circle to being good for girls. We will never achieve true equality without male buy in, not least because men are more likely to listen to other men, so we must help men adjust to an understanding that dominance is no longer a right and, in fact, it should not be a preference.
As The State of UK Boys details, feminist principles benefit boys just as well as girls. To allow any other narrative to prevail does young men disservice and both women and men a harm.
Read more by Catriona Stewart:
Is retaliation right when cyclists are abused on our bikes?
Why does such snobbery remain around regional accents?
Manston shows Suella Braverman’s failure on immigration