I attended only day one. It was a nice day out in the big city for a country bumpkin. My thoughts / recollections for what they are worth below. Any inaccuracy is my fault though not intentional, my note taking is crap.
Jane Powell (CALM) opened. The main thing I took from this talk was confirmation that it is false to claim that men (in this case suicidal men) do not seek help. She confirmed that men do use the help line, and are more than willing to talk at length. I believe I have read her words asserting this previously. It is not that men do not talk, the problem is that no one is listening. Society at large is not geared up to be receptive to needy males. This was not exactly a revelation to me, but it is good to have it confirmed (again). She also noted the lack of interest in male suicide amongst journalists and other people of influence. “It’s not feminists, it’s senior men doing the blocking”, she said (though I paraphrase). Hmm, yes, I can well believe that it’s men who decline to be interested, but that does not exclude feminists or the all-pervasive influence of feminism. Some data I’d not seen before were the survey results on suicidal thoughts – which revealed no significant difference between the sexes, remarkably. So why do far more men then go on to actually do it? Jane Powell admitted she had no idea. The trouble with suicide, of course, is that you cannot ask people afterwards why they killed themselves. She mentioned the relationship between employment and men’s self-worth as potentially relevant, something which does not apply (at least anything like so strongly) to women. I don’t think she mentioned the connection of male suicide with partnership break-up. I should have asked – darn – though others did mention it (Belinda Brown, for one).
Questioners asked about the relevance of sexuality and fatherlessness on male suicide. The reply was that no data was collected.
I did find it irritating – perhaps this is just me – that Jane Powell constantly used the term “guys”. I detest that word. Isn’t it the male equivalent of “chick” (or “dolls”, to be even more old fashioned)?
Next up were Martin Seager and Michael Walton from Samaritans, who did a double act. They also confirmed the key fact that men do seek help – 50% of their helpline callers are male. Work they had done in prisons also confirmed that men are, in fact, very keen to talk about their problems. One disconcerting issue as regards the Samaritans ‘phone line was the disproportionate number of very short calls from men. Apparently this was identified as being due to the (generally unfounded) suspicion that many were sex callers. Subsequently, training events with the volunteers had ameliorated this problem. Attempting to get men to focus on their feelings had been identified as counterproductive. Martin observed that whilst men are reluctant to speak about emotional issues, men do commonly sing intensely emotional songs. But he noted that they did so in high voices – not a manly baritone – as if taking on a female voice legitimises a female role. Hmm, a novel idea, but then sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Next was Richard(?) Hadley talking about the impact on older men of not having had children. This was his PhD work based on interviews. Unsurprisingly the responses were overwhelmingly regretful. There were too many quotes for me to note. The only one I recall was from a married man whose childlessness would appear to have been by choice – the choice of his wife, that is. She said, “I never thought he was responsible enough to have children”. “That”, said the man, “was when I started drinking seriously”. Actually this issue struck a chord. No, not with me personally. I have two adult sons (well, nominally adult). But I had been at my father-in-law’s funeral the previous day. My wife had observed that all her Dad’s living relatives, bar one, were there – and, in fact, everyone there was his child or grandchild or their partner. All his own generation of friends and relations were predeceased. So, had he not had children there would have been no one at his funeral.
Next up was Belinda Brown giving us an anthropological slant on men’s issues. I think she managed to smuggle in the bulk of MRA issues somewhere, starting with deconstructing hegemonic masculinity and then standing it on its head. Music to my ears, of course, but I’m not exactly unbiased. She used the book “Island of Menstruating Men” (Ian Hogbin) to illustrate her thesis that, in truth, it is the traditional female role which is the high status role. This is regarded as a no-brainer in ‘anthropological’ societies, the role of headman notwithstanding. In the case of the menstruating men, their wince-inducing penis bleeding is an attempt to emulate women. More generally, men’s role as provider, far from being a position of dominance, is one which seeks to make men more like women – to encroach upon the female realm of influence. Even in traditional western society, even though women may (when it suits them) defer to men, neither party is truly fooled as to where the power lies. I couldn’t agree more. “Anything for a quite life” is the husband’s dictum, and it is a mantra of the subservient, though there is a conspiracy to pretend otherwise. Far from being hegemonic, the male role, Belinda observed, is far more vulnerable than the female. (The weakness of men is the facade of strength; the strength of women is the facade of weakness). Belinda opted to read her paper – to avoid, she said, the temptation to ramble. The paper was excellent, but judging by the passion that was revealed in addressing questions I think perhaps we missed out. I think I would like to hear her ramble.
Next came John Barry, one of the organisers of the conference. He talked about a number of studies, but started by noting that his colleagues are bemused by his interest in gender. “Gender is irrelevant, we are all the same”, they cry. Hmm. I sometimes forget, over here in my rationalist bubble in the sticks, that the world has gone insane – especially over there in the big smoke, where bonkers seems to spread like cholera. John told us about his work on the exposure of children to testosterone in the womb and its effects on health in later life. Very interesting, and a poster to go with it. Another poster informed me that androgen deprivation therapy as a treatment for advanced prostate cancer was a known cause of multiple cognitive impairments. It would have been useful to know this earlier because my now deceased father-in-law, mentioned above, is a case in point. He died of prostate cancer, was receiving androgen deprivation therapy, and was indeed cognitively impaired in his final months. We did not realise that this was related to the treatment.
John Barry’s observation that health effects in the workplace can go in opposite directions for the two sexes was amusing. I wonder whose health will be prioritised following this finding. Nope, I just can’t guess, honest. The 3D rotation test was interesting for this reason. I tested No.2: it worked. I tested No.4: it worked. Only then did I realise that I hadn’t even considered Nos.1 and 3. It seems my subconscious knew the answer immediately and left conscious me to merely do a check. WTF? (I am a physicist, I’m supposed to be weird).
After lunch we had three presentations on male victims of partner violence, two by women and one by a male feminist. There were no great revelations here, but it’s a good thing to have familiar facts (which so many do not accept as such) reiterated in different ways by more researchers entering the field. Firstly, Anna Shum-Pearce from NZ. Her work was based on interviews with young men who had suffered abuse. A slant to her findings was the way in which the men presented their abuse, often not recognising it as a problem, when it clearly was – or making light of it to others even when they knew themselves they had a problem. Hiding distress was seen as obligatory. Anna told us there are no support services for male PV victims in NZ (surprise, surprise). Two organisations principally for women said they did support male victims, but testing that out actually led to perpetrators programmes. So, nothing different on the other side of the globe, then.
Ben Hine started his talk with some YouTube videos of the “PV gender-swap” type. I’m tempted to say that surely everyone had seen them before, but talking to a few people at lunch I was surprised that even in this conference the ignorance of MRA common currency issues was remarkable. Hine presented some work based on describing vignettes to men and women, and also similar scenarios with the gender roles reversed. The overall finding was that people, of both sexes, find female-on-male violence less unacceptable (‘funnier’) than the reverse (which is never funny at all). I did not fall off my chair in amazement, but I guess it’s good to have these things confirmed by a controlled test. Hine reminded us of the CSEW survey data on PV, recognising the extent of PV against male victims. He agreed that it needed addressing and that it was not acceptable that it should go on being ignored. He then reminded us that feminism is just about equality. Damn, I do keep forgetting that. He said that some people get confused because of the “fem” in “feminism”. Yes, he’s right there. Apparently we all wish we lived in a genderless world. Do we? Did we vote for that? I sense that feminism is beginning to move to co-opt male victims of PV into their own narrative. Perhaps the inclusion of offences against males in the latest CPS VAWG report is the start of that. Any day now we will read that we have feminism to thank for dragging the scourge of male victimisation into the light of day. Hey ho, this is politics and no one in politics has ever been wrong. No, as the tide changes, their opinions just morph imperceptibly into conformity with the prevailing correctness. Harriet Harman never favoured reducing the age of consent to 12, honest injun.
And then it was Jessica McCarrick from Teeside. Her work focussed on men’s experiences of the criminal justice system following female-perpetrated PV. The title, “The Web Of Lies” sums it up nicely. Readers of this blog will hardly need this amplifying, but for good measure: quote, “the negative psychological impact of IPV appeared to be perpetuated by men’s experiences of not being believed or being treated like the guilty perpetrator by the CJS professionals, thus becoming further traumatised by the system.” Her recommendations were for, (i) improved service provision (for male victims), (ii) better media awareness (of male victimisation), and, (iii) psycho-education workshops for CJS professionals regarding male victimisation.
And finally, there was Glen Poole, the non-feminist but not anti-feminist, non-MRA advocate for men and boys, who will surely be familiar to UK readers. He did his stuff. He’s a good talker. He regaled us with his “integral theory”, which I confess I have never got to grips with, and also with “spiral dynamics”. In my own sphere (physics) I am an arch-theoretician, but oddly, on gender issues I remain stubbornly empirical. I got the impression that the spiral dynamics thing was a progress to some nirvana. I’ve been suspicious of that since the sixties. I’d settle for an approximation to some sort of reasonable fairness. Where Glen is coming from is a change to masculinity, though not the androgynous “everybody’s the same” goal of Ben Hine. “But we don’t want to change, we’re men!”, mocked Glen. OK, I confess I’m one of those. But on the other hand I see pretty clearly that the lack of cohesion amongst men is the main barrier to progress on MRA issues. Feminism would crumble without male support – so some change in men is indeed necessary. But Glen sees men as starting to move into the feminine realm. “It will get messy”, said Glen, as women feel threatened by the males encroaching on their territory. Hmm, I don’t think “messy” covers it. I don’t believe that women will ever give up their primacy in child care. It will never happen. The one thing that traditionalists, feminists and the mass of middle-of-the -road women all agree on is that the children are theirs.
Men need a new purpose in life, a new raison d’etre to replace the rented purpose whose lease is expiring. Perpetuation of the species is all very well, but every life must be its own vindication. Perhaps this new purpose could be something truly grand, something of which no one has yet had the nerve even to dream, something literally astronomic in scope, something commensurate with the hubris of the untrammelled male imagination.