Tag Archives: Masculinity

Book review: ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men’ by Robert Jensen

Book review: ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men’ by Robert Jensen by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2017

A Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, Robert Jensen has a long history of activism focussing on US foreign policy, progressive journalism, climate change and pornography.

With The End of Patriarchy he makes a strong, often deeply personal case for radical feminism, which he believes has lost significant ground to individualistic liberal feminism and postmodern feminism in the broader culture and academia, respectively. For Jensen, the central tenant of radical feminism is the “understanding that men’s subordination of women is a product of patriarchy”, a hierarchical system of domination/subordination based on “power-over”, rather than “power-with”.

Jensen argues that although “each individual man in patriarchy is not at every moment actively engaged in the oppression of women… men routinely act in ways that perpetuate patriarchy and harm women.” Moreover, patriarchy’s harsh system of hierarchy and domination harms many men too – something Jensen highlights by writing about how Western society’s dominant, toxic masculinity has had a detrimental effect on much of his own life. Today, having spent decades engaging with radical feminism Jensen explains feminism should be seen as “not a threat to men, but a gift to us.” More broadly, he believes radical feminism’s critique of patriarchy is central to challenging larger systems of domination/subordination such as white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism.

The majority of the book comprises discussions of some thorny topics for feminists and activists alike, such as prostitution and pornography (“sexual-exploitation industries”), rape culture in the United States and, most controversially, transgenderism. On the latter Jensen is at pains to highlight that he, of course, condemns discrimination and violence directed at trans people, though arguably his radical feminist position on the subject isn’t helpful to the wellbeing of the trans community.

Written in an accessible and self-reflective style with male readers in mind, the book includes an afterword written by Professor Rebecca Whisnant, along with good references and a useful ‘further reading’ section for those who wish to delve deeper.

Like UK activist Finn Mackay’s 2015 own book on the same topic, The End of Patriarchy is an important and challenging introduction to this influential strand of feminism – and would make a great discussion tool for both men and women activists.

The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men is published by Spinifex Press.

 

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Patriarchy and radical feminism: an interview with Robert Jensen

Patriarchy and radical feminism: an interview with Robert Jensen
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News blog
13 March 2017

Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, has a long history of activism focusing on US foreign policy, journalism, climate change and pornography.

Ian Sinclair spoke to Jensen about his new book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, published by Spinifex Press.

Ian Sinclair: How does radical feminism differ from other forms of feminism?

Robert Jensen: First, by radical feminism I mean the understanding that men’s subordination of women is a product of patriarchy and that the ultimate goal of feminism is the end of patriarchy’s gender system, not merely liberal accommodation with the system. Second, radical feminism is central to the larger problem of hierarchy and the domination/subordination dynamics in other arenas of human life; while not sufficient by itself, the end of patriarchy is a necessary condition for liberation more generally.

Because the core of patriarchy is men’s claim to control—even to own—women’s bodies, particularly women’s reproductive power and sexuality, radical feminism puts at the core women’s reproductive rights and the end of men’s sexual exploitation of women. In practice, this has meant that radical feminists have sought the abolition of the sexual-exploitation industries of prostitution and pornography, the ways that men routinely buy and sell objectified female bodies for sexual pleasure. That’s one of the most contentious issues within feminism, and liberal/postmodern feminists often don’t share that analysis of those industries.

IS: What is patriarchy?

RJ: The term describes various systems of institutionalized male dominance, with a history going back several thousand years. The sociologist Allan Johnson suggests that a society is patriarchal “to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered.” I quote the historian Judith Bennett, who points out that “Almost every girl born today will face more constraints and restrictions than will be encountered by a boy who is born today into the same social circumstances as that girl.” That recognizes that all men are not always dominating all women—obviously other forms of power affect life outcomes—but women face obstacles and threats that men in similar circumstances do not face.

IS: Who benefits from patriarchy?

RJ: In some ways, all men benefit in short-term material ways from being a member of the dominant sex class, though of course the fate of men depends on those other factors, such as race and class. And in patriarchy, as in any system of power, some members of the subordinated class find ways to serve the system of power. But as a man, I focus on the responsibilities of men to challenge patriarchy, and if we can see past our own short-term interests I believe it’s in men’s interests to embrace radical feminism to move toward a fuller and richer sense of our own humanity.

IS: How is patriarchy maintained?

RJ: In various times and places, the women’s movement has been successful at eliminating the formal, legal rules that upheld patriarchy, though those struggles continue. But the cultural norms that support patriarchy, such as the assumption that women will present themselves as sexual objects for men’s pleasure, have proved to be tenacious. And, of course, the struggles to ensure women’s reproductive rights and to hold men accountable for sexual violence continue, and victories won are not necessarily permanent.

Patriarchy has conservative and liberal forms. Conservative men typically want to give fathers and husbands control over daughters and wives. Liberal men often want to maximize their access to as many women as possible. Religion and pop culture play a role. Like any other system of power, patriarchy is complex and changes over time, differing around the world. In my writing, I focus on the society I’m part of: the United States in the last half of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries.

IS: When feminist ideas are raised in certain circles, the response is often “The central issue is class, not gender – class inequality, including powerful women, causes more suffering to women than patriarchy.” What is your response to this line of argument?

RJ: My glib response is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time; we can analyze and attack more than one illegitimate system of hierarchy at a time. There will always be difficult decisions about strategy and tactics in a particular political moment, but the idea that men’s domination of women is less relevant to people’s lives than the exploitation of people in capitalism is silly. And, as is encompassed by the focus on an “intersectional” analysis, there’s no sensible way forward that doesn’t take into account the interplay of all these hierarchical systems, primarily sex/gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, and class. Given that patriarchy is the oldest of those systems in human history, it would be folly to treat it as being only of secondary concern.

IS: Your book, along with other feminist texts, points to a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today.

RJ: The masculinity norms that are routinely imposed on boys and men in contemporary U.S. culture are rooted in the idea that men must seek to control the world around them, to focus on conquest, which requires high levels of aggression and inevitable violence. Some of us describe this as a very toxic conception of masculinity. This isn’t the only way to understand what it means to be a male human being, of course, but it’s the common understanding that most boys learn. In patriarchy, to “be a man” is to demonstrate the ability to dominate women and to challenge other men.

IS: You discuss “rape culture” in your book. What is this?

RJ: Decades ago, radical feminists challenged the assumption that rape is a rare occurrence, and disputed the claim that these few sexual assaults are perpetrated by deviant men who can be handled in the criminal justice system and through psychological treatment. Instead, these feminists pointed out that rape is normal, both in the sense that is common and an expression of patriarchal conceptions of men’s right to use women sexually. So, rape is both illegal and routine. A rape culture doesn’t command men to rape but does blur the line between consensual sex and non-consensual rape, and also reduces the likelihood rapists will be identified, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and punished.

Pop culture and pornography provide a flood of examples of this conception of men’s sexual domination of women. Turn on the television, go to the movies, play a video game, or download pornography—you’ll see what a rape culture looks like.

IS: What concrete steps can men take to support women?

RJ: As is the case in fighting any system of oppression, there are countless ways to be part of a movement that seeks justice. Men can support—whether financially or through commitments of time—the existing institutions that seek to advance women’s liberation and aid the victims of patriarchy, such as reproductive health clinics and rape crisis/domestic violence centres. Men can join the movements to abolish prostitution and pornography, as well as publicly state their commitment to not using women in those sexual-exploitation industries. Men can hold other men accountable for sexist behaviour and speak up for gender justice in places they have power and privilege.

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 March 2017

In early January 2012 Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of the London-based domestic violence charity NIA, noticed an upsurge in the number of news stories about women killed by men. She started to make a list of the names, and then read a police statement that referred to the killing of one woman as “an isolated incident”.

This, she tells me when I visit her in her east London office, made her cross – and also motivated her to continue counting: “So many women in so few days. How can this be not seen as part of a trend? How can this be seen as ‘an isolated incident’?”

Gaining support from the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and another generous donor, Ingala Smith’s Counting Dead Women blog became the basis for the ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’. Published by Women’s Aid and NIA at the end of last year, the landmark report shows how, far from being “isolated incidents”, 936 women and girls over 14 years of age were killed by men in England and Wales between 2009 and 2015. Most women who were killed were found to be killed by a man known to them, with 64 percent killed by men identified as current of former partners.

Though she has years of professional experience of Intimate Partner Violence, 49-year old Ingala Smith says several findings surprised her, such as the number of older women killed in burglaries and robberies. “I would also say the number of women being killed by sons was also something I hadn’t expected to see”, she notes. “And the ages that women continue to be killed by intimate partners. That, again, is sad to see. You think of the years and years of abuse that a woman has lived with before she is finally killed in her 70s or 80s by a man who she has been with for years.”

Most shockingly, Ingala Smith explains how the report highlights what is called “overkill”, which she describes as “when men submit women to a level of violence that killed them several times over. So not only has he killed her once, he continues to injure her with an injury that would have been fatal had she not already been killed.”

Does recording these horrendous crimes take an emotional toll? “Yes, in a word”, she replies. “I’ve sort of developed a pattern now where at the end of every month I review the month and total women for that month, and update my blog on a monthly basis. And when I used to do that at first I literally did have a cry after every time I did it, sit in a darkened room and want to be on my own for a little while. Now I just get on with it.” However, she is concerned she doesn’t always get as upset as she used to. “I don’t ever want to be unshockable”, she says.

Though the media often represents violence against women and girls as perpetrated by a stranger down a dark alley or a predatory taxi driver, Ingala Smith says the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.

Surely we are talking about an epidemic of violence against women, I ask, thinking about the 2013 Crime Survey of England and Wales’s estimate that 28 percent of women have experienced domestic abuse? “We are talking about a massive scale problem”, she confirms, though she prefers not to use the word ‘epidemic’ because that “implies a medicalisation” of the issue. She argues this violence “affects all women even if we are not directly affected. I think all women are controlled by male violence and all men benefit from male violence even if they themselves never perpetrate it.”

There is, it seems, a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today. Ingala Smith agrees: “It’s about the social construction of masculinity and the social construction of femininity. So it’s about gender rather than about biology.”

“I think you have to look at the relationship between women and men and everything that creates the inequality between women and men”, she continues. “So entitlement, patriarchal laws, sexism, the objectification of women – all these create a context where women are seen as less than, and men expect control and dominance. I think that reproduces itself in some intimate relationships.”

Turning to solutions, Ingala Smith says reforming the criminal justice system and policing is important, though she believes they won’t solve the problem on their own. “If we look at the things that make men men and make women women, if we tackle those, so gender inequality, objectification of women, sexism etc. – that is where the big work has to go.” The Femicide Census itself argues for “statutory sex and relationship education covering healthy relationships, domestic abuse, consent and challenging sex role stereotypes as part of the national curriculum” because “better education about healthy relationships will help to prevent domestic abuse, and ensure that victims and perpetrators know where to go for help.”

She notes the Tory’s austerity agenda has led to more women being endangered, with local authorities passing on the cuts imposed on them to the services they fund, such as refuges for vulnerable women. For example, women’s services in the UK suffered a huge blow in 2015 when Eaves, a specialist service for women victims of violence, was forced to close. Frustratingly, the specialist services that survive are often at the mercy of grant funding based on contracts and competitive tendering, which means the services can end up being run by the lowest bidder and organisations which are not led by feminist women.

Is she hopeful about the recent feminist resurgence associated with women such as Laura Bates and Kat Banyard? “I really hope that women continue to find feminism”, she says. “I hope they don’t find liberal man-pleasing feminism. It does give me hope but not hope enough. I’ve found that as often as feminism reinvents itself there comes a backlash against that feminism.”

“I want to be hopeful but I’m not really”, she laughs ruefully, though later apologises for her negativity in an email.

Talking about her own feminist politics, Ingala Smith says her brand of feminism “tends towards” radical feminism. “I think inequality is structural, I think patriarchy exists”, she explains. “The things that identify radical feminism is that you talk about patriarchy and the male dominated society, you see that men’s violence against women is part of creating that patriarchy and maintaining it.” Another common tenant of radical feminism is the importance of women-only organising and women-only spaces. Ingala Smith doesn’t think men can be feminists, though believes men can make a difference and can be part of the solution. “I am saying that when we have feminist spaces they can butt out and make the rest of society a more feminist space.”

What concrete actions does she think men who support women should take? “Shut up and listen to women”, she laughs. “Fundraise for your local refuge.”

“I believe in decent men”, she says, “but I think men are a big problem as well. Masculinity is a big problem.” Again she is keen to highlight that she doesn’t think biology is destiny. ”There is a question, isn’t there? Why are men more violent than women? Men do most of the killing. Mostly they are killing other men more than women but you don’t see the reverse of that. Why is that?”, she asks. “It’s either nature or nurture or a combination of both. For the good of all of us as a species I’m hoping that it’s more nurture the nature.”

The ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’ report can be downloaded from https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-influencing/femicide-census/. See also http://www.niaendingviolence.org.uk/.

 

The ideology of masculinity: interview with Michael Kimmel

The ideology of masculinity: interview with Michael Kimmel
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
February 2012

Today Michael Kimmel is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York and probably the biggest name in the academic discipline of Men’s Studies. However, over thirty years ago he completed a PhD on seventeenth century British and French tax policy. How did he get from the potentially sleep-inducing latter to the former?

“My scholarship begins with my position as an activist”, the 60-year old American academic tells me as we sit in the breakfast room of his hotel in central London. In town to give a lecture at the London School of Economics about his new book, Kimmel explains his partner had started working at a battered women’s shelter. “I had led a very kind of protected life as a suburban boy. I really had no idea about men’s violence against women until I began to hear the stories that she was telling me, and meet the women she was talking about.” After hearing Kimmel give a speech at a Reclaim the Night rally on why men should take responsibility for the violence women face, a student suggested he teach a course on masculinity. Visiting the library to compile the course reading list he found “shelves and shelves of books on women – this is thirty years ago – and nothing on men. Nothing on men as men. There is plenty of biographies of great men in history but rarely do you find them talking about masculinity.” To fill this scholarly hole he developed his own programme of research – “I needed to write the books I needed to read” – to run alongside the first ever course on men in the state of New Jersey.

How would Kimmel define Men’s Studies? “For me the point of masculinity studies is to talk about how does gender shape men’s lives”, he replies. “How does the ideology of masculinity shape men’s lives? How does masculinity, the idea of being a man, effect our behaviour, our relationships, our work lives, our relations with our friends, with our children?” He elaborates: “The critical study of masculinities is an effort to use the theoretical tools that had been developed, for example, by critical race theory, queer theory, feminist theory, to talk about men’s lives. It is in the same kind of arena as talking about whiteness. How do you mark the unmarked? How do you talk about the centre?”

He argues there are many different types of masculinity. Nevertheless, after conducting workshops with young men in 49 of the 50 US states and in the UK, he maintains American and British men generally have similar views about what it means to be a man: “Don’t show your feelings, don’t cry, be stoic, succeed, be responsible, be powerful, be strong, get rich, get laid… Don’t ever do anything that is feminine, don’t ever be weak, don’t ask for directions.”

Defined and maintained through, among other things, socialisation, mainstream media images and sports (“The locker room is the last preserve of the all male world”), Kimmel believes the dominant form of masculinity seriously impoverishes men’s lives. “The thing that holds men back from having the relationships we say we want with our partners, with our friends, with our wives, with our kids, is the behaviour and attitudes of other men”, he says. “Which is to say the ideology of masculinity.” And it also damages women’s lives. “Every study of the advancement of women in the public sphere finds the thing that holds women back is the behaviour and attitudes of men.”

In an attempt to get more men thinking about gender and feminism, Kimmel has co-authored The Guy’s Guide to Feminism with Michael Kaufman. Made up of jokes, skits, fake interviews and short essays it is a consciously popular and accessible A-Z of feminism. “If you are looking at this as the great treatise on men and feminism, it is assuredly not that”, he says. “If you are looking for it as a way to help men start the conversation, that’s what it is. It’s an ice-breaker.”

The book is also an implicit attempt to rectify the “concerted effort by large numbers of groups to delegitimate feminism”, a backlash which has severely distorted the debate over the past thirty years. Cutting through the misinformation, Kimmel insists feminism boils down to two basic points: “One empirical observation and one moral position.” First the empirical observation: “Women and men aren’t equal. If you look at parliament, or every legislature in the country, the board of every corporation, the board of trustees at every university, you would probably come to the conclusion women and men aren’t equal.” Now the moral position: “They should be equal. That’s all. Inequality is wrong. If you share that empirical observation and take that moral position then you support feminism.”

Those who resist feminism “believe that gender is a zero-sum game”, Kimmel notes. “That as women gain, men will lose. As long as you believe it’s a zero-sum game you are not going to support it because it is not in your interest.” In contrast, Kimmel argues that feminism is good not just for women but men too. “Despite this ideology that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, that there is a war between the sexes, if they win we lose, the actual empirical evidence about gender equality shows that the more equal you are with your partners, with your friends, the happier you are.”

When I ask Kimmel what steps concerned men can take, he replies that the younger generation’s lived experience of work, family and friendship means it “is going to be more gender equal than any generation ever.” A self-professed member of the When Harry Met Sally generation where women and men couldn’t be friends, Kimmel notes every young person today has a good cross-sex friend. All of the 400 young men he interviewed for his 2008 book Guyland accepted that a female partner should have a career. And all accepted that men should take an active role in raising children. For Kimmel these social changes point the way forward. “You already know the answer. You don’t need me to tell you. You are living it. The question for you is how do you apply it in every arena of your life.”

Just like the book, Kimmel’s arguments in person are inclusive and persuasive. I find myself nodding along a lot. One can imagine many young men being deeply affected after taking one of his classes. Indeed, his use of the plural “you” during the interview is occasionally confusing. So when he looks me in the eye when discussing advertising and says “When you are that anxious about proving your masculinity when you have to worry about the cola you are drinking… Let’s talk about this. Why are you so anxious?” I feel close to breaking down and blabbing “It was all my father’s fault!”

More seriously, something that is never made explicit enough for this interviewer – in both the book and this interview – is whether Kimmel thinks it is an errant, minority form of masculinity or the normal, socially accepted masculinity that is the central problem? With Kimmel agreeing that around 1 in 4 American women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it seems likely he leans towards the latter. Or take this fact that appeared in The Guardian recently: 81% of speeding offences are committed by men. If the problem is indeed ‘normal masculinity’, the implications for individual men and women, parents and wider society are enormous, it seems to me.

The Guys Guide to Feminism is published by Seal Press, priced £10.99.

Book review: Girl Up by Laura Bates

Book review: Girl Up by Laura Bates
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
23 May 2016

Set up by Laura Bates in 2012, the Everyday Sexism Project, which allows people to share their experiences of sexism, harassment, discrimination or assault, has become a hugely influential online feminist campaigning tool.

Bates has since published her bestselling debut Everyday Sexism and become an important voice for women in the media, speaking about gender inequality at the United Nations Commission On the Status Of Women and the Council of Europe. She has also toured the UK speaking to school groups, and it is this experience that informs Girl Up, her second book.

Aimed at young women and girls, it is laugh out loud funny, irreverent and deliciously sweary. I imagine it’s like having a cosy but honest chat with your knowledgeable older sister. There are dancing vaginas, a colour by numbers vulva and a page of slang words for the word “penis”. The motto “masturbation is normal” appears in huge letters across two pages, while a “sexist bullshit klaxon” parps up throughout the text to warn readers of, well, sexist bullshit.

The chapter on women’s bodies is particularly good, with Bates noting that issues such as ‘looks’, ‘weight’ and ‘size’ are common worries when she visits schools. “You might have seen 100 women in one day but you’ve really only seen one woman”, she notes about all the idealised women in advertising and the media we are exposed to everyday. “She is almost always tall, young, thin, white, conventionally beautiful, made up, long-legged and large-breasted.” Our culture’s obesseion with women’s bodies is a trap that keeps women pre-occupied and under-confident, she argues, with the media, fashion and diet industries profiting from this damaging status quo.

Covering topics such as popularity, confidence, friendships, careers, pornography, and romantic and sexual relationships, Bates is part brilliant agony aunt (which I suppose is a gendered term in itself) and part inspiring feminist activist. The book ends by focusing on the latter, with Bates slaying the bizarre myths spread about feminists and amusingly stating that “everybody is either a feminist or an arsehole”.

Essential reading for young women and girls, Girl Up is set to become a key guiding text for the next generation like The Beauty Myth and The Feminine Mystique have for preceding generations. And though they are not the book’s primary audience, arguably it is young men, under intense pressure to conform to the dominant (and highly damaging) masculinity, who need to read the book the most.

Girl Up is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £12.99.

Housework or wifework?

Housework or wifework?
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
9 October 2014

Sung over a throbbing guitar riff, the lyrics to one of my favourite punk songs begins:

Same old boring Sunday morning,

Old man’s out washing the car,

Mum’s in the kitchen cooking Sunday dinner…

Released in 1979 ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’ by The Members paints a picture of a traditional marriage with a traditional gender-based division of domestic labour. But things have changed since then, haven’t they?

Well, not really, no. Spurred on by the second-wave Feminism of the 1970s there has been some progressive change in terms of gender roles in the home but, as a new ComRes poll shows, women continue to do the majority of housework. Commissioned by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, the survey found that, on average, women in the UK spend 11.5 hours doing housework, while men do just six hours

This depressing finding confirms recent studies conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Institute for Public Policy Research and the 2014 Global Trends Survey. The latter found the imbalance in UK relationships broadly reflects the international average, with seven in ten women across 20 countries reporting they were mostly responsible for the cooking, food shopping and household cleaning.

Most of the unpleasant and routine housework invariably ‘belongs’ to women. For example, the Woman’s Hour poll found 83 per cent of women said they were responsible for cleaning the toilet. In contrast, the forms of domestic labour for which men traditionally take responsibility, such as home maintenance and gardening, can often be carried out at will and can be said, in the words of one author, to ‘approximate a state of leisure‘. Generally when men do help with housework it is exactly that – help, rarely obligatory or routine.

It is not surprising, then, to discover that, on average, when men move in with a female partner their participation in housework falls. And, yes, you’ve guessed it – when a single woman moves in with a male partner her participation in housework increases. A common response is to argue this continued imbalance in the home is down to men’s greater contribution as the main breadwinner. Bypassing the slavish assumptions of this argument, it is rather out of date, with 41% of women now earning more than their other half. Furthermore, according to the 2013 European Social Survey British women who work over 30 hours a week still do two-thirds of the housework.

Why does this unequal status quo continue? Sociologist Susan Meushart, author of Wifework: What Marriage Means For Women, believes this can partly be explained by the concept of ‘pseudomutuality’ – ‘a state of affairs in which both parties profess egalitarian ideals, and pretend that they are sharing equally, while still conducting their married lives according to more or less rigid gender-typed roles.’ Conveniently, men seem to be particularly afflicted by this, with Adam Ludlow of ComRes noting that men often overestimate the amount of housework they do.

We also have to face up to the fact that men on the whole (an important qualification) have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. A traditional heterosexual relationship is better for him. Conversely, a women’s experience of coupledom will feel better the further the relationship retreats from this traditional ‘ideal’. To question the status quo is to risk awkward arguments. And even if a woman raises the issue men can employ various combinations of avoidance, denial, intimidation and, in some households, even violence.

So what is to be done? As with all social problems, the key is Government policy. A 2011 Oxford University study found the Nordic countries that encouraged women to enter the workforce by providing good maternity and paternity leave and public childcare services had greater equality in sharing housework. A reduction of the standard working week to 30 hours, as advocated by the New Economics Foundation, would also help by giving both partners more non-work time.

There are actions individuals can take too. As the person who generally performs the majority of childcare duties, women can be instigators of social change. In her book Housewife – 40 years old this year – the feminist author Ann Oakley argues women can teach their daughters how not to be housewives, and their sons how to do housework. We need to reject traditional gender roles and stop defining some work as ‘women’s work’ and some work as ‘men’s work.’ However, as the main problem is the general failure of men to do enough housework, it’s the responsibility of men to make the biggest leap forward to enact the change that is needed. A question for the men out there: how often do you get down on your hands and knees and scrub the toilet clean?

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He Tweets @IanJSinclair.

Speeding and masculinity

Speeding and masculinity
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
May 2012

Are you one of the overwhelming majority of drivers who admits to regularly breaking the speed limit? If so, you probably see it as a minor infraction of the law rather than a serious crime. Speeding is the motoring equivalent of a white lie – something a little bit naughty, something to gently mock your friends and family about, something to laugh at with Jeremy Clarkson as you watch Top Gear.

Speeding is so pervasive even the majority of ‘gatekeepers’ – magistrates, traffic police officers and a small group of driving instructors – admitted to the behaviour when interviewed for a 1997 Transport Research Laboratory study.

However, the basic facts suggest a very different reality. Speed is the main contributory factor in approximately a third of fatal car crashes in the UK, with the Department of Transport estimating that 4,187 deaths and serious injuries in 2009 were attributable to exceeding the speed limit of going too fast for the conditions. “Children are disproportionately represented as victims of speed”, notes Dr Claire Corbett, author of the 2003 book Car Crime. And while the popular image of speeding is someone hurtling down a motorway, arguably the greatest danger is speeding in urban areas. As Mike Penning, Conservative junior transport minister, said in 2010, the risk of death is four times higher when a pedestrian is hit at 40 mph than at 30 mph.

In addition, there is a close correlation between speeding and committing other motoring offences, with what Corbett calls ‘high speeders’ more likely to also drink drive, drive through amber and red lights and pull out from side roads without giving way to traffic, among other breaches. More generally, speeding likely causes more noise and environmental pollution, and more stress to other drivers and non-drivers on the road.

It is these uncomfortable facts that led Julie Spence, the outgoing head of Cambridgeshire police in 2010, to label speeding as “middle-class anti-social behaviour”. She went on to say that while anti-social behaviour is usually defined as rowdy youths or vandalism “driving without care or consideration for other road users is probably among the worst kind of anti-social behaviour in its truest since, because serious offenders can, and do, kill.” In terms of changing drivers’ behaviour, Corbett argues the difficulty “is that individual instances are only very infrequently negatively reinforced and the rarity of harm may help drivers to justify all other speeding occasions.”

Of course, we do not all have the same propensity to break the law behind the wheel. Men and women have very different relationships with cars. So while women often see cars as a way to reduce fear of crime and as a tool for independence, men often use cars to demonstrate their driving prowess and to project an image of success in life. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, research consistently shows men are substantially more likely to speed and be involved in fatal crashes. They account for 82 percent of speeding offences and 97 percent of dangerous driving convictions, according to 2005 Home Office figures. Importantly, men are also more likely to overestimate their own driving skills, with a 2005 Admiral poll revealing 65 percent of men thought they were better drivers than average. Only 47 percent of women thought the same. This male arrogance is especially acute among young men, a 2011 poll by Ireland’s AA Motor Insurance showing 9 in 10 men aged between 17 and 24 believed their driving skills were above average. Psychologists have a name for this – illusionary superiority. That is the cognitive bias that causes an individual to overestimate their positive qualities and underestimate their positive qualities.

Corbett lists personality traits such as “thrill-seeking, sensation-seeking, risk-seeking” along with “a sense of time urgency, competitiveness, ambition and alertness” as casual factors linked to speeding. Throw in the need to show competence, control, power and aggression and you have a fairly good summary of the mainstream masculinity that all boys are imbued with as they grow up. But while these traits are fine on a ride-on lawnmower or during a particularly strenuous Wii gaming session, deployed behind the wheel of a powerful car they can be a serious problem, with potentially very serious consequences.

People give a variety of reasons for speeding, including enjoyment of driving fast, that they are in a hurry, the dangers are exaggerated and social pressure to ‘keep up’. But it strikes me that only emergency life or death situations morally justify breaking the speed limit. Do you disagree?