Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee
Men in Crisis

Reproduced from the RT Logo

Men in crisis! It's everywhere you look. Men are at sea, lost, uncertain what to do now they no longer rule the world with quite the absolute and unquestioned power of old. Of course they do still rule the world otherwise everyone wouldn't be so anxious about them, poor souls, even while they still occupy virtually every powerful position. Luckily we have the eminent and eminently sensible Professor Anthony Clare to guide us through in a remarkably wise and thoughtful series on Radio 4, called, of course, Men in Crisis (Tuesday).

It's a zeitgeist [Literally "Time-ghost,or spirit of the times,for those not versed in German -LB] thing, a moral panic of our times and an awful lot of nonsense. It goes like this. Women's liberation has emasculated men. Women have marched ahead with a baby under one arm and a briefcase and Amex gold card under the other, having it all. They have reached the top in every sphere - wherever you look, women are making money and babies more or less on their own. So what is there left for men to do and be? Crisis!

Men have no caveman genetic predisposition to violence, fatherhood or power. It is almost all learnt behaviour.

The answer is quite simple - all men need to be is human beings, as women are human beings. The mirage of sexual, gender and genetic predetermination is stripped away in this elegant series. It discusses violence and men's tendency towards it, fatherhood and most men's lack of much understanding of it, power and men's automatic expectation of it. The attentive listener will be left in no doubt - there is no caveman genetic predisposition to any of these things. It is almost all learnt behaviour, nowadays unacceptable behaviour, and there is nothing men can do but unlearn the bad lessons of the centuries. The best geneticists (themselves male) are here recorded stripping away the old props that decree men must be as they always were, or that they have an inherent right to dominate.

What are men to do? Like white South Africans born to what they imagined was a super-race with flotillas of servants, they suddenly find the servant class is proclaiming its equality. Women will not cook and clean and rear children for men, but only equally with men. If men can't or won't share, then increasing numbers of women prefer to do it on their own. Women who work and raise families may get exhausted, but they also have a growing sense of their own competence in both spheres. They can be more like men at work and more like women at home. So why won't men do the same?

At the moment men are finding it difficult to adapt. Why? Probably because they don't see any advantage. Life was so much better in the fifties, when today's young man's grandfather was raising his family. Little wifey nurtured and admired and nourished him. Why should he give all that up?

How working women nowadays must sometimes wish they had a wife. Instead, they still come home having to do almost everything themselves. Studies constantly show how very little time men still spend on cooking and children, compared with their wives, though they do a little more than they did, and a little more if their wives work full-time. They spend virtually no time on cleaning and ironing, and they have a great deal more genuine leisure time in the week than their working wives who spend every spare moment on guilt-ridden quality-time with their children. These same studies show that men imagine they do a great deal more than their fathers, when it's only a bit more, and imagine they do a lot because they simply don't perceive how much more their wives do.

What is a father? This series concludes that he is no more and no less than a co-parent. Two parents are better than one if he's a good father. But he does not need to be a person of extra authority or discipline, simply the other loving and close person. Fathers who change nappies, who are physically close, loving and intimate with children from first babyhood are very unlikely to be violent with their children ever, whereas those who are remote are more at risk. Early bonding is just as important for men. There was a problem with the old role - that distant authoritarian who came into the house and expected everything to revolve around him, remote, unaffectionate and alarming.

Modern fatherhood is a lot more demanding. There is no easy role to slip into. There are all the difficult things mothers do: caring, nurturing, listening, being there and understanding, as well as guiding, teaching and sometimes admonishing. Above all it takes time and sensitivity, attuning yourself to your child. It demands men put aside their assumption of superiority. They have to join in family life on equal terms.

So their crisis is only imaginary. They have as important a role as ever, but it no longer includes automatic power, a power that leads too often to violence. This crisis talk is only the whine of the toppled despot. Goodbye to all that, and hello, we hope, eventually, when they've stopped sulking, to New Man, who will be more civilised and companionable. If not, women may not choose to live with him as a companion.

Letters to RT

It's a man's life
I have often been tempted to write in the past because of Polly Toynbee's persistent anti-male sneering, but this last missive (RT,5 August) was disgraceful.
I train and teach in child development/child protection and find her tone totally distasteful. Men are not just co-parents; they bring a different quality and style to parenting. Being a parent is not a simple division of tasks, and the value of a father figure is a great deal deeper than the changing of nappies.
I wonder why it is that so many social workers, teachers etc that I talk to and work with constantly tell me that they feel the great surge in behavioural problems in boys (and girls) is due to the lack of positive male role models in the family?
Males are suffering from a powerful feminist cohort who have tried to deny the value of men in family life and have also diminished the role of men as "protector" and "support". Such women have an inordinately powerful say in child welfare and refuse to acknowledge women's own role in child abuse - it is women who are the greatest perpetrators of violence on children and it is women who by far are the perpetrators of neglect.
Maria Robinson Kempston, Bedfordshire
RT 19 - 25 August

My comment : I can't help but see relevance of both views.There certainly has been a deflation of the male ego following equality,and in particular, the seeming divine right to rule,that Polly alludes to, has taken a beating,and rightly so.
But I also sympathise,with Maria,who for once,is a woman I can point to,(and hopefully thus not be accused of being chauvinist),who is saying that a feminist viewpoint is undermining aspects of our society.Polly is correct in suggesting equality should exist,and domineering and bullying role models are well dispensed with. But by the same token,for good or ill,our society was built by a patriarchal establishment ,and systematically destroying it,destroys its virtues as well as it's drawbacks. In particular I make reference to the ideas I hazarded in "The review - Paganism",which suggest,that as well as getting rid of male role models,the same powerful female cohorts are actually providing the mechanism that is giving in to "emotions" and thus belief systems that play on how you feel,instead of what is true and can be proved.
The rise of a tide of unreason seems to have been swept in on the back of equality,and we are beginning to take seriously claims about feelings and intuitions borne of 6th senses and heightened emotions. I am desperately trying to avoid the caricature of an hysterical woman who understands little.But it seems to me that over time,because of the male dominance that has pervaded society,females have had to keep their ideas to themselves.Now able to participate,they grasp with both hands,to the extent that the archetypal macho man is taken aback as to how to deal with it.I have heard comments like "She is too assertive" or "overly aggressive" or "domineering",and as Polly says, they hark back to a little wifey,who does not dare speak out of turn for fear of redress.Hopefully those days are gone.

But for those females who think The Spice Girls are a good role model,think again.As Maria suggests,men and women are different,in their biology and psychology and bring different attributes to a relationship.The attributes that formed our society were those that discerned what was true via reason. Emphasising emotion,because it seems too long to have been underplayed,is dangerous,not because it is the prerogative of females,but because it inverts the notion of how one decides what is valid. We have recently seen what happens when emotions and knee-jerk reactions take precedence,lynch-mobs take to the streets and attempt to attack supposed paedophiles who are actually innocent people,because their thinking gear isn't switched on. Notably it has been women who are waving the placards and demanding that their children be protected from "monsters". No doubt those same women would indeed become hysterical were I to suggest that (supposed) paedophiles have rights,and unless we protect those rights,we are all at risk.We MUST presume innocence,and the raging tide of unreason,and emotional hype is making us act first and think later (example:News of the World-only after it published the name and shame campaign did it sit down with the authorities to work out what to do.The idea that their action precipitated the subsequent talks is no justification for the way in which they went about it,it was irresponsible-period).
I think it's going to take time for both sexes to get used to the idea that they have equal importance.By allegory,Sue Greenfield in her series "Brain Story" suggests that emotions and reason are tied up with each other,and that intellect should not presume to have control over emotions.Is this a metaphor for equality of the sexes and their attributes? I hope not.Because it means that emotions have equal weight with reason,and they are equally credible at supplying information. Perhaps if they WERE to function side by side they would do,but once you let emotions control decision making,you end up with trashed fields of crops. If anger should not be male's automatic response,then wreaking vengeance for being under the thumb should not be the female's automatic response. Wishy-washy,ill-conceived pseudo-scientific nonsense is a plague,and it seems females are more prone to believe it than males,perhaps through the flattering of vanity,or the appeal of it taking account of your emotional state. Science stood the test of time precisely because it has avoided colouring what is true by what one wishes to believe,or what one feels,this is one reason that it is at odds with religion. Men are going to have to get used to the idea that they do not rule by default.Likewise women have to learn that our modern society is as good as it is because powerful minds created a schemata that works,and you don't just throw it away because males made it,that is as sexist as the males who think they rule by default. True equality comes when each acknowledges the differences and accepts that the other has contributions to make.I already acknowledge the female contribution to our society as it stands,done under duress,or alias.
It's time to stop messing about with silly superstitious ideas and emotion worship,and realise some facts.You can't create an alternative female schemata that works.Sue Greenfield's statement that things run more smoothly when she only has to deal with women,possibly is the product of those women trained in the type of sexist schemes that are "women only" because they are "too intimidated " by male's presence,to quote the Eagles - "Get over it". The men will have to adjust,and so will women.They will have to accept that the ways that work are the ways that work, and it makes no difference what gender discovered those ways,and if they worked together instead of being at each others throats,then maybe we could make more progress,a better progress,that reflected everyone's needs (if maybe not beliefs.Note that it is a woman bringing ideas about crystal healing to the NHS,and a woman who thinks that crystals work like a radio.These are ignorant ideas, regardless of which gender holds them,but a particular case could be made for saying that women have been so long kept out of, or chosen not to go into the sciences,that they see it as a male domain,and PC feminists have kept their little chicks away from "intimidating" men and their "scary" science,and have indoctrinated them with pseudo scientific claptrap that flatters their egos.Time to get real ladies,now you have to learn the hard stuff ,that us males were doing while you were slaving over a hot iron. Similarly men will have to learn to knuckle down to doing chores that they think are beneath contempt and stop expecting a skivvy to do it. -LB





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