Author Archives: Barbara Jane Elliott

FOUR REASONS WHY GENDER SHOULD BE PART OF THE UK SCHOOL CURRICULUM

Sara-Jane Luke

‘Boys in schools want to learn about gender, it matters to them, it’s important in their lives’- Raewyn Connell

It is undeniable that the UK school system is taking steps in the right direction regarding sex, relationship and sexuality education, with health and wellbeing education becoming a mandatory part of the curriculum by 2020. However, even with this progress the curriculum still neglects to educate the nation’s children about a fundamental aspect of human life: Gender. False ideology and misconceptions surrounding gender have been the source of the oppression of women, and LGBTQ+ people for centuries and yet this is a topic that we still fail to treat with appropriate importance within the education system.

  1. To combat gender inequality

Since the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961 gave women more autonomy over their bodies and life choices, there has been great improvement in gender equality. However, gender inequality is still a substantial issue within our society. For example, within the BBC there are no Women in the top ten highest paid presenters and only two in the top twenty. This is something that is also evident  in our everyday work environments with the IFS 2016 finding that the hourly wage for women is still 18% lower than men’s on average.

Children internalise the stereotypes that perpetuate this inequality at a very early age.

For example, in the Channel 4 series: The Secret Life of Five Year Olds, in which some of the boys demonstrate a historically held view by boys that they belong to a ‘club’ exclusive of girls and that the girls can only join in if they ‘cook’ for them. This shows enforced gender roles, i.e. that women do the cooking while the men ‘hunt’, from the age of five. This is problematic because not only do the boys have this opinion regarding the domesticated role that women ‘should’ play but this sends the girls the message that they may only join in in this ‘male’ world on the boys’ terms. This demonstrates that whether we are conscious of doing so or not, we are sending children extremely problematic messages. For this reason, it essential that we teach our children of both genders that they have equal value from an early age.

  1. To prevent bullying

Bullying relies on the exploitation of people’s differing attributes. Many young people suffer from poor mental health as a result of discrimination, scrutiny and a lack of comprehensive gender education for young people. For example, 52% of LGBTQ+ young people reported self-harm either recently or in the past compared to 25% of heterosexual non-trans young people.

Gender education leads to a more accepting society where people can feel safe and secure in their own skin. We cannot expect children to be understanding of difference and diversity if we tell them that this diversity does not exist. Until gender is discussed openly and honestly from an early age, children will be fearful and confused about these differences both within themselves and others.

  1. To enhance children’s self-understanding

 Lack of self-understanding leads to a fear of what others perceive us as and an introversion of our views and understanding of others. Encouraging children to experiment with different groups of toys and clothing regardless of gender allows the child to develop understanding and appreciation of differing views and cultures. Although it may be said that it is the job of the parents to decide what their children play with, school is the only place in which we can ensure that every child is given the appropriate tools to navigate our social world. Making this sort of experimentation a compulsory part of the curriculum ensures through policy that self-knowledge is fostered and embraced.

  1. To tackle Toxic Masculinity

The danger of society requiring men and consequently boys to prove themselves as strongly masculine is that it steers them towards restricted options. To excel intellectually or to find another physical way to succeed in expressing this ‘masculinity’. This puts restrictive pressure on boys and creates friction between and within the genders. It creates segregation between those who express their masculinity intellectually and those who express their masculinity in a more physical way. This differentiation leads to exclusion of ‘gentle’ academic boys and girls, and a lack of academic confidence and support of the boys who express this physical masculinity.

By teaching boys at a young age that showing emotion and being kind is not a weakness but a strength, we will put them on the path to self-knowledge and healthy relationships.

I hope to have provided in brief four of many reasons for making gender education a compulsory part of the curriculum for children in key stage one (aged 5-7). This is the time to lay the fundamental building blocks for future discussion and healthy development for the individual children and society as a whole.

 

Why is Ed Sheeran so popular at weddings?

Studying sociology is a great opportunity to try to answer life’s big questions – why do people fall into patterns of behaviour? What enables some groups to wield power over others? And why do so many people enjoy the music of Ed Sheeran?

Sheeran is not only one of the most popular musicians in the UK right now, he’s also the most popular at weddings. Spotify recently released data on the top 10 “first dance” songs chosen by UK couples and he features three times in this list, twice for two versions of the same song (Perfect, released in 2017). Does Ed Sheeran have a formula for writing a successful wedding song?

Ed Sheeran Perfect video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Vv-BfVoq4g

 Wedding music as a public but intimate choice

 Making personal music choices for a public occasion is a tightrope walk, as anyone who’s planned the music for a wedding or funeral knows well. In a social setting, something like Perfect ticks all the boxes: it sets the scene, everyone knows it, it’s the right tempo for an easy waltz, and it’s middle-of-the-road enough not to cause offence. But there might be other reasons for using it that have more to do with the history of gender-segregated domestic duties.

Wedding planning as “women’s work”

 Although there’s disagreement over the rate of change in the last 100 years, it’s widely accepted that domestic labour is still largely the woman’s domain in a heterosexual relationship (this 2016 report from the Office for National Statistics found that women still do 60% more unpaid work than men). Of course, domestic labour isn’t just hoovering and doing the dishes – it’s diary management and planning social engagements too, and wedding planning is often an extension of this, done almost exclusively by women (there’s academic research on this, by Tamara Sniezek and D.H. Currie, but there’s also this clip from when Monica and Chandler planned their wedding in Friends).

In 2005, Tamara Sniezek interviewed heterosexual engaged couples about their wedding planning. She found three things that are relevant to my Ed Sheeran question:

  1. When you ask couples about the detail of who did each part of the practical planning work, you will find that women do the overwhelming majority of it
  2. But when you ask vague questions like “how was the wedding work divided?” they often claim it was 50/50, and every couple interviewed by Sniezek repeatedly described it as a joint enterprise
  3. Couples generally use the details of their wedding, including the music, to express their “couple identity”, and this is often based around an idea of equality and teamwork… even if the person arranging all these details is doing the overwhelming bulk of the work in the face of apathy from their partner.

Perhaps this cognitive dissonance speaks to some mixed feelings about entering into the institution of marriage. The situation for women in marriage is still unfair, and still carries with it certain expectations of doing unpaid work in the home – the modern bride may be looking out for ways to say “I’m not that kind of wife, I’m this kind of wife.” To the congregation and, perhaps, to her new husband.

 

Using wedding music to tell a story

 Aside from the speeches, the ‘first dance’ is a couple’s first opportunity to set out their stall as a respectful equal partnership, expressing their identity in opposition to the generations that have gone before. Ed Sheeran’s Perfect is the, ahem, perfect example of a pop song that gives the “right message”:

“Well I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know
She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home
I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets
To carry love, to carry children of our own”

It emphasises the bride’s strength, refers to her home, and tells a story of teamwork and sharing. But perhaps the couples who dance to it are unwittingly revealing some more traditional views as well. In other lines, like “I found a girl beautiful and sweet” / “the someone waiting for me” / “Be my girl, I’ll be your man”, Perfect is no different from any other romantic pop ballad, reducing the female character to a pretty “girl” with no agency.

As a whole, the song represents a balance between the traditional roles some may still see as romantic, and the modern ideal of equality.

The Perfect relationship?

We live in confusing times, where our behaviours don’t necessarily line up with our attitudes. Although most heterosexual couples want to be seen as a balanced partnership, their division of all kinds of unpaid labour are unlikely to live up to this utopia. They give us a specific public narrative at their wedding to paper over the cracks, or perhaps to create a vision of how they would like their relationship to be.

When Ed Sheeran wrote Perfect, he gave marrying couples a gender-equal message to use for this purpose, within a framework of all the familiar male and female roles, in a society where wedding planning is still part of an uneven set of wifely expectations we are clearly uncomfortable with.

 

Leah Boundy

The Office

“The term ‘sex’ should be understood as an individual’s biological make-up and ‘gender’ as culturally learnt and enacted by individuals”. (Oakley, 1985)

If you were to picture in your mind, a typical office setting, what would it look like? I bet you pictured something a little like this: several desks with computers on and staff members sat at them, as well as a few separate offices for managerial staff. Having imagined this, what sex are the staff members sat at the desks and the managerial staff in separate offices? If you imagined the desk staff as female and managerial staff as male, you imagined correctly, or at least how I expected you to anyway. This is something Blackburn et al (2002) deem as vertical segregation, as a hierarchal arrangement within an occupational setting, particularly in the case of the sexes.

It is precisely for this reason that I invited you to engage in the previous hypothetical situation, as it is one that is similar to my own workplace; the place that I work weekly alongside my University studies and on a full-time basis during holidays. I have worked at this Wholesaler and family-run company for nearly five years and have always been consciously aware of how the company is segregated on the basis of sex, but only now have I began wondering why this segregation has persisted.

For the purpose of my case study, we are going to focus on the telesales and area sales representative staff of the company. In the telesales office, there are ten individuals; one manager and nine whose responsibility it is to deal with customer queries and process orders by answering and making phone calls. The responsibilities of the six area sales representatives involves the managing of customers and acquiring more business, with the office being at their disposal to use.

 

Out of the telesales staff, three are males, with the office manager being male. Out of the six area sales representatives, all are male. Therefore, we are presented with figure 1. Given these observations, you would think that my office is relatively symmetrical in terms of sex distribution. This is not the case, well not in terms of the roles that are performed by each staff member anyway. For example, all seven superior roles are those that the office manager and area sales representatives occupy (figure 2).

 

Why is it then that my workplace assigns females in different positions than their male counterparts? I have a few suggestions for you to ponder your thoughts upon.

 

In figure 3, it is shown that all staff members, excluding two, work full-time.

Ironically, both these individuals, one male and one female, occupy the more passive roles within the company. Often, it is argued that women occupy more part-time roles than men and thus accounts as to why so few have managerial roles within the workplace.

 

On the contrary, Hakim (1995) argues that part-time roles are accredited and account for individuals such as students, not just exclusively women. This example shows that if women occupy part-time roles, there are often explanations as to why they do – being a student myself is living proof. Although, this is not to say that all women have the same experience.

I will now focus on a broader and more prevalent issue: patriarchal society. This society inevitably generates norms and values that individuals adhere to, which remain engrained into their consciousnesses. Though progress has been made, the fact is that men continue to be viewed as the superior sex, which applies to my workplace, given the lack of female authoritative figures within it. Building upon this view, West and Zimmerman (1987) describe ‘gender’ as a set of normative conceptions of appropriate attitudes and activities, i.e. we are likely to view traits of leadership and confidence as qualities that men tend to adopt; to be empathetic and nurturing on the other hand, are qualities that we would associate with women. Despite both sexes having the capacity to adopt both sets of traits, the first are deemed as inherently male and more valuable within the workplace. From this, gender can be seen as constructing an individuals’ position in the social structure (West and Fenstermaker, 1995).

 

Overall, one may argue that certain individuals genuinely possess more desirable attributes that a position requires, and this may very well be the case as to why men and women differentiate in their job prospects and positions. However, I do not believe this to be the case in my workplace. Without any disrespect intended, but the females, including myself, are just as capable of performing the senior roles that the males occupy.

 

At the end of the day, it is about being more accepting and willing of individuals by not limiting them to positions based on their sex or their ‘gendered’ qualities.

 

*NB: if you are interested in the issue of sex segregation, look at this report by the European Institute for Gender Equality: http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-14624-2017-ADD-2/en/pdf.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

Emily Atkins

 

References

Blackburn, R., et al. (2002) Explaining gender segregation. British Journal of Sociology. 53(4), p513-36

Hakim, C. (1995) Five Feminist Myths about Women’s Employment. The British Journal of Sociology. 46(3), p429-55

Oakley, A (1985) Sex, Gender and Society. Gower: Maurice Temple Smith

West, C., Fenstermaker, S. (1995) Doing Difference. Gender & Society. 9(1), p8-37

West, C., Zimmerman, D. (1987) Doing Gender. Gender and Society. 1(2), p125-51.

 

 

Must We Ban Grid Girls?

Blog post by Aiden Graham

Without over generalisation- we can consider the response to the changes in terms of two camps.Across the sports industry, women are employed in roles intended to glamourize major events. Cycling has its Podium Girls, Boxing its Ring Girls, and Formula One (F1) it’s Grid girls. That was- until recently, when prior to the 2018 racing season- F1’s new owners, Liberty Media announced that they are calling time on the Grid Girl. A decision which has proven highly controversial.

On the one hand, we have a camp comprised of figures from within F1, a number of fans and members of the general public who have praised the decision as ending a demeaning, objectifying and outdated practice which has no place in the age of gender equality.

On the other, we have a camp comprised of the majority of fans and the grid girls themselves who have responded with a mixture of frustration, outrage and regret. This camp views the decision to remove grid girls as cow-towing to a P.C. minority, and ignoring the  Grid Girls themselves who found ‘pride’ and ‘joy’ in their work, revelling in the luxury and status that came from being part of the multi-million-dollar world of F1.

With a BBC poll finding 60% of F1 fan’s opposing the ban on Grid girls, and a number of petitions levelled against the changes- it is the latter position which seems most popular.

If there is a good reason to keep Grid Girls- it won’t be found in the role they play in hosting an F1 event.

Good morning Britain debate

Grid Girls contribute ostensibly little towards an F1 Grand Prix. Their main responsibilities include promoting race sponsors, holding umbrellas, and displaying signs to help drivers find their cars. Many of these tasks appear surplus to requirements: do drivers really need help finding their car amongst the 21 other distinctive vehicles on the grid? Regardless- there is no good reason as to why these tasks specifically require a high heeled, bikini-clad, female workforce.

If not for their function- then it must be form which explains the presence of Grid Girls. The only fathomable reason why they are present- is to excite and entice fans with their feminine good-looks. They stand as silently, smiling, sex-symbols in a testosterone fuelled, world of big money and fast cars.  This is something we can do without. Employing women simply to parade around a race track- to be ogled at amounts to little more than a needless eroticisation, a crass form of entertainment which cheapens the integrity of the sporting competition.

Rather than simply dismissing the end of Grid Girls as a P.C, ‘snowflake’ conspiracy, we should look at these changes in line with their intention to promote a more admirable image of women in sports.

There are enough images of women in the world of sport handing over medals rather than receiving them. There must be a harmful effect on women and girls who see events which accept their presence, but not their participation; which praise their figures over their fight, and welcome their style, not their skill.  When we combine this with the findings of Messner and Duncan- who have highlighted the second-rate image of female athletes, who continue to receive less air time, lower wages, and less media enthusiasm– getting rid of Grid Girls becomes all the more necessary to pave the way toward a more equitable image of women in a sporting context- even if only as a gesture to that end.

 ‘There must be a harmful effect on women and girls who see events which accept their presence, but not their participation…’

 

I do have reservations- and deep sympathy for the Grid Girls who have lost employment. These concerns relate to a complex debate- that requires finding the balance between the rights of individual women to make their own choices, and the rights of other women to cultivate an ideal of womanhood that they can project with pride for both themselves and their daughters. As much as grid girls enjoyed their role, we have to acknowledge that many women (and men) felt it undermined the fight for gender equality. Considering this, I feel it is far better to support the changes for their potential benefits to women all over the world; than to condemn them for the loss suffered by the few women employed as Grid Girls.

Must we ban grid girls? on the whole, this feels like a step in the right direction. Whilst I don’t believe the Grid Girls were the biggest barriers to equality of the sexes, they served no real purpose. My only concern is for the Grid Girls- these women should not be victim to what has been presented as their own emancipation. I hope Liberty Media support them in their search for new careers and that fans quickly realise the most important aspect of F1- the Grand Prix- will not be affected in the slightest.

Let’s get back to the racing…

 

 

 

 

  #metoo in anthropology: a call for updating codes of conduct in the field

Blog post by Lexie Onofrei

I am climbing a steep hill with my gatekeeper and an informant who’s taking us to an isolated farm to show us his animals. They’re both middle-aged men. It’s snowing heavily, and I can barely feel my feet; they are covered in snow. I’m told we will get to the animals soon and that we can rest there. I had been around these men for two days and it has never occurred to me that they could harm me. My gatekeeper is an old family friend and the informant is his friend. I conducted fieldwork in Romania, in the region that I know well, so most of the relationships I built there were based on trust. This is my experience, but it’s also how many ethnographies begin: a narrative that introduces the field, participants and the general atmosphere. As ethnographies go on, narratives expand, participants’ stories change, and new concepts are introduced. However, sexual harassment in the field is seldom brought up, even though it happens a lot. At most, it is interesting to study or to include in self-reflexive sections of a paper, but nothing more.

Recently, powerful men in the Hollywood and sports industries have been accused of sexual harassment. Some of the survivors reignited the flame of the #metoo movement, encouraging victims of abuse to share their experiences on social media. The large scale of the accusations has prompted revisions of social and workplace rules to ensure that sexual harassment is minimised. Given the high rate of sexual harassment in the field, the American Anthropology Association (AAA) started a working group to understand this phenomenon in the field and academia. It tries to reconcile fieldwork practices with guidelines to promote the safety of fieldworkers, especially of women, because of their disproportionate risk of exposure to sexual violence. Most anthropologists are expected to do fieldwork at some point in their career. We are encouraged to think through our plan of action and anticipate things that might go wrong in the field in ethical clearance forms. However, few of these hypothetical measures satisfy the condition of our safety as researchers in the field. Instead, they are heavily bureaucratised and often

 

Conversation between my informant and I during my ethnographic fieldwork in Romania, December 2016. Author’s collection.

serve universities’ own reputations and legal and insurance requirements (Sleeboom-Faulkner et al., 2017).

The article that the AAA working group published explains the co-creation of ethnographic fields by researchers, participants, and by invisible social structures and ideas like gender inequality, religiousness, etc. Although researchers represent organisations in the field, the physicality and closeness of fieldwork create complexities that are often hard to navigate, and in which female ethnographers can feel unsafe or vulnerable. Ethnographers ask the questions, lead discussions and question habits of different societies. Therefore, ethical guidelines are directed towards the protection, anonymity and reassurance of participants. However, ethnographic curiosity about certain idea/social group makes us vulnerable, too. Plus, gender dimensions and non-human components of fieldwork have been overlooked in ethical guidelines. More attention to their role in the power politics of fieldwork could improve research conditions and keep more women in anthropological careers.

One of my anthropology teachers recounted how she felt cornered during a field interview in a participant’s house. She was speaking to a man whose wife died. He started crying and leant on my teacher’s shoulder, getting closer and closer to her until she felt unsafe. She left immediately, as she luckily found the door of the house open. In Friction, Anna Tsing (2004) tells of her fear of aggression as she sat in the back of a truck full of men in Indonesia. Tsing’s story only hints at these issues of vulnerability, and most anthropologists are deterred from making this step. Self-reflexivity is a strong research tool, but it is often critiqued for its narcissistic tendencies (Finlay, 2002). Furthermore, harassment is not reported due to lack of extended codes of conduct, as these are theoretically rich but hard to put into practice.

In conclusion, it’s worth acknowledging the advent of self-reflexivity in ethnographies as coping mechanisms, but this postponed the need to develop ethical guidelines. Sometimes anthropologists indulge in confessional ethnographies, without referring to their experiences of harassment, but where they can ponder on their feelings. The AAA working group urges universities to revisit and update codes of conduct. Gatekeepers and key informants could have more active roles to ensure the integrity of researchers is protected. There could be more communication between researchers, their supervisors and ethical committees. This initiative has the potential to over-formalise fieldwork but if we work together, this detail can be corrected and improved to aid fieldworkers in their research. AAA’s work is a big step towards recognising the gender-specific dangers of fieldwork, but this movement needs to be replicated by anthropologists in universities worldwide, otherwise it will remain weak and fragmented.

It’s Time for Them to Open Their Eyes: The Problem of Sporting Governing Bodies and Their Ignorance Towards Sexual Harassment

Blog post by Katie Layley

The sad truth is that sexual harassment is happening all over the world in many different circumstances. The knowledge of it is growing within society as more people are telling their story. Many sexual harassment cases that have happened in nightclubs, within the acting world and in offices can be seen in the media and research papers. However, until recent years there has been little media coverage and research into sexual harassment in the sport world. Due to the increase in coverage about sexual harassment in sport, ordinary people in everyday life are acknowledging that it can happen in sport and recognise that something needs to be done about it. The cases that have been covered in the media over the past few years have focused on elite sport cases. However, research suggests that sexual harassment happens in every sport, at all ages, levels of sport, and any gender. It is important that we start to recognise that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, both amateur and professional sportspeople.

Sexual harassment comes in many forms. It can include sexually oriented comments or innuendos, taunting about the body, intimidating sexual remarks, unwanted physical contact and the domination of one person over another during meetings and training sessions. Sexual abuse is a form of sexual harassment that tends to include physical contact and violation, including groping, indecent exposure, rape, forced sexual activity, sexual assault, and physical or sexual violence.

 

As stated previously, sexual harassment can affect the lives of people who take part in sport regardless of their sporting attributes. The cases that get the most media coverage are ones involving elite sportspeople, or cases where hundreds of people have been affected. These high profile cases help to ensure that the perpetrators receive the correct punishment. The shocking reality is that the smaller cases are often ignored or not taken seriously by the sports organisations and therefore not passed onto the authorities. This means the victims never get justice for the horrendous experiences that they have been through at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust.

In many instances in sport the perpetrator is often someone in a position of authority. Does the power imbalance between them facilitate the abusive actions of an individual? It is likely that they use their authority to convince the athletes that what is happening is right, especially where the athletes are much younger. An example of this is Haleema Rafiq, a former cricketer at Multan Cricket Club, who accused the chairman of the club of demanding sexual favours but was not believed by those who she reported it to. This case unfortunately ended with Haleema committing suicide, showing just how much of an effect the constant harassment from a powerful figure, and the ignorance of authorities, can have over someone who has experienced it. In some cases the sport governing bodies state they have no knowledge of incidents that have happened, and do not even know about cases that have been taken to court over sexual harassment. For example, Lucy Ward, a former Leeds United footballer, won a case against her former employers for sexual harassment, but the FA claimed they had not heard about the case. This demonstrates how governing bodies do not always understand or correctly address issues relating to sexual harassment in their sports.

 

A large case in recent years is that of Larry Nassar, the former US gymnastic team doctor. In the past two years over 100 females have reported cases of sexual harassment and abuse from him that have happened over the past two decades. Many of these women were too scared to tell anyone as they thought they might not be believed. USA Gymnastics acted as soon as it became a high profile case and Nassar has since been charged with other cases as well as linked to allegations from the gymnasts.

 

Governing bodies must acknowledge that sexual harassment does happen. The IOC has created guidelines so sports can see what counts as sexual harassment and how to protect against it, but more needs to be done. It should not be acceptable for victims to suffer in silence, and for this silence to be the safest option for them. Governing bodies must work with their staff and participants to ensure a safe environment for them to work together in.

How Channel 4’s Documentary Working-Class White Men Contradicts Itself

by Jess Fagin

Have white working-class men been left behind in today’s Britain? A two-part documentary Working Class White Men on Channel 4 asks this question. It delves into claims these men are on the bottom rung for employment, university degrees and most afflicted by addiction and suicide. Presented by Professor Green, real name Stephen Manderson – a white rapper who grew up on a Hackney council estate and identifies as from a working-class background, it follows six men “trying to make something of their lives.” Their stories, Manderson believes, reveal a crisis at the heart of the working class. Over images of motorbike packs raging around empty carparks and Britain First marches, he warns “white working-class men are losing their way, demonised, forgotten and angry.”

The opening claims appear to be reproducing an image of disenfranchised white working-class men which has proliferated since the EU referendum in both political and social science discourse; they’ve been having a tantrum about immigration, alienated by the liberal consensus  and participating in alt-right movements as a validation of their masculinity.  As we meet these young men, however, this polemic view begins to fragment. David, 20, has lost both his parents and lives in a homeless hostel. Dyslexic, his letters for job seekers’ allowance remain unread. Watched over by a mentor who blames immigration for why British men are ignored, pastoral care unravels as grooming for Britain First. David is vulnerable, we’re told, because “all he has is his Britishness and his whiteness.”  Louis has excelled in maths winning a place at Cambridge. Despite his heavily curated sartorial efforts and practiced Etonian accent defying his state educated, council housed background, he’s tormented his new cohort will see him for what he is. Jake works with his father as a builder, the archetype of the traditional white working-class breadwinner with a job to pass onto his son. Jake would rather be a model and has just got a job on a photoshoot in Tokyo. Denzil pin-balls from one money making scheme to the next. He’s planning an illegal rave in a disused prison, enabled by reduced police numbers in his area rendering the law powerless to shut it down. He’s getting creative with the austerity measures cutting-off support to this forgotten England and partying in the relics of a prison system we are told is filled with white working class men.

On one count, these diverse lives rewrite rhetoric.  A homogenously presented group are fragmented into variously enacted subjectivities, constructed through differing experiences, desires and contexts. It reflects Connell’s sociological work exploring how masculinities are complex and contingent as a way of dismantling a fixed male type or gender order. Manderson’s recollections of his youth weave into the men’s stories, the antithesis of the awkward probing of some other established documentary makers who trade discomfort for insight. He achieves what as anthropologists, we often try to do: take social stereotypes and disrupt them with empirical complexity and explicit reflexivity. Working-class can here be explored as an identity that is variously reproduced and disregarded by those who claim it.

But, there are contradictions: the documentary’s narration reproduces the rhetoric that this group of men specifically are struggling with their identities and life chances and ignores anyone who would be outside this now fragmented category. Firstly, we see and hear these men’s mothers, wives, girlfriends and daughters but their influence or agency is ignored in the analysis of the crisis. Concern is placed on the loss of the male breadwinner role and father figures as crumbling the “heart” of the working-class. Ideologically here, men are the most effective social actors, even in their absence. Secondly, what being “white” means is ignored. There is no explicit reflection about ethnicity; whiteness is simply conflated with Britishness. Further, the documentary tells us there are 30,000 white working-class men in prison. There are also  21,937 prisoners from BAME groups.  10% of the prison population are black, which is significantly higher than the 2.8% of the general population they represent. In terms of employment rates, BAME people are still lower than white British. The unequal distribution of life chances encountered by the white working-class the documentary is exploring is predominantly with reference to other white men.

Working Class White Men contradicts itself.  Empirically, it challenges any homogeneity in categorising white working-class men by showing a multiplicity of voices. But it then reproduces an ideology without any interrogation that white men are the primary effective actors. Its own rhetoric is that society doesn’t work when white men don’t work, when they are imprisoned or struggle with their life chances. This move both misrepresents other genders and ethnicities who may identify as working class and reproduces bias about who are the most effective actors in British society.

The rules for being a man: are these of use to anyone?

Blog post by Aidan Kirkwood 

@AidanKirkwood4 

Gender is a hot topic in the wake of Weinstein and the #metoocampaign, meaning discussions around masculinity hold relevance to the current social climate.

Comedian, actor and writer Robert Webb has written a book called How Not to Be A Boy (2017). Written as a memoir and framed through Webb’s experiences of masculinity. Focusing on the final chapter of his book, I explain that the ‘rules for being a man’ are not of use to anyone. For gender equality to be realised, we must re-evaluate expectations of masculinity.  

 

In the first half of his book, Webb discusses his childhood experiences of masculinity, the difficult relationship he had with his father and the loss of his mother at the age of 17.

Webb’s final chapter ‘Men Know Who They Are’ begins with dialogue between his wife and daughter. His daughter explains that if she’s laughed at for dressing as Spider-man, she’ll tell them they’re laughing because of ‘The Trick’ which makes men unhappy and women get rubbish jobs. The Trick is Webb’s family code word for gender conditioning. For Webb, feminism isn’t about men vs. women, it’s about men and women vs. The Trick. Gender is a social construction built into the consciousness of children and adults. We must not question why girls and boys are different, but ask under what conditions do girls and boys consider themselves to be different (Messner 2000).

Even though he was aware of The Trick, Webb states that when fatherhood arrived, he fell for The Trick himself. Despite his promises to be a 50/50 husband and father, he found himself saying yes to every job. He justified it by telling himself ‘men work’ and ‘men make money’. His experiences reflect a majority of the sociological research which has been conducted on the domestic divisions of labour (O’Connell and Brannan 2016), where sex stereotyping is still unmistakable. For example, wives are 30 times more likely to do the laundry and husbands are 20 times more likely to do the plastering (Warde and Hetherington 1993). The data shows that we still enjoy tasks which confirm a sense of what men and women’s domestic tasks are. There is less evidence for a decline in rigidity in the gendered divisions of housework. For instance, of around 285,000 couples eligible for shared parental leave, only 2% of fathers are taking it up.

Webb wishes to undo gender stereotypes and to give a wider understanding of what it is to be male. Children do not invent gender rules as they get older, they are taught them by adults. Research has found that the most important predictor of marital happiness is husbands emotional happiness; when men undo gender by moving beyond gendered scripts (silent, non-expressive, hegemonic male), wives are happier and marriages thrive (Risman 2009). A just world is one where economic and family roles are available equally to persons of any gender.

For Webb, The Trick is a waste of everyone’s time. To oppose it is a cause that he shares with feminists. He believes that feminism has had some success in challenging the stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to be like. What Webb is after, is an extension of that awareness to the male half of the population who may still think that gender conditioning didn’t happen to them. The gender revolution is unequal. Cultural and institutional devaluation of characteristics associated with women means men have little incentive to move into traditionally female activities or occupations (Braun and Davidson 2016; England 2010). Women have had strong incentives to move into traditionally male roles, but the gender revolution hasn’t been a two-way street.

In summary, the rules for being a man are not of use to anyone. Webb maintains that for there to be any progression in gender equality, we must work to oppose The Trick. Webb champions feminism and the progress it’s made for women, but the focus must also be extended to the male population. We must take notice of the dangers associated with the expectations of masculinity. What are the consequences of men being expected to be emotionally silent or dominant breadwinners? Arguably, the consequence is around three-quarters of all suicides in 2016 in the UK being male. Additionally, in the wake of the current debate that is occurring around sexual harassment, it’s crucial that we re-evaluate expectations of masculinity for there to be any positive social change.

As Webb states in his book:

‘Men will struggle to treat women as equals if we haven’t learned to look after ourselves; to recognise our feelings and take responsibility for our actions. We should remember what we knew all along: that we are allowed to be fully human, fully compassionate, fully alive in the moment and fully committed to friendship and love. Self-respect and kindness to others: that’s it.

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