Category Archives: masculinity

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

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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[i] Some of the online articles referenced will not be open to all