Owen Jones: playing to the crowd
A few days ago I was pointed to an article by Owen Jones about ‘young men in crisis’. It is a reasonably sensible piece for the most part, though doesn’t look beyond more spending on mental health as a solution. What really caught my attention though was this little sentence, squeezed down in the meat of the article:
“Even though the women's and LGBT movements have changed what it is to be a man for the better, men are still keeping quiet as their mental health is battered by an ever more insecure world.”
Now we can’t expect writers to fully justify everything they say, but this aside that the women's and LGBT movements have changed what it is to be a man for the better set my alarm bells ringing. It’s a pretty big thing to say, let alone throw out as an aside that doesn’t need justification or evidence.
Let’s unpick the statement.
‘The women’s and LGBT movements have changed...’ means agency, so that actions of these organised women’s and LGBT movements have had an effect. ‘What it means to be a man’ is a lot more difficult to conceive of; even more so to define, and even more so to track change. That is not to deny changes in meaning don’t happen – they clearly do – but even getting a handle on what you’re talking about is difficult enough, let alone tracking from cause to effect. Then ‘for the better’ tells us that this meaning of manhood which is opaque at best to us has been changed for the better by the actions of these groups: groups that politicise women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people – but not men (unless they are of the correct sexuality).
Owen Jones, who was voted as Britain’s most influential left-wing thinker of 2013, participates actively in these groups, and also has form for intervening in male group politics (to the extent that they exist).
Check out for example this widely retweeted and liked social media post about International Men’s Day (IMD) (whose organisers say they are trying to promote fatherhood and better male role models):
The male ‘crisis’ that Jones identifies in his article isn’t a million miles away from what the IMD bods are looking to address. Yet we can see that this effort to politicise men and boys as a group gets an unequivocal thumbs-down from him – because he sees them as having far too much power already.
So the message here is that men cannot be helped by politicising men as a group, but we can be confident that they have already been helped by politicising women and also politicising homosexual, bisexual and transgender men (but specifically not heterosexual men). By this reasoning the men’s crisis that Jones talks about would surely be alleviated by a bit more enthusiastic denigration of men as a political group as he does in his tweet.
It goes without saying that this makes no sense. Politicising women and LGBT sexuality has certainly made many of us question our assumptions and prejudices and therefore our behaviour, over a long period of time – but I would like to see arguments or evidence for any other positive effects on men specifically (excepting perhaps those who have sex with other men).
This brings to my mind Lord Leveson’s delicious phrase when he presented his report on the British media, that newspapers shouldn’t be able to “mark their own homework”. Jones as a member of these political movements seems to be marking their homework, and marking it mightily high despite them not having handed it in.
On Twitter I challenged Jones to make an argument or present some evidence for this bizarre claim, but got only this rather sour response (after a few others had joined in for a short conversation). [I don't object to feminism by the way, but I do have serious problems with the form which has become dominant, as explained here]
@bencobley @MertonAndrewLCF @ProfTimBale Hi Ben - given I've already established you object to feminism can you untag me? Cheers.
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) July 2, 2014
So we seem to be left with this free-floating assumption that women’s and LGBT movements only help men, even though they are dedicated to helping women and LGBT people, and even when they actively denigrate the politicisation of men (indeed, it seems, particularly when they denigrate attempts to politicise men).
As I said before, we cannot expect statements like these to be justified and supported with evidence every time they are made, but it seems to me that this claim from Jones barely even qualifies as an opinion.
I think it is more about politics: talking about men and men’s concerns but reassuring one’s own tribal group that they have nothing to do with the problems, and indeed are helping to alleviate them. It is about playing to the crowd: not of the population as a whole but of the left, and specifically of the powerful feminist and sexuality-based groups.
And, we must say, Owen Jones is mightily good at doing that.