Monthly Archives: August 2014

Finally a British advert to make us proud of dads, if you’ve got a heart you’ll love this

Are British advertisers finally starting to treat dads with the respect they deserve?

Last year a survey by Netmums revealed that nine out of ten parents said the way fathers appear on television bears no relation to their real-life contribution to family life and three out of ten said the way dads are portrayed in the media is a “subtle form of discrimination” .

Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said: “The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups” and Jan Moir at The Daily Mail complained that “the insidious message that men are witless and pointless, mere playthings to be stamped on by the entire family is broadcast over and over again”.

So is the new ad from McDonald’s—famously associated with the separated “McDad” who has nowhere to entertain kids at the weekend so takes them for a burger—a sign that British advertisers are starting to take dads seriously?

It’s a tender, low-key advert that shows how Ronald McDonald House Charities provide free home-from-home accommodation for dads (and mums) with a child in hospital. The whole theme of the ad is the importance of children in hospital having something familiar and reassuring close by, in this the thing the child finds most comforting is “dad’s voice”.

It’s a beautiful, simple ad that makes dads proud. If you’ve got a heart and care about dads then we recommend you watch it and judge for yourself.

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—Picture Credit: McDonalds 2014

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Why Kitchener’s finger gives me the arsehole

Image: BBC Radio Times

If there is one image from the First World War that’s more iconic than any other, it is the Big-Brother stare and jabbing index finger of Lord Kitchener.

A century after the propaganda campaign ended, it’s an image that is still all around us — the original now re-versioned and re-deployed on everything from coffee mugs and duvet covers, to jaunty student union flyers, tourist T-shirts and even for David Cameron’s Big Society.

It’s so ubiquitous, in fact, as to have morphed into kitsch; the lazy go-to stock image for anyone who wants to knock-up a quick call to action.

But that accusatory forefinger isn’t just an old bit of Keep-Calm-And-Carry-On retro irony. It stands for a unique and brutal form of discrimination. What’s more, no-one either seems to notice or even care if they do.

The shame of fear

The explicit purpose of the Kitchener recruitment poster was to shame every man of enlistment age who saw it into signing up. It was a demand by the state that men and boys risk death and trauma or face becoming a social pariah if they refused.

In short, it is an expression of ultimate, state-sanctioned, socially-reinforced gendered discrimination – total control of the state over the bodies of one half of the population.

I’d like to suggest that you put yourself in the position of a young man walking past those posters back in 1914.

As he walked down the high street, or waited for a bus, or went into a post office or a library, that finger was pointing at him.

Jab in the chest

But more than that, no matter how crowded those streets and buildings were with women, each of them remained entirely untouched by its accusation. Every man, however, would have felt that finger jabbing into his chest, those eyes boring into the back of his head.

And the young man would have felt the force of that shame from the women who stood beside him too.

Kitchener’s two-dimensional jab in the chest was made flesh by women’s unique power to shame men for cowardice, a power that was ruthlessly exploited by the state and often enthusiastically adopted by women themselves.

Take a moment to think about it. An image that makes no explicit gendered statement at all – the simple words “Your Country Needs You” makes no reference to men or women – yet it was nonetheless totally understood only to apply to men.

What else must we be blind to?

That silent image was a manifestation of society’s deep and iron-clad demands on men and the stigma that stalked them should they refuse to conform.

The shame of male cowardice must have been like the weight of the atmosphere, so close to your skin that you couldn’t feel where your body stopped and it began.

The fact that now — fully 100 years later – we glibly fail to notice that this is the core meaning of that poster says a lot about how we view male suffering and disadvantage today.

Take a look at the Radio Times’ interpretation of the Kitchener poster on its front page. Then notice the headline for Kate Adie’s two-page spread on women entering the work force as a result of WW1.

Which one of these is most sensitive to the gendered sacrifices of the First World War?

If we can’t, even today, see conscription and pervasive social stigma as a gendered injustice for men, what else must we be blind to?

By Dan Bell

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Being anti-circumcision does not make you antisemitic

Last week a Times journalist admitted that she finds the practice of male circumcision to be “abusive and barbaric”. What gave this revelation an additional charge was the fact that it came in an article about antisemitism, writes Glen Poole. 

Deborah Ross is a secular, cultural Jew who has experienced anti-Semitism herself and says it is in the Jewish character to be “poised for and fearful of anti-Semitic repercussions”. At the same time, she freely admits she didn’t circumcise her son because she finds the practice abusive.

Does this mean Ross is secretly antisemitic herself?

In some people’s eyes if you hold the belief that taking a knife to the foreskin of an eight-day-old baby boy without anaesthetic is barbaric, then you are antisemitic. According to the European Jewish Congress President, Moshe Kantore, for example, those who want to ban unnecessary male circumcision in Europe are “sending out a terrible message to European Jews that our practices, and therefore our very presence on this continent, is treated with disdain.”

Benjamin Albalas, President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece also believes that trying to end the practice “is a sign of anti-Semitism” as does the columnist Tanya Gold, who wrote in The Guardian last year that a ban on male circumcision would be antisemitic.

The UKIP factor 

I have no doubt that that Gold, Albalas and Kantore genuinely believe that ending unnecessary male circumcision is antisemitic, it is their heartfelt, subjective belief. And if we looked closely we could no doubt find some antisemitic people who are also anti-circumcision. Last year, for example, the Jewish Chronicle reported that people who vote UKIP (a party that has faced continued accusations of racism) are more likely to oppose circumcision and if we dug deep enough we might find some antisemitism behind that statistic.

Taking the nation as a whole, 38% of people support a circumcision ban and 35% are against it, with 27% still undecided. Does this mean that nearly 40% of the British public is antisemitic? Of course not, because being anti-circumcision is not the same as being antisemitic. You can be both, neither or one or the other. You could be an antisemitic Muslim, for example, who stands shoulder to shoulder with his Jewish brothers when it comes to defending the right to perform religious rituals on boys’ genitals.

Are Jews who oppose circumcision antisemitic? 

In reality, there is no one singular Jewish view on the practice of circumcision. Some Jews campaign against it; some will only perform it in medical settings with anaesthetic; some want to continue circumcising boys without anaesthetic in religious settings and some still defend the practice of Metzitzah B’peh where blood is sucked from the circumcised baby’s penis.

Attitudes towards male circumcision sit on a continuum ranging from those who believe anything goes to those who believe in an outright ban, with various compromising (or compromised) positions along the way. Tanya Gold, for example, believes that the practice of Jewish mohels (ritual circumcisers) sucking on baby’s circumcised penises and giving them herpes in the process is “repellent”. She says “no circumcision should be performed without medical qualification; those who disagree, including Jews, should think again”.

The anti-circumcision campaigners that she calls antisemitic would agree with her, but they think that regulation and legislation should go further still. Meanwhile, the orthodox Jews who want to preserve Metzitzah B’peh may think Tanya Gold is antisemitic for wanting to ban their ancient Jewish rituals.

People have a right to think differently 

What some people along the continuum of circumcision beliefs, like Tanya Gold, are essentially saying is that if your belief is more interventionist than mine, then you must be antisemitic. This is an unsustainable position to take. Jewish campaigners against circumcision, like Eran Sadeh who wrote for us last week are not antisemitic, they just dare to think differently and that is a freedom that all good people should fight to preserve.

Anyone with a decent dose of empathy can understand why this is an emotive subject for Jewish communities to confront and everyone with a rational mind should also be able to reach the conclusion that daring to think differently about male circumcision does not make you antisemitic.

Acknowledging that people have a right to hold different beliefs is the antithesis of antisemitism. When we think that other people’s beliefs and actions are causing harm, it is our duty to speak out. If your think that circumcising Jewish boys is harmful to Jewish boys then raise you voice, it isn’t antisemitic to want to protect a Jewish baby from harm.

And the same applies to Muslim boys, American boys, African boys and other boy who is at risk of unnecessary male circumcision. If you think it’s harmful, speak out, it isn’t wrong to have an opinion. And if anyone tries to label you antisemitic, tell them that the Jewish journalist Deborah Ross thinks circumcision is “abusive and barbaric” and she said so in an article all about antisemitism.

—Photo credit: flickr/emmanueldyan

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‘He refused to fight’: The bravery and brutality of being a conscientious objector

John Hoare’s diaries will be serialised as part of the Quaker’s project

A new online project telling the stories of men who refused to fight during WW1 has been launched by the Quakers to mark the war’s centenary.

“The White Feather Diaries” will serialise the diaries of conscientious objectors describing the prejudice and personal conflict they faced, the diaries are published in conjunction with powerful filmed oral-history accounts from their children.

The series is named after the symbol of shame and cowardice given by women to men who were out of uniform — a white feather.

One of the moving filmed testimonies is from the son of Donald Saunders, a talented pianist who was forced into years of hard labour due to his pacifist convictions.

Hard labour

“He had an ideal and believed strongly that it was wrong to kill another human being in any circumstances,” says his son — now an old man himself.

Saunders was nonetheless ordered to register for service, but after he refused to put on the uniform, he was court marshalled and sentenced to six months hard labour, breaking rocks.

Even for the time, conditions in prison were brutal — “because of his views, he suffered terrible treatment from warders and prisoners”.

Spat on in the street

The contempt society had for men who refused to enlist, also impacted on his wife outside prison, who was insulted, spat on in the street and sent white feathers.

He spent several years in prison, eventually being released in 1919 — a year after the war had ended. Even then, however, he was haunted by the prejudice against presumed cowards and remained a marked man, with few willing to employ him.

To follow the diaries visit the daily blogTwitter feed and Facebook page.

The project will run at incremental periods over three years (2014-2016) up to the anniversary of the 1916 Military Service Act which introduced conscription and recognised conscientious objection.

By Dan Bell

Photograph: © 2014 The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

What do you think of the actions of conscientious objectors? Why do you think the shame imposed on men who did not enlist during WW1 is so rarely discussed? If the nation faced an external threat again on the scale of WW1 or WW2, would we still expect men and boys to sign up? Tell us what you think in a comment or a tweet.

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100 years after WWI the UK still sends teenage boys to fight its wars

In 1914 the official age for joining the army was 18, though boys as young as 12 were sent to war. Today the UK is the only country in the EU that recruits boys aged 16, writes Glen Poole.

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. It was an horrific conflict that saw a quarter of million British boys and young men aged under 19 fight for King and country. According to the BBC’s coverage of the centenary, half of these boy soldiers were wounded, killed or taken prisoner.

The youngest of these boys is thought to have been Sidney Lewis who signed up to fight at just 12 years old and saw service in the Somme.

The official age for signing up in 1914 was 18 years old, but as most people didn’t have birth certificates, boys who were bold enough to lie about their age and fit enough to pass the medical, marched off to war as the country turned a collective blind eye.

Everyone knew underage lads were signing up

“The whole of society seemed to be complicit in sending these boys abroad to fight,” says the BBC website. “Parents, headmasters, even MPs helped get underage lads into the army. There was collusion on all sides to get these boys and young men into the armed forces.”

Around 20% of these boy soldiers were discharged from the army within a month and in 1916 the War Office agreed that if parents could prove their sons were underage, they could ask for them back. This was how Sidney Lewis’s wartime service thanks to a letter from his mother asking for him to be sent home.

Boy soldiers still being recruited 

Sadly, boy soldiers are not a thing of the past. According to Emma Wigley of Christian Aid, there are an estimated 300,000 children currently involved in armed forces or militias around the world. “Children between the ages of 10 and 14 years old, in particular boys, are most vulnerable to abduction and recruitment and are deemed to be strong enough to carry weapons,” she says. “Children are considered to be particularly malleable, both physically and mentally, and easier to manage and control.”

To this day, the British Army still considers applications from boys aged 16 and 17 as long as they have formal written consent from their parent or guardian. The UK is the only country in the EU to recruit 16 year olds and enlists more than two thousand minors a year.

Young men in the military are three times more likely to have alcohol problems than their civilian peers and 82% more likely to commit suicide. The techniques used to recruit teenager boys including using online video games to test their fighting skills without them ever stepping foot inside a recruitment office.

Teenage boys killed in Afghanistan 

Teenage boys who are recruited into the British army face death, injury and a trauma.  A total of 35 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan were under the age of 20 and the group Forces Watch claims that: “recruiting 16-year-olds into the infantry puts the most vulnerable group into the roles most exposed to trauma in war.”

Groups like Forces Watch, Veterans for Peace and No Glory In War campaign on issues like the recruitment of teenagers into the army. Today, the No Glory in War campaign will hold an event in Parliament Square to commemorate the 15 million killed in the “war to end all wars”, including nearly one million British soldiers, many of them teenage boys. Their aim is to send a message that the best way be commemorate their deaths is to create a world in which there is no more war.

What do you think? Is war a gender issue for men? Should the UK recruit 16 year old boys? What is the best way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I? 

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—Photo Credit: flickr/The Hills Are Alive

Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men

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‘Do I look like I’m ready for war?’: 17-year-old boy on conscription and WW1

No-one bothers to ask what conscription-age boys think about the gendered slaughter of WW1.

So we did.

Here are the thoughts of Josh O’Brien, a 17-year-old boy who during the First World War, would have faced the prospect of conscription and being sent to the trenches.

What do you think? Why doesn’t our culture and media discuss the slaughter of WW1 in terms of being a gender issue for men?

To watch more of Josh’s videos, check out his YouTube channel here.

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Male suicide prevention charity launches webchat service

Male suicide prevention charity, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), have launched a free web-chat service offering support, information and signposting to men who are depressed or in crisis.

From today, the service will be open daily between 6pm – 9pm. Users within the UK will be able to chat anonymously and confidentially to trained helpline staff.

Within the next eight week’s, the charity said the web-chat service hours will be extended to match those of its telephone helpline — from 5pm to midnight. 

CALM said that research with their supporters identified a need to offer online provision, alongside their helpline and texting service, in order to make accessing support easier to a younger male audience.

Suicide is the leading killer of men aged 20-49 in the UK, and has overtaken coronary heart disease as a killer in older men aged up to 50.  The latest statistics show that 77% of all suicides in the UK were male.

CALM said its telephone helpline takes around 4,000 calls a month.

The web-chat can be accessed on the CALM website:

By Dan Bell

Photo courtesy: Mic445

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I saw two men stop a fight between two women

Well, we were in Brixton, and if there’s one thing I know about Brixton, it’s that you never have to wait too long until something kicks off.

Normally, it’s a dealer or a pisshead all tanked up on crack and booze; playing out that tired old male script of frustration, rage and bravado.

This time, though, it was a different story – the fight was between women and it was two men who broke it up.

I was at the fair with an old friend, his mum and a gaggle of the family’s young sons, daughters and cousins.  We’d been having a picnic together under the awning of a soft drinks stand, sheltering from the muggy heat of the fair, when the thunderstorm that had been threatening all weekend suddenly burst open.

The mood began to turn

Within seconds our shelter from the sun became a refuge from the down pour and scores of people started to rush under the awning to find cover.  At first, we all jostled together good-naturedly, but the down pour didn’t let up and as more and more people tried to cram under the awning, the mood began to turn.

Suddenly I heard my friend’s mum, who was standing next to me, shout out in indignation; I turned to see her being shoved by another woman who was standing behind her. My friend’s mum, who’s a tough old bird from south London, pushed herself backwards and turned to tell the woman to back off. Someone was going to get hurt.

It’s what happened next that told a different story about men than the one we’re used to hearing.

Without a word being exchanged, my friend – who’s in his 40s – gently slid himself between the woman and his mum. At the same moment, a man holding a little girl in his arms who I hadn’t noticed before, but was clearly with the other woman, said to her, “here, stand behind me”, as he moved himself in front of her.

Their own bodies as a barrier

Within seconds the two arguing women had been separated by the bodies of two men. Neither men spoke or showed any aggression to each other. Both had been watching the confrontation escalate and acted on instinct to defuse the situation, using their own bodies as a barrier.

The thing is, it all seemed so natural, as if it came from a place every bit as deep as the one that makes two men square up to each other on a Brixton street corner; yet at the same time I realised it felt so contrary to what we expect of men.

To sacrifice yourself in order to protect the ones you love, is one of the most ancient rules of masculinity, yet it’s an instinctive urge in men that’s rarely acknowledged. What I witnessed wasn’t two men asserting their egos, it was two men trying to keep the peace.

As for the woman who’d started this particular confrontation, I don’t suppose she really gave a shit. In fact, she kept on shouting at my friend’s mum from over the shoulder of the man who’d got in front of her.

In the end our little crew all straggled out into the rain and went home. It didn’t look like either she or the rain, were going to stop anytime soon.

By Dan Bell

Have you ever come  across a situation that says something profound about men, but goes against the grain of the messages we get about them? Tell us about it in a comment.

Photo courtesy: Jason Cartwright

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