This article is based on a talk delivered by Mark Brooks of the The Mankind Initiative at the Second National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton in 2012.
—This is article #85 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
Everyone who works in the “men’s sector” knows there are many areas of life where men and boys face inequality—health, education, homelessness, criminal justice, suicide rates, crime and violence to name but a few.
Yet the quest to make our voice heard seems impossible at times. It is almost as if male inequality is invisible and when it is known, those with power do not little or nothing to address or recognise it.
The government’s new gender equality survey is a case in point where one gender does not seem to be included. Men’s issues were notable by their absence from the recent party political conferences where none of the fringe meetings at the three main parties tackled male-related issues – there were plenty on female related issues which is not a problem, but none on men’s issues.
There is no public voice on male victims, the political class are not interested, so we have to speak up ourselves.
But none of us should rely on others to make the case, to make a noise and create the solutions, we have to do it ourselves. This applies to all men and women who are concerned with the issues that face men and boys, for whatever reason. Those of us who men’s charities must help and encourage others to speak out.
So why is no one paying enough attention to what can we as campaigners, supporters and service providers do more?
Take three issues (of many) from cradle to the grave:
Education: Boys continue to fall way behind girls at every level of education – 8.8 percentage points behind girls at GCSE and 333,000 women applied for university places to start this month against 246,000 boys. On the latter, we can already see the outcome when it comes to the numbers entering the professions.
But who in the government or the education establishment is actually seriously talking about it or doing anything of substance and scale to tackle it?
Homelessness: No one debates or discusses homelessness as a largely male issue (Crisis say 84% of single homeless people are men), and who is providing the solution on why men are more prevalent to be homeless than women, and what are the solutions for both genders. Is Homelessness not on the agenda because it is male issue?
Suicide: The last area is suicide and we know that 77% of all suicides are male with 4,590 men committing suicide in 2012. Yet there is political silence on the issue. CALM are doing a great job at raising the issue and it is about time the government listened more. Why is not at the top of the political agenda?
So what to do? Outlined below is a brief 12 point plan – which I outlined at the National Men and Boys conference two years ago. More detail of course is needed, but it is a start and I hope to do more work on it over the next year. Much may be granny sucking eggs so forgive me, if so.
(1) Provide and create solutions: We can’t be just ‘keyboard warriors’ and campaigners, we have to set up charities and organisations that provide services to support men and boys. To solve the need for support services ourselves. We have to campaign, complain and create. Lead by example. Don’t rely on others. The brilliant Working for Men is an example to us all.
(2) Use of the language of the public sector: Like any institution it has its own language and codes. To get in the tent there is a need to use the language of the public sector and use it to our advantage by showing that services need to be provided for men and boys. It then becomes even more powerful. The term ‘equality’ and ‘based on need’ are such powerful tools. It is why I refer to the work we do as being equality and needs based, not rights based.
(3) Strike the right tone: Sadly people only take in 20% of what you say, but 80% of how you say it. As someone from Sahf Eest Lahndan I understand it acutely. And tone is important – be positive, be charming and rightly be supportive of the good work that supports women and girls. Confrontation only works in certain rare circumstances.
(4) Include women in the solutions, stories and examples: The gender of the people who advocate for men and boys should not matter, but it does. Fighting for equality, recognition and services for men and boys in a ‘sector’ that is dominated by women and is 90% focussed on women (the only focus on men is often because ‘men are the problem’) means having female voices advocating for men and boys is very powerful. It often produces a ‘double take reaction’ and even our charity manager has been questioned about why she is involved at the ManKind Initiative. Erin Pizzey, Jane Powell and Karen Woodall are brilliant examples of women advocating for men.
On the public story front, also use examples which will resonate with the sectors’ ears. As part of my domestic abuse narrative I always try to include mothers and sisters of male victims, and of course, a victim’s daughters.
(5) Case studies: As a PR man, facts and campaign slogans are one thing but nothing brings a story or campaign to life better than real life examples. They are also brilliant for challenging those who oppose support for what you are campaigning for especially if there is a female element to the case study. If this week I get challenged about male victims I will point people to this story.
(6) Use the laws we have: This could be a book in itself, but there are two vital pieces of legislation in the equality campaigner’s toolkit.
The first is the Equality Act 2010 which in a nutshell means that all public bodies have to end discrimination against those with protected characteristics (gender being one) and how different people will be affected by their activities. The Act helps them to deliver policies and services to meet the needs of those with protected characteristics. This means, under the Public Sector Equality Duty which forms part of this law, councils, police forces, the health service etc have to ensure they support men and boys not only in a general sense but also is a specific sense if there is a male-centric need. For example, ensuring domestic abuse services support men as well as women or the local health service runs campaigns about prostate cancer. Quote this law and the Duty at every opportunity when fighting for services and recognition.
The second piece is the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which is more of a tool to use for the above. This act means you can ask public bodies for statistics, information and research (and a whole lot more) to support your cause. We at ManKind, use it to obtain the number of male victims reporting to different police forces each year and also used it to find out who had won funding from the Home Office for male domestic abuse services – and also who didn’t win and why they didn’t.
Just on facts and FOI, the more local the information the better and do not ask for too much detail because your request can be refused for being too costly.
(7) Do not get dragged into debates about feminism: Another chapter for another book, but there are two reasons why this important. Firstly, you are fighting for something tangible, a service or a campaign, you are not fighting against what is essentially a concept/belief system. Secondly, you will get distracted, getting taken down blind alleys and run the risk of alienating people who could and are allies. Do not be defined by other people’s belief systems, be defined by the fact that you want to support men and boys.
(8) Support each other: Collaboration between charities supporting men in my mind is weak. It is primarily driven by the fact we are all so underfunded our focus is on survival and service provision (Refuge have recently advertised for a woman-only senior communications manager whose salary is higher than the Mankind Initiative’s annual turnover) but also some is territorial. I don’t understand the latter but we do need to collaborate. A good example is on International Men’s Day, for the second year running I have contacted men’s organisations to see if they will “lend us their logo” so we can say they support the aims of International Men’s Day – only a few have and some significant charities (who will be nameless) have not. Why?
So we need to speak to each other more, form joint campaigns/services and also provide a listening and helpful ear. We are all in it together.
(9) Reverse the genders: This a classic tactic that must be used shamelessly and one advocated powerfully in Neil Lyndon’s seminal No More Sex War. Reversing the genders brings out in an understandable fashion the barriers, hypocrisy and discrimination men and boys face and the need for support and services for them – boys dying because of botched circumcisions is one example. Also it can be used in a devastating affect as a campaign tool.
(10) Keep calm, do not show frustration and do not to be provoked by men-haters: We know we feel we are pushing water uphill and there are those who want us to fail – some for ideological reasons, some because they fear funding being switched and some simply because they don’t like men. Rise above it.
(11) Never advocate for funding to be cut from women’s services and given to men: This if from a moral and practical perspective. If we believe in equality of support for those in need which is why we are campaigners and service providers, then morally because women do have problems to fix, we shouldn’t want to see funding switched. If you advocate that position, then no matter what you say, no one will be listening and rightly so. It is also always worth setting that context for this upfront – it clears the air and sets a reassuring framework for you to work within.
(12) Do not sell out – for money, influence or anything: So you get the government or state funding, you start to grow your services, you get comfortable and then an issue breaks or you see that something is not working. Your natural instinct is to speak out on behalf of your beneficiaries but you know it may damage your relationship with your funders. If you hesitate, blink or stay silent – you have sold out. Don’t!
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
The views expressed in these articles are not the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.