Why does nobody care that it’s mostly men and boys who die during or after contact with the police, asks insideMAN news editor, Glen Poole?
How do we make sexism against men and boys visible?
One of the challenges we face is that men are the invisible gender—and the problem with invisibility is you can’t see it. Even when you know that the sexism, discrimination and inequality that affects the male of the species exists, it can be fiercely difficult to uncover and present it to others in a way that they can see the sexism with their own eyes.
Being an advocate for men and boys takes constant vigilance and a willingness to chase passing shadows in pursuit of actual evidence that we live in a world that is sexist towards men as well as women.
I caught sight of one such shadow last night. It was cast briefly from my radio by a BBC newsreader who casually announced that more “people” died in police custody in the past year, before moving on to the next news item.
I instinctively knew I’d been exposed to a typical example of everyday sexism against men and boys, but I had to go digging for it. It’s the word “people” that’s the giveaway.
Generally, there are two reasons the media refer to “people” when telling us stories:
- Because the “people” they are referring to are a fairly even mix of men and women
- Because the majority of the “people” they are talking about are men
In contrast, you will very rarely (if ever) hear of a group of women referred to as “people”. You can guarantee, for example, that if the majority of “people” who died in police custody were women, the story would no longer be about “people”, it would become a gendered story about women or “women and girls”.
And yet when the majority of people in a story are men, their gender becomes invisible, they aren’t identified as men, they are disguised as “people”. There’s an exception to this rule. If the “people” in question have perpetrated some heinous crime, then they are no longer “people”, they are male actors in a gendered story, and the fact they are “men” is pushed to the fore.
This is the binary, sexist nature of gendered news stories. If the story fits into the accepted gendered narrative of women good, men bad; men are perpetrators, women are victims; women HAVE problems and men ARE problems, then the gender is identified loud and clear.
If, however, it’s a story about a problem that most affects men, then their gender is made invisible. This is pure, unadulterated sexism against men and it is rife in the media, in the public sector and in our general discourse about gender.
So what are the facts of the matter?
This is what the sexist (against men) media didn’t tell us today about the latest annual report from the UK’s Independent Police Complaints Commission. These are the facts I had to go digging for because they weren’t revealed in any of the news reports:
- 142 people died during or following police contact in 2014/2015:
- 123 of these people were men and boys (that’s 87%)
- 17 died while in police custody and 13 of those people were male (82%)
- 14 died in road accidents involving the police and 13 of those were male (93%)
- 41 died during or after contact with the police and 34 (83%) were male
- 69 people killed themselves following police custody and 61 (88%) were male
- 1 person was shot by the police and he was male (100%)
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, acknowledged that police custody is “a place where all too often vulnerable people, often those with mental health problems, are taken because there is no other place to go.”
There’s that word again—“people”. If nine out of 10 “people” who died during or following police custody were women, we wouldn’t be talking about “vulnerable people”, we’d be talking about “vulnerable women”.
But no politician or newsreader or public servant in his or her right mind would refer to these vulnerable people who die in tragic circumstances as “vulnerable men”.
Firstly, the “what about teh womenz” brigade would be incensed that female victims have been overlooked, and would argue that female victims have it harder than male victims, because death during and after contact with the police is a patriarchal construct designed to meet the needs of men, not women (or some such dogma). You can’t challenge the monopoly that feminism has on gendered issues by pointing at the many inequalities that impact men and boys and expect to get away with it.
Secondly, the “silent”, socially-conservative majority would never approve of labeling big, strong men as “vulnerable”, lest the whole fabric of society came tumbling down around our ears!
And so to spare the upset of liberal “progressives” and “small ‘c’ conservatives”, we must keep men’s gender invisible when shit stuff happens to us.
And our inability to see the gendered nature of this shit stuff that mostly happens to men—like suicide, rough sleeping, murder, workplace death, imprisonment and death following contact with the police—is ultimately what stops us from tackling these issues.
We are all—men and women—collectively more tolerant of the harm that happens to men and boys. We have a “gender empathy gap”.
The traditional view of “women and children” first and the feminist focus on “women and girls” first combine to cast a perfect shadow that make the vulnerabilities of men and boys invisible. It’s how we unconsciously conspire to repeatedly tell all men and boys to “man up” without ever actually having to say the words.
It’s why, when men and boys account for 8 out 10 violent deaths worldwide, we have global campaigns to end violence against women and girls, but no campaigns to end violence against men and boys.
It’s why, when around 95% of the UK prison population is male, we have gendered initiatives to reduce the impact of prison on women, but no gendered initiatives to reduce the impact of prison on men.
It’s why, when ten men every month in the UK are dying during or after contact with the police, we don’t name it as a gendered issue.
Let’s be absolutely clear, if ten women a month in the UK were dying during or after contact with the police, we would name it as a gendered issue.
And there’s the sexism against men. It’s born out of our collective tolerance of the harm that happens against men and boys. It’s born out of the different value men and women place on men’s lives and women’s lives.
We believe women and girls are precious and sensitive and vulnerable and need protecting and men and boys are disposable, strong and don’t need protecting.
So what if vulnerable males are dying during or after contact with the police? They’re just “people”, statistics, they’re not women and girls. They’re only men and boys. Who cares?
I do. I care. It matters to me that our society takes the death of our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, nephews, grandfathers and male friends less seriously because of our collective sexism against men. I care. Do you?
—Photo Credit: flickr/ms.akr
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men