This column was originally published in The East Anglian Daily Times. Since publication, I’ve received a few emails asking if I’m a man and others furious that I also mention UKIP. I tend to avoid reading below the line (it’s generally not a heartwarming experience) but for the sake of clarity the inclusion of UKIP is justified because of several high profile incidents (see here and here) and anyway, I can’t say I lose any sleep by offending supporters of a political party that feeds on intolerance and prejudice.
I admit I had second thoughts about writing this piece. Not because I don’t feel strongly enough or because it’s not an important issue. No, I just didn’t want to give this man a platform.
So instead, I’m trying to think of this opinion piece as a rickety old stool to be kicked out from beneath him.
The man in question is Mike Buchanan, leader of the newly formed political party, Justice for Men and Boys.
Buchanan quit the Conservative Party in 2009 after David Cameron announced support for all-women parliamentary candidate shortlists. Since that time he has dedicated himself to promoting his own brand of anti-feminism and has written; not one, not two, but THREE books on the subject. And now, Lord help us, he has designs on Westminster.
Speaking last week he told one national paper that feminism is “vile” and claimed that “fatherhood is being systematically removed from society”, which means “taxpayers are subsidising sperm banks for single women and lesbians”.
His party’s manifesto (not a pleasant read) also targets what he describes as a “scandalous ‘gender justice gap’” and claims that not enough support is given to male victims of intimate partner violence (IPV).
Buchanan recently added to this claim, stating “there are as many battered women as battered men” (there aren’t – one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, compared to one in four women).
But let’s not nit-pick at Buchanan’s arguments and his party’s general election manifesto, which makes UKIP’s look like an enlightened and progressive doctrine.
Because, at the very heart of this kind of thinking, is the same old hackneyed idea that powers much of the flatulent guff seen on a worryingly large number of ‘anti-feminist’ websites and so-called ‘meninist’ Twitter streams. In short, and it has been plainly stated by Buchanan, this is the idea that “whiney” feminists “hate men”.
Motivated by attacks on lad culture and a powerful campaign by @NoMorePage3 against Page 3, it’s a beer-soaked pub philosophy that proclaims sorrowfully that “us men can’t do anything right in modern society”.
But instead of an ounce of introspection or debate, the response to a movement that is merely opposing exploitation and inequality is that it just “hates men”. This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction, it’s an attempt to stop a conversation and halt the potential spread of a more tolerant world view.
Tellingly, it also throws into sharp relief the painful anxiety that some men have (consciously or otherwise) when they are confronted with a political, cultural and philosophical movement that is hell-bent on removing its privileges.
Because, no matter what people like Buchanan say, us men still have it good. As a man, I’ve no doubt whinged about unfair expectations and pushed against gender stereotypes, but I know I have never encountered the barriers that my wife and, in future years, my daughter will have to face.
The continued existence of a gender pay gap is just one example of the privileges of men and the need for feminist voices to be heeded.
A new study published last week by the Open University revealed that “three quarters of women are working too hard”, with 61% of women regularly do overtime in an attempt to secure a promotion or pay rise.
About 8% of those questioned clocked-up an extra 40 hours or more, every month – a full working week.
Of course, Buchanan and his Justice for Men and Boys party are not the only example of privileged people thinking the promotion of equality is tantamount to persecution.
There are sadly numerous examples of how attempts to eradicate racist and discriminatory language or promote inclusivity are condemned as “political correctness gone mad”.
But, and I suppose this is what has really got my liberal goat when it comes to Buchanan, feminism is not about polar opposites or pitting men versus women, it’s about inclusivity.
Actor Emma Watson, in her recent speech to the UN in her new role as Women global goodwill ambassador, put it well when she encouraged men and boys to speak out together for women’s rights in the #HeForShe campaign.
“If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice.”
She added: “But also, so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too.”
So there you have it, Mr Buchanan, there’s no need to worry.
Feminists do not hate men, except perhaps men like you.
And even then, pity is probably closer to the mark.