They say luck is something that happens to other people. They also say that you’re not a failure until you blame someone else. Or something else. I have never considered myself to be particularly talented. I struggle a lot. I have a lot of trouble writing, and it’s one thing I have been doing for […]
Today (19th November) is International Men’s Day.
That, apparently, makes some people angry – men shouldn’t be focused on, this is sexist, what about women? (The angry people appear to be a minority, albeit a vocal one – on Twitter, a lot of women are sharing tweets supporting help for men’s mental health, concern about the male suicide rate, etc, which is great. Some men, sadly, aren’t helping the cause by treating it as a pity party, and whining about how the “tampon tax” isn’t actually unfair, because “men have to pay tax on things, too, like trousers, and underpants.” Riiiiggghhht. Newsflash – women likewise have to pay tax on clothing, guys…)
I’m a man – I’ve been physically attacked by a woman, on three separate occasions (three different women, in case you’re wondering why I put up with it so long!), none of whom were romantic partners, none of whom I’d mistreated. The first was a fellow student at high school, part of a group of boys and girls who would bully me on literally a daily basis – I committed the heinous crime for young men of being intelligent, unattractive, and not particularly sporty: she kicked me in the face, sending me flying backwards down a flight of stairs, giving me a cracked rib, and causing my metal braces to break, and rip up the inside of my mouth – as I was walking to the toilets to try and clean up, a female teacher, seeing my torn and bloodied shirt, literally grabbed me by the scruff, pushed me against a wall, and screamed in my face “What the hell have you done? Who have you attacked?” (I was frothing blood at my mouth, shaking, trying not to cry out in pain every time I had to breathe, and it was straight in with accusations and aggression. I was 14.)
The second time, I was 17, and was pushed into the path of a reversing bus by a woman the same age, who was high on drugs – fortunately, I was quick enough to roll out of the way of the bus. The woman then kicked me in the face before running off, attacking a member of the bus station staff who was on their way to see what was going on.
The last time, I was 26, and my mother attacked me with a knife, screaming that I was responsible for my father getting cancer. (I wasn’t – that was the asbestos he’d been exposed to when he was the same age I was then.)
I am Asexual – I have no interest in anyone, male, female, non-binary or otherwise, sexually. I am happily married, and not looking to upset that state of affairs. I don’t make unwanted approaches to women – I have social anxiety, and rarely look at, or talk to, anyone. It took me the best part of an evening to find the courage to cross the room and talk to the woman who is now my wife at the event we met at – I’m not about to start making inappropriate comments to random women in the street – I’d probably end up having a panic attack, which would make everyone uncomfortable.
And yet, as a man, I’m not allowed to be made uncomfortable by “ironic misandry” when it says “kill all white men.” I’m not allowed to be afraid, hurt, lonely. I’m not allowed to feel inadequate.
When I created an event poster featuring a woman, facing the camera with a direct, bold gaze, dressed in jeans and a grey vest top, smeared with paint, with brightly-coloured smoke billowing around her, I had a single comment, among a lot of people – including many women – who liked the poster, and thought it was a strong, effective image – saying that the image was “inappropriate” as it “sexualised” the woman, “because she’s very skimpily dressed, and the coloured smoke makes it look like she’s at a strip club.” That kind of comment wouldn’t have happened if I’d used the same background, same surrounding imagery, but featured a topless male figure – because it doesn’t matter if people drool over the male physique: if a man takes off his top, that’s what he’s there for – women can admire him, and men can envy him. It’s always a deliberate play to the gallery on the man’s part.
(This is the poster, by the way – I’ll be creating a couple of other, different, ones, too, to get maximum reach – you might even get a whole blog post about the event!)
Men can be good, bad, or a mix of both – just like women.
Men get cancer and mental health issues – just like women.
We get upset about things, angry about things, triggered by things – just like women.
We encourage women to pursue STEM subjects, but view with suspicion men who want to enter care professions or the fashion industry.
Black men are damned as “violent, aggressive yobs.”
Asian men are attacked because “You support a misogynistic religion!”
White men are blamed for all the evils of the world.
My father – a gentle, compassionate, intelligent man, with a great sense of humour, who viewed women automatically as equals, and treated them accordingly, and with respect, made this comment, when the drive to get more women into STEM subjects was first being launched, and the chattering classes were exerting themselves over the idea of female engineers: “It makes sense, when you think about it – they’ve got smaller, more supple hands, so they’ll be better at manipulating tiny, fiddly components – I don’t know why people think it’s not suitable for women to do that sort of thing.”
I will not have that man’s memory, and the futures of men like me, destroyed by someone else’s agenda.
I will not sit by and watch the world and its people being destroyed by human greed, arrogance, and selfishness, while everyone gets involved in taking potshots at each other because our genders happen to be different.
Nor will I play the blame game I’ve seen happening – “the reason for Brexit and Trump is left wing nonsense and identity politics – people have had enough.” Things are rarely that simple. There are many other factors at play beyond the according of equivalent rights to people who are not cis het white men.
Men and women are complements and blends, not opposites.
Running the country is easy when you’re not the one doing it – it’s why so many politicians and political parties perform incredibly well in Opposition roles, but can’t seem to get a grip when they manage to get elected.
But, since that’s never stopped any politician – or mediocre businessman – to date, I may as well throw my t’uppence worth in.
The good thing about running a country, from my point of view, is that you always start with the negatives – something is wrong, and you have to fix it. (Even if it isn’t actually wrong, and doesn’t actually need fixing, you’re like a kid who just has to fiddle with things, so you tell everyone it’s broken, and you’re going to fix it, and you usually end up making it worse.
One of the things we’re consistently told is broken in the UK is out of work benefits – Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – the latter is paid to individuals who are disabled and/or living with long term health issues, the former is paid to people with no health related barriers to employment who are looking for work.
The UK government is endlessly wringing its hands over what to do with people who are “economically inactive” (they could start by being factually accurate in their descriptions, really – no one who is receiving welfare payments from the State is “economically inactive” – they can’t afford to be. Welfare recipients are not stashing money in off-shore accounts or tax-free ISAs: they’re spending it, on food, clothing, utility bills, public transport. The money they receive goes straight back into the economy, pretty much in its entirety. Welfare recipients are certainly not “economically inactive” – however much it might suit ministers and Jobcentre advisers to pretend otherwise.)
The UK government spent over £17million to develop its flagship “Universal Jobmatch” site, to soothe the chattering classes’ sneaking suspicion that those awful unemployed people weren’t doing anything in exchange for their benefits – they couldn’t be, because surely, if they’d actually applied for a job, at all, they’d be working by now, rather than mooching off the poor, hard-pressed tax payer. The running costs for Universal Jobmatch are £6million per year. That means, in the first year of Universal Jobmatch, an extra £23million will have been added to the UK Jobseekers’ Allowance bill – and, since Universal Jobmatch has been beset by “teething problems” almost from its conception, that £23million is a redundant cost – it’s not enabling the unemployed to contribute more to the wider economy, since they won’t see a penny of it, and it’s almost certainly not helping them secure employment. It’s literally just another recruitment website in a sea of recruitment websites who are all advertising the same jobs, because the same recruitment agencies simply post all their vacancies to every major website – Universal Jobmatch is run by Monster (the recruitment website, not the energy drink), for pity’s sake!
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) like the idea of Universal Jobmatch, because it enables them to interfere – claimants are literally expected to hand over their log in details, so that advisers can “recommend” jobs – in many cases, people have felt pressured into taking jobs that weren’t suitable, because of childcare commitments, public transport logistics, or simply that the job was in a sector they had no relevant qualifications or experience for – none of which were options to elaborate on “why didn’t you apply for this job?” (And which really should be options, because it would help advisers identify potential barriers for their clients’ jobsearch, so they knew what they should be working on with each individual client.)
The thing is…the DWP have spent £17m + on a system that, err… is already available, and free to use.
Reed Recruitment already offer full, intuitive, role and location specific search capability. They already mark jobs that have been applied for as “APPLIED” -meaning an adviser, whilst not able to interfere directly in the process, would be able to see what jobs a claimant had applied for, and discuss reasons why other roles they felt were suitable had been passed over. Reed already offers suggestions of “recommended jobs.” Reed’s site allows the candidate’s CV and sample covering letter to be clearly visible. It allows candidates to upload a profile image.
The DWP didn’t need to spend £17million creating Universal Jobmatch. It doesn’t need to spend £6million a year maintaining it. IT ALREADY EXISTS – with someone else paying the maintenance costs. All the DWP had to do was require every JSA claimant to have an active account with Reed – which is a sensible measure anyway, as they’re a company with massive reach and reputation, running an accessible, easy to use site which produces highly relevant search returns, from almost every major recruitment agency. Advisers would be able to look at the layout of their clients’ CVs, the kind of things they were including in covering letters, and what they felt was an appropriate professional image, all on one site, in a single setting, and immediately give feedback on what was good and not so good about the profile. They would be able to see what jobs their client had applied for – at the start of each signing-on session, the claimant simply clicks through to their Reed profile – as the Jobcentre offices now have internet access as standard – and the adviser can see which jobs have been applied for at a glance. Once the client’s activity on Reed has been discussed, the adviser can move on to discussing other jobsearch activities – something which, from anecdotal evidence, doesn’t seem to happen so much, with advisers believing that all jobsearching activity should be going through Universal Jobmatch, and sanctioning people who applied for jobs advertised in the local paper, or who popped a CV in after seeing a poster in a shop window.
Advisers could watch clients perform a search on Reed, and suggest additional search terms, based on related sectors and job roles, and commutable locations that the claimant may not have been aware of. (For example, I live in Lowestoft, and it may not occur to me, if I were scrabbling by on £73 a week, that, for the right job at the right salary, taking into consideration rail fares, etc, I could get to Ipswich, Cambridge or Central London by train, as well as the more obvious bus route areas of Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Beccles, Gorleston and Southwold, and places such as Dereham, Swaffham, and King’s Lynn – further out, and requiring a change of bus in Norwich, but still just about feasible.) Likewise, I may not, faced with trying to keep everything ticking over on a limited amount of money, and ensuring I complied with every tiny whim and rule so I didn’t lose that limited amount of money, realise that, while my primary skills are written communication and administration, sectors such as marketing, PR, advertising, digital communications, B2B, events planning, etc, all used those skills – I may have just searched “Admin”, for example.
In many cases, the solution large companies, and governments, need, are already there – those companies and governments simply need to look for them.
In 2011, Owen Jones published a book, “Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class.” In it, he sets out to explain how the poor, misunderstand chav (a UK slang term of uncertain origin, although “Chavo” is a Romani word meaning “boy”, which refers to a certain type of – usually – working class youth, known for poor grammar, deliberately scruffy, poorly-fitting clothes, and generally treated with a roughly equal mix of fear or contempt) has been cast as a media scapegoat, on whom can be laid all the political and socioeconomic woes of the world – simply because they haven’t been listened to!
I am working class – I grew up with both parents working full time, no car, at one point no carpet (my father couldn’t stand the faded, threadbare dark brown anymore, and ripped it up – only to realise, when faced with bare concrete, that we couldn’t afford to replace the carpet) and, one year, no heating or hot water – the boiler broke down, my father attempted to repair it himself, but needed to get at the underfloor pipes – he couldn’t afford either the tools or a professional plumber. So, we lived without heating for about eighteen months, until he’d saved up enough money to pay a local plumber.
Even though – thanks only to my father’s death from a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and the resulting compensation paid to myself and my mother – I own my own home, I’m still living without heating or hot water – the boiler broke back in August. I can’t afford to fix it. I also can’t drive for medical reasons, but wouldn’t be able to afford a car even if I could. I can’t remember the last time I had a holiday.
I am working class, and I am not a chav. I don’t care for them, or what passes for their culture, although I have had passing friendships, usually through work, with chavs who, on an individual basis, were pleasant enough, and, in many cases, brighter and more talented than their appearance and attitude would have you believe.
The targeting of “chav culture” is not the real demonisation of the working class – the real demonisation of the working class is a lot more subtle.
It’s the “Well, of course we ended up with Brexit/Trump – the working class vote ensured it. They voted that way because they’re incapable of understanding the broader issues at play.” (Thus simultaneously laying the blame for any and all ills those respective outcomes may bring at the door of the working class, conveniently ignoring the dedicated effort of the high-profile elites and their respective media to skew perceptions of what “the issues at play” actually were, and ignoring the many working class people who didn’t vote that way as “not really working class” – stripping them of their identity, and turning the people who should be their community and support network against them.)
It’s the unpaid internships in media, politics, law, the arts, which are not-so-subtle “Keep Out” signs to anyone from a working class background, whose parents can’t afford to foot the bill while they work for free to gain “experience” and “exposure.” Unpaid internships ensure that the working classes are, for the most part, kept out of areas where they would, eventually, be able to tackle issues of social justice – and thus the elites and their media can keep up the pretence that the working classes are either incapable of managing high-level jobs with a lot of responsibility, or simply don’t care enough – that they’re quite happy doing their minimum wage jobs, playing the lottery, and trotting down the pub every pay day.
It’s the way social media, education, literature and art conveniently forget to mention the long and illustrious history of working class autodidacts, who came together first to learn, and, later, to demand and create change – the way these sectors leave people with the impression that education and intelligence are the preserve of the mythical “liberal elite”, that, if you are working class and intelligent, you are not, in fact, working class – again, stripping away an identity, community, and support network.
It’s the casual mockery of manual labour, the dismissal of those who make and maintain useful things, like cars, houses, and heating systems.
It’s university tuition fees, it’s mandatory membership fees to professional organisations, it’s the team lunch everyone is expected to “chip in” for in expensive, fashionable restaurants, it’s the focus on extra curricular activities.
It’s the savage attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party.
It’s a “celebrity” culture that promotes and prizes stupidity and complete lack of talent.
It’s newspapers written in an easy-to-read format – ideal for those who may have had a hit-and-miss formal education (mine was more miss – the school I went to was consistently rated as “failing” by Ofsted, teachers were often not-so-functional alcoholics, and, thanks to daily bullying, I was only there about half of every term anyway), or with late-diagnosed, or, indeed, undiagnosed, dyslexia – focusing on celebrity lifestyles, racist and misogynistic invective, outright lies, and opinions masquerading as fact. It’s the fact that these publications also happen to be the cheapest available, and offer things like affordable holiday offers, which will have an obvious appeal to someone on a low income.
The working class is a powerful, talented, intelligent, compassionate force for change – it has always, previously, been responsible for forcing through changes that went on to bring improvements to everyone’s standard of living – but the real demonisation of the working class is the elite’s subtle – and not so subtle – insinuation that, if someone is intelligent, if they are concerned about social justice, if they are involved in the arts in any way, they are “part of the liberal elite” – an enemy of the working class, rather than a member of it.
It is the withdrawal of funding for, and subsequent closing down of, Adult Education courses – the leaving of a token remainder of flower arranging and jam making.
It is the rosy-hued misinformation about how the working classes were and are happier, because “their lives are far simpler, and more practical.” It is the leisured classes adopting as hobbies, with a nice little side income from the fayres that working class people can’t afford public liability insurance for, upfront costs of, and travel to, of things that working class people did out of necessity – rag rugs and wicker baskets, home-made preserves and home-baked bread, sewing and knitting and keeping chickens.
The real demonisation of the working class is not a name – it’s a systemic attack.
Yesterday, I, along with many other people across the world, was furiously, violently angry. Whether I was righteously angry, only time will tell. But I was angry – and I am not ashamed of that anger.
Why was I angry? Not, despite surface appearances, because someone whom, from what I’ve seen and heard of them, I intensely dislike, and think is a thoroughly reprehensible human being has been handed a job for which he has, from what I can gather, no experience or qualification.
I was angry for many reasons, but not “just because Trump got elected.” Unqualified people get promoted to valuable, influential jobs all the time – if I got angry about that, I’d never get anything else done, and would have probably dropped dead from stress, a heart attack, or stomach ulcers by now.
1. I was angry because men like me – genuinely decent men, who were raised to treat women as equals, to accord them respect, to work with them in genuine partnership, to accept their answers, even when we didn’t like them – have been told, from possibly the most powerful country in the world, and, it turns out, by a significant number of women, that we’re “not real men.” Because real men grab pussy. Real men don’t respect women. Real men take what they want, and treat people like property. Real men are crass, violent, vulgar, and objectionable. By those lights, I’m not a real man. My father wasn’t a real man. My uncle and cousins aren’t real men. My best friend’s husband isn’t a real man. My closest male friends aren’t real men. The three best bosses I’ve known in my working life weren’t real men. I am angry because America at large has invalidated the gender, identity, and personhood of many decent, hardworking, dedicated men – men I know personally, and men far beyond my circle. We may not always behave appropriately, but we always try to. We may not always be our best selves, but we always aim to be. We may not always give 100%, but that is always our intention. And we have been told, loudly, clearly, whilst being mocked for our “not-alpha-male” attitudes and behaviours, that it’s all a waste of time. That we’re just losers, destined to watch men who have no intention of trying to be good, of giving of their best, succeed.
2. I was angry because there are children – boys, girls, and non-binary young people – who have seen the lie in the words “bullies never prosper.” A generation will grow up thinking that bullying and demanding and indulging in violence is the way to get what you want.
3. I was angry because, yet again – just as it was with Brexit in the UK – intelligence has been mocked and derided. I’m sick of hearing “the people who do well in business are those who aren’t academic”, “We’ve had enough of experts”, “the wisdom of the crowd is what counts”, “Intellectuals, hiding away in their ivory towers…” I’ve had enough of someone else’s opinion being held to have as much value as my factual knowledge or lived experience – or, indeed, anyone else’s factual knowledge or lived experience. Certainly, those who have non-academic skills should be respected – I currently have no heating or hot water, and, while I could probably get a Shakespeare scholar for free, what I really need is a plumber, or a heating engineer – but I can’t afford those services.
4. I was angry because I’m tired – fundamentally exhausted – of peoples’ inability to see beyond their own lives. I will be dead, probably in the next 40-50 years. The world isn’t mine – it belongs to those who will come after me, and my decisions should be what will be best for them, not me. Everyone’s decisions should be based on what will be best for those who will come after us.
Those are the thorns I have to face today, in order to grasp tomorrow’s roses. I have to look yesterday’s result, and the anger it called forth, in the face, and work out what and where the creative negativity is in all of this, and how to use it.
Firstly – anger is good, because its positive counterpart is passion, and passion is what gets things done. Passion is what keeps people turning up and giving 100% to a job, day in, day out, year in, year out, even on the tough days, the bad days, the days it would be easier to just stay in bed. Passion is what keeps a couple together for half a century or more, despite the rows and sulks and stresses and broken crockery. Passion is what gets books written, funds raised, and, ultimately, passion is what gets worlds changed.
Secondly – knowing what you’re angry about tells you what you should be focusing your energy and time on. In my case, that’s promoting genuinely decent men, standing up to bullies, and ensuring that intelligence is focused in practical, world-improving, life-enhancing outlets – the only way it will ever be truly respected. My energy should be focused on promoting facts, as calmly, rationally, and relevantly as I can, on drawing attention to the genuine, decent, gentlemen that I know from personal experience abound, in finding ways to encourage boys to become men like me, men like my father, men like the friends I have, men like my uncle and his sons, and in finding ways to encourage girls to believe that they, too, are capable of leadership.
I may have to accept that “the world is what it is” – but I refuse to accept that I always and inevitably have to work with “what the world is” – if what the world is is unacceptable to me, and runs counter to the things I have decided to invest my time and energy in, then I will accept that “the world is what it is” – but I will actively work against the world as it is. Not through violence or criminal acts, but through the action of water against stone – washing over the stone of an unacceptable world with a quietly eternal countering force. Because the thing about water is, not only will it eventually wear down even the strongest stone, but it can also do something that is beyond stone – water can provide power, and sustain life.
I am not an American, but I have American friends who are from minority ethnic groups, who are LGBTQI+, who suffer with long-term ill-health and/or physical disability, who are women, mothers of daughters, who are saddened, angered, and scared by what their fellow Americans have enabled.
I have a friend here in Britain, who was born here, to a British mother, who has worked and paid taxes since she was 18, whose husband has worked and paid taxes since he was 15, who has 4 children, all under the age of 10, and who had to listen to someone at the next table, while she and her husband were having breakfast out as he had a day off today, say “If Trump can get in in America, the EDL (English Defence League, a violent far-right group) can get in here – I’m going to vote for them next time.” My friend is Black. Her husband is white. She has two sons – mixed race boys who will grow up to be seen as “Black men.” And two daughters, mixed race girls who will grow up to face the racism and misogyny that is our world, now.
I am a transgender man with mental health issues.
My wife is a transgender woman with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Can you imagine how unsafe the world feels now? For my friends? For my wife? For me?
I attempted suicide after Brexit (the UK referendum on whether the UK should withdraw from the European Union, which returned a marginal “Yes” vote, mostly thanks to appeals to racism and bigotry, misinformation, and outright lies.
My wife is afraid I will try again, now. I would be lying if I promised her I wouldn’t.
I’ve spent today mostly in bed, drinking and smoking (I rarely smoke), trying to block out a reality I can’t stand the idea of without actually dissociating.
I’ve had to leave Facebook, because I was becoming too angry with people who refused to acknowledge the fear and distress their decisions had caused, who refused to accept even partial responsibility for my friend being afraid to leave her house now, for the American friend whose 8 year old daughter cried at the result, because she’d always believed bullies would be defeated – and then dried her tears, and put on her prettiest dress, a young woman of Mayan descent, a visible minority, standing up to the bully who wants to build a wall around people whose skin is a different colour to his, and who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sexually assault women.
I wish I had the courage and strength of that young woman, that young warrior.
For the first time in my life, I am ashamed to be a man, because of what “being a man” has now been agreed as meaning.
I am very far from stable right now. I want to kill people. I want to kill myself. I want to run. I want to fight.
I lost a day of work because my brain couldn’t focus on anything but the sheer terror of the world I’m forced to live in.
I don’t know how I, or my American friends, my Black British friend, are going to cope tomorrow.
A month from Brexit, the Leave voters couldn’t tell you why they’d voted Leave, and many of them regretted doing so.
A month from now, Trump’s supporters will have forgotten why they voted for him, and have gone back to their everyday lives of bitching about everything.
Years from now, people like me, people like my wife, people like my friends, will still bear the scars of Brexit, the scars of a Trump Presidency. There can never be “business as usual” for us.