Why the piecemeal approach gives men the worst of all worlds, and what can be done about it.
This post follows on from my previous one about the vote in the Commons on sex and relationship education. Many of the contributions that I’ve read via Puffles’ Twitterfeed has been from a women’s perspective – particularly in the theme of consent and of tackling violence against women. This post inevitably treads around (and sometimes on) many eggshells as it looks at the issue from a hopefully enlightened but also honest perspective about the mixed messages sent to men – from my perspective as a heterosexual male.
Testosterone – it’s a powerful hormone
For years I joked to myself that men think with three parts of their bodies: our heads, our hearts and our genitals – and in varying proportions depending on things like personal disposition, level of sobriety and even time of the day. In parts of the animal kingdom, every year around the deer rutting season there is the inevitable news story about bloke in a park or forest being chased by a male deer on heat. I don’t want to make a comparison with humans, with rutting season being similar to … I don’t know … Friday night in any market town you care to mention, or any major football match for that matter, but I guess my point is that levels of testosterone (amongst other hormones) racing through our bodies can turn someone that might seem friendly into someone or something completely different.
Looking at levels of crime and hospital admissions on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s not surprising that there have been calls for hospital admissions particularly to be charged for, especially if the case is ever so avoidable. On a wider perspective, there is also the issue of whether someone behaving an an anti-social manner (esp regarding aggression and violence) would be content if word got out to their employer about such behaviour. Social media now makes this all the more easy to find out.
This gives us two insights. How do (and how should) us men ‘manage ourselves’ given inevitably fluctuating levels of testosterone in our bodies, and secondly how does and should society manage us, especially if the impact of these hormones and other things – such as alcohol consumption – gets out of control (to the extent that a risk of someone getting hurt arises).
“What’s this got to do with sex and relationship education?”
Messages from advertising
This is very much an issue because of the emotive buttons advertisers seek to press when trying to sell things. This in part explains why economic models based on rational choices are at best limited when advertisers are seeking to sell goods and services by appealing to the irrational parts of our decision-making faculties. For goods and services aimed at a male audience, where there is a woman in the advert ask yourself in what context is the woman portrayed? What subliminal message does this send to the potential customer – or potential customers if you are thinking about a group of men & the importance of brands?
The forbidden fruit
This links advertising to content in particular in magazines aimed towards men – whether the ‘lifestyle’ ones or those aimed at a specific interest – say electronic gadgets. The picture of model in underwear who is exposed inside to the picture of the model who is sort of pulling at her briefs exposing the side of her hip but not her genitals…’but if you buy the gadget she’s advertising, who knows?’ Media and advertising aimed at men is full of these sorts of messages. Combine that with a not-entirely-steady-level-of-hormones, but also in a world where these images are everywhere…exactly. Ever felt that time where you just want to ‘switch off’ from it all?
Where sex and relationship education comes in
I first mentioned the mixed messages in Men, we need to engage with women. Until very recently, people did not have access to images of the naked human being in an educational context. One of the most important societal aspects of human living – reproducing to create the next generation – was ‘off limits’ as far as any photographic depictions were concerned. This automatically meant that any depiction of a human being naked would fall into a pornographic context.
Up until the 1990s – sort of the ‘last of the dark ages’ before the emergence of the internet changed everything, teenagers in particular were being taught about sex education but without the full information and in a context that was entirely shaming. In some faith schools, this is still the case, with the faith institutions wanting to teach the subject as if everyone is living in this fantasy land where people don’t have sex outside of wedlock and where they only do so for procreation. I’ve not even mentioned the disgrace of Section 28 – where I can only assume the mindset of the Parliamentarians that voted for it in 1988 was that if you didn’t tell children about non-heterosexual sex, it would cease to exist. As I mentioned in a previous post, this scene from Kevin and Perry Go Large speaks volumes about how badly generations were taught sex and relationship education.
Thus we have this situation where people are brought up with this message that there is something ‘forbidden’ about nudity, sex and genitalia where – for those going through puberty at least – are struggling to deal with the changes in their body and emotions, while at the same time being egged on by advertisers about buying goods and services in the hope that you might access said ‘forbidden fruit’ – thus commodifying women.
Thus in adulthood…
…you have grown men who have been brought up with such a mindset entrenched. You have a mindset that sends a message that women who dress like those you see on adverts or magazines somehow deserve or are ‘asking for’ smutty comments. After all, you’ve bought the gadgets, are wearing the labels and the aftershave – why aren’t women throwing their forbidden fruits at you? Disco Stu and his lucky pullin’ shirt along with his favourite chat up line? She said ‘no’? “Wot-how-dare-you-kerb-me-you-uglee-fridged-sluuutt??!?!” And that’s just on the night bus.
If we are to make a societal change, where can we start?
For me, there are four key places:
- In schools
- In the media
- In the workplace
- In politics
In schools, there are two big barriers. The first is the number, competency and calibre of the teachers that can both teach and discuss these issues without feeling uncomfortable or intimidated. Every so often a Twitter trend – in particular from Irish followers of Puffles – will appear with people talking of horrific and/or excruciating experiences of sex education. The one where the nun turns on the video and runs out of the room etc. You’ve also got to consider what message it sends to children if the school has to bring in a specialist tutor from outside to talk about sex and relationship education alone. i.e. you’ve silo’d the subject far away from everything else rather than saying sex and relationships are part of what and who we are. You’ve also got the barrier of religious schools and establishments that have huge lobbying power. Getting legislation passed in the face of such lobbying may not be easy – especially in the crucial swing seats. Even if legislation does pass, you then have the problem of implementing it. With the move away from local education authority support to the academies system – especially faith-backed ones, delivery will be a huge problem. Hence my opposition to faith schools.
“What about my freedom of speech?!?!” I can hear the calls already. There isn’t really a legislative solution to this one. Ultimately it can only come from people pushing for a cultural shift. That means more men being prepared to speak out & respond to the media, or call out their mates should they be harassing others in public. It also means potentially boycotting some of their much-liked brands too.
In the workplace
It’s got to be more than just about ‘lip service’ or having staff sent on poorly-prepared ‘diversity training’ where it is treated as a box-ticking exercise. I’ve seen excellent as well as appalling examples of this. On the excellent side, as well as myth-busting & ensuring the confidential nature of what is discussed in the room (and possibly managing who attends which sessions), trainers have also looked at how individuals can apply their learning to the workplace, including changing systems, procedures & processes.
That also requires leadership too – leadership across industry sectors. In the public sector that’s potentially more straight-forward, but who is going to take on the challenge of those industries that are traditionally more male-dominated? Who’s going to take the message to workplaces where the workplace might be over 90% male, where pictures of naked women are plastered all over the walls?
It’s got to be about far more than lip service, and in this both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have utterly failed in this regard. You just have to look at the ministerial appointments. But bring from affluent and privileged backgrounds, it is unlikely that the two of them have personal experience of what it’s like to be utterly disempowered by what many have to put up with. Easier when you have the financial wealth and the connections & support in place. Far harder when you are alone and isolated.
That’s not to say Labour don’t have work to do. All parties need to look at their own structures and procedures. Where are they unwittingly – or even deliberately – making things worse, and where can they make things better? How can it be made easier for men to call out abusive behaviour by others – especially when it’s far easier to avoid a confrontation and keep quiet?
“Doesn’t all of the above sound like it’s ‘anti-men’?”
Not at all.
- Being denied the full information and education about sex and relationships is ‘anti-men’
- Having schools under the control of faith-institutions that have no democratic accountability is ‘anti-men’
- Saturation advertising targeting my hormones, sex drive and personal insecurities in order to sell goods and services is ‘anti-men’
- Portraying women as products rather than treating them as fellow human beings is ‘anti-men’.
I’m not calling on magazines to be banned. I’m not calling for sports to be banned. I’m challenging them to be more intelligent in how they and others go about their activities, and to have more consideration for others around them. There’s nothing ‘anti-men’ in that.