Labour is putting men's issues on the agenda, but Gen Poole argues that it must avoid the negative narrative that stops men joining the debate. Ed
It seems that masculinity is in crisis again and this time the Labour party is going to save us.
Two leading MPs are putting men's issues back on the political agenda with speeches about the other half of gender equality.
Labour's policy co-ordinator, Jon Cruddas, said the Conservatives have dominated the fatherhood debate using the stereotype of a feckless underclass of absent dads. Labour, he says, "will value the role of fathers".
The party's shadow public health minister, Diane Abbott, also spoke on Britain's crisis of masculinity, where she said that too many men and boys are isolated, misdirected and remaining silent about manhood.
Abbott in particular placed a specific focus on the importance of Labour feminists developing a male-friendly narrative, a nuance that points to the real issue here – how do feminists deal with men's issues?
When we look at the evidence, it is undeniable that men and boys as a distinct group face significant problems. The gap between men and women applying to, and entering, university is growing. They are much more likely to commit crime than women, be homeless, and, between 2006 and 2010, for every single age group men were significantly more likely than women to take their own lives. Tackling these issues as gender problems can make a huge difference, as the emergent men and boys' sector is beginning to demonstrate through a number of small but significant grassroots projects.
Successful men's organisations, including Calm, A Band of Brothers, Young Dads TV, and the ManKind Initiative demonstrate that men of all ages and backgrounds are happy to talk when the people listening are positive about men.
What many of these projects demonstrate is that you don't need to take a feminist approach to be successful at tackling gender issues. In fact, even some of the most pro-feminist men's groups will tell you privately that feminist thinking can often be a barrier to helping men and boys. A prime example is the field of sexual abuse, where these groups claim that the women's sector has persuaded the government to exclude charities that specialise in helping male victims from its rape support fund.
This struggle between women's issues and men's issues is played out across the public and charitable sector and is rooted in the belief that gender equality is a women's problem often caused by men. Put simply, women have problems and men are problems.
Looking at a preview's of Abbott's speech, it becomes apparent that Labour's new message about valuing fathers is underpinned with a familiar, negative narrative about disaffected men who are hyper-masculine, homophobic, misogynistic and obsessed with pornography.
Abbott is right to say that there aren't enough men engaged in conversations about manhood, but is it any wonder when modern masculinity is described in such negative terms?
The best way to tackle the problems that men face is to follow the example of the women's sector and build a men's sector filled with independent organisations that are positive advocates for men and boys.
Tackling men's issues in this way requires the women's sector to share the gender equality pie. It also means allowing for a greater diversity of viewpoints, which will ultimately challenge the dominance of feminist thinking in the gender equality sector.
Faced with this eventuality, it is inevitable that women's groups and feminist thinkers will resist attempts to target the problems that men and boys face and try to shift the focus back on to the problems that men and boys cause.
If the Labour party is to tackle Britain's "crisis of masculinity" it will need to face up to the crisis that tackling men's issues creates for feminism. The best way for Labour to do this is by remaining true to the values of its own equalities legislation that allows for men's and women's issues to be addressed in an equitable and proportionate way.
Cruddas got it right when he said we mustn't let negative perceptions about a minority of fathers shape policy for the majority. If the rest of the party – including Labour feminists – can apply that thinking to all men's issues, we may move a step closer to tackling the "crisis of masculinity".
This article was first published in the Guardian. Used with permission.