It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. It is great to be here to celebrate International Men’s Day. I know a lot of lovely men and the international ones are my particular favourites. I am very fond of modern European men, although sadly ardent Brexiteers do not seem to share my enthusiasm.
In these days of the #MeToo movement, we are hearing thousands more women’s voices that used to be silent. We have women demanding they are not paid less for the same or similar jobs as men, and women seeking to do their jobs without worrying about being groped or sexually assaulted by their boss. We have women who want to be able to go where they choose and wear what they choose without being attacked and then blamed for it. We hear a lot from women now. Thank goodness for today’s opportunity for men to stand up and demand those rights, too.
Some men who have long enjoyed the easy comforts of a patriarchal society feel threatened by more women having a say. Their own voice is no longer dominant and their privilege is no longer secure. They are left in a state of confusion by this politically correct agenda. They do not know what is acceptable to say or do around women anymore, now that they may have to account for their actions. They cannot even trust other men to laugh at their sexist locker room banter—too many metrosexuals around nowadays! The feminist agenda is seeking to enforce the radical notion that women are equal human beings, and those men’s grip on power has loosened.
Still, there is not too much for the privileged male to worry about just yet. Modern Britain is a long way from gender equality and old stalwarts such as those in the legal profession are keeping the side up. White, privately educated men are still far more likely to rise to the top across the old professions and we have the lowest proportion of female judges in the EU. Those trusty Brexiteers are doing their bit to keep it that way by distancing the UK from that gender diversifying European influence. If men’s voices really can be silenced in this place when still fewer than a third of MPs are women, we must be doing a pretty good job. Imagine what would happen if gender balance was actually achieved.
All joking aside, I am only too aware that many serious health concerns particularly affect men—hon. Members have already touched on them—and that is perhaps the justifiable reason for having this debate. Those issues deserve thorough scrutiny and action taken to tackle them. They include such things as increased risk of alcoholism, earlier mortality and the alarming suicide rates among young men, to name just a few.
Anyone determined to improve the stats might be interested in the findings of a recent report from the World Health Organisation. After studying the figures for 41 countries, it found that places with greater gender equality also had better health outcomes for men. In the most equal societies—measured by such factors as women in leadership positions and educational attainment—the risk of depression among men was halved, suicide rates were lower and there was a 40% reduction in the risk of a violent death. It is official: feminism is good for everyone.
It is not some innate biological differences that cause the different problems men struggle with—anatomical-specific issues aside—but societal pressures. The intense nurturing of a narrow, stereotypical idea about what men should be and how they should interact with women is difficult for many men. It is damaging to their health as much as it is to society’s. The more macho cultures encourage heavy drinking, for example, linking it to increased status and power in a group. On the other hand, speaking out about feelings, as has already been commented on, is discouraged.
There are no simple solutions, but society is shifting. Diving back into the world of the 1950s with its heavily embedded gender roles is the opposite of what needs to be done to improve matters. We must untangle masculinity from the toxic forms that have become so prevalent and let men and boys breathe a bit more easily. For International Men’s Day, the best thing we can do is to stand together in support of feminism and equality because it is good for men’s health. When women’s voices are speaking out for parity of the sexes, they are speaking out for men, too.