Joanna Williams talks to Peter Lloyd about his recent book and the ongoing vilification of all things masculine in the popular press:
Lloyd, who somehow combines writing for both the Daily Mail and the ‘women in leadership’ section of the Guardian, was prompted to write Stand By Your Manhood in response to the ‘dismissive, patronising and skewed narrative about heterosexual men’, which he suggests is apparent in the mainstream media. He argues that it has become normal to consider masculinity as entirely negative and problematic, and to present boys as ‘defective girls, damaged by default’ who need to be medicated, educated and socialised out of their masculinity. Whereas once manhood was celebrated in all its stiff-upper-lipped glory, it is now considered threatening. Lloyd welcomes the progress society has made in recent years, and he is happy that homosexuality is no longer so stigmatised. However, he warns that there is a danger that things have gone too far in the other direction, and that shame is now attached to masculinity, with heterosexual men, in particular, being made to feel guilty if they don’t frequently display a more feminine side to their personalities.
Lloyd suggests today’s men’s movement is a response to strains of feminism that first appeared in the late 1970s — these strains were far more explicitly anti-men than pro-equality. He claims today’s feminists perpetuate the idea that women are oppressed and ‘refuse to let go of old arguments’ despite the changes that have taken place in the real world. Often, Lloyd argues, there are monetary incentives for feminist campaigning groups, such as the Fawcett Society, continuously to propagate an image of women as victims of a non-specific patriarchy. He cites the case of Erin Pizzey, who established one of the first refuges for female victims of domestic violence, but who later received death threats for suggesting that women were also capable of violence. Certainly it is not in the financial interests of groups like Hollaback and FCKH8 to question the facts promoted in their campaigns against sexism. Lloyd blames the media for unthinkingly picking up on such campaigns and escalating an anti-male sentiment. As a result, he says, feminism can seem like a ‘hate movement’ and men have not had a voice to challenge these newly dominant perceptions.
While it may seem either naive or disingenuous of Lloyd to suggest that the men’s rights movement won’t embrace victimhood and a crusading ethos, he does follow his own arguments to their logical conclusion. Success for the men’s rights movement, he argues, will be when it is no longer needed — that is, when there is true equality, and people are judged according to merit rather than gender. It’s a long time since I’ve heard feminists arguing anything similar. However, until such a point in the future, the inescapable fact is that both the men’s rights movement and feminism continue to cast people as victims of their gender identity.
Feminism today is premised on the assumption that women are persecuted by an oppressive patriarchy; the men’s rights movement considers men to be equally as persecuted by feminists. Both sides need a reality check. Arguing the toss over who is the most oppressed serves only to pitch men and women into battle against each other. It fails to look at what people have in common and how society can be made to work in the best interests of everyone. To achieve individual emancipation today, it’s not feminism or men’s rights that we need — it’s a movement to liberate us all from the stifling constraint and moral authoritarianism of being defined by our biology rather than by what we have the potential to become.