Stop giving them the oxygen of publicity!

At the height of the IRA troubles you weren’t allowed to interview a suspected IRA member – they had to use actors reading transcripts. It was known as refusing to give them the “oxygen of publicity”. Can’t we now advocate the same for such nonsense as that spouted (and covered all over the place) by 77 year old head of Mankind International David Hughes.

According to Hughes

Feminism is to blame for the stresses women and men endure in modern life… before feminism there was a clear understanding that the man in the family would earn money while his wife looked after the home and family. Today, says Mr Hughes, of Newport, Gwent, even children are suffering the effects of the push for equal opportunities, with family break-up denying many their fathers’ love.

From IC Wales

Now don’t get me wrong, the Mankind Iniative actually do some good work along the way, offering a mens refuge for male victims of domestic violence and so forth (for more details see here). However, and it’s a big one, they don’t make explicit whether they are campaigning for men’s rights irrespective of the ethics of a situation. So whilst we’d all like to see “We campaign for the right of children to have meaningful contact with both fit parents after divorce or separation.” most of us would agree this has to be only where contact is appropriate and each case needs to be assessed on it’s own merits including whether domestic violence has been a factor in the separation. Similarly where they claim to want “Mankind accepts all lifestyles, but will continue to campaign for government support of the family through marriage, which forms the best form of support for children” they don’t clarify whether their sole notion of “family” means a heterosexual relationship. Obviously we’d all like every child to be raised in a loving family, but I’d challenge whether a heterosexual relationship is the only way to deliver this.

More insidious is that Mankind Initiative are piggy-backing their media blitz on serious work by the Children’s Society which shows that families are struggling to balance the needs of work and family life. But rather than advocate, as most feminists do, that the whole culture and organisation of work needs to change to allow flexible working for both partners/parents, Mr Hughes has decided we need to return to a “golden age” of the 1950s. Only this “golden age” never existed for most women and, even where it did it was less than golden.

Lets start with the idea that in the 1950s no woman worked. It’s nonsense, it’s a middle class idea put forward when using those rose-tinted glasses to suggest life was more stable then than now. Because obviously the Cold War and profileration of international nuclear threat was somekind of stability… However for working class women in the 1950s (as in the 1970s, 2000s and indeed the 1870s) working was inevitable – the dual burden is nothing new.

Next idea, that we could return to this fictional notion of “a male breadwinner”. Economics, shifts in the job market and the push towards part-time working led by business, not feminism, means this isn’t going to happen. And the idea this is the fault of feminism is aptly dismissed in Ros Cowards Sacred Cows. Inevitably this is a classed issue because those who can afford a single wage-earner tend to – and heavily it’s the man that works. And this is nearly always limited to the upper-middle class income brackets. So Mr Hughes argument is effectively saying “lets take the most economically disenfranchised people we can and then reduce their income by half – that’ll make families happier”. It’s nonsense. And additionally why the presumption that the woman will be paid less, increasingly because of their understanding of the disadvantages of being a woman in work, women are planning their careers far more and working harder, faster and longer to get ahead. Why presume a man would earn more? (Accepting, of course, that gender discrimination means on average women earn £0.73 for every £1 that men earn. My argument is that surely a blanket assumption is wrong).

So lets take a case study. Couple M and F (assuming they’re a man and woman, just for now). M works in Customer Service and earns £16,000 pa, F works in education and earns £32,000. Mr Hughes is adamant that if F gives up work and the family lives on M’s earnings they’ll have a better quality of life and be happier. Or lets take couple F1 and F2, F1 works for a large company and earns £28,000 and F2 works in the public sector and earns £24,000. Mr Hughes would obviously be stumped here, both being women, but (I guess) would argue that halving the family income = happiness.

Money can’t buy happiness, we know that, but we also know that those in poverty or struggling to meet basic needs almost always also suffer from depression, anxiety and a host of other stress-related illnesses.

Additionally the presumed 1950s set-up meant many women were trapped in unhappy marriages because they literally had no money with which they could escape. It presumes a man should deal with the money, and women should deal with the nappies. I am sure I’m not alone in thinking that for many families this is a recipe for disaster. If your husband is an alcoholic or a gambler or a philanderer or one of a million other options women would (and were) be left with nothing on which to feed their families. Does this mean family happiness?

Perhaps Mr Hughes would be better going seeing real families in 2007 and talking over the options available to them rather than harking back to an age of the imagination. Or perhaps he should come out of his middle-class bubble and talk to those families, like mine, where women have always worked, in the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, 1990s and now. But moreover maybe we (and I include myself) should stop giving them the oxygen of publicity… In the meantime, Mr Hughes is convinced that:

“The detritus left in the wake of 30 years of feminism is considerable, an international disaster. And, as with most other disasters, such as 9/11, it falls mainly to men to clear up the mess.”

From IC Wales

Mr Hughes, it did and always has fallen to women to clear up the disasters men create – whether that’s feeding the family down the road who’s alcoholic husband hasn’t given them housekeeping or sheltering a battered wife. Women are the ones who have sacrificed themselves to ensure men could work or have social lives. Women now are the one’s who tend to carry the double-burden of work and housework. Your perceived world is one entirely unfamiliar to most women (and most men). Go see the real world before piggy-backing on worthwhile research to get some attention.

Mind Mr Hughes (and his cohorts) have courted controversy including

Skirt-Gate – September 2004 – Kenneth Dobson (spokesman) argues for a western hijab – the skirt – on the basis that trousers means the disappearance of “grace, charm, beauty, attractiveness and, above all, femininity”.

Housework-Gate – June 2006 – Mr Hughes argues that surveys on housework (invariably done by women researchers) are a bit thick. He suggests they don’t count car maintainence or gardening (which they do) and that these tasks are naturally masculine.

Bimbo-Gate – October 2006 – Mr Hughes argues men should avoid marrying educated women as they’d be happier with someone lacking formal education but with a desire to be a wife and mother. (Or who is servile as it would otherwise be known)

Paedo-Gate – July 2007 – Mr Hughes says men don’t deserve to be treated with suspicion if they help a lost child. The examples he uses are all very “macho” (burning buildings, jumping into the sea to rescue a drowning child etc). Because of course we’d all complain if someone (anyone) saved a child from drowning or burning wouldn’t we?