Diane Abbott’s most recent concern, the UKs ‘crisis of masculinity’, has understandably touched quite a nerve. Making assertions on the identity of a group of people will inevitably rattle cages, since the egos in those cages (which we perceive to protect the sacred self) are challenged and scrutinised. (Uncomfortable self-reflection is not conducive to maintaining one’s sense of utter righteousness, and, it would seem, favoured by neither privilege nor lad culture.) The subject becomes touchier when the person opining does not ‘belong’ to the group; the offended often claim all criticism is misunderstanding of the ‘truth’ due to the offender’s lack of experience or difference. We can all agree that Abbott’s ‘got balls’, just not to the extent that she belongs.
Abbott has a point or several, but she’s just missed the mark. Her misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) here is not down to her sex, as many have claimed. I think it’s comes from the mainstream understanding of gender as binary, following the ‘us and them’ dichotomy that pervades so many attitudes. She and I have identity traits in common: we both identify as female, and it would seem we are both moved by gender and how it is married to wider societal issues. So, I hereby cast my mere opinion into the ether for all including Abbott to consider, or at least react to with repulsion.
In ascribing this crisis to ‘masculinity’, Abbott has (probably inadvertently) blamed the kind of behaviour she criticizes on all who identify as masculine. To clarify: intellectually and spiritually, I don’t believe in dualised gender. (Emotionally, I still work against negative limitations I have internalized throughout development. [Sniff. Tiny violin.]) Since gender isn’t tangible it isn’t essentially definable, and thus the traditional definitions of gender are, for me, lost in the nature vs nurture argument, and in a recognition that all traits are human traits. The majority of us will still identify with ‘traditional’ gender roles as they have been defined, since our lives are initially made easier (remember school?) when we do; most people will let you know somehow which traits are ‘natural’ (despite this often occurring when we ‘naturally’ exhibit the wrong ones.) The absence of gender becomes apparent each day when women display human traits which are ‘masculine’, men display human traits which are ‘feminine’, and lesbian, gay and transgender people display human traits which are, yep, human.
Abbott has not only promoted the false idea that masculinity exists as a unified ‘thing’ for all who identify as masculine, and Is Bad, but has also made all those who identify as masculine feel attacked. Those who do display whiskey-drinking, porn-loving, viagra-popping, woman-hating behaviour are on the defensive of such behaviour, and those who identify as masculine but don’t display these behaviours are on the defensive from being misrepresented. Attributing a crisis to masculinity is reductive; it’s almost equivalent to attributing the miscommunication of social crises entirely to Diane Abbott.
Of course, there are chronic crises of sex inequality that we require men to prioritize in a way that our culture and society discourages. Regarding systemic, ongoing, daily oppression as a worldwide, urgent problem ought to be of utmost importance to everyone. Confronting a man’s blasé attitude towards the exploitation of sex workers, for example, is often met with ridicule, then defensive anger. But this is a society-wide problem also; there are plenty of women who knowingly and naively support existing patriarchal structures, and plenty of men who don’t. I don’t regard binge drinking, degrading or violent pornography, unnecessary pharmaceutical intervention, and misogyny as tenets of ‘masculinity’; I regard them as a result of long-standing complex processes within (patriarchal) society that stratify and bind people on the basis of their class, race and gender. What Abbott describes is a crisis of identity for numerous British people, largely influenced by a western capitalist society that cultivates entitled, violent, sexist, belligerent, materialistic and nihilistic values in its citizens. The inclusion of consumerist and individualistic culture in her discussion began to touch on this, and the crises of unemployment, depression and suicide trends naturally follow from what capitalism peddles; but what underpins the behaviours and beliefs associated with identity was not unraveled further than “masculinity is broken”. I applaud much of what she did say; I only wish she had addressed it to all citizens, and especially the MPs with whom she works.
There are several crises facing us, globally rather than nationally. Abbott describes issues of identity politics, which take dictation in part from the crisis of capitalism (but are not its most brutally damaged victim.) Individuals reject and accept these dictations all the time, and we must understand the abjection that often follows from rejection of these values in order to develop the strength to reject them. In the face of the glorified social and financial capital of commodified masculinity and femininity, deviating can be frightening and isolating. The initial confusion that arises from rejecting gendered identities can be matched by the freedom found expressing a more whole, diverse and fluid identity.
There are questionable stories about society, human nature, and nature under which we develop. They can be difficult to fight within ones own psyche, let alone in discussion with others. I have learned everything I am writing now, from my situated perspective. I encourage change of my own perspective regarding new information, and I hope for continued enlightenment. It requires work, and a denial of fixed knowledge and self while allowing expression of what you feel is right and just.
We have a cultural crisis of self, rather than a crisis of men or women or immigrants or Britons. We currently face crises of humanity on many fronts: culturally, financially, environmentally, etc. All of these present us with constant opportunities for monumental change. Will we take them, and quickly enough?