Toxic idea of male privilege is holding back the life chances of white working-class-boys
In modern society, we are taught that men have it all, and they are not in need of equality because they are lifelong beneficiaries of inequality, writes Ben Bradley MP. | PA Images
The notion that men should feel lucky with the lot they have been dealt in life and therefore should shut up is simply wrong. White working class boys live in some of the most disadvantaged circumstances in our country.
International Men’s Day. Some will read that and think it’s ridiculous. ‘Every day is International Men’s Day’ you’ll hear them shout in an exasperated tone. You may even laugh at the idea as MPs have done before when I’ve raised these issues in the Commons. In modern society, we are taught that men have it all, and they are not in need of equality because they are lifelong beneficiaries of inequality.
If this is the case, why do 40 to 50-year-old men have the highest rates of suicide? Why are three-quarters of all adults that go missing men? Why are 87% of rough sleepers men? Why are you three times as likely to become dependent on alcohol if you are a man? Why are men more likely to be compulsorily detained (or ‘sectioned’) for treatment? Why are men more likely to be victims of violent crime and of course men make up the vast majority of the prison population! The notion that men should feel lucky with the lot they have been dealt in life and therefore should shut up seems to have become the prevailing idea in our public discourse and is just simply wrong.
The idea of male privilege plays a part in the deeply worrying statistics above. If we tell men they are privileged and everyone else has it so much worse, why are we surprised they are less likely to talk about their mental health demons; less likely to seek help when they need it?
[White working-class-boys] told by some that they are privileged will struggle to tell you how, or ever see the benefit of their so-called privilege. I couldn’t tell you either
We have dedicated many hours in Parliament to talking about the importance of mental health and the fact it should have parity of esteem with physical health. Still, whilst men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women, according to the Government’s National Wellbeing Survey, they are less likely to access psychological therapies than women.
Charities like CALM or Men’s Minds Matter are doing fantastic work to encourage men to open up and to find support, yet we need to do more as a society to aid this. We could start by ending this tendency to talk as if men have no problems.
Since first being elected in 2017, one of my major focuses has been that of white working-class-boys. These are children in constituencies like mine in Mansfield, told by some that they are privileged, but who will struggle to tell you how or ever see the benefit of their so-called privilege. I couldn’t tell you either. I think it would take the most accomplished Gender Studies professor to explain it to me.
These are youngsters whose male fathers and grandfathers work hard and die young, some still struggling from lung diseases from grafting down the Pit. These are youngsters living in some of the most disadvantaged circumstances in our country, that have the worst educational outcomes, are less likely to go to university, but if they do go they are by far the most likely to commit suicide whilst they are there.
The toxic idea that they are privileged is exacerbating these statistics. When it is decided that any other race or gender group is disadvantaged, the world wants to help. We have schemes promoting girls and BAME students to go to university, even though both groups are already more likely to go than these boys; using the Equalities Act to actively make an inequality worse! I saw an article recently that typifies these problems. It claims SOAS, a university that prides itself in being the most diverse in the UK, ‘failed in 2017 to admit single white working class student’.
Socioeconomic factors are the biggest decider of inequality, not race, sex or any of the other seven protected characteristics in the Equalities Act. We need to help people based on their actual needs, not on guesswork we’ve based on their sex or skin colour.
It is about time we started to strive for equality again, seeking to raise everyone up instead of drag others down. International Men’s Day is a chance to raise those concerns and issues that most affect men in our country. From the challenges of worklessness in an economic down turn, the pressure to support and provide for families through those financial challenges, of mental health problems and suicide. It’s also a chance to raise some amazing male role models. From every day dads just working hard and doing the right thing by their families, to those contributions that affect the whole world in their significance.
My colleague Philip Davies and I have secured a debate in the Commons to raise these issues, to ask for changes, and to celebrate the contribution men make to our lives and our society. I hope you’ll join in!
Ben Bradley is the Conservative MP for Mansfield.