Punch of 25 April 1998 - "Head to Head"

25-Apr-1998 Punch Page 38
Head to Head - Man's man versus feminist

John Campion of the UK Men's Movement believes feminism is ruining society. He goes head to head with Mary Evans, professor of women's studies at the University of Kent and author of An Introduction to Contemporary Feminist Thought. Interviews by Polly Williams

Is there a justified place for a men's movement in Britain?
CAMPION: Men are under attack on all fronts. They need to defend themselves. We're in a defensive posture against the onslaughts of feminism - a reaction to political correctness. We disagree with feminism's historical account of relationships between men and women, their values and the policies they promote. We're about creating a moral framework in which men and women can co-exist and respect each other.
EVANS: No. It seems to me that there are many institutions and ways that men can express their points of view, and I'm not sure that it is very helpful to develop other ones.

What are the key gripes of the men's movement?
CAMPION: There are three main areas. First, the family, with the exclusion of fathers from the family through divorce courts and the creation of a matrilineal society. Second, the work area, with women's special treatment, benefits and maternity leave, and women in the military causing a lack of discipline and danger. Third, general law, where justice is being flouted, particularly through rape allegations when it is assumed that the man is guilty; similarly with domestic violence.
EVANS: Probably the key concern is that privileges that men have taken for granted for a long time are disappearing. There is a very famous cliche that people rarely give up power easiliy or readily. It seems to fit this situation very closely.

Is this the beginning of a great anti-feminist backlash?
CAMPION: No. At the grassroots, amoung ordinary people, there is an increasing realisation that feminism is doing nothing but damage, but amoung the policy-makers feminism is increasing its stranglehold.
EVANS: It's not helpful to talk about the backlash as if it were something new. There has been enormous resistance from the start of the 19th century.

Is there still a place for feminism in Britain?
CAMPION: No. Feminism has been nothing but destructive. It has broken down family life and created hostility and suspicion where none existed. Men my age grew up in an atmosphere of equal education and equal opportunities but now find we've been conned. We are denigrated and have no rights. Women have greater freedoms because of economic growth - generated by men - that has provided free education and contraception. Feminism is a pathological response to economically generated freedoms.
EVANS: There is still a very real place for feminism and, more importantly, dialogue about feminism. What needs to be articulated and recognised is women's unpaid caring work. The child-care issue has been established but there are other kinds of caring too: caring for the old and doing emotional work in the household through friendships.

Have feminists made victims of past oppressors?
CAMPION: No. There haven't been any oppressors in the past. Obviously there were men who mistreated women just as there were women who mistreated men, but the general culture has been about protecting and providing for women. The idea that to be at home looking after children is some kind of oppression is quite grotesque. Because men are stronger physically and economically, they developed a moral culture, protecting and providing for women. But, rather than that being welcomed and accepted, it is portrayed as some kind of oppression.
EVANS: I can't think of any cases where that has been true, in the general sense or among secific individuals.

Is it true that men are the practitioners, and women the victims, of domestic violence?
CAMPION: Research shows that men and women are violent in roughly equal proportions. Women tend to use weapons more and use other male friends to inflict violence. They are perfectly capable of psychological abuse - that can drive men to suicide. When it is men against women, it is often provoked by divorce settlements that are grossly injurious to the man.
EVANS: Mainstream Home Office information makes it absolutely clear that men inflict violence and abuse against women and children nine times out of 10.

Are women treated too leniently for crimes such as spousal murder?
CAMPION: Yes. It's rather extreme to suggest that a back eye or broken arm justifies killing somebody. It is particularly inappropriate when women have very good defences available to them and the ability to exclude husbands from the home.
EVANS: Those kind of mitigating circumstances operate to the advantage of both sexes. You can point to a lot of cases where men are given short suspended sentences because of what has been deemed to have been "nagging" or abuse.

Does family law favour women at the expense of fathers?
CAMPION: Effectively, fathers have no rights in law, married or not. An adulterous wife can have here husband thrown out of his home, stop him from seeing his children, have a boyfriend living in his home and force the father to pay large sums of money to look after herself and the children. That is gross, unjust and a clear abuse of human rights.
EVANS: The law takes the view that it should recognise social reality. Ties between mothers and children, in any society, are always stronger than ties between fathers and children. This government has so far failed to find effective ways of making men contribute to the upkeep of their children to the upkeep of their children. The current situation [The Child Support Agency] is not working. You must make a distinction between fathers contributing to the upkeep of children who are the result of long-term relations and those who didn't have a long term relationship with the mother.

If domestic work was salaried would more men do it?
CAMPION: No. Men wouldn't want to do it and wouldn't be able to because of the economic and cultural pressures that encourage traditional roles. For example, men tend to marry down and women tend to marry up, so there is an initial imbalance in terms of earning capacity. A man's status is associated with his work whereas women can move fairly well between a working culture and the home, feeling comfortable in both. What annoys us is that we always hear about men not doing traditional women's things such as cooking and looking after the children. But we don't hear anything about women not doing traditional men's things such as car repairs, plumbing, wiring, fishing, making model aircraft. I can wash, clean and cook because they aren't great skills. Yet if my wife were to try to do the wiring or plumbing, she would find it took many years to develop those skills.
EVANS: It's difficult to generalise but, for most middle-class men, it wouldn't be an option. That kind of work is not related to a career structure and what middle-class men are absolutely concerned with are careers. What kind of status and public power do you get from working at home?

Why are girls doing better than boys at school?
CAMPION: There is a suggestion that maths has been diluted intellectually and that demotivates the younger boys. In the last 20 years, there's been a huge growth in softer subjects, and a lot of girls' achievement is in these. At higher levels, in the hard sciences and mathematics, boys still outdo girls. There is also a general culture of vilifying of manhood, which must influence boys.
EVANS: Girls' socialisation - which has always tended to be about being well behaved - works very well with the school curriculum. Varioous kinds of traditional masculinity don't work that way so well.

Why is the suicide rate among young men so much higher than for young women?
CAMPION: Younger boys may come from families where there is no father. They may have looked at what happens to older men who have been excluded from their families and wondered: "What is society offering me? Heartache and slavery?" There are fewer traditional jobs and less to look forward to in terms of employment. Also, the male is demonised.
EVANS: It is often very difficult for men to deal with the disappearance of the hero model or the breadwinner model, and to find a script for themselves. Women can always say: "Oh, it doesn't matter: I'm a nice person." That is a way of gaining self-respect and recognition but it is not quite so easy for men to find those alternatives.

So there's a male identity crisis?
CAMPION: There is a very serious identity crisis. It has become particularly serious for young working-class males, who are probably the most disadvantaged members of our society. Nowadays, there is no standard role that a man can sign up to, feel happy with and work towards. There is a mismatch between what is expected - providing wholly or partly for a wife and being a New Man - and the reality, where he has zero rights and can be cast off easily.
EVANS: Yes. Alternative identities are harder for men to find than for women. Some men feel emasculated because they can't locate the traditional sources of masculinity - long-term stable employment, single breadwinner status, status for physical prowess. These things no longer have any meaning either because they don't exist or because they lost their meaning when women didn't collude and endorse them any longer.

Has 'masculinity' failed to adapt to contemporary society?
CAMPION: No. Men are just not valued by conemporary society. Women need to adapt and develop a moral sense, as male culture has.
EVANS: Exactly. These men's groups who blame feminism would be far better off blaming the changes in the economy or government policies. The male identity crisis is much more related to material shifts rather than political and ideological shifts such as feminism. There has been a decline in manufacturing industries. More people have insecure, short-term jobs. This is a problem for many men.

Is this related to the phenomena of thirtysomething Bridget Jones 'singletons'?
CAMPION: Yes. The view that the right place for a woman is in the workplace and that to be at home looking after children is wrong is feminist-driven. Women pursue a career path, like men, and when they get to 30 or 40, they want children and wonder: " Where are the men?" By that time, their colleagues are married and men start to realise that marriage has nothing to offer them apart from effective slavery. Sex is freely avaliable, so what's the motivation to get married?
EVANS: The two things are closely related. For women and men, there must be ways of making choices that aren't exclusive. It's absolute choices that produce unhappiness. Thirty years ago, there was a lot of evidence to suggest that just being married and having children made lots of people very unhappy - empty nest syndrome. Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

How did you arrive at your own point of view?
CAMPION: My views were motivated largely by my experience of divorce. I lost my home, children, career and all my pension. It motivated me to look behind the rhetoric to see what was driving it - feminism. It got me and other men together to start influencing things in the other direction.
EVANS: When I started as an academic, more than 25 years ago, there was a real sense that women were not talked about. The subject in social sciences was always a "he". We were taught as if there were no other way of thinking. Now it's changed. Everyone falls over backwards to write "he and she". Things are getting better; people are beginning to realise there are more sides to the question.

What do you think of each other?
CAMPION: I'm not comfortable with academics. They live in ivory towers generating ideas unrelated to reality. I'd like her to look more closely at the real lives of people, particularly at the big differences among social classes, and to consider economic factors - male-generated economics - that created the freedoms that women have.
EVANS: Such organisations always seem to me to be very defensive and very frightened. I'd like to know what they're frightened of losing. My guess would be authority. I'd assume they put an enormous amount of effort into one version of masculinity. To have it questioned is very threatening.