Equality for Men? A review of Glen Poole’s eBook


Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 |

This is well worth a look: a new eBook, Equality for Men, by Glen Poole, Director of the consultancy Helping Men and organiser of the equality4men social media campaign. It is an accessible and well-argued attempt to map out a new approach to gender equality that is supported by a mass of data that shows just how bad things are for men and boys in many areas of their lives, including health, fatherhood, education, work and crime. Many of those who argue for men’s rights quickly lapse into anti-feminism and misogyny, blaming women for all men’s problems. I was delighted to see that Glen does not share this unsavoury perspective and declares his support for tackling discrimination against women. But I nevertheless remain unconvinced by some of his core arguments.

Equality for Men starts from the premise that both men and women are affected by inequality and that this must be tackled for both sexes if genuine gender equality is to be achieved. Glen proceeds to spell out, in great and well-referenced detail, the areas in which men experience discrimination. While there can be no doubt that men do worse than women in many areas – such as health and education – what Glen does not accept is the basic feminist premise that, overall, men are the dominant sex. Despite some welcome changes in recent years, men still dominate and largely control politics and public administration, the media and culture, sport, big business, the police, the military, and the judiciary. Accepting this doesn’t preclude making a powerful case for action to tackle the areas where men experience problems but not, by not accepting it, Glen’s argument loses credibility and he risks alienating many women (and indeed many men) who might otherwise be allies.

Glen does not fully acknowledge that men also cause problems. He says, rightly, that men are more likely than women to be victims of violence but he appears not to want to hold men accountable for perpetrating most of that violence.

The book correctly cites the inter-relationship of sex and social class to show that low-income men generally do worst of all but I missed any discussion of the impact of race, sexuality, age and disability. Gay men, for example, have generally worse health outcomes than straight men, and not just in the area of sexual health. Research suggests, for example, that gay men are twice as likely to develop cancer, largely because of higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.

Equality For Men, because it seems so keen to position men as victims, somewhat strangely also overlooks men’s strengths. Many men every day act well for the benefit of their families, their communities and society as a whole. This positive contribution should be acknowledged and celebrated.

But I liked the way Equality For Men discusses the ways men are seen as disposable – as a society, we care much less about men who die in accidents or war than women, for example. We also show far too little concern about the genital mutilation of boys (circumcision) – although while I think, in principle, it is as unethical as the genital mutilation of girls, Glen is surely wrong to imply that, in practice, they are equally barbaric. (Girls affected by FGM are generally far more extensively damaged.)

Glen is right to point out that women can also do bad things, including perpetrating domestic violence (although I do not agree that they do so to nearly the same extent as men) and mistreating children and excluding men from more active parenting. Women also play a key role in the maintenance of traditional gender roles, including those that constrain men’s lives. Those of us who sign up to a feminist analysis have perhaps been too silent about women behaving badly.

Glen is, I think, making a pitch for an agenda for men which he hopes all men can sign up to, whether they are anti-feminist, pro-feminist or anything else. This is a laudable and understandable aim given that the still too small number of advocates for men remain as ideologically divided as the various miniscule Judean liberation movements so brilliantly satirised by Monty Python. But despite his well-intentioned efforts, Glen is unfortunately unlikely to succeed. Unity cannot be created around a claim that men and women are equal victims of discrimination. Such an assertion is, in reality, as inaccurate as one that people who are black and white, gay and straight, or disabled and non-disabled are also victims equally. We must certainly tackle the issues where men do badly but we must not overlook the significant (and greater) discrimination against women while we do so.

Equality for Men costs £10 and can be ordered online here.

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