A week ago (25 February 2019) the ABC’s Q&A panel debated whether movements like feminism, socialism and globalism were having a negative impact on young men in Australia this week.
The question was sparked by the appearance on the panel of Canadian psychologist, Professor Jordan Peterson, whose YouTube videos have become particularly popular with younger men, but have also made him unpopular with some on the left of the political spectrum.
The debate provided some useful insights into the views that politicians and commentators hold in relation to the gender issues that shape the lives and health of young men in Australia.
With a Federal election due to be held before the end of May this year, the debate also threw some light about the different ways that Coalition and ALP representatives conceptualise gender issues that impact men and boys’ lives like boys’ education, fatherhood, our working lives, suicide and men’s experiences of violence as perpetrators and victims.
The discussion began with Q&A host Tony Jones quizzing Professor Peterson, about the appeal of his work among young men. He said:
“There’s this fascination that many young men have for your message and [the questioner] is suggesting that’s something to do with them needing saving from globalism, socialism and feminism. Is there any truth to that in your mind?”
Peterson, who describes his politics as “classic British liberalism”, responded by saying that “there is truth to the idea that young men might need a certain amount of existential rescuing from ”the idea that the West is fundamentally best characterised as an oppressive patriarchy”.
He outlined his concern that this worldview seems to propose that young men who act in a “forthright and ambitious” way within society should be viewed as destructive because of the perceived oppressive and patriarchal nature of the society we live in.
Peterson went on to say that “the notion that the proper way to view history is as a battleground between men and women, borders on the pathological” and that he found it very difficult to understand how young men could be “properly motivated if that’s the fundamental view of society and male participation in it”.
Neoliberalism the culprit
The commentator, Van Badham, who describes herself as Marxist, challenged the notion that feminism and socialism are a problem and said that both men and women are disenfranchised because of neoliberalism.
“It’s not “feminism, a movement for equality that’s never thrown a bomb, that’s never picked up a gun, that’s disenfranchised you, or globalism or socialism,” she said, “It’s been four decades of neoliberalism”.
According to Badham, neoliberalism has “smashed communities”, “made consumption and material acquisition dominant values in society” and “destroyed the workplace and has made jobs insecure and made our experience of economies so unstable”.
“If men feel disenfranchised,” she concluded, “please let me reassure you that women feel disenfranchised as well, because we are all living in this destabilised economy and we are all suffering from that consumer ideology”.
Violence of the mind
Alex Hawke MP, a special minister of state in the Coalition Government, said that while movements like feminism may not use bombs and guns, the “worst violence can be the violence of the mind”.
“I think men today in our society are told virtually from a young age to now, when they grow up, that they are doing the wrong thing, that they have done the wrong thing historically, that there’s no place for them,” he said.
“I’m the father of three young boys under five and reading a lot of Jordan Peterson’s works … I can understand why it resonates with a lot of people, because men today have lost their identity and I think feminism has become a movement to overtake masculinity.
“Let’s look at the empirical evidence, in schools, it’s boys who are falling behind now, it’s boys who are falling behind at universities, it’s young men who are suffering and have the worst mental impacts, the highest rates of youth suicide. It’s a serious issue.
“The questioner’s right, yes there’s a lot of disenfranchisement in the world but there are movements persecuting men in today’s world”.
Terri Butler MP, said that Hawke was misunderstanding the complaint that people have about masculinity by taking the idea that we “need to change structures” personally.
Butler is the ALP’s Shadow Minister for Young Australians, Youth Affairs, Employment Services, Workforce Participation and Future of Work, as well as being Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality.
Butler said that the problem she had “with structural rigidity of gender roles for men and women, is that they hurt men and they hurt women, they hurt both”.
“They hurt men who want to stay home longer with their kids. They hurt men in real physical ways, because we do have a problem in this country where women are more likely to be the victims of violence at home, men are more likely to be the victims of violence in public, but in both, the common factor is it’s men committing the violence by and large, not exclusively, but by and large.”
“These rigid ideas of masculinity hurt everyone,” she said “so when we talk about feminism, when we talk about changing those structures, it’s to change inequality for the benefit of everyone and to get rid of the some of the things that hold everyone back”.
‘Radical feminism’ has negative psychological effects, says Peterson
Peterson responded to Butler by saying that he wasn’t anti-feminist, but he was concerned with what he called a “brand of more radical feminism”.
“I think the idea that the world would benefit from the movement of talent from both sexes into the workplace as rapidly as possible is something that anyone with any sense should share given the rarity of talent and the necessity for utilising it.
“I do stand by my original statement, though, that there’s a brand of more radical feminism that insists that our culture is best characterised as an oppressive patriarchy.
“And I think it has very negative psychological effects and they won’t be limited to men. Because if it’s true that there’s something toxic about masculinity per se what that will inevitably mean is that as women adopt more masculine roles traditionally, is that toxicity going to go away?’
Butler challenged the idea that people believe masculinity is toxic, stating that toxic masculinity is “a phrase that’s used about forms of masculinity that are harmful to men and women, it’s not about masculinity per se”.
Peterson countered saying: “I read the APA guidelines for the treatment of boys and men,” he said, “it’s not only devoted towards the more aggressive ends of masculine behaviour, there’s a much broader range of accusations that are under the surface than that.”
Catherine McGregor, the author, activist and cricket commentator who describes her politics as centre right, brought the discussion to an end, saying that while she didn’t entirely agree with Peterson, she was concerned that “the removal of meaningful work amongst, especially among unskilled men, has political consequences”.
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READ: What we can learn from Gillette’s masculinity ad (AMHF)
WATCH: Jordan Peterson destroys Q&A (ABC)