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Male-bashing

By Peter West - posted Friday, 20 January 2006


In George Orwell’s 1984, people’s thinking was controlled in part by controlling the media. Nobody noticed that the media favoured war with X and peace with Y. It’s just what everyone was saying. And the bias was more powerful because it was invisible.

Journalists and others working in Australian media no doubt pride themselves on being fair and tolerant. They zealously attack anyone they can accuse as “racist” or “intolerant”. But one group remains fair game for the media to attack: men. Let’s look at some evidence and then ask why this is so.

Television shows of all kinds love to cast stories as a fight between good and evil. The heroes are often cast as victims in the media’s controlled world. Robert Hughes has called this “a culture of complaint”. Thus innocent victims (nobody sees this phrase as redundant) appear as oppressed by powerful, dark forces. The victims can be ethnic people or Aborigines or women. The villains can be bureaucrats or police or almost anyone. And all too often, the villains are men.

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TV ads show us a world in which men are fools and clowns. In one ad, a dad gets hit in the testicles by a tennis ball: later, he is hit on the head. In another, a dopey guy is washing his spanner in the washing machine (what person of normal intelligence would do that?). In retaliation, his wife or partner crashes the spanner down on his head. The same story is relentlessly carried through in TV comedies. It’s forbidden to show violence against anyone, unless, of course, it’s a man. And then it’s funny, apparently. I don’t mind the odd joke about men: we are all funny at times. But let me be clear: I do not approve of violence to anyone. Research suggests (though the links are complex) that TV violence encourages violence in the community.

I agree to a large extent with the comments by Greg Melleuish in another article in On Line Opinion, although I make some mitigating comments. Many university departments are vocal in support of various kinds of feminism, but they don’t support men. Departments like sociology and education are strongly feminist, although engineering and business are far less so. Universities shut women out for many years and belittled women’s concerns. Now many departments have gone the other way, without ever having achieved a balance. And this influences many social-comment and general journalists, although not the sports and business writers.

Nobody wants to be labelled anti-feminist, because that would be anti-progressive. But being progressive makes too many people support fashionable opinions. Feminists complain loudly if people patronise or put down women: and good luck to them. But nobody objects if writers attack men. And educated journalists are so anxious to support feminism that most do not bother to support men at all. So the more educated the media, the more likely it is that men are given a hard time. For example, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is less hostile to men than is the Sydney Morning Herald.

A recent Saturday’s Herald had - as usual - a number of articles in Good Weekend written by, for and about women. This supplement is also carried by The Age. Perhaps it is meant to be a magazine mainly for women. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But where is the sensible discussion about men - apart from men’s behaviour being criticised, analysed, and ridiculed?

The Saturday Herald also carries an arts-and-letters section called Spectrum. This, too, is largely about women and their concerns. The same edition of the paper contained the following: Bridget Jones’ Diary, a satirical feature about women and pregnancy; an article about a book club (apparently female) by a woman; an article about health, by a woman illustrated by pictures of fit young women; and an article by Daphne Guinness about why women make better journalists. The sub-headline for this last article gives us a choice excerpt from the article: “News editors should keep a copy of … as a reminder that male reporters are less interesting.”

There were other articles in this section, about arts, entertainment and so on which are not relevant to this discussion. But observe that it is acceptable for women to say they are better than men, talk about women’s concerns, and talk about why boyfriends or husbands, or other men, annoy them. There is no equivalent argument from the men’s side. And who would dare to say that men are more interesting than women?

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To be fair, male working-class unemployment is reported occasionally. There has been discussion about boys’ educational difficulties, sometimes by people who actually know something about them. And there was discussion of male depression and suicide in the aftermath of a prominent footballer’s death. I have on occasions been able to get a small piece in the Herald about men’s issues.

But on most days, nobody could find much in the Herald sympathetic to men. There is little or nothing about men’s health in the weekly Health supplement. And yet males have many specific health concerns which are not shared by women. Once a year, the Good Weekend has a so-called “men’s issue” in which men are tartly analysed, some comical pieces are turned out, or men are allowed to make a few jokes - before being banished from the pages for another year. A recent Herald feature on university entry was illustrated with pictures of approximately six women, one man, and a cat. The cat had as much right to university entry as men do, apparently.

I could go through most sections of almost any Australian newspaper and make the same point. Women’s concerns, their trials and journeys are articulated from a sympathetic viewpoint. And this is as it should be. But men’s journeys, sensitivities and feelings are mainly ignored, made light of, or ridiculed. A discussion of fatherhood or male circumcision - seemingly experiences only men would understand - will often be written about by a woman. The parallel - a man writing about the experience of pregnancy - would be ludicrous or impossible. The different ways that a man expresses his masculinity gets pigeonholed into silly, patronising comments about SNAGS (sensitive new-age guys). But men themselves are not allowed to talk about these issues in their own words.

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Further Reading: Nathanson, P. and K. K. Young (2001). Spreading misandry : the teaching of contempt for men in popular culture. Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press.



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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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