June 01, 2008
A while ago, the Liberal Conspiracy website inadvertently entertained us with the musings of Zohra Moosa, who was, sadly, “tired of spending so much of my time defending the most basic principles of what I stand for,” and, worse, “justifying why social and environmental justice are worth spending a lot of society’s money on.” Instead, Ms Moosa longed for “a space where these ideas are a given and the debate is about how best to actualize them.” As we’ve discussed elsewhere, radical socialist principles are so much easier to have if one isn’t obliged to defend them or explain how they might work. Explaining what “social and environmental justice” entails and why it should command “a lot of society’s money” is, it seems, an enormously fatiguing business and would, according to Ms Moosa, only “serve to distract.”
A more recent article, by Red Pepper contributor Laurie Penny, adopts a similar approach with a passionate rumination on “hypermasculinity” and “the madness of young men.” Ms Penny describes herself as a “socialist, feminist, deviant, reprobate, queer, addict, literature student, journalist and sometime blogger.” Her article begins thus,
Hypermasculinity, like hyperfemininity, is a pose of the powerless. There is a reason you don’t see gangs of City bankers stalking Moorgate and Maylebone with long knives and hoods pulled down over their heads - and it’s not because they’ve been better brought up.
Adamant stuff, if not entirely convincing. You’ll notice there’s no mention of the considerable number of working class youths who don’t roam the streets armed with knives intent on looking menacing. Instead, it is simply asserted that criminality and thuggish posturing are “poses of the powerless” and nothing at all to do with how children are raised. Or indeed with whether they’re raised in any meaningful sense of the word.
When you’ve got money and status and class and education and power, you don’t need to act out physical prowess and aggression because it’s not all you’ve got.
Well, perhaps; though this assertion is somewhat at odds with the very next sentence.
The hard-working ladies at Spearmint Rhino might well testify to the fact that City lads too are prone to the odd bout of gibbon-like strutting and howling.
At this point one might wonder why it is that some boys from very humble beginnings nevertheless go on to achieve varying degrees of “status, class, education and power” – perhaps even as City bankers - while others from similar backgrounds do not. One might think this a subject worthy of mulling, perhaps even research. Though, clearly, Ms Penny doesn’t. Instead, such details are brushed aside in favour of a statement that is much less intriguing but undoubtedly true.
Finer minds than mine have discussed this function of the culture of young male violence.
As if to prove the point, Ms Penny resumes her stream of unequivocal assertion.
So you’re fifteen, and the whole world is against you. Teachers and pop songs tell you you can do anything, should be anything, anything you want to be, but poverty and class and race and prospects and precedent say different.
Again, the fact that some children from humble beginnings across all ethnic groups go on to achieve a huge range of things somehow passes unregistered. Likewise, the differences both within and between comparable socioeconomic groups - not least those regarding poverty and family structure - are seemingly unworthy of attention. Perhaps Ms Penny imagines she’s describing the experience of all those fifteen year olds whom she would deem en masse to be sufficiently “powerless” and oppressed.
Telly and magazines bleat trite nonsense about love lasting a lifetime when your family is bitter and broken and as poor and messed-up as you are; pills from the doctor and packets from your dealer are the only thing keeping all of you from despair, you’ve got no models for being a man without meanness and posturing, all you’ve got is raw, raging energy, your muscles and your mates. Of course you want to fucking kill something.
By now, some readers may be wondering exactly whose feelings Ms Penny is describing. And again, questions come to mind. If a boy grows up with “no models for being a man without meanness and posturing” how can parental influence be so readily dismissed? Why doesn’t being “better brought up” figure anywhere in this equation? Whose job is it, above and beyond all others, to provide an example of functional masculinity? And if a father isn’t up to the task, or simply isn’t there, whose fault is this?
Although women incontestably have it harder, it’s not only girls but boys, too, who face discrimination on the basis of their gender and of their sex. The expectations and cruelties of western masculinity are not equal but equally devastating to the young people brought low by someone else’s idea of identity. In this horrifyingly unequal culture, young men as well as young women can find themselves powerless, albeit in smaller numbers.
Ah, the hierarchy of victimhood. Always a good sign. Here, in the interests of rhetorical perspective, one might contrast the “cruelties of Western masculinity” and our “horrifyingly unequal culture” with the altogether more glorious situation found, say, in Ghana, Nigeria and much of the Islamic world.
Finally, a conclusion of sorts is reached:
Mums and dads of the baby boom generation: get real. Violent hypermasculinity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s a symptom of poverty and desperation and hopelessness, and you made us.
“Conclusion” is, of course, a rather misleading word, since what we get is simply a rejection of individual responsibility and the role of familial values, and a restatement of the original bald assertion – one which hasn’t been proven, or substantiated, or even, technically, argued. It has, however, been vehemently asserted, which, for some, is every bit as good.