Happy International Men’s Day! Sorry I’m late by one day, it’s just that I don’t really know what it’s for. I mean, yes, I’m grateful for its existence on International Women’s Day whenever someone says 'Ah, but when is International Men’s Day?', and I can reply: '19 November'. But even then, it basically spoils a much better answer, which is to say, 'Every other day of the year is International Men's Day.'
Anyway, it was International Men’s Day, and as usual the vast majority of men did not care. But one man who cared very much indeed was Conservative MP Ben Bradley, who gave a speech in Parliament about how men are neglected in politics. You know, men. The taller kind of human with fewer bumpy bits in front and back. They can be hard to spot in the chamber, I know, because they still make up two-thirds of the MPs elected to represent a population that is, shockingly, 50:50 male:female. Noticing them would be a bit like noticing air, I suppose.
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 19, 2020
"Why have a minister for women, but not for men?"Speaking in the International Men's Day debate, Conservative Ben Bradley says "can we ensure equality means just that, rather than positive discrimination at the expense of certain groups"Watch: https://t.co/fci0RxYjAp pic.twitter.com/79MkEWm9wi
'If we hold departments across Whitehall to account with people dedicated to ensuring women are considered – quite rightly so – why not the same for men?' asked Bradley. 'Why have a minister for women and not for men? Why single out one characteristic for special mention? Can we ensure that equality means just that, rather than positive discrimination at the expense of certain groups? Male as equally protected as female.'
Charmingly, even in the currently socially-distance House of Commons, there was one other MP in view of the camera while Bradley delivered this call to arms on behalf of his oppressed sex. It was, of course, a man.
But let’s take Bradley’s question seriously (even if he apparently didn’t take it seriously enough to bother wearing a tie, showing up instead in jumper under a jacket like he was going to a pub quiz; and while this is not the point of this article, between Bradley’s Blue Harbour knitwear and Tracy Brabin’s cold-shoulder frock, I do feel that if we’re going to start inventing ministers, a Minister for Dressing Like You’re Actually Going to Work should come first). Why do we have a Minister for Women and not a Minister for Men?
Well, and this really is the funny bit… we don’t! There’s a Minister for Women and Equalities, who has responsibility for addressing all forms of discrimination. At the moment that’s done by Liz Truss as a sideline to the trade brief, which I’m sure leaves her lots of time to spare because it’s not like there’s anything going on at the moment with huge, consuming implications for trade. So the interests of women are represented by part of one department that doesn’t even merit a whole minister.
And women are overlooked by policy, consistently. Take one single, current instance: the response to Covid-19. Women are disproportionately more likely than men to be furloughed, according to the Women’s Budget Group; disproportionately burdened with the care of children when a husband and wife are both trying to work from home; and sometimes trapped in lockdown with abusive male partners, who become more abusive under the stress. Lockdown has been marked, horribly, by an increase in the number of women killed by men.
The political system that exists in Ben Bradley’s imagination – one where women are privileged while men are ignored – is not one that matches anything happening in reality. He suggested in his speech that politicians should 'promote the role of fatherhood and stop shying away from the importance of that role'. But politicians already do this. For example, when Universal Credit was devised, one of the informing principles was 'strengthening the family', which a cynic could interpret as 'making it difficult for women to leave'. It’s paid to a single member of the household, which as women’s groups have pointed out, is very handy for men who use money to control their partner.
The Minister for Women and Equalities is, in other words, a paltry gesture towards rebalancing a system that remains pathetically biased towards men. But there could be a role for a Minister for Men: someone to advocate for compulsory paternity leave, address the terrible question of why men commit violence against each other and themselves (as well as against women), look at why boys have fallen behind in school.
If Bradley wants that brief, I’m all for it. And at least the next time someone tweeted 'Ah, but why isn’t there a Minister for Men?' I could reply, 'It's Ben Bradley'.