Let me start by admitting something; I have never truly thought about my relationship with feminism. I have always assumed that I ‘get’ it, and that I’m ‘one of the good guys.’ I vote Labour, I respect women, I’m a member of Cuntry Living. I am, in short, the ultimate ‘good lad’ on the Left.
It was only recently that I realised how ridiculous this is. I was flicking through The Times and came across an article entitled ‘This is what a feminist looks like’, in which four teenage boys stared at me smugly, underneath the subtitle ‘Is this generation of teenage boys more feminist than their female classmates?’
The article was a sorry read, and it left me with the uneasy sense that I, like so many other young men, am all too quick to slap on the label of ‘feminist’, without properly thinking about their own actions. Too quick to wear the badge, but without having a good, hard look in the mirror.
I think this is a problem not simply for young and teenage men, but for young lefties in general. On the left we’re very good at ‘virtue-signalling’, but without considering how our own positions of privilege can hold us back from getting to grips in a meaningful way.
It’s called ‘brocialism’, and if you are one of those young lefties who’s always shouting down women at debating societies, then it’s you I’m talking to. Perhaps I’m just talking to myself and it turns out that I’m the only problem, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some of you out there will relate. I hope so anyway.
We need only to look at the state of the Labour Party in 2016 to see how complacent parts of the Left have become. The first problem is an obvious one – the lack of female leadership. I can’t have been the only person who was disheartened by the election of two men to the top job in September and, while I don’t want to turn this article into yet another ‘lets have a go at Corbyn’ jolly – the fact that the four shadow ‘Great Offices of State’ are inhabited by men is hardly a pleasing sight.
And what’s worse is the culture of apologism on the Left meant that rather than admit that having no women in top leadership positions was a problem, the answer tended to be: “Well there’s a woman in Shadow Health, or Shadow Education”. This only exacerbated the problem, if anything – by confirming the age-old prejudice that female cabinet ministers should only be in the ‘Caring’ departments such as Health and Education, Labour’s leadership seemed to once again confirm its complacency.
A look at the odds on Labour’s next permanent leader makes for grim reading; Ladbrokes reckons that out of the eight top candidates for the next permanent leader of the party, only one is female – Lisa Nandy. Even David Miliband (a man who isn’t even an MP) apparently has more of a chance than otherwise credible female candidates such as Rachel Reeves, Stella Creasy or Heidi Alexander.
Sooner or later, Labour will have to come to terms with its now terminal lack of female leadership. In the party’s proud history, to have never had a female leader is shameful, and should call for a more honest and open debate.
Sadly, it gets worse. The spectre of ‘brocialism’ and the Left ignoring or apologising for unresolved and underlying issues has been brought to a harrowing new light after the Simon Dancuzk allegations (to recap, the Rochdale MP was exposed as to having sent sexually charged messages to a seventeen-year-old student who approached him asking for work experience).
Yet rather than condemning Dancuzk, too many of my male comrades on the left could be heard saying things like: “But she’s 17” or “she was probably doing for the attention”. Some even had the temerity to see the whole thing through the prism of tribal factional party politics. The culture of ‘brocialist’ apologism becomes ear-splitting.
Those who give Dancuzk the ‘benefit of the doubt’ because the young woman in question was 17 are missing the point. The fact is that he was a man in a powerful and privileged position who, when approached by a younger, vulnerable woman attempted to turn a professional relationship into a sexual one. And in a society that is only now starting to come to terms with just how poisoned it has been by the toxin of men in powerful positions abusing their offices and violating younger women. We tend to view this as a debate from a bygone era – something that happened in the 1970s, to clapped-out disgraced celebrities like Bill Crosby or Jammy Saville. We treat these problems like they’ve gone away.
As a young man on the left, it is all too easy to constantly cast myself as a victim, rather than a perpetrator of in-built and systematic abuses of power. This has created a culture of denial on the Left, where young men who pretend to ‘get’ feminism like it’s some sort of pop-culture phenomenon don’t think about their own positions of privilege, and continue to perpetrate systemic oppression. This way of thinking has left deep scars on the Left, and means that it often glosses over serious issues.
So it seems to me that the real challenge of being a good ally is to constantly look in the mirror, and ask how you can change your behaviour. It involves doing more listening that talking; it involves admitting that your voice won’t always be the loudest, and it involves learning. For young left-wing men such as myself, it is time to admit that we might just be a problem, and begin listening. Only then can we begin to move forward, together.